“In the beginning God made heaven and earth. And the earth was invisible and unformed; and darkness was upon the abyss, and the Spirit of God was rushing upon the water.”
So begins Fr. King’s translation of the Septuagint (LXX), for which we should be thankful as there are very few English translations of the Greek Old Testament in our bibles today. One is found in the Orthodox Study Bible (OSB), which uses as its base text the Old Testament of the New King James Version, and the other is the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS), which uses the NRSV Old Testament as its base text. Now we have Fr. King’s and it’s my intention to quote freely from his introductions and footnotes to guide us through it. I don’t really consider this a review in the conventional sense but more of a casual glancing through his translation and the way it’s laid out. I simply haven’t had the time to read the entire translation. However, I wanted to share some initial observations and what I have found that I consider educational.
In his Preface he gives three reasons for using the LXX:
“In the first place, the LXX, and not the Hebrew text (what we shall call the MT or ‘Masoretic Text’) is the version most used by our New Testament authors, for whom the LXX, and not the MT, is ‘the bible’. Secondly, and perhaps rather oddly, the manuscripts for the LXX are older than those of the MT and in some cases preserve a superior reading; and they are good evidence for how Greek-speaking Jews of the three centuries before the birth of Christ read their sacred texts. Thirdly, it may be useful at this point to recall that most Jews of the time will have spoken Greek rather than than Hebrew, just as today more Jews speak English than Hebrew.”
And it’s in his presentation of the Old Testament (as opposed to his NT section/text that I reviewed two weeks ago) that you get back to more familiar ground as far as study bibles are concerned, and this is advertized as a study bible. Here the verses are included in the text (wild applause and cheering on my part), unlike the NT. Most of the introductions are more in-depth than what is found in the NT but not overly so. In a lot of bibles you actually feel like you’re drowning when it comes to all the theories and speculations about this, that, and the other thing (and yes, there is a place for all the this, that, and the other thing) but if you’re not careful you (me) can lose sight that, when all is said and done, this is a book that is inspired by God and one of the most beautiful ways he uses to communicate to us.
His footnotes are copious in the places that are needed, and in many of them he demonstrates the differences between the Greek and Hebrew and what the translator may have been thinking.
For example, Genesis 2:2 (I did the underling below):
LXX (King): “And God completed on the sixth day the works which he made; and he rested on the seventh day…”
NABRE: “On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day…”
The RSV/NRSV/NJB all translate the same way as the NABRE as they are all based on the MT as well.
Fr. King’s footnote for that verse: “here the translator seems to have edited what he found in the Hebrew text, which at first blush implies that God actually worked on the 7th day, and the translator is evidently determined to preserve the Sabbath from divine labour.” Twenty years into my reading and studying of the bible, and I’m just now discovering this interesting little tidbit. And there are many other such notes that are found scattered through each book.
And this is an example of why he states in his Introduction to Genesis: “As you read this translation of the Septuagint, I should like to encourage you to keep your Bibles open, and see some of the differences between the Greek and the Hebrew versions from which your bibles will normally have been translated.”
When you flip passed the books of Moses, Joshua and Judges you find “four books that belong very closely together. The LXX signals this by calling them 1-4 ‘Reigns’ or ‘Kingdom’. We shall call them by the conventional titles, of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings (the latter originates with Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew text into Latin).”
Next are two books that “were just one volume in Hebrew; it was only when they were translated into Greek that they were divided…the Greek translator called it ‘Paralipomena’, or ‘things left out’.” Again, Fr. King uses the traditional titles of 1 and 2 Chronicles for these books. I’m glad because as hard as I try, I find it difficult to pronounce Paralipomena without my tongue and mind becoming momentarily paralyzed.
Going forward to the Wisdom books you first come to the Book of Job, personally one of my favorite books and one I admit I haven’t read in a long time, so it’s a joy to read it again, this time from the Septuagint. Fr. King: “the Greek text is notably shorter than the Hebrew, sometimes offering no more than a paraphrase (though there are also occasional additions). This is partly, one suspects, because in places the Hebrew is so very obscure, and partly because it tends to be repetitious. The Greek translation makes various theological emendations…This translation is particularly interesting as it is our first evidence of how some Jews, from a different culture, read this remarkable work.”
A sample introduction, this one from Psalms.
About the numbering of the Psalms, Fr. King notes, “This Psalm (9) was originally an alphabetic psalm (although bits are now missing), and Psalm 10 was its continuation, as LXX correctly observes. We shall continue to number in accordance with the Masoretic Text, but with LXX in brackets after the MT numeration.”
When you get to the prophets and specifically now to Isaiah he writes, “the Greek translation is odd in places, for occasionally the translator seems to have misunderstood the Hebrew (assuming that he had the same text before him as we have), and his Greek is simply unintelligible at times. At other times, however, he shows excellent translation skills, though he sometimes feels free to suggest a different translation, often entirely appropriate to the themes of the book as a whole.” Finally, “the reader is warned that at times it is very difficult indeed to follow the order of the Isaiah scroll; in particular how one passage leads into what follows. So do not worry if it seems impossible to grasp; simply sit patiently with it.”
Above is an example of the page layout for the entire Old Testament section. And considering the season we’re in, I wanted to display that particular part of Isaiah.
Jeremiah is another book I haven’t read in a long time, so when I started to flip through it I was immediately reminded and educated to the difficulties scholars have when it comes to the proper order and structuring of the book. In his translation, Fr. King uses the following chapter order:
He writes in the Introduction, “the Greek is about 12 per cent shorter (than the MT). And the discoveries of fragments of Jeremiah in the Qumran caves (especially the one known as 4QJer(b) suggests that there were several editions of Jeremiah known to 1st century Jews; many scholars think that LXX may be closer to the original, in particular in the placing of the ‘oracles against the nations’, though in the circumstances that is a tricky claim to sustain.”
When I first started to look into this translation, I saw that it was roundly endorsed by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, Desmund Tutu and Henry Wansbrough, OSB, general editor of The New Jerusalem Bible and former member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. However, I didn’t buy it for that. I bought it because he translated from the Septuagint. Had it not been for that I most likely wouldn’t have purchased it.
In his mostly favorable review for the Methodist Recorder , The Rev Dr. Paul Ellingsworth wrote, “This is a version intended to be read rather than analyzed, so detailed criticism is best left to academic journals.” And while I hope that someday someone with the proper biblical and language skills will do such a review, I can definitely say that I am reading this translation. For me there’s nothing like a new translation of the bible to open our eyes and spirit, or, as their advertisement says, to “shake off the dust which often settles on passages which have become tired from over familiarity or frequent quotation.”
This translation is a challenge and one that I honestly look forward to reading every day. I believe it’s a wonderful resource and it’s my hope that this translation will someday be readily available to an American audience.