Book Review: Karen H. Jobes, Discovering the Septuagint

Jobes, Karen H., ed. Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2016. 351 pp. Hb; $20.00.   Link to Kregel Academic

Karen Jobes is well known for her Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker 2000) co-written with Moises Silva, now in a second edition (Baker, 2015). That previous volume is an excellent handbook for the study of the Septuagint (LXX), but it lacks any exercises for students in the text of the LXX itself. This new volume from Kregel is intended to assist a student read through significant sections of the Septuagint.

Discovering-SeptuagintThis reader includes about 700 verses from nine books from the Greek Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, Additions to Esther, Psalms, Hosea, Jonah, Malachi and Isaiah). Her Exodus examples are divided into two separate chapters (Exod 14-15 and the Ten Commandments from Exodus and Deuteronomy). These selections give the student a wide range of experience in several genres as well as distinctive LXX styles.

Each chapter begins with a short introduction to the book in the Septuagint. Aside from a few obvious general comments, Jobes assesses the translation style of each book. Genesis, for example, is a “strict quantitative representation” of word order and syntax of the Hebrew Bible (19), while Hosea is in some respects quite different than the Hebrew text. This may indicate a different Vorlage or a corrupted text. The introduction concludes with a selected bibliography including a few recommended commentaries as well as monographs or articles on the Greek text of the book. The bibliographies are brief; in most cases these are about a half-page in length.

Each chapter is compiled by graduate students in Jobes’s LXX classes, including Wheaton doctoral students Carmen Imes and Caleb Friedman. After the introduction, the Greek text is presented verse-by-verse with comments on phrases. The Greek is drawn from the Rahlfs-Hanhart critical edition of the LXX. Not every word is glossed, and some a glossed several times with similar comments. For example, the common phrase και ἐγένετο begins both Ruth and Jonah. In both cases the word is parsed and compared to the conventional Hebrew וַֽיְהִי. In some cases rather simple words are parsed ( in Jonah 2:6, for example).

The comments on vocabulary begin by parsing verbs or identifying case, number and gender of nouns and offering a basic lexical gloss not included in Metzger’s Aids for Students of New Testament Greek. But as the introduction observes, some common words are glossed if they appear in unusual forms. In some cases the translation of the NETS is given. Occasionally a syntactical category is given (complementary infinitive, pendant nominative, etc.) The book concludes with a glossary of these terms.

Following glossed verses for a biblical chapter, the editors provide the NETS English translation and a list of quotations in the New Testament where applicable. Some of the examples are not strictly quotations. For example, Jonah 2:1 is presented as cited in Matt 12:40 but this is an allusion to the story of Jonah rather than a formal quotation. The quotation section could have been improved by including the Greek text side-by-side and providing some commentary on any differences between then LXX in Rahlfs-Hanhart and the NA28 Greek text. Although Isaiah 7:14 is quoted exactly in Matthew 1:23, the allusion to Isaiah 54:13 is not as precise.

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the book is the lack of engagement with the Hebrew text. There are many times in the examples given where the LXX differs from the MT in significant ways. For example, in Jonah 2:3, the phrase τον θεόν μου appears in the LXX but not in the MT. There is no notice of this addition in the reader’s guide to Jonah 2:3. In Jonah 2:6, the LXX translator used ἐσχάτη for the סוּף, reed. The ESV translates the Hebrew word as weeds, “weeds were wrapped about my head.” The LXX translator appears to have read the MT as סוֹף, “end.” The NETS therefore translates the word as modifying the abyss, “the deepest abyss.” The notes indicate only that the “this reading of the Heb results in a different division of the clauses” (245), when the LXX has read a Hebrew word with a different vowel, resulting in a different translation.

Both of these examples were found using Emanuel Tov, The Parallel Aligned Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Texts of Jewish Scripture (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2003). In both cases it is possible the translator had a different Hebrew text than what ultimately became the Masoretic text, or the translator added to the text for clarity or theological reasons. A third possibility is the translator misunderstood the text, something most beginning Hebrew students can appreciate. Ultimately this shortcoming is the nature of the book, it is a guided reader for the Septuagint, not a commentary on the differences between the MT and LXX. Perhaps the book could have been improved if the editors had chosen one or two such examples per chapter in order to demonstrate some of the problems facing those who work on the text of the Septuagint.

Regardless of this criticism, Discovering the Septuagint will be a good textbook for a seminary class on the Septuagint or Hellenistic Greek. I might have preferred a workbook style with more space for students to work out the translations, like Kregel’s Handbook for Intermediate Greek (Bateman) or Koine Greek Reader (Decker). Anyone who has a year or two of Greek could use this book to continue to improve their Greek skills by reading these selections from the LXX outside of a classroom setting.

NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Karen H. Jobes, Discovering the Septuagint

Leave a Reply