Saturday, October 15, 2005

Evangelical vocabulary?

I suppose that one of the first things that any group that is seeking to define their own perspective does is to undertake a review of language. The question I have is about the language we generally use for textual criticism. Of course one must maintain a certain parity between one's own language and that of the wider scholarly community if one wants to dialogue with that community. At the same time, we also need to look critically at the vocabulary that is used to see whether it is the most helpful. My little challenge here is to see whether anyone can improve on the terms 'Septuagint' and 'Masoretic Text' (or 'Proto-Masoretic Text'). The problem with the term 'Septuagint' is that is probably gives to many minds the impression of a uniform translation and can often lead to fuzzy thinking about the whole 'Septuagint' as an authoritative entity in the first century AD. The second term, the 'Masoretic Text' strikes me as potentially problematic because its consonants were fixed well before the Masoretes, and the term might therefore give the impression of something formed later. Am I unique in finding these terms unsatisfactory? I can't yet think of better ones. I suppose that we could reserve 'Septuagint' for the Greek Pentateuch and then give names to the other translation groups within something like Rahlfs. We would then need a generic name for them all, preferably a plural. For the Proto-Masoretic Text I'd like something that observes a universal aspect of its spelling in which it differs from other Second Temple texts. Any ideas? Is this a blind alley?


JV said...

I, for one, would certainly be in favor of more specific language in reference to the versions, especially in the case of the Greek tradition. Could not a given Greek version be referred to by its specific recential tag for the purposes of this discussion?

For the Proto-MT, how about something like the "Hebrew Bible," or perhaps better, the "Hebrew Scriptures" (I even thought about something like "Tanak," but perhaps it too is latent with ideological baggage that might well be avoided). "Hebrew Scriptures" might be appropriate because the consonants were considered authoratative by communities that go very far back, and it would also allow for one to differentiate between readings which are not necessarily Masoretic but point to a Hebrew _Vorlage_ nonetheless.

P J Williams said...

Useful terms in referring to Greek OT include: Old Greek, Kaige sections, Alpha text of Esther, Theta text of Daniel. However, many parts of the text, e.g. Joshua are not covered by these. In Judges we sometimes have two significantly different texts. How can we refer to these together? Could we simply refer to Second Temple Greek Versions? Ideally we'd just use one word or two, since that would be most comparable to the term 'Septuagint'. You can see why the term 'Septuagint' is used--it's so easy. We need something equally easy, but not so misleading.

James Palmer said...

It's tough, and I don't really like MT or LXX that much. One option is to be very precise the whole time (kaige, LXX-MP etc). Calling something proto-MT (or proto anything) defines it in terms of the later standard, which is ok as long as we remember it is anachronistic.

The problem with Hebrew Bible for MT is that you are smuggling in the idea that the MT is the Hebrew bible without arguing it.

LXX for Greek translation is sort of better, as long as you remember that each translation unit is a separate thing.

Perhaps we just stick with LXX and proto-MT, we all know the caveats and I simply can't think of better alternatives