Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wright, 'The Septuagint and its Modern Translations' (LXX 7)

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For general orientation to this series of posts see here.

Benjamin G. Wright, ‘The Septuagint and Its Modern Translators’ in Die Septuaginta - Texte, Kontexte, Lebenswelten: Internationale Fachtagung veranstaltet von Septuaginta Deutsch (LXX.D), Wuppertal 20.-23. Juli 2006 (ed Martin Karrer & Wolfgang Kraus; WUNT 219; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 103-114.

The goal of Wright's article is to distinguish between various modern approaches of translating a translation, the LXX in this case, and to caution against confusion in the various methods adopted towards this endeavor. He alerts that the "sudden" availability of modern translations of the LXX to the wider public will require the "mediating" efforts of specialists to secure the correct understanding among non-specialists of what is meant by "Septuagint". While the availability of translations has helped "demarginalise" LXX studies and emphasize its rightful place in Second Temple Judaism studies, care must be taken against its misuse.

He rightly makes the distinction between the two levels of studying the text: that of the production point (i.e. the translator's understanding of his Hebrew Vorlage), and that of its reception history independent of the Hebrew. The philosophy of NETS has focused on the former level, relying heavily on Gideon Toury's Descriptive Translation Studies, whereas Bible d'Alexandrie (also here) has focused on the latter approach. The NETS editors sum up their translation philosophy in this way: "Since the Septuagint, with a few exceptions, was not originally composed in Greek, a fully idiomatic translation into English can scarcely be justified." (p.107). NETS, therefore, provides us with an English "facsimile" of the LXX/OG "including many of its wards" (p.107).

While Wright values Bible d'Alexandrie's approach, he stresses that one must distinguish between the two levels of interpretation and keep them separate since the results of each study will be widely different. He quotes Pietersma to sum up that "the difference between the 'produced text' and the 'received text' might be so great as to necessitate speaking of different Septuagints, lest there be a tacit assumption in scholarly discussion that 'the Septuagint is the Septuagint', while in reality quite different entities and distinct methodologies are at issue." (p.111).

Wright's emphasis on this sharp distinction forbids him from sympathizing with the LXX.D (Septuaginta Deutsch) model which aims at bridging the two (i.e. keeping the text as produced and the text as received together). For LXX.D translation and interpretation are mingled in the LXX and separation is impossible. Wright agrees that translation is interpretation, but not necessarily "exegesis" which is done "deliberately, systematically and purposefully." (p.112). That will need to be determined through a careful study of how each LXX translator worked.

Wright's cautionary critiques are essential for modern translations of the LXX, however, he neglects to deal with the fact that the LXX translator is at the same time a member of the receiving audience of his time, and such neat distinctions between what he meant and what they understood may be difficult to draw.

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