Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why Peter Williams Does Not Believe in the Septuagint

If you hang around Peter Williams long enough you will learn not to speak of the Septuagint unless you want a short lesson on the history of the translation of the Old Testament into Greek. In a recent lecture, Peter gave his reasons why he doesn’t believe in the Septuagint and why you shouldn’t either. You can watch the video on YouTube.


  1. Presumably on this basis Pete Williams does not believe in the Old Testament, the New Testament, or the Bible.

  2. Anonymous, you should probably watch the video. The title intends to draw one in and once you are in you will see that Pete has a twofold sense of the word Septuagint which he is explaining.

  3. I still don't get it. Just clever sounding nonsense to me. You can't magic away something by definition and obfuscation. I don't suppose there can be any supporting bibliography on something that doesn't exist. But if you could recommend something to read in support of this case that would be helpful.

    1. Ok. I thought similar when I first heard it. But there are two issues here: 1) how moderns use the term LXX or Septuagint and 2) how the ancients referred to Greek Old Testament Scripture. All Pete is saying is these are not the same and moderns need to be more accurate, that is, more historical, in the terminology they use to describe the Greek Scriptures. The point is made quite easily by noting that the NT authors cite what we know to be different versions of the Greek Scriptures. This means that they probably would not align with the later position of the 2nd century apologists who claimed only the version of the 70-2. The fluidity in terminology for the 70-2 is also a problem for anyone who would claim that this version was a stable corpus by the 1st century. I have a question for those interested. Many of these Septuagint scholars who claim LXX over MT believe that the LXX is a stable text by the first century even though it has only been around since maybe 100 BC at the earliest. Why can't the Hebrew Bible be a stable text by the same century since it has been in existence for hundreds of years before the LXX? Just pondering the contrary logic...

    2. Jeremiah Coogan5/22/2015 9:34 pm

      Well, the very simple answer to your question is that the antiquity of a textual tradition in a language has no direct bearing on the stability of that tradition. There's no problem in the logic to argue that a translation reached a stable textual form before an older (but still developing) source text.
      This a question that needs to be solved by careful consideration of the evidence for textual variation and pluriformity in both traditions—and what you discover is a good deal of continuing fluidity in both Hebrew and Greek.
      There's also a certain degree of sleight of hand in Prof. Williams' argument. Yes, there were multiple recensions and continuing revisions in the Greek translations of Jewish Scripture (just like there's continuing development in the details of the HB, especially in terms of spelling, reading tradition, and segmentation). But there's no direct correlation between this undisputed point and the polemical assertion that therefore there is no consistency to the biblical text in Greek or that there was no sense of corpus. It's rather like saying that there is no Bible in English because we have the KJV, the RSV, the NRSV, and so forth.
      Prof. Williams is absolutely correct to challenge a simplistic view of 'the Septuagint' as a simple and utterly consistent entity. But it's just as problematic to deny the sense of corpus that's attested in the reception of the Greek translations of Scripture by at least the mid-first century CE.


  5. I'm not against the idea of a unity of a corpus of pre-Christian Greek translations. My point is that this needs to be demonstrated rather than assumed. I currently have not seen any compelling reason to suppose that a first century Christian (for instance) would have certainly thought that the Greek version of Isaiah used in his or her synagogue was part of a unified translation corpus with the Pentateuch.

  6. I think it would be good for both Williams and Ross to write position papers and rejoinders and co-rejoinders for "open access" at ETC. Then once the dust has cleared, then allow clarifying questions from other scholars. Of course, most of this is probably more of a "philosophical" debate, but.....

  7. The largest proponents of the LXX don't care about any of this, and so the LXX will always retain value among them. The LXX at this point is first and foremost a liturgical text, in their eyes (I'm speaking of the Orthodox btw). And calling it into question or casting a suspicious eye over it's transmission is like calling their very tradition into question. Which isn't going to ever happen. They believe they are the apostolic church with an unbroken tradition, and have proven resilient enough to withstand centuries of persecution under Moorish occupation. I don't see how they'd ever be convinced that their Bible version is bad. Not with faith like that.

    Something about that gives it another kind of authority to me, that textual criticism could never do. I'm at the point where I want to see stronger traditions and strong faith. Not science.

    I don't know why other Christians wouldn't want to use it though. It encourages more Christological readings. If I was an atheist or Jew, then sure.. Masoretic all the way. :)