Thursday, June 10, 2010

Karrer & Kraus on the Septuagint (LXX 1)

For general orientation to this series of posts see here.

Martin Karrer & Wolfgang Kraus, ‘Umfang und Text der Septuaginta: Erwägungen nach dem Abschluss der deutschen Übersetzung’ 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), 8-63.

Several modern translations of the so-called "Septuagint" are underway and others have recently been completed. It was the German translation which gave rise to research projects on Septuagint related issues. Martin Karrer and Wolfgang Kraus discuss how the popularization of the "Septuagint" brings to the fore some "open questions" such as that of Christian Theology. The authors argue that Christian theology is restricted when one is dependent on the Hebrew canon alone, since NT authors did not reject the "apocrypha and pseudepigrapha" but regarded it all as Scripture. This is an erroneous position inherited from Luther's reformation of the canon, according to Nikolaus Walter, one of the initiators of the Septuaginta Deutsch (LXX.D), the German translation. (p.10)

Hanhart assumes a Jewish canon already in the 2nd century BCE, but others like Heinz-Josef Fabry question this position (pp. 12-13). According to Fabry, the idea of text-groups, as seen in mss from the Judean desert, throws into question the concept of one authoritative canon for all groups (pp. 14-15). In the light of these, the authors suggest that the statement in Sirach's prologue (vv. 24-25) is representative of only one group. Moreover, the Letter of Aristeas seems to be defending the authority of the translation of one particular community, the Alexandrian community, as derived from the Hebrew text in Jerusalem, and equally inspired, not subservient to the Hebrew (pp. 19-20).

A discussion of the LXX collection and whether it represents an older form than the MT follows. Various LXX passages and their reception in the NT are also examined. Finally, the authors note how different canons and orders in different church traditions today leave open the question on how a published Septuagint should look like, as well as the question of how double versions for single books should be represented.

In my opinion, while the authors succeed in drawing out the implications of how modern translations of the "Septuagint" may affect the understanding of Christian Theology, no clear distinction is made between the discussion of textual variations and the discussion of canon. Often the two are treated as one and the same.

One wonders whether Christian theology would be significantly affected by the availability of apocryphal/deuterocanonical books to the public — perhaps contemporary theology, but not NT theology. A variety of literature may have been influential on the thinking of NT writers without necessarily possessing the status of Scripture in their mind. The task of the NT scholar has always involved the recognition of such influences from both Jewish and pagan writings regardless of canonical status.

Moreover, modern readers of the "Septuagint" should not be fooled into thinking that what they hold in their hands was what the NT writers had access to. The multiplicity of Greek versions available at the time, as well as Aramaic versions (oral or written), would have been just as influential in Palestine and elsewhere.

Finally, while Qumran has revealed a variety of textual readings, one should not downplay the ancient concern for accuracy and uniformity in translation and copying, reflected in Aristeas' propaganda, in Philo and increasingly in revisions of Greek mss towards a proto-Masoretic text, culminating with Aquila. The modern Septuagint reader should be aware that what they hold in their hands is a still disentangled collage of ancient Greek readings from various times and places which remains to be sorted. Sadly, knowledge of these complexities will not accompany most purchases of modern "Septuagints".

Myrto Theocharous


  1. Thanks Myrto for your contribution!

  2. Myrto Theocharous:
    "Moreover, modern readers of the "Septuagint" should not be fooled into thinking that what they hold in their hands was what the NT writers had access to. The multiplicity of Greek versions available at the time, as well as Aramaic versions (oral or written), would have been just as influential in Palestine and elsewhere."

    Agreed. But a substantial amount of OT citations in NT writings suggest that the Septuagint is most prominently represented among the OT versions available at that time.

    Minor point: what makes you think that Aramaic versions (oral or written) were influential outside Palestine? Is there any evidence?

  3. Thank you Tommy!
    Ulrich, thanks for your comments too. Yes, I am not denying we have good evidence for LXX usage in the NT. I am simply raising some flags. There are still unanswered questions regarding the influence of NT quotations on LXX mss and potential harmonizing. Also more study must be done to establish that a NT writer would not have translated the Hebrew himself in a manner matching the LXX quotation.
    How much choice in Greek vocabulary was there for specific Hebrew words should be examined.
    I should have put "possibly" before my overstatement of "elsewhere". One does find occasionally targumic traditions matching the LXX traditions and some targumic traditions in NT, but I guess it's difficult to know whether these are picked up in Palestine or circulated more broadly. One example off the top of my head is in Revelation. See, Gordon, Robert P. “Loricate Locusts in the Targum to Nahum III 17 and Revelation IX 9”. VT 33 (1983): 338-339.

  4. Myrto Theocharous:
    "There are still unanswered questions regarding the influence of NT quotations on LXX mss and potential harmonizing."

    This is one way of approaching the evidence. LXX editors (esp. Rahlfs, to a lesser extent Ziegler as well) tended to reconstruct the "original" LXX by opting for the readings that deviate from the wording of the NT quotation (parallel). Their reasoning was that Christian transmission of OT (LXX) texts exerted an almost inevitable gravity towards import of the NT text form.

    A classic example is Ps 39:7 where Rahlfs in his 1931 edition reconstructed ὠτία as the original reading solely on the basis of Latin evidence with no Greek ms support. Apparently all Greek LXX mss of Ps 39:7 that Rahlfs has looked read σῶμα. Moreover, the Hebrew MT reads "ears". That - in addition to the Greek ms evidence - should have made σῶμα the reading of the LXX, because of one of the firm principles of LXX editorial theory, i.e. opting for the reading that deviates from the Hebrew MT. Guess what overruled the entire LXX ms evidence and the deviation from the Hebrew MT? The quotation in Heb 10:5 has σῶμα, too. Apparently, Rahlfs was willing grant the Christian LXX transmission to radically obscure the original LXX at that point in the interest of making the Psalm to read like the NT quotation.

    Funny enough, NT editors (like the Alands and Metzger) favor the exact opposite: They assume that Christian scribes while transcribing a NT passage that hits an OT quotation are more prone to adapt it to the LXX text form. Hence, their reconstruction of the "original" NT versions tends to opt for the most distant readings when compared to the LXX.

    Take a moment to reflect upon such a deeply conflicting scenario and the resulting critical texts. I am glad that there are other voices out there. Bob Kraft has a very good and sober article at

    I agree there a lots of unanswered questions surrounding NT citations of OT passages. But there are also lots of prejudices and comparatively little empirical data. BTW - what kind of study design might be fit to generate empirical data as opposed to merely affirming NT influence like Rahlfs with his reconstruction of Ps 39:7 (ὠτία)?

  5. It's obvious you all have a super strong bias against the LXX family of texts. The length of cynicism you all will go through to deny the obvious fact that 2nd Temple Judaism wasn't a monolith and it is possible that the Apostles saw at least some of the Deutero's and psuedo-epigrapha as Scripture.

    We already know that the Pharisees saw some of them as Scripture as seen in the Talmud. We also know that the Jews as Qumran saw some of them as Scripture too!

    You guys are fighting against the inevitable, sooner or later you will have to submit and admit that Saint Jerome was wrong on a number of things, the same with all those who followed his lead shortly before as well as after the Reformation.

    I'm looking forward to this study! Thanks for posting about it.


  6. Ulrich thanks for this. The same questions concern me too. We need to find a balanced way of determining this avoiding any bias. Karen Jobes has a good article on Ps 39:7 in the NT. Thanks for the reference to Kraft's article. I'll have a look.
    Jnorm888, thanks for your contribution. I am not supporting the Protestant or the Eastern Orthodox canon (which I assume you support) in this post. My remark was simply that NT theology can be historically recovered even in the absence of firm evidence on the canonical status of books at the time. It is not necessary that something is canonical for it to be theologically normative for St. Paul or for a community. The writings of John Calvin, for example, are normative for many Presbyterians and they even dictate how canonical texts are to be read, but I don’t know of anyone who would argue that Calvin is Scripture. But this is another debate for another post...