Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Joosten, Conflicting Exegetical Tendencies in the Septuagint (LXX 8)

For general orientation to this series of posts see here.

Jan Joosten, ‘To See God: Conflicting Exegetical Tendencies in the Septuagint’ 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), 287-299.

A fascinating topic is the object of Joosten's article on the Septuagint Pentateuch. He explores the conflicting tendencies observed in the LXX with regards to "seeing God". One sees traces of what has come to be called "palestinian exegesis", i.e. the "toning down" of passages envisaging the "seeing of God". This tendency is found already in the Hebrew Bible and it is followed by the Targum and the Midrash. In Philo and the New Testament, God has become ἀόρατος ("invisible"), i.e. impossible to be seen, whereas the dominant notion prior to this period was that "to see God" was dangerous but not impossible (pp. 288-289).

At the same time, the opposite tendency is observed in the LXX. One finds passages where, not only is the notion of "seeing God" let to stand, but it is often introduced at the expense of the Hebrew. Joosten finds Hayward's "intertextual" explanations "fragile" and tries to explain this opposing tendency as originating from Egyptian influence. Seeing the god was an important feature in Egyptian religion and this element came through at various points in the LXX Pentateuch. He supports his theory by presenting additional instances in the LXX where Egyptian culture has permeated the version and argues that the LXX is "no flat translation" but "intertwines a great number of inputs" (p. 299). Joosten highlights the need to discern "tendencies" in the translation before attributing divergences between the Hebrew and the Greek to theological reasons. However, his rejection of Hayward's intertextual explanations need not be a pre-requisite for establishing his own theory. Intertextuality observes the use of similar language, but it does not comment on the translator's motivation. It is possible that both explanations could work together.

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  1. Joosten's article is fascinating, but I arrived at a different conclusion about the translator and the Vorlage in my masters thesis. At least with LXX Exodus, we can detect mitigation of the notion of seeing God in the Vorlage, but the translator only seems to make exegetical changes when it has to do with God physically appearing among humanity.

    If you're interested, my thesis can be found here:


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  3. Thanks Daniel, I'll check it out!