Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Symmachus and the Text of Job 24:25b

In preparation of my critical edition of the Hexaplaric fragments of Job 22-42 for the Hexapla Project, I am noticing again some of the gems among the texts of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion that Origen once assembled in full parallel columns but now come down to us mainly in fragmentary, marginal notes in Christian MSS. The text of Job 24:25b is such a text. Here are the relevant readings:

Hebrew Text: וְיָשֵׂם לְאַל מִלָּתִי׃

And (who) will make my word as not/nothing?

Theodotion (not Old Greek): καὶ θήσει εἰς οὐδὲν τὰ ῥήματά μου

and (who) will set my words as nothing?

Symmachus: καὶ τάξει τῷ θεῷ λόγον ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ

and (who) will deliver a speech to God on my behalf?

Unfortunately, we do not have the text of Symmachus for 25a, but it was probably close to the Old Greek and Hebrew, which is a question on the lips of Job asking, “Who is the one who says that I speak lies?” The Theodotion version (in lieu of the Old Greek) continues the question: “and who will set my words as nothing?” The wording of this line matches the Hebrew closely, except Theodotion must have read מלתי as a plural, not the singular of the later MT. According to this reading, Job appears to be asking who of his three friends will contradict him or show his word to be nothing or of no validity.

The Symmachus version reveals a different reading of the same consonantal text of MT. Symmachus read אל as אֵל “God,” not as later MT’s אַל “no, not.” Furthermore, Symmachus interpreted the final word in the Hebrew “my word” as a word on Job’s behalf (speech on behalf of me), not as a simple possessive pronominal suffix as the Hebrew would be normally construed and as Theodotion read it plainly. Symmachus has read the text differently. He appears to have understood Job’s question not as directed to his three friends but to someone else who could deliver a speech to God on his behalf.

At first blush, this seems like an odd reading. But when we remember that in the so-called witness passages (Job 9:32-35, Job 16:18-22, and Job 19:20-27) that Job has already perceived something of the role of the heavenly court introduced in chs. 1-2 and that his advocate is in heaven (“if not he, then who is it”), perhaps Symmachus read the text of Job 24:25b in light of this understanding. In the midst of the third speech cycle and at the end of Job’s speech, plausibly, Symmachus has read the Hebrew text as Job once again making an appeal to his heavenly advocate who can make his case to God. Of course, all of this reasoning probably indicates that this reading is secondary to the one in MT and Theodotion, but it is still interesting to consider from an exegetical point of view.

One more interesting piece of context comes from reception history. This reading of Symmachus is only preserved beside Job 24:25b in the margin of a relative few Christian manuscripts of the Job catenae, sometimes without an attribution to him. That means Christian scribes continued to find this reading of some exegetical value for this text. We can’t know for sure because I can’t find an explicit comment from a church father that uses this wording exactly (I haven’t attempted an exhaustive search), but perhaps it’s worth speculating that early Christian interpreters found a Christological reference in Symmachus’s version of Job 24:25b, for in it they found Job asking a question to a heavenly advocate who could make an appeal to God on his behalf.


  1. How much have you searched Syriac Fathers (and Mothers)?

    1. On this text? I haven't looked at all.