Book Review: 2 Maccabees 1–7: A Handbook on the Greek Text

by | Feb 15, 2021 | Book Review, Uncategorized | 3 comments

2 Maccabees 1–7: A Handbook on the Greek Text by Seth M. Ehorn is the first volume in the “Baylor Handbook on the Septuagint Series” (BHLXX). This might seem like a curious first choice out of all the possibilities in the Septuagint, but Ehorn, who is series co-editor along with Sean A. Adams, has indicated (in this interview) that volumes on Amos, Isaiah, Exodus, and Ecclesiastes are in the lineup. As the first out of the gate, this work sets the bar incredibly high in methodology and execution. I will explain this much more below. Upfront, I can confidently say that 2 Maccabees 1–7: A Handbook on the Greek Text is a tremendous resource for everyone from the average student who wants to read more Greek to the advanced scholar doing specialized work.

Purpose and Methology 

According to the “Series Introduction”, this is a resource designed to make speedier reading and translation possible. That means this book expends its paper and ink to talk about Greek—syntax and grammar. Don’t expect a commentary that will address historical, theological, and literary issues. But you can expect it to deal with every significant grammatical one. With every Greek grammatical issue, that is. Based on the editors’ commendable supposition, in line with the conclusions of John A. L. Lee, that the Septuagint was written in idiomatic Greek, you shouldn’t expect to encounter much discussion of Hebrew. Although this commitment does not affect this book because 2 Maccabees is not a translation of a Hebrew parent text. 

The reader will appreciate that this volume includes the entire Greek text of 2 Maccabees treated segment by segment accompanied by the author’s own fresh English translation. The Greek text is that of the 2006 Rahlfs-Hanhart edition. Although there are frequent textual notes where the Göttingen edition is cited. The primary lexicons cited are GE/BrillDAG and Muraoka’s GELS but LSJ, LEH, and BDAG also show up on occasion. When it comes to the skillful use of resources, Ehorn does not disappoint. You will encounter comments gleaned from The Cambridge Grammar of Classical GreekNumismatics and Greek Lexicography, and Heinrich von Siebenthal’s Ancient Greek Grammar. The book delivers a comprehensive verse-by-verse grammatical analysis to include discourse features and lexical considerations. You should be aware that this book does not provide a gloss or definition for every Greek word. If you’re like me you will find yourself flipping back and forth between the analysis of the Greek text and the respective portion of the English translation to determine some word meanings. Readers of average proficiency (like myself) may benefit from using this tool alongside the Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition which includes contextual glosses as footnotes. 

An Analysis of the Handbook’s Analysis 

Below, I will assess an example of Ehorn’s analysis and share his English translation along with several others for the sake of comparison. His analysis is rigorous. The engagement with commentaries and other literature is thorough. On occasions, when the text does not lend itself to significant discussion, Ehorn—not wanting to pass up an opportunity to offer something—will explain something like a point of accentuation or morphology. To show you what the grammatical and syntactical analysis looks like, I’ll take one verse (chosen at random from those that include hyperbaton) to walk you through Ehorn’s observations.

2 Maccabees 4:26

Greek Text: 

καὶ ὁ μὲν Ἰάσων ὁ τὸν ἴδιον ἀδελφὸν ὑπονοθεύσας ὑπονοθευθεὶς ὑφ̓ ἑτέρου φυγὰς εἰς τὴν Αμμανῖτιν χώραν συνήλαστο. 

The handbook identifies:

  • The case of ὁ Ἰάσων and that he’s the subject of the verb συνήλαστο
  • The presence and purpose of the μὲν… δὲ “point/counterpoint set” noting its completion in the next verse
  • The parsing of ὁ ὑπονοθεύσας, its function, a cross-reference to where its meaning can be found under the discussion on 2 Macc. 4:7, and a note that this is an example of hyperbaton. The reader will quickly come to realize that there is a lot of hyperbaton in 2 Maccabees. For those more familiar with the Greek of the New Testament, these explanations are always useful.
  • The case and function of τὸν ἴδιον ἀδελφὸν as the direct object of ὁ ὑπονοθεύσας
  • The parsing of ὑπονοθευθεὶς labelling its use with the preceding word as an example of paronomasia (a play on words) with reference to a commentary
  • The use of the preposition in the phrase ὑφ̓ ἑτέρου
  • The noun φυγάς as an adverbial accusative of manner that’s modifying συνήλαστο. This drew my attention because I could not crack the morphology. Additional explanation would have helped me here because I would expect this to be the nominative singular (φυγάς) or the plural accusative form of φυγή.
  • The use of the preposition in the phrase εἰς τὴν Αμμανῖτιν χώραν. Nothing is said about the meaning of Αμμανῖτιν and why the author renders it as “Ammon” instead of “Ammonite.” (My guess is because it’s singular.)
  • The voice, meaning, and morphology of the verb συνήλαστο

All of that analysis is for one single verse. In this example, Ehorn provided plenty of answers and I was left with only two unanswered questions. The author’s translation then reflects these exegetical decisions. I’ve provided the text of the New English Translations of the Septuagint (NETS) and Lexham English Septuagint (LES) for you to compare. 

BHLXX Translation

And Jason, the one who undermined his own brother, was undermined by another [person] and was forced to flee into the countryside of Ammon.

NETS

So Jason, who after supplanting his own brother was supplanted by another man, was driven as a fugitive into the land of Ammon.

LES

So also Jason, the one who undermined his own brother, was undermined by another and driven as a fugitive into the territory of the Ammonites. 

Conclusion

My experience reading this book was entirely positive. I hope I’ve made it clear how impressed I am with this resource. It’s an essential work for anyone working in 2 Maccabees. But it’s also one students, Greek teachers, and pastors (I’ll explain) can all benefit from. Students will benefit from exposure to Greek in an unfamiliar landscape. And there is value for anyone working in the New Testament to read a primary source on the intertestamental period this book describes. Greek teachers will especially appreciate the “Grammar Index.” This valuable tool categorizes the grammatical features and prepositions in 2 Macc. 1–7 and lists their references. This means you can quickly find examples of adverb of manner, left-dislocation, and temporal use of ἀπό to use in the classroom. And what about pastors? Most of us won’t be asking our congregations to open their Bibles to a passage from 2 Maccabees. The pastor stands to gain for the same reasons mentioned above: exposure to Greek and exposure to a primary source covering a portion of the intertestamental period. It will sharpen your understanding of the language and historical context. I eagerly await the publication of future volumes in this series and hope that readers recognize the value this new series has to offer. The accompanying volume covering 2 Maccabees 8–15 (also by Ehorn) is expected to be released in the next year or so.

Photo by Brent Niedergall. Special thanks to Baylor University Press for a review copy of this book. This did not affect my thoughts in any way so far as I know. 

You might also be interested to read my review of Baylor’s Introduction to the Septuagint!

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Associate Pastor at Victory Baptist Church in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.

3 Comments

  1. T.W.

    φυγάς is indeed surely the nom sg noun, so the commentary you chose at random seems to have one notable mistake. I really don’t understand the philosophy of the BH’s to tell you over and over things like that the nom sg noun is nom subject of the 3 sg verb. I believe we need more commentaries for students who already know this permanently (my ninth graders in their 22nd week of Greek study?). On the hyperbaton, perhaps it would be preferable for the author to teach clearly once that sandwiching a ppl’s DO between the ppl and its object is utterly normal and unmarked in almost all Gk prose, though it may be unfamiliar at first to students coming via exposure to the NT. ὑπονοθεύω is worth extra comment because LSJ cites another verse in the same chapter to give only the meaning “to procure (the high priesthood) by corruption,” which is inadequate here.

    • T.W.

      Sorry, I should have written “between the ppl and its article.”

    • Seth Ehorn

      Greetings T.W.,

      First of all, thank you for your engagement with this blog post. I welcome anyone with a shared interest in 2 Maccabees.

      Second, several of your comments are, in fact, addressed by the handbook. You may not realize that Brent’s blog post is a summary and not a full reproduction of the handbook for this verse. As a single example of this, in my discussion of ὑπονοθεύσας in 4:26, I point readers back to the entry in 4:7 where I discuss the meaning of the verb for about half a page. But, don’t take my word for it. Buy a copy of the handbook and see for yourself! 🙂

      Third, I disagree with your assertion that φυγάς in 4:26 is nominative. Based on the morphology, I understand why you might think this, but several reasons mitigate against this: (1) The sentence already has a clear grammatical subject (Ιασων); (2) Similar statements in 4:42 (note the collocation of the same verb and the adverbial expression εἰς φυγήν) and 5:7 (where Jason flees again: φυγὰς πάλιν εἰς τὴν Αμμανῖτιν ἀπῆλθεν) support the view that this is an adverbial accusative in 4:26; (3) I am not aware of any scholars or translations that take φυγάς as nominative. Even the translations that Brent cites in parallel with my own clearly understand it as an adverbial accusative (of φυγή). So, you are not just disagreeing with me, but with all the commentators and translations that I consulted while preparing this handbook. My conclusion is that your assertion that φυγάς is nominative in 4:26 is incorrect.

      Regards,
      Seth Ehorn

Brent Niedergall