We just can’t seem to get enough of the Septuagint. It appears to be approaching the levels of demand usually reserved for stuff like coffee, chocolate, friendship, and sunlight. It’s fair to say that I own more Septuagint-related books than I reasonably require. And I’m not alone. The Septuagint business is booming, and I’m thankful to be around to benefit from all the resources quickly taking over shelving space in my library. My latest acquisition is Introduction to the Septuagint.
This book is a multi-author volume from Baylor University Press edited by Siegfried Kreuzer. Originally published in German as the first installment of the Handbook of the Septuagint series, it’s a delight to see it translated into English. It’s part of a planned eight-part series that will cover all the angles of current Septuagint research and lay groundwork for future scholarship. If we’re so fortunate as to see them translated into English, they will no doubt eat up more of the space on my shelves.
The purpose of this introductory work to the Septuagint is to examine its origin, transmission, and relationship to the canon. It does not deal with the origins or traditions of the writings as Scripture. Instead, it looks at the production and function of the translations in their historical and cultural contexts. As my usual review format goes, here’s an overview of the contents followed by my assessment.
Overview of Contents
Although the chapters are divided into smaller subsections, the book has essentially three primary components: introductory essays, summaries for each book of the Septuagint, and essays on the relationship between the Septuagint and New Testament. My overview will cover the material in this arrangement.
The Origin and Transmission of the Septuagint
This first chapter by Siegfried Kreuzer weighs out views on the origin of the Septuagint. He proposes that the origin story in the Letter of Aristeas took hold because it presented a plausible scenario in Egypt with a king and library. Kreuzer suggests the Jews were “interested in highlighting their history and their traditions in an independent, positive manner” (19). The publication of books such as Genesis and Exodus in Greek would have allowed the Jews to emphasize their traditions. Following on the heels of origins, there is a coherent presentation of the complex topic of recensions. Canon, transmission, and religious/cultural impact round out the chapter.
Overview of Textual Witnesses to the Septuagint
This one isn’t actually an essay, but a list of the important witnesses for the transmission of the Septuagint. It gives Greek and relevant Hebrew witnesses to offer a chronological orientation of the textual landscape.
From the Torah to Nomos: Perspectives of Research on the Greek Pentateuch
Martin Rösel discusses a multiplicity of translators and differing styles for the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy. He surveys the options for a translational paradigm (e.g., Homeric, philosophical, interlinear). And he turns the discussion of dating towards the chronology of composition rather than attempting to fix specific dates. He gives examples of theology in translation and makes a call for further studies on individual manuscripts.
Summaries for Each Book of the Septuagint
The book summaries are the backbone of this volume. The standard outline for each begins with a bibliography covering texts and editions, Qumran texts, translations and commentaries, and a general bibliography. A section on textual transmission and editions follows. It lists significant witnesses along with what has been published in printed editions. A discussion on translation technique offers a relatively detailed description of the translator’s identifiable tendencies in producing a Greek text from a Hebrew source. There is also a section in the time and place of translation. Both are usually difficult to fix with any certainty. When in doubt on the place, you can always say it was translated in Egypt by Jews of a Judean background (311). The next section looks at differences in content and theological differences in the Septuagint text. There is a section on reception history that cites references to the text in extra-biblical writings, New Testament, and patristics. Each chapter concludes with helpful prospects for future research.
Essays on the Relationship Between the Septuagint and New Testament
The Septuagint and the New Testament
Early Christians had access to Hebrew and Greek texts of Scripture. These texts came in different versions. And sometimes, they had to rely on memory because they did not have access to the scrolls for every book of the Old Testament.
The Significance of Septuagint Quotations in the New Testament against the Background of Old Testament Textual History
Wolfgang Kraus contends that while, on the one hand, we can ascertain a “stable core” when it comes to the Old Testament canon, the canon of the Old Testament was not yet fixed when the New Testament was written. Another key point is that the Masoretic Text is not the only biblical text tradition. Septuagint books could even be translations of an older Hebrew text.
The editor’s preface presents what may be one of the most well-developed historical overviews of the genre of introduction. Basically, scholars have been writing them for a long time. And this one truly does meet its goals of providing students access to relevant research and setting the stage for future research. But don’t let the fact that this book is an introduction mislead you into thinking it’s simple and basic. The Septuagint, by its very nature, is a fairly complex topic with its recensions, Hebraizing revisions, and hypothesis on the purpose and impact of Origen’s Hexapla. There is a wealth of deep and sometimes complex content to consider. That’s not to say that this book is not a good introduction. Still, if this is your first time getting your feet wet in the Septuagint, you’ll probably want to start out with a title such as Invitation to the Septuagint by Jobes and Silva or The Septuagint by Dines before advancing to this work.
When it comes to the essays, they are useful. The one by Rösel on the translation of the Torah orients the reader to the chapters on the writings of the Pentateuch. The only other section with any sort of overview similar to this is the prophetic books, which begins with an overview of the twelve prophets. Perhaps this introduction to the Greek Pentateuch was included because technically, the Greek Pentateuch alone is the Septuagint based on the pseudepigraphic Letter of Aristeas. So the Pentateuch admittedly deserves some special attention. More introductory essays like this for other sections would have been an excellent addition. A book can only be so thick, though. And this one is thick.
The individual chapters covering each book of the Septuagint are well done. I’m not sure what all is driving the current Septuagint craze, but its fans want to read and understand a version—a translation of Scripture. This is a book to keep close by when reading your Septuagint. It gives you a current and concise summary of the most significant issues for each book.
When it comes to analyzing each book of the Septuagint, there is another book on the market that does almost the same thing called the T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint. It involves some of the same contributors who understandably, as specialists, would be among the best qualified to write on the subject. Both books follow a similar arrangement in their treatment of these writings. This book under review includes essays devoted to topics in Septuagint research, while the T&T Clark Companion only contains a short introduction. Only the T&T Clark Companion devotes a particular section in each chapter to text-critical issues, while only Introduction to the Septuagint devotes a specific section in each chapter to prospects for future research.
So which is better? Which is more recent and up to date? They both came out within a year or so of each other (this one in German), so neither has a leg up over the other. Which one has the most useful material? Only Introduction to the Septuagint includes the essays on transmission, textual witnesses, NT usage, and other critical issues. Another important consideration comes down to cost. Introduction to the Septuagint will run you around $70 in paperback, and $100 in hardcover. The T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint sells for much more at $180 in hardcover only. That’s a big difference. But, you should also know, Logos Bible Software sells the T&T Clark Companion in digital form for a paltry $24. That’s cheap. Considering Logos is a purveyor of other works from Baylor, hopefully, they will eventually add Introduction to the Septuagint to their lineup. Ultimately, I prefer my books in print, so this one from Baylor is cheaper, plus it has some outstanding essays. So in my book, it’s the winner.
There has never been a better time to jump on the Septuagint bandwagon. So get yourself a Septuagint if you don’t have one already and read the corresponding survey as you work through each book of the Septuagint in Greek. Introduction to the Septuagint would also make an excellent textbook for a course on the Septuagint. If you use the Septuagint, you will benefit from this book—students, scholars, and pastors alike. And it’s indicative that every chapter surveying a book of the Septuagint wraps up with prospects for future research. That means there is plenty more to do! The recent boom in books on the Septuagint represents a clarion call for more people to enjoy and benefit from the Word of God, the Old Testament, in Koine Greek.
NB: Martin Rösel not only contributed to this volume, but he also wrote a generous endorsement for the book I co-edited: Max and Moritz in Biblical Greek (GlossaHouse, 2019).
Thanks to Baylor University Press for providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.