When God Spoke Greek… Did We Forget Who “God” Was?

I find myself conflicted when it comes to the Septuagint. I’m sympathetic to recent arguments in favor of the Septuagint’s importance, particularly in light of the early Christian community [see Timothy Michael Law’s excellent book When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Hebrew Bible]. However, I don’t know what to make of the ways in which the LXX seemingly whitewashes some of the more robust (read: not-Hellenized) theological descriptions found in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.

A few examples:

Genesis 6:6
The LXX usually translates the Hebrew nhm (repent, change one’s mind, regret) with the Greek term metanoeo or metamelomai, but here it avoids both of these verbs and reads “And God considered that he had made man.” As Wevers observes in his Notes on the Greek Text of Genesis, the author “obviously softened the anthropopathic metaphors of the Hebrew and has God, rather than reacting emotionally to man’s evil condition, concentrating on what he will do to rectify the situation.”

Exodus 32:12, 14
A similar phenomenon happens in another classic “divine repentance” text – Exodus 32. Verse 12 changes from the Hebrew “repent of the evil against your people” to the Greek “be merciful concerning this evil” while v. 14 changes from the Hebrew “YHWH repented of the evil which he spoke to do to his people” to the Greek “the Lord was propitiated concerning the evil he said he would do to his people.” (Translations from Victory P. Hamilton in The Book of Genesis, NICOT)

Job 13:15, 14:14
The LXX of Job contains significant interpretive revisions from the Hebrew text (see D. Gard, The Exegetical Method of the Greek Translator of the Book of Job). Job 13:15 transforms from the Hebrew “He may well slay me, I have no hope” (NJPS) to the Greek “Though the Mighty One lay hand on me, since he has already begun, I will speak and plead before him” while Job 14:14 transforms from the Hebrew “If a man dies, will he live again?” to the Greek “If a man dies, he will live again!”

Should Christian theological reflection take the Hebrew texts seriously?
More seriously than the LXX texts?

3 thoughts on “When God Spoke Greek… Did We Forget Who “God” Was?

  1. Until I hear differently from those early Church dudes, the LXX sounds pretty authoritative to me…
    Remember, if we’re going to consider the Hebrew text we’ve got seriously (the 10th century MT), then we also have to consider the fact that … how do I phrase this? … they’re looking back through a heretical sect that’s been using their texts for about a millennium, and they would like their texts back, thank you very much. So, what’s the best way to do that? Alter the way it reads. Or, they may have been altered before the Masoretes ever got there, and they just stayed with the interpretation that some had altered before.
    The point is, these Masoretes were obviously Jewish sympathizers and we have to read the Hebrew text as having an inherently Jewish, and possibly even anti-Christian, interpretation.
    I did a little comparative study on Deut. 32:8, and, when running it through the standard textual criticism protocol, found that most of the other peeps (the LXX, the DSS, the Targums, the Peshitta, and I think the SamPent as well) read AGAINST the MT (the numbering of the nations: “according to the sons of God” (most dudes) vs. “according to the children of Israel” (MT)). So, there are readings that favor the LXX and readings that favor the MT… but still, the MT is only one witness of a multitude.
    Just remember, Mikey, this is a harmony of dissonance we’re talking about. There are many sounds in the echo chamber, but they all originate from the inworking (energeia) of one Spirit, speaking about one Word and one Creator … the one God in three persons.
    Y’vareyk’kha Adonai v’yishm’reykha.
    Ya’er Adonai panav elekha vihunnekha.
    Yissa’ Adonai panav elekha v’yasem l’kha shalom.
    Num. 6:24-26…
    –CB

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    1. There are places where our English translations whitewash some of the theologically robust statements made in the texts as well. Is that because the text has become americanized? To a certain extent, it has. But it has been americanized because it is being read by Americans. That is, those of us reading the text in translations need a text that we can understand.

      My point is that it will be hard to judge the manner of differences between LXX and MT without a much deeper investigation into the theologies of the two text types. It may be that the LXX introduced Hellenistic concepts because it was written for Hellenists, or the changes could have been made intentionally by the translator for theological purposes.

      Read the LXX of Deuteronomy and think through the theology of the whole thing. Then compare that with a theology of MT Deut. Then you can make an even handed judgment of the reasons for differences in the two texts.

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