Saturday, August 10, 2013

When God spoke Greek

Timothy Michael Law is the author of When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible. In this interview he suggests reasons that Greek translation might be preferred to the Hebrew texts then available to either Catholic or Protestant translators:
...[T]he Septuagint, and not the Hebrew Bible, explicitly shaped some early Christian theology. For example, it was the Septuagint version of Isaiah, not the Hebrew Bible’s version, that shaped the most theologically profound book in the history of Christianity, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The primacy of the Septuagint continues after the first century, and one could not imagine the development of orthodoxy without it. None of this would be terribly significant if the Septuagint were merely a translation of the Hebrew; however, the Septuagint in many places contains a different message. Sometimes the translators of the Septuagint created new meanings in their translations, but there is also another reason the Septuagint is often different.

An alternative, sometimes older, form of the Hebrew text often lies behind the Greek. When the Reformers and their predecessors talked about returning to the original Hebrew (ad fontes!), and when modern Christians talk about studying the Hebrew because it is the “original text,” they are making several mistaken assumptions. The Hebrew Bible we now use is often not the oldest form of the Hebrew text, and sometimes the Septuagint provides the only access we have to that older form. ....

The Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century put the final nails in the Septuagint’s coffin for the West. They followed Jerome’s logic, believing that the medieval text of the Hebrew Bible was indeed the most original text of Scripture. There were some exceptions—Zwingli, for example, had argued that the Septuagint version of Isaiah was superior to the Hebrew—but for the most part Jerome and the Reformers can be credited with burying the Septuagint in the West. .... [more]