Review of Natalio Fernández Marcos, Septuaginta: La Biblia griega de judíos y cristianos

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

Natalio Fernández Marcos, Septuaginta: La Biblia griega de judíos y cristianos (Biblioteca de Estudios Bíblicos Minor 12; Salamanca: Ediciones Sígueme; 2008). 157 pp. Softcover. €15. ISBN: 9788430116898.

This compendium of Fernández Marcos' exhaustive reference work, Introducción a las versiones griegas de la Biblia (1998), fulfills an important need for a popular introduction to the Septuagint in the Spanish-speaking community. Fernández Marcos (NFM) seeks to guide the non-specialized reader on a journey through the history of the biblical text in the centuries around the turn of the era in order to facilitate the interpretation of the Septuagint in the context of Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity (11). He presents the Septuagint not merely as a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, but moreover as the Bible of Hellenistic Judaism which was subsequently adopted as the official Bible of the early Christian Church.

The first three chapters outline the origins of the Septuagint in the context of Hellenistic Judaism. NFM emphasizes the plurality of Judaism around the turn of the era, and the resultant plurality of biblical texts and canonical boundaries among the Samaritan, Pharisaic, Qumran, and Hellenistic Jewish communities. Pharisaic Judaism adopted the 22 (24) book canon of the Hebrew Bible, while Hellenistic Judaism adopted a Bible whose books correspond to the books later included in the Septuagint by Christians (19-22). The Letter of Aristeas, while blending legendary and historical elements, presents the unprecedented translation of the Torah into Greek in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.) as both a parallel and a contrast to the Exodus account, so that the act of translating corresponds to the giving of the Law at Sinai, with the Septuagint thereby supplanting the Hebrew Bible (23-32). External and internal evidence suggests that bilingual, educated Jews, perhaps even from the priestly circles of the Temple, translated the Pentateuch in an academic environment which was closely related to the intellectual climate of the Ptolemaic court and the Library of Alexandria (35-44). The translation of the rest of the books of the Septuagint apparently took place over the next four centuries, mostly in Alexandria, although the details remain uncertain and debated (44-46). The one clear result which has emerged from investigations in this area is the rejection of the theory of the existence of a separate Alexandrian canon (47-49).

The next two chapters survey the revisions, recensions, and new translations of the Greek Bible by Jews and Christians in light of the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts. Among the Jews, the Letter of Aristeas and Philo represent a trend to understand the translation itself as inspired, whereas the kaige and proto-Lucianic revisions represent an early tendency to improve the translation on the basis of the Hebrew text or in terms of Greek style (51-56). Beginning in the second century A.D., Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion each produced a new Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible intended to supplant the Septuagint, with each translator depending in some measure on previously revised Greek texts (57-63). Among the Christians, three recensions were described by Jerome, but only the Hexaplaric recension of Origen and the Antiochene recension of Lucian have been identified. The Alexandrian recension which Jerome attributed to Hesychius is still unidentified, although an Alexandrian group of manuscripts has been recognized by alignment with quotations in the Alexandrian Fathers (68-76).

Next Fernández Marcos examines the impact of the discoveries in the Judean Desert on Septuagint studies. The Greek papyri from Qumran confirm the unitary origin of the Septuagint while revealing pre-Christian recensional activity (79-81). The Hebrew documents from Qumran exhibit a textual pluralism which requires “that the Masoretic text can no longer be the standard text by which to assess the Bible in the period of the Second Temple” (82). Hebrew texts from Qumran occasionally agree with the Septuagint against the Masoretic text at a literary level as well as at the level of individual variants, especially in the fragments of Samuel and Jeremiah. The Septuagint has therefore been vindicated as a trustworthy translation of a different edition of the Hebrew text than the Masoretic text, so that “it is necessary to respect both traditions, the Hebrew and the Greek, without trying to reduce or to accommodate the one to the other” (82-84). The methods of textual criticism and literary criticism must be employed independently, but their results should be combined when drawing conclusions about the history of the text (84-87).

The next three chapters sketch the relationship between the Septuagint and the New Testament, Christian origins, and the Church Fathers. The New Testament authors imitated the linguistic style of the Septuagint, quoted the Old Testament principally from the Septuagint, and looked to the Septuagint for the inspiration to compose many of their writings (89-96). The Greek Bible became a providential preparation for the spread of the gospel, motivated introductions, paraphrases, and versifications of Scripture to facilitate comprehension in the epoch of the Church Fathers, and played a role in monastic origins (101-08). Apart from Aramaic, most ancient Bible translations were made from the Septuagint rather than from the Hebrew (108-13). The Greek Fathers based their biblical Aporiai, commentaries, and theological treatises on the Septuagint, solving difficulties within the Greek language system (118-23).

A concluding chapter describes the history of the textual transmission and later editions of the Greek Bible. Pre-Christian manuscripts and papyri from Qumran, Nahal Hever, and Egypt provide fragmentary pre-Hexaplaric witnesses to the text (131-33). The manuscripts and codices preserved from the third century A.D. onward are probably all Christian. Uncial manuscripts and codices range from the third to the tenth centuries A.D., after which the miniscule script was used (133-35). The first printed edition of the Septuagint appeared in the Polyglot of Alcalá (1514-1517), and the publication of various printed editions has continued through the centuries, culminating in the Göttingen edition (136-39). Finally, the Septuagint has been translated into French, English, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish (141-48).

NFM's mastery of the material is magisterial. Although almost every topic in the field of Septuagint studies is debated, the treatment of NFM is even-handed. Some statements—positions already established in his earlier and fuller treatment—can be justly questioned. Without warrant, NFM extrapolates from confusion in the Early Church over the canon of the Old Testament to assert that Hellenistic Jews included the apocryphal or deuterocanonical books in their Greek Bible (19). While NFM does not attempt to raise the ghost of a separate Alexandrian Canon, the earliest evidence that the “Greek Bible” ever included more books than the Hebrew canon involves codices produced by Christians some six to seven hundred years after the initial translation by the Jews, and some three to four hundred years after Christianity split from Judaism. NFM is inconsistent when he claims that Christians inherited a Greek Bible with a wider canon than the Hebrew Bible on the one hand (47), and on the other hand admits that the additional books of the Greek Bible were added by Christians after the Church split from the Synagogue (48). NFM's suggestion of a wider Qumran canon (19) is unwarranted, since only popularity, not canonicity, can be inferred from the copies of books found at Qumran. The high claims of Enoch, Jubilees, and the Temple Scroll to be Scripture were not recognized by all in Second Temple Judaism, as is shown by the repeated warnings from Zechariah and 1 Maccabees about the cessation of inspiration. Furthermore, textual plurality at Qumran is different from textual pluralism: literary and textual differences between documents at Qumran and the later Masoretic Text do not necessarily imply that all forms of the text were considered of equal authority by the variegated Second Temple Judaism. With regard to the problem of Theodotion, further research on patristic testimonia is necessary before allowing such testimony to stand as proof of a later as opposed to an earlier Theodotion or proto-Theodotion (63). Finally, to say that the Septuagint was the official Bible of the Early Church (9, 99, 151) is perhaps an inappropriate statement. The Christian Church quickly broke away from its Judaic roots, and its dominant non-Jewish component lost access to its Scriptures in Hebrew. Was there any other Bible available to them besides the Septuagint? There is no record of a council which officially approved it. Nonetheless, these are all points of debate among specialists, and disagreement with NFM on them in no way detracts from the fact that this is a first-rate introduction to the Septuagint.

Jason T. Parry and Peter J. Gentry, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.