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Troxel, Ronald L. [Ed.]
LXX-Isaiah as Translation and Interpretation. The Strategies of the Translator of the Septuagint of Isaiah.
Leiden-Boston: Brill 2007. XVI, 309 S. gr.8° = Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, 124. Lw. EUR 119,00. ISBN 978-90-04-15394-3.
Ronald Troxel has given us an important and corrective work on the creation of the Old Greek translation of the book of Isaiah. Curiously, it is not the book he claims to have set out to write.
His monograph »lays the foundation for a new view of the translator’s work« (IX). With regard to those who have gone before, T. observes that »(t)he sketch of the translator of Isaiah promoted by many scholars over the past fifty years ... is, I argue, based on undisciplined associations between unique phraseology in the book and significant events known from the second century B. C. E.« (IX).
T. identifies himself with the consensus view that the translator »would have belonged to a relatively small circle« (Chapter one, »The Translator of Isaiah«, 1–35). He also acknowledges the observation made by J. Ziegler, I. Seeligmann, A. van der Kooij, and others that the work’s translator stands apart even from his compeers among that little group. Where T. wants to differ with that stream of scholarship is in the method that characterizes it and the profile that it has produced for the translator. He argues that what one might call the German-Dutch tradition (e. g., Ziegler, Seeligmann, van der Kooij, and to a lesser extent A. Aejmelaeus) commit two cardinal errors. First, they assume that the translator’s Vorlage ap-proximates to our Massoretic Text. Second, they conclude in too facile a manner that he practices a kind of »contemporizing« translational strategy. Although T. indicts Seeligmann and van der Kooij of this latter error, they were following a path hinted at already by scholars who had worked over the material before them.
Van der Kooij comes under particular criticism throughout the book. First, for his too precise reading of the use of γραμματικός to signal the translator’s self-understanding and subsequently, for his sustained employment of the concept of Erfüllungsinterpretation as a key feature of the translator’s method. Taking up the freight with which van der Kooij loads the term γραμματικοί in Isa 33:18, T. argues cogently that »the most it tells us of this translator is that he considered the γραμματικοί essential to society’s wellbeing«. Nevertheless, T.’s examination of the term in its Alexandrian context does not shift its value for dating the Greek Isaiah from van der Kooij’s assessment that the work was executed »shortly after the middle of the second century B. C. E.«.
At this point, T.’s extensive first chapter ceases its review of the literature and becomes a first taste of T.’s two signal accomplishments. T. seats the translation of Isaiah from Hebrew into Greek in the milieu of »the disruption of academic life in Alexandria in the years after 145 B. C. E. ...«. Furthermore, he argues that the translator is not just an Alexandrian, but a person familiar with the ways and means of that city’s scholarly guild.
T. probes the milieu for links between Alexandrian scholarship of the era and LXX Isaiah that go beyond »just the new language and vocabulary« (Chapter two, »Alexandria and the LXX«, 37–72). He depicts a non-ghettoized, deeply integrated Jewish community in the city. Pseudo-Aristeas is adjudged contemporary with the translation of Isaiah. For this reason the Letter of Aristeas becomes a meaningful source with regard to Alexandrian Jewish attitudes towards the wider society, in particular its scholarly dimensions. The work aids in our understanding of how Alexandrian Jews of the time perceived the earlier translation of Torah into Greek. Influ-enced by recent arguments put forward by S. Honigman and V. Tcherikover, T. finds that Ps-Aristeas – presumably representing notions that would have been current among the roughly contemporaneous community of the Isaiah translator intertwines key components of the Exodus narrative with the story of the translation that the Letter purports to endorse:
»By combining the Exodus and Alexandrian paradigms, T. asserts that ›the translation was made out of a perfect scroll, was perfect itself ... And he underwrites this by affirming that the translation rested on the highest scholarship of the day.« (52)
The latter insight becomes axiomatic for T.’s historical reconstruction, for he wishes to present an Isaiah translator who, ad-miring the labors of the Greek translators of Torah, would have assumed that their reliability was in part a reflection of their conformity with the canons of Alexandrian scholarship, and would have attempted to do justice to this tradition in his own project. T. describes a scribe who was, mutatis mutandis, quite like the γραμματικός whom van der Kooij envisages.
Moreover, T. rehearses the impossibility of finding a systematic »translation technique«, opting for the English »translation strategy« as equivalent of Übersetzungsweise (Chapter three, »Reconstructing the Vorlage of LXX-Isaiah«, 73–85). If establishing the translator’s Vorlage is the first step in assessing his translation strategy, this must proceed »dialectically« (74). T. surveys which scholars, on the extremes, assume that the Vorlage = MT or who argue that most or all divergences from the MT in the Greek must have their origin in a Vorlage distinct from the one passed on to us by Massoretic tradition. He opts for a middle road, whereby each »variant« must be assessed on its own merits.
T. here sets himself apart from van der Kooij by insisting on reading the text as a coherent work on its own merits. He prefers to plunge in to the messy »dialectical« work of assessing all available texts and versions as an opening gambit. Yet one is left perplexed when seeking in such a method the systematic new ap-proach to the LXX-Isaiah conundrum that T. has told us we should expect.
Having asserted in his third chapter that virtually any translation is the result of both »linguistic interpretation« and »contextual interpretation«, T. dedicates two lengthy essays to working through the evidence that both dynamics have occurred in the making of the Greek Isaiah (Chapter four, »Linguistic Interpretation in LXX-Isaiah«, 87–132; Chapter five, »Contextual Interpretation in LXX-Isaiah«, 133–172). The work of J. Barr and E. Tov provide many of the cues for a sophisticated treatment of how a translator can practice »freedom« and/or »literalism«. These two chapters, which lay the foundation for a deep critique of the Erfüllungsinterpretation approach, would have been rendered more helpful had T. worked with the valuable monograph of S. Daniel and perused this reviewer’s book-length contribution (S. Daniel, Recherches sur le Vocabulaire du Culte dans la Septante, 1966; D. A. Baer, When We All Go Home. Translation and Theology in LXX Isaiah 56–66, 2001). Once more, T.’s careful work claims novelty for what is in fact a particularly competent walk along a well-trodden path.
Turning to one of the most valuable clarifications that his book provides, T. correctly discerns an unintended consequence of Seeligmann’s pioneering work on the Greek Isaiah (Chapter six, »A Critique of Contemporization«, 173–199):
Although Seeligmann concluded that the translator considered himself living in the ›time for the fulfillment of ancient prophecies‹ and that he ›combined Isaiah’s expectations regarding the future with his own‹, he stopped short of declaring the translator an enthusiast of eschatology. Nevertheless, his description of ›contemporization‹ prompted others to detect evidence of the translator’s fascination with eschatology (173).
The distinction T. establishes between Seeligmann’s »authorial intent« and the »reception history« of his own work is telling, not least because it shows the scarce distance that in fact lies between Seeligmann’s method and T.’s. However, he does demonstrate successfully that the translator fails to exploit opportunities to apply a decisively eschatological touch to forward-looking passages in his Vorlage.
In the following chapter, T. executes a close study on passages of »Israel’s oppressors«, concluding that »the motif of the people’s economic plunder by their rulers superintended the translator’s interpretation of some passages« (208) and that the translator »insinuat(es) behavior commonplace among rulers in his day« (Chapter seven, »Israel’s Oppressors in LXX-Isaiah«, 201–246). Significantly, however, T. is persuaded that – pace Seeligmann and van der Kooij on this detail of the contemporization argument – the translator does not seize opportunities to depict the biblical tyrant(s) in terms of the Hellenistic despot Antiochus IV.
T.’s final main chapter investigates LXX Isaiah chapter 28 in the context of its presumed Vorlage and the extant versions in a manner that puts one in mind of van der Kooij’s book-length treatment of Isaiah 23 (Chapter eight, »Translation and Interpretation in LXX-Isaiah«, 247–286). Further, T. observes that »it is important to comprehend the literary structure of this passage in the LXX without reference to its Vorlage«. When comparing such judicious statements to the promise of a new platform for LXX Isaiah studies, one may be permitted to wonder what all the fuss was about.
This expansive chapter represents a valuable treatment of the translator’s Übersetzungsweise that moves research into the Greek Isaiah a measurable step forward but leaves one wishing for more. Yet T.’s methodology does not, again, represent a new departure. Rather, it is striking for its alignment with the work of Ziegler, Seeligmann, van der Kooij, and this reviewer, save for its well argued assessment that more has been made of the translator’s alleged Erfüllungsinterpretation than the data can support.
A final chapter, entitled »Conclusions« (287–291), is a model of caution and clarity. It would serve well to introduce any reader to the translator of the Greek Isaiah.
LXX-Isaiah as Translation and Interpretation presents a cogent and plausible profile of the Alexandrian Jewish translator who assumed the notable burden of translating a biblical book whose importance for readers of the biblical materials can scarcely be overestimated. Even if one might see slightly deeper interpretive fingerprints on the Greek Isaiah than T. has discerned – particu-larly with regard to the quasi-eschatological status of »Israel« and the depiction of the deity – T. has successfully questioned the notion that Erfüllungsinterpretation figures as the translation’s dominant motif. For this he has placed Septuagintalists in his debt.