Text 13 Jul 1 note Response to T. Michael Law’s New Book on the LXX

I welcome any book that draws our attention more to the Septuagint. When God Spoke Greek does that through some very capable writing combined with the author’s genuine passion for his subject. While I have expressed my concerns about some of Law’s positions and statements (on Facebook), that does not destroy my enthusiasm for his work.

Law writes clearly and frames his explanation of the LXX and its vastly important role in Judaism and Christianity in a narrative framework – something that lacks in most treatments of the LXX. Starting with the development of the translation sometime in the late 3rd or early 2nd century BC, Law clearly explains (as far as the evidence allows) how the rest of the books were translated and also how the many revisions took place. If you think that the 2nd century AD versions of Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion were the first revisions, Law will convince you that some of these were probably earlier, including the so-called Kaige revision. Developing the story of the LXX right through its impact on the NT and early Christianity, he concludes with a truly enlightening explanation of the “conflict” between Augustine and Jerome over the latter’s fresh translation from the Hebrew scriptures into Latin, rather than from the LXX, as the Old Latin versions had been. You will learn that each of these giants had some very persuasive arguments. Law also impresses me with his thorough acquaintance with the literature on the LXX. His full bibliography (201-212) is not a token one. He references those books and scholarly articles throughout his writing. He is very qualified to write a book that can inform both the scholarly reader and the beginner who desires to learn more about this subject.

I have expressed some of my concerns on the Nerdy Language Majors FB group – and Michael has responded graciously. One concern of mine, reflecting my own conservative Biblical convictions, is that Law’s acceptance of the higher critical narrative of the Bible’s origin often affects his opinions on the LXX. He responded to my concern about his personal views with a “guilty as charged” so we will just move on from there.

I am also concerned about some of his broad statements that simply overstate problems and issues. While this often relates to his critical beliefs about how the Bible came together, sometimes he is just too general and guilty of assumptions without providing proof. Because of the newly recognized diversity of textual traditions found, for example, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, he will make statements like “reading the Jewish scriptures in the first century would have been exposed to a dizzying variety of textual forms” (86). Dizzying? Like Bart Ehrman on the NT mss, Law makes a bit too much of the differences in the textual readings. He has pointed them out, but in my opinion he makes far more of the differences than the vast areas of agreements. Here is another overstatement (and I could mention more if this was a full review): The Gospel of Matthew borrowed the “Son of Man” terminology from 1 Enoch, who was himself developing that tradition from Daniel 7 (88). How can he be so confident that there is such a three-fold intertextual link connecting the three documents? Why couldn’t both Jesus (Matthew) and Enoch be drawing on the same Daniel 7 “Son of Man” theme? Also why would he say that “Luther and the reformers were the only Christians in history to have definitely abandoned the broader canon” (127) when in the footnote 31 following this statement, he mentions some exceptions to his “only Christians in history” (189).

These overstatements dampen but do not destroy my enthusiasm for this book. He pointed out, for example, that Jerome did not simply assume the wrong vowels in the Hebrew verb קרן keren (“horn”) for the Hebrew karan (shone) in Exo 34:29. He explained that the Aquila revision did have the Greek word κερατωδης (horned) and that may have influenced him in attempting to decipher the translation (160). This and many other observations have filled in my knowledge of the LXX and its truly significant but overlooked importance. I appreciated also his section on Pauline use of the LXX to make a particular theological argument in Romans (105-111), building on the work of Ross Wagner (Heralds of the Good News).

I wrote on FB that Hebrew purists will not like this book, but they will face a real challenge in answering his arguments about the textual diversity of the Hebrew text prior to the second century AD. They will also be challenged to demonstrate how we can be dogmatic that the resulting Masoretic Text preserves the most ancient form of the Hebrew textual tradition. Law argues that the evidence of the DSS combined with a renewed appreciation for the Hebrew vorlage(n) of the LXX simply renders such dogmatism as unacceptable. The ball, therefore, is in the court of the MT advocates.

A few more concerns. (1) I believe that Law has not given enough attention to the evidence from the Sirach Prologue, Philo, and Josephus that Second Temple Jews DID recognize a core set of works as their “Scriptures.” (2) The deliberate neglect of earlier scholars on the LXX like Swete, Conybeare, and Jellicoe should not take place in a book as scholarly as this one. (3) I would also have liked him to pay more attention to the Gottingen LXX as well as to reference more the LXX lexicons by Lust-Eynikel-Hauspie and Muraoka. (4) The lack of a Scripture Index also impedes the use of the book, especially after an initial reading.

I am not ready to conclude that Law has dethroned such excellent LXX Introductions by Jobes and Silva, Dines, and Marcos, but Michael said on FB that this was not his intention. If you desire to see how the LXX influenced both ancient Judaism and Christianity, Law is the place to start. I personally think that Jobes and Silva avoid some of the broad generalizations that Law makes in his otherwise remarkable work.