Invitation to the Septuagint

By Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva
Grand Rapids : Baker Academic (2000). 351 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
12.2 (Fall 2001) : 263-264

Waiting for an up-to-date, accurate, and understandable guide for the study of the Greek Septuagint (hereafter, LXX) is over. Henry B. Swete’s An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (Cambridge University Press, 1900) and Sidney Jellicoe’s The Septuagint and Modern Study (reprint; Eisenbrauns, 1978) will continue to be valued volumes (especially in advanced studies), but Invitation to the Septuagint undoubtedly will become the textbook of choice for any institution offering an introductory course in Septuagintal studies. Although Jobes and Silva purposefully presumed no prior knowledge of the LXX on the part of their readers, they have also included much of interest to advanced students.

Why study the LXX? In their introduction (19-26) Jobes and Silva answer by demonstrating the value of the Greek OT to the study of the Hebrew Bible, the extent of its use in the Christian Church, and its significance for NT studies (“No New Testament scholar can afford to ignore the Septuagint,” 24). Each of the three subsequent parts of the book commences with a brief overview. Each chapter within those three parts begins with a descriptive summary of the chapter’s contents and concludes with a segment entitled “To Continue Your Study.” One of the most helpful of these chapter-concluding segments deals with establishing the LXX text (137-45). Four pages are reproduced from standard critical editions of the LXX (Larger Cambridge, Rahlfs, and Göttingen Septuagints) and a descriptive key is provided, identifying, highlighting, and explaining their key elements. Footnotes provide additional information and refer the readers to additional resources. Simple, informative charts augment the text at strategic points (cf. 46-47, 56). Photographs introduce the readers to the LXX visually (cf. 60-62, 64-66).

The first part, “The History of the Septuagint” (27-102), includes chapters dealing with the origin of the LXX and Greek daughter versions (29-44), the transmission of the LXX (45-68), modern editions (69-85), and LX X’s characteristics as a translation (86-102). In the description of the daughter versions (Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion; 38-42), Jobes and Silva could have defined more of their individual characteristics as elaborated by Jellicoe (The Septuagint and Modern Study, 76-99). Without clearly understanding the character of the LXX as a translation, text critics and exegetes alike have misused the witness of the Greek OT by too often rushing to offer a retroversion (hypothetical Hebrew translation based on the Greek of the LXX; cf. 153-57, 327). Jobes and Silva confirm that the tension between translation technique and a variant Hebrew text as potential solutions “is perhaps the weightiest problem in Septuagint scholarship” (90).

“The Septuagint in Biblical Studies” (103-236), the second part, covers the LXX’s language (105-18), its own textual criticism (119-45), its use for textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible (146-66), the relationship of the Dead Sea manuscript discoveries (167-82), the LXX’s contributions to the study of the NT (183-205), and the interpretation of the LXX (focusing on Gen 4:1-8; Isa 52:13–53:12; and Esth 5:1-2) (206-36). Jobes and Silva are blunt but duly circumspect in their declaration that the concept of autographa needs to be retained in the text critical study of both the LXX’s and the Hebrew Bible’s texts (120-24). Happily, they provide the readers with a much-needed set of cautions with regard to both the maximalist and the minimalist application of the traditional canons of textual criticism (128-31). The discussion of transcriptional probability is just one of many examples of the duo’s balanced approach. It is as satisfying as a deep breath of fresh mountain air. The same can be said of their positive description of the Masoretic Text: “The remarkably faithful work of the Masoretes assures us that the form of their text takes us as far back as the late first century of our era” (147). As far as the Dead Sea manuscript finds are concerned, “It is clear from the Hebrew texts found at Qumran that the MT, on which modern English translations of the OT are based, is indeed an ancient text that was already stable before the time of Jesus” (177).

The volume’s final part, “The Current State of Septuagint Studies” (237- 307), introduces significant LXX scholars of the past (239-57), current studies in linguistic research (258-72), a discussion regarding reconstruction of the LXX’s textual history (273-87), and theological development in the Hellenistic Age (288- 307).

Four appendixes designed to increase the usability of the volume are inserted ahead of the indexes: Appendix A describes major organizations and research projects (311-18), Appendix B is a partially annotated bibliography of reference works (319-23), Appendix C is a very helpful glossary (324-28), and Appendix D provides a table of differences in versification between English translations of the OT and the LXX of the Rahlfs edition (329-31). Indexes include subject (335-43), author (344-48), and Scripture (349-51).

Let readers of this review who have experienced little interest in the Septuagint heed this warning: Jobes and Silva’s volume is not an abstract and antiseptic approach to the Greek OT—it is a level-headed, captivating introduction that has the potential of piquing your interest in the LXX for life. For this reviewer, this volume will be his required textbook for introductory courses on the LX X until someone is able to trump its balance, accuracy, and usability.