“Translating the Untranslatable: Septuagint Renderings of Hebrew Idioms,” by Jan Joosten
This is the third paper that relates to the Interlinear Paradigm, although it is not mentioned by name in the paper. As I mentioned at the outset, Jan Joosten was not part of the NETS translation team but rather comes from a different project, the translation of the Septuagint into modern French. In collaboration with Eberhard Bons and Stephan Kessler, he translated Greek Hosea for La Bible d’Alexandrie. Joosten is therefore not tied to the Interlinear Paradigm the way the NETS team was. Nevertheless, he comes to a similar position regarding the character of the Septuagint as a translation, although perhaps holding back from the more extreme position of Pietersma, who, as quoted above, seems to regard the Septuagint not really as a translation but as a representation of the Hebrew in Greek (a position that Joosten would not endorse).
Joosten’s paper is focused on one narrow issue, namely, the way the Septuagint translators handled Hebrew idioms like “to lift so-and-so’s face” (meaning, to show respect to so-and-so). Here is the key quote from Joosten’s conclusion:
“To all appearances, the ultimate goal of the translators was to give to their readers as much as possible of what they found in the source text. Although the translational process sometimes demands that one should abandon either the wording of the source text or its global meaning, the Seventy were not at ease with this alternative. More often than not, they refused this basic dilemma and tried to compose in Greek an expression that paid tribute to both the wording and the sense” (p. 69).
This may seem to be very close to the Interlinear Paradigm. Indeed, later in the volume, Benjamin Wright said, “I know that in other places Jan has argued that the interlinear paradigm does not succeed as an explanatory hypothesis. But ... I would suggest that we are not all that far apart” (p. 237).
However, I think Jan Joosten is still articulating something somewhat different from what the Interlinear Paradigm seems to be saying. For Joosten, the Septuagint is, at the end of the day, still a translation, that is, an attempt to render the meaning of the source text in words that are still intelligible (however awkward) in the target text. Yes, they did so quite literally at times, or to use the modern distinction between formal and dynamic equivalence, they were clearly on the formal end of that spectrum. Joosten puts it this way: “The translators made every effort to transmit not only the content but also the form of the source text to their Greek readers” (p. 70).
I think that is a better formulation than that of the Interlinear Paradigm, which would have the movement going in the opposite direction, e.g., that they were making every effort to bring their readers to the source text itself, the same way that a modern Greek-English interlinear Bible is intended to bring the English reader to the Greek. Recall Wright’s statement that they “did not intend to produce translations meant to be independent of those [Hebrew] sources” and sought “to bring the reader to the original” (p. 27). Later in the volume, Wright makes the strong assertion that the Septuagint is not “an independent, literary text that a Greek reader would be able to decode readily without recourse to the source text” (p. 236).
I have to admit that I’m skeptical of the Interlinear Paradigm, at least as formulated by Pietersma and Wright in this volume. My concern with the interlinear paradigm is that I do not think the Septuagint translators were trying to bring the Greek speaker to the Hebrew text but to bring the Hebrew text to the Greek speaker. The Septuagint was intended to be read independently of knowledge of the Hebrew. Of course, they were trying to bring over as much of the Hebrew as possible, not only in terms of the sense, but in terms of the formal features of Hebrew. Yet they were trying to do this for a Greek-speaking audience that had no recourse to the source text (the Hebrew). This theory does a better job than the interlinear paradigm of explaining why the Septuagint translators sometimes rendered literally and sometimes not, and when they did translate literally, why their renderings still typically make sense in Greek.