I have already reviewed this book. See my 6-part review on 3/2/14, starting with part one.
There are several valuable introductions to the Septuagint available, but this one by Tessa Rajak does the job using a different angle than most – a historical and social angle – which shouldn’t be surprising given that Rajak is Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the University of Reading. She examines the production, reception, and use of the Septuagint by its intended primary users – the Greek-speaking Jewish diaspora living under the Hellenistic kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean. “The Greek Bible translation was above all a book for the diaspora” (p. 92).
She employs post-colonial theory as a lens through which to understand the nature and function of the Septuagint as a translation made for a socio-religio-ethnic group seeking to acculturate itself to the dominant Hellenistic culture without losing its own cultural identity by total assimilation. This is what gives the Septuagint its double character. On the one hand, it is written in standard Hellenistic Greek and at points engages in a certain amount of cultural adaptation whereby adjustments and concessions are made to the Hellenistic Ptolemaic environment. On the other hand, the Greek style also displays a high degree of interference from the biblical source languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) making it a specialized Greek that, even as it accommodates itself to the dominant Hellenistic culture, also asserts its own ethnic Jewish identity. The Septuagint, by its very nature as a translation from Hebrew into Hellenistic Greek, is part and parcel of the Hellenization project of the Jewish community. “The possession of writings in Greek denoted membership of the Greek ‘club’ ... a bid for inclusion in the new order” (p. 87). Yet “cultural adaptation went only so far .... Their special Greek, by respecting the source language of the text, serves as an assertion of identity and of the value of tradition for the text’s owners” (p. 153). As “self-protection against imperialism” (p. 154) the Greek text was intentionally made to sound foreign and Hebraic in order to function as a marker of Jewish identity. This dual strategy of accommodation and assertion of identity was the key to the survival of the Jewish diaspora living as an ethnic sub-group within a dominant Hellenistic culture. Hence the title of the book, “Translation and Survival.”
Although that is the book’s central argument, there is much, much more here for students of the Septuagint to feast upon. Rajak covers a wide gamut of issues related to Septuagint studies with tremendous learning, elegant writing, and the historian’s eye for the illuminating detail. Some of the topics covered include the following:
- The Letter of Aristeas as a historical myth that contains an essentially historical core
- The story of the LXX’s origins as “the charter myth” of diaspora Judaism
- The cultural context of Ptolemaic Alexandria in the third century BC
- Semitic interference from the source language in the Greek of the LXX
- The Greek of the LXX as an artificial translation language
- A critique of the Interlinear Paradigm
- LXX neologisms, i.e., words coined by the translators
- How the LXX translators thought about kingship and secular political power
- Hellenistic-Jewish literary production based upon the LXX
- The influence of the LXX upon the New Testament
- Philo and Josephus
- The biblical culture of Hellenistic Judaism
- Greek and Roman authors’ knowledge of the LXX
- A critique of the “abandonment theory,” the theory that the Jews abandoned the LXX because it had been taken over by the Christians
I highly recommend this book for all students of the Septuagint.