BMCR 2019.07.55

Style and Context of Old Greek Job. Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, 183

, Style and Context of Old Greek Job. Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, 183. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2018. 410. ISBN 9789004358485. €138,00.


Among the translations of the different books of the Septuagint (LXX), that of Job, called Old Greek Job (OG), is frequently characterized as “free” with a “good” Greek, opposed to that of Qohelet, characterized as “literal,” full of “Hebraisms,” and the Pentateuch, which contains both “free” and “good” Greek alongside literal, Hebraic renderings. The book, a revision of the doctoral dissertation of Dr Dhont, questions these characterizations in relation to OG Job. The book begins with studying the text of the OG and its philological and textual issues (chapter 1). Chapters 2 and 3 lay out the book’s linguistic approach, polysystem theory, and apply it to the literary context of the OG of Job. The following chapters attempt to better define the style of the OG of Job in several steps: defining the difference between a Septuagintal and “natural” usage of Greek in the work (chapter 4); observing the high register of the text’s Greek (chapter 5); studying some rhetorical features limited to the use of repetitions in a few colas (chapters 6 to 8); and finally offering a fresh view on the cultural background of the translator (chapter 9).

The first chapter recalls the notorious issues of the text of OG Job, especially its relation to its Hebrew counterpart as found in the Masoretic Text (MT). The translation is traditionally characterized as free owing to the diversity in rendering Hebrew words and Hebrew grammatical specificities. The OG of Job borrows verses from itself, as well as from other translations, such as that of the Pentateuch. Moreover, while the OG of Job is shorter than the MT, Dhont reminds us that the received text of the LXX of Job offers a complete correspondence with the MT because Origen had added verses from another translation (the so-called “asterisked” material). Focusing on the “original” translation the book rightly ignores the asterisked material. Moreover, the numerous differences between OG of Job and the MT are always attributed to the translator. Hence, Dhont uses the scientific edition of the Göttingen institute and compares it to the MT without performing any textual criticism and without questioning the origin of the differences between the two. Most of these differences, she argues, are not theologically motivated, but rather show an interest in embellishing the text. What is striking is the ability of the translator to be both literal and literary (e.g. Job 5:2, pp. 36-37). Nevertheless, Dhont shows that stylistic studies of the OG of Job are often biased by the way scholars conceive the Greek that the translator should have used. Hence, instead of speaking of “good Greek,” the book rightly prefers to speak of educated or noneducated Greek language or, better, about the level of the language, according to the Hellenistic and Jewish culture to which this work belongs.

This leads to the second and third chapters. The book presents the polysystem theory (PST). PST describes cultural phenomena as participating in several interacting subsystems. Literature is one of these subsystems, and translation a part of this subsystem. Translations, as so framed, should not be studied against their text sources but as a cultural artefact of the target culture. As part of the target culture, translations must answer not only to the source text but also to the motives of the person/s or institutions that requested the translation and who in turn coined the rules that a translation should follow to be accepted, effective, or legible in the target culture. Moreover, in the case of the LXX, the source and the target culture are not isolated—but participate in a subsystem of “Greek speaking Jewish culture,” which is itself a subsystem intersecting the “Greek speaking world” and of the “Jewish world.” This subsystem has the LXX Pentateuch as its “center.” As a center, the translation of the Pentateuch was influenced by the whole contemporary polysystem (i.e., the Greek speaking world, the Jewish one, the translating text subsystem) and in return influenced the Jewish-Greek world and ultimately the Greek speaking world (at least during the Christian era). Hence, the translation of the Pentateuch established some rules that should be followed by further translations. Even Jewish books originally written in Greek could show “septuagintalisms,” i.e., interference from the Pentateuchal style. This is not owing to the inability of the translators to produce another type of Greek, but because the literary genre implies such a style. In other words, it is expected or acceptable from Greek Jewish literature to produce texts with a style similar to that of the Septuagint of the Pentateuch). The most significant intertext of the OG of Job therefore is not the MT but the LXX itself.

The fourth chapter discusses the Septuagintal and “natural” Greek usage in OG Job. Studying the word order, the way Hebrew features are rendered into Greek, the presence of features of the Koine greek, of transliteration, as well as septuagintalisms, this chapter concludes that the OG of Job, while sharing some similarities with the LXX of Pentateuch, offers a more “natural” Greek. This “natural” Greek is closer to Koine than to Attic Greek. Here, I would question the author’s notion of “natural” Greek, which is less in line with the prudent statements of the first chapter. I am not convinced that “natural” is a better concept than that of “good” Greek. When inferring an interference from the contemporary Greek usage to the OG of Job, the author should have limited herself to speaking about features of the OG of Job absent from the LXX Pentateuch but present in Greek koinē (i.e., mostly in the Egyptian Greek papyri and in inscriptions) or in Greek literature.

In the fifth chapter, the high register Greek in OG Job is discussed. Many times, OG Job is inconsistent in its rendering of a single Hebrew word or root. Poetic and Homeric words are present. Like other non-Jewish Hellenistic authors, the translators create neologisms, which are not loanwords but derivations or compounds of existing Greek words. Other examples of higher register are the syntax (for instance, the use of optative with a nuance of potentiality or of comparison, the periphrastic use of ποιέω, the rich use of particles …), and rhetorical features, such as alliteration, or repetition of words or roots. This last feature is discussed in detail in the three last chapters.

Chapters 6 to 8 are the most technical in the book. The theory of rhetorical repetitions is introduced (i.e., anadiplosis, anaphora, isocolon) in the sixth chapter. In the seventh, many examples of rhetorical features present in OG Job are discussed and compared to the MT. The OG of Job is a poetic work according to the source culture Hebrew standards but hardly according to target on. For example, the OG shows no meters, whereas some rhetorical features typical of the MT occurs, even if the MT does not present them in the corresponding verses. In other words, the translator introduced new repetitions but not new types of repetition. The eighth chapter offers the study of some longer and more complicated examples difference with the MT with more than one type of repetition and including intertextuality (anaphoric translation technique).

Chapter 9 is the most original part of the book. In it, Dhont attempts to say more about the translator. She rightly observes that it is difficult to assess the level of education of the translators with certainty. Translation work does not require the same educational level as some other work, such as original composition. Therefore, a fairly wide range of educated people may have produced such translations, far from the standard of classical Greek prose or poetry, simply because they follow more or less closely their text source and/or, according to the PST, they follow the rules implied by the target culture (i.e., the Jewish Greek subsystem). In contrast to some Greek works like the exagogē of Ezechiel the tragedian the translation of the Pentateuch, as well as the OG of Job, does not give us any proof of the high level of education of the translators. Still, the translators add rhetorical features absent from the Hebrew text. This shows that they were educated to some extent. Moreover, it shows that this kind of alteration was acceptable and probably expected. The thesis of the book is that it was also necessary. If, in PST, the translation of the Pentateuch is the center of the Jewish Greek subsystem, then the necessary growing corpus implies new compositions as well as new translations. These new translations can follow several paths: slavishly copying the translation technique of the Pentateuch, being more closely connected to the source text (like Qohelet and predating the revision of Aquila) or relaxing the connection with the source text to make it appear as some stylistic innovation (like Isaiah or Proverbs). These two last options probably coexisted—the translator behind OG Job follows the latter. OG of Job is an artefact not only produced by but also itself producing a specific Greek Jewish culture.

This excellent book offers clear and nuanced conclusions. The application of PST to the OG of Job is productive, as it asks one to consider the OG of Job for itself. The recent renewal of the studies of the Septuagint follows two different paths: treating it as the Old Testament of early Christianity, or as the product of a Greek-Hebrew Jewish translator. This last approach produced the interlinear paradigm in which the LXX is understood as a resource intended to be read alongside its Hebrew original. The PST offers another approach. As a cultural artefact of the Greek-speaking Jewish world, the OG of Job should be studied not against the Hebrew source text, but against the literature of the Greek Jewish communities. Prudently, the author systematically compares all the different features of the OG to the MT to be sure to attribute them to the translator. This is less useful when we are dealing with the OG of Job as a Greek cultural artefact. While it is important to study why the translators avoid a literal translation from the text source, I suggest that it is important, in the frame of PST, to focus on which features the OG of Job is similar and different from the LXX of Pentateuch. For instance, as the book rightly noticed, the absence of meters in the OG of Job does not show that OG of Job was not conceived as poetry, nor does it prove that the translators were uneducated, but only that the target culture would not have expected that the translation of a Hebrew text shows such features. Therefore, how are we to understand the many rhetorical features and the higher register of language nevertheless found in OG Job? Did the translators avoid some Pentateuchal rhetorical features considered to be inappropriate? If yes, which one(s), and why? In what sense was a specific book of the LXX considered a translation? If some deuterocanonical texts convey some septuagintalisms without having been translated from Hebrew, like Judith for instance, how and when did it become acceptable to produce Greek Jewish literature in an educated register of the Greek language (like that of Philo, for example)? As the book points out, such studies will be difficult owing to our inability to define more precisely the Jewish Greek subsystem at the time of the translation of OG Job. But thanks to this excellent book, this whole new field of research is now open to further investigation.