(Larry Hurtado): The “Septuagint” (LXX) commonly designates the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, and everyone interested in Christian origins knows of its importance. But most of the scholarly work on the Greek “Old Testament” has been text-critical and text-historical in nature, and wider questions about the historical and social function and significance of this body of texts have not had the attention that they deserve . . . but things appear to be changing.
In particular, I want to point to Tessa Rajak, Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible of the Ancient Jewish Diaspora (Oxford University Press, 2009), a stimulating, informative and creative study. I highlight her argument that the language of the LXX does not reflect unskilled translators but instead “a kind of recalcitrance, a reluctance to accede totally to a Hellenizing project . . .” (153). The LXX does not represent an attempt to assimilate wholly or to “domesticate” the source text (the Hebrew scriptures) to Greek, but rather is as an example of a “foreignizing” translation that was intended to preserve and convey something of the source language and text. To quote her: “The ioudaioi [Jews] of the diaspora were rather good at the arts of social accommodation and of cultural survival, and the Septuagint was their main instrument” (8).
Moreover, in terms of general history, the LXX is hugely significant: “The Septuagint was the first major tanslation in Western culture” (Rajak, 1). Peter Fraser described it as “a larger bulk of Alexandrian Greek literature than any other single item” (Ptolemaic Alexandria, 1:687), and Martin Hengel judged it “the most important self-witness to Greek-speaking Judaism” (The Septuagint as Christian Scripture, xii).
Among scholars more concerned directly with Christian origins as well, there has been a small blossoming of interest in the Septuagint. For example, Mogens Mueller, The First Bible of the Church: A Plea for the Septuagint (Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), and Martin Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of its Canon (T&T Clark International, 2002). There is also a handy recent introduction: Karen H. Jobes & Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker Academic/Paternoster, 2000).
The language-choices made by the LXX translators had long-lasting and profound effects, particularly in the language of the New Testament texts. One of my predecessors here produced a pioneering study of this matter, which probably now deserves to be re-visited thoroughly: H. A. A. Kennedy, Sources of New Testament Greek, or The Influence of the Septuagint on the Vocabulary of the New Testament (T&T Clark, 1895). In vocabulary and semantics, and in syntactical phrasings the NT shows the influence of the sort of Koine Greek that derives from the LXX.
The Greek Old Testament was quite simply the Bible of earliest Christianity, and anyone interested in the New Testament and Christian origins should invest some time in becoming more familiar with it.