Thursday, 31 May 2018

Greek Articles in the Septuagint: From Yahweh to Kyrios to Ho Kyrios?

FIVE THOUSAND YAHWEH Greek translations have now been categorised, covering Genesis all the way through to Song of Songs - the question at hand: how did the translators of the Hebrew Bible translate the divine Name of Yahweh into Greek? We know that the answer to that question is the same answer as the title of Adonai: KYRIOS (Lord). But the article is missing in Greek, giving it a name-like quality, like Pharoah. But to what degree? Scholars and historians agree that it is likely that the initial main translation project was not of the whole Hebrew Bible, but rather of the first five books, sometimes referred to as the Torah. If a decision about using anarthrous KYRIOS was made for Yahweh and Adonai at this stage, then measuring article behaviour across the rest of the Septuagint can provide us with interesting data about the translation history of the project, and maybe even some fresh perspective on the redactional dates of the originals. Finally, we may wish to question afresh the adequacy of the "the LORD" solution in many English translations of the Old Testament.

I'm going to present the information graphically in two forms: one with the book of Job included and one without. The reason for that is that because Job is such an extreme outlier in the way it includes the article with Kyrios and Kyriou that it reduces the visual impact of the variations across the other books. So here, first then, is my current data set (excluding Ezekiel, which will be integrated when I provide the full data set with the prophetic books):

So we can observe that the pattern of excluding the article for Kyrios and Kyriou established in the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) seems to continue relatively without change until we get to Job, at which point the rule book is completely thrown out of the window! Job has 26 relevant occurrences of Yahweh translations, and 22 of them include the article. This makes for a huge spike, but note how the orange line tracing the rates of articles does not immediately sink back to its typical levels - both Psalms and Proverbs seem significantly higher than before, just below the 20% mark.

What else do we know about Job that could account for such a wildly different approach to the Kyrios translation? NETS, the critical and publically available Greek translation into English thus far does not integrate this astonishing statistic nor help us in attempting to understand it. It does help characterise it, however, with the following observations:

  • "OG Iob is one of a kind in the Septuagint corpus: ... the least literal, both in its attitude to abbreviating the parent text and in the way the translator worked with that portion of the text." (NETS, p. 667)
  • It consciously abbreviates the parent text at an increasing rate as you go through the book, with the overall text being significantly shorter than the Hebrew.
  • Except, I note, in 1:21, the translator does not opt for the usual "and it came to pass" Hebraism translation (καὶ ἐγένετο) of וַֽיְהִי and states simply "And when" (καὶ ὡς) - however, I could only find three occurrences of that translation in Job for the 8 occurrences of וַֽיְהִי .
  • The translator inserts a lot of particles: 'as Kitto says, "Greek is well stocked with little words, conjunctions that hunt in couples or in packs, whose sole function is to make the structure clear. They act, as it were, as signposts". This seems to be the translator's intent in Iob, i.e., to give the rather loosely linked Hebrew text a connectedness. So the translation is heavily salted with particles: "and," "but," "now," "because," "for," "really," "on the on hand ... on the other," "however," "therefore," "rather," "again," "or" and others." (emphasis mine, NETS p. 668, Kitto citation taken from D. F. Kitto, The Greeks (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1973 (1951; revised ed., 1957))
  • The translator may have been borrowing techniques from other translated books in the Septuagint: NETS cites research comparing 4.21a to Isaiah 40.24b, 34:13 to Psalm 24:1 and 34:15 to Gen 3:19.
This last point is interesting since it removes one of the explanations for the use of articles with Kyrios - a very early translation preceding or beyond the influence of other translations. It is difficult to ground much on this, however, because if you actually bring up the Greek for the comparisons cited, there really is nothing strikingly similar.

Whatever the relationship, we can note the following progression through the three language groups:

Hebrew Name Yahweh throughout the OT ("anarthrous") 
     --> Greek Name/Title KYRIOS ("anarthrous") 
           --> Greek Title HO KYRIOS in Job ("arthrous") 
                --> modern European language title throughout the OT THE LORD/L'ETERNEL/o SENHOR/il SIGNOR/El Señor/der HERR, etc. (also "arthrous"). 

Could Job, then, be our "missing link"?

Job, despite its extreme position, is not our only outlier. We have discussed Psalms at various points over the course of my postings on this topic, and in my next post, we'll zoom in a bit further by removing Job from the picture and see where the other contours lie. Sneak preview:

Of course, I will also be cataloguing the remaining prophetic material to complete the survey. However, we can expect few surprises there, the prophets I think are very on board with the anarthrous rule. So expect the brown line to come back down and stay very low.

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