Review of T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint ed. by James K. Aitken

October 21, 2016

aitken-lxxAitken, James K. T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint. New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2015, xii + 624 pp., $176.00, hardcover.

Dr. James Aitken is a Lecturer in Hebrew, Old Testament, and Second Temple Studies at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, UK. Dr. Aitken needs no introduction in the field of Septuagint studies; he is one of the most distinguished scholars in the field today. It comes as no surprise then that he serves as the editor of T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint, which brings together some of the world’s best scholars in Septuagint studies.

Scholarship in The Greek Old Testament has the tendency to be slightly esoteric. Because of this it is a difficult area of study to enter into without introduction. In this volume Aitken has brought together the most valuable introductory material on Septuagint studies. Aitken himself says that he had “long felt the need for a handy summary of features for each of the Septuagint books, for easy consolation by both Septuagint experts and biblical scholars or students more generally” (ix). The Companion to the Septuagint fills this need with excellence, making it a necessary tool for anyone remotely interested in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

The overall structure of the book is easy to use and the information presented is accessible. The glossary found right before the introduction to the book is worthy of attention, highlighting words that are commonly used in the field, but often used differently among specialists. For example, Aitken covers terms like “Old Greek” since there is a necessary distinction between Old Greek and Koine Greek in the Septuagint. Each chapter in the rest of the Companion is then written on a particular biblical book, so having this glossary is a great service to the reader in transitioning into the density of the Greek Old Testament.

In the introduction, Aitken walks the reader through some of the major issues in Septuagint studies. He defines the term Septuagint, highlights the origin, translation, text, manuscripts, and even answers the question of why studying the Septuagint is important. Aitken introduces other issues such as the distinct use of Greek among the different translators. This section provides one with the necessary information to enter into the conversation, therefore, the introduction is essential for a meaningful interaction with the rest of the book. Although it is only a few pages, the force of the introduction cannot be overlooked.

The rest of the Companion contains a chapter devoted to a book of the Septuagint, including the deuterocanonical literature. Although each chapter has a different author, every chapter begins with a list of critical editions of that particular book, and is then divided up into seven sections. The first section is General Characteristics, which distinguishes the books from one another while bringing the reader’s attention to each book’s unique features. For instance, there were two translators of Jeremiah. The student of the Greek Jeremiah must know this in order to understand the majority of modern scholarship on the book. The second section is titled Time and Place of Composition. While this section considers historical issues, it is significant in understanding vocabulary and syntax of the biblical text. The third section is Language, where each contributor stresses the importance of distinguishing features that are common to a purely Greek text, those that maintain Greek style with a Hebrew vorlage, and some that seek to keep the Hebrew in contact. The fourth section is Translation and Composition, explaining the features that distinguish each book linguistically, which is the heart of Septuagint studies. Many of the main issues in Septuagint studies are related to, or affected by, how one understands translation and composition style. The fifth section is on Key Text-Critical Issues demonstrates the textual complications in the Septuagint. The Septuagint is influential in Old and New Testament textual criticism, but the Septuagint has its own dilemmas as well. Therefore, it is important to know what we mean when we say “the text” of the Septuagint. The sixth section, Ideology and Exegesis, displays how each book was written with theological persuasions and preferences. The Septuagint translators tried to keep the original author’s intent, but sometimes they add, take away, or embellish. Without understanding the theological motivation of these translations, we can’t begin to understand why the text received has these additions, omissions, and alterations. Finally, Reception History rounds out the end of every chapter to provide a functioning knowledge of how these texts have been received and thought about through history. There are also bibliographies at the end of each chapter for those interested in further research. Not every chapter is covered to the same extent or depth; the content is contingent upon the pertinent issues that are specific to each book.

A chapter that particularly stands out is the chapter on Jeremiah, written by Andrew G. Shead. Jeremiah is notoriously difficult, providing little to work with and large gaps to fill in. One example of this problem is the considerably shorter text of the Greek Jeremiah when compared to the Masoretic Text. Textually, structurally, and linguistically, this has created a lot of problems in studying the Greek Jeremiah. However, Shead does not shy away from any of these difficult issues.  He states, “The differences between the Septuagint and MT of Jeremiah create different chapter and verse numbering for much of the book. Even the Greek editions are not consistent” (p. 470), illustrating the immense difficulty of Jeremiah. In the rest of the chapter, Shead avoids complicating the issues and gives us the necessary data to make our own critical evaluations. Considering the amount of difficulty involved in Jeremiah, it is impossible to cover all the challenging material, but Shead makes it easier to engage in such issues. Shead then provides a helpful bibliography for further study of the book. This chapter is a key to unlock the wide world of the Greek Jeremiah.

Biblical Studies students will quickly realize that the Septuagint is an extremely important text, and therefore they should have a functioning knowledge of this corpus. The reason being, the Septuagint is often the Bible that the New Testament authors used. It also influenced the vocabulary used in the New Testament and illuminates the text of the Old Testament theologically and historically. Aitken’s Companion serves as a tool that will move someone beyond a basic knowledge of the Septuagint, preparing him or her to continue research. There is still much work to be done on the Greek Old Testament within lexicography, translation theory, and even exegetical influence upon the New Testament. For those who might be interested in Biblical Studies Dr. Aitken has seamlessly put together a group of scholars that provide a valuable resource in Septuagint scholarship with this volume.

Andrew T. Keenan

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

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