Friday, July 29, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Septuagint out of context

The third component of translation is something I have been preaching about since the first post on this blog.  Context, context, context.
It has two parts.
First, the same word or phrase must consistently be used to translate an identical phrase in the primary document, without a darned good reason for changing.  And conversely different words or phrases in the primary document must be translated into different words or phrases in the target language without good evidence that they are really identical.
There’s no good reason for translating derekh as odos in one place and as “hippodrome” or horse-racing track in another.  There’s nothing in the context to suggest that anything other than a physical road, a track from one place to another, is meant.
There’s also no good reason for using allogenos to translate both ish zar and ben nechar. 
The other part is cultural.
I talked about the phrase mot yumat only once being translated as “subject to death,” but it goes beyond that.  Almost every Greek translation of this phrase is different from the others.  One of the issues with mot yumat is that it sets up the legal argument of gezerah shavah, that cases with identical facts except for names and dates will be processed the same.  It leads to the expectation that the investigative procedures detailed for idolatry, which carries the death penalty, will also be applied to murder and ervah which carry the death penalty. 
Another example is Leviticus 3:17, where Septuagint says that Jews shall not eat fat.  The Hebrew says Jews shall not eat chelev, the fat which must be sacrificed.  Even when the animal was slaughtered strictly for food, the fat from certain parts of it is not allowed to Jews for food, and this is the same fat that would go on the altar if the animal were slaughtered for sacrifice.  Jews are allowed to eat shuman, the fat mingled with animal muscle, and the latter is referenced in Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 88a, Nazir 23a, Gittin 2b and 3a, Horayot 10a, Keritot 17b and 18a.  You can object all you want that these citations to Talmud might not apply when the Septuagint was done, which was before Hasmonean times.  The fact is that everywhere chelev is used of animals, it refers to the fat that has to be sacrificed.  There’s nothing in Torah that says Jews can’t eat brisket or rib meat and, if you know anything about meat, you know that rib roasts and second cut brisket are famous for the fat in them.  That fat is shuman. 
What’s more, if Jews weren’t allowed to eat fat, there wouldn’t be recipes in classic Jewish cookbooks for rendering schmaltz out of goose skin or chicken.  Torah has no prohibition on eating the fat of birds.  I said long ago that Jewish legal experts can change lots of things in Jewish law, but they can’t overturn prohibitions or cancel requirements.  If the prohibition on chelev applied to chicken fat, schmaltz would never have been so famous.
Again, this upends the urban legend that rabbis created the Septuagint; by definition a rabbi of those times should have known the Jewish culture of those times, and would never make the kind of mistakes you’ll find in Septuagint.

So why didn't the Septuagint translators use their dictionary?
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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