Friday, July 22, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Septuagint's bad grammar

Last week I only talked about the meanings of words. This week I have examples of how Septuagint misunderstands Hebrew grammar.
It frequently, if not always, gets wrong two important structures in Hebrew.
One is the construct state. The construct is a genitive phrase but not a possessive; it uses two nouns, one of which modifies the other. The usual translation is “X of Y”.
In one place, this results in Septuagint creating a person who doesn’t exist in Hebrew. In Genesis 26:26, Septuagint translates achuzat ohavaiv, “the group of his friends,” as “Ohozath his friend.” In fact, it doesn’t even say “friend,” it uses a word that the famous Liddell & Scott Intermediate Lexicon (“Middle Liddell”) translates as “bridegroom’s best friend,” and explains as a man who leads the bride to the groom’s house. (Rabbi Shelomo ben Yitschaq “Rashi”, the famous medieval commentator on Tannakh and Talmud, says that it is impossible for a king to have only one friend.)
What’s more, Septuagint goes back to Genesis 21:22 where the phrase achuzat ohavaiv doesn’t even appear, and sticks it in.
The other structure Septuagint doesn’t get is something I call “the duplicate conditional” in the lessons about it that I just posted on my Biblical Hebrew blog. If you know of an actual grammatical term for this, please tell us all in the comments.
The format of the duplicate conditional is two different forms of the same verb sequentially, first a form I call the aspectless verb, then the imperfect aspect.
The most important example of this structure is the phrase mot tamut which I discussed in the Gan Eden narrative. Its related phrase mot yumat always relates to capital punishment and carries the connotation of a requirement for due process. Never does the Septuagint phrase the translation to carry this connotation, and in only one case that I could find did it translate the phrase as “subject to death,” the closest approximation the translators could achieve.
If you have been studying Hebrew, as I have kept suggesting, by now you understand the construct state easily. You may be having more trouble with the duplicate conditional but my blog lessons should help.
The urban legend about the Septuagint has Ptolemy collecting 72 rabbis to do the translation. It has to be an urban legend because 23 centuries ago it was impossible that rabbis expert in Hebrew would produce these sort of mistakes. But it’s understandable if the translation was a political expedient carried out by non-Jews, because political expediency does not demand grammatical accuracy.
Septuagint also represents cultural quoting out of context and that’s next week’s discussion.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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