Friday, September 2, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- understanding what you're saying


So the Septuagint could have been done by somebody reading the Hebrew from a written scroll – or rather scrolls, since the rest of Tannakh is not recorded on a Torah scroll and would have been written on separate scrolls. But there’s one more issue which complicates the question.
There are just over 6000 verses in Torah. Only 5% of them were marked up by the Masoretic scholars as having the wrong vowels, and the notes give the correct vowels. What does that mean?
The Masoretic scholars usually get credit for inventing the system of marks used to represent vowels in Biblical Hebrew. If they invented them, how did they get written versions that varied in how the vowels were used?
Go back to something I already said. There are four ways to represent an “a” sound in Biblical Hebrew vowels. Their use is not arbitrary. The grammar controls which one goes where. It has to do with the letter they are used with, the grammatical assignment of the word – such as noun or verb – the root class to which a verb belongs, the verb binyan, verb aspect (not tense, not in Biblical Hebrew), verb person number and gender.
That’s right. In Biblical Hebrew a verb is classified six ways from Sunday (sorry) and each of them plays a role in the vowel signs used when writing the verb out in context. The Masoretic scholars knew what vowels were required to record meaning correctly. They had various texts which differed from the rules, and noted the correct usage in footnotes of a text that had incorrect usage.
But the writing is only a representation of the spoken language, and it developed after  -- sometimes centuries after -- the spoken language.  People know what they're saying and what they mean as soon as they start talking. 

The Septuagint translators (or transcribers) could not have gotten the construct state 100% wrong if they understood Hebrew. 

A much-praised scholar named Deissmann did the initial work with papyri newly found in Egypt in the late 1800s (not the Nag Hammadi papyri, they weren’t found until 1945).    He helped bust the urban legend that koine was a dialect of Jews in Alexandria; the find he studied showed that koine was the language of the entire empire of Alexander and dealt with all kinds of humdrum issues  like business letters, wills, etc. 
He also addressed whether the Septuagint translators started with a Hebrew version that was much different from what the Masoretic scholars had. His conclusion, at the turn of the 20th century, was definitely NO, the version they used in the 200s BCE was not much different from the one handed to the Masoretic scholars in the 600s CE. He could show that the Septuagint translation catered to Greek usage at the time, and if it seems out of line with either the Masoretic text or the cultural interpretation, that’s because the translators weren’t trying so much to reproduce the Hebrew as to let Greek speakers understand the results.
Yeah, that went well. 
I am not alone in calling the Septuagint a bad translation. That’s for next week.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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