Friday, October 7, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Septuagint, Samaritan and Torah

Now that I have brought up Qumran, I’m sure some of you are saying, “but Qumran proves that Septuagint is closer to the Hebrew than Samaritan.”  Class, what does that have to be?
Right, an urban legend.  When I finished my verse by verse comparison the first time through, it turned out that Qumran settles about 640 or less than 11% of the differences; it settles 55% of the differences in favor of Jewish Torah.  But remember, in places where Jewish and Samaritan agree, Qumran may have a difference.  And also remember that Qumran has Greek for only 7 of the 24 books in the Tannakh (the Jewish count), and it’s in such tiny fragments it isn’t even worth publishing a book about.  Since Qumran proves nothing about Septuagint, the claim has to be false.
This time, I know the source of the urban legend: it’s in the 1851 introduction to Lancelot Brenton’s English translation of Septuagint. 
The first thing you have to know about this English translation is that it’s bad.  It’s really bad.  It’s not clear how it got to be so bad.  Brenton lived in Victorian England, a period when studies of the Classics in both Greek and Latin were still required for admittance to a university.  We don’t know where he got his education or how well he did at it.  We don’t know what resources he had access to, except that we know he lived on the Isle of Wight but his publisher’s office was in London.  That is, to get published at all, he had to go to London to meet with his publisher, and this opened up to him all the resources available in London.
What is also clear is that he could have used Liddell and Scott’s famous Greek lexicon which was in its third edition.  Unless it was drastically re-organized in the last century and a half, it suggests that Brenton had all the faults of an inexperienced or careless translator.
He uses the first definition in the dictionary in cases where a later part of the entry works better.  He could have avoided this if he realized that Liddell is a lexicon of Classical Greek by and large, and Septuagint was not Classical Greek but koine.  This falls in that category I was talking about of using a dictionary with the wrong focus.
Sometimes Brenton uses meanings for one Greek word that apply to another Greek word.  He uses “ugly” for aoratos, a word that actually means “unseen, invisible.”  You can’t call an invisible object ugly; it’s a conceptual error.
Sometimes he seems to ignore the dictionary completely and make things up out of his head.  In Genesis 1:16, Septuagint uses arkhi for Hebrew memshelet and Brenton turns it into “regulate”, which Liddell & Scott does not have for arkhi at all.
Finally, Brenton sometimes translates according to a received meaning in English which the Greek doesn’t support.
And then, just in time for the 1851 edition of his translation, he added an introduction which is the probable source for your urban legend above.  Brenton claims that in “many passages” where Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint BOTH differ from the Hebrew, they resemble each other and Septuagint more closely resembles the Hebrew.
I think I have discovered Brenton’s source for this claim; it’s online and I’ll talk about it next week.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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