Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 16 (2016) - Review

Boyd-Taylor, Cameron (ed.), A Question of Methodology: Albert Pietersma, Collected Essays on the Septuagint (BTS, 14; Leuven: Peeters, 2013). Pp. xxii + 414. Hardcover. €89.00. ISBN 978-90-429-2594-6.

For nearly half a century and across countless publications, conference presentations, and research projects Albert Pietersma has furthered our understanding of the Septuagint, with special reference to Old Greek Psalms. Pietersma's student and colleague, Cameron Boyd-Taylor, has gathered nineteen of Pietersma's essays into the edited volume under review. Twelve years after the appearance of Pietersma's Festschrift, the aim of the present volume is not to celebrate the legacy of a teacher, mentor, and friend so much as to gather together various works for an “unabashedly didactic” purpose. For this reason, the selection of essays represents not the scope of Pietersma's work but the central concerns that have emerged over a lifetime of scholarship, with the express aim of “mak[ing] a case for principled exegesis of the Greek text” (p. vii).

In an attempt to make this case, Boyd-Taylor has chosen to arrange the selected essays not in a strictly chronological order but under three topical headings. First, seven essays are gathered under the heading of “Establishing the Text,” with a primary focus on establishing the Old Greek text of the Psalter. Second, six essays fall under the heading of “Exegesis in the Greek Psalter,” though in large measure these represent critical interaction with the exegesis of other scholars rather than positive contributions. Lastly, a further six essays fall in the final section, “Towards a Principled Reading of the Greek,” including further critical interaction and hermeneutical discussion, as well as one worked example with Ps 8. Within each section the essays are for the most part presented in chronological order; it is of some interest that most of the essays in parts II and III have appeared since Pietersma's Festschrift and his attainment of emeritus status.

Eleven pages of introduction provided by the editor give a synopsis and some context for most of the essays in the volume (the twelfth essay is curiously omitted from this outline). The first footnote for each essay provides the details of original publication with the exception of essay 17, “A Response to Muraoka's Critique of Interlinearity,” which appears here in published form for the first time. Whereas subsequent revision is expressly acknowledged only in the postscript to essay 9 (“A New Paradigm for Addressing Old Questions”), revision extends throughout the volume at least to the footnotes, including not merely cross-references to the other essays but indications of relevant later publications and at least one point where Pietersma has changed his mind (p. 33 n. 41). Unfortunately, citations of essays printed elsewhere in the volume continue to reflect the page numbers of their original publication.

A work of this nature always puts a reviewer in the awkward position of either giving a flat summary of component essays or attempting to critique in short compass the entire career of a scholar. With an eye to avoiding these pitfalls, however, several observations seem in order.

If anything can be said to characterize Pietersma's work across the separate sections and throughout the years of his published work as presented here, it is an insistence on principled and consistent methodology. What is one looking for? How does one know when one has found it? Have the criteria been consistently applied to all the data? In critical interaction with his colleagues, then, Pietersma is not content to choose sides regarding Septuagint hermeneutics. Both self-acknowledged maximalists such as Joachim Schaper (see essay 9) and minimalist sympathizers such as Ronald Troxel (see essay 18) come under fire for inconsistency. The heart of the critique in many cases (see essay 13) is a failure to make and keep at hand a careful distinction between the text of the Septuagint as produced by the translator and the text as received by later readers in the history of interpretation. The implications of this distinction, which pervades the entire volume, are that one must carefully investigate the vertical dimension of the Septuagint as a translation (i.e., its relationship to its Hebrew Vorlage) to determine default and non-default renderings and also that one cannot attribute to the mind and intentions of a translator what a text merely came to mean in the history of interpretation. Meaning at inception and meaning in reception are separate questions.

In critical interaction with other scholars, Pietersma demonstrates that this distinction, even when given lip service, is often not borne in mind in Septuagint exegesis. His strong insistence on this distinction, in fact, combined with his thorough critical interaction and his own interest in reconstructing the Old Greek text, leaves him open to misunderstanding and uncharitable readings if some of the essays are read on their own. As an example, near the close of his review of Schaper's Eschatology in the Greek Psalter, Pietersma says, “The task of the Septuagint exegete is not to suggest what the text may possibly have meant to whomever, but what it is likely to have meant to the translator” (p. 140). Whereas few would quibble with the first statement, the second implies specific understandings of “Septuagint” and “Septuagint exegesis” not shared by everyone working with the Greek translation(s) of the Hebrew Bible. Likewise, in essay 4 (“Septuagint Research: A Plea for a Return to Basic Issues”), Pietersma appears to use “LXX research” and “Septuagintal text-criticism” interchangeably, such that one is left wondering whether other kinds of work with the Greek text are dismissed a priori, relegated to a secondary position, or simply left out of a restricted discussion. (Note, however, that these questions do not overturn the sound methodological points made in this essay about reconstructing original readings.)

The questions raised in this respect are in some measure answered by other parts of the volume, where Pietersma acknowledges the many referents of “Septuagint” (e.g., essay 13) or discusses the history of interpretation in his worked example of Ps 8 (essay 16; see also Ps 28 in essay 13). They are also obviated by Pietersma's wider oeuvre, not printed in the present volume, that includes commentary on LXX Pss 1–4, 8, 15, and 28 (cf. Pietersma's web page, where many of his articles and essays are posted: What appears on the surface as a disdain for methodological pluralism may, in the end, be a persistent (if strongly stated) call for methodological precision—colored, perhaps, by definite methodological preferences. One is still left wondering, however, whether in Pietersma's view a self-identified Septuagint scholar can work with the text as received in its own right. Is it enough to clearly delineate the distinction between text as produced vs. text as received, refrain from making claims about the translator or constitutive character, and then go about one's business working with the reception of the Greek text?

If there is another central concern emerging from the essays gathered here, it is the articulation and defense of the so-called interlinear paradigm for understanding the constitutive character of the Septuagint. Over against numerous critics and apparent repeated misunderstandings, Pietersma insists that, as a heuristic tool only, an interlinear translation serves as the best metaphor to explain the Greek text's subservience to its Hebrew parent. Though this is a topic of discussion in one way or another throughout most of the volume, it is most clearly articulated in essay 9, and its defense is the primary topic in essays 17 and 19. Pietersma argues convincingly that this conceptual model has the most explanatory power, encompassing examples of both literary Greek and Greek that is unintelligible without reference to a Hebrew Vorlage: “while interlinearity can accommodate literalism, literalism cannot accommodate interlinearity” (p. 376).

In later defense of the interlinear paradigm, Pietersma is at great pains to point out that it is not a theory of Septuagint origins but a metaphor for understanding the constitutive nature of the text and the way in which it relates to the Hebrew. In this respect, he asserts that familiarity with the phenomenon of interlinears is presupposed on the part of Septuagint scholars but not on the part of translators of the Septuagint (p. 374). This is a curious turn in the discussion, however. As a source for his critics' confusion, one need only turn to Pietersma's presentation of the interlinear paradigm in essay 9. In this essay a major heading is given the title “A New Paradigm for Septuagint Origins” (p. 146). Sebastian Brock is critiqued for not pressing his observations into a statement about education as the place of origin for the Septuagint translation (pp. 151–57). And a significant amount of discussion is given not only to ancient translation practices but to what might be called interlinear or diglot school texts of Homer, with scholia, or a running translation alongside Homer's text (pp. 154–56). One might forgive critics of the interlinear paradigm for feeling there has been a bait-and-switch when Pietersma later claims that “Interlinearity…is not intended to be viewed from a historical perspective” (p. 361); or when he states, “Why the paradigm has been refigured as a theory about the historical circumstances of the Septuagint is not immediately clear, but might possibly be due to inadequate exposition on the part of its authors” (p. 367). It seems to me that the presentation in essay 9, with its discussion of Homer in the schoolroom (not to mention its own headings), whilst interesting, unnecessarily muddies the waters if it is in fact true that the interlinear model is merely a metaphor and requires only that a modern scholar be familiar with an interlinear.

A final question surrounds the volume: who is the intended audience? No comment on this point is made within the volume, though the paragraph on the back asserts the book will be “an important resource for all biblical scholars and students of early Judaism and Christianity, especially those working on the Hebrew-Greek translations of antiquity.” But the essays within the volume presuppose a high degree of familiarity with Septuagint studies specifically. For those working in this field, only one essay is previously unpublished, though even it has been available on Pietersma's website for some time. On the other hand, for those who are working specifically with the Septuagint, these essays are brought together from a variety of sometimes difficult-to-find publications, reflect rich and updated bibliography, and together make a convincing case for the central importance of methodological precision and consistency in our discipline—a needed and welcome reminder.

Anthony R. Pyles, The Academy of Classical Christian Studies