Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Turkanik, Andrzej S., Of Kings and Reigns: A Study of Translation Technique in the Gamma/Gamma Section of 3 Reigns (1 Kings) (FAT, II/30; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008). Pp. XIV + 231. Cloth. € 64.00, ISBN 978-3-16-149541-0.

This book is the revised version of a Ph.D. dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Cambridge in 2002, directed by Robert P. Gordon. As the subtitle claims, this study aims to “discover the translator's ideological and theological trends by careful analysis of his translation technique” (p. 7) in the (since Thackeray) so-called γγ-section (3 Reigns 2:12–21:43).

The work opens with a brief introductory chapter (Ch. I, pp. 1–10), a succinct synthesis of the history of research which is, in reality, complex and multifaceted, giving a brief exposition of his aim and his method. His objective (pp. 7–9) consists essentially in re-evaluating the conclusions of John W. Wevers (“Exegetical Principles underlying the Septuagint Text of 1 Kings ii 12–xxi 43,” OTS 8 [1950], 300–22). The structure itself of Turkanik's study (p. 7) is partially governed by the exegetical principles which Wevers believed he had detected in the Greek version of this section. The author then poses his methodological premise: “The distinction between the translator's input and his Vorlage seems to me, in respect of the material studied, difficult to maintain. I have decided, therefore, to use the symbol ‘G’ for both the translator/redactor of the OG and the text he was working on” (p. 8).

Chapter II (pp. 11–98) develops what Wevers calls “the tendency towards harmonisation and rationalization.” Turkanik first studies the well-known question of the different combinations of textual material in the MT and the LXX. He distinguishes the transpositions within large sections of the text (pp. 11–34), the rearrangements imposed on shorter portions or within verses (pp. 36–38), and the repetitions for the sake of clarification of already existing material (pp. 38–41). According to Turkanik, these modifications are to be accounted for by the intention of the translator to give an improved chronology of events. Thus “the secondary nature of the new location can mostly be detected, since the verses do not altogether fit their new surroundings” (p. 205). The author then considers what he calls “smoothing out the difficulties” of the Hebrew text (pp. 41–84). The translator/redactor tends to suppress the difficulties or correct what he considers to be errors in his source text. Finally the author observes a series of clarifications or precisions made by the translator to clarify and harmonise the narrative (pp. 84–98). This first chapter essentially allows Turkanik to conclude that the Hebrew source of 3 Reigns was for all intents and purposes identical to the MT, and that the differences are to be attributed to an attempt at rationalisation on the part of the translator/redactor.

Chapter III (pp. 99–126) addresses a first theological characteristic of the translation of 3 Kingdoms which Turkanik calls “piety.” The author thus develops the exegetical characteristics of the LXX which Wevers calls “cultic correctness” and “condemnation of paganism and pagan practices.” There are in fact numerous theological differences with regard to the conception of God and the cult: the Temple, its construction, and materials; the role of Solomon in the Temple, in which the translator eliminates certain activities that are potentially priestly; the sovereignty of God and scorn for other gods and the nations; and the limited cultic role of Elijah. In each case the translator/redactor changes his source “by introducing more acceptable vocabulary and by means of omissions and additions to the text” (p. 206). This activity, however, is qualified as “sporadic” and only a “tendancy” (p. 97) and does not represent a “uniform thought” (p. 206). Therefore, contrary to what was held by Wevers, the translator does not have a precise project to suppress the anthropomorphisms but simply witnesses to a “reverential distance between God and humans” (p. 122).

In chapter IV, Turkanik studies the characterization of individuals (principally the kings), developing the principle of a “tendency to exalt the heroes of antiquity” and “the opposite tendency … with respect to the enemies of the people of God” (Wevers). The author concludes that we have here the idealized vision of royalty in Hellenistic Judaism (p. 127). The portrait of Solomon, therefore, undergoes a “whitewashing” (p. 127) by means of suppressions, additions or rearrangements of textual elements as well as by modifications of a grammatical order (pp. 127–54). These interventions aim at improving the image of Solomon, depicting him as a king who is strong and just and, above all, minimizing his culpability with regard to idolatrous cults. In brief, the translator “removes most of the criticism [towards Solomon] found in the MT” (p. 206). Similarly, the translation corrects the portrait of other kings, although in a less systematic manner. The portrait of David seems likewise to have been lightly retouched (pp. 155–57) in order to preserve “the model king of Israel par excellence” (p. 157) and “the ultimate paradigm of faithfulness to God's law and ordinances” (p. 207). In the same way, the translator/redactor modifies the textual source by favoring the southern kingdom and disparaging that of the north. Examples of how the LXX “attempts to portray the kingdom of Judah in ultra-positive light” (p. 164) are the attribution of the sins of Judah to Rehoboam alone (p. 165), the lessening of the punishment against Abijam (pp. 167–68), the minimalization of the sins of Judah and the enhancement of the image of Amasa (pp. 169–71) and, finally, the suppression of the alliance of Jehoshaphat with the idolatrous northern king, Ahab (p. 173–74). The kings of Israel are themselves disparaged: Jeroboam is an illegitimate king (p. 159) and, despite not having participated in the overthrow of Rehoboam (p. 163), he is described as an “evildoer leading Israel into idolatry” (p. 207), while Baasha is judged even more severely (pp. 172–73). Ahab, for his part, receives a more “ambivalent” (p. 207) treatment: the Greek version portrays him “as a fallen king of a rebel state” but also underlines the fact that “his problems were supposedly caused by his idolatrous wife” (p. 207). In describing this double tendency to revise the portrait of Ahab in the LXX, Turkanik reconciles Gooding and Wevers, the former holding that the Greek translator intervened to better the portrait of Ahab, the second affirming the contrary.

Chapter V (pp. 193–204) is devoted to a characteristic of the translation which Wevers has not evidenced, namely the preservation of “court etiquette.” The translator “is concerned to portray the relationships between a given monarch and his subjects in a ‘proper’ way” (p. 193). The translator/redactor has thus corrected certain attitudes of the kings, subjects, or servants to correspond to the “principles of social behavior known and accepted in antiquity … in the days of the translator … to make the text … accessible to his readers by evoking normative manners” (p. 193).

Chapter VI (pp. 205–10) concludes the study, synthesising the results. Turkanik estimates essentially that the “translator's style of working fits well the description of the activities of translators as dragomans or scribes-translators, who had a greater freedom to interpret the text known to them” (p. 209). He therefore coincides with the conclusion of Arie van der Kooij with regard to the Greek translation of Isaiah. For the author, the Greek version of 1 Kings could have been a “text used as an apologetic for Jewish history, emphasising its greatness and thus setting it firmly within world history” (p. 210–11).

The book ends with a bibliography and indexes of Scriptural references, of authors and of subjects.

This study has succeeded in presenting and analyzing a great number of differences between the MT and the LXX in 1 Kings/3 Kingdoms, omitting the long “plus” of the LXX 3 Reigns 2:35a–o; 2:46a–l; 12:24a–z; 16:26a–h already studied by David W. Gooding, Robert P. Gordon (1975) and Zipora Talshir (1993) (cf. p. 3). It thus provides important material, analyzed in great detail. But its conclusion is, to say the least, one-sided. If Turkanik admits, with Talshir, that the long “plus” of the LXX, often called “Miscellanies,” is based on a Hebrew text distinct from the MT (p. 99), he essentially thinks that this phenomenon is marginal. Almost the entirety of the differences analyzed are attributed to the ideology of the translator/redactor. Such a position is largely dependent on the conclusions of Gooding and Wevers (even if Turkanik nuances some of their conclusions), and coincides ultimately with those of Percy S. F. Van Keulen ([2005], even if Turkanik correctly criticizes the initial error of taking the text of Rahlfs as its basis for analysis rather than the LXX witnesses, especially Codex Vaticanus and the Antiochian text, cf. p. 6). The author ranges himself behind the most ardent defenders of the antiquity of the MT but, unfortunately, does so without bringing any really new arguments. It is regrettable, in fact, that Turkanik poses no real objection to the position which has been defended, for a century, by another current of research (e.g. Thenius [1873], Hrozný [1909], Trebolle [1980, 1982], McKenzie [1986, 1991], Knoppers [1993], Talshir [1993], Schenker [2000, 2004], Bösenecker [2000], Hugo [2006]). According to these authors, a detailed study of the Greek version allows us to conclude that the translation often depends on a Hebrew source different from the MT. For some of these authors, this version represents a more ancient form. If the conclusions of Turkanik hardly convince the reader, it is less so due to the thesis he defends than to the methodological a prioris. Three principal criticisms can be made:

  1. Before even approaching the problem of the chronology of the textual forms, the question of a possible Hebrew substrate deserves more detailed treatment. The position defended by the author appears as a basic premise to which he subjects his analysis, and not something which is the result of demonstration. If the author initially affirms that “the possibility of a different Vorlage has been seriously looked into in the majority of cases” (p. 8), the reader does not encounter any such analysis. In fact, the study almost never mentions the possibility of an alternative Hebrew variant from the MT, except in some very rare cases where the question remains vaguely open (e.g., pp. 142, 147, 176). Even less does one find an argument that might show that a possible reconstruction of the Hebrew source of the LXX is not plausible. The reason for this is understood when one reads, following Turkanik's methodological principles, "However, with Goshen Gottstein [an argument from authority] I do not think that where G has a differing text there is automatically a case for reconstructing of the Vorlage by means of retroversion” (p. 8). The existence of a Vorlage distinct from the MT is cut off as a matter of principle, the “Hebrew text,” i.e., the MT, being considered “as the measure against which G was judged” (p. 205), and when the LXX separates itself from it, then the MT should be given “the benefit of the doubt” (p. 8).

    This methodological option seems, in reality, to underestimate the problem of the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible. The discoveries of biblical scrolls at Qumran have shown that alternative textual types to the MT exist, and that sometimes the LXX is a close relative. Whether one thinks of Samuel (4QSama) or Jeremiah (4QJerb,d), Qumran shows in both cases Hebrew manuscripts that share a lot of specificities of the Greek version. While Turkanik himself points to the example of Isaiah (p. 209), he fails to mention that the Jeremiah scrolls that completely contradict his opinion. However, the author himself does admit, following Talshir, that the long “plus” of the LXX in 3 Reigns 2:35a–o, 2:46a–l, 12:24a–z, 16:26a–h are based on a Hebrew text which is distinct from the MT. One has to question the methodological foundation for rejecting this possibility in the other sections of the book.

  2. This basic premise means that the differences between the MT and the LXX must necessarily be considered as interventions by the translator. Turkanik therefore proposes a second premise, namely that the translator is in reality a redactor: “It is difficult to make a distinction between the work of the translator on the one hand and the work of a redactor of the text, if we suppose that redaction took place, on the other” (p. 7; see also p. 8). The translation technique which the author sets himself to study in reality sets the case for the apologetic ideology of a redactor. Turkanik himself recognizes the literalness of the translation in most of the text (pp. 3, 208) but he makes no analysis of these sections. He does not even ask himself why the translator suddenly changes techniques, passing from a literal translation of “formal equivalence” (cf. p. 3) to a forced theological interpretation and adaptation. What reasons led the servile translator to become, within two verses, a creative redactor? In other words, are two types of translation methodologies to be expected in the same work? And, furthermore, the author's analyses deal only with the differences between the MT and the LXX, in which he himself thinks that the translator has no Hebrew basis but modifies the text. We are not dealing here with translation technique, in the strict sense of the term, (as the author himself seems to recognize, p. 7), but with an adaptation of the text to a new theological reality and the ‘edition’ of a revised form.

    Elsewhere, the comparison that Turkanik makes between the Greek translation of Isaiah and the conception of the translator as a dragoman (p. 209) does not seem appropriate. The nature of the Greek text of Isaiah and its differences from the MT are not of the same type as in Kings. There are no sections in Isaiah where the translation is literalist at some points and at others redeveloped and restructured. For Isaiah the translation strategy is perhaps not that of a free interpretation of a scribe-translator (cf. R. L. Troxel, LXX-Isaiah as Translation and Interpretation: The Strategies of the Translator of the Septuagint of Isaiah [SJSJ 124; Leiden: Brill, 2008]).

  3. Finally, Turkanik's arguments for concluding that the textual state reflected in the Greek translation is of a secondary nature, can be reversed. For example, regarding the different location of verses and the restructuring of the narrative, very good arguments can be advanced to hold that the MT is the fruit of a reorganization of the narrative (cf. Trebolle Barrera, Schenker, Hugo). Similarly, regarding the characterisation of Solomon, Elijah, and the kings of Judah and of Israel, or in the description of the cult, one might wonder whether Turkanik has adequately envisaged the possibility of a contrary literary evolution because his analyses has not demonstrated why it would not be plausible. Ahab is the typical example of the possible inversion of the argument, as the contradictory results of Gooding and Wevers show. Essentially, one criticism that Turkanik has formed in relation to a contrary hypothesis rebounds against him: “The problem with this explanation is that it presupposes only one possible way in which the text has developed and ignores the findings of other scholars in respect to the problem” (p. 139 n38).

The study of the translation technique of the LXX is a necessary and important undertaking because it sheds light not only on the most ancient history of the transmission of the text, but also its reception in early Judaism. However, the present study, while very detailed, is not convincing because it fails to recognize the distinction and interconnections between the history of the text, the translation technique, and the history of its reception. The methodology, which consists in attributing all the differences between the MT and the ancient LXX to the activity of a translator/redactor, leads to both an erroneous image of translation technique, and also to an erroneous evaluation of the place of the LXX in the history of the Hebrew Bible.

Philippe Hugo, University of Fribourg/Switzerland