Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 14 (2014) - Review

Gurtner, Daniel M., Exodus: A Commentary on the Greek Text of Codex Vaticanus (Septuagint Commentary Series; Leiden/Boston, Brill, 2013). Hardcover. Pp. xiv + 522. €181.00, US$ 252.00. ISBN 978-90-04-25428-2.

The purpose of the Septuagint Commentary Series is to provide analysis of the Septuagint as an independent Greek text. Gurtner specifies that his contribution to the series focuses on what “the translator…was intending to communicate” (p. 2). His point of reference in determining the intention of the translator is the Masoretic Text (MT), “the text of which could not have been unlike the Vorlage of LXX Exod” (p. 2). As in the other volumes in this series, Gurtner uses one manuscript of Old Greek (OG) Exodus—Codex Vaticanus—instead of working from a critical text, because it “actually existed in a reading community” (p. 4).

There are three main sections to this volume: an introduction (pp. 1–27), the text and its translation (p. 29–169), and commentary on the text (pp. 171–488). The introduction includes brief but informative sections on the history of OG Exodus scholarship (§1), the translation of Exodus and subsequent recensions (§2), the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for understanding the OG (§3), and the variant version of the tabernacle construction account in Exod 35–40 (§6). In his discussion of the tabernacle construction account, Gurtner too quickly dismisses what is probably the best explanation for the differences between OG and MT (p. 26), that the OG followed a variant Vorlage.[1] Longer sections of the introduction are given to descriptions of Codex Vaticanus's Exodus (§4) and the translation found therein (§5). Gurtner explains the choice of Vaticanus as his text (§4.1), discusses the history of the manuscript (§4.2), and describes its features (§4.3). Gurtner's description of OG Exodus's translation profile starts with a broad overview (§5.1), then considers several translation features (§5.2), the norms or “factors” influencing the translator (§5.3), and finally the influence of the Hellenistic world on the translation (§5.4).

The second section (“Text and Translation”) provides the text of Vaticanus and Gurtner's translation of it, both of which are useful references for interacting with Gurtner's commentary. Some sparse textual notes are given on text critical issues, versification, and translation choices. Gurtner's translation into English is isomorphic in order to give access to the Greek text and his understanding of its linguistic features. Generally, the translation understands the Greek as Greek, without reference to the Hebrew source, in keeping with the purposes of the series.

The third and main section of the book, containing the commentary on the text, is subdivided with one section for each chapter of OG Exodus. Gurtner's comments follow a regular pattern, moving from a summary of the entire chapter to an overview of each section/pericope to analysis of each verse in the section. However, there is no explicit flagging of this structure, unlike other volumes in this series.[2] Beginning each paragraph or section with the reference(s) discussed in that paragraph or section (as in the Ezekiel volume) would go a long way to aid the reader. The comments focus on the production of the text, not its reception; where Gurtner focuses on the Greek text as a Greek text (not in light of the source text), the focus is on the intended meaning of the translator. Gurtner's comments do not refer to how the text would have been read by those who received it. Specifically, though the purpose of selecting Vaticanus is to use a text that actually existed in the context of a reading community, Gurtner does not comment on how a fourth-century Christian community would have read the text.[3]

Gurtner's comments touch on a wide range of elements involved in the Greek text, including the meaning of the text as a Greek text, translation technique, lexicography, physical descriptions of Codex Vaticanus, intertextuality, and OG text-critical data. The aspect of the text receiving Gurtner's focus most frequently is the grammar of the Greek as it affects the meaning of the text; the Greek as a representation of its Hebrew source also receives quite a bit of attention. Gurtner generally succeeds in keeping the focus of the commentary on OG Exodus as an independent Greek text. Although references to the source text are abundant, these do not interfere with comments meant to give a sense of the Greek text as a Greek text. For example, Gurtner's discussions of intertextuality within OG Exodus seldom make reference to the Hebrew text, though many of the same intertextual elements exist in, and thus stem from, the Hebrew text (e.g., p. 212). Another welcome feature of the commentary is the attention given to the appearance and features of the manuscript, which anchors the discussion in the reality of our physical evidence.

When Gurtner comments on the Greek with reference to its source text, he tends to focus on one type of explanation—a meaning intended by the author to differ from the source text—to the exclusion of other alternatives, namely, translation technique or a variant Hebrew Vorlage. Gurtner does not always account for all of the Hebrew evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls. For example, the lack of an initial conjunction (as opposed to its presence in the Hebrew) in ταῦτα τὰ ὀνόματα in Exod 1:1, is explained as a literary feature (p. 171); 4QpaleoGenExodl, which shares OG's reading, is nowhere noted. At times Gurtner's understanding of the Hebrew is lacking (e.g., he considers יִרְבֶּה in 1:10 to be “a third person pl.” verb; pp. 174–75), leading him to an incorrect conclusion about the manner in which the Greek relates. Finally, the commentary sometimes commits a lexicographical error whereby the meaning of a Greek word is drawn from the Hebrew it represents, despite never having this meaning in Greek texts before the OG.[4] For example, χῠδαῖος in 1:7 is rendered “numerous” (p. 31), reflecting the meaning of the Hebrew source's רבה; in Greek the semantics of the word centered on commonality (LSJ χῠδαῖος; cf. the NETS translation of 1:7), not a high quantity, there being no evidence for the sense “numerous” in Greek texts before the OG. For this translation and understanding, Gurtner appeals to Lust's lexicon (p. 173), which makes the same error and has been critiqued on this issue.

Gurtner's writing style and pace strikes a good balance: the commentary moves quickly, unimpeded by minutia; yet, he does not gloss over important details, succinctly summarizing the relevant points. Gurtner brings in secondary sources selectively; references to secondary literature are brief but helpful. Throughout the commentary, Gurtner uses precision in referring to various layers of the evidence, whether OG Exodus or Vaticanus (termed “ExodB”) in particular. The text of Vaticanus and its translation, set off in their own earlier section of the book, are perhaps at too far a distance from the commentary; if the text and translation of each chapter were placed in closer proximity to the commentary on that chapter, they would be more easily consulted. Not all of the material in OG Exodus is given equal treatment: the extent of comment drops significantly after chapter 9, though some later chapters (e.g., ch. 32) receive more discussion. This is perhaps as it should be—some aspects of the text found in later chapters will already have been commented on in earlier chapters. The book includes helpful indices of ancient sources (pp. 499–519) and authors cited (pp. 520–22).

Gurtner's commentary on OG Exodus, which represents a significant amount of research and study, is an excellent addition to the current literature. It provides an accessible resource for generalists working on Exodus and an in-depth conversation partner for Septuagint students working on OG Exodus. With the publication of this volume—together with other publications past and future focusing on OG Exodus—Septuagintalists working on Exodus will have a surprisingly large number of resources on which to draw.

John Screnock, University of Toronto

[1] A position held by many Septuagintalists and text critics; see, e.g., Anneli Aejmelaeus, On the Trail of the Septuagint Translators (Leuven: Peeters, 2007), 107–21; Eugene Ulrich, “The Evolutionary Production and Transmission of the Scriptural Books,” in Sarianna Metso, Hindy Najman, and Eileen Schuller (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls: Transmission of Traditions and Production of Texts (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2010), 217; Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (3rd ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), 316–17. reference

[2] For example, John W. Olley, Ezekiel: A Commentary based on Iezekiēl in Codex Vaticanus (Septuagint Commentary Series; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2009); Susan Brayford, Genesis (Septuagint Commentary Series; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007). reference

[3] Compare Olley, Ezekiel, 6–7. reference

[4] Compare the better approach in Olley, Ezekiel, 19–22 (esp. p. 22). reference