Introduction to the Septuagint

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Siegfried Kreuzer
David A. Brenner
Peter Altmann
  • Waco, TX: 
    Baylor University Press
    , November
     702 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


There has been a recent spate in the publication of English language introductory volumes devoted to the subject of the Septuagint. Siegfried Kreuzer’s Introduction to the Septuagint is an English translation of Einleitung in die Septuaginta (volume 1 of the Handbuch zur Septuaginta [Gütersloher: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2016]), with some updates from the contributors, editor and to the bibliographies. The remainder of the series (vols. 3–6) have chapters in English, French, and German, and include more detailed studies than this volume provides. As such, this gives a wider, non-German reading audience an introduction to the series, which is essential to engage with for detailed work on the Septuagint.

David Brenner is credited with translating the sections entitled “Introduction,” “Pentateuch,” “Historical Books,” and “Later Historical Books and Narratives.” Peter Altmann translated the sections “Psalms and Odes,” “Wisdom Books,” and “Prophetic Books.” Each of these sections contains several chapters devoted to particular books. Two further translators are credited in the preface, but unfortunately are not included in the cover pages. Marybeth Hauffe translates the section “The Septuagint and the New Testament,” while Elisabeth Wolfe provides an “overall review” (xiv).

The volume consists of a lengthy introductory chapter, followed by an overview of the textual witnesses, chapter entries on texts, and two concluding chapters devoted to the relationship between the Septuagint and the New Testament. Aside from a short entry that introduces the Pentateuch section, the chapter entries are collected without preamble in their respective sections. The main bulk of the work generally follows the same order of texts as the Rahlfs Septuagint edition. Each of the chapter entries covering a specific book opens with bibliographies of the texts and editions, known Dead Sea Scrolls (erroneously called Qumran Texts yet inclusive of non-Qumran documents), English, French, and German translations of the Septuagint text (occasionally also Dutch, Italian, Romanian, and Spanish), and a general bibliography. The main body of the sections are divided into presentations of the key textual witnesses (although these stray outside of strictly Septuagint witnesses), theories around the translation process of the work into Greek (or in some cases whether a Hebrew text existed prior to the Greek text) alongside questions of date and place, the range of language used in the translation and the theological choices manifested therein, and finally some short notes on the reception history, which is often really an account of the ancient citations of the work in question. A concluding section lays out fresh directions for research, many of which are text-critical questions, and a few highlight the current lack of a critical edition for the text itself. The handbook’s long-term impact will be found in the field’s use of these entries.

This review will focus on chapters that frame the volume itself. Firstly, the editor’s introductory chapter (“The Origins and Transmission of the Septuagint”) positions the origin of the Septuagint within its ancient Mediterranean context, a setting which for centuries had mixed cultural learning. Alexandria itself is described as a conducive environment for textual production, a center of ancient scholarship. The narrative of the Letter of Aristeas (Pseudo-Aristeas) is discussed, not as an accurate description of how the Septuagint was produced, but a reflection of the kind of environment encouraged under the Ptolemies, and especially in Alexandria, home of the Museion and its most famous library. Much of the subsequent discussion, however, concerns theories around the impetus for the translation of the Septuagint from Hebrew into Greek.

As such, the historical framing is mostly focused on the question of how and why Hebrew works were translated into Greek. Only subsequently does the chapter discuss some terminology: the Septuagint originally referring to the Greek translation of the Pentateuch alone, then referring to all Hebrew or Aramaic works translated into Greek, then finally, additional works most likely written in Greek, but which “achieved a certain (albeit different) ‘canonical” legitimacy” (20). The discussion then quickly turns to the question of the “Oldest Septuagint,” before broaching the recension history of the Septuagint, beginning first with the recensions amongst Jewish (and potentially Samaritan) scholars, before addressing the Septuagint’s revisions amongst Christians. Finally, Kreuzer turns to the slow closure of the “canon” of the Septuagint with the development of the codex, the transmission of the Septuagint itself through antiquity, further Jewish translations into the Byzantine period, and briefly comments on the influence of the Septuagint on Judaism and emerging Christianity.

Before the main entries in the volume, Martin Rösel contributes a chapter titled “From the Torah to Nomos: Perspectives of Research on the Greek Pentateuch,” which covers the initial process by which the Pentateuch was translated into Greek, what changes might show about the theology of the translators, and the merits of the main critical editions. The two closing chapters reflect on the impact of the Septuagint for early Christianity and the use of the Septuagint in the New Testament, which itself attests to the ongoing pluriformity of the Septuagint. Older and newer text forms existed in tandem. The quotations and allusions of the New Testament can expand our understanding of ancient Greek translations and traditions. The Septuagint represents one stream within “a living text tradition” (637).

Compared to the aforementioned handbooks, this volume has perhaps the most detailed chapters on specific books. Almost every book has its own dedicated chapter (exceptions include 1–2 Kingdoms, 1–2 Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah), including the additions to Daniel and further literature associated with Jeremiah. One pleasing element in the integration of these works into the same larger sections. As such, no distinctions are made in the structure of the volume that distinguishes texts which are also known from the Hebrew Bible, and those only known in the Septuagint. Thus, in its very structure, this volume values the Septuagint on its own terms. The volume is an excellent and affordable handbook on the Septuagint, an incredibly valuable resource for those interested in textual criticism of the Septuagint and adjacent questions about the composition and use of the text.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Joseph Scales is an independent scholar.

Date of Review: 
July 26, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Siegfried Kreuzer is Professor of Old Testament at Protestant University Wuppertal/Bethel in Wuppertal, Germany.

David A. Brenner is Lecturer in German and International Studies in the Department of International Studies at Texas A&M University.

Peter Altmann is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zurich.


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