Posted by: mattcolvin | November 24, 2021

Sublety and Indirection in Jesus’ Communication

I had the pleasure of delivering a talk for the Davenant Institute’s Teaching Fellows lecture series. It is up on YouTube now. Among the topics discussed are…

  • Methods of communicating to one audience while leaving another in the dark: dramatic irony, Socratic irony, the words of Boaz in Ruth 4:5, and Jesus’ parables.
  • What’s wrong with William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret.
  • Jesus’ use of the Psalms as scripts for his actions and words.
  • The ”sop” or morsel that Jesus gives to Judas as a way of identifying him to Peter and the beloved disciple, without letting everyone else know.
  • The kiss of Judas as an attempt by Judas to identify Jesus to the servants of the high priest, without letting Jesus or the other disciples know.
  • The significance of Peter’s cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant Malchus, and of Jesus’ healing of him.
Posted by: mattcolvin | May 1, 2021

Notes on LXX Exodus 9: Exceedingly Great Death

Hailstones from England in August, 2019. (From The Times, thetimes.co.uk)

Exodus 9

9:3 – ἐν τοῖς κτήνεσίν σου…ἐν τοῖς ἵπποις καὶ ἐν τοῖς ὑποζυγίοις καὶ ταῖς καμήλοις καὶ βουσὶν καὶ προβάτοις – Moses enumerates the livestock of Egypt in a polysyndetic list for emphasis. We are reminded of Apollo shooting his plague-arrows in Iliad 1.50: οὐρῆας μὲν πρῶτον ἐπῴχετο καὶ κύνας ἀργούς, “he went for the mules first and the lazy dogs”—before turning his weapons on the men themselves.

The threatened plague is called θάνατος μέγας σφόδρα, “exceedingly great death.”

9:4 – καὶ παραδοξάσω…ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν κτηνῶν τῶν Αἰγυπτίων καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν κτηνῶν τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ – On παραδοξάσω as a mistranslation of Heb. וְהִפְלֵיתִי, “I will make a distinction between”, see my comments on 8:18 here.

It is remarkable that even LSJ lists “make a distinction between” as a meaning for παραδοξάζω (with only Ex. 9:4 and 8:22 as authorities), because that is the meaning of פלה, even though the LXX has misconstrued it as though it were פלא, “to do something wonderful.” Note that the LXX has followed it with ἀνὰ μέσον…καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον, which is not Greek idiom for “between X and Y,” but is a literalism for the Hebrew בֵּ֚ין… וּבֵ֖ין construction.

οὐ τελευτήσει ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν τοῦ Ισραηλ υἱῶν ῥητόν – literally, “there shall not perish a word from all the possessions of the sons of Israel,” using ῥητόν, which is a literalism for the Hebrew דָּבָֽר, which unlike the Greek, can have the sense of “a thing” as well as “a word.” (Also in the next verse, 9:5.)

9:5 – καὶ ἔδωκεν ὁ θεὸς ὅρον – lit. “and God gave a boundary,” but here ὅρος is used in a temporal sense, so “a deadline.”

9:7 – After the deaths of “all the livestock of the Egyptians,” Pharaoh sees that “there did not die anything from all the livestock of the sons of Israel.” This very contrast is what causes Pharoah to become stubborn again: ἐβαρύνθη ἡ καρδία Φαραω, “Pharaoh’s heart was made heavy.”

9:8 – The soot of a furnace (αἰθάλης καμιναίας) which Moses is to scatter (πασάτω) to the sky will become a κονιορτός, “dust-cloud” or perhaps “dust-storm,” though the word is used in the NT for “dust” such as is shaken off one’s feet or thrown into the air in anger (Acts 13:51, 22:23, Lk 9:5, 10:11, Mt 10:14). This in turn will produce ulcers (ἕλκη, used also of the ulcers produced by the plague of Athens in Thucydides 2:49) and boils (φλυκτίδες), which are described rather graphically as “bubbling up” (ἀναζέουσαι).

9:13 – God commands Moses, ὄρθρισον τὸ πρωί, “rise up early in the morning.”

9:14 – Moses is told to threaten Pharaoh and his people with πάντα τὰ συναντήματά μου, “all my visitations,” a rendering of the Hebrew מַגֵּפֹתַי֙, “my plagues.”

9:16 – The LXX confirms a conjecture of A.S. Yahuda (The Language of the Pentateuch in its Relation to Egyptian, 11) concerning הֶעֱמַדְתִּ֔יךָ, “I have caused you to stand” from ‘amadh, “to cause to stand.” Most English versions follow the KJV in rendering it as “I have raised thee up.” But Yahuda points out that it is a rendering of the Egyptian ‘ch’.w , meaning “lifetime, term of life, period of time,” so that a prayer of Rameses III for his son asks Amon-Re to “make his lifetime (‘ch’.w-f = “his standing”) on earth as enduring as the polar star.” Accordingly, he argues that הֶעֱמַדְתִּ֔יךָ should be rendered, “I have let you live” or “I have preserved your life.” The LXX confirms this interpretation by its unusual choice of διετηρήθης: “you have been kept/preserved.” In other words, if God were not designing to get glory from Pharaoh’s further humiliations, he would have killed him already.

9:17 – “you still lay claim to (ἐμποιῇ, middle) my people, to not send them out.” The KJV punctuates this as a question: “As yet exaltest thou thyself against my people, that thou wilt not let them go?” Sarna comments on מִסְתֹּולֵ֣ל, the verb which the LXX renders with ἐμποιῇ and the KJV with “exaltest against”, but which he renders “thwart”: “the meaning of this unique Hebrew phrase is uncertain.”

9:18 – The hail that is threatened is “such as there has not been in Egypt from the day it was founded (ἀφ᾽ ἧς ἡμέρας ἔκτισται) until this day.” Yahuda comments that this phrase is common in Egyptian “to characterize a thing or event as unusual, monstrous, unheard of, from the earliest times within human memory.” The Hebrew למן היום with the infinitive הוסדה reflects, so Yahuda claims, an Egyptian construction (The Language of the Pentateuch, 84).

9:20-21 – As with the death of the firstborn, the fate of each household is decided by its reaction to the announced plague of hail: “he who did not pay heed with his thought to the word of the Lord” is contrasted with “the one fearing the word of the Lord” – with the former leaving his beasts in the field to be killed by hail, and the latter gathering them into buildings for shelter.

9:23 – As soon as Moses stretches out his hand, the Lord makes good on the threatened hail, and indeed outdoes the threat by the addition of fire (τὸ πῦρ) and voices (φωνάς – thunder?). We are perhaps to be reminded of Isaiah 30:30: “And the LORD shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and shall shew the lighting down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tempest, and hailstones.”

9:24 – The hail is described as “very, very great” (πολλὴ σφόδρα σφόδρα), and again, is extolled by comparison with all the hailstorms that have ever been “in Egypt since there was not a people upon it.” This, explains Yahuda (84), is a reference to the time when Upper and Lower Egypt became united (c. 3100 BC, under Narmer or Menes).

9:27 – After the destruction wrought by the hail, Pharaoh acknowledges himself to be in the wrong. He uses covenant-lawsuit terms: “I have sinned (ἡμάρτηκα) now. The Lord is righteous, and I and my people are impious.” For a similar concession, cf. the self-pronounced verdict of Judah in acknowledging Tamar’s victory (Gen. 38).

9:28 – Having ackonwledged that he is himself in the wrong, and that YHWH is in the right, Pharaoh accordingly asks Moses to pray for him; he cannot pray to YHWH himself.

This repentance is short-lived. Pharaoh renews his hard-hearted (ἐσκληρύνθη ἡ καρδία, 9:35) ways as soon as the rain and hail and thunder had been stopped (πέπαυται 9:34).

Posted by: mattcolvin | December 6, 2020

Notes on LXX Exodus 8: Dog-flies and Snarky Moses

Exodus 8

8:1 – καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς διώρυγας “and over the ditches,” a reference to irrigation channels in Egypt.

καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ ἕλη – “and over the marshes”

8:2 – καὶ ἀνεβιβάσθη ὁ βάτραχος καὶ ἐκάλυψεν τὴν γῆν Αἰγύπτου – “and the frog was brought up and covered the land of Egypt.” Note the collective singular “the frog.”

8:3 – As usual so far, the enchanters (ἐπαοιδοὶ, from ἀείδω, the same verb that is the second word of the Iliad) are able to counterfeit the plague inflicted by Aaron; as usual, their activity only makes things worse, since they bring up even more frogs. And of course, they play no role in the ending of the plague.

8:4 – Pharaoh beseeches Moses to pray for him and his people “to the Lord.” There is no difficulty in recognizing which god is behind the plagues. Pharaoh also promises to send the people out, that they may sacrifice to the Lord.

8:5 – In response to this abject begging, Moses twists the knife by giving Pharaoh the choice of time: Τάξαι πρός με, πότε εὔξωμαι περὶ σοῦ…”Command me, when shall I pray for you…?” This is subtle condescension, mocking the idea that Pharaoh is really in control.

8:6 – The mockery continues. Pharaoh answers Moses’ “When?” question with the clipped, desperate Εἰς αὔριον, “Tomorrow!” Moses replies Ὡς εἴρηκας, “As you have said,” again rubbing salt in the wounds by an obsequious pretense that Pharaoh is in control.

8:7 – Moses then lists, in a polysyndetic catalogue, all the places full of frogs right now.

8:14 – The same collective singular is used of the gnats: “the enchanters worked likewise with their sorceries to bring forth the gnat (τὸν σκνῖφα)”

καὶ οὐκ ἠδύναντο – “and they could not.” Walter Brueggemann waxes poetical over this in The Prophetic Imagination : “The Egyptian empire could not! The gods of Egypt could not! The scientists of the regime could not! The imperial religion was dead! The politics of oppression had failed! That is the ultimate criticism, that the assured and alleged power of the dominant culture is now shown to be fraudulent. Criticism is not carping and denouncing. It is asserting that false claims to authority and power cannot keep their promises, which they could not in the face of the free God. It is only a matter of time until they are dead on the seashore.”

8:17 – The next threat is κυνόμυιαν, “the dog-fly,” a larger and more fearsome sequel to the gnats. This word is used as an insult by Ares when he attempts to attack Athena in Iliad 21.394.

8:18 – καὶ παραδοξάσω…τὴν γῆν Γεσεμ, “and I will marvelously glorify the land of Goshen…” This is an outright mistranslation by the LXX translators. In choosing παραδοξάζω, they have misunderstood the Hebrew וְהִפְלֵיתִי as though it came from פלא, “to do something wonderful” rather than from פלה, “to make a difference between.”

That this is the correct understanding of וְהִפְלֵיתִי is proven by the parallelism with which 8:19 begins: καὶ δώσω διαστολὴν ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ ἐμοῦ λαοῦ καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σοῦ λαοῦ – “and I will put a difference (sundering, distinction) between my people and yours”

8:22 – In answer to Pharaoh’s suggestion that Israel should sacrifice to YHWH in Egypt, Moses replies that “It is impossible for it to be so. For we will sacrifice τὰ βδελύγματα τῶν Αἰγυπτίων to the Lord our God.” The immediately following verse makes clear that this means “things abominable to the Egyptians,” i.e. that Αἰγυπτίων is a subjective genitive, so that the phrase denotes things that the Egyptians abhor, not things belonging to Egypt that the Lord abhors. We should remember Gen. 46:34, where “every shepherd of livestock is a βδελύγμα to the Egyptians.”

Posted by: mattcolvin | October 17, 2020

Notes on LXX Exodus 7

6:30 – Moses protests that he has a speech impediment. The Greek word is ἰσχνόφωνος, from ἰσχνός, “dry, withered, weak” and φωνή, “voice.”

7:1 – The Lord’s shocking statement, “Behold I have given you as God to Pharaoh” indicates that Moses is a stand-in for YHWH in relation to the king of Egypt. But he further says that “Aaron your brother shall be your prophet.”

7:3-4 – There follows the series of first person future verbs as YHWH outlines what He will do: “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt…and I will send forth my hand against Egypt and I will lead my people out with my power…”

7:5 – The result of all this will be that the Egyptians will recognize the lion from his claw: “And all the Egyptians shall know that I am (ἐγώ εἰμι) the Lord stretching out my hand against Egypt…” Note the ἐγώ εἰμι that is YHWH’s scarlet pimpernell, as it were.

7:7 – So Aaron is three years older than Moses, making this yet another instance of the younger having precedence over the older.

7:9 – Aaron’s rod will become a large snake (δράκων). It remains a matter of controversy whether δράκων and ὄφις are really interchangeable synonyms, but the LXX does seem to distinguish between them here, since Ex. 4:3 had Moses’ rod become an ὄφις, and 7:15 repeats this language concerning it, while 7:9 says that Aaron’s rod became a δράκων. It seems to me that it would be more normal to call a garter snake or a krait an ὄφις – something small and slithery, maybe poisonous – while pythons and anacondas would definitely fall into the category of δράκοντες.

Above: the manuscript by Renaissance-era Cretan scribe Ange Vergece (Ἄγγελος Βεργίκιος) of Manuel Philes’ bestiary poem De Animalium Proprietate, showing a δράκων (top right) and an ὄφις (bottom right).

My friend John Barach points out that the Hebrew behind δράκων in this passage is actually תַנִּֽין, tannîn, which is the word used for the primordial sea monster of Canaanite mythology, as well as the “great whales” (κήτη τὰ μεγάλα) of Genesis 1:21. Garter snakes aren’t in it. Crocodiles might be.

7:11 – A number of different words are used for the court magicians whom Pharaoh summons to compete with Moses and Aaron in performing miracles. They are called σοφισταί (wise men = magi?), φαρμακοί (sorcerers; etymologically, users of potions), and ἐπαοιδοὶ (enchanters; etymologically, users of incantations). We might consider whether Joseph and Daniel can also be considered to fall into any these categories, i.e. professional court magicians. 2 Timothy 3:8’s identification of these magicians by name (“Jannes and Jambres”) is not from Genesis, but is derived from the Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres, which is mentioned by Origen and preserved in fragments in both Greek (Chester Beatty papyrus XVI) and Ethiopic. Jannes “and his brother” are also mentioned in the Damascus Document from Qumran. What impulse led later writers to assign names to villains whom Exodus had left anonymous?

7:12 – It is interesting that the LXX says that Aaron’s rod did not “eat up,” but rather “drank down” (κατέπιεν) the rods of the Egyptian sorcerers. This denotes the act of swallowing, not of biting or chewing, so that it is an apt description of the peristalsis by which a snake would swallow another snake. In the narrative of the wizards’ duel, this indicates the victory of Aaron over the Egyptian sorcerers, but they have put up enough of a show of competitiveness that Pharaoh “hardened his heart” (7:13).

7:19 – It is noteworthy that the Lord includes mention, not only of the Nile itself, but also of the irrigation canals (διώρυγαι) which the Egyptians used – a detail that indicates knowledge of historical Egyptian custom. He also targets τὰ ἕλη (“the marshes”) and πᾶν συνεστηκὸς ὕδωρ (“every body of standing water”). The water in these also will be turned to blood, which is the more remarkable because they are not connected to the Nile’s flow, and must be changed separately from it.

This verse also specifies that water turned to blood ἔν τε τοῖς ξύλοις καὶ ἐν τοῖς λίθοις, “in their wooden [vessels] and in their [vessels of] stone.” It is an interesting distinction, because Judaism had different rules for the purity of stone vessels and vessels of other materials. Sarna suggests that the phrase is a merism, intended to indicate any vessel whatsoever. It is curious, and reminds me of another pairing of wood and stone, albeit with different words, which appears in an enigmatic and much-discussed line of Hesiod’s Theogony: ἀλλὰ τί ἦ μοι ταῦτα περὶ δρῦν ἢ περὶ πέτρην; “But what is my business around tree or rock?” It also appears in the Iliad 22.126-8: “There is no way now from tree or from rock (ἀπὸ δρυὸς οὐδ’ ἀπὸ πέτρης) to converse with him.”

7:20 – Note the action here: καὶ ἐπάρας τῇ ῥάβδῳ αὐτοῦ ἐπάταξεν τὸ ὕδωρ… “and lifting up his staff he struck the water.” This action will be explicitly recalled in 17:5-6, when Moses is commanded to strike the rock at Meribah to make water come out. Thus, the same staff causes the Egyptians’ water to become undrinkable and brings forth drinkable water from the rock for the Hebrews.

7:22 – I have always found it comical that “the enchanters of the Egyptians did likewise with their enchantments,” – so that the final result was presumably that even more water in Egypt was turned to blood!

7:25 – ἀνεπληρώθησαν ἑπτὰ ἡμέραι – The weekly cycle is a parody of the creation week as the Lord gradually unmakes the land of Egypt.

Posted by: mattcolvin | October 1, 2020

Notes on LXX Exodus 5-6

Burial chamber of Rechmirê, chief and vizier, scene: production of bricks (Wikimedia)

5:3 – πορευσόμεθα οὖν ὁδὸν τριῶν ἡμερῶν εἰς τὴν ἔρημον, ὅπως θύσωμεν τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν, μήποτε συναντήσ μν θάνατος φόνος – “We will go three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to our God, lest death or murder encounter us.” Sarna takes this as a threat that the Lord may strike the Israelites with plague or sudden death as punishment for failing to worship Him. But it might also be a plan to be safely beyond the reach of vengeful Egyptians.

5:6 – The “taskmasters” (Heb. הַנֹּגְשִׂ֣ים) of the people are rendered by the LXX with the coinage ἐργοδιώκτης, “work-hounder” or “job-pursuer.”

5:9 – It is interesting that the LXX uses μεριμνάτωσαν ταῦτα, “let them worry about these things” (sc. the making of bricks and the gathering of straw for them) and μὴ μεριμνάτωσαν ἐν λόγοις κενοῖς, “let them not worry in empty words,” both phrases employing the same verb “to worry” that Jesus uses in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 6:25). Possibly this is not a strong connection, but it might bear investigating.

5:14-15 – The slavery inflicted by the Egyptians on the Hebrews is mediated through Hebrew officers (lit. “scribes,” γραμματεῖς), who are punished (ἐμαστιγώθησαν, “were whipped”) for their people’s failures to meet quota; these officers in turn complain, first to Pharaoh, and then to Moses and Aaron.

5:21 – “May God see you and judge, because you have made our smell abominable (ἐβδελύξατε τὴν ὀσμὴν ἡμῶν) in the sight of Pharaoh…”

5:22 – Moses’ complaint to God offers us another proximate theodicy, different in kind from the book of Job: διὰ τί ἐκάκωσας τὸν λαὸν τοῦτον, “What have you troubled this people?” In fact, the “trouble” is the prelude to deliverance, and it is the Egyptians who, though at this point untroubled, will soon be devastated by the judgment of God.

6:9 – Upon Moses’ explanation to the people of God’s identity and covenant promises to the patriarchs, we are told that “they did not hearken to Moses” out of ὀλιγοψυχία, “having too little ψύχη,” a word similar in formation to Jesus’ oft-repeated rebuke to his disciples, charging them with ὀλιγοπιστία, “having too little faith.”

Posted by: mattcolvin | September 6, 2020

Notes on LXX Exodus 3-4

Hard-hearted Pharaoh is not impressed with your snake trick.

Notes on LXX Exodus 3-4

3:6 – Moses “turned away his face.” This foreshadows the revelation of God’s glory to Moses in the cleft of the rock, as well as fitting well with Paul’s statements in 2 Cor. 3.

3:8 – “and I have come down (κατέβην) to rescue them…” The last time God “came down” was to see what the men of Babel were building.

3:8 – εἰς τὸν τόπον τῶν Χαναναίων καὶ Χετταίων καὶ Αμορραίων καὶ Φερεζαίων καὶ Γεργεσαίων καὶ Ευαίων καὶ Ιεβουσαίων. The polysyndeton and the length of the list (7 names of tribes) serve to magnify the number of peoples that God will displace when he brings Israel into the land.

3:14 – God’s answer to Moses’ question about his name is, in the LXX, Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν – “I am the one who is.” Note that this rendering makes the Lord’s answer more unambiguously about his personal identity than the English translation, “I am what I am.”

3:15 – “This is my eternal (αἰώνιον) and memorable (μνημόσυνον) name unto generations of generations (γενεῶν γενεαῖς).” The idea seems to be that the name is both to be called upon as a matter of covenant remembrance (זִכְרִ֖י) and that it is to be so used forever (γενεῶν γενεαῖς = לְדֹ֥ר דֹּֽר).

3:16 – Note that the gathered elders of the people are referred to by the term γερουσία. They are to accompany Moses on his first embassy to Pharaoh, presumably to demonstrate that he has the support of the people.

3:19 – Pharaoh’s resistance is predicted: “But I know that Pharaoh king of Egypt will not let you go, except with a strong hand.”

4:3 – The changing of Moses’ staff into a snake is offered as a demonstration of the authenticating power of a miracle: “If the people don’t believe you, do this, and they will.” But it has the comical effect of terrifying Moses: “and Moses fled from it.”

4:4 – The Lord kindly specifies where Moses is to grab the snake: ἐπιλαβοῦ τῆς κέρκου – “Take hold of it by the tail.”

4:6-7 – It is curious that the Lord instructs Moses to “put your hand into your bosom,” as though it were important to conceal the moment of change from healthy to leprous and back again.

4:10 – Having objected that the Israelites will not believe that the Lord appeared to him, and having been given two signs to guarantee their persuasion, Moses now moves to a new objection: that he is ἰσχνόφωνος καὶ βραδύγλωσσος, “with a speech impediment and slow of tongue.”

4:11 – The Lord’s response is reminiscent of his answer to Job: he asserts his authority as the Creator of man’s mouth and tongue, and thus as the bestower of gifts of speech.

4:16 – “and he [Aaron] shall be your mouth, and you shall be to him the things concerning God.”

4:18 – “And Jethro said to Moses, ‘Go, being healthy’ (βάδιζε ὑγιαίνων).”

4:19 – “After those many days, the King of Egypt died.” An instance of waiting for the death of a hostile king in the Bible: cf. Jesus’ family fleeing to Egypt until the death of Herod (Mt. 2:15).

4:25 – “Zipporah, taking up a small stone (ψῆφον) circumcised the foreskin of her son and threw it at the feet and said…” The Greek does not make clear that the foreskin is thrown at Moses’ feet.

Zipporah’s utterance when she throws the foreskin at his feet is an odd one in Greek: Ἔστη τὸ αἷμα τῆς περιτομῆς τοῦ παιδίου μου – “The blood of the circumcision of my child has stood” – using the intransitive root aorist ἔστη rather than a transitive first aorist ἔστησε.

4:27 – Aaron’s meeting with Moses and their kissing of each other is reminiscent of other reunions of long-separated siblings, e.g. Jacob and Esau or Joseph and Benjamin.

Posted by: mattcolvin | July 28, 2020

Notes on LXX Exodus 1-2

1:5 Ιωσηφ δὲ ἦν ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ – Joseph was already in Egypt, and so is not listed along with the other brothers who εἰσήλθοσαν (1:1). He is the forerunner and is similar to Jesus in this respect (Heb. 6:20).

1:7 – The sons of Israel “became overflowing” (χυδαῖοι).

1:10 – The Pharaoh who does not know Joseph visualizes a series of events that he wishes to avoid. This sequence culminates in the Israelites joining their enemies and “going out of the land.” In the event, though there are no foreign enemies, the effect on Egypt will be the same, as Pharaoh’s servants say in 10:7: “Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?”–followed, of course, by the Hebrews going out of the land.

1:11 – καὶ Ων, ἥ ἐστιν Ἡλίου πόλις – Another LXX addition, glossing the ancient geography with the name of a contemporary Egyptian city in the same location. Heliopolis is of course a Greek name, and would not have been used in the time of Moses, nearly a thousand years before the Hellenization of Egypt beginning in 332 BC after its conquest by Alexander the Great.

1:12 – καθότι δὲ αὐτοὺς ἐταπείνουν, τοσούτῳ πλείους ἐγίνοντο – A nice correlative construction: “the more they humiliated them, so much the more numerous they became…” The people’s numerical multiplication is in proportion to the persecution they suffer.

1:15 – The names of the Hebrew midwives in the LXX differ from the MT: instead of “Shiphrah”, we have Σεπφωρα, “Sepphora.” The Brooklyn papyrus 35.1446 records a list of slaves and includes the name Shiphrah, but it is from the 18th dynasty, and too early to coincide with our Shiphrah. It is, however, valuable as evidence for the existence of such a name among Canaanites at an early date. (Note that the name of Zipporah is also spelled Σεπφωρα in 2:21.)

Rashi’s identification of Shiphrah with Moses’ mother Jochebed, and of Puah (“little girl”) with her daughter Miriam, is an almost certainly mistaken, but fascinating conjecture. Likewise, Exodus Rabbah’s claim that Amram divorced Jochebed when she was three months pregnant with Moses cannot be supported from the text, though it makes for a parallel with Joseph’s intended divorce of Mary when she was found to be pregnant with Jesus (Mt. 1:18-19).

1:19 – The midwives’ lie that “the Hebrew women are not like the women of Egypt; they give birth before the midwives come to them” is calculated to place the cause of the survival of the male children beyond the reach of human control: birth happens when it happens, and it is not subject to royal decrees.

2:9 – Pharaoh’s daughter offers the mother of Moses μισθός, wages, for nursing her own child. There is more than a little of the trickster story in this detail. Not only is Moses’ mother evading the royal order commanding infanticide, but she is being paid to do so!

2:10 – καὶ ἐγενήθη αὐτῇ εἰς υἱόν – “and he became as a son to her.” The bargain between Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses’ mother is a surrogacy arrangement.

Above: Jan de Bray, Pharaoh’s Daughter with Attendants and Moses in the Reed Basket, 1661. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

2:12 – καὶ πατάξας τὸν Αἰγύπτιον ἔκρυψεν αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἄμμῳ – “he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” Here, the action of Moses is a proleptic miniature of the Exodus as a whole, which culminates in 14:30’s statement that “Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.”

2:16 – Ιοθορ – “Jothor,” the LXX’s odd transliteration of Jethro.

2:18 – Raguel (Ραγουηλ) is the LXX’s transliteration of Re’uel, where the ‘ represents Hebrew ayin. The identity of Jethro and Reuel/Raguel is a vexed question.

2:19 – The account of Raguel’s daughters is an inversion of other motifs in the Pentateuch: rather than the woman drawing water for the man, Moses draws for the women “and watered our flocks,” an action that was part of the foreordained sign performed by Rebekah (24:14) Ironically, they refer to Moses as “an Egyptian” when he rescued them. The violence of this episode is a contrast with other instances of the woman-at-the-well typescene, as is fitting for the book of Exodus, where God fights for His bride.

2:25 – καὶ ἐπεῖδεν ὁ θεὸς τοὺς υἱοὺς Ισραηλ καὶ ἐγνώσθη αὐτοῖς – “and God looked upon the children of Israel and acknowledged them.” The ESV says “…and God knew.” The KJV is more correct, with “and had respect unto them,” but this still makes it sound as though the verse meant that “God heard their cry.” The correct meaning, which the LXX accurately captures, is acknowledging paternity: God’s public recognition that the Israelites are His children. From that recognition, everything else follows.

Posted by: mattcolvin | July 26, 2020

Notes on LXX Genesis 49-50

49:1 – συνάχθητε – literally, “Be gathered together,” rendering the Hebrew הֵאָֽסְפוּ֙. τί ἀπαντήσει ὑμῖν ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν – “what will meet/encounter you at the end of days” – an oddly, well, “eschatological” formula. It raises the question of what the referent of “the end of days” is; the end of whose days? The days of Jacob’s sons?

49:1-27 – In general, the song of Jacob is full of Hebrew wordplay that cannot be translated. The result is opaque and bizarre Greek in the LXX.

49:3 – Reuben is called σκληρὸς φέρεσθαι καὶ σκληρὸς αὐθάδης – “hard to bear and hard self-willed.” The Hebrew is יֶ֥תֶר שְׂאֵ֖ת וְיֶ֥תֶר עָֽז. It is difficult to see how יֶ֥תֶר can rightly be translated with σκληρὸς. Properly, יֶ֥תֶר means “the excess” of something, e.g. if one log sticks out farther than the rest, the amount that it exceeds the other logs is the יֶ֥תֶר. This meaning is captured by the first word of 49:4: ἐξύβρισας, with its root ὕβρις.

49:4 – ἐξύβρισας: “you were insolent.” The Hebrew sense has been obliterated here in the Greek. פַּ֤חַז כַּמַּ֨יִם֙ means “bubbling like water,” with the connotation of instability or unreliable shifting (cf. Jer. 23:32, where false prophets mislead the people with “reckless lies,” Judges 9:4, where “Abimelech hired vain and light persons, which followed him,” and Zep. 3:4, where Israel’s prophets are “light and treacherous persons”). But the Nahum Sarna adduces cognates in Arabic, Aramaic, and Syriac, which suggest that the pḥz root means “to be haughty, boastful, reckless” or “to be wanton, lascivious.” These connotations are quite appropriate to the context, in which Jacob faults Reuben for his act of lying with Bilhah.

49:4 – ἀνέβης γὰρ ἐπὶ τὴν κοίτην τοῦ πατρός σου – “you went up to your father’s bed.” It is ironic that Paul will later rebuke the Corinthians for tolerating this very act: “sexual immorality of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” (1 Corinthians 5:1) Perhaps it was not tolerated among pagans, but it was unfortunately famously committed by one of the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel.

49:6 – “…and in their desire, they hamstrung an ox.” Calum Carmichael argues that the ox is symbolic of Israel, so that Jacob is faulting Simeon and Levi for the hostility they created between his clan and the Shechemites by their murder of all the men of Shechem after the rape of Dinah.

49:7 – ἡ μῆνις αὐτῶν – The fierce anger of Simeon and Levi is denoted with the opening word of the Iliad, used for the rage of Achilles.

καὶ διασπερῶ αὐτοὺς – “I will scatter them.” The LXX uses the same root as “dispora,” even though the scattering in this instance is ἐν Ιακωβ rather than among the Gentiles. The reference seems to be to the fact that the Levites do not have their own land and that the tribe of Simeon “remained unsettled until quite late in the monarchy period” (Sarna).

49:9 – Judah is said to have gone up ἐκ βλαστοῦ, “from the sprout” or “shoot” or “bud.” The Hebrew has מִטֶּ֖רֶף, which can mean either “a green shoot” (Gen. 8:11) or else “an animal torn in pieces, the prey of a wild beast” (Job 4:11, 29:17, 38:39) and metaphorically, the spoil of robbers (Ps. 76:5). It is possible that Jacob puns on these two meanings. The LXX misses the latter completely, thereby obscuring the connection with the Joseph story and Jacob’s “recognition” of Joseph’s coat (“a wild beast has torn him in pieces”).

50:16-17 – It seems that Joseph’s brothers are putting words in their father Jacob’s mouth, and this raises the question of what Jacob knew concerning the events of chapter 37. Did he ever have his mistaken impressions corrected? The brothers, for their part, have never made a confession, least of all before their father.

50:26 – It is interesting that Joseph is not said to have been embalmed the way that his father Jacob was earlier in the chapter. This, in fact, is an omission from the LXX, which says merely that “they buried him” (ἔθαψαν αὐτὸν), whereas the Hebrew says that he was embalmed (וַיַּחַנְט֣וּ אֹתֹ֔ו) and placed in, not a coffin, but an ark (בָּאָרֹ֖ון), using the same word that designates Noah’s ark and the ark of the covenant. These connections are abandoned by the LXX, which has only ἐν τῇ σορῷ, “in the coffin.”

Above: Another abandoned ark.

Posted by: mattcolvin | July 13, 2020

Notes on LXX Genesis 47-48

Notes on LXX Genesis 47-48

47:5 – κατάστησον αὐτοὺς ἄρχοντας τῶν ἐμῶν κτηνῶν – “Appoint them rulers over my livestock.” The verb to appoint is the same verb (καθίστημι) that is used in the NT for appointment to church office.

47:8 – καὶ εὐλόγησεν Ιακωβ τὸν Φαραω – “And Jacob blessed Pharaoh.” The lesser is blessed by the greater.

47:25 – καὶ εἶπαν Σέσωκας ἡμᾶς – “And they said, you have saved us” – The Egyptians are grateful to have been made slaves, to have lost all their property, and to be under a 20% tax on their crops.

47:29 – ὐπόθες τὴν χεῖρα σου ὑπὸ τὸν μηρόν μου – “Place your hand under my thigh” – The same oath ritual that was used by Abraham when he sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac.

καὶ ποιήσεις ἐπ᾽ ἐμὲ ἐλεημοσύνην καὶ ἀλήθειαν… – “And you shall do mercy and truth upon me” This is the Hebrew חֶ֣סֶד וֶאֱמֶ֔ת, faithfulness and covenant love.

47:31 – “And he said, ‘Swear to me.’ And he swore to him. And Israel worshipped [leaning] upon the top of his staff.” The word “worshipped” here is προσεκύνησεν, “bowed down.” Here, though we might miss it in the English, is the fulfillment of Joseph’s dream and the answer to Jacob’s indignant question (37:10), “Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down (προσκύνησαι) ourselves to thee to the earth?”

48:5 – Jacob’s adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh is an odd arrangement. Jacob compares the two to his oldest two sons, Reuben and Simeon, who are also given curses in the next chapter because of their respective sins (Reuben for sleeping with Bilhah and Simeon for his cruelty in the matter of the Shechemites).

48:6 – Because of the elevation of Ephraim and Manasseh to the status of heirs of Jacob rather than of Joseph, the remaining offspring of Joseph are in line to receive a larger portion of inheritance from Jacob.

48:7 – Jacob says that he buried Rachel “in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath.” The LXX has, instead, ἐγγίζοντός μου κατὰ τὸν ἱππόδρομον χαβραθα – “when I was drawing near to the hippodrome (i.e. race-course, circus) of Chabratha.” One wonders whether this is another instance of the LXX translators identifying the spot by a contemporary landmark that was not present in the time of the Hebrew author. A hippodrome is a Hellenistic or Roman-era structure, a seeming anachronism in the patriarchal period.

48:18 – εἶπεν δὲ Ιωσηφ τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ Οὐκ οὕτως, πάτερ – “And Joseph said to his father, Not so, father.” The objection “not so” is an (unwitting?, but at least narratorially intended) near-quotation of Laban, who had told Jacob, “It must not be done so (οὐκ ἐστιν οὕτως) in our country, to give the younger [daughter in marriage] before the firstborn.” (Gen. 29:26)

48:19 – Οἶδα, τέκνον, οἶδα· καὶ οὗτος ἔσται εἰς λαόν… “I know, child, I know. This one too shall become a people…” An echo of the fates of Esau (ch. 36) and Ishmael (17:20), the unchosen brothers in prior generations.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph, 1656, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel, Germany.

Posted by: mattcolvin | July 12, 2020

Notes on LXX Genesis 45-46

Notes on LXX Genesis 45-46

45:1-2 – Joseph sends everyone out of his presence except his brothers. The next verse focalizes the scene from outside, via the sense of hearing of those who were not in the room: ἤκουσαν δὲ πάντες οἱ Αἰγύπτιοι, καὶ ἀκουστὸν ἐγένετο εἰς οἶκον Φαραω. It is a very effective technique for highlighting the emotion of Joseph.

45:3-4 – εἶπεν δὲ Ιωσηφ πρὸς τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς αὐτοῦ Ἐγώ εἰμι Ιωσηφ· ἔτι ὁ πατήρ μου ζῇ; καὶ οὐκ ἐδύναντο οἱ ἀδελφοὶ ἀποκριθῆναι αὐτῷ· ἐταράχθησαν γάρ. εἶπεν δὲ Ιωσηφ πρὸς τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς αὐτοῦ Ἐγγίσατε πρὸς με. καὶ ἤγγισαν. καὶ εἶπεν Ἐγώ εἰμι Ιωσηφ ὁ ἀδελφὸς ὑμῶν… As often in Biblical narrative, the lack of a reply from Joseph’s brothers (“Joseph said to his brothers…and Joseph said…”) is indicative of significant emotion or aporia. (Another instance is the silent Israelites before the multiple challenges of Goliath of Gath. See R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, on this point.) Joseph actually has to repeat his self-identification to his brothers because they are so dumbstruck.

45:9 – Ἐποίησεν με ὁ θεὸς κύριον πάσης γῆς Αἰγύπτου. “God has made me lord of all the land of Egypt.” It is hard to read the first five words and not immediately think of Peter’s statement in Acts 2:36, “God has made (ὁ θεὸς ἐποίησε) this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord (κύριον) and Christ.” But then, it has always required a veil over the heart not to see Jesus at every turn in the Joseph story.

45:12 – ἰδοὺ οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ ὑμῶν βλέπουσιν…ὅτι τὸ στόμα μου τὸ λαλοῦν πρὸς ὑμᾶς – “Behold, your eyes see…that it is my mouth that is speaking to you.” Presumably, Joseph has switched into Hebrew, and is no longer using an interpreter, so that his language confirms his identity.

45:14 – The last such scene of weeping on each other’s necks was between Jacob and Esau, whose relationship was considerably more strained than that of Joseph and Benjamin, sons of the same mother.

45:24 – After Pharaoh’s generous invitation for Joseph’s brothers to bring their family down to Egypt, and Joseph’s provision of goods for them, we are told that Joseph gave them a parting admonition for their journey back to Canaan, which the ESV “Do not quarrel on the road.” The Hebrew is אַֽל־תִּרְגְּז֖וּ, which the LXX slightly mistranslates as μὴ ὀργίζεσθε, “Do not be angry.” These are both inappropriate, it seems to me. The Hebrew רגז seems to have given translators trouble; it has a rather wider semantic range than any Greek equivalent, and can mean “to tremble with fear” or “to quake with excitement” (cf. HALOT רגז). There doesn’t appear to be much reason for Joseph’s brothers to quarrel at this point; fear or apprehension, however, is to be expected, since the last time they departed from Egypt for Canaan, Joseph played them a nasty trick with his divining cup and their bags. Given the wider range of the Hebrew רגז, it is possible that it, rather than the same root in Aramaic, lies behind the puzzles that arise in Mark 1:40-45, where it is again translated inappropriately with a form of ὀργίζομαι. (Jesus would not have been “angry” in the context. See here for discussion of that passage.)

45:26 – “Your son Joseph is alive, and he is ruling over all the land of Egypt.” This is astonishing stuff; the shock of the first half is powerful enough; the second is nigh unbelievable, like a Guatemalan father being told that his long-lost son is now the Vice-President of the United States. Well might we expect Jacob to have the reaction that he has: καὶ ἐξέστη ἡ διάνοια Ιακωβ. The KJV says, “Jacob’s heart fainted within him,” but the Greek says that “Jacob’s faculty of understanding was astonished.”

46:2 – God appears to Jacob in another dream, and calls him by name, “Jacob, Jacob.” The Hebrew has the standard response to such an address: הִנֵּֽנִי, “Here I am” or “Behold, me.” (Cf. 1 Samuel 3, where the child Samuel gives this answer several times.) But the Greek has departed from the Hebrew: ὁ δὲ εἶπεν Τί ἐστιν; “And he said, What is it?”

46:26 – “all the souls who came into Egypt with Jacob, those who came from his loins…” The Greek has “from his thighs” (ἐκ τῶν μηρῶν αὐτοῦ). The Hebrew has יְרֵכֹ֔ו, using a word that can mean “thigh” or “loin” (metonymy for organs of generation), so it is understandable why the LXX opts for μηρός for this word.

46:28 – The city to which Jacob sends Judah ahead is Ἡρώων πόλιν, “the city of heroes” or “Heroopolis.” This name is not in the Hebrew, which says only “in the land of Goshen;” the name Heroopolis has been added by the LXX. The translators, being Alexandrian Jews, will have been familiar with the geography, and have supplied the name of a contemporary Hellenistic Egyptian city in the proper location. (So Keil and Delitzsch.)

46:30 – Jacob’s words to Joseph, Ἀποθανοῦμαι ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν, ἐπεὶ ἑώρακα τὸ πρόσωπόν σου, “Now I will die, since I have seen your face” is interesting in two directions: it points back to 43:3, “The man did solemnly protest unto us, saying, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you.” Well, they did bring his brother, and now Jacob has seen his face. The verse also is picked up and echoed in the Nunc Dimittis or Song of Simeon in Luke 2:29-30, “Lord lettest now thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation…”

46:33-34 – Joseph instructs his brothers to tell Pharaoh, if he inquires about their profession, that they are herdsmen. This appears to be a strategem to prevent them from being asked leave Goshen to assimilate or live with the Egyptians. Nahum Sarna notes that although Joseph had requested Goshen as a habitation for his family, Pharaoh had not specified any location (45:17-20). This is presumably why Joseph shrewdly tells his brothers to respond in such a way that the standing Egyptian prejudice against shepherds (βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν Αἰγυπτίοις πᾶς ποιμὴν προβάτων) will ensure that his family is assigned land in Goshen.

It is elegant that the saga Joseph and his brothers concludes with Joseph confirming his brothers in their vocation as shepherds. Remember that he had “brought a bad report about them to their father” for being bad shepherds at the beginning of the story (Gen. 37:2)!

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