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)!

Posted by: mattcolvin | July 7, 2020

Notes on LXX Genesis 43-44

43:7 – ἐρωτῶν ἐπηρώτησεν ἡμᾶς – “Asking, he put the question to us…” This use of the participle ἐρωτῶν is not normal Greek. It is a Hebraism, an attempt to represent the use of the Hebrew infinitive absolute for strong asseveration: שָׁאֹ֣ול שָֽׁאַל־֠הָאִישׁ לָ֣נוּ.

43:8 – “…that we not die, we and you and our little ones.” For “our little ones” Greek has the odd word choice ἀποσκευὴ, “baggage, household stuff.” The Hebrew is טַפֵּֽנוּ, “our טף,” which HALOT defines as “those of a nomadic tribe who are not (or only to a small extent) able to march.” I think we must fault the LXX for not capturing the Hebrew accurately here.

43:9 – ἐγὼ δὲ ἐκδέχομαι αὐτόν – “But I stand as surety for him [sc. Benjamin]”

44:9 – παρ᾽ ᾧ ἂν εὑρεθῇ τὸ κόνδυ τῶν παίδων σου, ἀποθνῃσκέτω – Joseph’s brothers use the same oath formula as Jacob does to Laban in Gen. 31:32. The situations are precisely similar from a legal standpoint: both are instances of vestigii minatio, discussed by David Daube in “Summum Ius, Summa Iniuria” (CWDD vol. 2). there is a suspected theft; there is a hot pursuit of the thief, within a short (specified) time of the departure from the accuser’s domain; there is an accusation; the accused then takes an oath using the stated formula: “with whom X object is found (or “you find”), let him die” (or “let him not live”). The use of εὑρεθῇ is dictated by the situation: the accuser has caught up with the departing accused, and is legally entitled to rummage through (ἠρεύνα, 44:12) the accused’s possessions in search of the stolen object. The only significant difference between the search in Genesis 31 and Genesis 44 is that in 44, Joseph has carefully framed Benjamin for the theft.

44:15 – “Did you not know that such a man as I certainly practices divination?” This is one of my favourite lines in the entire Bible. Joseph has a better claim than anyone to make such a boast, but he is really putting on an act for his brothers. The phrase οἰωνισμῷ οἰωνιεῖται is a rendering of the infinitive absolute construction נַחֵ֧שׁ יְנַחֵ֛שׁ.

Shepherd with a Flock of Sheep, Vincent Van Gogh, 1884.

44:28 – “The one went out from me, and you said that he had become a prey of wild beasts (θηριόβρωτος).” This looks very much like a technical term within the laws of shepherding, similar to θηριάλωτον (“taken by wild beasts”) in 31:39. There, Jacob complains to Laban that “I did not bring back to you what was taken by wild beasts, I paid out of my own resources for daytime thefts and nighttime thefts.” This looks like a claim to have gone above and beyond the normal requirements for shepherds: perhaps a shepherd could normally claim exemption for livestock taken by beasts or thieves. This would have involved presentation of the mangled remains to the owner of the flock so that it could be certified as a loss due to predators, perhaps with a formula of legal recognition of the fact (הַכֶּר־נָ֔א, ἐπιγνῶθι, a repeated theme in Genesis, e.g. 38:25, of Judah acknowledging his own tokens in the hand of Tamar; 37:32, of Jacob recognizing Joseph’s torn garment). If this is the case, then shepherding is a theme throughout the Joseph cycle, announced by 37:2, where “Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father” and continuing all the way to chapter 47, where Jacob’s sons tell Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were” and Pharaoh appoints them also over his own herds.

44:33 – “Now then I will remain as your servant in place of the lad, the slave of my lord, but let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father, unless the lad is with us? – that I may not see the evils which will overtake my father.” – Judah’s penitence is complete: he is willing to suffer in place of Benjamin, and he is supremely concerned not to perturb his father by any misfortune to Benjamin; all this, where before he was willing to harm Joseph and to cause unutterable grief to Jacob by feigning that Joseph had died.

It is especially poignant to think of all this from the perspective of Joseph himself.

Posted by: mattcolvin | July 3, 2020

Notes on LXX Genesis 41-42

41:42 – Among the other insignia of office which Pharaoh bestows on Joseph, he gives him his δακτύλιον, “signet-ring.” We may recall the earlier instance of this term: it is among the emblems of personal authority that Judah gives to Tamar-disguised-as-a-prostitute. The loss and bestowal, respectively, of these two rings is thus a physical manifestation of a neat symmetry: while Judah, who engineered Joseph’s sale into slavery, is squandering his reputation and authority by failing to recognize his own daughter-in-law, Joseph is being elevated to the second highest position in Egypt for interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams.

41:49 – The description of how uncountably plentiful was the grain of the seven good years is rendered in the same language as God’s promise to Abraham about his descendants: ὥσει τὴν ἄμμον τῆς θαλάσσης, “like the sand of the sea.”

Bacchiaca, Joseph Receivers His Brothers, 1515 (National Gallery, London).

42:6 – Joseph’s brothers bow down to Joseph with their faces to the ground (προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ ἐπὶ πρόσωπον ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν). The same locution is used of Jacob attempting to placate Esau when he meets him after leaving Laban. The two situations are quite different in many respects: the ten brothers do not know Joseph’s identity, for one. Yet in both cases, there is a tremendous power imbalance, and a past wrong and cause for enmity; in both cases, the wronged brother will display generosity toward the suppliant sibling(s).

42:9 and 12 – Joseph accuses his brothers of being spies who have come “to spy out the tracks of the land” (τὰ ἴχνη τῆς γῆς). This is an attempt to render the Hebrew עֶרְוַ֥ת הָאָ֖רֶץ, “bare, undefended places of the land” (HALOT, sv. ערוה), with the idea perhaps being that τὰ ἴχνη are places that have been worn bare of vegetation by repeated use.

42:17 – Joseph puts his brothers in prison for three days, the same significant number that the chief baker and butler of Pharaoh were also in prison.

42:18 – “Do this and live–for I fear God” – implying, perhaps, that Joseph is not like his brothers in this respect.

42:22 – It’s a low blow for Reuben to say “I told you so” to his brothers in this situation!

42:23 – The use of a needless interpreter is a masterstroke on Joseph’s part. It disguises his knowledge of his brothers’ language.

42:37 – Reuben, attempting to reassure his father that he will bring Benjamin back safe from Egypt, tells him, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you.” This has always baffled me: Would losing two grandsons do anything to comfort Jacob for the loss of a second son? But I suppose it is supposed to show just how much skin Reuben has in the game.

42:38 – Jacob becomes melodramatic and lets his morbid imagination run wild: “it will happen that he [Benjamin] will fall sick on the journey you are going on, and you will bring my old age down with sorrow to Hades.”

Posted by: mattcolvin | June 30, 2020

Notes on LXX Genesis 35, 39, and 40

35:4 – “And they gave Jacob their foreign gods (τοὺς θεοὺς τοὺς ἀλλοτρίους) which were in their hands, and the earrings that were in their ears…” The phrase “in their hands” is used with the word “violence” in Jonah 3:8 (“Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands”), where it indicates responsibility for the sin in question.

35:5 – “And Israel rose up from Shechem, and the fear of God came upon the cities round about them, and they did not pursue after the sins of Israel.” So Levi and Simeon’s act of terror against the Shechemites had a helpful effect, better than Jacob had feared (34:30).

(I am skipping over 36-38 because I have recently read them with my WHA Greek class this summer.)

39:1 – Πετεφρης (Potiphar) is called Pharaoh’s ἀρχιμάγειρος, which some lexicons gloss as “chief cook,” but is really “title of a great officer in Oriental courts” (LSJ).

39:5 – Joseph in Potiphar’s household should be read as a variation on the “monarch takes the wife of a patriarch” typescene that we have seen three times already (Pharaoh and Sarah, Abimelech and Sarah, Abimelech and Rebekah). But the typescene is inverted, so that the wife of the authority figure tries, and fails, to take Joseph; and God blesses Potiphar’s household rather than afflicting it.

Orazio Gentileschi,
Joseph Leaving Potiphar’s Wife, 1630 (Windsor Castle). Two things are remarkable about this painting: first, that it was painted by the father of Artemisia Gentileschi, who is famous for her paintings for female vengeance (Judith and Holofernes, Jael and Sisera, etc), all of which she painted out of her own experience as a rape survivor. Second, we may note that this painting must not be depicting the last encounter between Joseph and Mrs. Potiphar, since Joseph is still very much clothed.

Govaert Flinck (Dutch, 1615 – 1660), Joseph in Prison Interpreting the Dreams of Pharaoh’s Baker and Butler

40:8-23 – Joseph as a dream-interpreter invites comparison with other interpreters such as Eteocles, who interprets the pictures on the shields of the seven Argive champions in Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes 397-675), or Enkidu, who interprets the dreams of Gilgamesh in in tablet 4 of the Epic of Gilgamesh. In those two instances, the interpreter is not merely a solver of objective puzzles, but is engaged in an agonistic contest to turn the dream or symbol to his own purposes, even using fairly circular arguments (“My friend, the mountain you saw [could not be Humbaba:]/ [we] shall capture Humbaba, [him] we [shall slay]…” IV.30-31). Joseph’s interpretations are different: he seizes upon numbers first: “The three grape-stems are three days”; “the three baskets are three days.” He then proceeds to use wordplay to translate the dream-symbolism into the real world: the word αἴρειν, “to lift up” is used both for the baskets lifted up above the head of the baker, and for Pharaoh removing (ἀφελεῖ) the baker’s head from him.

40:17-19 – This is really remarkable, but I’m not really sure what to make of it: Pharaoh’s chief baker (ἀρχισιτοποιὸς) is the first person in the Bible whose flesh is said to be bread (φάγεται τὰ ὄρνεα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τὰς σάρκας σου), and who is hanged on a cross (κρεμάσει σε ἐπὶ ξύλου). It stands out more in the LXX because of the use of ξύλον and σάρξ.

Posted by: mattcolvin | June 24, 2020

Notes on LXX Genesis 32-33

Notes on LXX Genesis 32-33

32:11 – The phrase ἀπὸ πάσης δικαιοσύνης καὶ ἀπὸ πάσης ἀληθείας is the LXX’s attempt to render מִכֹּ֤ל הַחֲסָדִים֙ וּמִכָּל־הָ֣אֱמֶ֔ת, which is a fascinating piece of Hebrew idiom. Hesed and emeth are terms for love and faithfulness especially within the context of a covenant.

32:26 – While Jacob is wrestling with the angel, the angel touches τοῦ πλάτους τοῦ μηροῦ αὐτοῦ. This is literally “the breadth of his thigh.” The result is that the affected body part ἐνάρκησεν, “became numb” or “deadened.”

32:29 – ὅτι ἐνίσχυσας μετὰ θεοῦ καὶ μετὰ ἀνθρώπων δυνατός – “because you have striven with God and with men mightily.”

32:30 – ἵνα τί τοῦτο ἐρωτᾷς τὸ ὄνομά μου; – “Why do you ask my name?” This is exactly the same rhetorical question posed by the angel of the Lord who announced the conception of Samson to Manoah and his wife in Judges 13:18.

33:2 – “And he made the two maidservants [Bilhah and Zilpah] and their sons among the first and Leah and her children behind, and Rachel and Joseph last.” Nothing like danger to manifest favouritism. The first are literally last here.

33:4 – “…and fell upon his neck and they both wailed.” Joseph and his brothers will do the same in their reconciliation scene in 45:14-15.

33:9-10 – Esau’s refusal of Jacob’s gifts (ἔστιν μοι πολλά, ἄδελφε· ἔστω σόι τὰ σά – “I have many things, brother; let your things be yours”), and Jacob’s insistence (δέξαι τὰ δῶρα – “receive the gifts”) is reminiscent of Abraham and Ephron’s haggling over the cave of Macpelah (Gen. 23) and the refusal of Abraham to take anything from the king of Sodom (Gen 14).

33:17 – καὶ Ιακωβ ἀπαίρει εἰς Σκηνάς – The LXX renders the place-name Sukkoth as Σκηναί, “tents.” It is odd that neither the MT nor the LXX says what the name of the place was before Jacob named it Sukkoth.

33:19 – “And acquired the portion of the field, where he had pitched his tent, from Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred lambs (ἑκατὸν ἀμνῶν)…” As with Abraham’s purchase of Macpelah, Jacob’s legal acquisition of land near Shalem from the Shechemites is carefully documented with the price of the sale. The LXX says the price was 100 lambs; the MT has בְּמֵאָ֖ה קְשִׂיטָֽה, “a hundred qesîtahs.” Alter comments that this term is either “are either measures of weight for gold and silver, or units for the barter of livestock.” The LXX opts for the latter.

Posted by: mattcolvin | June 19, 2020

Notes on LXX Genesis 30-31

Notes on LXX Genesis 30

30:2 – Jacob’s reaction to Rachel’s complaint uses an interesting verb: Μὴ ἀντὶ θεοῦ ἐγώ εἰμι, ὅς ἐστέρησἐν σε καρπὸν κοιλίας; – “Am I in the place of God, who has deprived you of the fruit of your womb?” Obviously, in this instance, he is speaking of divinely ordained sterility or infertility. But the verb is also used in 1 Cor. 7:5’s instructions to married couples: μὴ ἀποστερεῖτε ἀλλήλους, εἰ μή τι ἂν ἐκ συμφώνου πρὸς καιρὸν – “Do not deprive each other, except perhaps temporarily and by mutual agreement.” In that instance, Paul has in mind not divinely ordained infertility, but humanly inflicted infertility. The temporal qualifier πρὸς καιρὸν, “for a time” shows that Paul does not believe all marital congress must be open to fertility, but at the same time, he knows nothing of deliberately childless marriages.

30:3 – καὶ τέξεται έπὶ τῶν γονάτων μου, καὶ τεκνοποιήσομαι κἀγὼ ἐξ αὐτῆς – “And she will bear [children] upon my knees, and I will procreate from her.” This is technical language expressing a surrogacy relationship. A similar arrangement is seen at the end of the book of Ruth, where Obed counts as Naomi’s son (4:16).

30:39 – In the description of Jacob’s method of breeding spotted sheep and goats despite Laban’s removal of all the spotted animals from the herd in Jacob’s care, the LXX uses a hapax legomenon, ἐγκισσήσωσιν. This is from κισσάω, and appears to mean “to conceive.” The method is utterly baffling to most scholars. I incline to Scott Noegel’s explanation.

31:2 – “And Jacob saw the face of Laban, and behold, it was not towards him as it was yesterday and the third day (ὡς ἐχθὲς καὶ τρίτην ἡμέραν).” This is an odd Hebrew idiom (כִּתְמֹ֥ול שִׁלְשֹֽׁום), which the LXX has preserved by literal translation. Most English versions say merely “as in time past.”

31:7 – ὁ δὲ πατὴρ ὑμῶν παρεκρούσατό με – “But your father cheated me” – A delicious irony, coming from the mouth of Jacob, the arch-trickster, and not one chapter after he has won his tricksters’ duel against Laban.

“…and changed my wages of ten lambs (τῶν δέκα ἀμνῶν)” – The Hebrew has עֲשֶׂ֣רֶת מֹנִ֑ים, using a fairly rare word meaning “times” or “occasions.” The LXX has misunderstood it as meaning “lambs.”

31:14-15 – “There isn’t any portion or inheritance in our father’s house for us, is there? Has he not counted us as though were foreigners to him? (οὐχ ὡς αἱ ἀλλότριαι λελογίσμεθα αὐτῷ;) He has sold us and has devoured our money.” The daughters of Laban are faced with a choice between allegiance to their husband and allegiance to their father. The choice is easy for them.

31:19 – As Jacob prepares to depart from Haran, we are told that “Laban went off to shear his sheep.” Sheep-shearing is a merry time, and a frequent occasion for men to get fleeced in the Bible. (Cf. Gen. 38)

31:22 – τῇ τρίτῇ ἡμέρᾳ – Jacob has a 3 day head start, and Laban catches up with him 7 days after that. David Daube argues that the number of days is legally significant, as fixing the “statute of limitations” or the deadline within which the host may catch up with a guest suspected of theft (the technical term is vestigii minatio, the “hounding of the footprint”) may demand that his former guest submit to an audit of his goods. This, then, accounts for why Laban is able to go through Jacob’s baggage looking for his stolen gods.

31:26 – “and you have led away my daughters like captives by the sword” – Hardly. Rachel and Leah have chosen to go with Jacob very willingly.

31:27 – “And if you have told me, I would have sent you off with rejoicing and music and drums and stringed instruments.” Both these verses are highly comical. Laban’s protestations of love and affection and generosity are blatantly belied by the words of his daughters and the general pattern of his behaviour. But it is true that he kisses his offspring and blesses them in the end (32:1).

31:32 – “with whomever you find your gods, let him not live” – Jacob words his curse carefully, so that it is hard to say whether it fails to fall on anyone (since Laban does not, in fact, find his gods with anyone), or whether it does come home to Rachel later when she dies giving birth to Benjamin.

Posted by: mattcolvin | June 17, 2020

Notes on LXX Genesis 28-29

Genesis 28 LXX

28:18 – καὶ ἔστησεν [τὸν λίθον] στήλην καὶ ἐπέχεεν ἔλαιον ἐπὶ τὸ ἄκρον αὐτῆς. – Note that the Greek word is not pillar (στῦλος), but upright slab (στήλη), which is true to the Hebrew מַצֵּבָ֑ה, from the root (ntsb) meaning “to set upright.” It is not clear to me why Jacob anoints the top of his stone at Bethel with oil. Jacob will do the same thing again in 35:14 when he returns to Bethel from Haran. N. Sarna comments that it may be an ANE covenant-making or contractual ritual between a person and a god.

28:19 – καὶ Ουλαμλους ἦν ὄνομα τῇ πόλει τὸ πρότερον. The LXX has misconstrued the Hebrew וְאוּלָ֛ם (“but indeed” or “howbeit” or some other strong adversative conjunction) in the phrase וְאוּלָ֛ם ל֥וּז שֵׁם־הָעִ֖יר, and has made it part of the name. The name of the place was not Ουλαμλους, but Luz (= Λους, if the LXX had construed properly).

28:21 – καὶ ἔσται μοι κύριος εἰς θεόν – “And the Lord will be [for a] god to me,” with purposive εἰς indicating the role that YHWH is to take on relative to Jacob.

28:22 – Jacob appears to have spontaneously undertaken to tithe to YHWH, without YHWH commanding him to do so. Since tithing has already been seen in the case of Abraham and Melchizedek (Gen. 14), and since it is an ANE custom with good antecedents in Babylonian sources (Wikipedia cites the term ešretū from the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, which gives various instances of people giving tithes to ANE gods via their priests), we need not wonder how he came up with the idea. Still, it is a puzzle: who will receive this tithe for YHWH? There aren’t any priests yet.

29:10 – I was a little surprised to see that this sentence places “Laban’s daughter Rachel” and “Laban’s flocks” in parallel, as though both were equally object of Jacob’s gaze and desire. And indeed, it will prove to be so in the story: having served 7 years for Leah and 7 for Rachel, he serves another 6 years for the livestock (Gen. 31:41).

29:14-15 – David Daube points out that Laban’s initial welcome of Jacob in 29:14 is as generous as could be hoped for: “You are of my bones (ἐκ τῶν ὀστῶν μου) and of my flesh (ἐκ τῆς σαρκός μου)” – i.e. a recognition of Jacob as a member of the family. The immediately following verse has been misunderstood by most English versions and by the LXX as further generosity; it is actually the reverse of that. Laban’s question is הֲכִי־אָחִ֣י אַ֔תָּה has been taken as though כִי meant “because,” and as though the interrogative הֲ were not present: “Because you are my brother, you will not serve me gratis.” In reality, the entire combination הֲכִי simply serves to introduce a pointed question: “Are you my brother, and should you serve me gratis?” Implication: “You are not actually my brother, and you should be demoted from having been welcomed as a family member, and made like a hired hand instead.” See this post with explanation from David Daube.

29:23 – καὶ ἐγένετο ἑσπέρα, καὶ λαβών Λαβαν Λειαν… – A nice piece of alliteration.

καὶ εἰσῆλθεν πρὸς αὐτὴν Ιάκωβ – This is as frank and explicit a statement as the Hebrew language has. The Pottery Barn rule applies.

29:29 – Βαλλαν τὴν παιδίσκην – Bilhah. Another weird LXX transliteration.

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