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Interpretive Spins in the Ψαλμοὶ: pt 5, Mother Zion

February 23, 2012

This post continues a series on “interpretive spins” and “literary sparks” in the Septuagint Psalms.  As noted in the earlier posts, Albert Pietersma, NETS Septuagint translator and project editor, has described how literally faithful to the Hebrew language the LXX translators of the Psalms are; their Greek is nearly like a gloss of the Semitic language — and yet there seems to be a few digressions, a few spins and sparks.  Pietersma doesn’t much identify these sparks and spins.  That’s why this series.

We will look here at a Greeked Psalm that references Egypt in the veiled way the Hebrew seems to; but it’s a Hellene version of the Psalm that references Zion – very unlike the original language does – with the added Greek metaphor μήτηρ, or “mother.”  “Zion is mother.”  That’s the spin and the literary spark.

Before we come to the language of this particular Psalm, let’s do two other things.  First, let’s just clear up some assumptions.  Second, let’s look back at the Septuagint through the lenses of Jewish-Studies historian Sylvie Honigman.  Or, if you’d prefer to skip the assumptions and the historiography of Honigman now, you can find the Greek-language Psalm and its discussion further below.  The preliminary discussion is between the dashes here.

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First, let’s clear up assumptions.  We can only assume that the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint Psalms we have today are neither necessarily the original Hebrew that was translated nor the Hellene that resulted from the translating in Alexandria, Egypt sometime during the 3rd through 1st centuries BCE.  Given what we have now as the MT and the LXX, we must assume these to be more or less close the more ancient versions.  Robert Alter and Ann Nyland, respective translators of the Psalms, use not only the Hebrew MT but also the Greek LXX to help make decisions about how to render the collection of ancient Semitic lyrical, musical poetry into contemporary English.  There are layers, then, to how and to what we understand to be the Hebrew and the Greek of the Psalms.  I’m not wanting us to be platonic in our view; that is, I’m not wishing for us to imagine the ideal Hebrew or the prototypical Greek original versions.  Rather, we assume that the Hebrew and the Greek available to us today is the basis for our comparisons between the two languages, the one presumably the source for the other.  We assume that there may be differences between what are available to us now and what was there in Alexandria; and yet, until archeological discoveries provide us with more certain originals, we imagine what we have is close enough.

Second, we should find Honigman’s work pertinent to the Greek spun and sparked Psalm we will look at in this post.  In her book, The Septuagint and Homeric Scholarship in Alexandria: A Study in the Narrative of the ‘Letter of Aristeas’, Honigman allows us to look at the Septuagint from various perspectives.  Again, we assume that the LXX comes to us today in variant texts that more or less reproduce what must have been produced in Alexandria.  Likewise, Honigman’s lenses into the LXX are reproductions, layers of perspectives, of secondary sources. of Jewish secondary sources living in Egypt and / or living in Alexander’s empire.  In this post, we are interested in what some of these sources might tell us about Jerusalem and Alexandria and the Greek “polis” and Jerusalem as the sources might have looked at the Psalm we will look at.

In her book’s introduction, Honigman describes the author of the Letter of Aristeas, as different from the author’s narrator.  She starts by describing things that “are certain about our author, [certainties] derived from internal analysis of the text.”  Let’s list these:

  • “To begin with, the content makes it clear that the author was Jewish.”
  • “Second, there can be no doubt that the author lived after the period of Ptolemy II… [sometime] under Ptolemy III (246-222) or IV (222/1-205) at the earliest, but [this] does not preclude a later date.”
  • “Third, the place of composition must be Alexandria.”
  • “[T]he description of Jerusalem is idealized and broadly fictional.  Our author was clearly more familiar with Alexandria than with Jerusalem.”

Next, Honigman sketches the narrator as authored in the Letter of Aristeas:  “The narrator…, as distinct from the author, is a court official of Ptolemy II Philadephus (282/2 – 246 BCE)….  He was allegedly sent there by Ptolemy… in order to bring back an authoritative scroll of the Law of the Jews from Jerusalem to Alexandria.  The King wished to have a translation into Greek based on a reliable version” (page 2).

So, we have Honigman’s initial facts about the author, and then her brief description of the author’s narrator.  And then we get Honigman’s outlines of information about the Letter of Aristeas.  The Letter “is thus one of the oldest – in fact probably the oldest – source that tells us about the origins of the LXX” (page 2).  She adds:

The degree of innovation displayed by [the Letter] is easy to pin down; the form is Greek, but the thematic material is Jewish.  This is true especially of the digressions.  Incidentally, how much of this material is due to the author … himself, and how much to Jewish predecessors from whom he borrowed or at least took inspiration, is hard for us to judge.  However, the fact remains that [it] provides evidence for the existence of a Jewish literary tradition in Alexandria which was eager to blend Greek forms and Jewish topics and, thus, to demonstrate that Jewish culture was an integral part of Greek culture.  One chapter … can be taken as symptomatic of this Jewish aspiration to be recognized as part of Greek culture.  [Honigman quotes from that chapter here, and then she summarizes.]  In other words, for all their peculiarities, [this chapter of the Letter would suggest that] the Jews are no more peculiar than any other Greek people.  Their specificity is pare of the multifarious diversity of the Greek world, and the Jews form just one polis among others. [pages 16-17]

Let’s look at another statement, one more layer in Honigman’s sources, before we state the implications of these layered Jewish sources for the earliest history of the LXX.  The additional layer is Aristotle himself:

The most interesting digression [in the Letter], as far as the blending together of Jewish and Greek topics is concerned, is the Travelogue, the Journey to Jerusalem (chs 83- 120).  In fact, this passage breaks down into five consecutive sections, each one modeled on a different literary form; the description of Jerusalem, which is an elaborate paraphrase of Aristotle, Politics, 7.11 (chs 83- 106); the comparison between Alexandria and Jerusalem (chs 107 – 9); paraphrases of a royal Ptolemaic decree (ch 110), and then of Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians, 16 (ch 111) which will be analysed elsewhere [in Honigman’s book] and, last, the description of Judaea (chs 112 – 20), which is reminiscent of the genre (or sub-genre) of utopian geography.  The first and last sections of the Travelogue digression are closely related, both topically and generically, so that the digression keeps its unity as a whole.

The section dealing with the description of the city of Jerusalem, chs 83 – 106, is directly inspired by Aristotle’s depiction of the ideal polis in Book vii of his Politics, with biblical allusions sewn into the text.  The use of Aristotle in this passage is an excellent illustration of the skill of [the Letter’s] author in creative re-writing.  The description of Jerusalem in [the Letter] introduces a systematic shift in emphasis as compared to the source used:  prescriptions which, in Aristotle’s text, apply to the polis as a whole, are shifted in [the Letter] on to the Temple….  The key for a correct understanding of this passage is again to be found in Aristotle, who establishes a direct link between the politeia or political regime prevailing in a particular polis and the corresponding arrangement of the defensive system…. [page 23]

Now, we need to be very clear about Honigman’s project for her historiography of The Letter (as we consider a final source of hers).  She writes:  “The contention of the present book is that the role and purpose of [the Letter of Aristeas] was to turn the story of the origins of the LXX into a myth.”  And she continues:  “This was achieved basically through configuring the story on specific literary patterns” (page 41).

The final Honigman historical source – as we start to consider the LXX Psalm of this post – is what she hypothesizes as the “Homeric paradigm.”  Against the myth of the LXX origin that the Letter (i.e., its author, its narrator, its “Alexandrian paradigm” found in literary allusions to Aristotelian texts) would establish is the history of the LXX that Honigman attempts to reconstruct if not recover.  She writes (with my emphasis):

[In] the Exodus paradigm a tiny kernel of historical reality is traceable; there were slaves and former prisoners of war among the Egyptian Jews, even if not to the extent suggested by [the Letter].  This last remark suggests and alternative possibility in the Alexandrian paradigm; its superimposition onto the story of the LXX may genuinely reflect the fact that, in the mind of Alexandrian Jews, the fate of the LXX was comparable to that of the Homeric epics edited by the Alexandrian grammarians.  This shift in stress, from a strictly literal, i.e. artificial, construct to a genuine echo of a mental reality, would shed new light on the fact that the translation of the LXX is presented in [the Letter] in terms of a textual edition.

We may perhaps go even further.  It is not impossible – in fact, it would be natural – that the conceptual approach and working methods that characterized the grammarians from the library who carried out the edition of Homer influenced the way the Jews proceeded with the LXX concretely.  This surmise is particularly worth exploring for the time [the Letter] was composed.  However, the following pages will take as a working hypothesis that it is also relevant for the early genesis of the LXX at the beginning of the third century BCE.  In other words, the working hypothesis proposes that the early history of the LXX should be read against the background of te history of the editing of the Homeric epics in Alexandria, across a time span ranging from the early third to the middle or later part of the second century BCE.  Needless to say, the assumption implied by such a working premise is that the LXX was primarily translated not for pragmatic needs, but for the sake of prestige. [page 120]

Let’s summarize.  Honigman provides us with lenses through which the LXX text of the Psalms might be viewed.  There is the view of the author of the Letter of Aristeas, who is establishing the Hellene translation myth as a myth.  There is the view of his narrator, who is establishing the Septuagint as a work in the Alexandrian paradigm, the literary constructs of Aristotle’s treatises.  And there is the non-mythic history that Honigman herself posits (against the layered perspectives of the Letter):  the LXX translation, she hypothesizes, worked in the ways of the editing of Homeric texts in Alexandria, a translation that for all its failings also was a rendering for literary prestige.  Here is then where we begin to speculate about the literary sparks and the interpretive spins that NETS translator Pietersma says he notices in the LXX Psalms.

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Now, here’s the Psalm. In Hebrew it’s number 87. In the Greek translation it’s 86. After the Greek, line by line, is my translation of this Hellene into English with some discussion.

1 τοῖς υἱοῖς Κορε ψαλμὸς ᾠδῆς
To [the rendition of] those sons of Korah. A strumming, A song.

οἱ θεμέλιοι αὐτοῦ ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσιν τοῖς ἁγίοις
Those foundations of His [are] of the mountains, of the holies.

2 ἀγαπᾷ κύριος τὰς πύλας Σιων ὑπὲρ πάντα τὰ σκηνώματα Ιακωβ
Master loves the gates of Zion more than all of the tents of Jakob.

3 δεδοξασμένα ἐλαλήθη περὶ σοῦ ἡ πόλις τοῦ θεοῦ
Glories were spoken concerning You, O Polis, Ms. City-State of God:

διάψαλμα
strum on

4 μνησθήσομαι Ρααβ καὶ Βαβυλῶνος τοῖς γινώσκουσίν με
“I will remember Rahab and Babylon to those who know Me,

καὶ ἰδοὺ ἀλλόφυλοι καὶ Τύρος καὶ λαὸς Αἰθιόπων οὗτοι ἐγενήθησαν ἐκεῖ
and look [there are the] other-dears and Tyre and people of Ethiopians who’re born there.”

5 μήτηρ Σιων ἐρεῖ ἄνθρωπος
“Mother Zion [is there]” says a human

καὶ ἄνθρωπος ἐγενήθη ἐν αὐτῇ
“and a human [is] born of Her.”

καὶ αὐτὸς ἐθεμελίωσεν αὐτὴν ὁ ὕψιστος
And He founded Her, the Most High did.

6 κύριος διηγήσεται ἐν γραφῇ λαῶν
Master will give a diegesis, a narration, in the writing of the people

καὶ ἀρχόντων τούτων τῶν γεγενημένων ἐν αὐτῇ
and of the chiefs of them, those born of Her,

διάψαλμα
strum on

7 ὡς εὐφραινομένων πάντων ἡ κατοικία ἐν σοί
as blessed merriment [for] all the ones living in that household of Yours.

This Greeked Psalm speaks of the written records of the people in a way suggestive of historiography.  The use of the technical, rhetorical term διηγήσεται (or diegesis, or “narration”) suggests that the translators are bringing out if not inventing a frame for considering this song.  The locations mentioned in the Psalm seems to be vague references to places that the Alexandrian Jews would have known well.  In particular “Ρααβ” is the transliteration of רהב (or “Rahab”), which is an allusion to Egypt, the very place where the LXX translators are translating.

And then there’s  ציון or in Greek letters Σιων (for “Zion”).  Insiders to the culture, to the text, would know the suggestion of Jerusalem.  Honigman says the author (and perhaps even the narrator) of the Letter of Aristeas, narrating the myth of the LXX translation, “idealized and broadly” fictionalized Jerusalem.  Do the LXX translators themselves do this?

They do give a repetition of “οἱ θεμέλιοι” (or “the foundations”) and “ἐθεμελίωσεν” (or “founded”) as something attributed to God.  And this particular repetition is stronger, a more direct lexical repetition than is in the Hebrew.

The most fascinating literary spark and interpretive spin is the feminization of Zion.  Of course, in the first mention of the City, as a Polis, as a City-State as the Letter of Aristeas describes her (looking back at this Psalm no doubt); but at this point in the Greek translation, there’s the gender of Grammar only.  My English brings out explicitly, nonetheless, what is implicit.  Mine is not an unreasonable translation there because in the second mention of Σιων, there’s something more explicit.  There’s a metaphor.  Zion is Mother.  She is the birth mother of the people of God, She the City-State of God.  God founded Her as He founded the mountains, the holy mountains.  And the Greek translation, in light of how the Letter of Aristeas might have us read it, in light of how Honigman’s Homeric paradigm hypothesis might read it, adds much political and rhetorical.  These additions seem to be literary sparks and interpretive spins in what is more usually in the Greek Psalms a fairly tight gloss of the Hebrew.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2012 7:56 pm

    I don’t quite follow you here.

    In the Hebrew, Rahab and Babylonia are references to the diaspora, and the obligation diaspora Jews to make pilgrimages (chag, like the Arabic hajj) to the Jerusalem Temple. The line means to cause those in Rahab and Babyonia to remember.

    Much more interesting is how negative mentions of Rahab are deleted (perhaps for political reasons, or perhaps by censors, or perhaps by the Christian custodians of the Septuagintal texts), for example, in the translation from Hebrew Psalm 89:11. This example alone shows that Greek psalter often falls short of being a “tight gloss” of the Hebrew.

    Zion as mother is a straightforward interpretation of the text; it adds something, I grant, but nothing outside mainstream Jewish thought: the idea of Jerusalem as a mother is widespread in the Prophets (consider Isaiah 54); and the idea of a city-state created by God is in particular applied to New Jerusalem (e.g., Ezekiel 40-48). It also shows up in apocryphal and gentile sources (1 Enoch 85-90, Galatians 4:26, Revelations 21:2).

    Finally, this comment was just confusing:

    Honigman says the author (and perhaps even the narrator) of the Letter of Aristeas, narrating the myth of the LXX translation, “idealized and broadly” fictionalized Jerusalem. Do the LXX translators themselves do this?

    Aristeas, as you know, only talks about the translation of the Pentateuch. Comparing Aristeas with the Greek Psalter is anachronistic.

  2. February 23, 2012 10:38 pm

    I love this series!

    I’ve never heard this idea before:

    Needless to say, the assumption implied by such a working premise is that the LXX was primarily translated not for pragmatic needs, but for the sake of prestige. [page 120]

    So, first of all, perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t see the connection between H’s working hypothesis, which seems to have to do with when the translation was done, and the stated assumption..?

    But I’m fascinated by the idea that it might have been for prestige and not for pragmatism. This upends the way I’ve thought about the Septuagint: there’s a tremendous difference between a translation from a no-longer-accessible religious language into the common vernacular — which is something I very nearly have firsthand experience of, as I’m almost old enough to remember the Mass in Latin — and a translation made for the sake of putting down a cultural marker: We’re here, we’re Jewish Greeks, get used to it!

    Is there much support for this idea, or is H. alone in scholarly speculation here?

    By the way I’m presently listening to The Rise and Fall of Alexandria by Justin Pollard. He discussed a bit about the Septuagint myth in an earlier chapter; I’ll have to go back & find that part again. But if I recall correctly, he was presenting it from the perspective that it was Alexandria whose prestige would be enhanced by obtaining a copy of the Jewish holy books for its library.

    As to the psalm itself:
    – Was the maternal metaphor commonly used of a polis?

    – Comparing your translation to my NABRE (based on the MT), I’m intrigued by a grammatical difference in 6-7. You’ve got past tense (founded) then future (will record); NABRE has future (will establish) then present (notes). Any comments?

    – “Other-dears” is adorable. NABRE has Philistia, home of the Philistines: quite the opposite connotation! Are you translating literally here in order to overcome that connotation and bring out the philos root? Or is there something else going on here?

    – v7 is quite different! NABRE has “All my springs are in you”. Are there really no springs or fountains in the Greek? What do you make of this difference? (if anything?)

  3. February 24, 2012 7:05 am

    Theophrastus,

    My post may have been too ambitious and too long here to easily follow. Thanks for commenting on where it’s not clear.

    You note: “The line means to cause those in Rahab and Babyonia to remember. Much more interesting is how negative mentions of Rahab are deleted …, for example, in the translation from Hebrew [to Greek in] Psalm 89:11.”

    Yes, at the beginning of my post, I tried to make clear:

    “We will look here at a Greeked Psalm that references Egypt in the veiled way the Hebrew seems to.”

    To me, it’s much more interesting that this particular Psalm retains or glosses רַ֥הַב as Ρααβ than that Ps 89:11 (rather expectedly) has deleted from the Hebrew any reference to the place in the Hellene version. Though there’s no literary spark or any interpretative spin in our Psalm here at this point may seem dull; and yet, it’s still interesting because the Psalm, as you note, is referring in this place to diaspora Jews, and it is their descendants much later — in Egypt again — who are making sure the text — in Greek now — refers to Rahab, such a rare veiled (insider) term in the scope of the Hebrew Bible, much more so veiled (if still retained) in the Greek version, in our Psalm.

    You also say: “Zion as mother is a straightforward interpretation of the text; it adds something, I grant, but nothing outside mainstream Jewish thought”

    Again, I find this very interesting. First, the use of an explicit Greek metaphor, after all that Aristotle theorized about metaphor, marks this Hebrew Psalm, brings to the fore that only implied Hebrew-text notion. Second, then, that Jewish translators are using Greek rhetoric to highlight what you note is “mainstream Jewish thought” demonstrates that, long before the author of the Letter of Aristeas ever innovated the way Honigman shows he does, these LXX translators themselves were inventive: “the form is Greek, but the thematic material is Jewish.” Maybe the author of the Letter is following their moves, is imitating them. But I think there can be little question that the LXX translators were first in playing Aristotle’s forms on Hebraic themes.

    Finally, you are confused by one of my comments. And you add: “Aristeas, as you know, only talks about the translation of the Pentateuch. Comparing Aristeas with the Greek Psalter is anachronistic.”

    Well, again, my post is long and includes perhaps too much to follow easily. I never said, however, that the Letter (either its author or its narrator) talked about the LXX Psalms. Honigman sets out the dates speculated, and I’ve put those in my post. But no one knows for sure how late the translation of the Psalms was. Maybe some day we’ll know certainly whether the LXX Psalms translators read the Letter or whether the author of the Letter read their Greek Psalms or whether neither read either. But that wasn’t my point at all. Let me repeat the bit you quoted of me, and show that I’m asking a rhetorical question, suggesting that the Psalm translators, like the author of the Letter, idealize and maybe fictionalize Jerusalem:

    “Honigman says the author (and perhaps even the narrator) of the Letter of Aristeas, narrating the myth of the LXX translation [of the Pentateuch], ‘idealized and broadly’ fictionalized Jerusalem. Do the LXX translators [of this Psalm, which the author of the Letter might never have seen] themselves do this?”

  4. February 24, 2012 7:39 am

    Victoria,

    Thanks for reading. And thank you now for joining in the conversation!

    Honigman’s working hypothesis, as Theophrastus suggests in our earlier discussions around another post, is not the mainstream view. Her’s is an expensive book, but if you can find a copy, I think you’ll be able to follow her assertions. In this post, I’ve tried to make clear in the excerpts how she’s developing her ideas; but do note how she hedges them too.

    Do note that “H’s working hypothesis” does not only “have to do with when the translation was done.” She’s careful to look at how the Letter is constructed, its context, its internal arguments also. Then, in her penultimate chapter (after five earlier chapters and right before her big conclusion), she thoroughly develops “The Homeric paradigm: a hypothesis on the genesis of the LXX and the letter of Aristeas.”

    The implications she brings forward (with the letter as the mythic backdrop but recovered history also in view) include this suggestion that the literary, that the rhetorical, that prestige not pragmatism, encouraged the diaspora Jews who also identified as Greeks, albeit in Egypt, to translate the Hebrew Torah first, and the other works of Hebrew. A bit different take on this, from a much different perspective, is Pietersma’s look at text-internal evidences for literary sparks and interpretive spins just in the usually glossed Psalms. And Naomi Seidman gets at the notion of trickster translation in various contexts, even the context of the LXX translation itself (although she, like Honigman, is interested in the history of the histories as well).

    I would say again that Honigman’s views are not so typical. But they are fresh, and I think they’re compelling.

    Thank you for letting us know what Pollard has said. If you do review his take on the history of the LXX translating, then please tell what he might bring to the conversation.

    Let me come back to your wonderful questions on the Psalm itself. I’m afraid I lost track of time here and will have more time later to get at the issues you note. For now, I’ll just say a couple of general things. First, if I’m not mistaken NABRE is mainly translating the Hebrew (if there’s a check against the Latin and the Greek versions too), right? Second, since the LXX is so very different from the MT in places in this Psalm, I’d recommend you compare my translation with Lancelot Brenton’s and with Albert Pietersma’s, They are not at all considering the Hebrew but are rendering the Hellene into English. Their purposes are different, respectively, from mine. And you’ll see that the NETS translation of Pietersma includes a few footnotes that allow for other English possibilities. I am considerably interested in how or whether the LXX might play on or play against formalized, technical Greek rhetoric (especially as Aristotle outlined “good Greek” in his Rhetoric).

  5. February 24, 2012 10:55 am

    You also say: “Zion as mother is a straightforward interpretation of the text; it adds something, I grant, but nothing outside mainstream Jewish thought”

    Again, I find this very interesting. First, the use of an explicit Greek metaphor, after all that Aristotle theorized about metaphor, marks this Hebrew Psalm, brings to the fore that only implied Hebrew-text notion. Second, then, that Jewish translators are using Greek rhetoric to highlight what you note is “mainstream Jewish thought” demonstrates that, long before the author of the Letter of Aristeas ever innovated the way Honigman shows he does, these LXX translators themselves were inventive: “the form is Greek, but the thematic material is Jewish.” Maybe the author of the Letter is following their moves, is imitating them. But I think there can be little question that the LXX translators were first in playing Aristotle’s forms on Hebraic themes.

    Well, that’s quite a leap. The Septuagintal writings (as do other ancient translations) often paraphrase and interpret its material throughout. (That is certainly true of other ancient translations, e.g., the Targums). I’ve already demonstrated that the Jerusalem-mother idea existed in Hebrew Scriptures before Aristotle. Further there are ample reasons why the translators might have translated in this way (e.g., to avoid the impression that Jerusalem was a pagan; along the lines of Delphi/Temple of Apollo/Delphic Oracle). There is too little evidence that the translators were directly “playing Aristotle’s forms” or even that they knew of Aristotle’s writings. At best you can mention this possibility as one of many possibilities.

    Regarding Aristeas; it seems that Honigman puts forward tendentious arguments here. But the hint of causality in your statement is not really appropriate. We may as well ask if the author of Deutero-Isaiah also “idealized and fictionalized Jerusalem” “like the authors of Aristeas.” Anachronistic. I could also say: “I find Greek yogurt delicious and have some every morning and I have written about it. Did Aristotle also find Greek yogurt delicious and have some every morning just like me?”

  6. February 24, 2012 6:00 pm

    Victoria,
    I’m able now to respond to your particular questions on “the psalm itself”:

    – Was the maternal metaphor commonly used of a polis?

    No, among the Greeks, this wasn’t a common metaphor. I think, as Theophrastus suggests, this is more commonly a Hebraic idea, at least the specific idea that “Zion is Mother” was common. But the form here, the poetic/rhetorical language construct, is Greek. Gorgias does start his “Praise of Helen” will the notion that the cosmetics of the Polis are its men — and this may be viewed as sophistry, as rhetorical humor (since manly manpower is the “make up” or the “adornment” for Ms. City-State); it’s no secret that Plato considered Gorgias a slippery “rhetorician” and maybe it’s for statements such as that.

    – Comparing your translation to my NABRE (based on the MT), I’m intrigued by a grammatical difference in 6-7. You’ve got past tense (founded) then future (will record); NABRE has future (will establish) then present (notes). Any comments?

    The Greek suggests these tenses/ time frames, so I’m guessing for NABRE the Hebrew does the same. I haven’t taken time yet to compare the Hebrew so closely.

    – “Other-dears” is adorable. NABRE has Philistia, home of the Philistines: quite the opposite connotation! Are you translating literally here in order to overcome that connotation and bring out the philos root? Or is there something else going on here?

    The “PHil*” root is just my wordplay. It sounds some like another root, “PHyl*” A φῦλον is really a race or a tribe; but Aristotle in his “Politics” uses the word technically for Guardian Class. With “Others” as a sort of prefix, I was just playing, but my English suggests more a slip of the ear, a play on this. I would probably have to footnote this if I weren’t just writing a quick blogpost.

    – v7 is quite different! NABRE has “All my springs are in you”. Are there really no springs or fountains in the Greek? What do you make of this difference? (if anything?)

    Yes, the Greek is very different from the Hebrew here apparently!

    Theophrastus, I appreciate your comment but am out of time to reply at the moment. Hope to get back to you on this, this weekend.

  7. February 25, 2012 7:54 am

    I could also say: “I find Greek yogurt delicious and have some every morning and I have written about it. Did Aristotle also find Greek yogurt delicious and have some every morning just like me?”

    LOL, Theophrastus. You get Aristotle eating yogurt with you, and of course “Greek yogurt.” This reminds me of Ishmael Reed’s postmodern novel Flight to Canada in which the protagonist, an African slave in the United States, flees the country to freedom in a Jumbo jet. And it’s not too unlike Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris in which the protagonist of the 21st century interacts with Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, Picasso, and others way before him, to inspire him.

    I wish I were being as imaginative as Reed and Allen, and you. I am hardly engaging in anchronisms at all; what I’m proposing is nothing like this. Rather, I’m just hypothesizing that Aristotle’s influence on Alexander and on Alexandria was not insignificant. It’s hard for us in the 21st century to get this, perhaps, because of the various ways Aristotle’s Greek has been translated (and we’ve lost how technical his Greek rhetorical prescriptions were). But, ironically, I think that even if we do not understand Aristotle today as we might, our Western mindset is so influenced by his prescriptions that we swim in them like fish in water without being conscious of them or even needing to be.

    Let’s take some of the key Greek forms of this Psalm to see how they might have been acknowledgements of early Aristotelianism as a culture more or less pervasive or understandings of Aristotle’s teaching itself rather directly.

    In v 6 of our Psalm, there’s the use of a term that Aristotle theorized substantially:

    διήγησις (diēgēsis) “statement of facts” or “narration of an argument”

    Aristotle’s Rhetoric opens with this term (so that he’s not only starting to theorize but he’s also demonstrating one of the canon’s or conventions of what he saw as proper, good Greek rhetoric, as opposed to sloppy sophistry or barbarian babble or Heraclitean hyperbole or female fables and so forth and so on). In another post, I tried to show how the gospel writer Luke had seemed to pay attention to this, how his opened his gospel rhetorically, and how Luke had attempted to get the respect of his Greek readers in the know, lending credibility to his “narrative.”

    If one reads the Rhetoric in Greek or in a technical rhetorical translation like George A. Kennedy’s, then one can hardly miss how important this notion of diēgēsis was to good Greek rhetoric as Aristotle conceived of it. (See 1354b.18, 1414a.37, 1414a.39, 1414b.14, 1416b.16, 1416b.27, 1416b.30, 1417a.8, 1417a.16, 1417b.12, 1417b.13, 1418a.18.) Now, one might say that Aristotle’s theory and practice (which the Romans such as Cicero and Quintilian recognized as first theorized by this Greek rhetorician) was actually something all Greeks did, or at least Greeks such as Isocrates and Protagoras or even Plato and Socrates. Even if one cannot accept that Aristotle is the cause of all this attention to rhetorical arrangement and to statement of facts and so forth, then at least one might acknowledge that this term διήγησις (diēgēsis) is a Greek form (and a later appropriated Latin form) for persuasion.

    Honigman analyses the Greek form, the rhetorical formula if you will, of the author of the Letter of Aristeas. She finds direct influences of Aristotle. She notes the Jewish writer in Alexandria paraphrasing large swaths of the Politics, for example. But this rhetorical writer who knows his Greek so well is conveying, she says, Jewish themes. It’s a clever mix of ideas and ideals. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Dissoi Logoi, that book of cultural comparisons that Aristotle or a pseudoAristotle wrote against. But there, in the Letter of Aristeas, we have myth writing, an earlier historiography maybe the earliest history, of how diaspora Jews in Egypt translated their Hebrew scriptures into Hellene.

    So Honigman imagines that the actual history of the LXX translators might show them to be using Greek for prestige. Seidman suggests perhaps “the translator is a trickster.” Pietersma, looking at the translators of the Psalms particularly, says they from time to time depart from their glossing of Hebrew with Greek and produce literary sparks and interpretive spins. He says, they are not Greek hacks. I find that their translation uses Greek rhetorical forms (in Aristotle’s formulas or in contradiction of Aristotle’s formulas) to express Hebraic themes.

    The metaphor “Zion is mother” is a Hebraic theme. But the form, the construct of the explicit metaphor, is Greeky in a way that is a nod to how Aristotle theorized metaphor not only in the Rhetoric but also, for example, in his Poetics.

    Similarly, the use of a term like ἀλλοφύλος (which Aristotle’s teacher Plato uses in his Laws but nowhere else, for “foreigner,” and which is a term Aristotle himself never uses) is a playful translation of פְּלֶשֶׁת. The sounds are the play: φύλος. The semantics are also somewhat the play. The only use of this Greek word in the Pentateuch LXX is in Exodus 34:15, for the more generic יָשַׁב. (Compare this with Exodus 15:14, where the LXX translators had Φυλιστιιμ for the specific פְּלֶשֶׁת.) So in the Psalms, there’s the play not only on the meaning of the Hebrew word but also on its sounds. The fact that it’s not an entirely common Greek word draws more attention to it for the Greek reader. When, for example, the phrase doesn’t have the descriptor ἀλλο with it, then it’s much more common and very very positive, especially as Aristotle uses it in his Politics seemingly for a tribe of guards. But the LXX Psalm translator is using the rarer Greek form, the othering phrase, and playing it against what is in Hebrew a term for the Philistines. It’s a loaded Greek form for an already overdetermined Hebrew thematic concept for a particular people. In the context of the Psalm, the reference might be to diaspora Jews in what we in English transliterate with Philistia.

    Notice how Brenton and how Pietersma struggle to translate this Greek. Brenton ignores the Greek form to get at the Hebrew idea: “the Philistines.” Pietersma, on the other hand, ignores the Hebrew theme and only transliterates the Greek form: “allophyles.” What the Septuagint translators have added to their Greeked Hebrew Psalm, by way of a literary spark and an interpretive spin, both English translators lose. I’m sure I haven’t done better, but at least my “Other-dears” marks the term as a marked phrase, a wordplay of some sort.

  8. February 25, 2012 11:05 pm

    Thanks for connecting some of the dots for me in your replies, Kurk.

    Yes, the NABRE is mainly translating the Hebrew — that’s what I was trying to get at, the difference between the Hebrew and the Greek. I peeked at Pietersma’s translation but haven’t thought much about it yet.

    I wondered afterwards if I’d gotten that PHil* root wrong. I think your wordplay is very plausible: sounds are so important in poetry, and a good poet will deliberately craft allusions like this.

    And now I’m very interested in this coincidence that the root for love (fundamentally inclusive, at least through Christian eyes) and the root for tribe (fundamentally exclusive) are so similar. Hmm!

    On v7, the Vulgate has “fontes” which always makes me think of “source”, which suggests at least a bit of connection to the NETS “the habitation of all is in you”. It wants to connect in my mind with phrases like “we find our rest in you”: we find our rest in God because it is God who made us, who is our source, right?

    The springs phrase is actually quoted in the NABRE. That verse has a reference to psalms 68:26 and 149:3, but that’s no help, they’re just other references to singers and dancers.

  9. February 26, 2012 7:41 am

    Thank you for looking at all of this with me, Victoria. I’m interested to see the directions the Latin takes the Psalm, especially since the MT Hebrew and the LXX Greek at points are so very different.

    On Greek author plays of the PHil* / PHyl plays, I can see that both playwrights such as Euripides and also straight historians such as Thucydides do this. Here’s from the “Helen” (around line 427)

    ἐν δ’ ἄντρου μυχοῖς κρύψας γυναῖκα τὴν κακῶν πάντων ἐμοὶ ἄρξασαν ἥκω τούς τε περιλελειμμένους φίλων φυλάσσειν τἄμ’ ἀναγκάσας λέχη.

    It’s Menelaos sort of confessing that he guarded a woman who was troubling him (he put her in a cave) while acknowledging that dear-ones of his were the dear-guards of his own wife.

    Here’s one from the “History of the Peloponnesian War” (Book 6 chapter 34 section 4 around line 10)

    Thomas Hobbes renders ὁρμώμεθα μὲν ἐκ φιλίας χώρας φύλακες as “the watchmen of our country, come upon them out of an amicable territory” and hardly captures the alliterations and rhymes.

    To help compare the Psalm’s Greek and Hebrew versions, I like going here (and you might also find this helpful):

    http://www.katapi.org.uk/master.html?http://www.katapi.org.uk/katapiNSBunix/Lxx/LxxHBByBC.php?GB=19&GC=86

  10. February 27, 2012 8:32 pm

    Thanks for the katapi reference – though I confess, I cannot read the Hebrew script and can only sound out the Greek consonants, mostly. (One thing a science education gave me was familiarity with nearly all the lower case Greek letters! 😉 )

    It occurred to me to check what the New Jerusalem Bible had to say about this psalm. They translate verse 7 as:

    princes no less than native-born;
    All make their home in you.

    with the following footnote:

    ‘princes’ MSS and versions; ‘singers’ MT (confusion of two letters almost identical). ‘all make their home’, Gk ‘all my sources (are in you)’ Hebr., with wrong vowels. God writes down foreign princes as children of Zion.

    Interesting, no?

  11. February 28, 2012 6:42 am

    Interesting, no?

    Yes, interesting. Victoria, Thanks for finding and sharing the NJB footnote on v 7. I like that note. Ann Nyland and Robert Alter, who respectively translate the Psalms looking at both the MT and the LXX and other mss available, only go so far as to say that this Hebrew phrase is “uncertain” and “sundry readers have variously emended this clause.” The implication, of course, is that the LXX adds nothing to help sort out what our Hebrew texts might mean.

    On the Greek, I think Pietersma is right to acknowledge the non-glossing Hellene as “literary sparks” and as “interpretive spins” and that the translators are no hacks. Likewise, it seems that Honigman is quite astute in hypothesizing the LXX is more for “prestige” than pragmatic. Similarly, it’s not too much of a stretch perhaps to follow what Naomi Seidman sees in Jewish rhetorics from her own father to Elie Wiesel to these Septuagint bible translators as she calls them “tricksters.”

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