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Judith: written in Greek or Hebrew

April 6, 2014

Many years ago, many, many – I took a course in Septuagint and wrote a paper listing all the types of second language learner errors and patterns and analyzed a book of the deuterocanon – I don’t remember which – as having been written in Greek, but full of second language speaker patterns. I was taking a course on second language acquisition at the time and really felt confident about my approach. Not sure that I did too well on that paper. So here is what the NETS says about the Book of Judith, NETS. 2009.  page 441,

From its language one can infer with some measure of confidence not only that the text represents the translation of a Hebrew parent, but that it represents a certain kind of translation, namely, one which has rendered its parent in a relatively metaphrastic fashion; that is to say that within the constraints of grammaticality, the Greek of the translation shows every indication of an isomorphic and quantitative fidelity to the language of its source. Implicit in the verbal texture of any translation is its relationship with another text in another language. In an interlinear translation, this relationship is characterized by a high degree of dependence; the Greek of Ioudith reads as it does in large measure because the hebrew of its parent read as it did.

And here is a statement from the introduction to A Pious Seductress: Studies in the Book of Judith by S. D. Ryan, edited by Géza G. Xeravits, 2012. page 2, 

Helmut Engel defines the original language of Judith as that language in which the original author wrote and thought. Both Engel and Jeremy Corley hold that this was most likely Greek, or, in Engel’s words, Septuaginta-Griechisch. That is, Greek written in the style of Septuagint Greek, perhaps, as Corley suggests, by an author for whom Greek was a second and acquired language.

Corley’s article lists citations from the Septuagint and allusions to other Greek literature, and he concludes, page 27

The allusions to Jewish and non-Jewish works in Greek make me consider that the book’s original language was Greek. Where verbal links exist between the book’s Greek text and earlier literary models, some direct dependence is probable.

Two examples are:

The Lord who crushes wars Ex. 12:29 Judith 13:1

The Lord will go before you as vengeance on your enemies 2 Sam. 4:8 Judith 8:35

Corley has written an earlier article, 2010, summarized here,

From the second part, I look at co-editor Jeremy Corley’s study, “Septuagentalisms, Semitic Interference, and the Original Language of the Book of Judith,” which is one of the longest in this collection. As noted by Corley, Carey Moore, in his well-regarded 1985 Anchor Bible commentary on Judith, was expressing the consensus view when he argued that the Greek text of Judith was a translation from the Hebrew. Moore constructed a detailed list to bolster his case, consisting of conjectured translation errors, Hebraic idioms, and Hebraic syntax.

Before tackling this list, Corley observes that the past two decades have seen a shift in scholarly views or at least a willingness to consider Judith as an original Greek composition—which is the view Corley champions. Far from denying that the author of this Greek text was much influenced, directly and indirectly, by Hebrew, Corley looks to “Septuagintalisms” and Semitic interference as the key elements in explaining the Hebraic character of the Greek. Corley’s careful analysis must be taken into account in all further discussions of this and parallel occurrences. Moreover, as Corley points out, his conclusions are consistent with Gagnac’s understanding of much of the Greek of the New Testament.

I wrote my paper in 19 70 – something and turned it in my prof, the editor of the NETS, but I have since lost the copy of my paper, I think – at least, my mind is a little hazy on the whole thing – but I guess I was a few decades before the right time for this kind of analysis. Glad to see at any rate that the possible Greek origin of Judith is being discussed. (Of course, I wrote the paper as a baby so that may have influenced the quality. 🙂


Corley, Jeremy. Septuagentalisms, Semitic Interference, and the Original Language of the Book of Judith in Studies in the Greek Bible: Essays in Honor of Francis T. Gignac ed. Leonard Greenspoon. Hebrew Studies. Volume 51, 2010. pp. 392-394

Corley, Jeremy. Imitation of Septuagint Narrative in A Pious Seductress: Studies in the Book of Judith edited by Géza G. Xeravits. Walter de Gruyter. 2012

Ryan S. D. The Ancient Versions of Judith in A Pious Seductress: Studies in the Book of Judith edited by Géza G. Xeravits. Walter de Gruyter. 2012


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