What is it about?

In Antiquity, original writing, copying and translating took place through dictation. It is likely that (parts of) the Septuagint were committed to writing in that way. We should not envision the Greek translator(s) of the Pentateuch as a solitary translator sitting at his desk with the source text in front of him, just as we would have it. Rather - and we do have testimonies to that effect - the Hebrew text was recited in segments, translated orally and taken down by one or more scribes. This insight help us to better understand and combine some features of the Septuagint. * It gives the much-discussed "segmentation" a realistic background. The text was recited in segments and clarifies how the interpreter could lose touch with preceding segments. * It becomes transparent how in the process of interpreting the Hebrew text that was recited aloud could sometimes be misheard by the interpreter, and the Greek oral output could sometimes be misheard by the scribe. In other words, we can now explain phonetic mistakes both on the source and target side. * It is compatible with the idea that learned scribes were involved in the process. * It does not support the theory that the Torah was normally interpreted into Greek during synagogue services. In that case we would have expected traces of considerable translational experience, which we do not find now.

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Why is it important?

In conclusion, it is necessary to become aware of anachronistic assumptions that we hold with respect to translating in Antiquity. We need to go back to grassroots level to form a more historically imaginable picture of the practicalities of the LXX translation project.


Reading about the oral translation of the Buddhist sutras, I investigated how probable such a set-up could have been for the Jewish Alexandrian translators of the Torah/Pentateuch, and got one "Aha-Erlebnis" after another. In "The Dynamics of Segmentation in the Greek Pentateuch," in T. Kauhanen (ed.), The Legacy of Ilmari Soisalon-Soininen (De Septuaginta Investiationes, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 2020), I explore the relationship between the interpreting set-up for the LXX with the segmentation hypothesis more fully, in connection with insights gleaned from modern interpreting studies.

Dr Theo van der Louw
Summer Institute of Linguistics

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The Dictation of the Septuagint Version, Journal for the Study of Judaism, January 2008, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/157006308x252786.
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