What is it about?

Two scholars (J.A. Beck and H. Utzschneider) have claimed that the Greek translators of the Hebrew Bible did not just render Hebrew words and phrases into Greek, but saw the events happen before their eyes and retold them in Greek according to their own interpretation. But the "method" by which they operate is flawed, for three reasons. (1) Paradoxically enough, they don't pay attention to narratology (the way storytelling works across different languages) at all. They disregard features typical for Hebrew and Greek storytelling. (2) If a Greek element is different from the Hebrew source text, they automatically think the translators did that on purpose. The two scholars can only do that by overlooking other explanations. (3) The two scholars haven't done their homework. They didn't consider the wider context, didn't consult Hebrew/Samaritan manuscripts, didn't recognize translational problems for what they were and overlooked simpler explanations. It is not impossible to study the Septuagint from the point of view of storytelling, but then we should start with "discourse features" that are typical of storytelling in Hebrew and/or Greek. The Greek "historical present" can serve as a good example

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Why is it important?

This is the first evaluation of the "narratological approach" to the Septuagint, as it was promoted by two scholars from neighbouring fields who are not really specialized in the Septuagint. But since their methodological mistakes are typical of much published work about the "theology of the translators," this evaluative paper has a methodological scope addressing the wider field of LXX studies.


Sometime articles are born out of a genuine research interest. But others arise out of a flare of anger that one feels when reading the nonsense that is sometimes written in the name of science. This was such a paper. My evaluation of the "narratological approach" happened between a laugh, a gruff and a tear. Content-wise, it was not hard, since the approach of Beck and Utzschneider was simple to refute. But sometimes I ask myself what I'm doing it for, since similar claims keep popping up in LXX studies, especially in the framework of writing a theology of the LXX.

Dr Theo van der Louw
Summer Institute of Linguistics

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This page is a summary of: A Narratological Approach to the Septuagint?, Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, January 2013, De Gruyter, DOI: 10.1515/zaw-2013-0032.
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