The Septuagint as Christian Scripture -- By: James A. Sanders

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 13:2 (NA 2003)
Article: The Septuagint as Christian Scripture
Author: James A. Sanders


The Septuagint as Christian Scripture

James A. Sanders

Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center
Claremont, California

The Septuagint as Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of Its Canon. By Martin Hengel. Trans. Mark E. Biddle. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2002. Pp. 153 + xvi. ISBN 0-567-08737-9. $37.46.

In this resourceful and thoughtful book Martin Hengel, retired NT professor at Tübingen, shares the results of a lifetime of study of the Septuagint as the variable OT of the early churches. For this reader Hengel’s view of the formation and transmission of the Greek OT, with some qualifications, resonates well with his own work over al-most fifty years.

Hengel celebrates the translation of the Torah into Greek as “a unique phenomenon in the Greek world and [as] practically unparalleled. No comparable barbarian ‘holy book’ was translated into Greek” (p. 80). The Septuagint was in fact widely known and respected in the Greco-Roman world. Here Hengel wisely relies in part on the work of Elias Bickerman, my own mentor in this regard as well. And he rightly celebrates the fluidity of both text and canon in Hebrew or Greek in the pre-Masoretic period.1 In fact, a good bit of the book is spent in describing the varied collections of Jewish literature in Greek which continued to mean a great deal to Christians well after Rabbinic Judaism became the continuing Semitic successor to Early Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism indeed claimed to be the sole or normative heir of the highly diverse ancient Israel. Like the Pharisaic view of God before it, Rabbinic Judaism departed from history and limited the Ketuvim to reflections on God’s past involvement in history but

with none on what God would further do in history, whether to continue as Lord of history, or to bring it to its dramatic close.2

Much of the book focuses on the pervasive importance of the Letter of Aristeas, and the importance it had for Hellenistic and Christian Judaism, and on the issue of the cessation of prophecy or revelation in Pharisaic/rabbinic thinking, and when that occurred. The Christian effort to extend the authority of the Aristeas legend to all the Greek OT brought vigorous denial from the rabbis, to the point that Origen passed over the legend in silence and Jerome rejected it as a lie (p. 50). Pharisaic-Rabbinic Judaism, on the other hand, pressed belief in the cessation of revelation (God’s withdrawal from history) back as far as the Exile itself in some quarters.3 Hengel...

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