Reassessing the Impact of Barthélemy’s Devanciers, 40 years later

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Reassessing the Impact of Barthélemy’s Devanciers, 40 years later

Robert A. Kraft

University of Pennsylvania


n 1953, scarcely a year after the bedouin had brought these materials to the Ecole Biblique Francaise in Jordanian Jerusalem, Dominique Barthélemy (1921–2002) published his preliminary study in French of the Greek Minor Prophets scroll from the then “unknown provenance” somewhere south of Wadi Murabbaat.1 This was followed in 1963 by his “Predecessors of Aquila” (Devanciers) tour de force.2 That book was widely reviewed,3 and in 1972 he contributed to the IOSCS Symposium in Los Angeles that focused on Samuel-Kings as a testing ground for the study of LXX/OG developments (see further below).4 Then in 1978, B provided additional comments on these earlier publications—and their reception—when he issued a collection of his “studies on the history of the OT text,”5 which also reprinted his 1974 article “Who is Symmachus?”6 in which he attempted to advance the investigation of ancient Jewish translations a step further.

Few things in the study of the ancient Greek translations of Jewish scriptural writings have been the same since. Most of the senior scholars active in LXX/OG studies have published something relating directly to B’s investigations, as have many of the younger scholars (see the appended bibliography). In our own Bulletin of the IOSCS, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the appearance of Devanciers, John Wevers contributed his article “Barthélemy and Proto-Septuagint Studies.”7 In addition to the 1972 IOSCS Symposium mentioned above, IOSCS and SBL held joint sections at the 1988 meetings in Chicago on the then forthcoming edition of the Greek Minor Prophets material (see below, n. 9), and again in New Orleans in 1996 on “Resasessing the Barthélemy Heritage.”

As a graduate student myself in the late 1950s, by transcribing the photograph and analyzing the text that B published with his 1953 article, I learned a little paleography as well as some things about textual relationships and ancient translation techniques. Not many years later, I was invited to do an extensive review of B’s “Predecessors” (Devanciers) monograph.8 Some twenty years after that, I was privileged to assist Emanuel Tov with aspects of the preparation of the official DJD edition of that extraordinarily influential material.9 In what follows, I will draw heavily on my reports at the aforementioned 1988 and 1996 meetings and attempt to assess B’s influence now, more than a half century after the initial preliminary publication by B. And the well is not yet dry.

The task is formidable, the literature is enormous! Clearly Barthélemy has had a huge impact, both direct and indirect, on the study of the Greek anthology made up of translations of Jewish scriptures that we have come to call “Septuagint” and/or “Old Greek” (LXX/OG) and on the study of other early Greek attempts at translation.10 While B’s own interests and expertise tended to focus on text-critical issues, especially relating to the Hebrew text behind these translations, he dared to attempt to contextualize the Greek translation/recension activities within their Jewish and Christian worlds and thus has challenged old established judgments and called for a fresh look at the historical situations. We are still trying to make sense out of some of the resulting complexities—and to correct the outdated information that circulates by means of older publications and especially on even newly created internet sites (see e.g. below, n. 20).

B’s pioneering work has proved especially significant in the following general areas:

• The history of the development of Greek translations and recensions in antiquity

• Study of the Greek versions of the Minor Prophets

• The importance of paying close attention to features/evidence of translation technique(s)

• The complex textual situation in the Greek books of Samuel-Kings and related problems pertaining to Origen’s Hexapla and to the “Lucianic” recension(s)

1. Ancient Greek translations of Hebrew scriptures

As is clear from the title of Devanciers, B does not consider the relatively consistent, virtually interlinear translational work attributed to “Aquila” to be a pioneering effort (something new) in the first part of the second century C.E. that paved the way to later such translations, especially those associated with “Theodotion” and also “Symmachus.” Indeed, B admits that in Devanciers, he was not radical enough in identifying a range of “Theodotionic” features already present in the first century c.e. witnesses, well before the traditional date of Aquila’s efforts. B’s control case of primary historical evidence was the Minor Prophets materials from Naal ever, which he accepted as paleographically datable to the middle of the first century c.e. and in which he found a relatively consistent translation technique symbolized by the unusual Greek particle καίγε (along with other more or less consistent characteristics11), which he then associated with a shadowy figure known from later rabbinic Jewish literature as Jonathan ben Uzziel, and with hermeneutical issues relating to rabbinic disputes attested for the first and early second centuries. Comparison of the features of the καίγε Minor Prophets with what is known of Aquila’s translation led B to argue that Aquila represents a development of such an early καίγε technique. Similarly, comparison of the features of the καίγε technique with information from other books of Greek Jewish scriptures, including textual variants and competing translations/editions, led B to argue that καίγε was associated with other “Theodotionic” evidence, although B also recognized some variety within these materials such that it made more sense to think of a “Theodotionic school” of translation rather than simply of an individual “Jonathan/Theodotion.”12 If we can trust the ancient sources that date “Aquila” to the second quarter of the second century, it seems clear that the καίγε Minor Prophets is earlier, although simply based on the paleographic dating of those Naal ever fragments, it would not be difficult to push the original translation (of which the Naal ever materials apparently are copies) back at least another generation or two, well before B’s first century dating of the Jonathan/Thedotion καίγε Minor Prophets.13

Such details aside, B’s legacy here is the radical redating and reconception of “Theodotion,” no longer simply as a late second century figure who perhaps toned down the literalism of Aquila’s translation, but as a much earlier approach to translation that had a major influence on Aquila. Such an insight was not new—“talk of proto- (or Ur-)Theodotion” had been around for a long time14—but B’s detailed detective work and daring historical hypotheses gave new impetus to the study of these phenomena. The resulting picture, complex and still somewhat confused, was already outlined by Jellicoe in his 1968 update of Swete’s classic introductory volume:

With some questionings, the order Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus has been widely accepted as chronological, but it is now evident that some modi­fication must be made in the traditional position. . . . The accumulated evidence would be adequately satisfied by the addition to the trilogy of the work of one further translator for whom the name Ur-Theodotion, already in limited curren­cy, may be adopted. It was the work of this unknown translator, whose activity should be placed probably in the earlier part of the first century b.c., thereby antedating Aquila by two centuries, whose work was revised by the traditional Theodotion in the second half of the second century of the Christian era. In what follows these translators, for the sake of clarity, will be referred to respec­tively as Ur-Theodotion and Theodotion.15

More recently, we find the post-B position cautiously presented in recent surveys such as by Jobes and Silva as follows:

. . . most scholars now prefer to speak of Kaige-Theodotion, meaning by that term a well-defined, pre-Christian revision of the Old Greek; it is also thought that this revision became the basis for the work of both Aquila and Sym­machus. The work of the historical Theodotion [in late second century] may then be viewed as a later updating of the revision.16

Hengel deals with the situation in a more oblique manner: e.g. the translation of Qohelet/Ecclesiastes “may go back to a first-century Pharisaic school of translators, whose tendencies Aquila extended in strengthened form and which had already revised the LXX of the prophets and other documents.”17 He does not comment directly on “Theodotion” in this context. Further, Salvesen in the Encyclopedia of the DSS under “Origen”: “The existence of a ‘school’ of revisers of the Septuagint at the turn of the era . . . underlies much that goes under the name Theodotion, and influenced Aquila and possibly Symmachus. In recent years Barthélemy’s position has been somewhat nuanced by other scholars, but his basic findings on the priority of “Theodotion” . . . continue to be accepted.”18 Tov speaks of the “Kaige-Theodotion” revision(s) as presumably from “the middle of the first century b.c.e.” and later ascribed “to Theodotion, who apparently lived at the end of the second century c.e.19 He underlines this in a note: “We now know that the [previously] conjectured proto-Theodotion is none other than kaige-Theodotion tentatively ascribed to the middle of the first century b.c.e.” (145 n. 97). Unfortunately, the revised view of these materials that is now “universally accepted” in scholarly circles has not made its desired impact on even some relatively respectable internet sites.20 Much educational work remains to be done.

In short, Barthélemy’s identification of καίγε characteristics and their similarity to what had been identified as “Theodotion” (including the problem of Theodotionic readings prior to the time of the late second century Theodotion) gave impetus to the clearer recognition of early translational activity along those same lines, and shifted the primary focus to Jewish translational activity in pre-Christian times. Barthélemy’s first century c.e. dating and association with specific early Palestinian rabbinic persons and interests has not gained general acceptance—at least some of these translational activities seem to be significantly earlier than B thought; whether they are necessarily “Palestinian” (or Pharisaic) is also in need of careful review; but his detailed work has been foundational for such developments and discussions.

Yet much more remains to be done in this new textual and historical atmosphere. The world in which the “καίγε-Theodotion” translations were produced (and B did well to emphasize the variety within the group) was almost certainly more heterogeneous with respect to scroll production than we usually recognize when we view it through the later lenses of codex book production. The possibility of one person or related group (“school”) producing a consistent translation of an extensive body of literature such as the Pentateuch surely existed, although maintaining the integrity of such efforts in transmitting the small library of individual scrolls that would result would have presented a major challenge (if anyone at that time cared about such textual homogeneity!). To speak of such a complete Greek version of whatever one imagines as the corpus of “holy scriptures” (proto-canon) in such a context is also historically and technologically improbable, or at least challenging. What was the process of creating, collecting, and transmitting? Were there some early efforts at translation, then gradual recognition of the value of translating additional “scripture” scrolls as the earlier translations gained recognition and time passed? Were schools of translators established or commissioned for such endeavors (by whom? under what conditions?), and were their practices passed along from generation to generation? The translational diversity within the καίγε-Theodotion witnesses, which led B to posit a “school of translators” with similar techniques, may in part be a reflection of these conceptual and technical difficulties in the production and circulation of scrolls in this early period and right up to the time of Origen’s massive attempt at collecting and standardizing. And the earlier we find such translational activities, the more complex the problem of contextualizing them historically and tracing their respective influences. Attention to process as well as product is important in ways that go beyond B’s pioneering conjectures, although as we shall see below, he was well aware of many of these issues as well.

B explored Palestinian Jewish traditions for evidences of motivation to make specific translation choices. Starting with traditions about the approaches of Aqiba and Ishmael in the first half of the second century c.e., and with a view to the Greek work attributed to Aquila (whom B identifies with Aqiba), B worked back into the mid-first century c.e. and thought he could see a connection between Jonathan ben Uzziel and the καίγε approach (with a nod in the direction of the mysterious “Nahum GamZu”). As noted above, this is probably too late purely on paleographic grounds to explain the καίγε Minor Prophets translation. B’s penchant for finding early rabbinic motivation for revisional activity is also evident in his attempt to provide a solution to the Aquila-like variants in the biblical quotations in some manuscripts of Philo.21 While B’s proposed solutions remain highly problematic, his questions persist to encourage closer attention to the historical circumstances and motivations out of which such translational and recensional activities must or might have arisen.

This much is clear from B’s investigations: the old picture of second century c.e. Jewish translational efforts—primarily Aquila, Theodotion, Symmachus in that sequence—is completely upset and exposed as simplistic. Whatever one wishes to label the new Minor Prophets text in relation to other known or suspected translational efforts, it moves us back well before the second century of the common era simply in terms of the actual preserved fragments. How far back we can go from those fragments is unclear. The new material provides us with one, or possibly two (two different hands, two different formats), copies of a translation of the Greek Minor Prophets that necessarily predates the preserved fragments. Predates by how long a period? When was the presumed original (whether an independent translation or a revision of something even older) created? We cannot know. While B’s door-opening attempt to describe forces and factors in first century c.e. proto-rabbinic Judaism that help explain the genesis of this translation technique has not proved persuasive, we need to look to an even earlier period to understand what was happening. If we accept B’s supposition that the new text is evidence for Greek language activities in Palestine, are we now catching glimpses of Maccabean times, or at latest early Herodian, and if not Palestine, where and when and why?22

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