Eschatology and Messianism in LXX Isaiah 1–12 by Rodrigo F. de Sousa, T&T Clark, 2010 (ISBN 978-0-567-25819-9), xiii + 189 pp., hb $110
Article first published online: 10 JAN 2013
© 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Reviews in Religion & Theology
Volume 20, Issue 1, pages 32–35, January 2013
How to Cite
Bordjadze, B. V. (2013), Eschatology and Messianism in LXX Isaiah 1–12 by Rodrigo F. de Sousa, T&T Clark, 2010 (ISBN 978-0-567-25819-9), xiii + 189 pp., hb $110. Reviews in Religion & Theology, 20: 32–35. doi: 10.1111/rirt.12010
- Issue published online: 10 JAN 2013
- Article first published online: 10 JAN 2013
The words Septuagint and LXX more often than not produce blank stares among most Christians in the Western church. This seems to be largely due to the sixteenth-century Reformation that steered the public attention away from the early translations of the Bible by going back to the original texts. And yet it was the LXX rather than the Hebrew text that was the Bible of the church, used by the Church Fathers and Church Councils during the early stages of Christianity. The realization that in the LXX we are in possession of one of the most under-appreciated treasures of Antiquity has sparked a recent scholarly interest. The steady flow of monographs has focused on variegated attempts to establish a relationship between the Greek text of the LXX and its Hebrew Vorlage. Is the LXX a translation or a theological treatise of its own? This is the broader question that stands behind de Sousa's recent book which is a reworking of his dissertation undertaken under the supervision of Dr Robert Gordon submitted to the University of Cambridge (2007). In search for answers de Sousa picks up the theme of Eschatology and Messianism in Isaiah 1–12.
Seeligmann's watershed monograph titled The Septuagint Version of Isaiah (1948) argued that LXX Isaiah contains actualizing interpretation of prophecy. According to Seeligmann the translator was shaped by his community's assumption that they were living in the days when the prophecies contained in the book of Isaiah were being fulfilled. This ‘contextual awareness’ as de Sousa calls it was arguably reflected in the free rendering of the Hebrew text in the LXX. Building on Seeligmann's work, Van der Kooij has argued for a deliberate reworking of the segments of the Hebrew text in order to create a new oracles or pericopes. Here he leans on what is known from an Alexandrian model, ‘reading + interpretation = translation’. Entering into this conversation de Sousa asks a perceptive question, ‘Are there any mechanisms that enable the student to ascertain whether the translator simply intended to render a particular pericope into Greek in a meaningful way or whether he had the intention of producing a new oracular unit in Greek?’ (p. 16).
De Sousa is guided by Michael Knibb's criteria for determining whether or not one can speak of the theology of the translation. First, there should be a sufficient number of cases in the book where the Greek is at variant with Hebrew in significant way. Furthermore, a coherent pattern of this divergence needs to be established that eliminates any randomness. Finally, there is a need for sound exegesis and careful attention to the methods utilized by the translator (p. 157).
In his analysis de Sousa is careful to steer clear of extreme positions. On the one hand, he rejects Joachim Schaper's ‘maximalist’ stance (‘Messianism in the Septuagint of Isaiah and Messianic Intertextuality in the Greek Bible’, in The Septuagint and Messianism, ed. Michael A. Knibb [Leuven: Peeters, 2006], 371–80), which claims that the LXX reflects ‘messianic systematization’ brought about by the translator. On the other hand, de Sousa finds equally dissatisfying the ‘minimalist’ position of Johan Lust (‘A Septuagint Christ Preceding Jesus Christ? Messianism in the Septuagint Exemplified in Isa 7,10–17’, in Messianism and the Septuagint: Collected Essays, ed. K. Hauspie [Leuven: Peeters, 2004], 211–26), who argues that the LXX lacks any heightened interest in messianism.
The bulk of the book is dedicated to careful analysis of various texts in Isaiah 1–12. In Chapter 3 de Sousa explores the possibility of the traces of the eschatological traditions in Isaiah 2.2–4 and 4.2–6. While detecting the eschatological phrasing of ‘in the last days’ and ‘on that day’ that bracket both texts, De Sousa insists that ‘all the echoes of eschatological traditions supposedly identifiable can find some explanation in the translator's rendering of the Vorlage’ . Chapter 4 focuses on the Immanuel oracle in Isaiah 7.14–16. Having explored such issues as the rendering of the Hebrew word המלע with the Greek word , the futuristic rendering of הרה in translating it as , and the heightening of the Davidic hopes in the naming of the child, De Sousa once again argues that no conscious or systematic messianic reading could be detected here. Rather the translator seems to seek to faithfully render what is already present in Hebrew text. Chapter 5 analyzes Isaiah 9.5–6. Here de Sousa does allow for a certain degree of actualization in the updating of geographical references and social realities of oppression reflective of the translator's own times. De Sousa offers an insightful analysis of the impact that the addition of [the district of Judea] in Isaiah 8.23b [9.1] has on the reading of the messianic oracle. This clearly transports the Hebrew oracle that was directed to the northern region into an oracle directed to the south, which according to de Sousa redefines the locus of the messianic liberating activity. Yet, once again, de Sousa is careful to point out that any traces of the systematized heightening of the messianic hope is absent here, as the focus on the Davidic hope is already present in the Hebrew text. In Chapter 6, de Sousa examines Isaiah 11.1–5. His question is to what degree the rendering of רטח [shoot] by [scepter] has been influenced by the association with the Balaam oracle of Numbers 24 which was made by a number of texts in the Second Temple period (see 1QSb 5.27; 4Q161 3.18–23 and Pss. Sol. 17.21–24). De Sousa's analysis fails to find here solid evidence of systematization akin to Schaper's position. While the Scepter in Isaiah 11.1 is taken as a messianic figure, the translator seems to lack any cohesive Davidic messianic expectations, but rather brings to the table his contextual awareness of the broader conceptual terminology present in the Judaism of his time.
In the end de Sousa paints a picture of the translator of the LXX Isaiah as an astute scribe who immersed long and hard into his text. This ancient reader comes to the text with a normal set of reading strategies, of which contextual awareness is paramount. While seeking to render faithfully the Hebrew Vorlage the translator is a child of his age, being reflective of the broader exegetical and theological formulations characteristic of the Early Judaism. De Sousa is ready to accept that there are various places in the LXX where ‘translational deviations’ and ‘adjustments’ could be detected, but he rejects the idea that a full-blown attempts at systematization or rewriting could be sustained. On the contrary, de Sousa argues that most of these cases of what appeared to be theologically driven renderings could be explained by a careful attention to what de Sousa terms as co-textual issues, that is, matters of language, text, history, and translation technique (p. 4).
Despite its dense style and at times hard to follow flow of argument, de Sousa's book is a valuable addition to the current conversation on the nature of the LXX in general and LXX Isaiah in particular. De Sousa's balanced approach to the issues of actualization of prophecy provides a helpful entry point into the tangled web of scholarly positions. De Sousa's most important contribution lies in the demonstration of what a contextual reading looks like in the Antiquity. The translator of LXX Isaiah is at the same time a faithful translator of the text and a context-bound reader of the text. De Sousa does a masterful job at keeping this tension in his analysis which is a salutary accomplishment producing a monograph worthy of any scholarly shelf.