LXX Translation of the Hebrew רעע in Jonah

The Septuagint translator handles God’s repentance with great caution. Up until Jonah 3:8, he consistently renders רעע, “evil, disaster, calamity”, with κακός, “evil, bad, trouble”. This stereotypical rendering breaks down in chapter three and four. The chart below contains all instances of רעע in the Hebrew Vorlage and their Greek translations:

 

Greek Rendering

English Translation

1:2c ὅτι ἀνέβη ἡ κραυγὴ τῆς κακίας αὐτῆς πρός με because the cry of its evil went up to me
1:7c καὶ ἐπιγνῶμεν τίνος ἕνεκεν ἡ κακία αὕτη ἐστὶν ἐν ἡμῖν and let us know on whose account this evil/calamity is among us
1:8bc Ἀπάγγειλον ἡμῖν τίνος ἕνεκεν ἡ κακία αὕτη ἐστὶν ἐν ἡμῖν Tell us on whose account this evil/calamity is among us
3:8c καὶ ἀπέστρεψαν ἕκαστος ἀπὸ τῆς ὁδοῦ αὐτοῦ τῆς πονηρς καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς ἀδικίας τῆς ἐν χερσὶν αὐτῶν And each returned from his evil way and from the unrighteousness which was in their hands
3:10a καὶ εἶδεν ὁ θεὸς τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν, ὅτι ἀπέστρεψαν ἀπὸ τῶν ὁδῶν αὐτῶν τῶν πονηρν And God saw their deeds, that they returned from their evil ways
3:10b καὶ μετενόησεν ὁ θεὸς ἐπὶ τῇ κακίᾳ And God repented from the evil/calamity
4:1a καὶ ἐλυπήθη Ιωνας λύπην μεγάλην And Jonah grieved with a great grief
4:2e διότι ἔγνων ὅτι σὺ ἐλεήμων καὶ οἰκτίρμων, μακρόθυμος καὶ πολυέλεος καὶ μετανοῶν ἐπὶ ταῖς κακίαις. for I knew that you are merciful and compassionate, longsuffering and very merciful, and one who repents from calamities/evil things.
4:6 καὶ ἀνέβη ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς τοῦ Ιωνα τοῦ εἶναι σκιὰν ὑπεράνω τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ τοῦ σκιάζειν αὐτῷ ἀπὸ τῶν κακν αὐτοῦ And it went up above the head of Jonah to be a shade above his head in order to shade him from his evil/calamity

 

The semantic range of the Hebrew word רעע is broad enough to incorporate both moral reprehensibility and a disaster or calamity.[1] This is no less true of the Greek word κακία.[2] Yet, the translator does not feel comfortable describing God’s actions or his prophet’s actions in the same way as he describes Nineveh’s evil. Instead, he uses πονηρός, a morally charged term unlike κακός, to describe Nineveh’s moral corruption. He then switches back to κακός when referring to the calamity God planned for Nineveh.[3] Such a shift ensures that the reader will not draw the wrong conclusion about the character of God. The Hebrew God is not corrupt. He is not evil. This concern for God’s dignity extends to his prophet. Jonah, in 4:1a, is exceedingly displeased/evil. Septuagint Jonah depicts Jonah as exceedingly grieved, “καὶ ἐλυπήθη Ιωνας λύπην μεγάλην”, by God’s grace. Both translations get God and Jonah off the hook for possible impropriety. The translator takes liberties to smooth out the narrative’s rough edges.


[1] F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs ed. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2006), 947-8.

[2] Frederick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, BDAG (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 500.

[3] Evidence that this is an intentional choice on the part of the translator is in Jonah 1:2c, where he uses κακός to describe the moral corruption of Nineveh. Perhaps he did not see the dilemma in chapter three, or he though that the chapters were sufficiently removed from one another that the connection would be weakened.

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