Jonah 1:13a: Some LXX Alterations

Jonah 1:13a

וַיַּחְתְּר֣וּ הָאֲנָשִׁ֗ים לְהָשִׁ֛יב אֶל־ הַיַּבָּשָׁ֖ה
καὶ παρεβιάζοντο οἱ ἄνδρες τοῦ ἐπιστρέψαι πρὸς τὴν γῆν
And the men dug in order to return to dry land
And the men were pressing on in order to return to the land

The first word of 1:13a in the LXX—παρεβιάζοντο (they were pressing)—represents two significant divergences from the MT. First, the translator diverges from the normal rendering of חתר (to dig) with διορύσσω (to dig)[1] in favor of παραβιάζω (to press). A number of potential interpretive connections are lost in this rendering. Youngblood comments on these connections writing:

In Amos 9:2 [חתר] even refers to digging one’s way to Sheol. It is this last occurrence of the term that bears significantly on the author’s choice of this verb in Jonah 1:13a. The verb “to dig” suggests a double entendre. Though the mariners are attempting to “row” their way back to dry ground, in reality they are only digging a hole to Sheol into which they will eventually have to cast Jonah.[2]

Though Sasson points readers to the connection with Amos 9:2, he stops short of claiming the author’s intentionality to foreshadow Jonah’s descend into Sheol.[3] While it is possible that the author intends to make such a connection, it is a claim that stands on shaky ground. The word חתר (to dig) is not, in and of itself, semantically connected to Sheol. It would only seem a happy coincidence that Amos 9:2 and Jonah possess similar language. Nevertheless, Youngblood’s observation that the author intends to connect the sailors’ desperate attempts to return to dry land by “digging”—a term semantically tied to digging or burrowing (in the ground or the wall of a house)[4] and most likely used here metaphorically[5]—reminds the reader that the sailors and Jonah are locked in a cosmic conflict with the God of the sea and the dry land. Their efforts to resist God’s will are futile. The translator, however, does not follow author’s metaphorical use of חתר, but instead highlights the desperate efforts of the sailors: παρεβιάζοντο (they were pressing).

Second, the translator breaks from his stereotypical rendering of the wayyiqtol verb form of the MT with a καί + aorist construction. Instead of using the aorist, the translator chooses to use the imperfect tense. Though the shift may seem harmless enough, the effect on the discourse is significant. Imperfect verb forms within narrative often function to background the information contained within the verb with respect to the foregrounded events within the narrative.[6] Ben Johnson, in his paper “Narrative Sensitivity and the Variation of Verb Tense in 1 Reigns 17:34–37,” argues that often the translator, fully aware of the contours of the story he translates, will use the imperfect form of the verb to translate the wayyiqtol in order to background the information, thus foreshadowing some subsequent event.[7] Johnson’s assessment of LXX translational tendencies in 1 Reigns 17:34–37 also explains nicely the translator’s shift to the imperfect in 1:13a. Whereas the MT places the sailors attempt to return to shore in the foreground, the LXX translator places it, along with the rest of their actions in verse 13 in the background. It is not until the beginning of verse 14 where they cry out, speak to God, plead for mercy for what they are about to do that the foregrounded καί + aorist construction reappears. Backgrounding this action hints at the translator’s knowledge of his text and reflects his anticipation of the climax.

[1] Cf., Job 24:16; Ezek 12:5, 7, 12.

[2] Kevin J. Youngblood, Jonah: God’s Scandalous Mercy, 82.

[3] Jack Sasson, Jonah, 130.

[4] Brown, Driver, Briggs, A Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament, 369.

[5] Uriel Simon, Jonah, 14; Jack Sasson, Jonah, 130; Kevin J. Youngblood, Jonah: God’s Scandalous Mercy, 82.

[6] Stephen Levinsohn, Discourse Features of the Greek New Testament, 169–180.

[7] Ben Johnson, “Narrative Sensitivity and the Variation of Verb Tense in 1 Reigns 17:34–37” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the SBL, Baltimore, MD., 11/23/2013).

This entry was posted in Discourse Analysis, Greek, Hebrew, Jonah, Jonah 1:13, LXX, Old Testament Studies. Bookmark the permalink.

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