As I’ve continued to make my way through Biblical Greek in Context: Essays in Honour of John A. Lee, I encountered Muraoka’s essay on the New English Translation of the Septuagint, better known as NETS. NETS has long been recognized as the best English translation of the Septuagint on the market, despite what you might think of Description Translation Studies, the foundational methodology by which the translators operated. In any case, Muraoka’s task within the essay is to evaluate the translation by analyzing four texts: Genesis 1, Esaias 34, Psalm 1, and 2 Makkabees 13.
In each section, he provides the underlying Greek text, the NETS translation, and his comments on the English translator’s successes and failures in rendering Greek into English. For instance, in Genesis 1:2, Muraoka writes:
πνεῦμα θεοῦ “a divine wind.” Rösel’s rendering is der Geist Gottes. Even accepting his argument that here it has to do with an independent, divine power, and even ignoring the traditional Christian theology, der Geist Gottes seems to denote an eminently personal entity, and no physical force. Besides, the use of the definite article is hardly justifiable. Thus NETS is to be followed here (146).
The following comment, however, takes issue with the NETS translator’s choice to render ἐπεφέρετο as passive:
ἐπεφέρετο “was being carried along.” Is it absolutely necessary to understand the verb as passive, and not middle or intransitive “was moving along”? Who would then be the agent? Besides, NRSV reads “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” and the MT has מרחפת a Piel, thus active, participle (146).
Muraoka continues this process of selecting a translation with which he agrees or disagrees time and time again, for 18 pages. For some, the rather monotonous cadence of agree, disagree, disagree, agree might quickly become tiresome. I, however, found it to be an insightful read. It is one thing, after all, to say that translating a translation is a difficult task. It is another, however, to see those difficulties played out before your eyes when another scholar takes issue—and for good reason—with what seems to be a reasonable translation.
After his meticulous analysis, and I will quote a bit at length, Muraoka provides a few concluding remarks about NETS:
In summing up we would like to add a couple of general observations on this modern, new English Septuagint. Those who are reasonably comfortable with Greek (and Hebrew/Aramaic) would read the Septuagint in Greek. Many who are not in that position, but would like to know all the same how a particular place in the Hebrew/Aramaic Bible has been interpreted prior to the turn of the era would find NETS a convenient resource. Those people are unlikely to be served by a plethora of Septuagintalisms in English guise such as “between the day and between the night.” NETS is, of course, beneficial for non-Hellenists when it comes to the apocryphal books for which no Semitic original has been preserved in their entirety or which were originally written in Greek.
Translation presupposes interpretation. In a comprehensive syntax of Septuagint Greek which is currently in making frequent references are made to translation of the Septuagint, both ancient and modern, including NETS. One could only expect that the interpretation represented and incorporated in NETS can be debatable at times as has been amply illustrated above, which means our ancient translators may have meant something different from what one reads in NETS. Even so we are grateful for the immense efforts that went into its production.
Now, laying aside Muraoka’s snark,* I want to take issue with the bolded statement.** Would the readers who would like to now how the “Hebrew/Aramaic Bible has been interpreted prior to turn of the era” truly find that “a plethora of Septuagintalisms in English guise” are a disservice to their interests? If what one seeks is a translation composed in contemporary, readable English style, then I suppose Muraoka is correct. But if what one truly seeks is a representation of how the translators and readers of the Septuagint interpreted the Hebrew/Aramaic Bible, is it not better to represent, in English guise, the same infelicities the translator chose to keep and the reader might have stumbled over?
Too many times translations smooth over the style of the ancient biblical authors, making it seem as if the author of Genesis sounded the same as that of Isaiah and even Matthew. Standardizing vocabulary, syntax, spelling, and more makes the reader think each book of the biblical corpus was written by the same author. Secondly, a translation that is founded on a methodology that seeks not how later communities have received the translation (qua text) but how the translator has received and understood the Hebrew/Aramaic original, shouldn’t the resultant translation preserve these blemishes so other analysts might better identify them?
These are only a few questions I have regarding Muraoka’s comments. They are not, however, set in stone. And, more importantly, they do not necessarily reflect my own commitment to DTS and the child of its application to the LXX, NETS. It is to say, however, that the committee has faithfully maintained their commitment to DTS in this regard—though Muraoka points out inconsistencies on this front as well—and should not be detracted from preserving each translator’s unique style and technique.
* First, It goes without saying that the preference would be to read the Septuagint, Hebrew, and Aramaic in the original language. One must, however, assume that the translators’ endeavored to meet the needs of a different audience. Second, of course NETS translation will be debatable at times. The first sentence of the paragraph recognizes that all translation—the LXX of its Vorlage and the NETS of its LXX text—presupposes interpretation. This interpretation can be right or wrong (or neutral). I think a more appropriate way to conclude the essay would be saying something to the effect of, “with these needed emendations in mind—and with others that can be identified throughout the rest of the corpus—it is necessary to begin work on a new edition, one I would be thrilled to help produce.”
** I realize that (1) this is a matter of methodology, an issue Muraoka clearly takes issue with, and (2) Muraoka has been at this much longer than me, so take what I’m about to say with a wary eye.