Saturday, September 19, 2009

Augustine on the Septuagint

I've written on Augustine and the Septuagint elsewhere, but I've recently come across this quote which is interesting:

"But, if scribal error is not involved, it must be believed that, where the sense corresponds to the truth and proclaims the truth, they [i.e., the seventy translators], moved by the divine Spirit, wished to deviate [from the Hebrew text], not in the manner of interpreters [i.e., translators], but in the freedom of those prophesying. Consequently, the apostles, in their authority, when they appealed to the Scriptures, quite rightly utilized not only the Hebrew, but also their own - the witness of the Seventy" (Augustine, City of God, 15.14).


ntinterpretation said...

That is a very interesting quote.

mbrankatelli said...

Dr. Bird, I have found a few other quotes concerning this issue that have given me a nuanced view of Augustine and the LXX. It seems that initially he favored the LXX exclusively over the Hebrew because…
1. Its wide circulation which allowed it to be appealed to as a standard authority.
2. The miraculous construction story found in “The Letter Of Aristeas”
3. Lack of Hebrew Mss. to be consulted in the West
4. Discrepancies in current texts based on the Hebrew
5. A general mistrust towards Jews.

However, in his discussions with Jerome about the use of Hebrew by both Origen and Jerome, Augustine seems to lighten but not abandon his earlier emphasis on the inspiration of the LXX.
As he progressed in his understanding his views at times lessen because
1. He sees value in the use of Hebrew by leaders, while the masses keep their familiar LXX.
2. A lesser view of the LXX creation, allowing that they may have conferred in their translation rather then 72 unanimous independent translations.
3. A mistrust of the Jews involved with transmitting the LXX.
4. Its value in correcting the Latin and informing the meaning of the LXX where it is obscure.

This is of course only my take, and I may misunderstand the situation entirely. However, from my reading of the primary sources, most notably the correspondences between Augustine and Jerome, that Augustine tows the party line in his more general works that the LXX is fully inspired, but in his own private reflections and dialogues he is a slightly wary of accepting the LXX without acknowledging the underlying the Hebrew’s primacy in meaning. Let me know what you think. I realize this and the following quotes are a bit long, but I guess I got carried away in my excitement to interact with you.

mbrankatelli said...

“I desire, moreover, your translation of the Septuagint, in order that we may be delivered, so far as is possible, from the consequences of the notable incompetency of those who, whether qualified or not, have attempted a Latin translation; and in order that those who think that I look with jealousy on your useful labors, may at length, if it be possible, perceive that my ONLY REASON for objecting to the public reading of your translation from the Hebrew in our churches was, lest, bringing forward anything which was, as it were, new and opposed to the authority of the Septuagint version, we should trouble by serious cause of offense the flocks of Christ, whose ears and hearts have become accustomed to listen to that version to which the seal of approbation was given by the apostles themselves.”
Augustine’s Letters- LXXI Chap. 2 to Jerome

“In that earlier version you marked with asterisks the words found in the Hebrew but wanting in the Greek, and with obelisks the words found in the Greek but wanting in the Hebrew; and this was done with such astonishing exactness, that in some places we have every word distinguished by a separate asterisk, as a sign that these words are in the Hebrew, but not in the Greek. Now, however, … [He goes on to criticize Jerome for not including these textual helps]
Augustine’s Letters – LXXI – chap. 2 to Jerome

"I wish you would have the kindness to open up to me what you think to be the reason of the frequent discrepancies between the text supported by the Hebrew codices and the Greek Septuagint version. For the latter has no mean authority, seeing that it has obtained so wide circulation, and was the one which the apostles used, as is not only proved by looking to the text itself, but has also been, as I remember, affirmed by yourself."
Augustine's Letters - LXXI: Chap. 4 to Jerome

"As to your translation, you have now convinced me of the benefits to be secured by your proposal to translate the Scriptures from the original Hebrew, in order that you may bring to light those things which have been either omitted or perverted by the Jews."
Augustine's Letters - LXXXII: Chap. 5 to Jerome

“I am also longing to read that book of yours which you named De optimo genere interpretandi, and to know from it how to adjust the balance between the product of the translator's acquaintance with the original language, and the conjectures of those who are able commentators on the Scripture”
Augustine's Letters - LXXXII: Chap. 5 to Jerome

If anything is in the Hebrew copies and is not in the version of the Seventy, the Spirit of God did not choose to say it through them, but only through the prophets. But whatever is in the Septuagint and not in the Hebrew copies, the same Spirit chose rather to say through the latter, thus showing that both were prophets. For in that manner He spoke as He chose…
Augustine – The City of God, Book XVIII chap 43

If, then, I am asked which of these [two different options found in the Greek and Hebrew] Jonah may have said, I rather think what is read in the Hebrew…Yet the Seventy, interpreting long afterward, could say what was different and yet pertinent to the matter…
Augustine – The City of God, Book XVIII Chap 44

And thus it is possible that they [the Seventy] translated in such a way as the Holy Spirit, who worked in them and had given them all one voice, thought most suitable for the Gentiles. But nevertheless, as I said above, a comparison of those translators also who have kept most closely to the words, is often not without value as a help to the clearing up of the meaning.
Augustine – On Christian Doctrine: Book 15:22 which you already mentioned.