Since March 2021, I have been leading a reading group working through the Septuagint text of the Psalms.
What is the Septuagint, you might ask? The Septuagint is the translation into Greek of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). Additionally, the term often refers to the Greek translation of the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures, otherwise known as the ‘Old Greek.’ Translation began some time in the early to mid 3rd century BCE, with the Psalms following not too long after. The Scriptures were translated so that Jews outside of Judea, who often no longer spoke Hebrew, could read them. Having been translated relatively soon after Alexander the Great had spread the Greek language across the eastern Mediterranean world, the Septuagint is one of the earliest texts in the Koine Greek language that was later spoken by the early Christians. Being the first-century equivalent of something like the New International Version or Jewish Publication Society versions today, it is fascinating not just for being the Bible that Christian and Jewish biblical authors of the time likely knew, but also because it often represents an older tradition of the Hebrew than the Hebrew texts we otherwise use today – if you don’t know what I mean by that you might have to attend to find out!
Our reading sessions are intended for people with a very wide range of skills. Those who feel confident to translate for everyone volunteer the month before and are assigned a few verses. Those who do not feel they have the skills to translate independently just sit and take it all in, commenting and asking questions inasmuch as they feel able. The sessions usually begin with a 25 minute lecture on a subject to do with the text, including a recap of some basic Greek grammar, as well as a short comment on some unique feature of Septuagint grammar. The sessions we have had so far seem to have been enjoyed by all those who attended, as we discover the unique features of the Septuagint, and learn a lot about the Bible and about translation itself, and the obstacles that were faced by biblical translators 2300 years ago, many of which are still faced today. See below for a list of the topics we have covered, and then the translation we have written so far.
Please email me at email@example.com if you would like to join us, and read the Bible that was read by Philo, Paul, Josephus and other ancient Jews and Christians. We meet on Zoom on the last Tuesday and Thursday of every month, from 7:30pm to 9:00pm (pick one of the two to attend). You are more than welcome to join in actively from the start, or just to watch and see what it’s like. My golden rules is that no one will ever be put on the spot to translate something that they haven’t volunteered to translate in advance, even if you seem to know what you’re doing; so it is a safe space if you’re not confident of your abilities and would just like to learn! I look forward to seeing you.
Attendance costs £12 per session, payable via PayPal or any other agreed means. If you would like to attend once just to see what it is like I can offer the first session for free.
In addition to brief discussions of Greek and sometimes Septuagint-specific grammar, we have so far covered the following topics in the brief introductory lectures that precede each reading session:
- Introduction to the Septuagint
- What is the Septuagint/Old Greek?
- Why should we read the Septuagint?
- Introduction to this reading group
- Introduction to the Psalms
- The title
- When were they written?
- What is a psalm?
- What types of psalm are there?
- How are they divided up canonically?
- How does the poetry work?
- Can we speak of a ‘theology of the Psalms’?
- How the Septuagint Translates the Psalms Part 1: Tendencies
- Quantitative equivalence
- Isomorphic translation
- Parataxis and hypotaxis
- Example 1: anistemi
- Example 2: misbeach
- Example 3: hagios/hieros
- Example 4: berith/diatheke
- Example 5: torah/nomos
- Example 6: Psalm 2:9
- How the Septuagint Translates the Psalms Part 2: Theologies
- De-anthropomorphising the divine?
- Adding messianic connotations?
- Depoliticising monarchic hopes
- Metre in the Greek Psalms Part 1: What is Ancient Greek Metre?
- What is metre?
- Metre, tone, syllable-length and stress
- Ancient Greek rules of metre
- Example 1: Alkestis in Reading Greek
- Example 2: Matthew 6:33
- Metre in the Greek Psalms Part 2: Recap and Practice
- Recapping the rules of Greek metre
- Example 3: Antigone 891-912
- A Secular Theology of the Psalms?
- What is a ‘secular theology’?
- Martin Buber’s I and Thou
- A Buberian reading of the Psalms
- Buber and the Greek Psalms
- Buber and Serres
- Example: Psalm 1:1-2
- The Evolution of Third Declension Nouns
- A Deeper Look at Psalm 9 LXX
- The separation of psalms 9 and 10
- Background and historical significance in Judaism
- Use in the New Testament
- A secular philosophical reading?
- Verbal Roots and Stems
- The Story of the Subjunctive and Optative Part One: the Subjunctive
- Accidence from Homer to Koine
- Classical Usage
- Koine Usage: the Septuagint
- Example 1: Exodus 1:11
- New Testament Usage
- Example 2: Luke 18:36
- Later Koine to Modern
- The Story of the Subjunctive and Optative Part Two: the Optative
- Accidence from Homer to Koine
- Use in historic subordinate clauses
- Example 3: 4 Maccabees 17:1
- Example 4: Plato, Letters, vii 329c5
- Use in future remote conditionals
- Example 5: Plato, Meno 74a1-2
- Use as a main verb
- Example 6: Mark 11:14
- Example 7: Herodotus, Histories 7.135.2
- Textual Criticism and the Greek Psalms
- What is textual criticism?
- Textual criticism and the Septuagint
- The tools of the textual critic
- Example 1: Psalm 34:16 LXX
- Example 2: Psalm 21:17 LXX
- Example 3: Psalm 16:1 LXX
Our Translation of the Greek Psalms
As of May 2022 we have translated the first fifteen of the Old Greek Psalms. What follows has been edited a bit to be consistent, but preserves the range of styles offered by the different characters in our reading group, with some being quite literal, some freely modernising and some liberally applying poetic flare. What other than an uncomfortably vast range of translation styles could be appropriate for reading the Septuagint? I have also left some inconsistency where our understanding changed over time; for example, we began by translating εἰς τὸ τέλος as ‘towards completion,’ but have come to understand it as ‘for performance.’
1 Blessed is he who does not follow the advice of the impious,
And who does not follow the same path as the sinners,
And who does not sit in the seat of the pestilent.
2 But rather, on the law of the Lord is his will,
And on his law he shall meditate day and night.
3 And he will be like a tree that has been planted alongside the waterways,
That will give fruit in its season,
And its leaf will not be left wanting,
And in all things he might do he will prosper.
4 But not in this way the ungodly, not in this way,
But rather they are like the dust, which the wind blows away from the face of the earth.
5 Therefore the impious will not resurrect in the judgment,
Nor will sinners be among the council of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
And the way of the wicked will perish.
1 Why do the nations rage? And why do the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth stood ready, and the rulers gathered together in the same way,
Against the Lord and against his anointed one.
3 Let us tear off their bonds, and let us cast off their yoke from us.
4 He who lives in heaven will laugh at them, and the Lord will hold them in disdain.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and in his anger he will agitate them,
6 But I was appointed king by him, upon Zion, his holy mountain.
7 Declaring the command of the Lord, the Lord said to me,
“You are my Son. This day I have brought you forth.
8 Ask from me, and I will give you the multitudes as your inheritance,
And as your possession the ends of the earth.
9 Shepherd them with an iron staff, and like a potter’s vessel you will smash them.”
10 And now, kings, be sensible. Be brought up, like all those judging the land.
11 Slave for the Lord with fear,
And be overjoyed in him with trembling.
12 Seize your upbringing lest the Lord be angered,
And you perish from the just way,
When his anger quickly enflames.
Those who have trusted him are happy.
1 A David psalm, when he was fleeing from his son Absalom.
2 Lord, why have those who oppress me been increased in number?
Why are they being raised up against me?
3 Many are saying to me, “There is no salvation for him in his God.”
4 But you, Lord, you are my protector,
My glory and my head-lifter.
5 With my voice, I cried to the Lord,
And he heard me with favour, from his holy mountain.
6 I laid down to sleep, I woke up,
Because the Lord is the one who looks after me.
7 I shall not be afraid of the ten thousand people,
The ones encircling to attack me.
8 Arise, Lord, save me, my God,
Because you struck down all my enemies with ease.
You shattered the teeth of sinners.
9 Salvation is the Lord’s.
And your blessing is on your people.
1 Regarding completion. One of the songs with instruments. A David psalm.
2 While I call out, the God of my righteousness listens to me;
In my trouble he makes space for me.
Have compassion on me and give heed to my prayer.
3 Oh sons of men, until when will you be heavy-hearted?
Why do you love vanity? And why do you speak falsehood?
4 But know that the Lord regards a holy man as a wondrous one.
The Lord will pay heed to me when I cry out loud towards him.
5 Be angry and do not sin.
Sa y to yourselves,
“On your beds be silent.”
6 Sacrifice a sacrifice of righteousness and put your hope in the Lord.
7 Many say “Who will show us good things?”
We are marked by the light of your face, Lord.
8 You give me joy in my heart,
Grain and wine and oil multiplied in their seasons.
9 In peace altogether I will lie down and sleep,
Because you alone, Lord, settled me in hope.
1 For the end, on behalf of the receiver. A sacred David song.
2 Listen to my words, Lord.
Perceive my cry.
3 Consider the voice of my prayer,
My king and my God,
Because to you I will pray, Lord.
4 In the morning, you will listen to my voice
In the morning I will present myself to you and I will gaze upon you.
5 Because you are not a god who desires iniquity,
Neither does the one who does evil dwell with you.
6 The lawless ones will not endure before your eyes.
You hate all who are in the business of wickedness.
7 You shall destroy all the speakers of the lie,
The Lord finds abominable a bloodthirsty man and a deceiver.
8 But I, in the multitude of your mercy, shall go into your house.
I shall worship at your holy temple in fear of you.
9 Lord, guide me in your righteousness because of my enemies,
Make your path straight before me.
10 For there is no truth in their mouths,
Their hearts are devoid of purpose,
Their throats are an empty sepulchre,
They practice deceit with their tongues.
11 Judge them, God.
May they fall away from their plans.
Cast them out for the multitude of their wicked deeds,
Because they have provoked you, Lord.
12 And let all those who put their trust in you rejoice.
They will shout with joy forever.
You will live with them,
And all those who love your name will glory in you.
13 Because you, Lord, will bless a righteous person,
Just as you have equipped us with a garland of delight.
1 Towards completion, in hymns. On the eighth. A David psalm.
2 Lord, do not correct me with your anger,
Nor instruct me with your wrath.
3 Help me, Lord, because I am weak.
Heal me, Lord, for my bones are troubled.
4 My soul is agonising, troubled greatly.
Also you, Lord, for how long?
5 Turn, Lord, save my life.
Deliver me because of your mercy.
6 Because there is no remembrance of you in death.
In the abode of the dead, who will confess you?
7 I laboured hard in my groaning.
Every night I will bathe my bed in my tears,
And moisten my bedding.
8 My eyes are distended from grief,
I am grown weary amidst my multitude of enemies.
9 Step back all you who wreak lawlessness,
For the Lord has paid heed to my howl of anguish.
10 The Lord has heard my supplication,
And the Lord has accepted my prayer.
11 May all my enemies be shamed and sorely afflicted.
May they be turned away and humiliated exceedingly and swiftly.
1 A psalm of David, who sang to the Lord.
Over the words of Kush the Benjaminite.
2 Oh Lord my God, my hope is in you.
Save me from all my pursuers, and rescue me,
3 Lest my life be snatched up as by a lion,
With no one ransoming or redeeming.
4 Oh Lord my God,
If I have done this,
And if there is injustice in my hands,
5 If I have repaid those who have repaid me with evil,
May I vainly fall away from my enemies.
6 May you my enemy persecute my life and take hold of it,
And trample my life into the ground,
And may you consign my honour to the dust.
7 Lord, rise up in your anger,
Be exalted in the deaths of my enemies.
Be roused, oh Lord my God, in the order which you commanded!
8 And a gathering of people will surround you;
For their sake, return to the heights.
9 The Lord will judge the people.
Lord, judge me, according to my righteousness,
And according to the innocence that is in me.
10 Let the evil of sinners really be ended completely,
And you will make straight the just one, God,
By testing the hearts and kidneys.
11 My help from God is just,
Who saves the upright in heart.
12 God is a just judge, and strong and long-suffering,
Not bringing wrath upon each day.
13 If you are not turned, his sword will shine,
And he stretches his bow and prepares it,
14 And he makes ready the instruments of death.
He prepares his arrows for those who are being burned.
15 Behold, he who labours in injustice,
He who conceives pain and gives birth to lawlessness.
16 He digs a pit and excavates some more,
And he will fall into the ditch that he has made.
17 His anguish will return upon his head,
And upon his crown injustice will descend.
18 I will praise the Lord according to his righteousness,
And sing praise to the name of the Lord the most high.
1 Towards completion, over the winepresses. A David psalm.
2 Oh Lord our Lord, how wondrous is your name across the whole earth;
For your majesty is raised up far above the heavens.
3 Out of the mouth of little children and sucklings you prepared praise,
Because of your enemies,
To destroy enemy and avenger.
4 Because I will look at the heavens,
The works of your fingers,
The moon and the stars which you established.
5 What a thing is humanity,
That you should keep it so in mind?
And what the sons of humanity,
That you should be watchful over them?
6 In splendour you made them less than the angels by a mere fraction,
And crowned them with honour.
7 And you have appointed them over the works of your hands,
And you have ordered everything under their feet.
8 Including sheep and all oxen,
And still more the beasts of the field,
9 The birds of the sky,
And the fish of the sea,
Things that journey through the paths of the seas.
10 Oh Lord our Lord, how wondrous is your name across the whole earth!
1 Towards completion, about the secrets of the son; a David psalm.
2 I shall praise you, Lord, with all my heart,
I shall describe all your wonders.
3 I shall rejoice and be happy because of you,
I shall sing to your name oh Most High
4 While my enemy was turning back behind them,
They will grow weak and perish before your eyes.
5 Because you maintain my judgment and my justice,
You took your seat on the throne, to judge with righteousness.
6 You rebuke nations and the profane one perishes,
You destroy their name to the ages of ages.
7 The swords of the enemy fail entirely.
You destroy cities,
And their memory perishes with a noise.
8 And the Lord remains into the age,
He readies his throne for judgment,
9 And he will righteously judge the world,
He will judges the peoples uprightly.
10 And the Lord is become a solace for the miserable,
A timely saviour in adversity
11 All ye who know his name set your hope in him.
That you do not leave behind those who seek you out, Lord.
12 Sing praises to the Lord who dwells in Zion,
And celebrate his acts among the nations.
13 Because, in avenging their blood he was mindful of them,
He did not disregard the cries of the poor,
14 Have mercy on me, Lord, who raises me from the gates of death,
See how I am brought low by my enemies.
15 Then I will proclaim all your praises,
Among the gates of the daughter of Zion,
I will rejoice over your salvation.
16 The nations were ensnared in their destruction that they had wrought,
Their feet were caught in the trap that they had hidden.
17 In making judgments the Lord is known,
In the works of his hands the sinner was caught.
18 Let sinners be turned away towards Hades,
All the nations who repeatedly forget God.
19 Because the poor will not be forgotten,
The endurance of the miserable shall not perish into the age.
20 Rise up oh Lord, do not let humanity prevail,
Let the nations be judged in your presence.
21 Appoint, Lord, a lawgiver over them,
Let the nations know that they are only human.
22 Why Lord do you stand off afar,
And do not administer punishment in times of trouble,
23 With the ungodly person being arrogant, the poor man is set on fire,
They are being caught in their schemes, in their scheming.
24 For the sinner commends himself in the lusts of his heart,
And the offender blesses himself.
25 The sinner provokes the Lord.
Yet the he will not seek him out with the fullness of his wrath.
God is not before him.
26 His ways are always corrupt,
Your judgments are wiped out from his presence,
He will lord over all his enemies.
27 For he says in his heart, ‘I will surely not be shaken,
From generation to generation without hindrance.’
28 His mouth is full of curses, bitterness and treachery,
Under his tongue are trouble and distress.
29 He lies in wait in ambush with the rich,
In secret places, in order to slay the innocent man.
He fixes his eyes on the poor man.
30 He secretly waits in ambush, like a lion in his den,
In order to carry off the beggar,
To carry off the beggar dragging him away.
31 In his snare he will humble him,
He will stoop down, he will fall while lording over the poor and needy.
32 For he says in his heart, ‘God has forgotten.
He turns his back and does not see at all.’
33 Rise up oh Lord God, lift up your hand,
Do not forget the poor and needy.
34 Why does the ungodly person provoke God?
He says in his heart ‘I will not be found out.’
35 But you do see, because you recognise distress and desperation,
In order to take them into your hands,
For the destitute have given themselves up to you,
You have helped the orphan.
36 Shatter the arm of the sinner and evildoer,
His sin will be found out,
And because of it let him perish.
37 The Lord reigns into the age, and into the age of ages,
The nations shall perish from your earth.
38 The Lord heeds the yearnings of the wretched,
And by listening makes ready their hearts,
39 To act as judge for the orphaned and downtrodden,
That mortal man should never more continue in its grand boasts.
1 For performance, a David psalm.
I have trusted on the Lord; How will someone say to my soul,
‘Flee to the mountains as a sparrow?’
2 Because, look, the sinners stretch their bows,
They prepare arrows for the quiver,
To shoot in darkness the hearts of the upright.
3 For the things that you fashion they tear down,
But what do the just do?
4 The Lord is in his temple;
The Lord, whose throne is in heaven.
His eyes look upon the poor man,
His eyelids examine the sons of men.
5 The Lord scrutinises both the just and the godless,
And he who loves injustice is hateful of his own soul.
6 He will rain down traps upon the sinners,
Fire and brimstone and a blast of wind are their lot of the cup.
7 For the Lord is just and adores just acts,
And his gaze sees uprightness.
1 For performance, on an eight-stringed instrument. A David psalm.
2 Save me, Lord, for ‘the holy man’ has disappeared,
For truth has dwindled amongst the sons of men.
3 Each man utters vanities towards his neighbour,
Deceitful lips in his heart and in his heart he babbles.
4 May the Lord silence all the deceitful lips
And the boastful language,
5 Those who say ‘We will praise our language,
Our lips are our own;
Who is our Lord?’
6 ‘Now I will raise myself up from the wretchedness of the poor
And from the groans of the needy,’ says the Lord,
‘I will place myself for salvation in him,
I will speak boldly to him.’
7 The teachings of the Lord are pure teachings,
Refined silver, tested for earth,
8 You, Lord, will guard us,
And you will preserve us from this generation and into the age.
9 The godless circle round us;
From on high you look after the sons of men.
1 For the performance of the psalm of David
2 How long oh Lord will you forget me?
And how long will you turn your face away from me?
3 For how long will I lay down plans in my life?
Pains in my heart for days.
For how long will my enemy be lifted up over me?
4 Look with favour! Listen, oh Lord my God.
Shine upon my eyes, lest I sleep in death.
5 May my enemy never say, ‘I prevailed over him,’
The mob will gloat over me, should I be destroyed.
6 For I have put my hope in your mercy,
My heart will rejoice in your redemption;
I shall sing to the Lord, the one who showed favour to me,
And I shall sing to the name of the Lord most high.
1 For performance, a David psalm.
A foolish person says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’
They live in a corrupt and detestable way.
There is not one practicing kindness,
There is not even one.
2 The Lord peers down from the sky upon the sons of humankind,
To see if there is one who understands or seeks God.
3a Everyone turns away, and at the same time becomes depraved,
There is not one practicing kindness,
Not even one.
[3b Their throats are a gaping grave
They deceive with their tongues;
As there is snakes’ venom under their lips,
Their mouths fill with curses and anger.
Their feet are quick to spill blood;
There is destruction and distress on their streets,
And they do not know the way of peace;
They do not regard the fear of God.]
4 Don’t all the doers of depravity realise,
The ones who eat up my people like morsels of bread?
They do not call upon the Lord.
5 They were filled with fear, where there was no need to fear,
Because God is with a righteous generation.
6 You confound the plan of the lowly one,
Because the Lord is his hope.
7 Who will bring redemption for Israel from Zion?
While the Lord overturns the captivity of his people,
Let Jacob be glad and Israel rejoice.
1 A David psalm.
Oh Lord, who will make their home in your temple?
And who will put their camp down on your holy mountain?
2 Devoting himself blamelessly and occupying himself with righteousness,
And speaking the truth in his heart.
3 Who does not beguile with his talk,
Nor wreak wickedness to his neighbour,
Nor take up reproach on those closest to him.
4 The evildoer is despised in his sight,
But he praises those who fear the Lord,
The one who swears an oath to his neighbour and does not break it;
5 He gives his money without charging interest,
And does not take payments against the innocent.
The one who does these things shall not be shaken into the age.
1 A David stone-carving.
Protect me, Lord, because I hope in you.
2 I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord,
Because you do not have need of my goods.’
3 Among his holy ones in his land,
He magnifies all his desires.
4 ‘Their weaknesses are multiplied,
After that they are quick,
I will not gather their gatherings due to bloodshed.
Neither do I make mention of their names with my lips.’
5 The Lord is my portion of inheritance and my cup,
You are the one restoring my inheritance to me.
6 Measuring-lines fall upon me in the best places.
For the best inheritance is mine.
7 I will bless the Lord who has instructed me,
But yet, through night, my kidneys instruct me.
8 I kept seeing the Lord before me through all.
Because he is at my right, so that I might not be shaken.
9 Because of this my heart rejoices,
And my voice exults,
Even though my flesh dwells in hope.
10 For you will not forsake my soul into Hades,
Nor give your holy one over to see destruction.
11 You make known to me the ways of life,
You will fill me with joy with your face,
In your right hand are delights to the end.