Book Review

The Text of Genesis 1-11: Textual Studies and Critical Edition

by Ronald S. Hendel
New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, 168 pages

Reviewed by John Bockman, Tokyo, Japan

The blurb on the dust jacket of this slim book pretty well sums up what the author hoped to accomplish: "Hendel takes a strong position on the value of the Septuagint as a reliable translation of its Hebrew parent text. This position is contrary to that taken in most existing studies . . . , including some in standard reference works. Nevertheless, Hendel shows there is an accumulating mass of evidence indicating that his position is correct." This is a timely study for us Orthodox who rely on the Septuagint as our Old Testament Bible.

There seem to be many who would rather use the King James Version(KJV), and for good reason. It is widely available and "a literary monument, for it is very direct and strong in expression while being faithful to the Greek." (1) The Septuagint (LXX), on the other hand, is a bit harder to get hold of. Also, its English can have a jarring effect on the æsthetic ear (see the Psalms in Hapgood).

Sometimes the wording of the LXX Psalms just doesn't seem right, as in Psalm 50: "that Thou mightest be justified in Thy words and prevail when Thou art judged." Proponents of the KJV may wonder how and by whom God can ever "be judged." Or take Psalm 54 as it appears in Bagster's edition: "They have defiled His covenant; they were scattered by the wrath of His countenance, and their hearts have convened. His words are smoother than oil, and yet they are darts." Even Holy Transfiguration Monastery sided with KJV here and rendered it "Their words" in their translation of Psalm 54.

It's no wonder then that, as Hendel points out, the LXX has gotten such bad press which, he says, dates back to Jerome who preferred the Hebrew text. Augustine defended the LXX, but he too had trouble coping with the "Methuselah scandal" -- that Methusala (Methuselah), according to LXX, survived Noah's flood by fourteen years. And despite important discoveries at Qumran, scholars have continued to pass the LXX off as "dealing promiscuously" with the Massoretic text or as "an exegetical document" full of "theological prejudices." Hendel labels all this drivel "scholarly anachronism" (pp. 16-17).

And to all subsequent time, the precise dating of Methuselah's death would seem to be irrelevant. The bottom line here is that, whether anyone likes it or not, the Apostles, and quite likely our Lord Himself, knew and used the LXX as their authoritative text. (As to our Lord's knowledge of Greek, we remember that He came from the "Galilee of the Gentiles" and was comfortable speaking with the Syro-Phoenician woman.)

"Findings from the Dead Sea Scrolls support the Septuagint readings," (2) and it was the LXX that the writers of the New Testament quoted extensively. Therefore, it shows remarkable inconsistency for anyone to eschew the LXX in favor of the KJV while continuing to use the New Testament. And when one thinks more deeply about the above citations from the psalms, they actually do make lots of sense. After all, wasn't our Lord judged by the Sanhedrin? And although God does not and will not appear before us to be judged as we will before Him, He is being judged all the time, both positively and negatively. The unjust, if they believe in Him at all, question His mercy and His justice and rail against Him at their perceived misfortunes. The just, on the other hand, judge Him to be the infinitely good, merciful, loving God that He and His Church say He is. And while His words were smoother than oil ("Blessed are the meek . . ."), yet are they not also darts? ("Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees! Hypocrites!")

The text of Hendel's book is a rather detailed exposition of his methods in comparing and contrasting the Massoretic (M), Samaritan (S), and LXX texts. [He uses (G) for Greek, instead of LXX, which would be my preference.] This involved comparing numerous textual variants among the three using four basic decisions:

  1. Adjudicating among variants to determine which is plausibly the archetype
  2. Reconstructing the archetype on the basis of the variants where none of the variants is plausibly the archetype
  3. Reconstructing the archetype in the absence of textual variants
  4. Adopting a diagnostic conjecture in the absence of textual variants (p. 6)

As an example of each we may cite:

  1. Gen. 10:4 -- Is it "Rodonim" (S) and "Rodioi" (LXX) or "Dedanim" (3) (M) in 1 Chron. 1:7? Since Gen. 10:4 also mentions the Rhodians, but not the "Dedanians," Rhodians was probably the name intended here.
  2. Gen. 5:19 -- Did Jared live another 800 years after Enoch's birth (M and LXX) or 785 years (S)? Hendel suggests that the proto-M and proto-LXX subtracted 100 years to prevent his being on the ark with Noah, while Proto-X subtracted 115 years.
  3. Gen. 9:7 -- Must Noah "rule over" (LXX mss) or "multiply" (M, S, and LXX) on the earth? All three agree on "multiply." But why does Noah have to be told twice in the same sentence to multiply? Translators get around this problem by rendering it "be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth," but Hendel suggests rather "be fruitful, multiply, and rule over the earth."
  4. In Gen. 4:22, many translators have inserted "father of all" (missing from M, S, and LXX) after Tubal-Cain to make some sense of the verse. According to Hendel, this is done simply to repeat the pattern for Tubal-Cain's brothers, though there is no intrinsic justification for this -- a good example of diagnostic conjecture. However, since it is not absolutely certain the words "father of all" belong to the text, they have to be inserted with angled brackets.

As can be imagined, this is a very long, involved process, which is probably why Hendel stopped at Chapter 11. To make a long story short, he finds sufficient discrepancies and affinities between M and S, between S and LXX, and between LXX and M to assume that LXX is in fact a tradition independent of both M and S and is not a free and loose translation of M, as has often been assumed.

In fact, Hendel's family tree of Genesis starts with the "Genesis archetype." From this, two distinct traditions branch off: the proto-M archetype" and the "Old Palestinian hyparchetype." From this latter emerge two sub-traditions: the "proto-S hyparchetype" and the "proto-LXX hyparchetype." However, the "proto-M" and the "proto-S" hyparchetypes somehow experienced cross-pollenization to produce M and S that are more like each other than they are like LXX.

This scheme would explain why LXX uses parthenos (virgin) in Isaiah where M uses almah (young woman) which has long been a bone of contention between Christians and Jews (and even between proponents and critics of the virgin birth).

This book is by no means light reading, for it also assumes some familiarity with the Greek and Hebrew languages. Even so, having read it to the best of my ability, I feel encouraged to put aside my KJV and RSV and rely on my LXX from now on.

John Bockman, Tokyo, Japan


1. Father Haralampos, "Book Review of The Orthodox Study Bible in The True Vine, v. 5, no. 2, 1993, p. 21.

2. Ibid., p. 22.

3. Descendants of Raamah, 2200 B.C.

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