Genesis

Written by S. A. Brayford Reviewed By Myrto Theocharous

The Genesis commentary of E. J. Brill’s Septuagint Commentary Series responds to the need for the study of the Septuagint in its own right. The commentary departs from two objectives that generally govern the philosophy behind such an attempt: (1) It pursues the original meaning as intended by the translator. Simply stated, this approach is based on the best available eclectic text which represents, as far as possible, the original Greek translation of a given book, and thus is closely compared to the extant Hebrew text in order to observe the translator’s responses to his presumed Vorlage. The NETS translation and the IOSCS-SBL Septuagint Commentary Series follow this approach. (2) It pursues the interpretation of the translation as it was subsequently received by Jews and Christians. This approach chooses not to be ‘hindered’ by comparison of the Septuagint with its corresponding Hebrew text for the understanding of the sense of the Greek, but instead seeks to interpret the Greek in its own right, and, if appropriate, through contemporary Greek texts. La Bible d’Alexandrie is the first major commentary series to produce its translation according to these principles; it considers the Hebrew text only in order to establish divergencies between the two. Regarding the understanding of these divergencies, Marguerite Harl states, ‘We limit ourselves to establishing the meaning that a “divergency” receives in the LXX context and translate the new meaning acquired by the verse or by the whole pericope’ (“La Bible d’Alexandrie,” in X Congress of the International Organisation for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, Oslo, 1998 [SBLSCS 51; Atlanta: SBL, 2001], 193).

The approach of this commentary series marks a new path; it is not based on an eclectic text but, in this volume, has Codex Alexandrinus (a fairly complete 5th-century text of the Greek Genesis) as its base text, supplemented by Codex Cottonianus Geneseos (Codex D, 5th or 6th century). The reason for this approach is ‘to produce a text that actually existed in a particular reading community’ (p. 24).

Brayford begins by offering a concise introduction on Septuagint origins (pp. 1–5) and the early history of the Greek translation (pp. 5–7). She then focuses on the textual history of the Greek Genesis and the development of various editions (pp. 7–12) before progressing to discussion of modern LXX scholarship (pp. 12–24). She closes this section by introducing the philosophy and methodology of the Series, summarised in this statement: ‘the guiding principle for the comments is that of reflecting on the manner in which the readers of ALEX (Alexandrinus) might have understood and interpreted their Greek Genesis’ (p. 26).

The first major part of the book displays the Greek text on the left-hand page with the English translation on the right (pp. 32–201); comments follow, occupying the second half of the book (pp. 205–452).

This work can be best described as a commentary for the 21st century community of Codex Alexandrinus. It addresses the contemporary reading community of this Codex, comprised of educated readers who are in possession of a larger quantity of information than the previous Alexandrinus communities have been. Today’s readers have greater access to both Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, they are more familiar with the world of the Ancient Near East and how it sheds light on the understanding of the Hebrew Bible in its original context (e.g., pp. 251, 263–64, 271, 417), and they are aware of the Hellenistic ideologies (e.g., pp. 205–7, 257), rabbinic interpretations (e.g., pp. 223, 257), patristic interpretations (e.g., pp. 206, 232, 259), source criticism (documentary hypothesis) (e.g., pp. 263, 266–67, 284), and feminist theology (e.g., pp. 242–44). It is this educated ‘awareness’ of Brayford’s readers that allows her to juxtapose the Hebrew and the Greek text and to examine how the sense differs between one and the other. This same ‘awareness’ allows her to use equally Claus Westermann’s and Nahum Sarna’s commentaries with Wevers’ notes and Marguerite Harl’s La Genèse.

The richness of material that Brayford provides us with is, paradoxically, both the strength and the weakness of her work. She finds it ‘impossible to ascertain the intention of the author or the translator’ (p. 26), yet she reflects, at times, on his theology and his Alexandrian milieu, a practice which is not any different in nature from reflecting on what the readers of Alexandrinus might have understood. Although Brayford adopts Alexandrinus, a Christian text, because it ‘actually existed in a particular reading community’, she does not examine its 5th-century Christian reception (historically the closest possible reading community of Alexandrinus). Rather, attention is placed on interpretations from an Ancient Near Eastern perspective (which were probably unknown and irrelevant to Alexandrinus’ Christian community) rather than on Christian Patristic reflections. The possible meanings that can be derived from Alexandrinus today are not identical to those that its 5th-century community could have derived from it. Aiming to reflect on an historical community’s understanding of a text would necessarily discourage one from retrojecting later interpretations on to it.

While bringing together in one commentary all interpretative levels (including that of the original translator) in the reception-history of the text cannot avoid the risk of being ‘ahistorical’ and thus endangering the guiding principle on which Codex Alexandrinus was selected in the first place. Nevertheless, the reader who wants a polyphony of interpretation on the Greek Genesis, all in one commentary, will find this work very useful.


Myrto Theocharous

Myrto Theocharous
Greek Bible College
Athens, Greece

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