Wednesday, February 20, 2008

David Baer on "Personalization" in Greek Isaiah

Just a follow-up to yesterday's post: the second chapter of David Baer's,"When We All Go Home: Translation and Theology in LXX Isaiah 56-66" (Sheffield 2001) notes the tendency of the Greek translator of Isaiah to turn non-imperative forms into imperatives:

Isaiah 57:1 reads in the Hebrew, "The righteous person perishes and no one take it to heart" whereas the Greek translation is, "See how the righteous person has perished, yet no one takes it to heart!" This is the only place where the imperative "See!" appears without any justification in the text (p.51).

The first of six occurrences imperativizing the verb "see" in LXX Isaiah occurs in Is 9:1, when the Hebrew, "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness--on them has light shone" is rendered in the Greek, "O people walking in darkness, see a great light! O you who dwell in a land and in a shadow of death, light shall shine upon you."

Here we see the introduction of the imperative and the personalization (discussed at further length in Baer's chapter 3). Is 9:1 now addresses contemporary listeners and the verse is deployed perhaps in a homiletical direction.

Chapter 3 calls attention to "the substitution of first and second person grammatical forms for third person forms" in the Greek translation of Isaiah (p.52). The translator thus creates a text speaking to "you"and "us" i.e. the audience including the author. Isaiah 26:16: "O Lord, in distress they sought thee, they poured out a prayer when your chastening was upon them" becomes, "Lord, in distress I remembered thee, in slight affliction was thy correction upon us." Chapter 26 is introduced as a song sung in the land of Judah.

Here's a 2003 review of Baer's book from RBL. Perhaps these changes are features of oral delivery. Could these examples be a reflection of a preacher in 2nd C BCE Alexandria speaking to diaspora Jews?

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