For a blog, it's a missed afterthought only if it's at least two days later...
To follow up to my post yesterday about the origin of the Septuagint, I wanted to offer some comments on the review of Wasserstein and Wasserstein, by Shawn W. J. Keough of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, which I mentioned. This review puzzled me, and I found it generally uninformative. As I said, I had become interested in the question of the origin of the Septuagint, and by coincidence this review showed up in my mailbox. Yet it helped me very little. To wit, Keough at one point writes the following:
Three writers figure in the development of the legend among Hellenistic Jews: Aristobulus, Philo and Josephus. The sketchy evidence from Aristobulus is useful to W&W only insofar as it establishes the relative priority of Ps. Aristeas (32). The evidence of Philo and Josephus, however, demonstrates the way the legend was molded and deployed to address the needs of new contexts. Philo wishes to extend the general sense of approval and admiration for the translation found in the Letter to a profound sense of divine inspiration, so that Jewish religion and scripture take on a new universal scope and relevance (38-39). W&W are careful to note that Philo's account of the legend does not, however, include certain miraculous elements often ascribed to it: Philo does not say "that the translators were deliberately separated, that they were all given the same texts to translate, and that they all produced literally identical versions" (44). Rather, W&W understand Philo to make the more modest claim that the translators all used the same correct words in the same contexts of translation (45).Yet I think a reviewer should choose a more precise phrase than "relative priority" . The Letter was doubtless prior in time, but was it the sole source for those other authors? Keough's talk of "the legend being molded for new contexts" might suggest that it is. But the Letter was not the only tradition or source of information available to Philo, who describes, for instance, in his Life of Moses a yearly celebration involving multitudes of different peoples (παμπληθεῖς ἕτεροι) which continued at least up to his own time (μέχρι νῦν) in the place where the translation is said to have been accomplished (the island of Pharos). It's unlikely that there could be such a celebration without those participating passing down an account of how the translation was accomplished, and yet we may safely presume that no mere letter would have given rise to such a celebration.
Here's another fudge in the review. The reviewer uses the phrase, "W&W are careful to note", which suggests that the reviewer agrees with the judgment that follows, viz. Philo's account of the legend does not... include certain miraculous elements often ascribed to it. And this is an obvious truth, because there are details of later accounts not found in Philo.
But then the reviewer adds that "Rather, W&W understand Philo to make the more modest claim that the translators all used the same correct words in the same contexts of translation", and this is stated uncritically, as if the reviewer agrees with this judgment as well.
Yet what does this mean? What does it mean to say that "the translators all used the same correct words in the same contexts"? Does this mean that the translators conferred and came to an agreement about how to translate? That would hardly be worth mentioning, since any group translation must proceed in that way. But if it means that (according to Philo) the translators independently came up with translations that later were found to coincide and to be unimpeachable -- then this would hardly be less miraculous than what is reported in later stories. (Clearly, whether the translators were actually put in separate cells, as later accounts have it, makes little difference.)
In fact Philo's language suggests he believed there was a miraculous concurrence. I'll paste the relevant passage from the Life of Moses below and then give Thackeray's conservative translation. (By the way, note "they say" below, which suggests Philo's reliance on a tradition distinct from the Letter.)
καθάπερ ἐνθουσιῶντες προεφήτευον οὐκ ἄλλα18.104.22.168.1ἄλλοτε ἄλλας ἐφαρμόζοντα λέξεις; ὅπερ ἐπὶ ταύτης τῆς νομοθεσίας οὔ
φασι συμβῆναι, συνενεχθῆναι δ' εἰς ταὐτὸν κύρια κυρίοις ὀνόμασι, τὰ2.39.1πράγμασιν.
... as men possessed, they produced not divers interpretations, but all alike used the same words and phrases, as though some invisible prompter whispered in the ears of each. And yet who does not know that every language, and Greek beyond all others, is rich in words and that one may be circumlocution and paraphrase clothe the same thought in divers forms, varying the style to fit the occasion? Yet this, they say, did not happen with these laws of ours; no, the appropriate technical words corresponded exactly with the technical words in the original, the Greek with the Chaldee, being admirably adapted to fit the subject-matter.Now, here's a question that interests me also. I wonder if Keough, or Wasserstein, or Wasserstein, think that it's in principle even possible that a translation be inspired -- since it seems to me that this might make a difference in how one evaluates the historical evidence. At least, it would be interesting for an historian to offer a disjunctive judgment-- "If one assumes that it is not possible that the translators were miraculously inspired, then one would reasonably arrive at the following account of the origin of the legend ... ; but if one assumes that it is in principle possible, then one might think rather something like the following...".