“Reading David and Goliath in Greek and Hebrew” by Benjamin J. M. Johnson

ReadingDavidandGoliathinGreekandHebrewBenjamin J. M. Johnson. Reading David and Goliath in Greek and Hebrew. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe 82. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2015, xiv + 275 pp., 79,00 €  (sewn paper).

Benjamin J. M. Johnson (PhD at University of Durham) analyzes the nuances of the LXX translation of 1 Samuel 16-18 in order to understand the unique focuses of the LXX as a literary document in its own right. Through Robert Altar’s definition of literary analysis (Revised ed. New York: Basic Books, 2011, p. 13), Johnson examines the minor contours of the LXX in the Goliath story. His methodology employs three parameters: 1 Reigns 16-18 is a Greek literary text in its own right, the MT and 4QSama are used when the assist in discerning what the translator is attempting to communicate, and the final product “is interpreted as a final literary communication with reference to how it has communicated its source” (20). As lately I havebeen indulging myself in some of Robert Altar’s commentaries and translations, I have come to greatly appreciate his focus on the literary artistry of the Hebrew Bible. Consequently, I admire Johnson’s focus on reading 1 Samuel/Reigns 16-18 as its own work of art. His methodology should be employed in other reading of Septuagint texts because it avoids an a priori assumption of the MT’s value over the LXX.

Chapters 2-4 each analysis 1 Reigns 16-18, Chapter 5 analyzes the Hebrew reading to draw out how it compares to the Greek reading, and Chapter 6 summarizes the previous analyses.

One feature I appreciate about Chapters 2-4 is reflective of his methodology: he still discusses the Vorlage, MT, and 4QSama. Although the majority of Greek and Hebrew comparative linguistic analysis takes place within the footnotes, it still establishes his work as a valuable place to begin any sort of research about the MT. Another major strength is Johnson’s discussion of verbal variation. In utilizing the MT to elucidate the LXX, he notes that translator switches “from imperfect to aorist verbs [in 17:34-36] despite the consistent chain of weqatal forms in the Hebrew” (94). This translation changes the narrative texture to one in which foreshadows the battle between Goliath and David. Although such an issue is often absent to the average reader of the LXX, Johnson’s ability to elucidate and put reason to the translators choice draws out the translators theological focus within his own time period. Perhaps translation choices like Johnson draws out in 1 Reigns 17:34-36 will help to expand our understanding of other LXX translations.

One critique I have of Johnson’s work is that he doesn’t focus enough on a more contextualized reading of the LXX. Although he draws on non-biblical authors, it only comprises roughly 12% of the primary source material. Johnson does notes that the LXX should be read at a literary text in its own right; however, in order to do so it is important to interact with contemporary Greek literary texts, texts potentially informative of the translators choices. Choices may have been merely linguistic or culturally dependent. Regardless, more interaction with contemporary Greek literature would greatly strengthen his work.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Johnson’s work. Like most volumes in FAT II series by Mohr Siebeck, it is a highly specialized work; however, the Septuagint focus of this work, namely his methodology and study of the literary sensitivity of the translator, holds potential to influence future works which analyze the LXX in its own literary right. This book is best for research on the LXX, Samuel or Reigns, and analysis of the distinct, nuanced literary aims between various manuscripts.

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4 thoughts on ““Reading David and Goliath in Greek and Hebrew” by Benjamin J. M. Johnson

  1. I found Johnson’s presentation at SBL on verbal variation to be a huge help in my own work on my thesis comparing the discourse of LXX and MT Jonah. Looking forward to reading this in full when I get the chance!

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