Trevor V. Evans, «Some Alleged Confusions in Translation from Hebrew to Greek», Vol. 83 (2002) 238-248
Two remarkable passages in the Greek translation of Numbers have recently been identified by Anssi Voitila. Both show a clear influence from Hebrew verbal forms on the translator’s choices of Greek verbal forms which overrides the semantic indicators of the broader context. Confused translations result. Are they isolated phenomena or representative of translators’ habits in general? Voitila argues for the latter interpretation. He seeks to demonstrate a number of additional instances in the Greek Pentateuch and sees here support for the theory of segmentation in translation technique, as developed by the Helsinki School. The present paper reassesses his examples and draws the opposite conclusion.
I. The Phenomenon of Confused Verbal Renderings
Two remarkable passages in the Greek translation of Numbers have recently been identified by Anssi Voitila. These are Num 9,16-23 and 10,11-25. They show clear influence from Hebrew verbal forms on the translator’s choices of Greek verbal forms. In both cases this type of influence extends to the degree of overriding the semantic indicators of the broader context. Confused translations result. Voitila’s isolation of these passages is an important contribution to our understanding of the Greek translators’ sensitivity to the Hebrew verbal system1. He in fact goes somewhat further, describing more than a dozen other instances of ‘confusions’ in the Greek Pentateuch where indicative tense-forms are alleged to be contextually inappropriate. Influence from the underlying Hebrew verbs is presented in all cases as the cause of confusion. Here we enter debatable territory. While the Numbers examples already cited are certain, all the others seem to me open to alternative interpretations. There is scope for reassessment of the individual cases, and also of the broader implications of the data. If we find Voitila’s additional examples persuasive, the phenomenon is a general feature of translators’ habits and will demand a general explanation. If we do not find them convincing, however, the Num 9,16-23 and 10,11-25 passages take on a special appearance. They will have to be seen as isolated anomalies in the work of a particular translator2.
The problem of how we are to prove translators’ mistakes will be crucial to the analysis. Voitila is able to demonstrate numerous instances of influence from specific Hebrew verbal forms on Greek verbal choices. But do such identifications in themselves indicate confusion? To isolate an error of the type under investigation it surely has to be shown that influence from Hebrew text components motivates a Greek verbal form which fails to agree with the sense of its context. This must not simply mean the underlying Hebrew context, as it is explained by modern interpreters. Where the ancient interpretation offered by the LXX translators yields a rendering different from