- From Septuagint to Singer:Translation as Legend and Politics
The Legend of the Septuagint and Faithful Renderings are parallel and complementary books in many ways large and small. Both are diachronic, covering and sometimes leaping over great tracts of time. Both concern themselves with translation studies, but not in the normal pattern of Übersetzungs-wissenschaft—there is little discussion in either book of the technique of any particular translator, and little theorizing about the literary status of translated works. Instead, these books are meta-translational—perhaps we can say metametaphrastic—and investigate what people have thought about and how they have reacted to the phenomenon of translation itself. These are big similarities; there are small ones as well: both mention Armando Momigliano, for instance. And both touch briefly on Paul de Lagarde, but in markedly different ways.
De Lagarde (1827–1891) was the father of modern Septuagint studies, a Bible scholar, and linguist of fabulous abilities: the equal, S. J. Driver thought, of Theodor Mommsen. He was also a proto-Nazi and vicious antisemite, a "conservative radical," and a deeply self-loathing man. Lagarde viewed the Septuagint as a better witness to the true Bible than the Masoretic text, and his investigation of the Septuagint aimed at restoring it to its pristine state. Luther had taken Hebrew from the Jews; but Lagarde did not even want their Hebrew. Jews, such as the [End Page 363] German Jewish scholars Lagarde blamed for his academic failures, were obsolete, redundant, disgusting. It is said that Lagarde bound his Hebrew books in pigskin "to keep the dirty fingers of the Jews from off them."1 What an amazing metaphor for the use of Judaism against the Jews, and for the ease with which group hatred taints the semi-science we call philology.
To appreciate the difference between the two books here reviewed, we can compare their characterizations of Lagarde, which are in both cases brief and tangential. To Abraham and David J. Wasserstein, Lagarde was "a Protestant scholar" who first brought Jerome's translation of the Psalms iuxta Hebraeos to light in modern times. He comes up in the course of a sober discussion of early Christian liturgy. (This description is found in nearly identical form on pp. 15 and 97 of Legend, a repetition natural to the collection of essays that this book is.) Seidman mentions Lagarde as a "Protestant theologian" whom Buber came to see as a "new Marcionite"—an advocate of the "Germanization of Christianity" by means of purging the Bible, as Marcion had done, of everything distinctly Jewish. The Wassersteins, reserved in judgment, focused and precise, appreciate Lagarde's place in philological scholarship; and their own book is basically philological. Seidman appreciates Lagarde as an ideologue, part of a struggle in which the Jews had and still have an important stake. She is theoretical and bold, even passionate. Individually the books are original and stimulating; together they are brilliantly illuminating.
The Legend of the Septuagint is a Nachlass of Hebrew University professor of Classics Abraham Wasserstein, edited after his death and supplemented considerably by his son. The son's style and level of scholarship are up to the standard of the father, who once published a pamphlet on Greek style entitled "Economy and Elegance"2 and whose slim edition of a Hebrew translation of Galen3 is a model of usefulness and thoroughness—and an early product of his interest in the byways of translation. The son, an expert on medieval Muslim society, including the "translation culture" in which Jews played so important a role, blends invisibly with his father, so that the book's quality is even throughout.
At its core is the legend of the Septuagint: the story of how a group of about seventy Jewish sages in Alexandria under King Ptolemy produced the first Greek translation of the Chumash. This translation, called Septuaginta ("Seventy," also [End Page 364] known as...