LXX Scholar Interview: Dr. Cécile Dogniez

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Today is yet another installment in my series of interviews with notable scholars in Septuagint studies. I am very pleased to introduce today’s featured scholar, Dr. Cécile Dogniez, part of the Antiquité classique et tardive (Classical and Late Antiquity) research center at the Université Paris-Sorbonne. Inaugurated by Dr. Marguerite Harl in 1984, this group is now headed up by Dr. Olivier Munnich.

Dr. Dogniez’s research is focused upon the Greek bible and Hellenistic Judaism, and she is very active in the scholarly community both in France and elsewhere. Some of her better known work in the realm of Septuagint studies is as an editor and contributor to La Bible d’Alexandrie and various roles in the IOSCS and its affiliate projects.

Now, Dr. Dogniez was gracious enough to do this interview for us in French. In order to make it most widely readable, however, I have translated her manuscript into English. If you prefer to read her interview in French, you can do that here.

The Interview

1) Can you describe how you first became interested in LXX studies, and your training for the discipline?

I originally received a classical education at the Université de Tours where I completed an MA (Master I) on Herodotus under the supervision of Gilles Dorival, himself a student of Marguerite Harl at the Université de la Sorbonne. A few years later, he suggested that I apply for a position at the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique [National Center for Scientific Research]) to work with Marguerite Harl on the Septuagint, and specifically the French translation project of this “Greek Bible,” which I had never heard of before. A professor of Greek Patristics at the time, Marguerite Harl had continually interacted with the Septuagint as a major reference text for the Greek Fathers of late Antiquity and Jewish authors like Philo of Alexandria, [and] extensively quoted by Christian theologians. She was reading, translating, and commenting on it with her students at the Sorbonne.

Astonished by the ignorance – at least in France in the ’50s into the ’80s – of this important Jewish text written in Greek, she undertook, with the encouragement of Dominique Barthélemy, to offer the French reader an annotated French translation of the Bible. So I collaborated on the first volume of La Bible d’Alexandrie series [BdA], Genesis, published in 1986 by Editions du Cerf. In 1987 I completed my PhD at the Sorbonne in Greek Studies on the Septuagint version of Deuteronomy, and in 1992 I coauthored with Marguerite Harl volume 5 of La Bible d’Alexandrie on the same book. Our close daily collaboration, conducted at the Sorbonne or at her home, where I spent hours (invaluable for me to my research training in the field of Septuagint studies) reading the Greek text of the Bible, and benefiting from her not-yet-published research, continued well beyond her retirement. Marguerite Harl provided me with so many insights, and I gained such clarity from her deep familiarity with the texts! (Que de clés Marguerite Harl ne m’a-t-elle pas données, que de lumières n’ai-je pas reçues de sa science généreuse!)

2) How have you participated in the discipline over the course of your teaching and writing career? (feel free to highlight books here)

In addition to my work on La Bible d’Alexandrie, I undertook the task of continuing the bibliographical work started by Sebastian P. Brock, Charles T. Fritsch, and Sydney Jellicoe, who had edited in 1973 the first bibliography of the Septuagint dealing with the period from 1900 to 1969. My book, Bibliography of the Septuagint (1970-1993) (Vetus Testamentum Supplements 60), was published by Brill in 1995, with a preface by Pierre-Maurice Bogaert. To create this bibliography, I benefited from the erudition and scholarly generosity of a good number of Septuagintalists, both in France and abroad, where scholars such as Sebastian P. Brock, Florentino García Martínez, Maurice Gilbert, Takamitsu Muraoka, Emanuel Tov, Arie van der Kooij, Natalio Fernández Marcos and John W. Wevers patiently advised me at various stages of my work and provided valuable assistance. 

It was around this time that I began to work on the corpus of the Twelve Prophets. My first presentation at an international conference, the 9th Congress of the IOSCS in Cambridge (July 1995), focused on the use of the term παντοκράτωρ, of which the Twelve Prophets provide the largest number of occurrences to render the Hebrew expression “God of armies/hosts” [‎אלהי־צבאות].
Subsequently, in addition to my participation in the publication of 2 volumes in ‎ La Bible d’Alexandrie on the book of the Twelve (Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah released in 2007), I had several articles published on the Twelve Prophets, while maintaining my interest in the Pentateuch.

3) How have you integrated LXX studies into your work as a professor?

As a researcher, in France, I am not required to teach. However, for several years, from 2006 to 2013, I taught the Septuagint at the EPHE (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes) in Paris, as part of a seminar on the history of Judaism during the Hellenistic and Roman period. Starting with readings from the Prophets, I proposed to explore issues related to the linguistic and historical aspects of the Greek text. I was also occasionally able to lead a seminar on the Septuagint in various other French or foreign universities, such as Lille, Metz or Lausanne. These last few years, I have been responsible, with Bruno Meynadier, for the organization of conferences on the Greek Bible of the Seventy in Paris (at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de la rue d’Ulm, then at the Maison de la Recherche), conferences created during the 1980s by Marguerite Harl and continued under the leadership of Gilles Dorival and Olivier Munnich.

4) How has the field changed since you’ve been involved?

Septuagint scholarship has, in my opinion, developed significantly since the 1980s. In France, the Septuagint was often ignored and of little interest because it was considered an inaccurate (infidèle) translation and also written in bad Greek – in any case for a good number of Classically-trained Hellenists. But it was also a text still rarely taken into consideration within the Catholic Church in particular, which only recognized the Vulgate and therefore the Hebrew text, and also in contemporary Jewish contexts, where this Jewish Bible was voluntarily abandoned to Christians because they believed they had been dispossessed of it at the beginning of the Christian era.

Furthermore, the idea of translating a translation seemed to some like nonsense. Now it happens that, following La Bible d’Alexandrie series (a pioneer in this area), other translations followed. In English we have NETS, in German we have the LXX.D, in Spanish under the leadership of Natalio Fernández Marcos [La Biblia Griega], in Italian, in Romanian, and some that I am certainly forgetting.

The perspective for studying the Septuagint has also changed, especially since the Qumran discoveries. These demonstrated that the LXX can no longer to be considered an isolated, unfaithful text, but rather a witness to the fluidity of the Hebrew text.

Finally, modern research in translation theory has likewise been profitable for the LXX. In France, for example, the LXX was part of the discussions at the [annual conference of the] Assises de la traduction littéraire in Arles.

5) For the benefit of graduate students who are potentially interested in LXX studies in doctoral work, what in your opinion are underworked areas and topics in need of further research?

Currently, it seems to me that the books of the Septuagint have all been more or less studied, although some certainly more than others. But there is still work to be done, either book by book or in the area of textual criticism, historical, linguistic, literary, stylistic or exegetical research. For example, in addition to constant and increasingly important recourse to papyrology and epigraphy in order to acquire a better knowledge of the language of the Septuagint, the study of poetics, of the stylistics of the Septuagint deserves, it seems to me, more attention. The historical context of the production of these different translations should probably also be further studied. Perhaps we would then end up, among other things, with a more precise chronology of the various books of the LXX.

6) What current projects in Septuagint are you working on?

As the co-director of La Bible d’Alexandrie series, I am currently overseeing the annotated translation of 2-3 Reigns. I also participate in a project on the topic of the personification of Wisdom undertaken by Stéphanie Anthonioz at the Université de Lille, in particular in the book of LXX-Proverbs. I just recently finished a study on “Moses in the Greek Bible” for a project entitled Die Idee des Mose – Eine rezeptionsgeschichtliche Betrachtung einer identitätsstiftenden Idee, under the direction of V. Niederhofer, E. Eynikel and M. Sommer. I am currently writing a presentation on the Greek translation of the Pentateuch for a Handbook of the Pentateuch directed by J. Baden and C. Nihan. Finally, I continue to serve as a member of the editorial board of two international journals, JSCS and Semitica et Classica, which also regularly publishes articles on the LXX.

7) What is the future of Septuagint studies?

It is good that young people are interested in the LXX and hopefully new recruits continue on this path. It is probably advisable that they would preferably be trained in Classics, since the Greek of the LXX rightfully belongs to the Greek language and the history of the LXX to the history of Judaism in the Hellenistic era.

Wrapping Up

I am very grateful to Dr. Dogniez for her time and willingness to do this interview. I hope you found it as useful and informative as I did. In future interviews, you can look forward to hearing from more senior scholars in this important discipline.

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My sincere thanks to Jean Maurais for his helpful input on my English translation of this interview.

A Follow-Up to the 2016 LLX.D Conference in Wuppertal

About two weeks ago I returned from Wuppertal, Germany, where I participated in the 6th International Conference for the Septuaginta Deutsch research project.
You can read my preliminary post about this here. I thought I’d write up some follow-up thoughts about the event.

The Kirchliche Hochschule is a beautiful institution, located on a serene hilltop just a short walk from the city center. All told there were about fifty people at the conference, and from all around the world. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that I was the only American there. I arrived after a very long journey from California (~20hrs) on Wednesday evening, and spent the next 24 hours recuperating from the time change (with some help from the local pilsner and generous portions of bratwurst). The conference began on Thursday afternoon with four keynote lectures (three of which were in German, naturally).

20160721_083456683_iOSDuring the course of the next two days the lectures split into three simultaneous sessions of two papers apiece. What was really nice about this conference was the pace of it all. Between each paper there was a fifteen minute break, and between each session there was either a coffee break or lunch. The benefit was to allow for conversation about the papers, exchanging ideas, and, of course, fueling up on caffeine.

Another great aspect of this conference was its excellent organization. Room and board were all included and all on site, which made it significantly less stressful because you didn’t have to worry about navigating a new place and foraging for food. The meals were another opportunity to mingle with scholars from all over the world and converse in some language or another about your work.

One particular highlight was the after-dinner time spent sitting outside until the wee hours of the morning. This was yet another opportunity to meet new people and benefit from their conversation. wuppertal 1Not only that, but evidently it is a long-held tradition at this conference to sing. A few people bring their guitars and eventually a small crowd accumulates to belt out whatever songs come to mind (I heard everything from Bob Dylan to Russian folk songs to the Beetles).

Book Highlights

Another interesting part of the conference was the join book announcements. The two main features were the recently published Septuagint handbooks, the T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint (2015) and the Handbuch der Septuaginta: Einleitung in die Septuaginta (2016). Edited by James K. Aitken and Siegfried Kreuzer, respectively, each scholar took some time to speak about these resources and highlight how they each fill a major gap in the current reference literature in the field.

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My Presentation on Koine Greek

20160723_165242000_iOSOf course, I also presented my work. Overall I would say it went well. The audience seemed to receive it fairly, and offered a good range of questions to help refine my thinking.

I am very glad to have gotten the opportunity to participate in this conference, and I am grateful to the organizers for hosting it. In due course there will also be a volume containing the proceedings, so be on the lookout for that as well.

Review: Going Deeper with New Testament Greek

My work in Old Testament studies focuses upon the Greek version known as the Septuagint. Consequently, if not somewhat paradoxically, a very large part of my Old Testament work deals with Koine Greek. For that reason, and because I am more generally interested in the study of linguistics, it is always exciting when a new Greek grammar emerges. (I love a new Hebrew grammar, too, but those are so much less frequent for some reason…)

Andreas Köstenburger, Benjamin Merkle, and Robert Plummer have co-authored Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament (B&H Academic, 2016). As the title indicates, this grammar is intended for those beyond a beginner course, and therefore focuses on a range of topics that are more advanced in nature. At first glance, the Table of Contents offers a number of headings that are refreshing to see. For instance, coverage of textual criticism, word studies, and treatment of textual units at the sentence level and above.

When I review books on this blog, I like to dovetail with the emphases in my own research, rather than providing the more general (read: dull) summary/critique-style reviews found in journals (plenty of which I have written). So here I’ll be offering some thoughts on what Köstenburger, Merkle, and Plummer (hereafter, “the authors”) have to say about 1) the Greek language, and 2) word studies. Most of what my dissertation focuses on is Koine lexical semantics and language change, so that seemed appropriate. From what I read in the Preface, this means I’ll be interacting mostly with the work of Rob Plummer, main author of these sections.

The Koine as a Language

Sometimes you will find scholars – usually in older literature – using the phrase “the Koine.” At first I found this funny because I was used to hearing it called simply “Koine Greek” or just “Koine.” After spending a few years thinking about it, though, I see the sense in the definite article in the phrase “the Koine.” After all, the historical phase of the Greek language known as κοινή (sometimes also “Hellenistic” or “postclassical” or even “postdialectal” Greek) was precisely that: a phase, or a stage in its history. Saying “the Koine” reminds us of that, although we should also remember that it was a long and internally diverse phase with its own features.

Many times New Testament Greek grammars insufficiently convey that the language of the New Testament existed within this larger phase of the Koine. In fact, the very phrase “New Testament Greek,” much like “Septuagint Greek” or even “biblical Greek,” can give the wrong impression that these are somehow unique and self-contained “languages.”

Happily, you do not get that impression from Going Deeper with New Testament Greek. Rather, the authors do a very good job of acknowledging how Greek was “in transition at the time of the NT” (p. 18). They state that

an understanding of the way in which the Greek language evolved will guard against simplistic and erroneous approaches that fail to see the Greek language used in the NT as a snapshot of a changing language (p. 19).

They go on to divide up the history of the Greek language into the following stages:

  1. Proto Indo-European (? – 1500 BC)
  2. Linear B/Mycenaean  (1500 – 1000 BC)
  3. Dialects & Classical     (1000 – 300 BC)
  4. Koine                              (300 BC – 330 AD)
  5. Byzantine                      (330 – 1453 AD)
  6. Modern                          (1453 – present)

These stages are then given short treatments in the following pages. Appropriately, they call attention to the fact that, much like the Koine, “Classical Greek” was not actually a monolithic thing. For that reason, A. T. Robertson among others called it the “Age of Dialects,” including Ionic, Doric, Aeolic, Attic and others. I appreciated the acknowledgement that the authors of Going Deeper make of the many older NT grammars and lexicons that relied upon knowledge of Classical Greek, something that most seminary students no longer bring to the table! (I certainly didn’t.)

Of course, when discussing the Koine, the authors rightly point to the conquest of Alexander the Great and his subsequent cultural and political hegemony. Some attention is also given to the predominant influence of multilingualism in this period. Naturally, when you take over the world and impose a new language, it will be a “second” language for most people. But the Greek that developed in the ancient Mediterranean world was remarkably uniform, judging by the evidence now available. That is why it was called the κοινή διάλεκτος – the “common dialect.”

It is important (and too often ignored or forgotten) to note that the “common” of κοινή does not mean “simple” or “crude,” but simply shared. The authors of Going Deeper may have confused this point, or at least could have made things clearer when they state that Koine (the “common dialect”)

is well preserved in innumerable papyri and in the writings of the NT (p. 21)

That is certainly true. However, because these sources (papyri and the NT) generally consist of the “lower” register, I am tempted to think that “Koine” as a whole is construed here as “low.”  Koine was not a “corruption” of Classical Greek, something that somehow brought the “quality” of Greek down a notch. Koine was simply the next thing in the history of the language, and in fact there were “higher” and “lower” linguistic registers within Koine Greek. The Septuagint and Greek NT (along with many papyri) generally fall towards the lower, or more vernacular end of that spectrum. But Koine authors like Polybius and Philo are more literary and are a “higher” register of Koine.

I assume that the authors of Going Deeper know this, but I often find statements like the one above that are easily construed as if Koine Greek as a whole is low register compared to Classical (which is not a very useful comparison to make). Thankfully, the review of “terms” for Koine Greek on pp. 21-22 of Going Deeper seems to indicate that the authors understand the point I am making here.

Word Studies

I was interested to see how Going Deeper would approach word studies. These can get a bad rap in scholarship and in Christian biblical studies circles (kind of like a lexical version of proof-texting). I think the reason for this is twofold:

  1. Usually scholarly word studies are terrible, woefully incomplete or flawed and thus entirely unhelpful.
  2. Pastors tend to do them, usually very poorly, and often draw far-flung and erroneous conclusions.

Call me a skeptic. I call myself a lexicologist. Now, lexical semantics can get pretty complicated and abstract in a hurry. There is a swathe of approaches, each with its own range of terms. That said, it is important to have conceptual clarity and precision when talking about word meaning precisely because it is a slippery thing.

I felt that, overall, Rob Plummer’s chapter on word studies (Ch. 14, pp. 475-90) does a good job being both accessible but methodologically precise. You can’t cover absolutely everything in a chapter like this, but I was hoping for some more clarity specifically for the terms used for word meaning, which is where most people go awry on this topic. Plummer uses phrases like “range of meaning,” “specific meaning,” “potential meaning” to describe how words “work,” but does not offer much elaboration on what he means by “word meaning” in these terms. I know this is abstract, but that’s the exact reason that clear terminological description and consistency is so important for the study of lexical semantics in Greek (or any language). I don’t think this detracts from the value of this chapter, but it is something that could potentially leave readers wondering.

I also happen to disagree with Rob where he says “Never in the history of the world has there been less need for Greek word studies than in the twenty-first-century English-speaking North America” (p. 476). Perhaps this is a defense mechanism on my part🙂. If by this he means there are more resources now available than at any time before, then certainly that is true. However, I happen to think that the study of Greek lexicology is in need of a fairly major overhaul. (If you’re interested in why, read John Lee’s excellent book on the topic). This is an area I’d like to continue research in personally, particularly since much of the ossified lexical data passed on from one lexicon to the next can now be significantly supplemented with documentary evidence not yet incorporated into the reference works. If we are serious about knowing what Greek words mean(t), particularly those of the NT, we make a serious error by ignoring this data (Of course, I am not suggesting that is what Going Deeper proposes). On the contrary, I think the need is as great as ever!

Where I resoundingly agree with Dr. Plummer, however, is when he rightly makes the following caution:

A pastor should never undermine the congregation’s trust in the English Bible translations through comments such as ‘The ESV gets this really wrong here” or “I can’t believe the NIV says…” It is arrogant and detrimental for the pastor to present himself as the infallible pope of Bible translation.

May more pastor-scholars heed this advice! The rest of the chapter goes on to give quite a good bit more good guidance for undertaking word studies. The principles outlined include:

  1. Prioritize Synchrony over Diachrony – here the importance of contemporary meaning and semantic shift is highlighted, along with the dangers of the etymological fallacy (i.e., thinking the history of a word’s meaning has any necessary link to the word’s current meaning – it doesn’t).
  2. Do Not Confuse Words and Concepts – the danger here is that not every instance of a word refers to the same concept (e.g. “bank” meaning side of a river vs. “bank” meaning financial institution), and not every instance of a given concept is prompted by the same word (e.g. “speech” and “oration” both refer to one concept of public speaking).
  3. Do Not View Word Study Tools as Inerrant – Jackpot! I loved to see this. Lexicons are not infallible (on which see this post).

I was also glad to see some excellent (annotated) recommendations for resources to conduct word studies, and a very practical step-by-step guide for actually doing one and presenting the results with clarity. For those not actively engaged in critical study of lexical semantics (for which a host of other considerations are necessary), it is well worth consulting as a student, pastor, and even as a scholar.

Other Thoughts

A. T. Robertson

There is an absolutely delightful tribute to the esteemed New Testament scholar A. T. Robertson at the front of this grammar that is well worth reading. I particularly enjoyed and agree with Robertson’s view that the seminary is first and foremost the place for training preachers and teachers of God’s Word, and secondarily for producing scholars. Yes, seminary must be a rigorously scholarly exercise, but that is a means to an end. As Robertson says,

The most essential thing to-day is not to know what German scholars think of the Bible, but to be able to tell men what the Bible says about themselvesAnd if our system of theological training fails to make preachers, it falls short of the object for which it was established.

That is a refreshing and motivating statement to someone like me, who is at the moment in the thick of the academic enterprise almost exclusively, but which is ultimately in service of the Church.

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Thanks to B&H Academic for providing a gratis review copy, which has not influenced my opinion of the book.