Conference Announcement: Soisalon-Soininen Symposium on the Septuagint

There is an exciting event that was recently announced in the Septuagint studies community: a symposium honoring the 100th birthdate of the celebrated Finnish scholar, Ilmari Soisalon-Soininen (1917-2002). The event, hosted by Raija Sollamo, Anneli Aejmelaeus, Seppo Sipilä and Anssi Voitila, will be held 1-3 June 2017 at the University of Helsinki.

Who Was Soisalon-Soininen?

Those not active in the discipline of Septuagint studies are unlikely to be familiar with the work of Soisalon-Soininen. However, within the discipline he is a seminal figure – “the grand old man of Finnish Septuagint studies” – having founded the so-called Finnish School (or Helsinki School) of Septuagint scholarship. He also trained a significant number of now senior scholars in the discipline, Raija Sollamo and Anneli Aejmelaeus some of the most notable among them (the latter of whom, I am pleased to say, will be featured in one of my upcoming Septuagint Scholar interviews). Aejmelaeus, for her part, is now director of the Helsinki-based Research Project for Textual Criticism of the Septuagint.

The Finnish School took shape around Soisalon-Soininen’s focus upon Greek syntax in the Septuagint. In fact, his approach was the fountainhead for what is now commonly called “translation technique” within the discipline. Although this approach has had its share of criticism of the the years, Finnish scholars now recognize the overly mechanical sound of the word “technique.” In Soisalon-Soininen’s many publications, there is a clear focus on the translators, their linguistic habits, and a close, phrase-level analysis of their work rendering the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. Soisalon-Soininen and the Finnish School are known for a rigorous and statistical analysis of syntactical features of the translation technique of a given unit or book of the Septuagint, with a view towards characterizing the translator’s approach along a “literal – free” spectrum.

For the most part, this work takes Hebrew syntax as its point of departure in analyzing the Greek translation, and gives little attention to the historical or social context of the translators themselves. For the Finns, the focus is exclusively upon the linguistic phenomena of the texts, not least of all in order to build a profile of a given translator such that his Greek target text can be retroverted and used in the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Aejmelaeus has been a key figure carrying this approach forward (e.g., this volume and others). A number of studies, however, particularly those in the Twelve Prophets, have found that the broad assumptions of the Finnish School – namely that the translators worked in narrow segments of text, with little broader discourse awareness, and rarely introduced deliberate changes to the text – do not fully apply (I am thinking of Palmer in Zechariah, Glenny in Amos, Mulroney in Habbakuk, and Fresch using documentary evidence).

Even though a growing number of current scholars active in Septuagint scholarship have taken issue with aspects of the Finnish School’s approach, Soisalon-Soininen and his successors deserve ample recognition for their work advancing the state of the question. Previously, most focus in Septuagint scholarship, particularly that of Max L. Margolis, had been falling upon lexicography (an important field, no doubt), but Soisalon-Soininen recognized the need for analysis at the phrase level, which was certainly a step in the right direction.

The Symposium

The symposium has a stellar lineup of plenary speakers, including some of the leading voices in the discipline today. And, in keeping with the linguistic focus of the Finnish School, the topics and speakers bring that same mindset to their topics:

JAN JOOSTEN, “Grammar and Style in the Septuagint: On Some Remarkable Uses of Proverbs.”
JAMES K. AITKEN, “Standard Language and the Place of the Septuagint within Koine.”
SILVIA LURAGHI and CHIARA ZANCHI, “New Meanings and Constructions of Prepositions in the Septuagint: a Comparison with Classical and New Testament Greek.”
JOHN A.L. LEE, “Back to the Question of Greek Idiom.”
THEO VAN DER LOUW, “The Dynamics of Segmentation in the Greek Pentateuch.”
RAIJA SOLLAMO, “The Usage of the Article with Nouns Defined by a Nominal Genitive.”
ANNELI AEJMELAEUS, “Translation Technique and the Recensions.”
SEPPO SIPILÄ, “Soisalon-Soininen meets Grice: The Cooperational Principle and the Septuagint Syntax.”
ANSSI VOITILA, “Middle Voice as Depiction of Subject’s Dominion in the Greek Pentateuch.”

Happily, you can not only go to this conference, but you still have time to present. The call for papers is currently open. Slots are available for 30 minutes, whose topics focus on “Septuagint syntax, Ilmari Soisalon-Soininen’s research on the topic and / or the Septuagint language as part of the broader development of the Greek language.” The deadline to submit a proposal is 31 October 2016, and they should be sent to Anssi Voitila (


Review: Stanley E. Porter’s “When Paul Met Jesus”

Today I am going to offer some thoughts one of Stanley Porter’s recent books that has caught the attention of many: When Paul Met Jesus: How and Idea Got Lost in History (Cambridge, 2016). This is a fairly slim book, only running 180 pages in length, but it packs some serious punch in terms of content. In fact, you might say that it is a groundbreaking book – or maybe better, a book that excavates the forgotten groundbreaking work of past scholars. Yes, the thesis of the book is as straightforward as the title suggests:

I am examining the New Testament evidence for the notion that Paul might have seen, met, or even engaged in personal contact with Jesus before his encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road (p. 1)

But this book strives to do more than that, as the subtitle indicates. Porter also provides a kind of intellectual history of scholarship on this intriguing question, tracing its origins in the 19th century among several scholars, and gradual eclipse in the wake of certain others.

In this review I will attempt to overview the book’s central arguments, and to zero in on some of Porter’s exegetical spadework at critical junctures, and then give an evaluation. Before I do that, I want to highlight that initially this book was retailing for over $100 (and still is on the CUP website). However, it has been available on Amazon for under $20 recently, although apparently the listed price is fluctuating widely (maybe demand-responsive?).


The outline of the book is straightforward, likely due to it having been presented initially as a series of lectures at Porter’s alma mater, Point Loma Nazarene University:

1. What scholars have said in the past about Paul and Jesus
2. What scholars now say about Paul and Jesus
3. What the New Testament does and does not say about Paul and Jesus
4. The implications of Paul having met Jesus

The book is framed as an exercise in exegesis primarily, but one that self-consciously engages with what have come to be unimpeachable assumptions of New Testament scholarship. One of these is the axiomatic opposition in which the figures of Jesus and Paul are set, to the point where the latter is sometimes described as a “second founder of Christianity” whose ideas were not fully aligned – and to some, diametrically opposed – to those of Jesus. The rise and dominance of this sort of idea, according to Porter, has very much to do with the recession of his hypothesis from professional biblical scholarship today.

Chapter 1

In the first chapter, Porter begins by providing historical background for the mere plausibility of his thesis. He tantalizes the reader with the possibility that the lawyer/scribe who quizzes Jesus (Matt 22:35//Mark 12:28) and the “rich young ruler” (Matt 19:16-22//Mark 10:17-22) is quite possibly Saul of Tarsus (later Paul). He goes on to discuss the Pharisees in general, and then comments on the “parallel lives” of Jesus and Paul from a historical standpoint, covering matters of chronology, geography, various primary and secondary sources, and all the while addressing the complexities of the synoptic problem (pp. 12-25). He concludes,

The question that must be asked, logic seems to dictate, is not just whether it is possible that Paul and Jesus would have, almost literally, run into each other, but how it would have been possible for them not to have known of each other. In fact, I believe that it is at least a strong possibility (if not a virtual certainty) that they must have known each other due to the chronological but also environmental factors (p. 22)

After briefly addressing the passages in the NT that he will go on to discuss (1 Cor 9:1; 2 Cor 5:16; Acts 9:3-6), Porter then overviews the history of scholarship of the idea that Paul met Jesus. The three scholars to whom Porter traces this idea are all late-19th and early 20th century New Testament scholars, including William Ramsay (Scottish professor of archaeology and NT at Oxford and Aberdeen, 1851-1939), Johannes Weiss (German NT scholar and theologian, 1863-1914), and no less a figure than James Hope Moulton (Greek scholar extraordinaire and professor at both Cambridge and Manchester, 1863-1917). Porter then discusses in some detail the critical responses to their work, and the way in which the conversation about Paul’s first-hand knowledge of Jesus faded away following the Second World War.

Chapter 2

Porter then turns to discussing the current feelings about Paul and Jesus, focusing on the question: “So what happened?” (p. 44). He summarizes this chapter well by stating that

there is both a short and a long answer to the question of what happened to such an idea [about Paul and Jesus having interacted in person prior to the resurrection]. The short answer is Rudolf Bultman, and the long answer is the general history of Pauline scholarship, especially German Pauline scholarship, since Ferdinand Christian Baur to the present (p. 45)

This is where the bulk of the intellectual historical work is done, which I won’t summarize here. Suffice it to say that Porter closes this chapter with the hopeful (and helpful) notion that we must “return to the texts of the New Testament” to determine the viability of his hypothesis.

Chapter 3

I will focus on aspects of this chapter in my next section, but here Porter treats the three (sets of) texts that he considers most likely to indicated Paul and Jesus having met personally: Acts 9, 22, and 26 (the Damascus Road encounter); 1 Cor 9:1; and 2 Cor 5:16.

Chapter 4

Finally, Porter explores some implications of his hypothesis in Chapter 4. At this point, Porter simply assumes that he is correct in order to work out the “So what?” question (p. 123). Here, he first deals with “one set of general statements in Paul’s letters about the life of Jesus” that suggest Paul possessed considerable first-hand knowledge of Jesus (p. 123). He then walks through five texts (or groups of texts) that indicate Paul may have personally heard Jesus’s teaching. These include:

  1. Rom 12:9-21 on loving, blessing, and cursing
  2. Rom 13:8; Gal 5:14 on loving one’s neighbor
  3. 1 Cor 7:10-11 on divorce
  4. 1 Cor 9:14; 1 Tim 5:18 on payment
  5. 1 Thess 4:15-17 on the Lord’s return

This is one of the longer chapters, and it contains some of the most detailed textual work. In sum, however, Porter comes to the conclusion that the passages he examines contain “strong indicators that Paul had first-hand acquaintance with the words of Jesus, that is, that he was possibly present to hear Jesus utter the words … Paul may have even ventured to ask his own questions of Jesus (if Paul were the rich young man/ruler [in] or a lawyer/scribe who confronted Jesus” (p. 168, 170). Porter suggests that Paul’s encounters with Jesus began in the region of Galilee, including occasions like the Sermon on the Mount or Plain, and then continued as Jesus carried out his ministry and ended up in Jerusalem, where Paul likely encountered him on “numerous occasions” (p. 180).

Exegetical Highlights

I am not going to summarize all of Porter’s exegesis. It is quite worthwhile to read, for one thing because Porter is a master exegete. But for another thing, Porter is actually capable of writing up technical Greek exegesis in a readable and understandable fashion (no easy task). What I will do here is look at a few points that I found interesting or puzzling.

Acts 9, 22, 26

There are three accounts of Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road that, after dealing with some “housekeeping issues” for taking Acts seriously as a historical document, Porter looks into for evidence of Paul and Jesus having already known one another. Scholars have long noted the “inconsistencies” between these three accounts, but Porter rightly points out that these are not outright contradictions, but rather different ways of presenting the narrative “in keeping with the situational context of the individual account” (p. 82).

The main hurdle Porter has to clear is the difficulty of Acts 9:7, which says

Paul’s companions did hear a voice but did not see the speaker
ἀκούοντες μὲν τῆς φωνῆς μηδένα δὲ θεωροῦντες

while Acts 22:9 says

they did see the light but did not hear the voice
τὸ μὲν φῶς ἐθεάσαντο τὴν δὲ φωνὴν οὐκ ἤκουσαν

Porter suggests the issue can be resolved by attending to the use of negation. In Acts 9:4 we read that Paul “heard” heard the voice (accusative) and comprehended what it said, while in v. 7 we read those who were with Paul “heard” the voice (genitive) but somehow did not understand what it said. On the other hand, in Acts 22:9 we read they did not “hear” the voice (accusative) in the sense of comprehending it. Porter surmises that “the positive use of the genitive is semantically the same as the negated accusative and means that they did not perceive … [Paul’s] traveling companions did not understand what has happening” (p. 83). In other words, they saw a light but not a speaker, and heard speaking but couldn’t comprehend it.

Porter then looks at the exchange between the risen Christ and Paul, where he suggests Jesus’s question to Paul “Why are you persecuting me?” seems to presume Paul already knows Jesus. There is some interesting material here, but I was disappointed with the solution presented for what I felt was the biggest challenge in this passage: Paul’s response to Jesus. Paul asks quite baldly: “Who are you Lord?” (Acts 22:8, τίς εἶ, κύριε;). This certainly doesn’t sound like a man who did, in fact, already know Jesus.

But Porter suggests that

Paul is not now asking after identity but asking for clarification. He knows that this is a supernatural event, in which he is being addressed and even confronted by the Lord whose followers he has been persecuting (p. 91) … [Now] he asks the inevitable question: “Who exactly are you” … he wants to know how one moves from the person he once encountered but who was executed to the person who has just addressed him (p. 92, emphasis mine)

This is possible. But I also think there are problems with this answer. The biggest one is Jesus’s answer. In all three places where this narrative is told, Christ’s reply to Paul’s “who are you” question is just as simple:

ἐγώ εἰμι Ἰησοῦς [ὁ Ναζωραῖος,] ὃν σὺ διώκεις (9:5; 22:8; 26:15)
I am Jesus [of Nazareth], whom you are persecuting.

Note that Jesus doesn’t say something like “I am the divine and incarnate Son of God now raised to new-creational life by the Holy Spirit according to God’s eternal promise.” Rather, he simply states his humanly name and birthplace.

Now, this doesn’t mean Paul had never met Jesus before, or didn’t already know the information that Jesus responds with. But it does suggest that if Paul was “really” asking the kind of question that Porter claims, either Jesus did not understand the question, or didn’t feel compelled to give the specifics that Paul was asking for.

Porter goes on to give significant attention to two other passages in the New Testament, but I won’t dwell on those here.  In short, these other discussions are also thorough and convincing for the most part, not least of which is Porter’s view of the phrase οὐδένα οἴδαμεν κατὰ σάρκα / “we know no one according to the flesh” in 2 Cor. 5:16. In the end, this chapter certainly succeeds in arguing that it is possible, if not likely, that Paul had known Jesus personally to some extent prior to the Damascus Road encounter.


I found Porter’s hypothesis to be quite persuasive overall. However, I do not think it is completely air tight from a textual/exegetical perspective (nor, most likely, does Porter himself). Nevertheless, after finishing the book I am fully behind the notion that Paul likely met Jesus personally before the resurrection, which I think Porter argues quite convincingly. Moreover, I greatly appreciated Porter’s audacity to challenge the reigning paradigms in New Testament scholarship regarding the relationship (historical, theological, textual) between Paul (or “Paul” to some) and Jesus.

Moreover, Porter rightly calls to attention the fact that the teaching of Paul and Jesus was “at least in his [Paul’s] mind, seen to be in conformity with and a continuation of the teaching of Jesus – the very teaching that he may have heard from Jesus himself as he publicly taught and interacted with both friends and foes during the time of his earthly ministry” (p. 4).  The dominant paradigm in New Testament studies, says Porter boldly, is “driven as much, perhaps by a history of prejudice against a Jewish Jesus and the desire to exalt a Gentile Paul, as by any other factor” (ibid.). We do well to be wary of such assumptions, and to follow Porter’s example in giving our attention to the actual text of Scripture in a linguistically informed way.


My thanks to Cambridge University Press for the gratis review copy, which has not influenced my thoughts on the book.



LXX Scholar Interview: Dr. Cécile Dogniez


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.


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