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The Bible is alien to the modern and postmodern era

31 March 2015 / 10:03:09  GRReporter
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Relevant to what we were talking about is the subject of your doctoral thesis defended at Cambridge: “Comparison of the ancient Greek translation of the Septuagint to the Hebrew biblical text of the Twelve Prophets with the aim of finding and analyzing the use of intertextuality in the translation process”. What are the main conclusions and findings you reach in this scholarly research?

Yes, my dissertation topic has to do with translation theory. The Septuagint is extremely important, not just for biblical scholars, but for anyone studying translation practices and interpretation in antiquity. The Septuagint is the first translation of the Hebrew Bible into another language, if not the first translation of any ancient text of this size. My work involved an analysis of this translation in relation to the Hebrew text. I was interested to see how variations between the two languages could be explained and there are indeed various reasons for them, both intentional and unintentional. I looked at the Twelve Prophets and saw how differences could be accounted for in various ways. There are times when the translator had misread his text or confused similar looking letters. There are cases where he used different vowels which disagree with the later Masoretic tradition. Sometimes, he would run into difficult expressions or very unusual words and would struggle to interpret his text contextually or with the help of another text that was brought to his mind. This latter case was my main interest. In other words, I was after those cases where the translator allowed other texts from other parts of the Hebrew Bible to illuminate the specific text he was translating. There are certain words or expressions he uses in order to render his text that seem to have been borrowed from elsewhere, namely “intertextuality”. This shows a familiarity with a large part of the Hebrew Scriptures but it also reveals the beginnings of a rabbinic exegetical technique we know by the name of gezerah shawah: an obscure passage being illuminated by reference to another passage that contains a common key term.

This is what fascinates me: to look deeply into the way Jewish people interpreted their scriptures and how these methods led organically into New Testament times and interpretations.

The Hebrew word “qibbutz” introduces us to a notion that has evolved into an ideological landmark, a foundation stone of the modern state of Israel. Would you comment on the deeper historical formation and meaning of this “hieroglyph of solidarity”?

Qibbutz, which is initially the name of the "u" masoretic vowel in the Hebrew Bible and is represented by three dots placed diagonally under the consonant, is a noun which means "heap, that which is gathered", and it comes from the root of the verb qabatz "to gather, to collect". It can be applied to a gathering of people, coming together as one and this is where the Kibbutzim communities get their name from.

I’ve never stayed in a Kibbutz in Israel. But this kind of community living has very ancient roots. Communities like the Kibbutz are mentioned by the ancient Jewish philosopher Philo in the 1st century in Alexandria, but even before that we have the Qumran communities, also known as the Essenes or other unknown communities in the land of Palestine. These were more like religious covenant communities, a bit different to the modern Kibbutz, but they would share everything together, work, worship life and meals. The early Christian church, being a covenant community, practiced some of these same values. They had common meals and would even sell their properties to share the money with each other. Modern Kibbutzim are not this radical but they definitely have ancient roots and continue to be nostalgic symbols of a life free from individualistic ambition.  

Since 2004 you have been a volunteer for an organisation acting against human trafficking. Is seeking out victims and offering spiritual, psychological and physical support to women in prostitution another aspect of your religious outlook?

In the Hebrew Bible, indeed the entire identity of Israel is the “slave freed by Yahweh”. The story of the exodus, not only recognizes the value of human beings regardless of their status, location or political regime that hangs over them, but at the same time, the exodus deliverance infuses them with a worldview and self-understanding that carries certain demands. The slave who has been freed cannot treat another human being as disposable property. Limits are placed on the authority of the Israelite over another life. For example, not only the slave but also the animals of one’s household have to enjoy the same Sabbath rest with their master. The alien, the widow and the orphan in their towns cannot be ignored for they are the most vulnerable categories of people. The most exploitable.

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