מלך or βουλης in Ecclesiastes 2:12: different parent texts?
Posted by John Meade on June 3, 2009
Prima facie there are significant differences between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint, which lead one to think that the LXX was translated from a radically different text than the MT. However, many of these differences arise from the translation technique of the LXX translator; ergo, the differences are on the level of the translation, not the level of the actual parent text or Vorlage. We have seen already in Job 3:3, and we will continue to see in Job that translation technique often accounts for the differences between the texts.
In Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth 2:12, there is a fine example of two divergent texts prima facie, but after a little digging, one finds that the LXX reading supports the consonantal text of the MT and simply represents a different vocalization of the text. What follows is not my original work, but the work of my teacher, Peter Gentry, but of course any errors in the argument are mine.
The texts of MT and LXX and the Problem
MT: For what is the man who will enter after the king?
כי מה חאדם שיבוא אחרי המֶלֶך
LXX: For what is the man who will enter after the counsel/will?
οτι τις ο ανθρωπος, ος επελευσεται οπισω της βουλης
The problem is how does the LXX “will/counsel” have such a different reading than the MT “king”? One will notice that Hebrew melek has the vowel pointing for king. In an unpointed Hebrew text in the biblical period this word could only be the noun “king” or the denominative verb “to be king or rule.” However, the translators were working from an unpointed Hebrew text in an Aramaic/Greek speaking world; therefore, one cannot rule out the possibility that the translators would occasionally supply an Aramaic/Syriac vocalization to the same Hebrew consonants.
Aramaic/Syriac Solution to Eccl. 2:12
Aramaic and Syriac have two meanings for the same consonants depending on the vocalization:
The former is vocalized as malka’ and means “king” while the latter is vocalized as melka’ and means “counsel.” The Greek translator was not looking at this particular Syriac script, but the dual vocalization was most probably present in an earlier Aramaic dialect. Therefore, the LXX’s βουλης is direct evidence that the translator had the same Hebrew consonantal text in the first century BC that we have today. The only difference between the LXX and the MT in this case is the reading tradition evidenced by the different vocalization. Otherwise, the LXX demonstrates the antiquity of the consonantal text of the MT in this instance.
We must be cautious before concluding that the LXX has a different text than the MT. Many times the LXX on the level of translation has a text form that appears different than the MT; however, one must attempt to unravel all of the different factors which may account for this difference before declaring that the LXX used a different Vorlage than the MT’s. In Eccl. 2:12, the factor of different dialects accounts for the different readings between the LXX and the MT, and this same factor shows that the translator was attempting to be faithful to his parent text, which strongly resembles the MT.