Hexaplaric Titles for “Satan” in Job

Tyler Williams has listed his “pet peeve” for today, and it should be a pet peeve for most people. What Tyler doesn’t like is how Bible translations have simply translated hasatan “the satan” as Satan, the leader of the demonic forces, when hasatan only has to mean “the accuser,” “the opponent,” or “adversary” in the context of Job.

Since I have been studying the Hexapla of Job, I thought I would provide the evidence of how some of the Jews in the second temple period translated hasatan into Greek.  All of these references come from Nancy Woods, “A Critical Edition of the Hexaplaric Fragments of Job: 1-21″ (Doctoral Dissertation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009).

Job 1:6c

HT                    השטן “the satan”

LXX                 ὁ διάβολος “the slanderer”

Aquila            σατάν “enemy, adversary” < Hebrew שטן

Theodotion     ἀντικείμενος PM/PPtc NMS ἀντίκειμαι “to act as opponent” > Substantive “opponent”

Job 1:7a

HT                    אל השטן

LXX                 τω διάβολω

Aquila            τω σατανα

Job 2:3a

HT                      אל השטן

LXX                  ——

Sub Asterisk προς τον σαταναν (= Syhtxt ܠܘܬ ܣܛܢܐ)

Conclusions

The Aquila reading, σαταν, is not very illuminating to the meaning of the Hebrew word, since it is clearly a transliteration and assumes the meaning of the Hebrew text, which is the topic under examination.

The Theodotion and LXX readings are interpretive and are of great value to the exegete. The LXX understood this angelic figure to be “the slanderer,” the one who spoke evilly or wrongly about Job. Theodotion confirms modern lexicographers, who want to understand the word as a title, meaning “opponent” or “adversary.” Indeed, Theodotion’s reading is very far from a proper name.

Studying the history of translation and exegesis (yes, those belong together) has caused me to ask the question: when is it time to conform our modern translations to the “true (read: ancient) traditional” understanding of a text (Insights from modern Hebrew lexicography, LXX, Vulgate, Hexapla et al.) and to abandon what have been set up as the “new (read: “johnny come lately”) traditional” readings? If our goal in translating the biblical text is to render the original meaning of that text faithfully, then why do we stop short of just that in texts like these? Is it because of “traditional understandings” of these texts? Well, what is the traditional understanding of hasatan: Satan or adversary? The meaning of hasatan, as Satan, in theology and exegesis has been driven by the English Bible tradition, which is glorious in its own right, and yet in texts like these, it has a long way to go towards achieving fidelity in translating the original meaning or sense of the text for today’s readers.

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5 thoughts on “Hexaplaric Titles for “Satan” in Job

  1. “When is it time to conform our modern translations to the “true traditional” understanding of a text and to abandon what have been set up as the “new traditional” readings? If our goal in translating the biblical text is to render the original meaning of that text faithfully, then why do we stop short of just that in texts like these?”

    We conform our modern translations to the “true traditional” understanding of a text when the market allows, because our goal is to render the original meaning of the text faithfully insofar as the product remains marketable. Capitalism, my good friend, unduly influences all modern translation products. Bow before your god, Babylon!

  2. “The Aquila reading, σαταν, is not very illuminating to the meaning of the Hebrew word, since it is clearly a transliteration and assumes the meaning of the Hebrew text, which is the topic under examination.”

    But is the Aquila reading evidence for the understanding of σαταν/השטן as a proper name? Seems like it could be. Does Aquila understand this heavenly figure in Job to be the great opponent of God in the “new traditional” understanding of השטן? Since the Theodotion reading reflects the “true traditional” understanding of the adversary in Job, does this show an exegetical development in Judaism of the first/second centuries, and would it provide evidence that Theodotion in fact precedes Aquila, as, I believe, Prof. Gentry (and others) has argued?

  3. I think we are pretty good at accusing each other, so I translate the frame opening with us as the beni elohim and among us are those who have capacity to raise the critical question about Job’s motivation. It’s a great kick start for this story. I note that there is no accuser in the closing frame.

    The inner frame of the conversation from chapter 3 to 41 is the pair of words Leviathan and the eyelids of dawn. I think the story effectively puts down any idea of a second personal power.

  4. Joseph –

    You may be right, since Bible translation can be big business. I also wonder how much to attribute to the way translation is done, even in committees. Are enough specialists used in translating the Bible? My hunch is no. I’m thinking about a more collaborative approach to translation, where specialists from all fields can leave their finger prints on a text. Thus, should not the text critics and Version specialists work with the translator? Should not the ANE specialists work with the translator to ensure that cultural and contextual references in the Bible are accurately handled? Finally, perhaps the theology guys should take a serious look at the “finished product” to ensure that inter-textual references are handled well? This would clearly be a serious undertaking, but I would love to read this very well-informed Bible translation.

    Ed –

    I’m not sure we have met, but thanks for your comment, since I thought of the same objection. You may be right about the placement of Aquila in the interpretive history. His work reaches its apex between 130-35 AD, and could provide the beginnings of seeing Satan as the opponent of God. The problem is that the evidence is scant for Aquila, and we will probably never have a complete portfolio of his thought. Another problem is that the gospels themselves provide evidence that “satan” does not have to be understood as the opponent of God, since Jesus calls Peter, satan (Mark 8:33). This evidence is contemporary with Aquila, and it shows that Aquila’s use of satan does not have to indicate “great opponent of God.” Aquila is a hyper-literal translator, who often makes use of transliteration in his translation. I’m not surprised by his technique in this instance, since we see that the Hebrew word was already being used by Greek speakers to communicate the concept of “opponent.”

    Theodotion is the interpretive key here, since his version is dated between 1 and 2AD, Dr. Gentry favoring the former, while most of scholarship favors the latter. This example may show a development, but I’m inclined to hold that Aq and Th are saying the same thing by using different techniques. As I continue to put my Aquila portfolio together, I may revisit this post and write new ones on his use of transliteration. Thanks again for your comments.

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