Determining Dependency Between Ancient Versions (part 2)

In this post, I comment on the nature of the translation of the Syriac Peshitta (S) in Qoheleth, which is an important consideration when trying to determine whether S is dependent on the Septuagint (G).

The Former Thesis

At an earlier time in research, scholars considered S to be a daughter version of the Septuagint (for this view see G.W. Anderson, “Canonical and Non-Canonical,” in Cambridge History of the Bible, ed. P.R. Ackroyd and C.F. Evans, vol. 1, (Cambridge, 1970), 158-9.), which means they considered S to be a direct translation of G.  What ailed this thesis was that it did not conform to the evidence of S itself. One is not able to read past Genesis 1:1 (ܒܪܫܝܬ ܒܪܐ ܐܠܗܐ. ܝܬ ܫܡܝܐ ܘܝܬ ܐܪܥܐ) without seeing the essential Semitic character of S and its faithful translation of the underlying Hebrew text (M or proto-M).  But however faithful S was to M, scholars still have noted that in some places S seems to be dependent on G, and the challenge was to explain this phenomenon leading to a new thesis.

The New Thesis

The new thesis seems to be generally accepted and the comments of Sebastian Brock speak for most Peshitta scholars today:

The translators all worked basically from the Hebrew text, and this Hebrew text was essentially the same as the consonantal Hebrew text of our printed Hebrew Bibles…In some books the translators seem to have consulted or made use of other translations: thus at various places in the Pentateuch (Genesis, Deuteronomy), there are some remarkable links between the Peshitta and the Jewish Aramaic Targums and for some of the Prophets and Wisdom books the translators probably consulted the Septuagint on occasion, in order to seek help over difficult passages in Hebrew (Sebastian Brock, The Bible in the Syriac Tradition, (Piscataway, NJ: Georgias Press, 2006), 23.  See also the conclusions of Weitzman, “Peshitta, Septuagint and Targum,” 57.).

Rightly Brock describes S as a translation of M, which occasionally consulted G.  I would describe the dependence of S on G as sporadic and unsystematic, and I would qualify Brock’s comment regarding S using G in the difficult Hebrew passages since S does at times attempt independent solutions to difficulties in the Hebrew text.  We have space for a couple of examples from Qoheleth.

Examples of Independence of S from G in Qoheleth

A sound example is S’s use of ܡܪܝܐ (master, lord) for אֱלֹהִים (God) many times throughout the translation which demonstrates that S is an independent translation of M, since G uses θεός not κύριος in these instances[1]. The reason for this word choice is not overt (perhaps it comes from the liturgical context from which S arose), but it clearly communicates that God is Master or Lord throughout the Syriac version of Qoheleth.

Another example comes from Ecclesiastes 3:18c, where M reads לְבָרָם הָאֱלֹהִים (in order that God might test/create them).  In 18c G and S are confronted with a difficulty in the Hebrew text, and each solves the problem differently.  In M בָרָם represents the lectio difficilior, and may be read as a Qal infinitive construct + 3mp from either ברא “to create” since 3rd aleph verbs often share the same orthography of third heh verbs,[2] or the same Hebrew form may be from the geminate root ברר meaning “to test.”  G translates the consonantal text with διακρινεῖ αὐτοὺς, clearly reading the latter root.  S translates the same consonantal text with ܒܪܐ ܐܢܘܢ, reading the third aleph root instead.  This example demonstrates that S is not slavishly dependent on G, but rather sometimes attempts independent renderings of difficult or ambiguous passages in M.


There are more examples of S’s rendering of difficulties in the Hebrew text, which indicate that S is dependent on M and is not slavishly dependent on G, which we will not take up here.  However, the evidence also indicates that S did use G sporadically and independently which we will discuss in the next post.

[1] For example see 1:13; 2:24, 26; 3:10, 11, 13, 14; 5:17, 18 et al.

[2] GKC §74k.  For this orthographical possibility in Mishnaic Hebrew see Moses Segal, A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), §199 and 204.  Thus the Syriac translator has attempted to read the text appropriately.

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