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).
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”
HT אל השטן
LXX τω διάβολω
Aquila τω σατανα
HT אל השטן
Sub Asterisk προς τον σαταναν (= Syhtxt ܠܘܬ ܣܛܢܐ)
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.