The Place of Greek in the Biblical Theory of Epiphanius (Part 3.2)


Continuing the description of Epiphanius’s biblical theory (see Part 1; Part 2.1; Part 2.2; Part 3.1), in this post and the next I present Epiphanius’s evaluation of the Greek translation vis-à-vis the Hebrew text and the later Jewish revisions.

Omissions in the Seventy-Two

In his discourse, On Weights and Measures, Epiphanius describes the use of the Aristarchian signs as appropriated by Origen in his textual work on the Scriptures. He describes the use of the asteriskos, obelos, lemniskos, and hypolemniskos in the course of his discussion. The points that have most relevance for our purposes are his extended treatments of the asteriskos and the obelos; that is, places where Origen perceived that the Seventy-Two omitted from and added to the Hebrew text. Regarding the former, Epiphanius opens his discussion with the following:

This asteriskos ※, where it is inserted, signifies that the word, which is introduced, is in the Hebrew and that it was introduced from Akulas and Symmachos, and even seldom from Theodotion, but the Seventy-Two translators omitted [them] and they did not translate [them] because such words were repeated and because they are read superfluously (Mens. 2; translation mine).

As an example, he compares the Hebrew (in Greek transliteration), the Greek translation of the Seventy-Two, and the Greek translation of the later Jewish reviser, Aquila. He cites the Hebrew of Genesis 5:5 (οὐαεεεὶ Ἀδὰμ σαλωεὶμ σανᾶ οὐαθεσὰ μηὼθ σανᾶ) and provides Aquila’s translation: “And Adam lived thirty years and nine-hundred years.” After describing this language as “what seemed to be empty noise (βόμβησις),” he shows how the Seventy-Two turn it into a “smooth expression (λειότης),” “Now Adam lived nine-hundred and thirty years.”

Epiphanius wants his readers to see that the Seventy-Two “produced nothing defective in the phrase” but rather brought clarity to a reading “which could not be said in Hebrew so concisely, as the Seventy-Two said.” Significantly, Epiphanius recognizes that the Hebrew text has a constraint; that is, it normally repeats words, especially with respect to numbers of years some one lives. The Seventy-Two, however, are free to produce a concise and clear reading of the Hebrew in their translation. Epiphanius, therefore, defines the difference between the Hebrew text and the Greek translation in terms of style dependent on the capability of each language. In the same section, Epiphanius criticizes Aquila’s translation of the Hebrew into Greek as “superficial” (ἐξ ἐπιπολῆς), “For you see, O scholar, that he furnishes unseemliness with respect to the phrase, not devoting himself to the clearness of the phrase but to the accuracy of the repetition.”

Epiphanius proceeds to give the opinion of some that the expression is found elliptically or defectively (ἐλλιπῶς) in the Seventy-Two, while it is translated exactly (ἀνελλιπῶς) by Aquila and the other revisers, even if the cacophonous repetition of “year and year” is present in the later. Aquila’s translation of the repetition is deemed “more excessive” or “redundant” (περιττότερα).

Now, when Origen restores the missing word in each place by setting it under the asterisk—not because it is needed since it is superfluous (περιττός)—it is for the purpose of not leaving to the Jews and Samaritans to attack the divine Scriptures in the holy churches “since there is no reprehensible matter concerning the faith in the words having been asterisked. For they are extraneous (περιττός) and repetitious (δισσολογέω)….”


Epiphanius closes this section with an explanation for why Origen used the asterisk for this purpose:

Attend to this, O pupil, that in the firmament of heaven there are stars, even if they are covered by clouds or the sun. With this purpose the one who placed the asterisks operated, so that he might show to you that the words, beside which asterisks are inserted, on the one hand are fixed in the Hebrew style, as the stars in the firmament of the heaven, but on the other hand are concealed by the translation of the Seventy-Two, as the stars are concealed by the clouds. This is the matter of the asteriskos (Mens. 2; translation mine).

In the final analysis, Epiphanius evaluates the differences between the Hebrew style or diction and the elliptical translation technique of the Seventy-Two as a matter of signified and signifier (though without sophistication). Although the Seventy-Two translated elliptically, they did not actually remove the stars of the Hebraic firmament but only concealed them as clouds cover the stars of heaven. In this way, Epiphanius reduces the differences between the Hebrew and the Greek to translation technique and essentially upholds the agreement between them. But the matter becomes slightly more complex when we turn to the matter of additions in the Seventy-Two.


3 thoughts on “The Place of Greek in the Biblical Theory of Epiphanius (Part 3.2)

  1. I am enjoying your notes on Epiphanius. This one is a particularly positive and amusing explanation of how languages work. I have just been working with Proverbs 18, one of the most difficult chapters in Hebrew that I have come across. Many translations into English are grateful for the additional clarity provided by the LXX. I marvel at the terseness of the Hebrew and how impossible it seems to make sense of it. But then, sometimes I shouldn’t be looking for sense.

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