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Septuaginta. Vol. 1.

Septuaginta. Vol. 1.

Geneza. Exodul. Leviticul. Numerii. Deuteronomul. Ed. Cristian Bădiliţă, Francisca Băltăceanu, Monica Broşteanu, Dan Sluşanschi with the assistance of Ioan-Florin Florescu. Transl. Cristian Bădiliţă, Ion Pătrulescu, Eugen Munteanu, Mihai Moraru, and Ioana Costa. Bucharest-Iaşi: Colegiul Noua Europă-Polirom, 2004. 669p., ISBN 973-681-494-7.

This splendid volume comes as the first concrete result of a monumental translation project, which intends to offer Romanian readers, by the end of 2005, a new, complete, and scientifically accurate translation of the Greek version of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint. The idea of this new translation, undoubtedly a major cultural and scientific undertaking, originated with Cristian Bădiliţă, whose arguments, presented since 1996 in newspaper articles and interviews, met with little enthusiasm in the Romanian ecclesiastic milieu.

This idea finally took concrete shape in 2001, owing to the enthusiastic and constant support of Prof. Andrei Pleşu, rector of the New Europe College-Institute for Advanced Studies (Bucharest). He helped provide a proper institutional framework for the project and has been a genial host for several meetings of its members ever since. Prof. Pleşu’s skillful intercession was also instrumental in securing the necessary financial means, which came from  a sympathetic modern-day Maecenas, Sorin Marin, president of the “Anonimul” Cultural Foundation. Finally, the Polirom Publishing House in Iaşi, through its director, Silviu Lupescu, bravely undertook to produce the estimated six-volume work, at ca. 600 p. per volume.

The need for a new translation of the Old Testament was indeed urgent, as pointed out by A. Pleşu in his “Foreword” (p. 5-8) to the volume reviewed here. And the option for the Greek text of the Septuagint was only natural, given the long line of Romanian OT translations that were based exclusively on it from the pioneer work leading to the first integral Romanian Bible printed in Bucharest in 1688, through various later revisions and up to the Synodal Bible of 1914. Unfortunately, this continuous Septuagintic tradition was broken in 1936-1938, when the first officially-endorsed translation of the OT based mainly on the Hebrew (Masoretic) text came out in print. This translation (known as the Galaction-Radu edition) generated a series of subsequent “revisions” approved by the Orthodox Church, which functioned as the official Bible, the most recent of these published in 2001.

In stark contrast with pre-1914 practice, where close adherence to the Greek Septuagint was the norm, the newer “revisions” introduced a great deal of confusion in the Romanian Bible text, as they combined Greek and Hebrew textual traditions in ways and proportions that varied with individual translators and “revisors,” usually without clear indication of what was translated from each language. The unreliability of such translations for theological and pastoral purposes, not to speak of the specific demands of patristic scholarship, is obvious. In addition, these “revisions” exhibit a consistent tendency to render the Scriptures into an archaizing, hieratic, high-brow Romanian, far removed from the spoken language. While ostensibly meant to suggest the sacred quality of the text, in practice this approach has had the effect of making much of the Bible obsolete and unintelligible to most believers not versed in philology and even, despite ecclesiastic protestations to the contrary, to many among the clergy.

The new version of the OT is meant to avoid such pitfalls, first and foremost by translating one single text, the Greek of  Rahlfs’s edition of the Septuagint, the only modern complete critical edition to appear to date. As can be seen from the present volume, the Greek original is accurately rendered into Romanian in its entirety, as literally as possible without impairing the understanding of the text. Efforts have been made to preserve in translation even Hebraisms and the peculiar linguistic features that individualize Septuagint Greek. The language of the translation is modern, innovative, while retaining a distinct literary quality; it does not avoid archaic turns when appropriate, but remains consistently tailored to the needs of a contemporary audience.

Undoubtedly, however, the main strength of the translation reviewed here is its scientific value, guaranteed by the extensive– sometimes exhaustive–commentaries and notes that accompany the biblical text. These deal, among others, with differences between the Greek and the Hebrew texts, duly noted and explained, variant readings within the Greek tradition, various biblical realia, and basic historical and geographical data. An absolute novelty are the notes which trace, with the help of patristic commentaries, the continuous interpretation and revaluation of individual scriptural passages in the early Christian centuries. This will undoubtedly convert the present volume into an indispensable research tool for Romanian theologians and patristic scholars, and will give the average reader, for the first time, the chance to access simultaneously the scriptural text and the patristic hermeneutic tradition it created.

For much of this impressive scientific apparatus, the translators and editors of the present volume are heavily indebted to the volumes published in the French series La Bible d’Alexandrie, which provided the original inspiration for the Romanian project. The French editors have gracefully allowed their Romanian colleagues to translate, in a more or less reworked form, their introductory studies and notes in the relevant volumes of the BA. Thus, in the present volume, one can read in Romanian texts and notes by M. Alexandre and O. Munich, M. Harl, A. Le Boulluec, P. Sandevoir, P. Harlé, D. Pralon, G. Dorival, and C. Dogniez.

It bears emphasizing, however, that the Romanian project is, to a significant extent, different from the French enterprise, since it aims primarily at re-establishing the Septuagint, in a modern and scientifically reliable form, as the reference biblical text within the contemporary Romanian (Orthodox) context, thus renewing a tradition that was broken almost three quarters of a century ago. This effort informs the general introductory studies (C. Bădiliţă, p. 9-16, 29-31), the introductions to individual books (E. Munteanu, p. 299-309, for the Leviticus), and the various original notes composed by the Romanian translators. It is to be expected that this practice will be maintained for the following volumes, where the introductions and notes for those parts of the OT where the French volumes in the BA series are not available will be produced by the Romanian translators. This team of translators numbers over a dozen classical philologists and patristic scholars, all of them lay persons of various confessional affiliations, whose activity is coordinated and supervised by three general editors: F. Băltăceanu, M. Broşteanu, and C. Bădiliţă.

A special word of praise is due to Father Ioan-Florin Florescu, whose editorial skills guaranteed the publication of an almost spotless volume in an appropriately splendid presentation. The book comes equipped with a glossary (compiled by I.-F. Florescu), several indices, and a rich bibliography.

Cristian GAŞPAR
Central European University, Budapest

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