Psalm Headings in the Septuagint

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I've been looking a little at Gerald Wilson's NIV Application Commentary volume on Psalms 1-72, and in his discussion of the psalm I'm looking at he refers to his introduction's discussion of psalm titles, where I found the following curious argument. First, he explains the common view that the psalms themselves later came to have musical instructions, with authorship ascriptions added still later and then the historical notes providing a setting even later than that. It's the reasoning that struck me as interesting:

Several features of the psalm headings in the LXX add some weight to this suggestion. The Greek translation of the liturgical terms and notices evidence a degree of uncertainty and confusion. The rather standard instruction "To the director" is translated eis to telos ("To the end [of time]"). This and other equally awkward renderings suggest the translators had only an imperfect understanding of these liturgical terms. This likely means that the liturgical elements were early enough for their meaning to have been partially obscured by the time of the Greek translation -- at least those terms specifically related to temple worship.

By contrast, the LXX not only acknolwedges the author designations in the Hebrew psalm headings but adds to them considerably, increasing the number of Davidic psalms and including attributions to persons and historical contexts that do not appear in the Hebrew versions. This suggests that the author attributions and historical references were later than the liturgical elements and were still in a state of some fluidity. The appearance among the Qumran psalms scrolls and fragments of additional psalms, Davidic attributions, and historical notices not included in the canonical Paslter supports this developing view.

Maybe I just don't understand the argument or need more background information that Wilson doesn't provide, but I'm not fully following all of this. I'm not sure I have enough information here to evaluate the Greek translation of what commonly gets translated as "to the director". Is there a term in Hebrew similar to the one that's been passed down to us that could have caused this confusion? If so, why prefer the reading we've got rather than that one? If not, then do we have any explanation why the Greek translators made this mistake? Or could it be that they might have understood the Hebrew better than we do, and contemporary translations just have it wrong? A popular-level commentary need not get into these issues, but if you're going to be bring it up it might be worth presenting the argument more completely. As things stand, I see no reason in his argument for preferring our understanding of the Hebrew to that of the Greek translators 2100 years ago. If (as Wilson seems to be saying) it was that obscure to them, what reasons do we have for now thinking we've got a better understanding? For all I know, we do have such reasons, but it would have been nice to see what they are if they exist.

The curious part of all this is when you compare about with similar reasoning in other biblical books. This is an argument that something that's more extensive in the LXX is inferior and later than the Hebrew MT. Wilson treats this as the majority view among scholars. I know full well that the recent tendency among mainstream scholars in the early chapters of I Samuel is to treat the significant LXX expansions as earlier and more reliable than the traditional readings from the Hebrew MT. That makes me wonder if the people who say this sort of thing are also among those who do the opposite with I Samuel. The issues aren't always the same with two biblical books. Virtually all scholars agree that the LXX expansions to Daniel and Esther are much later than the original Hebrew works, and virtually all scholars accept some LXX readings as superior to the MT, especially if the LXX agrees with evidence in Hebrew texts that have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. But it makes me wonder what it is that leads scholars to have rejected these LXX additions but not the I Samuel ones. I've always been skeptical of the I Samuel ones myself, so I don't consider this an idle question.

2 Comments

yes, it is curious. andrew shead regards the case for priority of the text underlying the LXX at jeremiah 32 as exaggerated.

The Hebrew root means "preeminent" or "enduring" and is rightly translated telos in Pss 9:19; 44:24; 74:19; 103:9. In the Psalm titles it has a mem before it, making it a Pi'el participle. The only places we see this form outside of the Psalm titles (and Habakkuk 3's postscript) are 2 Chronicles 2:1, 17; 34:13, where it clearly means to direct or oversee (i.e. "to have preeminence over"). The LXX translator of Chronicles used the words epistaths and ergodiwkths to render it, so he understood the meaning in context there. This suggests that you cannot give much weight to Wilson's argument - someone roughly contemporary with the LXX Psalms translator knew what it meant. Some have suggested that the LXX Psalms translator also understood the meaning and used telos in the sense of the final authority, but I find that doubtful. Personally I'm curious why the LXX translator would render the Pi'el participle form of the word as telos (did he see in the term an eschatological reference?), but I haven't seen much discussion of this yet.

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