Johann Cook. The Septuagint of Proverbs: Jewish and/or Hellenistic Proverbs? Concerning the Hellenistic Colouring of LXX Proverbs. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, no. 69. Leiden/New York/Cologne: Brill, 1997. ISBN: 90-04-10879-3. Pp. xxi + 391. US $126.50 (cloth).
1. It is a rare day that brings the publication of an entire monograph devoted to a book of the LXX/Old Greek corpus. Further, the book of Proverbs has not received adequate attention, so a monograph such as this is doubly welcome.
2. Cook's volume on OG Prov contains a preface (XV-XVIII), a list of abbreviations (XIX-XXI), and four chapters. The book concludes with a selected bibliography (pp. 343-348: correct the title of Yee's article to "Prov 8:22-31" and the volume number of ZAW to 82 both here and elsewhere in the book); an index of modern authors (pp. 349-350), a subject index (pp. 351-359); indices of Hebrew (pp. 360-366), Greek (pp. 367-376), and Syriac words (pp. 377-378); and a biblical reference index, in alphabetical order (pp. 379-391).
3. As we might expect, in the Introduction (ch. 1, pp. 1-43) Cook reviews the history of research on OG Prov, including contributions by Schleusner, de Lagarde, Mezzacasa, Gerleman, and, more recently, his own work and those of Tov and Giese (pp. 1-12). Most of the Introduction is concerned with issues of method (pp. 12-36). Here he deals with the textual history of OG Prov (pp. 12-16), including the issue of the "double translations" and the hexaplaric text, and the available manuscript evidence (pp. 20-29). He adopts Ziegler's classification of witnesses for Eccl, in the belief that it should apply to Prov as well. There follow brief sections on translation technique (there is a consensus that OG Prov has been translated "rather freely," but no consensus on "what should be understood by the term translation technique with regard to ancient translations" [pp. 29-31; the citation is from p. 29]), the literary genre of Prov, and the LXX as exegetical writing (pp. 32-36). The Introduction closes with remarks about the research problem that is the concern of this book (pp. 37-40) and the method and plan of research (pp. 40-43).
4. The "working" part of Cook's volume contains an analysis of selected chapters of OG Prov, namely, chs. 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, and 31 (ch. 2, pp. 44-315). No reason is given for the exclusion of chs. 5 and 7, and the treatment of ch. 31 turns out to be an analysis of 30:32-33; 31:1-9; 25:1-8; 29:25-27; 31:10-12. His treatment of 1:1-7 is typical: it consists of a verse-by-verse analysis of the OG over against the MT. For v. 1 the Hebrew text is given with an English translation from the RSV; below that, and therefore easily compared, Cook provides a Greek text and his translation into English, based on the RSV. Points of difference between the MT and OG appear in italics. It seems that this Greek text is Rahlfs (cf. p. 21), but Cook intends to establish the text on the basis of the Greek ms evidence, Old Latin, and Peshitta. This task is important where there are hexaplaric additions to the OG text, but usually Cook's treatment of the ms evidence involves only a recounting of rather minor differences among mss. Over the course of the book this amounts to a considerable amount of material that is of no importance for Cook's project and of no interest to the reader, who probably cannot assess its merit.
5. The treatment of 1:1 continues with an examination of the differences between OG and MT and a study of the word <grc>paroimi/a</grc> ("proverb"). At the end of the study of 1:1-7, Cook provides a synopsis in three parts: on the semantic (lexical) level, syntactic considerations, style and literary aspects of the translation. This structured approach seems to be dependent on the work of A. van der Kooij (cf. p. 41). The study proceeds in this fashion through the end of ch. 2 of the monograph.
6. The third chapter is entitled "Conclusions" (pp. 316-334). It is divided into "main conclusions" (pp. 316-321) and "closely related issues" (pp. 321-334). Those "closely related issues" are: "one or more translator(s)?"; "translators and/or scribes and/or editors"; "the dating and localising of LXX proverbs"; "Wisdom and law in LXX proverbs," which is entirely devoted to a subtitle, "The role of the Torah in LXX Proverbs"; "Septuagint Proverbs: an apocalyptic document?"; "Christian interpolations in LXX Proverbs"; "The text-critical value of LXX proverbs." The "Conclusions" end with a "Concluding Remark," in which Cook says that he has not been able to deal with everything that he intended to because of the "shear size" of the project (p. 334) (sic all the incorrect spelling, capitalization, and grammatical constructions in quotation marks, both here and below).
7. Chapter four is "Excursus: Semantic Study of Specific Lexemes" (pp. 335-342). Cook begins with the novel suggestion that the study of a translator's use of hapax legomena may provide some insight into that translator's approach. What follows is a listing of hapax legomena in OG Prov 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, and 31. For example, Prov 1 has two hapaxes, and Cook devotes fifteen lines to the first one, <grc>u(peu/qenos</grc> (["subject to"] v. 23). Cook says this word "appears to be used" (!) in classical and other Greek sources and then notes the authors of those sources by name. He says that the translator could have borrowed this word from classical Greek sources and goes on to point out that this word "does occur as a plus in this passage," a fact he did not mention when he dealt with 1:23 (p. 87) and which is, in fact, not so. The remainder of the Excursus is like the treatment of ch. 1. For ch. 31 he includes the eight hapax legomena that are found in vv. 13-30, even though he did not deal with those verses earlier in the book. Amongst these eight he includes <grc>nomoqe/smws</grc> (["legitimately"] v. 28), which is, as he himself says, part of the hexaplaric text and therefore has nothing to do with OG! The Excursus ends like a road into the middle of a field, with no analysis, no summary, no assessment of what these hapax legomena might mean for our understanding of the translator of OG Prov.
8. The conclusions which Cook is able to draw from his study of OG Prov are as follows:
9. Three other conclusions can be drawn from elsewhere in Cook's monograph:
10. Several of these conclusions are useful, if not unexpected, and have been suggested by others already, i.e., nos. 7, 10, 12. Those working in LXX will have little difficulty with Cook's emphasis upon the "Jewishness" of OG Prov (nos. 1, 2, 5) or his conclusions that the parent text is much like MT (no. 9) and that, since OG Prov is a "free" translation, it is of limited value for the textual criticism of the Hebrew (no. 8). Three of the conclusions are either groundless (no. 3), almost so (no. 6), or simply speculative (no. 4).
11. Maybe the most intriguing of the conclusions is the last one (no. 13), in which Cook argues that the translator re-ordered the text because of his interest in contrasts. However, that particular re-ordering--i.e., 29:25-27 before 31:10-12--is just one part of a larger re-ordering, so much more work will have to be done to make the case convincing. Finally, Cook's observation about the Peshitta's contact with OG Prov may well be more important for the study of the Peshitta than for that of OG.
12. Only four of these conclusions relate to the "research problem" of Cook's monograph, namely, 1, 2, 5, and 10. At the centre of these is no. 2, and that brings us to the first of two major problems with this monograph.
13. First, Cook states that the "theme" (i.e., research problem) of his book "pertains to the question of whether the LXX Proverbs should be seen primarily as a Hellenistic document, as contended by Gerleman, or whether it is rather a Jewish writing" (p. 37). We find this repeated two pages later: "should this version of Proverbs be seen primarily as a Hellenistic document or did the author basically adhere to his Jewish background in his translating activity? Or, as put in the title of the book, should this independent collection be seen as <heb>m:$fliym</heb> and/or as <grc>paroimi/ai</grc>?"
14. It seems to me that the essential starting point for this project must be some definition of Hellenism. To the question "What is Hellenism?" Cook answers with two paragraphs, in which he says that it involves "more than simply the Greek language, for political, social, religious, economic and even military factors [are included]." He describes Hellenism as an "all encompassing phenomenon," then an "all-pervading philosophically orientated phenomenon," then an "'intellectually' intriguing phenomenon" (p. 39). However, no definition of Hellenism is offered.
15. If OG Prov is to be measured as a Jewish document over against Hellenism, it must be equally important to define what Judaism is. Cook provides no definition of Judaism and offers us only the comment that "religious perspectives certainly dominated in most of the Jewish groupings during the intertestamental period" (p. 39).
16. The lack of definition in Cook's monograph means that we must end up with a conclusion that OG Prov is both <heb>m:$fliym</heb> and <grc>paroimi/ai</grc>. We knew that already. Nor is it much help to call OG Prov a "Jewish-Hellenistic writing," as opposed to Hellenistic-Jewish (p. 320). That simply confuses terminology, because "Hellenistic Judaism" refers not to a type of Judaism but to a period of its existence (so Shaye J. D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Library of Early Christianity [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1987], p. 37).
17. The book of Proverbs is a poor subject for comparison with Hellenistic culture. As Cohen notes, "Wisdom Literature"--i.e., Prov, Job, Eccl--ignores the distinctive elements of Israelite cult, history, and theology (p. 42). Rather, it focuses on virtues respected by all peoples (p. 76). If that is the case, and it is, then the quest for a distinctive Judaism as a point of departure in OG Prov is fraught with difficulty. At any rate, the consequence of Cook's lack of definition leads to a conclusion that can only be ill-defined: OG Prov is "Jewish-Hellenistic" rather than "Hellenistic Jewish"!
18. Second, there are major problems with the execution of Cook's research project. Since the comparison of the OG with MT is at the heart of this monograph, I will begin there.
19. Cook's handling of the OG does not inspire confidence. Here are a few examples:
20. Let me skip the next eight examples that I jotted down and conclude with Cook's translation of 29:25.
21. These examples, and the many others like them, produce little confidence in the author's ability to deal with the OG. The "bad" English that they employ is part of a larger package. I ask the reader to consider the following few, yes few, examples of the author's tendency to state and restate the obvious, to write nonsense, and to wreak havoc on English syntax:
22. We may add to this picture Cook's tiresome repetition of words and phrases, which sometimes occur several times on the same page. These include: pertinent, perspective(s), creative, creatively, problematic, unfortunately, explicative, unique, uniquely, consequently, naturally, clearly, logically, in the present or current verse (or monograph, context, passage, study, research, analysis, work), on the one hand, on the other hand, significant, significantly enough, interesting, interestingly enough, remarkably enough, remarkable, actually, in this regard, however, nevertheless, etc., inter alia, indeed, of course, in the final analysis, in my opinion, therefore, theoretically possible, and extremely. The word "mentioned" is used about a dozen times as an attributive adjective, e.g., "the mentioned passage." The slang word "umpteen" occurs a dozen times with reference to the number of times a word occurs in a corpus of text.
23. The author has a particular fondness for the word "nuance," which he uses as a noun (110 times), as a verb (twice), as a participle (once), and all too often in its adjectival form "nuanced" (41 times!): a total of 154 times. The noun is almost always misused for the word "meaning," which makes its constant use doubly annoying, but then the author can also use the words "implication," "connotation," and "concept" as synonyms for "meaning." What holds true for "nuance" also holds true for the word "lexeme," which the author uses more than 340 times, again incorrectly, in place of "word." Lexemes may be words, but not all words are lexemes.
24. The author also makes up words, such as "surmission" (p. 78), "antipole" (p. 112), "creational" (pp. 212, 215, 233), "thematical" (p. 291), and resurrects archaic words, such as "whoso" and "unto." All in all the book represents one long, sustained, debilitating assault on the English language.
25. Finally, one may mention the book's idiosyncratic stylistic features, like the use of semicolons for colons; the lack of commas; "Dutchisms" (?) like Herodoth and Jahwe; the mixing of English and Latin for the names of church fathers, e.g., Joannes Chrysostomos; and non-standard abbreviations for the names of books of the Bible. The pointing of the Hebrew and the accentuation of the Greek are often imprecise, though this is, I grant, more an issue of appearance than of substance. The Greek text of Ben Sira 5:9 on p. 271 lacks a full translation: cf. the NRSV footnote ad loc. There are a few spelling errors and the occasional "clinker," like "it is omitted in various Greek mss, such as Sa, Ach and Arm" (p. 209)!
26. Reviewing this book has been a distressing experience for me: I know its author and count him as a friend, and I recognize the amount of work that is represented in this book. But there are some books which should never appear in print. This is one of them. There is, within these 342 pages of text, something worthy of publication that is no longer than a fraction of what appears here. That book is almost completely drowned in the swamp of verbiage through which the reader wades.
27. This book before me cannot be commended, but that is not the fault of a reviewer who can only assess what comes into his or her mailbox. Rather, the responsibility for the many problems of this book is shared by the author and by the publisher, in this case Brill, who together have advanced to us a book so badly written that I can think of no other book remotely like it.
© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998.
Claude Cox McMaster Divinity College