An Alternate Book of Esther

I was flipping through the Esther volume of the Göttingen Septuagint and saw something unusual:

Göttingen Septuagint

If you examine this page carefully, you’ll see that the top section contains Greek text of a portion of Esther. Under that is a critical apparatus – a shorthand method of documenting manuscript evidence, showing which manuscripts agree with the text above and which manuscripts disagree, and how they disagree.
Then under the apparatus there is second section of Greek text (market by an L in the margin) followed by a second apparatus. We’ve seen something like this before. The ancient Greek book of Daniel, for example, exists in both the Old Greek and the Theodotion versions, and other editions of the LXX, such as Rahlfs and Swete, have presented both versions of that text either on facing pages or with one version on top of the other. Similar parallel texts are presented for the shorter and longer versions of Tobit and those parts of Joshua and Judges where codices Alexandrinus and Vaticanus disagree. But I’ve never seen this phenomenon in a printed edition of Esther before.
The marginal ‘L’ indicates that the text is thought by some scholars to be a Lucianic recension, or revision, of the Septuagint. Lucian was a Christian martyr who died in 312 AD and was famous for comparing the various Greek translations with the Hebrew Scriptures and preparing new Greek texts that were in greater agreement with the Hebrew originals.
However, the L-Text of Esther is different from the Septuagint text in some surprising ways that seem, to some scholars, inconsistent with the Lucianic reforms. The LXX and the L-Text both contain the so-called ‘Additions to Esther’ not found in the Hebrew Massoretic Text (MT), and the L-Text and LXX are significantly similar for those Additions. But in places where the L-Text and the LXX are clearly translating the same Hebrew, there is very little word for word correspondence. And at several junctures, it seems that the L-Text must be translating a different Hebrew source all-together. Carey Moore in his Anchor Bible volume on Esther, and elsewhere, has argued that the L-Text of Esther is really a fresh translation from a Hebrew original that is, at points, very different from the Hebrew (MT) that we have today. Followers of this line of reasoning usually refer to this as the Alpha-Text or A-Text of Esther, rather than the L-Text. If Moore is right, then the A-Text of Esther isn’t so much useful for determining the original text of the Massoretic version of Esther, but is rather more valuable for illuminating a version of Esther that no longer exists in any Hebrew manuscript known today.
Right now the Göttingen Septuagint is gathering interest on our prepublication program, listed at less than 1/10th of the retail price of the print volumes! The prepub has been well received, but we still need a few more orders to confirm that there is enough interest in getting the best Septuagint available into Logos Bible Software. So if you were sitting on the fence with this one wondering what you’d get that isn’t already in Rahlfs’ or Swete’s LXX, the A-Text of Esther is one example of the cool, useful things you’ll only see in Göttingen.
P.S. If you’re interested in the Septuagint, you might take a peek at Biblical Languages: Reference Grammars and Introductions (19 Vols.), which contains three volumes on the Septuagint: Swete’s classic Introduction (which examines the Lucianic recension on pages 80-86), the introductory grammar and chrestomathy by Conybeare and Stock and the reference grammar by Thackeray. If you want to lock in the early bird price, now is the time.

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4 Responses to “An Alternate Book of Esther”

  1. Sam_Shaw March 9, 2010 at 1:16 am #

    So if there’s “very little…correspondence” between this so-called Lucianic iteration of Esther and the Masoretic version we likely have in our Bibles, then is the Esther in our Bibles wrong or paraphrased correctly in the same way Paul, carried along by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), paraphrases a lot of the Old Testament verses he quotes?

  2. Jin Yang Kim March 9, 2010 at 7:51 am #

    Great essay!
    Thank you for reminding me the so-called Additions to Esther.

  3. Vincent Setterholm March 9, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    We already know that Esther (as a canonical book) circulated in more than one version – a comparison between the MT and the LXX (or the Vulgate, Peshitta, etc.) reveals that all by itself. What the AT shows is that the picture might not be as simple as ‘There was a Hebrew original, and then a Greek translation that added some material’. What we see is that there may well have been more than one Hebrew version in circulation. This doesn’t mean that the version we are more familiar with is wrong or inferior to the AT/LT, only that the textual history of this book is more complex than one might think.

  4. Sam_Shaw March 9, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    Thank you. That helps!