Lost Keys: Text and Interpretation in Old Greek Song of Songs and its Earliest Manuscript Witnesses

Jay Curry Treat

Supervisor: Robert Alan Kraft

The earliest extant interpretation of the entire Song of Songs is its Old Greek translation. A critical edition of the Old Greek text is provided in the format of the Computer Assisted Tools for Septuagint Study (CATSS) Variants Project. This is the first comprehensive critical edition of this text since 1823. It contains new or corrected collations of several manuscripts.

The collected evidence suggests that OG Song of Songs, as preserved for us in the witnesses, was a homogeneous translation, but continuously subject to revision in comparison to a multiform and changing Hebrew text. It was the work of a Jewish translator of modest skill, working perhaps about the beginning of the common era. Its text-form served as the basis for all later Old Greek manuscripts, which in turn were the bases for other translations.

The translation appears to have been a relatively sober attempt to represent each element in its Hebrew Vorlage by a corresponding Greek element. There are no indications that its translator interpreted the text allegorically, but its consistent formal equivalence with the Hebrew resulted in a Greek text that was just as multivalent as the Hebrew -- open to allegorical interpretation on a wide variety of levels. Some of its scribes provided aids for the use of readers: divisions of sense-units and rubrics (headings in red ink) to identify changes in speaker.

The rubrics interpret the Song as a narrative dialogue. The rubrics in the Song have no known precedent in late antique manuscripts of drama and dialogue. Instead, they appear to have been a new genre of interpretive material. The Greek rubrics focus on the narrative level of the text rather than its allegorical interpretation. The rubrics of Codex Sinaiticus bear a literary relationship with rubrics in several later Latin manuscripts. Their use in both Greek and Latin is examined. Redaction criticism is used to speculate about the development of the rubrics from a hypothetical Greek predecessor.

Last modified: May 3, 1996

Jay Treat