Jacob Cerone answers me these questions three on his recently defended thesis

I'm frankly surprised Jacob had the energy and desire to say anything more on his recently defended thesis: "A Comparative Discourse Analysis of the Masoretic and Septuagint Versions of Jonah". Once you get to the end of a project like this, the last thing you want is to re-visit it. But Jacob was kind enough to answer me these questions three, ere the other side he sees. (Actually, there's four questions—but that doesn't lend to a fun or felicitous reference). 1362350199_the-bridge-of-death-monty-python-and-the-holy-grail

Who were the biggest players in constructing your framework and methodology for doing discourse analysis?

This is a bit of a difficult question to answer as I took an eclectic approach. The short answer is that I highly favored cognitive functional linguistics, which means that I relied heavily on the work of Stephen Levinsohn, Steve Runge, Christo van Der Merwe, and Joshua Westbury.

The longer answer is that I relied on the work of Black, Levinsohn and Dooley, Porter, Reed, Louw, and others for how scholars conceive of the field once called Textlinguistics but now referred to as Discourse Analysis. I used these scholars’ works in order to get a good idea of what we mean when we talk about Discourse Analysis and what terms like coherence, cohesion, and prominence mean and their various components (e.g. cohesion occurs within texts through subject verb agreement, tense, mood, person, number, pronominal references, and repetition). I also found these scholars to be of great use in their emphasis on understanding the larger structure of a book in order to interpret the smaller structures.

From there, I followed Louw’s method of breaking the text down into colons. A colon is defined as an expression that contains both a nominal and a verbal element. J.P. Louw contends that the colon is the best starting point for analysis because “it is the most closely linked complete construction.” The colon allows the interpreter to avoid getting bogged down in the minutiae and to avoid paralysis from attempting to tackle too large a unit. It’s important to remember that the top-down analysis (i.e., macrostructure) must always be informed by a bottom-up analysis (i.e., colon analysis) and that the colon analysis should constantly be informed by the book’s macrostructure. Think of the hermeneutical spiral, but applied to Discourse Analysis.

Finally, the work of Levinsohn, Runge, van der Merwe’s Hebrew Grammar, and Westbury’s Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible proved helpful on matters pertaining to prominence and the pragmatic effect of using one construction versus another.

What are two of the most significant or surprising findings in your comparison of the two texts? 

The most surprising thing I found was that, no matter how hard a translator strives to provide a faithful, accurate, and, dare I say, “literal” rendering of the text, subtle changes occur and ultimately affect the emphasis a reader will place on a theme, motif, or character.

For instance, the Hebrew word qr’ can mean, among other things, “to invoke” or “to proclaim.” The author of Jonah plays with this word and with the word z‘q, “to cry out.” He uses “cry out” to describe the sailor’s panic in the face of the Lord’s storm while using qr’ to describe Jonah’s mission (call out against Nineveh), the captain’s command, mimicking the Lord’s, for Jonah to “call out to his God” for deliverance, and ultimately describes the sailors’ “call out” to the Lord to spare them.

The author’s play on these words is to ironically contrast Jonah’s with the pagan sailors. While Jonah is called to “call out” against Nineveh and “call out” to his God, he is found doing neither. The sailors, however, do exactly what we expect from Jonah. (Nota Bene: Some of these connections may seem tenuous to the reader unfamiliar with Jonah. This is where knowing the macrostructure of the book is essential. Chapters 1 and 3 are parallel to one another. The author has constructed the book in such a manner so that we are intended to read Jonah’s rebellion in light of the sailors’ response to impending disaster and the Ninevites’ response to impending destruction.)

The translator, however, is more concerned with providing contextually sensitive renderings. Instead of using kaleo, “to call,” for Jonah’s mission to the Ninevites, he uses kerusso, “to proclaim.” After all, Jonah’s role is to herald, proclaim, deliver a message to Nineveh from God. When the captain commands Jonah to “call out” to his God, the translator uses epikaleo, “to invoke.” Both renderings fit their respective contexts. Yet, the lexical variation breaks the repetition. Furthermore, instead of using epikaleo, “to invoke, call upon,” to describe the sailors’ actions in 1:14, he uses anaboao, “to cry out,” the same word that characterized their frantic reaction to the storm. In essence, the ironic depiction of Jonah through lexical repetition is lost.

Now, we must be careful here. There is semantic overlap with these lexemes, and, therefore, an observant reader can make the connections. But two things are still lost. First, one has less lexical evidence upon which to make the connection. And second, the emphasis placed on the ironic depiction of Jonah is softened.

This was characteristic of a number of changes that took place throughout the book. Well-chosen contextual renderings broke or softened deep connections forged by the author. I would provide more examples, but I fear readers will lose interest (if they haven’t already).

What is one example of how the larger message was changed in the Septuagint version when compared to the MT?

Though the larger message and structure of the book remained largely the same, I found that the most interesting high-level changes occurred within Jonah’s prayer in chapter two, and to a lesser degree the prayer in chapter four.

Jonah’s prayer is often interpreted as the prophet’s moment of clarity. He finally realizes that he has been in the wrong, confesses, repents, and resolves to fulfill his prophetic mission. While this is certainly a valid interpretation, it is one that, in my opinion, doesn’t take into account some of the oddities we find in the Hebrew version of the prayer.

In the Hebrew version, we find that, while Jonah is in the belly of the great fish, he prays to his God. But his prayer is marked by the tone of thanksgiving. He claims that the Lord has answered him and heard him (2:2), that he will look upon the Holy Temple again (2:4), that the Lord has brought his life out from the pit (2:6), and that he thanks God for the salvation he will experience (2:9). There seem to be two oddities present in this prayer: (1) that Jonah claims deliverance even though the narrative recounts that he is still in grave danger, and (2) that Jonah offers a prayer of thanksgiving when we would expect a prayer of confession or complaint (cf. Jonah’s prayer of complaint in chapter 4 on account of God’s act of delivering the Ninevites. Here we would expect the fitting response might be a prayer of thanksgiving). These, and other, inconsistencies and oddities in Jonah 2 cause us to wonder if we can trust Jonah’s confession.

The translator, sensing the difficulties, transforms all of Jonah’s statements of past deliverance into a question (will I again look upon your holy temple?), an optative (may that my prayer come to you in your holy temple), and even adds the word “confession” where there is no equivalent in the Hebrew text. In essence, Jonah’s psalm of thanksgiving in the Hebrew text is transformed into one that bears the characteristics of confession and repentance.

While this eliminates the perceived inconsistencies that we feel in the text, thus creating a more cohesive and coherent text, the tension between the inappropriate reactions of the prophet (e.g. thanksgiving in Jonah 2 where confession is appropriate and complaint in Jonah 4 where thanksgiving is appropriate) is lessened, if not entirely eliminated. This would be all well and good if the author of Jonah wasn’t trying to expose, through the use of irony, this very facet of Jonah’s character: He wants grace for himself but doesn’t think others deserve it.

How would this method of analysis need to adapt if someone wanted to apply it to other books in the Hebrew canon?

While most of this interview covered my method as it pertained directly to Discourse Analysis, it is important to also mention that I used Descriptive Translation Studies as a means of establishing a firm connection between the Hebrew and Greek texts. That is to say, I wanted to understand the Greek text as a byproduct of the Hebrew text, allowing me to see how the translator struggled with his parent text, how the features of Hebrew interfered with idiomatic Greek, where idiomatic Greek took precedence, and what the final product looked like as a text in its own right.

My analysis dug into minor changes that didn’t have much if any effect on the narrative as a whole. Having said that, if someone used my procedure (colon analysis, Descriptive Translation Studies, and analysis of the macro and micro structures of the discourse), there are two important things to consider. First, in light of the pluriformity of texts, a connection needs to be established/proved that the Hebrew and Greek texts are related (i.e., the Greek translator’s Vorlage resembled the Masoretic Text). Otherwise, the analyst cannot speak with any confidence about translation technique, “changes” made by the translator, or interpretive moves. One can only remark on the “differences” between the discourse of the two texts. Second, with books that have more significant changes than Jonah, I would encourage interpreters to focus on places where changes take place with greater frequency and that those changes are significant. I, however, did not have that luxury with Jonah since the translator’s primary changes related to lexical variation or places where he favored Hebrew syntax too the detriment of his translation.

Other than these two considerations, I think the procedure I employed for this study, while novel, shows great promise for LXX studies. It is not, after all, enough to say that changes take place. We must look for what effect those changes have on the meaning of the book.