This article explores the linguistic background of the Septuagint translation into Greek of the Old Testament, produced in Alexandria in the third century BCE, and thus likely to present some Egyptian traits. The main purpose is to examine the vocabulary of Egyptian origin, i.e., terms adopted by the Greek language. Since this is not an easy task, a number of methodologies of analysis and comparison with other text corpora are also discussed.
The Greek Old Testament versions, especially the Septuagint (Old Greek), provide an invaluable corpus for linguistic analysis.1 On the one hand this corpus represents the largest example of “translation Greek,”2 presenting evidence of interference from the Hebrew language.3 But it is also an illuminating witness of the vernacular language or koine of Ptolemaic Alexandria,4 the place where the Pentateuch was translated, featuring examples of the interference of languages in contact with Greek in the East of the Mediterranean.5 Thus, it embodies an interesting example of double interference, from the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Vorlage, and from the Egyptian language, influencing the Greek of the Alexandrian translators.
Since the Septuagint was initially translated in Alexandria, it makes sense to explore its “Egyptian Greek” traits.6 In this paper I will discuss the lexicon of Septuagint that can be considered Egyptian or Greek-Egyptian, including terms that can be etymologically traced back to the Egyptian language, and terms that are etymologically Greek but that are mainly attested in sources connected to Egypt and can be assumed to belong to the variety of Greek spoken and written in Egypt in the Greco-Roman period. But first, I think it necessary to provide some background on the sources, the comparative methodology used to classify the lexicon, and a definition of “Egyptian Greek” within which the lexicon can be framed.
1 Egyptian Greek and the Greek of Alexandria
Egyptian Greek is,7 in principle, the geographical variety of the language spoken and written in Egypt between the Hellenistic period and the Arab conquest. This description is itself complicated. It is impossible to give a uniform definition of Egyptian Greek, across the variational space, and across time. It is a multiform reality, including registers and dialectal levels, to which we have access only through incomplete and imperfect evidence across centuries.
The specific characteristics of the Greek of Egypt include some influence of the Egyptian language with which it was in contact. This influence can be traced in syntactic constructions which mirror Egyptian expressions, in some special use of prepositions, in calques and semantic shifts, and in direct lexical loans.8 Other characteristics of the Greek language attested in Egypt can be interpreted as internal evolutions of the Greek language (that is, as the product of a dialectalizing process). Often, linguistic variants found in the papyri are attested much later in vernacular Greek outside of Egypt. In these cases, we may choose to exclude them from our classification as typically Egyptian, since it may be that they are not attested elsewhere due to lack of documentation, or we may assume, as some do, that they are evidence of innovations in Egyptian Greek spreading to other areas.9
The first and natural source for Egyptian Greek is of course the immense wealth of documents preserved on papyrus,10 from the Hellenistic period to the last Greek documents produced in the first centuries of Arab occupation. These documents are a direct attestation of the language spoken and written by the inhabitants of the land of the Nile. These “linguistic resources of extraordinary richness”11 come, however, with a few strings attached.12 The administrative language is often very formulaic and thus is not a representation of the natural language. Moreover, some of these formulas of administrative Greek can reflect uses that originated outside of Egypt, and may be shared by all Greek speaking areas of the Eastern Roman Empire. Nevertheless, an attentive inspection of this large corpus in recent years has produced a good number of extremely interesting approaches to the phonetics,13 morphology, and syntax14 of the language of the papyri, as well as to the lexicon, which is perhaps the most “visible” face (after pronunciation) of interference, suggesting an Egyptian-Greek speaker and writer.
If we consider separately Alexandrian Greek, there is an additional challenge. Firstly, while for the Greek of Egypt we count on the abundant papyri found all along the river Nile in the desert flanks beyond the cultivated area, where organic material was protected from humidity, this is not the case for Alexandria. Unfortunately, Alexandria and the whole Delta do not present the necessary conditions for the papyri to survive, and the scarce material we have from there was issued in Alexandria but sent elsewhere, and exceptionally preserved from decay.
Secondly, there is some difficulty in defining what “Alexandrian Greek” means in the ancient authors: does it designate the language of the speakers of the city of Alexandria, or the Greek of the “Alexandrian authors”? This point is important when dealing with the evidence we have that refers to the “Alexandrians,” especially that of grammarians and lexicographers who described their language or refer to specific expressions used by them.
The earliest description of “Alexandrian Greek” is that of Demetrius Ixion from Adramyttium, a Homeric scholar from the school of Aristarchus of Samothrace. He produced a work entitled
Jean-Luc Fournet17 has devoted a fascinating monograph to the Greek of Alexandria, with special attention to the lexicon. He collects a list of more than sixty “topolects” (pp. 19–63) considered typically Alexandrian by the sources. Some examples are
Greek authors from Alexandria are not a reliable source for the Greek spoken in this city. As sources, they raise two fundamental questions: one about the utility or authenticity of literary sources for our inquiry,18 and the other about the need for comparison to obtain and confirm some reliable results in establishing which terms belong to the Egyptian variety of Greek. I have argued elsewhere that when the evidence is so scarce, we should not rush to reject potentially useful information.19 However, literary sources do present problems. Even texts produced in Egypt by Egyptian Greek speaking authors offer complexities that must be taken into consideration before proceeding to use them as sources. Let us take Philo of Alexandria as an example. He wrote in a very formal and erudite prose,20 and avoided (at least in writing) variants typical of the (popular) Greek that he presumably heard on the streets of Alexandria.21 Philo was a monolingual speaker of Greek,22 a learned member of an upper class, who seems to have deliberately eschewed any interference from the Egyptian language or the popular register current in Alexandria in his times. As a commentator of the text of the Septuagint, he does reflect some influence of this text in his lexical use,23 although he also is deeply influenced by philosophical terminology.24
Septuagint Greek is an important part of the larger corpus of Egyptian Greek. As part of this corpus. It shares some features and traits with the Greek of the papyri, but it presents also its own idiosyncrasies as text. In the next section, I will deal with the specifics of Septuagint Greek and the problems and challenges it offers.
2 The Corpus
The corpus of translations into Greek (or books produced in Greek) of the Old Testament is not homogeneous. We have historical evidence for the production of some parts of the Septuagint; for others we have none. Perhaps the most famous is the translation of the Pentateuch produced in Alexandria in the third century BCE,25 under the auspices of king Ptolemy II, if we can trust the Letter of Aristeas.26 This historical context allows the assumption that the translation should reflect the koine of Alexandria at that time and with this knowledge in hand we may also assume that the papyri provide suitable comparanda.27 We may try to define the characteristics of the language of Septuagint, with the caveat that for many of the linguistic phenomena, this text contains the only example we have in Greek texts.28 We find ourselves at a crossroad of language contact, vernacular language and literary heritage, in a language that has been also described as “eclectic” because of the variety of registers it contains.29
Further, in the analysis of the text we have to consider that it was not an original production, but a translation, and as such, it was subjected to adaptations throughout its textual history. There is a balance in the practice of translation, no matter the language or the historical period, between the faithfulness to the language translated and respect for the target language. In the complexly multilingual space of the Mediterranean there was a debate already from antiquity about the two types of approach to the act of translation:30 the “word by word” or the “meaning by meaning.” Between these two extremes, the first one being respect—sometimes reverential—for the Vorlage, and the second one the wish to produce a natural text in the target language, the modulation can be large.
Other books of the Greek Old Testament were translated in the time frame second—first BCE, some even later. Some were even produced originally in Greek and most probably in Alexandria,31 as unanimously assumed in scholarship. This is the case of the Wisdom of Solomon,32 or that of 3 Maccabees,33 “le plus alexandrin de tous les livres dont se compose la Bible d’Alexandrie,” as Modrzejewski states.34 The character of the language of these books is quite different from that of the LXX translation of the Pentateuch. The language has been described by Croy35 as presenting lavish vocabulary and bombastic style, with neologisms, rare compound words (especially with alpha privative), and florid phrases.36
Fortunately, we do have some autochthonous views on translation, albeit some two centuries later than the Alexandrian translation of the Pentateuch. Seeking to grant legitimacy to the translation of a text that he considered as sacred as the original, Philo of Alexandria offered his view of translation techniques:37
καίτοι τίς οὐκ οἶδεν, ὅτι πᾶσα μὲν διάλεκτος, ἡ δ’ Ἑλληνικὴ διαφερόντως, ὀνομάτων πλουτεῖ, καὶ ταὐτὸν ἐνθύμημα οἷόν τε μεταφράζοντα καὶ παραφράζοντα σχηματίσαι πολλαχῶς, ἄλλοτε ἄλλας ἐφαρμόζοντα λέξεις; ὅπερ ἐπὶ ταύτης τῆς νομοθεσίας οὔ φασι συμβῆναι, συνενεχθῆναι δ’ εἰς ταὐτὸν κύρια κυρίοις ὀνόμασι, τὰ Ἑλληνικὰ τοῖς Χαλδαϊκοῖς, ἐναρμοσθέντα εὖ μάλα τοῖς δηλουμένοις(39) πράγμασιν. ὃν γὰρ τρόπον, οἶμαι, ἐν γεωμετρίᾳ καὶ διαλεκτικῇ τὰ σημαινόμενα ποικιλίαν ἑρμηνείας οὐκ ἀνέχεται, μένει δ’ ἀμετάβλητος ἡ ἐξ ἀρχῆς τεθεῖσα, τὸν αὐτὸν ὡς ἔοικε τρόπον καὶ οὗτοι συντρέχοντα τοῖς πράγμασιν ὀνόματα ἐξεῦρον, ἅπερ δὴ μόνα ἢ μάλιστα τρανώσειν(40) ἔμελλεν ἐμφαντικῶς τὰ δηλούμενα.
And yet, who does not know that all languages, especially Greek, are rich in words, and capable of shaping, by translating and paraphrasing, the same argument, adapting phrases at different moments? It is said that this did not happen with that (sc. translation) of the Law, but instead, that each Greek word was connected in each case to the adequate Chaldaic word, and adjusted very suitably to the topics explained. In the same way, I believe, as the statements in geometry and the philosophical method do not admit a variety of interpretations, but what has been established from the beginning remains unchanged, in such way as it seemed, these (sc. translators) found for each thing matching words, which would alone or most certainly explain distinctively the things revealed.Philo, Mos. 2, 38–40
One should notice that Philo is dealing here with the problem by denying it, claiming that the relationship of words between languages is not contingent or arbitrary, but rather as stable and universal as mathematical objects. Divine inspiration explains the deviations that did not satisfy some of Philo’s contemporaries.38 The dynamic of agreement and disagreement on the quality or fidelity of the translation brought about revisions and adjustments of the translations and eventually produced entirely new translations too. One of the most remarkably literal translations, a verbum e verbo, is that of Aquilas,39 which reaches extremes of obscurity, forcing the syntax, using unusual terms, insisting in translating each and every word strictly respecting the word order, and often becoming unintelligible.
Probably due to the unsatisfactory result of enterprises like Aquilas’ translation, which presumably generated some criticism, another pupil of Rabbi Akiva (Aquilas’ teacher as well) would say: “He who translates literally is a falsifier, while he who adds anything (by way of paraphrase) is a blasphemer” (b. Qidd. 49a, t. Meg. 4.41). In 132 BCE the author of the Greek version of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) regrets in the preface that he has not been able to produce a perfectly literal translation (Sir, prol. 21–22):40
οὐ γὰρ ἰσοδυναμεῖ αὐτὰ ἐν ἑαυτοῖς ἑβραϊστὶ λεγόμενα καὶ ὅταν μεταχθῇ εἰς ἑτέραν γλῶσσαν. οὐ μόνον δὲ ταῦτα, ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτὸς ὁ νόμος καὶ αἱ προφητεῖαι καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ τῶν βιβλίων οὐ μικρὰν ἔχει τὴν διαφορὰν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς λεγόμενα.
For what was originally expressed in Hebrew does not have the same force when it is translated into another language; and not only these things, but also the law itself, and the prophets, and the rest of the books, have no small difference, when they are expressed in their own language.
It is important to characterize the text of Septuagint, and the later perception of its translation as satisfactorily close to the Hebrew or not, to establish the level of artifice of the language, if understood as a strict translation. The dynamics that followed the production of the first translations, swinging between extreme literality and intelligible text, caused continuous modifications in their textual history. Part of these modifications may have been the elimination of typically Egyptian Greek traits.41 We can expect that many linguistic variants that could be perceived as Egyptian Greek were curated and removed in the course of the scribal tradition. I will provide a few examples, but we must bear in mind that very little survives of the earliest translations.42 The earliest preserved remains are in the papyri, but very few of them date back to a period close to the supposed first translation attested by the Letter of Aristeas. Their fragmentary state, moreover, does not allow a deeper analysis.43 For example, P.Ryl. III 458, from the second century BCE, has a variant for Deut 23:24, already noted as interesting by the editor:44
One more example of the same phenomenon: some variant pronunciations in the Greek of Egypt resulting from language interference caused variant spellings.46 Some of these variant spellings were strong and widespread enough in written sources to become standard. An example of this is the Greek term
The above description gives a clear picture of the heterogeneity of the language of the Septuagint and the unreliability of our sources. In what follows, and based on the above discussion, I will examine how the lexicon of the Septuagint can sometimes be Egyptian or Egyptianizing, both as a result of the production of the translation in Alexandria, and the influence of the language of the Pentateuchal translation on later translations.53 The caveats expressed above about the reliability of the sources and the textual transmission stand always as a reminder of the fallibility of some of the identifications.
One of the avenues for the identification of Egyptianizing expressions is the search for calques or literal translations of constructions. Another is the identification of lexicon that can be connected or compared to other sources that can be traced back to Egypt.54 It is important to note too that the constraints of the translation and the ideology about literality and respect to the original text can have forced the use of certain terms instead of more common ones in the Greek language. The huge impact of the text of the Septuagint on later literature may also have produced lexical uses and semantic shifts55 that are crucial for understanding the lexicon of LXX. I will present direct loans from Egyptian, etymologically Greek lexicon used specifically in Egypt, and the further use of Septuagintal terminology in Greek literature.
3 Direct Loans from Egyptian
One might expect that the Egyptian variant of Greek would present a large number of loan words from the Egyptian language as a result of contact throughout centuries. In fact, very few Egyptian terms have reached the Greek language,56 although we may imagine that the interference was an important phenomenon in the spoken Greek in Egypt and generated many more Egyptian lexical uses which never crystallized into the written language. Over the course of several centuries, terms representing typically Egyptian products and experiences that had no terms or equivalents in Greek trickled into the Greek language. Some of them were used as literary ornament, to convey an Egyptianizing atmosphere to a text, while others were used practically, as terms completely integrated into the Greek language and adopted by the speakers and writers of the language.57
Of the loanwords that did make it into some Greek surviving texts, most are Egyptian realities and products, which makes us think of trade as the stage for the first exchanges. I will provide some examples in the semantic field of measures, weights, and containers, which are typically connected to their use in the local markets. It is however not clear whether the translators used the measures they knew from their everyday life or made an effort to convey faithfully the terms provided in the Hebrew text with a similarly sounding term.58 Perhaps we should imagine a combination of both.
The dry measure,
The hin, in Greek
Whatever the etymological origin of these measures, it seems that the translators of Septuagint used terms that were available to them in the Greek of their everyday life, and at the same time faithfully rendered the Hebrew terms with a similarly sounding word. We have to assume too that there was some kind of continuum in the vocabulary of trade in the Mediterranean,70 and that we assign the origin of a specific measure or weight to the language that has attested the term for us earliest. Our interest here, however, is the translation strategies for Septuagint and the linguistic use at the time. They used terms that they had at hand and, fortunately for us, some of them are attested in the papyri.
I will continue with a special case. There is a term for a drinking vessel or measure,
καὶ τὸ κόνδυ μου τὸ ἀργυροῦν ἐμβάλατε εἰς τὸν μάρσιππον τοῦ νεωτέρου.
And place my silver cup in the pouch of the youngest one.
It is the cup from which he drank and practiced divination:
ἐν ᾧ πίνει ὁ κύριός μου; αὐτὸς δὲ οἰωνισμῷ οἰωνίζεται ἐν αὐτῷ.
From which my master drinks. He also uses it for divination.
The term, also spelled
A further example of Egyptian flavor conveyed by the use of an Egyptian word is the term
This literary device of using loanwords to confer a foreign ambiance appears in earlier Greek literature.78 Egyptian loans are used to confer an Egyptianizing staging already in texts from the fifth century BCE, as can be seen in the example of the use of
Another Egyptian term which made it into the Greek language is
Finally, I would like to discuss the term
From the examples of Egyptian loanwords in the Septuagint we can conclude that some are used as a match to the sound of the Hebrew term in the Vorlage. This applies mainly in the case of the words for measures and weights, which also belonged to the language of trade in the Mediterranean and could be shared terminology. The terms
4 Etymologically Greek Lexicon
While Egyptian loanwords are somehow easy to spot, identifying etymologically Greek words specifically used in Egypt, in comparison with other Greek speaking areas, is a greater challenge. These terms can be neologisms and they can be common Greek words, which however present a special and different semantic use. I have recently examined the lexicon of the Egyptian variety of Greek, in which I discussed the difficulties of an accurate identification.91 I argued that even when a Greek term is not attested elsewhere than in the papyri it remains risky to assume that it was not used outside of Egypt.
The use of specific terms related to the administration of Egypt, for example, has to be considered with great prudence. Some of these legal and administrative terms or semantic uses are only attested in the papyri, and it is therefore tempting to consider them typically Egyptian. But the lack of documents of the types we find in the papyri in other parts of the Roman Empire due to matters of material conservation needs to be kept in mind.
One of the semantic fields already explored within the study of the language of Septuagint is that of court and administrative terminology.92 Some examples of the usage of common terminology for administration in Ptolemaic and Roman times in the Septuagint are the expressions used to refer to responsible staff with the construction
Three more terms connected to administration,
The second term,
The third term,
Modrzejewski extensively discussed the term
Emmet had collected a number of words and expressions in 3 Maccabees comparable to those found in the papyri:99 for example,
In sum, the Old Testament books produced in Greek or translated in Alexandria, together with the writings of some Hellenistic Jewish authors, who also lived in the same city, such as Philo or Pseudo-Phocylides, provide a complex wealth of material, which can contribute to understanding the Egyptian and Alexandrian variety of Greek. Careful comparison with evidence from papyri and inscriptions provides a firmer basis for the consideration of specifically Egyptian traits of the language. These terms, however, since they belong to the sphere of administration, have to be used with caution, since our knowledge of “administrative Greek” comes almost entirely from the Egyptian papyri, with administrative documents from other areas almost completely lost.
5 Further Life of the Septuagint Lexicon
The language of the Septuagint had such great influence that it rewrote the history of later Greek. This impact in turn affects and alters the evidence contained in the corpus of Greek lexicographers. The linguistic use in the Septuagint had an initial impact on later authors, like for example Philo of Alexandria, and also on the language of the New Testament.103 In the sphere of lexicon, this means that innovations and semantic shifts that took place in the translation of the Old Testament would have a further life in later texts. The bilingual translators of the Septuagint made the effort to translate the text of Old Testament into understandable Greek, and even the words concerning Jewish realities were more or less literally rendered into Greek. As is often the case with translations, some things were difficult to translate, or some realities required the creation of neologisms, semantic extensions or shifts in meaning, and the diffusion of the text of the Septuagint established these new coined words or new uses in the Greek language. In most cases, this does not mean that these terms are typically Alexandrian or Egyptian. They are instead a product of the process of translation that became popular through the spread of the Bible. As an example, the rendering of the Hebrew term ephod, a priestly garment, is translated into Greek as
A similar case is that of the term
The grammarians and lexicographers of antiquity were mainly interested in recording difficult or obscure vocabulary in classical and biblical literature. They also include other lexical uses that can be assigned to colloquial registers of the language, but the context from which they culled the words they include is not always clear. For this reason, although they offer in general a wealth of information, they must be handled with care: they are poorly transmitted and often also poorly edited, and they themselves were often not very careful.
When the lexicographers indicate that a term belongs to the Egyptian language, it is not clear whether the term belongs to the specific Greek-speaking population of Egypt or rather to the Egyptian language itself, real or imagined by the authors in question.107 The wealth of information they provide must be approached with prudence, careful analysis, and comparison with other sources. Some of the terms found in the lexicographers may be of Egyptian origin used in Greek, some may be Greek terms specially used in Egypt, some may be just Egyptian terms not used in Greek, but appearing as foreign words in a piece of literature,108 as an exotic piece of information, or remain in the original rendering in a translation.109 Among the terms we find in the lexicographers’ works described as “Egyptian,” many are found in the Septuagint. The comparison of two terms of Egyptian origin,
To understand this apparent contradiction, one just needs to turn to the life of these terms in the literary sphere. The interest in the lexicographers is immediately explained when searching for the term in the Bible:
The interest in the Bible explains the afterlife of some of the terms that we find in the Septuagint. The fact that they appear in these lexica does not mean that they were widely used. The common use of the terms was not the main purpose of the lexicographers. A small example of a Septuagint neologism being adopted into the language is given by Aitken:114 the verb
I have presented here some of the issues in the definition of what is Egyptian lexicon in the corpus of the Greek Old Testament. Terms with an Egyptian etymology should be the easiest to identify, though these are often connected to trade (such as weights and measures) and can have contested etymologies, as travelling words. In a few examples, one could argue that the etymologically Egyptian terms were used in passages that present an “Egyptianizing” staging, and thus added some Egyptian flavor to the scene. Some Greek terminology in the Septuagint can be traced back to the administrative papyri of the Ptolemaic period. The coincidence invites the conclusion that both sources are fed from the same source, Egyptian Greek terminology, typical of the dialectal variety of Greek in Egypt. The attestation in the papyri, however, is problematic as a foundation for an argument about “Egyptianness,” since it is our only source for “administrative” and “legal Greek.” The loss of documents from other areas of the Mediterranean does not allow the necessary contrast to confirm that some specific terms were typical of Egypt or Alexandria. The risk of interpreting a term as typically Egyptian can often be based on lack of information from other areas, which is equivalent to an argumentum ex silentio. The fact that some of the deviations found in Egypt have parallels in later Greek is a proof of this “silence” of the sources. One could argue that Greek as used in Egypt was particularly influential upon later Greek, but the most likely explanation is that the abundance of documents from Egypt provides evidence for features not attested elsewhere due to the lack of positive evidence. For this reason, the coincidence with Byzantine and Modern Greek provides an excellent source for phenomena already present in late antiquity but absent from the sources. Some terms could originally have been typically Egyptian, but the later circulation of very popular texts, like the Bible, with a large impact in biblical commentaries and other Christian literature, spread such uses, making them difficult to trace back to a specific geographical area.
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I am very grateful to James Aitken for offering me the opportunity to participate in the present volume. His comments, as well as Marieke Dhont’s, David Nirenberg’s, and the anonymous readers’, have contributed many corrections and suggestions which have improved my first draft greatly. The remaining mistakes and shortcomings are my own.
Another example of translation Greek is provided by the Greek versions of Egyptian texts, like the Prophecy of the Potter, or the myth of the Eye of the Sun, etc. In general, see Tait, “Egyptian Fiction”; Depauw (Companion, 98–99) provides references to specific texts, such as the Prophecy of the Potter or Nectanebo’s Dream.
Although I do not want to discuss this question further in this paper, many of the alleged Semitisms of the language of Septuagint can also be explained with Egyptian in mind, since Hebrew and Egyptian share many linguistic traits. From those traits discussed by Harl (“Langue de Septante”) and Aitken (“Language of Septuagint”) the use of prepositions, the prepositional expressions using body parts, the use of the resumptive pronoun, etc. can be explained with Egyptian as a parallel. This would perhaps make these features more natural to a speaker of Greek in contact with Egyptian. See also Evans, “Nature of Septuagint Greek,” esp. 95–97.
Already widely discussed in Harl, “Langue de Septante”; Vattioni, “Storia del testo”; Fernández Marcos, Introducción a versiones, 17–30; Lee, Greek of Pentateuch; survey of research in Evans, “Nature of Septuagint Greek,” 97–99.
Overview in Aitken, “Septuagint and Egyptian”; See Carleton Paget, “Origins of Septuagint”; Aitken, “Language of Septuagint.”
On a survey of aspects see Pfeiffer, “Ägyptische Elemente.” He discusses personal and place names and an interesting selection of examples that are complementary to those I present here. Evans, “Nature of Septuagint Greek,” gives a thorough survey of research on the language and lexicography of Septuagint.
Bentein and Janse’s Varieties of Post-Classical is the latest volume with essays on different aspects of the Egyptian variety of Greek. I would like to highlight, from this volume, as
relevant for the topic covered in this paper: Fendel, “Greek in Egypt”; Bentein and Janse, “Novel Questions”; Stolk, “Orthographic Variation”; Vierros, “Idiolect in Focus.”.
See Torallas Tovar, “Greek in Egypt”; “Linguistic Identity.” Some of these coincide with the Semitic traits found in Septuagint.
See below the example of
For the linguistic approach to the papyri and technical development, see Vierros and Henriksson, “Preprocessing Greek Papyri.”
Evans and Obbink, Language of Papyri, 2.
Some of the problems in dealing with the papyri have already been expressed by Bentein, “Greek Documentary Papyri.”
First approach in Mayser, Grammatik; first in depth, Gignac, “Pronunciation”; “Language”; Grammar. More recently, Horrocks, Greek: History; Dahlgren, “Towards a Definition.”
The most in detail studies on syntax mainly focusing on the impact of Egyptian on Greek have been performed in the school of Helsinki: Vierros, Bilingual Notaries; Leiwo, “Substandard Greek”; “Imperatives.” See also Stolk, “Orthographic variation”; Fendel, “Greek in Egypt.” Di Bartolo’s Studien zur griechischen Syntax (non vidi) seems to be the most recent approach to the syntax of the papyri.
Athenaeus, Deipn. 9.393b. He is also attested in Suda,
See Suda, EI 190,
Fournet, Alexandrie: communauté. The first attempt was made already in 1808 by Sturz (De dialecto). See also the first modern approach by Fernández Marcos (“¿Rasgos dialectales?”).
For textual authenticity of literary texts, see Joseph, “Textual Authenticity.”
Example of the term
Theodoros Metochites (Miscellanea 17) dedicates a few lines to describe the language of the “Egyptians” as “rough” (
Torallas Tovar, “Orfebre del insulto”
On the debate of Philo’s knowledge of Hebrew, see Sandmel, Philo’s Place, 13; “Philo’s Knowledge”; Rajak, “Philo’s Knowledge of Hebrew”; Weitzman (“Why Did Qumran,” 39) states that Hebrew was not known in general by Hellenistic Jews in Egypt.
Hanson (Allegory and Event, 94) compares the lexicon in Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews to propose a common lexical source for both in the Jews of Alexandria.
Philo’s debt to Plato is undoubtedly the source for much of his philosophical vocabulary, but he exceeded him in creativity. Terms like
Rajak, Translation and Survival.
A linguistic assessment also points to a date earlier than the mid-second century BCE (Lee, Lexical Study, 3).
Only if we believe that the translators did not in fact come from Jerusalem, but were Greek speaking Jews from Alexandria, as their language use seems to prove. I will add myself to the claim that there needs to be an exhaustive lexical comparison of the papyri with LXX. There is already much work performed on this: Montevecchi, “Quaedam”; “Dal paganesimo”; “Continuità”; “Lingua dei papyri”; Lee, Lexical Study; Passoni Dell’Acqua, “I LXX: punto d’arrivo”; “Notazioni cromatiche”; “I Pentateuco dei LXX.” and more bibliography referred to below. Lee (“Vocabulary of Septuagint”) surveys the efforts and gives further bibliography.
Muraoka, Greek-English Lexicon marks with an asterisk those terms not attested previously to LXX, but warns (xiii) that the lack of documentation does not mean that these are neologisms in this text, these are just first attestations.
Aitken, “Language of Septuagint.”
On translation techniques in antiquity, see Brock, “Aspects of Translation,” among other authors in a large bibliography.
At least Wisdom and 3 Maccabees, but other are unlikely, and there is a large debate on their origin, e.g., Judith (written ca. 100 BC, preserved in Greek and Latin, although it was probably composed in Hebrew), or the Psalms of Solomon (probably produced in Hebrew, though the text is only preserved in Greek and Syriac, in Jerusalem in the 1st c. CE).
Grabbe, Wisdom of Solomon, 90; Hübner, Weisheit Salomons, 16; Winston, Wisdom of Solomon, 25; Reese, Hellenistic Influence, 146–62; Blischke, Eschatologie, 46, 203–23; Larcher, Études sur Livre, 132–78.
Emmet (“Third Book,” 156–57) collected a list of terms with the purpose of placing the composition in Alexandria. See Modrzejewski, Trosième livre; Hadas, Third and Fourth; Johnson, Historical Fictions, 129–69, for a discussion on date and authorship. The bibliography is enormous. I refer to these publications for more details. On 2 Maccabees see most recently Domazakis, Neologisms.
Modrzejewski (“troisième livre”) claims the importance of knowing and using the papyrological documents in order to understand this text.
Croy, 3 Maccabees, xiii–xiv.
Which, by the way, remind much of word formation in Philo of Alexandria.
See Janowitz, “Rhetoric of Translation,” 138–39; Veltri, Libraries, Translations, 199–200.
Overview in Fernández Marcos, Introducción a versiones, 119–79.
Aquilas wrote a Greek translation of the Old Testament at the beginning of the second century CE.
Where in contrast to Philo’s idea, the author of the prologue claims that the translators cannot produce an accurate “isodynamic,” with the meaning of synonymic, translation of the original. See Veltri, Libraries, Translations, 196–99. On the prologue of Ben Sira there is plenty of published work. I refer to some recent works for more complete bibliographies: Aitken, “Literary Attainment”; Wright, “Translation Greek” (and the whole volume in which these two chapters are included); Wright, “
See below on the elimination of Egyptian loanwords in the earliest commentaries. On this, see Torallas Tovar, “Escenas egipcias.”
Question already posed by Lee, Lexical Study, 3–4.
Apart from the Qumran fragments, we have P.Fouad 266; Aly, Three Rolls, and the Rylands papyrus mentioned here, both from the Ptolemaic period.
Roberts, Catalogue, 6.
For example, P.Fay. 12.12.
On phonetic interference, see Clarysse, “Egyptian Scribes”; Vierros, Bilingual Notaries; Dahlgren, “Towards Definition.” On variant spellings, see Torallas Tovar, “In Search,” 143–44.
Muraoka 405, s.v.
Interchange of voiceless and aspirated stops, Gignac, Grammar, 86–95. For a recent extremely useful tool to detect these kinds of phenomena, see Depauw and Stolk, “Linguistic Variation.” As a follow up to our example, search in trismegistos.org, under “Text Irregularities,” for “
Kahane and Kahane, “Role of Papyri,” 208–9.
See the characteristically Egyptian sepulchral formula
Walters, Text of Septuagint, 113.
Mayser, Grammatik, 36 and 179. See also Gignac, Grammar, 87.
Lexicographical work has received much attention lately. See Muraoka, Greek-English Lexicon. A recent enterprise, the Historical and Theological Lexicon of the Septuagint will be groundbreaking in the assessment of the particular use of terminology in the Greek considered “biblical.” This project will also be impactful for the study of Egyptian Greek, since its purpose is to explore the connection of the Septuagint with, among other sources, the papyri, in the belief that the language of the translators was very close to the popular Koine Greek of Alexandria. For a comparison of LXX with epigraphy, see Aitken, No Stone Unturned, where the author contends that while the papyri have been widely exploited in biblical Greek studies, the Greek inscriptions have been neglected.
Torallas Tovar, “In Search.”
Luján, “Semantic Change.” See e.g., Maravela and Torallas Tovar, “
Most recent and systematic studies are Fournet, “Emprunts”; Torallas Tovar, “Egyptian Lexical Interference”; “Egyptian Loan words”; “Reverse Case.” The use of etymologically Egyptian terms, however, is not exclusive of the language written and spoken in Egypt, but often and for a number of reasons was an attribute of Greek varieties in other parts of the Mediterranean, for example in terms used for typically Egyptian products, which were exported together with their names. As an example, see Torallas Tovar, “Reverse Case,” 107–8, on the term
For a discussion on the context of loan words, see Torallas Tovar, “Context of Loanwords”; and “Reverse Case.”
Perhaps, as Rajak (Translation and Survival, 134), to keep the language “foreignizing,” out of reluctance towards a complete hellenization. Carleton Paget, “Origins of Septuagint,” 114.
Lee, Lexical Study, 116.
PSI VI 554.14, from the Zenon archive, is the earliest attestation. Other are SB X 10301, 10302, 10303 (2nd c. CE). However, Alcock (“Coptic Terms,” 2) considers it stems from a Semitic origin.
This word can be compared to Coptic
SB X 10301b 3, 10302 1 and 10303, 3 (2nd c. CE). Hemmerdinger, “Noms communs,” 247.
Chantraine 478 considers the Greek word, with Lewy (Semitischen Fremdwörter, 115), a Semitic loan.
P.Ryl. II 267, P.Ryl. II 355, BM, Coptic Mss. n. 1135.
Generally considered to be a diminutive (LSJ), but -
Sobhy, “Eighteenth Dynasty.”
PSI IV 333, 6; P.Lond. II 402, II 14, P.Eleph. 5. P.Dryton 38.14
Černy, 285; Wb II 493, 6–13; Alcock, “Coptic Terms,” 5.
Muraoka 341 considers it Hebrew rendered undeclined in Greek. It appears in Exod 29:40; Lev 23:13; Num 15:4
See Walters, Text of Septuagint, 183.
And further in the same episode in Gen 44:5, 9, 10, 12, 16, 17. cf. Isa 51:17.
Černy 60, Vycichl 84. Chantraine 561–62 considers it a loan from an Eastern language. See also Lee, Lexical Study, 116.
Mayser, Grammatik, 1:30; Vergote wonders if the word’s ultimate origin is Persian (Joseph en Égypte, 175–76), based on Athenaeus, Deipn. 11.55. See also Torallas Tovar, “Reverse Case,” 103.
Muraoka 109. The term seems to go back to Egyptian 3hy, plant, vegetation (Wb 1.18.8; Fournet, “Emprunts,” 69). See also Vergote, Joseph en Égypte, 59–66. Crum 25a has
See also Sir 40:16 and Isa 19:7. Example also discussed by Pfeiffer, “Ägyptische Elemente,” 241–42.
Jerome, Qu. hebr. Gen., on 41:2 considers it a corruption, since it is neither Greek nor Latin: “Bis in Genesi scriptum est achi, et neque Graecus sermo est neque Latinus. Sed et Hebraicus ipse corruptus est.” Later on, he finds out it is in fact Egyptian: Ad Jes XIX 7 “Quum ab eruditis quaererem, quid
Torallas Tovar, “Reverse Case,” 100–101.
Hemmerdinger, “Noms communs,” 241; Vergote, “Bilinguisme et calques,” 1387; Fournet, “Emprunts,” 57; Nencioni, “Innovazioni africane,” 16–17; Rodríguez Adrados, “Ambiente y léxico,” 50; Merzagora, “Navigazione,” 127–28; Mayser, Grammatik, 1:27; Frisk 220; MacGready, “Egyptian Words,” 249; Conomis, “Concerning New Photius,” 177; Díez de Velasco and Molinero Polo, “Hellenoaegyptiaca,” 82–83. Wb I 465, 8–9; Coptic
PHib. I 100.13, P.Coll. Youtie 1 7.6 (mentioned above, since it also contains
The plural form
Walters, Text of Septuagint, 102.
Chantraine 158; Hemmerdinger, “Noms communs,” 245; Nencioni, “Innovazioni africane,” 22; Vergote, “Bilinguisme et calques,” 1387; Fournet, “Emprunts,” 69; Mayser, Grammatik, 1:28; MacGready, “Egyptian Words,” 250.
The New Testament has the term
A list of items, SB XXVIII 17241, has less context. SB I 5637, 5 (215 CE); P.Lond. IV 1362 and 1378 (both 8th c. CE).
Photius, Amphilochia 165.31:
Frisk, Kleine Schriften, 341.
The work of the Greek lexicographers can be traced through the remains of a number of lexica, some rightly attributed to specific authors and periods, some just preserved as adespota. These types of texts suffered a very turbulent textual history, being subject to change and adaptation as they were copied and belabored. One of the earliest fully preserved is that of Hesychius of Alexandria (5th–6th c.): see Dickey, Ancient Greek Scholarship, 88–90. He composed a lexicon of obscure words based on the previous work by Diogenianus (2nd c. work, now lost). Hesychius’ Lexicon consists of poetic and dialectal words and some short sayings. It is also an extremely useful source for less attested languages, though with great problems of interpretation. While the most important lexicographer for this inquiry is Hesychius, ninth–tenth-century Suda, or the Etymologica, ninth-century compilations of much earlier materials, Stephen of Byzantium in the sixth century or Photius’ Bibliotheca and Lexicon in the ninth century, and Zonaras in the thirteenth century, offer equally interesting material, as well as the lexicographical sources included in the Banquet of the Philosophers by Athenaeus in the third century CE.
Philo and later commentaries also avoid Egyptianizing terms, on which see Torallas Tovar, “Escenas egipcias.” On lexicographers, see Torallas Tovar, “In search.”
Torallas Tovar, “In Search.”
Different contributions collected in Montevecchi, Bibbia e papiri; Lee, Lexical Study; Passoni dell’Acqua, “I LXX: punto d’arrivo”; “Notazioni cromatiche”; “I Pentateuco dei LXX”; Cadell, “Vocabulaire de l’irrigation”; Fernández Marcos, Introducción a las versiones, 17–42.
This can also be compared to an Egyptian similar construction, e.g., ḥry-pr “overseer of the house” (DG 324).
See Emmet, Third Book, 158: similar expressions are used to confirm this connection: P.Tebt. I 5
Klauck and Bailey, Ancient Letters, 194–95.
See also Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 2.22.135 or Cyril of Alexandria, De ador. 68.564.39, on the same passage. This opens the question of the spread of biblical linguistic use through the expansion in Christian literature.
Muraoka 87 s.v.
P.Enteux 86.6 and 8; UPZ I 119.37 (both Ptolemaic). For a full discussion, see Modrzejewski, “troisième livre”; Trosième livre, 64–67.
See also Lee, Lexical Study, 152–54, who collects a list of terms appearing in the papyri.
Found later in John Chrysostom, In Joh. Theol. 59, 611, 50; Cyril Hierosolymitanus, Catech. 1.3.14.
And in fact an Alexandrian author, Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos 4.206,
Hanson, Allegory and Event, 94.
Le Boulluec and Sandevoir, Bible d’Alexandrie, 251–52. In the papyri CPR XII 15 (a Coptic list) and the diminutive in P.Oxy. LIX 3998 margin:
See, e.g., Josephus, Ant. 3.162, who uses
See Maravela and Torallas Tovar, “
By imagined I refer to the representation of Egyptians in literature, often following stereotypes recognizable by an Athenian audience. For example, Aeschylus in Supplices. See Torallas Tovar, “Context of Loanwords.” See also Vasunia, Gift of Nile.
On the latter, see Torallas Tovar, “Reverse Case.”
Muraoka 491, from Hebrew ephah. Also with an Egyptian etymology, ip.t, Achmimic Coptic,
P.Cair. Masp. II 67308, 4; 67325, I 10, 14, 23; P.Lond. V 1687, 11 (Aphrodito 523 CE); PSI IV 284. SB XX 14625.31 presents an abbreviation, which in my opinion is not completely sure.
It renders Hebrew ephah, Lev 5:11 and Num 15:4.
E.g. Philo, Mos. 1.17; Josephus, C. Ap. 1.287; Josephus, A.J., 2.228.2: (228); Eustathius, Commentarius in hexaemeron 780.54; Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 184.108.40.206.
Aitken, “Style,” 15–16.