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And when I looked … a book was therein

Sometimes it’s obvious that a book has a story to tell before you even look at the text. The volume at OLS X-1-60 is a good example. As soon as it is lifted from its protective storage box, the hand-made brown velvet case begs to be stroked. The initials TW are embroidered on the top; the pink felt lining protrudes; and the cardboard backing shows through where moths have made a meal of the felt. Continue reading “And when I looked … a book was therein”

Translating a Hebrew Prophet into Greek: TCD MS 29 and its author.

On a recent visit to Trinity College Library, Dublin, I consulted TCD MS 29, briefly described as ‘Liber Danielis Prophetae, Graece, (Book of the Prophet Daniel, in Greek) a modern version dedicated to Queen Elizabeth’, but with no identification of its author. Examining the manuscript more closely, both the distinctive Greek hand and its content enabled me to identify it as one of only two surviving copies of the English Hebraist Hugh Broughton’s (1549-1612) translation of the Book of Daniel into Greek, which he composed in the 1580s. Both TCD MS 29 and the other extant copy (British Library, Royal MS 1 A IX are autograph but TCD MS 29 appears to be a fairer copy, with fewer corrections.

TCD MS 29, folio 1r
TCD MS 29, folio 1r

Broughton is best known today for translating the Bible into English. However, many important and influential nobles and statesmen were interested in Broughton’s Greek rendering of the book of Daniel: as well as being dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, Broughton presented a copy to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Henry Hastings, 3rd earl of Huntingdon, admired the work so much that he asked Broughton to undertake a Greek translation of the entire Hebrew Bible!

Broughton’s project generated such interest because one of the most valuable tools for understanding the Old Testament was an ancient Greek translation known as the Septuagint, translated from the Hebrew by Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria around the third century BCE. Biblical scholars had long noticed that the New Testament tended to cite the Old Testament through this Septuagint translation, rather than by a direct translation of the original Hebrew. In the eyes of many early moderns, including Broughton, this New Testament stamp of authority meant that the Septuagint was important in bridging the gap between the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament, and a crucial aid in the comprehension of both texts.

However, the Septuagint itself was problematic, diverting extensively from the Hebrew Bible. This was an especial problem for the book of Daniel, and was compounded by the book’s inherent difficulty, jumping between Hebrew and Aramaic and veiling its most important prophecies in its most difficult prose. As such, to scholars like Broughton it seemed that in many of the places where the Hebrew Bible was most challenging the Septuagint was least helpful. In this respect, Broughton’s Greek translation of Daniel, which drew on the vocabulary, style and lexical features of Septuagint Greek while attending more closely to the Hebrew original, was intended to provide a valuable hermeneutic tool for biblical exegesis.

Despite the initial excitement it provoked, Broughton’s work never lived up to the hopes men like Cecil had for it. Instead, a series of bitter confessional controversies, beginning in the late 1580s, reduced him to an object of ridicule, and forced him into near-permanent exile. A disappointingly small number of his papers and letters have survived to modernity. Those that do remain are scattered, partial and often anonymous, although we can now add TCD MS 29 to that slim corpus.

Kirsten Macfarlane, Lincoln College, Oxford