The Greek of 2 Esdras: Signs of fluency and formal education in a literal translation
Significant efforts have been made in the last century to locate the Septuagint translations within their broader linguistic context. Once widely believed to be examples of a special Jewish-Greek dialect on account of their distinct vocabulary, morphology and syntax, these ancient translations of the Hebrew Bible are now better understood as works of non-literary post-classical Greek, showing different degrees of fidelity to the vocabulary and word order of the source texts. This realisation would not have been possible without the thousands of Greek papyrus documents unearthed in Egypt in the late 19th century and the subsequent comparative analyses of Deissmann, Thackeray, Lee, Evans and others. Lee’s studies of the Pentateuchal translations have convincingly shown that the anonymous authors were intimately familiar with the standard Greek of their times (the 3rd century BCE) and possessed a good Greek education. In doing so, Lee has mobilised these translations as significant bodies of evidence for the post-classical development of the Greek language. The later and more literal translations are yet to undergo the same corpus-based, sociolinguistic analysis and consequently enjoy a poorer reputation among biblical scholars. The language of 2 Esdras, the translation of Hebrew-Aramaic Ezra-Nehemiah, has been repeatedly characterised in modern scholarship as un-Greek, uneducated, and servile to the structure of its parent text. The following thesis seeks to improve this reputation and mobilise 2 Esdras as a useful piece of historical linguistic evidence by highlighting instances of independent language variation, higher register lexical and syntactic choices, and the idiomatic character of supposedly ungrammatical choices. These aims are achieved through close comparison of the translation and source text, and the presentation of comparable linguistic choices in the wider Greek corpus. Special attention is paid to the construction of indirect commands and the use of independent nominatives in the translation.