Shaddai and the LXX

by James Dowden

0. Introductory Waffle

Abram K-J’s announcement of a Septuagint Studies Soirée had me thinking about what LXX-related subject I had thoughts in a nearly bloggable form about — after all, the social side of blogging is fun.  J. K. Gayle’s post about Shaddai, breasts, mountains, and destruction reminded me that I should probably not dismiss as trivial a bunch of notes I made ages ago about names of God, and instead turn them into this post.

(And this late at night, I’m not even going to bother trying to type Hebrew. It wouldn’t end well. Sorry.)

1. The Big Picture?

According to my count, the name Shaddai appears 48 times in the Hebrew Bible. These are translated in the LXX-and-other-translations-customarily-grouped-under-that-name as follows:

  • παντοκρατωρ — the All-ruling, the Almighty — 16 times
  • κυριος — Lord — 9 times
  • θεος + possessive — my/thy/their God — 7 times
  • ικανος — the Sufficient One — 5 times
  • θεος (alone) — God — 3 times
  • τον επουρανιον, του θεου του ουρανου — the Heavenly One, the God of Heaven — once each
  • ο τα παντα ποιησας — he who made everything — once
  • ταλαιπωριας — of hardship, of destruction — once
  • σαδδαι — transliteration — once
  • omitted — 3 times (including one instance replaced by αυτου)

From this we get the trivial view that Shaddai means παντοκρατωρ, with many English translations (including the Authorized Version) taking how that word is translated in Christian creeds — Almighty — and injecting it back into the Old Testament.

What we have instead is a nice illustration that the Old Greek is a collection of translations.

2. The Distribution of Shaddai in Hebrew

Before I continue, I feel that I should make a brief note about how Shaddai is used in the Hebrew Bible:

  • 1 instance is in the Blessing of Jacob (Gen 49.25), where the name is used poetically and in assonance with a word meaning “breasts”
  • 1 further instance occurs in the narrative of E (Gen 43.14)
  • the 5 remaining instances in Genesis and Exodus are P’s literary device that the Patriarchs knew God as El Shadday, but did not know him by his name YHWH
  • 2 instances in the Prophets in assonance with a word meaning destruction (Is 13.6; Joel 1.15)
  • 2 further instances in Ezekiel (1.24; 10.5), which I don’t pretend to have anything meaningful to say about
  • 2 instances in the Psalms
  • 35 instances in stories involving non-Israelites (2 in the Balaam pericope in Numbers, 2 in Ruth, 31 in Job)

3. Parts of the Whole

a) the Pentateuch

The Pentateuch has nine instances of Shaddai. These were rendered in the LXX as follows:

  • θεος + possessive — my/thy/their God — 7 times
  • θεος (alone) — God — twice

This is essentially an interpretative rendering based on Exodus 6.3. Clearly the translator had no idea even then what Shaddai meant, beyond its being the name by which God had been known to the Patriarchs; so he picked the default of “[Patriarch’s] God”.

He ran into a slight problem when the name occurred twice in the Balaam pericope in Numbers. There was no Patriarch referenced, and YHWH could scarcely be said to be Balaam’s God. So he left those two instances as plain God.

b) the Prophets

As there are four instances spread across three books, every single case is different. Isaiah 13.6 follows the Pentateuch in using θεος (and as in the Balaam pericope, there is no Patriarchal referent). Joel 1.15 uses ταλαιπωριας to try to translate the destruction pun into Greek.  Ezekiel 1.24 has an entire clause missing, whilst 10.5 transliterates the name.

c) Ruth

The two instances appear a verse apart, and both are ικανος. This is based on a folk etymology of Shaddai, connecting it to a verb meaning “to sustain”.

d) Psalms

Here the sustenance theme is represented by using “heaven” as an interpretative gloss on both occasions.

e) Job

One of those useless trivia pieces that everyone knows about the Old Greek version of Job is that the translator got bored or otherwise didn’t particularly like the book and therefore abbreviated it by about a sixth. So it is perhaps unsurprising that the other two omissions are there.

His other renderings of Shaddai are equally distinctive:

  • all 16 instances of παντοκρατωρ
  • all 9 instances of κυριος
  • 3 instances of ικανος
  • the sole instance of ο τα παντα ποιησας

These are real oddball readings that take the sustenance theme to a whole new level. That English versions have traditionally followed this translator in rendering Shaddai is rather sad and misleading.

4. Lost in Translation?

The oddball translations in Job also clash with other conventions in the Old Greek: κυριος of course stands for YHWH the vast majority of the time, and παντοκρατωρ for Sabaoth — “of Hosts” — on about 120 occasions.

Strangely enough, this issue has affected Hebrew translations of the New Testament as well. There are nine instances of παντοκρατωρ in Revelation, and one at 2 Corinthians 6.18 (right in the middle of that suspiciously un-Pauline passage). Bizarrely, despite the only voice in the other direction being the strange Old Greek version of Job, not all Hebrew New Testament translations render παντοκρατωρ as Sabaoth; some go for Shaddai. It is certainly tempting to argue that in English editions of the Bible, the intertestamental connections should be more important than etymology and creeds, and that παντοκρατωρ in the New Testament too should be translated “of Hosts”.

And on the other hand, “my God” repeatedly in Revelation 3.12 and the curiously superfluous “their God” at 21.3 at least raise the question as to whether in that vision of destruction, the destroyer Shaddai lurks in a Septuagintism.