Go to the…bee!

In Septuagint class, we went over this section in Jobes and Silva that recounts a really interesting addition in the LXX that’s kind of a fun angle on a well-known text:

For instance, MT Prov. 6: 6– 11 extols the ant as a tiny creature whose wisdom is nonetheless exemplified by its industriousness:

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man. (NIV)

Between verse 8 and verse 9, the Greek translation includes three extra verses not present in the Hebrew:

Or go to the bee
and learn how industrious she is,
and how seriously she performs her work,
and whose products kings and commoners use for their health
and she is respected by all and renowned.
Although she is physically weak,
by honouring wisdom she has been honoured.

Cook points out that both the ant and the bee, and in that order, are used by Aristotle in his Historia animalium (622B) as examples of industriousness. Moreover, the word translated “industrious” (ἐργάτις) is a hapax legomenon in the Greek Proverbs but is the same word used by Aristotle in his description of the bee. Cook concludes that the Greek translator (and probably the original Greek readers) of Prov. 6 knew of this description of the ant and the bee and that he makes use of Aristotle’s philosophy “in order to explicate a religious issue in the Semitic text he is translating.”

This is an example of how a Greek translator may make use of words and motifs that would have been familiar to Greek readers while preserving the original sense of the Hebrew text. Cook concludes that the translator, a conservative thinker, wanted to preserve the sense of the Hebrew but was willing to use non-Jewish traditions to explicate that sense. Cook rejects the idea that the Greek Proverbs embraces explicitly Stoic perspectives. He finds the influence of Hellenism to be reflected in and limited to the “stylistic and lexical approach” of the translator.

Therefore, the influence of Hellenistic culture on the translation is similar to what we found regarding the development of theological concepts like messianism and resurrection in the Greek text. Philosophical or ideological influence may be found in Jewish texts composed in the Hellenistic period, but the translators of the Hebrew Bible were constrained by their interest in preserving the message of their Vorlage.

Jobes, Karen H.; Silva, Moisés. Invitation to the Septuagint (pp. 345-346). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.