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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 58, 2010

JOHN W. OLLEY, Ezekiel: A Commentary based on Iezekiel in Codex Vaticanus (Septuagint Commentary Series; Leiden: Brill, 2009). Pp. x + 589. Cloth. 163.00.

This important new commentary by John Olley is based on the form of the book of Ezekiel found in a major Greek manuscript, 4th Century Codex Vaticanus (B). The commentary has a synchronic focus: how this significant prophetic book was read at this time by the community in Alexandria and Caesarea for whom it was produced and by whom it was read. Text history and textual variants are considered only when they may throw light on the text of B and its interpretation.

Olley provides information about different text forms of Ezekiel, and frequent reference is made to the earliest extant Greek manuscript of Ezekiel, P967 (dated at the end of the 2nd Century CE). A study of the translation technique used in B to render Hebrew into Greek suggests that the translation dates from around 150 BCE in Egypt. With regard to the macrostructure of this large book, Olley notes that B follows the MT arrangement, in contrast to P967, wherein the vision of dry bones follows the battle with Gog, the chapter order being 36, 38–39, 37, 40–48. The implication of the order in P967 is that the resurrection was understood as a literal raising of dead bodies, so that P967 has a marked eschatological emphasis.

While being a commentary on the pre-hexaplaric codex B, Olley includes comparison with P967 and the MT to bring to light possible theological distinctives in the rendering of the manuscript tradition in B. There is a valuable discussion of the language of Ezekiel, especially the vocabulary used for wrongdoing, knowing (God) and the Divine Name (drawing on Olley’s previously published work). Also included is a brief survey of the use and subsequent interpretation of Ezekiel, including Ezekiel’s influence on the overall structure of the book of Revelation.

The text of B represents a different Hebrew Vorlage than the MT and is largely supported by P967, so that the focus of Olley’s study is not on the reconstruction of an ‘original’ Hebrew text, for such an approach would result only in the mixing of separate editions and is without clear methodological foundation. This approach follows recent trends in the practice of textual criticism and is to be commended. Olley’s membership of the international Pericope Project equips him to provide insightful explanation of the delimitation of the text, the major and minor paragraph divisions and the 56 chapters that are marked by Greek numbers in the margins of B. Olley states the principle upon which this analysis is based: “The physical layout of a text both reflects a reading tradition and influences all subsequent readings” (39).

The text and translation follows the divisions of B, and in his commentary Olley points to possible hermeneutical significance in the divisions and compares it to the alternative paragraphing of P967, Alexandrinus (A) and MT (Aleppo) when comparison is exegetically fruitful. In commenting on the exegetical effects of the divisions of B, he sometimes contrasts these with the later Latin placement of divisions, the ones with which the modern reader is familiar.

The philosophy behind the Septuagint Commentary Series is outlined in Susan Brayford’s Genesis volume (2007) (21–26), namely that the English translation attempts to reflect the text as it would have been understood by the later Greek readers or hearers of the text who were largely unaware of the underlying Hebrew meaning. Olley provides the Greek text of B and its English translation on facing pages (66–227). A detailed commentary follows and takes up the rest of the book. With regard to the commentary, it is regularly insightful, though I am not convinced that the formula “and I looked and behold” (Ezek 1:4) gives immediacy and urgency to the vision it introduces and signals to the readers that they are to pay attention to what is now described (236). The use of “behold” (Hebrew and Greek equivalents) is highly idiomatic and a range of interpretative options might have been explored. But this is only a quibble. I noted typos on pages vii, 5, 15, 69, 79, 81, 234, 257, 274.

It is a thrill to see a senior Australian biblical scholar (Perth based) making such a valuable contribution to this important and prestigious commentary series and the editors of the series (Stanley E. Porter, Richard S. Hess and John Jarick) are also to be commended for the monumental task they have taken on.

Review by
Greg Goswell
Presbyterian Theological College