Earthquake vs. Seismic Upheaval

I use the New English Translation of the Septuagint quite often in my research. It is an excellent resource, albeit with a few idiosyncrasies.

One of these is the translators’ preference to render proper names of Hebrew Bible characters in a manner more fitting with their Greek spelling. So, Moses become “Moyses,” David becomes “Dauid,” Elijah becomes “Eliou,” Joshua becomes “Iesous,” and Jerusalem becomes “Ierousalem.” There are other examples, but hopefully you get the point.

They also have a tendency to be quite wooden at times. Just now, I encountered a passage that made me chuckle. I reproduce it here for your enjoyment (with the humorous bits underlined).

And there was a great, strong wind splitting mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord, and the Lord was not in the wind, and after the wind a seismic upheaval; the Lord was not in the seismic upheaval, and after the seismic upheaval a fire; the Lord was not in the fire, and after the fire the sound of a light breeze, and the Lord was there.

The passage is 1 Kings 19:11-12, wherein Elijah has been instructed to wait for YHWH to pass by the cave in which he is currently staying. The word translated as “seismic upheaval” is συσσεισμός (susseismos) which, admittedly, means “a seismic event” or “commotion.” As the footnotes in the NETS indicate, it here probably indicates either an earthquake or a hurricane.

My issue with this translation is not that it’s inaccurate, but rather that it’s clunky. Yes, it literally means “seismic upheaval,” but in this instance can’t we assume that we’re dealing either with an earthquake or hurricane?

At the start of 2 Kings, the translators encounter again this same noun, but this time they treat it differently: “Eliou was taken up in a whirlwind (συσσεισμῷ) as into heaven” (2:11). So, why not “Eliou was taken up in a seismic upheaval as into heaven”? Because “whirlwind” sounds better, and it captures what the passage is about.

I rest my case.


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