James Covington

Junior Fellow
2017

Today, religious communities may variously embrace or resist the powerful forces of cultural change, and yet religious texts and traditions serve to anchor them in the past. Over two millennia ago, diaspora Jews in Greek-speaking Egypt found themselves in what feels like a surprisingly modern context: faced with the winds of cultural change, they willfully held fast to their traditional texts even as they permanently transformed them, rewriting their Hebrew scriptures in the Greek tongue.

I am both honored and excited to participate as a Junior Fellow this year. Neither scholars nor practitioners of religion can afford to disregard the tensions between the traditional past, the changing present, and the imagined future, and my work on Greek Genesis aims to show how this ancient Jewish translator skillfully negotiated such cultural forces both by imitating the poetics of his Hebrew source and by safeguarding its literary integrity as a Greek text. In particular, the Genesis translator effected subtle transformations of this book’s plot, bringing some of its literary infelicities into accord with the canons of Hellenistic literary criticism, improving its internal consistency, the believability of its narrative sequence, and its overarching unity.

Since the tension between tradition and relevance is a broad and perennial religious concern, I am eager to engage with other scholars of religion and the wider public via the Martin Marty Center. I am confident that many points of contact between my own work and that of others will foster new and mutual insight, and I hope that my research on the Genesis translator’s transformations of plot will challenge the way we read, re-tell, and re-write these stories from our past.