We continue with a summary of Andrew Perriman's analysis of translations from the Hebrew rosh into the Greek kephale in the Spetuagint, presented in Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul.
1 Kings 8:1 (3 Kings 8:1 in the LXX) (17)
1 Kings 8:1
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads (rosh) of the tribes (mattah), the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion. (NRSV)
This passage has a Hebrew metaphor hidden within it. The Hebrew matteh is the typically translated literally as a “rod” or “staff,” and figuratively as “tribe.” When the word matteh is used literally to mean “rod” or “staff” it is always translated as rhabdos in the Septuagint. Rhabdos is never used for matteh when it figuratively signifies a tribe except here. The choice of the literal equivalent in translation for matteh (staff) would necessitate the literal translation of rosh (head) as well. We are talking literally about the “head of a staff,” as in that part of the staff which occupies the highest point. Since a “head of a staff” does not rule the rest of the staff but it is the most prominent feature at the end of the staff we are talking about prominence, not authority or rule.
Judges 10:18, 11:8-9 (15-16)
18 The commanders of the people of Gilead said to one another, "Who will begin the fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead." (NRSV)
4 After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. 5 And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 They said to Jephthah, "Come and be our commander, so that we may fight with the Ammonites." 7 But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "Are you not the very ones who rejected me and drove me out of my father's house? So why do you come to me now when you are in trouble?" 8 The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "Nevertheless, we have now turned back to you, so that you may go with us and fight with the Ammonites, and become head over us, over all the inhabitants of Gilead." 9 Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "If you bring me home again to fight with the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head." 10 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "The LORD will be witness between us; we will surely do as you say." 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah. (NRSV)
Of all the passages that Perriman considers, this one might seem to support the idea of “head” as “ruler.” Rather than trying to summarize Perriman, I will quote him at length.
In the Hebrew text of Judges 10:18; 11:8-9, the word rosh is used to describe the man (Jephthah) who would lead the Israelites to fight against the ‘sons of Ammon’: ‘He shall be head over all the people of Gilead.’
There are three main manuscripts of the Septuagint: Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus (both fourth century AD), and Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century AD). In the Alexandrian text of these verses, rosh is translated by kephale, whereas the Vatican text, in conformity with the general pattern, has archon (‘ruler’). From this it has been inferred, not unreasonably, that in the view of the translator of the Alexandrian version, kephale carried the same metaphorical meaning as rosh and was essentially synonymous with archon.
It would be wrong, however, to assume that the relationship between the two texts at this point is explicable only in terms of synonymy – particularly in view of what will emerge about the metaphorical sense of kephale from the study of other texts. So we might ask whether the use of kephale in the Alexandrian text of Judges 10:18; 11:8-9 and in both versions of 11:11 is not in fact meant to suggest prominence or precedence rather than the exercise of authority. What the people of Israel needed at the moment was not so much a ruler (someone to have authority over them) as someone to represent them before king Ammon (11:12) and if necessary to lead them into battle – someone to ‘begin to fight against the sons of Ammon’ (10:18; cf 11:8). As ‘head’, Jephthah would be the one to go first in the fight. If this explains the use of kephale in 10:18, it would also account for the use of the word in the later verses.
The force of this nuance may also be reflected in the fact that 10:18 and 11:8-9, kephale is followed by the dative (‘for all the inhabitants of Gilead’), not epi (‘over all the inhabitants of Gilead’). The preposition eis is found in 11:11 but in this case in both translations kephale is in direct apposition to a word meaning ‘ruler’ or ‘leader’: ‘the people placed him over them as head and ruler [eis kephalen kai eis archegon]’ (Vatican). This apposition, moreover is found in the Hebrew text, and in itself neither accounts for the unexpected use of kephale nor elicits from it the sense of ‘one who has authority over’.
As we examine the other passages, we may find that the apparent synonymy suggested by the two translations of the Hebrew tests is illusory, perhaps not more than a scribal idiosyncrasy. The fact remains that whereas the use of rosh in the Hebrew text here is perfectly consistent with its usage throughout the Old Testament, the appearance of kephale in the Alexandrian text at this point is exceptional. If kephale in these verses does not have the same sense of ‘one who goes first or most prominent’, then it should probably be regarded as a traditional anomaly.
This concludes the analysis of the handful of cases in the Septuagint where rosh was not directly translated as kephale. The evidence that kephale means "to rule over" is weak to nonexistent." These translation exceptions seem to cluster around the ideas of preeminence and prominence, metaphors for head that is shared by both Hebrew and Greek.
So in light of what we have reviewed, what can we say about what we might expect to find in New Testament instances of the head metaphor?