'Septuagint'


#1

The “Greek Septuagint.” That’s something many of us hear time and time again in discussions of Scripture. But what exactly is the Septuagint? And well, why is it important?

First off, the name Septuagint is applied to a certain compilation of translations of the Hebrew Bible and some related texts into Koine Greek (the ‘common’ supra-regional form of Greek spoken and written in much of the Mediterranean and the Middle East during Hellenistic and Roman antiquity), because of a legend which purports that seventy or seventy-two Jewish scholars were involved in its production. The Latin phrase versio septuaginta interpretum, “translation of the seventy interpreters,” a calque of the Greek phrase ἡ μετάφρασις τῶν ἑβδομήκοντα (hē metaphrasis tōn hebdomēkonta, “translation of the seventy”) is the origin of the term.

But where do we get this idea of the seventy-two translators? A work known as the Letter of Aristeas describes the Greek translation of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament, aka the Pentateuch) by seventy-two Jewish scholars sent into Egypt from Jerusalem at the request of the librarian of Alexandria, resulting in the Septuagint translation. The author of the letter claims to be a courtier of “Ptolemy” - presumably Ptolemy II Philadephus (reigned 285-246 BC).

In the letter, the author relates how the king of Egypt was urged by his chief librarian Demetrius of Phaleron to translate the Jewish Torah into Greek, and so add the knowledge of the Hebrews to the vast collection of books the empire had already collected. The king responds favorably to this idea, beginning by liberating the Jews in his kingdom who had been taken into captivity by his predecessors, and sending lavish gifts to the Temple in Jerusalem along with his envoys. In response to the request, the high priest chooses exactly six men from each of the twelve tribes, giving 72 in all. When the translators arrive in Alexandria, the king weeps for joy and for the next seven days poses philosophical questions to the translators (which they duly answer). The seventy-two translators then complete their task in exactly seventy-two days. The Jews of Alexandria, on hearing the newly-made translation, request copies to be made and lay a curse on anyone who would dare change it. The translators then return home duly rewarded.

This is a very well-known story, one that has been repeated as fact by subsequent generations of Jewish and Christian authors, getting elaborated every time it is retold. In fact, the Talmud (3rd-5th century AD) presents a highly-condensed version:

King Ptolemy once gathered seventy-two Elders. He placed them in seventy-two chambers, each of them in a separate one, without revealing to them why they were summoned. He entered each one’s room and said: “Write for me the Torah of Moses, your teacher.” God put it in the heart of each one to translate identically as all the others did.


#2

But here’s the rub: despite generations of early authors taking the letter at face value, the story is most likely to be fictional. For one, there is the matter of serious historical errors and inconsistencies in the text. The author Leonhard Rost (Judaism Outside the Hebrew Canon, p. 102) points out which these are:

The author claims to be a Greek—that is, non-Jewish—official in the court of King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246), who was one of the leaders of the mission to the high priest Eleazar and is now reporting what happened to his brother Philocrates. This statement is a fiction. The letter shows clearly that the author was an Alexandrian Jew living considerably later (§§ 28, 182) than the events described. He commits historical errors: Demetrius of Phaleron had been banished around 183 B.C. and had died soon afterwards; he could therefore not have been in office as the administrator of the library. The sea battle against Antigonus near Cos (258 B.C.) was a defeat, not a victory, as § 180 states; and the battle of Andros did not take place until the final year of Ptolemy II’s reign—247 B.C. Menedemus is said to have been at the banquet, but it is dubious whether he ever came to Egypt from Eretria (§ 201). These discrepancies are cited by H. T. Andrews. Bickermann, besides citing some earlier observations, adds the demonstration that various idioms in the Letter do not occur until the middle of the second century and later. Examples are the phrase ‘if it seems good’ (§ 32), the title ‘chief bodyguard(s)’ in the plural, and the formula ‘greetings and salutations.’ It is therefore best to follow Hadas and date the Letter around the year 130 B.C. Wendland assumes that it was composed between 97 and 93 B.C. Willrich and Graetz suggest the reign of Caligula, but this dating is too late, since Aristeas presumes that the island of Pharos is inhabited, whereas Caesar had made it uninhabitable in 63 B.C.

James VanderKam (An Introduction to Early Judaism, pp. 84-85) adds:

There has been a long debate among scholars regarding whether the Letter tells us anything historically reliable about the translation of the law into Greek. It is not impossible that the process happened or started in Philadelphus’s reign since use of the translation is attested by ca. 200 BCE. It seems unlikely on general grounds that it all transpired just as the Letter claims. It is possible that the Letter was written in part to defend the validity of the Torah in Greek in face of claims made for the sole sufficiency of the Hebrew version. In later Christian retellings of the story about the translation found in the Letter, the tale expanded so that eventually the entire Hebrew Bible was involved (so Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 68:6-7); indeed, all the translators worked on the entire project independently, and when they compared their results at the end, wonder of wonders, every one of them was exactly alike (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.21.2)."

There is, however, a detail in the story which may be historically accurate. The Greek translation of the Torah now included in the Septuagint does indeed from around the 3rd century BC. Proofs for this include the fact that the Greek is representative of early Koine used during the time period, as well as citations and early manuscripts datable to as early as the 2nd century BC. However, in the case of the other books, it is not altogether clear which was translated when or where the translation was undertaken. It seems that other books were translated from between the 3rd-2nd century BC: some books may even have been translated twice, into different versions, and then revised. Note that the quality and style varies considerably from book to book, ranging from the literal to paraphrasing to interpretative. Still, nearly all attempts at dating specific books, with the exception of the Pentateuch, are tentative. In addition, a handful of books (such as the Wisdom of Solomon, 2 Maccabees and 3 Maccabees) are even original Greek compositions rather than translations.


#3

Here’s a problem. A common misconception/oversimplification that many people commit is to think of and refer to a particular collection as being “the Septuagint.” Many scholars themselves, while they are more aware of the actual situation in those days, still somewhat misleadingly choose to use this shorthand (“The evangelists/Paul quoted the Septuagint,” etc.), as if Paul or the evangelists consulted a huge, fat codex called ‘The Septuagint’ or Mark or Luke or Paul somehow decided to drop by a local bookstore and decided to purchase their own bound copies.

Properly speaking, what the term ‘Septuagint’ means could either be (1) in a strict sense, the earliest translation of the first five books of the Old Testament into Greek (ca. late 3rd century BC) - with the earliest versions of the other books (3rd-1st century BC) being called “Old Greek”; or (2) in a more looser way, as a catch-all reference to the earliest translations of the different books as a whole, or even (3) Scriptural books in Greek that were available to the early Christians, with no care as to whether they were the oldest translations or not.

There are in fact different versions of ‘the Septuagint’. Limiting myself to the pre-Christian versions for now, there is, first and foremost, the Old Greek (OG), which is the ‘original’ version. Between the original production of the Old Greek and later Greek versions made during the 2nd century there were two early revisions of the text. The earlier, dating from perhaps the 1st century BC, is called “proto-Lucian” because it shares characteristics with the revision attributed to the Christian St. Lucian of Antioch (4th century AD). It is called Proto-Lucian because some of the readings it shares with the later ‘Lucianic’ recension are reflected in both Josephus (1st century) and the Vetus Latina - Latin translations of Scripture made before St. Jerome (2nd century).

The later revision is called the Kaige after its habit of rendering the Hebrew phrase ו)גם) “(and) also” as kai ge. It dates to the late 1st century BC or the early 1st century AD and its overall character is seen as a revision of the Old Greek in the direction of conformity with the ancestor of what we call the Masoretic text. The revision is noted for its use of stock renderings of particular Hebrew words and phrases (of which kai ge is one) that seem to be chosen primarily to give Greek readers a sense of what was in the original Hebrew, with little concern for whether the resulting translation was idiomatic Greek.

A Kaige text which shows close relation to another revision of the Septuagint attributed to Theodotion (end of 2nd century) is called Kaige-Theodotion (Kaige-Th): a scroll of the Minor Prophets discovered in a site called Naḥal Ḥever in the Judaean desert (8ḤevXII gr), dating from the 1st century AD, is an example of a Kaige-Th text.

http://imageshack.us/a/img705/331/mprsb.jpg

The extremely-literal Greek translation produced by Aquila of Sinope (ca. AD 140) was apparently influenced by Kaige-Th and is the fullest expression of the tendency to harmonize the Greek with the Hebrew. Theodotion’s version was somewhat later than Aquila’s, and his Greek is freer than Aquila’s stilted literalness. His religious affiliation is in doubt, but his version became popular with Christians, to the point that the translation of Daniel attributed to him even came to replace the Old Greek version in Christian usage.


#4

Looks like I’ve got some reading to do when I have more time. I’ve never gotten into the technical ins and outs of the LXX, but to me its importance is the fact that the translators were working from Hebrew texts that were over 1000 years older than the Masoretic manuscripts used by the KJV translators.


#5

From David H. Lim’s The Dead Sea Scrolls (part of Oxford University Press’ Very Short Introductions series):

‘Text-type’ is an important concept that refers to the version of a particular document or literary composition. Let us say that you are composing a report or essay on your portable computer; you work on it for a while and save it on your hard disk in order to continue it at a later time. A good practice is to save the document in successive versions in order to minimize loss in the event of a crash or corruption of a particular file. Thus, you first save the file as ‘sampledocument.doc’ and having worked on it further save it as another file called ‘sampledocument2.doc’ and so on. If ‘sampledocument2.doc’ becomes corrupt, then you can return to ‘sampledocument.doc’, having lost only the incremental amount between the two. Moreover, you can revert to original formulations and calculations with this electronic paper trail. Each one of these files will share a common core, but will also be a slightly different version. If one were to ask which was ‘the original’ text, then the answer surely depends upon what we mean by the term. The initial commission of your thoughts to writing would be preserved in ‘sampledocument.doc’. However, if by ‘original’ you mean the copy that you sent off or submitted, then it would be the final or official version of the file.

In ancient times, ‘manuscripts’, as the word suggests, were written and copied out by hand. The production of literary works involved the compositional and copying stages, with the Qumran scrolls attesting to the latter. As we know from our own experience of copying, such a process is susceptible to expansions, contractions and all manner of scribal errors. For instance, our eyes could skip from one line to another or from one phrase to another that is either identical or similar. We could misspell a word or mis-form a letter. All these human errors contribute to the creation of different text-types. Other changes are intentional revisions of a text for ideological and religious reasons or mechanical ones, such as the stereotype or consistent rendering of one word by another in the target language.

Before the discovery of the scrolls, there were three previously known text-types of the Hebrew Bible: the Masoretic Text, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint. The second of these refers to the Torah of the Samaritan community who consider themselves descendants of the ancient Northern Kingdom of Israel. The origins of the Samaritan community is a question of much debate; some sources hold that they were foreigners (2 Kgs 17.24-34), the indigenous people of Samaria (Ezra 4.4), or a sect that broke away from Judaism in the Hellenistic period (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 11.340-345). The Samaritans regard the real sanctuary of God to be situated on Mount Gerizim and not in Jerusalem. They still reside today on that holy mountain in Israel and practise their own traditions. Their version of the Torah is characterized by expansionist and ideological readings. Strictly speaking the Samaritan Pentateuch refers only to the first five books, but the text-type is applied to the rest of the Hebrew Bible by analogy.

In the years following the discovery of the scrolls, Frank Cross proposed a local text theory that identified geographical areas with the three text-types. Accordingly, the Masoretic Text was representative of the Babylonian, the Samaritan of the Palestinian and the Septuagint of the Egyptian location. Cross classified all the Qumran biblical scrolls into one of the three text-types. For instance, 4QSam[sup]a[/sup] was considered a non-Masoretic Text much closer to the Vorlage of the Old Greek. Yet this text also has affinities with the Masoretic Text, the so-called proto-Lucianic text (a revision of the Greek translation), Chronicles and Josephus’s text of Samuel.

It became evident that the Qumran biblical texts could not be so pigeon-holed. A rival view was advanced by Emanuel Tov which posited a multiplicity of biblical text-types. Tov preferred to call them textual ‘groups’, but the more common designation is ‘text-types’. There were not just three text-types, but at least five or more groups of texts. Tov provided the following statistical data on the textual characteristics of the Qumran biblical scrolls: 35% were proto-Masoretic Text; 15% were pre-Samaritan; 5% were Septuagintal; 35% were non-aligned: 20% were texts written in the Qumran practice. Note that the total of 110% is due to the double counting of some of the texts in categories 1, 4 and 5, and category 4 is a ‘catch all’ for non-aligned and independent texts. Moreover, category 5 is a controversial group based upon the scribal practice of the Qumran community; not everyone agrees that this is a text-type.

It is now widely recognized that the Qumran biblical scrolls attest to a greater number of text-types than was previously thought. The Masoretic Text is surely an important text-type; it may even be argued that it was the dominant text-type, but there were several others that cannot be discounted. Some scholars, usually of the more conservative position, continue to hold the Masoretic Text as the text of the Hebrew Bible and all other text-types as translational, interpretative or recensional derivatives, even though they do not exhibit any of the relevant textual characteristics. This ‘Masoretic Text fundamentalism’, as it is called, prejudges the new evidence of the Qumran scrolls with unwarranted convictions.


#6

Another quote from Lim’s The Dead Sea Scrolls:

Before the discovery of the Qumran scrolls, scholars had to be satisfied with studying Hebrew biblical manuscripts that date to the mediaeval period. The Nash Papyrus, dating to the first and second century BCE, was the only extant exception, although it was not a biblical text as such but a liturgical anthology of quotations of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The Masoretic Text, as the mediaeval text was called, is the textus receptus or received text. English translations available today are based on the Masoretic Text and most modern ones are translated from the Leningrad Codex of the St. Petersburg Library in Russia (dating to ca. 1000).

The Qumran biblical scrolls attest to the antiquity of the biblical books. They are approximately one thousand years older than the Masoretic Text, dating to between 250 BCE and 100 CE. They are much closer in time to the composition of the biblical books. The one thousand year period is also significant because it stretches back to a time when the biblical texts remained fluid. By about 100 CE all the biblical texts had unified into the proto-Masoretic Text or proto-Rabbinic text-type and the textual variation was limited to orthographical differences. Some scholars describe this terminus as the time of the fixation of the biblical text; others would prefer to see it as a selection of the Masoretic Text as the authoritative text over against other text-types. In any case, by about 100 CE all the biblical manuscripts found in various locations in the Judaean Desert, not only at Qumran, are Masoretic Texts.

Geza Vermes (The Story of the Scrolls: The Miraculous Discovery and True Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls) goes into more detail:

The distinctive mark of the biblical texts found in the Qumran library is their elasticity. Before the establishment of the authoritative wording of the Hebrew Scriptures, as a result of the Pharisaic-rabbinic reorganization of Judaism in the decades following the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, textual pluriformity reigned. The choice of the text and its interpretation were left in the hands of the local representatives of doctrinal authority. We even have evidence that a Qumran Bible commentator was aware of the existence of variants and was ready to employ them in his exposition of a biblical passage. In Habakkuk 2:16, ‘Drink and show your foreskin!’ (he’arel from the root ‘RL), the traditional Hebrew uses the image of a drunkard, who like Noah, discards his clothes and allows his foreskin to be seen. The Septuagint, in turn, translates a slightly differently structured Hebrew verb, hera’el (from the root R’L, made up of the same consonants as the forgoing verb ‘RL but placed in a different order) which means ‘to stagger’, and gives, ‘Drink and stagger!’ The author of the Qumran Habakkuk Commentary, applying the prophecy to the ‘Wicked Priest’, the priestly enemy of the Dead Sea Community, skillfully plays with both ideas: ‘For he did not circumcise the foreskin (‘RLH from ‘RL as the traditional Hebrew) of his heart and walked in the ways of drunkenness’, i.e. staggered as in the LXX (Commentary of Habakkuk 11:13-14). By contrast, the biblical manuscripts dating to the early second century, yielded by the caves of Murabba’at, attest only the traditional (proto-Masoretic) form of the scriptural text.
The causes of the textual elasticity of the Qumran Bible are manifold. On a superficial level they may be seen as the result of efforts of modernization of spelling and grammar, the search for stylistic variation and harmonization, but above all, in Professor Shemaryahu Talmon’s words, they are due to ‘insufficiently controlled copying’. Put positively, the Qumran scribes arrogated to themselves the right to creative freedom and considered it their duty to improve the work they were propagating. Such relative liberty could go hand in hand with the conviction that all they were doing was to transmit faithfully the true meaning of Scripture. As is often the case, Flavius Josephus has the final word on the matter. In his Jewish Antiquities 1:17, he maintains that he has reproduced the details of the biblical record without adding anything to it, or removing from it, when in fact he has been doing the exact opposite while intending to transmit what in his view Scripture really meant. Allowing us to perceive the situation that preceded the enforced unification of the biblical text is one of the chief innovations of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is a major, indeed unique, contribution to an improved understanding of the history of the Bible.

As I mentioned earlier, by the 1st century BC-1st century AD there was already a tendency in Palestine to ‘correct’ the text of the Old Greek using local versions like the proto-Masoretic text. The Naḥal Ḥever Minor Prophets scroll is an example; even the ordering of the prophets follows the traditional Hebrew order, not that of the Septuagint. The fact that this scroll was found among the remains of Bar Kokhba’s followers (AD 125), linked to the Jeursalem religious circles, is not without importance. It probably implies that this text had the imprimatur of the rabbinic circles. In other words the reworking of the Old Greek towards the consonantal text of the pre-Masoretic text is not a Jewish response to its appropriation by early Christianity but started earlier and has other causes.


#7

The last of the rival 2nd century AD versions was produced by Symmachus in the closing years of the century. Compared to Aquila and Theodotion, Symmachus was the most gifted of the three, at least in terms of Greek style, and he produced an idiomatic translation that leans toward the paraphrase. His version had little impact on the subsequent history of the transmission of the Septuagint, but it did exert quite an influence on St. Jerome and the Latin Vulgate.

By the end of the century there were (at least) four competing Greek versions of the Old Testament. The discrepancies between these four versions and their differences with respect to the Hebrew text were very bewildering. It was at this point that the early Christian author Origen, set out to bring order and understanding to the confusing array of competing textual witnesses to the OT text. His work resulted in a massive volume known as the Hexapla, a six-column work in which the existing Greek versions could be compared with the (proto-Masoretic) Hebrew text that was current in Origen’s time. In the first column was the contemporary Hebrew text, in the second a Greek transliteration of it, then Aquila, Symmachus, Origen’s own revision of the Old Greek, with special symbols that indicated whether material had been added or deleted in order to make it match the Hebrew text, and finally, Theodotion.

The Hexapla was never really copied in its entirety because of its sheer size. Origen’s revision of the Old Greek was copied frequently, however the editing marks were subsequently left out, and the older, uncombined text of the Septuagint was neglected. In a way, Origen unwittingly added to the textual confusion he had originally aimed to resolve. This combined text became the first major Christian recension of the Septuagint, often called the Hexaplar recension.

Two more Christians have left their mark on early Septuagint history: Lucian of Antioch and Hesychius. Lucian was a presbyter of Antioch who was martyred around AD 311. The peculiarity of his work on the Greek OT (the Lucianic) is a tendency to conflate two variant readings into a single reading. A ‘Hesychius’ also produced a Greek version (the Hesychian) around the same time (ca. AD 300), which is partly reflected in the OT text of Codex Vaticanus.


#8

Here is the fuller quote (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 9a-b):

And in addition to this Boraitha it is stated:

Said R. Jehudah: The sages allowed to write in Greek only the Pentateuch, but not anything else. And this was also allowed only because of what occurred with Ptolemy the king, as follows: It happened to Ptolemy the king that he took seventy-two elders from Jerusalem, and placed them in seventy-two separate chambers, and did not inform them to what purpose he had brought them. And afterward he entered to each of them, and said to them: Translate me the Torah of Moses from memory. And the Holy One, blessed be He, sent into the heart of each of them a counsel, and they all agreed to have one mind, and changed as follows: Instead of “In the beginning God created the world,” they wrote, “God created the world in the beginning”; instead of Gen. i. 26 they wrote, “I will make a man in an image”; instead of Gen. ii. 2 they wrote, “And God finished on the sixth day, and rested on the seventh day”; instead of Gen. v. 2 they wrote, “created him”; instead of Gen. xi. 7 they wrote, “Let me go down”; [xviii. 12]: “And Sarah laughed among her relatives”; instead of xlix. 6, “In their anger they slew an ox, and their self-will lamed a fattened ox.” And instead of Ex. iv. 20, “Set them on a porter (man-carrier)”; instead of ibid. xii. 40, “Dwelt in Egypt and in other lands”; and ibid. xxiv. as ibid., “Against the respectable men of Israel.” Instead of Num. xvi. 15, “Not one precious thing I took away”; and instead of Deut. iv. 19 they wrote, “assigned to light for all nations”; instead of ibid. xvii. 3, “which I have not commanded to worship”; and instead of Lev. xi. 6, “the hare,” which is expressed in the Bible “Arnebeth,” as Ptolemy’s wife was named so they wrote, “and the beast that has small feet.”

In this version of the legend, the scholars are said to have intentionally made a number of changes to the text in the translation in order to prevent misunderstandings or embarrassment to Judaism. Interestingly, out of the fifteen specific unusual translations supposedly made by the translators according to this tale, only two are found in the extant Septuagint.

(Now, why would the translators in this version of the story write “God created in the beginning?” The traditional answer to this is because, the translators supposedly were afraid that the words bərē’šîṯ bārā’ ’Ĕlōhîm would be misinterpreted when translated hyper-literally: “Bərē’šîṯ-created-’ĕlōhîm,” i.e. a higher god named Bərē’šîṯ created ’ĕlōhîm (‘God’ or ‘the gods’). So what they did in translation was reverse the word order: in Hebrew, ’Ĕlōhîm bārā’ bərē’šîṯ “’Ĕlōhîm created bərē’šîṯ.”)

The thing, however, is that the supposed number of key passages where the translators are said to have deliberately ‘mistranslated’ things differ between sources, even within the (Babylonian) Talmud itself. It is ten in Tanḥuma, Shemot (Exodus) 22 and Avot de-Rabbi Nathan 37; thirteen in tractate Soferim 1.8, tractate Sefer Torah 1.9, Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael 14 and the Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 71.d; eighteen in Exodus Rabbah 5.5 and in the Midrash ha-Gadol to Deuteronomy 4:19. Out of these, it is thought that the sources reporting thirteen or fifteen alterations represent the central tradition. Five of these supposed key verses are actually attested in the Greek text (Genesis 2:2; Exodus 4:20a; Exodus 12:40b; Numbers 16:15b; Leviticus 11:5a), and three or four show contact with it (Genesis 1:1; 2:2a; 18:12b; and 49:6b).

Basically the ultimate point of this story is that differences were noticed between the ‘common’ (proto-Masoretic) text and the Septuagint. However, the idea that these are ‘alterations’ as the rabbinic tale purports it to be is no longer supported. Instead, the differences between the Septuagint and the common Hebrew text can be thought of as deriving from (1) translations deviating from the proto-Masoretic based on Hebrew variants; (2) translations deviating from the proto-Masoretic arising either from Hebrew variants or from exegesis; (3) exegetical translations; and (4) Greek equivalents which were misinterpreted by the rabbinic tradition as differences between the Septuagint and the Torah.


#9

More at-work reading for tomorrow :smiley:


#10

The story of the Septuagint is related by Josephus in “The Antiquities of the Jews;” it is in Book 12, Chapter 2. Ptolemy Philadelphus wanted the Jewish books for his Library. His Librarian Demetrius Phalerius was collecting all the books of the world for the Library of Alexandria. Aristeus is also mentioned in this chapter. Briefly, six of each tribe were asked to come and translate the books for them, in 72 days they had finished this work! The traditional story!!!:slight_smile:


#11

Kindly read the first two posts. :cool:


#12

Adding to what I had written:

There is, however, a detail in the story which may be historically accurate. The Greek translation of the Torah now included in the Septuagint does indeed from around the 3rd century BC. Proofs for this include the fact that the Greek is representative of early Koine used during the time period, as well as citations and early manuscripts datable to as early as the 2nd century BC. However, in the case of the other books, it is not altogether clear which was translated when or where the translation was undertaken. It seems that other books were translated from between the 3rd-2nd century BC: some books may even have been translated twice, into different versions, and then revised. Note that the quality and style varies considerably from book to book, ranging from the literal to paraphrasing to interpretative. Still, nearly all attempts at dating specific books, with the exception of the Pentateuch, are tentative. In addition, a handful of books (such as the Wisdom of Solomon, 2 Maccabees and 3 Maccabees) are even original Greek compositions rather than translations.

In the case of the non-Torah books, scholarship does at least agree that many of them were not translated in Egypt but in Palestine. One of the two Greek versions of Esther for example has a note at the end stating that:

In the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemy and Kleopatra (either 114/113 BC, 78/77 BC, or 48 BC), Dositheos, who said he was a priest and a Leuite, and Ptolemy his son brought the above letter about Phrourai, which they said existed, and Lysimachus son of Ptolemy, one of those in Ierousalem, translated it.

Ecclesiastes also follows this evidence - it was a very literal translation of the Hebrew. In fact, the evidence found within the Septuagint suggests a predominant Palestinian setting rather than an Egyptian one. Dates are tentative as mentioned, but one estimate puts the historical books at the 2nd century BC through the early part of the 1st century AD, while the prophetic books are given the date of mid-2nd century BC and the poetical books show evidence of being made in the 2nd century BC.

As for the exact reason why the Hebrew Torah was translated into Greek, scholars agree that that it was motivated by a need for the Diasporic Jews to honor God in their own language. These Greek-speaking communities were becoming increasingly ignorant of Hebrew and were in sore need of education in their own traditions and sacred texts. The interpretation of the OT became of central importance for Judaism since the return from exile and Ezra’s reforms, so that not only did the Jews require a translation of the Torah in the common language (Greek), they needed a translation with an interpretational value to it as well. They however differ in answering the specific purpose for the creation of the translation that goes beyond the communal need for the Hebrew Bible in the lingua franca. Some assert that the texts were more used in worship as liturgical aids (‘texts for worship’), while others think that they served more as an interlinear for people less familiar with Hebrew than with Greek (‘texts for study’).


#13

Here’s a problem. A common misconception/oversimplification that many people commit is to think of and refer to a particular collection as being “the Septuagint.” Many scholars themselves, while they are more aware of the actual situation in those days, still somewhat misleadingly choose to use this shorthand (“The evangelists/Paul quoted the Septuagint,” etc.), as if Paul or the evangelists consulted a huge, fat codex called ‘The Septuagint’ or Mark or Luke or Paul somehow decided to drop by a local bookstore and decided to purchase their own bound copies.

Properly speaking, what the term ‘Septuagint’ means could either be (1) in a strict sense, the earliest translation of the first five books of the Old Testament into Greek (ca. late 3rd century BC) - with the earliest versions of the other books (3rd-1st century BC) being called “Old Greek”; or (2) in a more looser way, as a catch-all reference to the earliest translations of the different books as a whole, or even (3) Scriptural books in Greek that were available to the early Christians, with no care as to whether they were the oldest translations or not.

There are in fact different versions of ‘the Septuagint’. Limiting myself to the pre-Christian versions for now, there is, first and foremost, the Old Greek (OG), which is the ‘original’ version.

There’s really a huge problem with the terminology itself. Nowadays ‘Septuagint’ can be and are used in a few possible ways. (1) It can be used to refer to the Greek version of a particular biblical book (say, ‘Septuagint of Jonah’ or 'the Septuagint Psalms) as opposed to the corresponding Hebrew book, or in some cases, other Greek versions (e.g. the book of Daniel, which exists in the ‘Septuagint’ version and the more common version of Theodotion). (2) In some books (partiuclarly parts of Judges and Samuel-Kings - “1-4 Reigns”) it is clear that our oldest manuscripts of them have transmitted revised forms of the original translation. In this case ‘Septuagint’ is used sometimes loosely for the whole manuscript tradition of these books, sometimes more correctly for the original material only. (3) It can also be employed in the broadest possible sense: terms like ‘Septuagint studies’ or ‘printed editions of the Septuagint’ usually fall under this category.

One of the solutions to get around this problem is to limit the term ‘Septuagint’ to the Pentateuch/Torah section - since at least in the original version of the legend as contained to the Letter of Aristeas, the seventy-two scholars translated only the Torah into Greek. It is not until the collection of Greek biblical books grew that people (usually Christian authors starting from St. Justin Martyr) applied the name to the whole corpus. So basically the Greek Torah is the ‘Septuagint’, while the other books are the ‘Old Greek’, which results in some scholars adopting the twofold designation LXX/OG (LXX being the Roman numeral for ‘70’ and is a common abbreviation for ‘Septuagint’). Another way is to reserve the term ‘Old Greek’ for the earliest stage that can be reconstructed for any given book, while ‘Septuagint’ (LXX) is reserved for the subsequent stages of textual transmission. Some would use 'Proto-Septuagint for these hypothetical reconstructed originals, but more often it is the modern critical editions (such as the 1935 edition by Alfred Rahlfs or the more comprehensive Göttingen edition) that are presented as ‘the Septuagint’. But yeah, there’s really no fixed way of referring to them.


#14

More reading at work. Thanks, Patrick :thumbsup: :popcorn:


#15

I’m going to compare these supposed changed passages with the Greek text we now have. First comes the Hebrew, followed by Megillah 9a-b, and then the extant Greek version. The possible reasons for these supposed changes are then stated.

Genesis 1:1In-[the]-beginning (bərē’šîṯ) created God” = “God created in-[the]-beginning (bərē’šîṯ)” = “In [the] beginning created God” (Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς) - To avoid the impression that a higher god named Bərē’šîṯ created ’ĕlōhîm (God/‘gods’)

Genesis 1:26Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness” = “I will make a man in an image and a likeness” - “Let us make man according to our image and according to likeness” (ποιήσωμεν ἄνθρωπον κατ’ εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν καὶ καθ’ ὁμοίωσιν) - To avoid the impression of multiple deities, or to avoid attributing an image or likeness to God (cf. Exodus 20:4)

Genesis 2:2 “And God finished on the seventh day, and ceased on the seventh day from all His work which He had made” = “And he finished on the sixth day and rested on the seventh day…” = “And God finished on the sixth day his works that he had made, and he left off on the seventh day from all his works that he had made” (συνετέλεσεν ὁ θεὸς ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ἕκτῃ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ ἃ ἐποίησεν) - To avoid the impression that God worked on the Sabbath

Genesis 5:2 “male and female he created them” = “male and female he created him” (Babylonian) / “A man and his internal organs he created him” (Jerusalem; nekeivah “female” changed to nekuvah “his organs”) = “male and female he created them” (ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτοὺς) - To harmonize this with 2:21-23 (where Adam is created first and Eve is later created out of his side): i.e. Adam was first created as a hermaphrodite with male and female characteristics before God separated him into two beings

Genesis 11:7 “Come, let us go down and let us confuse their language there” = “Come, let me go down and let me confuse their language” = “Come, and let us go down, and let us confuse there their language” (δεῦτε καὶ καταβάντες συγχέωμεν ἐκεῖ αὐτῶν τὴν γλῶσσαν) - To avoid the impression of a duality or multiplicity of deities

Genesis 18:12 “And Sarah laughed within herself, saying” = “And Sarah laughed among her relatives, saying” = “And Sarah laughed within herself, saying” (ἐγέλασεν δὲ Σαρρα ἐν ἑαυτῇ λέγουσα) - To avoid the impression of divine favoritism: if both Abraham and Sarah laughed when they heard that they would have a son in their advanced age (cf. Genesis 17:17; 18:10-19), why is God angry only with Sarah and not Abraham? (i.e. if Abraham was the only one who laughed “within himself” and Sarah ridiculed it in public…)

Genesis 49:6 “because in their anger they killed a man and in their self-will they hamstrung an ox” - “because in their anger they killed an ox, and in their self-will they uprooted a stall” - “because in their anger they killed men and in their passion they hamstrung a bull” (ὅτι ἐν τῷ θυμῷ αὐτῶν ἀπέκτειναν ἀνθρώπους καὶ ἐν τῇ ἐπιθυμίᾳ αὐτῶν ἐνευροκόπησαν ταῦρον) - To protect the integrity of Jacob’s sons so that they would not be called violent murderers


#16

(Continued)

Exodus 4:20 “And Moses took his wife and his sons and set them upon a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt” - “And Moses took his wife and his sons and set them upon a carrier of men” - “Then Moyses took his wife and children and put them on draft animals (hypozygia), and he went back to Egypt” (ἀναλαβὼν δὲ Μωυσῆς τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ τὰ παιδία ἀνεβίβασεν αὐτὰ ἐπὶ τὰ ὑποζύγια καὶ ἐπέστρεψεν εἰς Αἴγυπτον) - To avoid the impression that Moses had to transport his family on a lowly donkey; it would have been better for such a great man as Moses to return to Egypt on a camel, which is how Rashi understands the phrase “carrier of men.” Plus, there’s also the canard that Jews (and later Christians) worshipped a donkey

Exodus 12:40 “And the dwelling of the sons of Israel which they dwelled in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years” - “and the dwelling of the sons of Israel which they dwelled in Egypt and in other lands was four hundred [and thirty] years” - “Now the residence of the sons of Israel during which they dwelt in the land, Egypt, and in the land of Chanaan was four hundred and thirty years” (ἡ δὲ κατοίκησις τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ ἣν κατῴκησαν ἐν γῇ Αἰγύπτῳ καὶ ἐν γῇ Χανααν ἔτη τετρακόσια τριάκοντα) - This solves the following problem: if one counts the generations of the Israelites in Egypt, one finds that they spend only 210 years there. However as per Genesis 15:13 they are supposed to spend 400 years in “a land not theirs.”

Exodus 24:5, 11 “And he sent young men of the sons of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to Yhwh …] And against the chief men (ăṣîlê) of the sons of Israel he did not stretch out his hand” - “And he sent the za’atute of Israel …] And against the za’atute of the sons of Israel he did not stretch out his hand” - “And he sent the young men of the sons of Israel …] And not even one of the chosen of Israel perished” (καὶ ἐξαπέστειλεν τοὺς νεανίσκους τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ …] καὶ τῶν ἐπιλέκτων τοῦ Ισραηλ οὐ διεφώνησεν οὐδὲ εἷς) - To avoid the impression that the Israelites would send unimportant people (“young men”) to offer the sacrifice, a deliberately ambiguous word (za’atutei) is chosen; the same word is supposedly used in v. 11 to link it with v. 5

Numbers 16:15Not one donkey from them have I taken” - “Not one valuable item of theirs have I taken” (ḥamor (חמ(ו)ר, ḥ-m-(w)-r) “donkey” changed to ḥemed (חמד, ḥ-m-d) “precious thing” - note that daleth (ד, d) and resh (ר, r) look almost the same in square script) - “I have not taken what was desired from any one of them” (οὐκ ἐπιθύμημα οὐδενὸς αὐτῶν εἴληφα οὐδὲ ἐκάκωσα οὐδένα αὐτῶν) - To ensure the understanding that Moses took nothing at all from the people, lest a reader understand “donkey” literally rather than paradigmatically. Again note the possible avoidance of the word “donkey” in light of the ‘donkey-worshipping Jews’ canard

Deuteronomy 4:19 “And lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you should be misled to worship them and serve them, which Yhwh your God has apportioned to all the nations under the whole heaven” - “…which Yhwh your God has apportioned to give light to all the nations…” - “And do not, when you look to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, and every adornment of heaven be led astray and worship them and serve them - those [things] that the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations underneath heaven” (καὶ μὴ ἀναβλέψας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἰδὼν τὸν ἥλιον καὶ τὴν σελήνην καὶ τοὺς ἀστέρας καὶ πάντα τὸν κόσμον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ πλανηθεὶς προσκυνήσῃς αὐτοῖς καὶ λατρεύσῃς αὐτοῖς ἃ ἀπένειμεν κύριος ὁ θεός σου αὐτὰ πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν τοῖς ὑποκάτω τοῦ οὐρανοῦ) - To avoid the interpretation that God gave the sun, moon and stars to the nations in order that they should practice idolatry and worship them

Deuteronomy 17:3 “…and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, and to the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded” - “…and has gone and served other gods which I have not commanded to worship them…” - “…and having gone out, they should serve other gods and worship them - whether the sun or the moon or any of what belongs to the adornment of heaven, which I have not ordered” - These were supposedly added since without them the text may be understood to imply that God did not command the other gods to exist, and their existence would be viewed as proof against God’s omnipotence. It is possible to think that when God says “which I have not commanded” it means that He did not specifically create the moon or stars but that they created themselves (were gods unto themselves). To avoid this, “to worship them” was supposedly added.


#17

(Continued)

Leviticus 11:6 (cf. Deuteronomy 14:7) “And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you;” - “And the short-legged creature…” - “and the choirogryllios (literally ‘swine-pig’, from choiros ‘swine, hog, sow, piglet’ + gryllos ‘pig’ - traditionally understood as ‘coney’!), because this animal brings up the cud but does not split the hoof - this one is unclean for you” (καὶ τὸν χοιρογρύλλιον ὅτι ἀνάγει μηρυκισμὸν τοῦτο καὶ ὁπλὴν οὐ διχηλεῖ ἀκάθαρτον τοῦτο ὑμῖν) - As the passage says, “they wrote for his (Ptolemy’s) benefit, ‘the short-legged creature,’ and they did not write for him, ‘and the hare,’ since the wife of Ptolemy was named “Hare” so that he would not say, ‘The Jews mocked me and placed my wife’s name in the Torah (among the unclean animals).’” (Historically, it was Ptolemy I Soter’s obscure father who was named Lagos “hare” - hence Ptolemy is also known as Lagides “son of Lagos” and the dynasty is also known as the Lagids.)


#18

I am interested in this subject but I have only lightly “skimmed” the posts, so far.

What I am interested in relates to something I heard on EWTN, to wit, that the Septuagint had all the deuterocanonical books included, which would indicate that the translators were looking at “hebrew” originals. No need to get long-winded, but, is this true, about the deuterocanonicals being included?

Also, elsewhere, I have come to understand that the “Hebrew Bible” was not considered closed until the first century AD – is this true, indicating that the translators that produced the Septuagint were not looking at only what would later be considered to be canonical texts?

My reading of books from the Jewish Publication Society (which is obviously opinionated to the point of bias) is that the rabbis looked around more broadly than just the Torah and the other later writings that formed the Hebrew Bible. (this is a comment, beyond dispute)


#19

Hah. :smiley: Let’s start with the important thing - the ‘Septuagint’ wasn’t translated as a set. In other words when we say “the Septuagint was translated” people often seem to think of the translators translating the Hebrew and then collecting their work in this single volume called ‘Septuagint’. But let’s be honest; this view is anachronistic.

What most likely happened is, that different (independent?) translations of different Jewish documents into Greek were all classified as “Greek translations of Jewish writings (=scriptures).” You’re correct in that in this yet-impromptu collection were included a few writings (either translations from the Hebrew or original compositions into Greek). Greek-speaking Jewish communities outside Palestine used Greek translations of writings that were considered to belong to this category.

No one called this informal ‘collection’ the “Septuagint” back then: our very first witness to the legend of the seventy(-two) translators, the Letter of Aristeas, is pretty clear that the translators translated only the Torah - “the Law.” (It is really Christians’ fault that the idea that the seventy(-two) translators translated all known books considered to be binding and a few more besides came to spread.) So in a sense, people back then did not refer to “the Septuagint” - they simply referred to existing Greek translations of ‘the Scriptures’.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind: in the beginning only the Torah was regarded as binding and there was a duty to read it in its entirety in the synagogues. This is why among the Alexandrian Jews only the Torah had been officially translated into Greek. (BTW, this is why in a former post I mentioned one scholarly solution to the rather confusing (mis)use of the term ‘Septuagint’ as involving to limiting the term only to the Greek Torah.) Later, writings of “the Prophets” came to be considered binding as well. Which leaves us with a third category of ‘other writingss’ that don’t really belong to the first two - what would later be dubbed “the Writings.” It is really this third category that was still in a more-or-less fluid state by the 1st century.


#20

Now here’s something juicy: what exactly are the differences between the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures?

The most obvious difference is the ordering and the categorization of books. In the current Jewish order, you have the biblical books grouped together into three categories: the ‘Law’ (Torah), the ‘Prophets’ (Nevi’im), and the ‘Writings’ (Ketuvim). Taken together, these three categories constitute the TaNaKh** (taken from the first letters of Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim: t-n-k, tav-nun-kaf) or the Miqra (“that which is read”) - which is basically what the Jews would call what Christians term the ‘Old Testament’. This is how the books are currently ordered:

Torah

1.) Genesis (Bereshit ‘In [the] beginning’)
2.) Exodus (Shemot ‘Names’)
3.) Leviticus (Vayiqra ‘And He called’)
4.) Numbers (Bemidbar ‘In the desert [of]’)
5.) Deuteronomy (Devarim ‘words’)

Nevi’im

‘Former Prophets’

6.) Joshua (Yehoshua’)
7.) Judges (Shoftim)
8.) 1-2 Samuel (Shmu’el)
9.) 1-2 Kings (Melakhim)

‘Latter Prophets’

10.) Isaiah (Yeshayahu)
11.) Jeremiah (Yirmiyahu)
12.) Ezekiel (Yeḥezqel)
13.) The Twelve Prophets

INDENT Hosea (Hoshea’)
(2) Joel (Yo’el)
(3) Amos ('Amos)
(4) Obadiah ('Ovadyah)
(5) Jonah (Yonah)
(6) Micah (Mikhah)
(7) Nahum (Naḥum)
(8) Habakkuk (Ḥavaquq)
(9) Zephaniah (Tsefanyah)
(10) Haggai (Ḥaggai)
(11) Zechariah (Zekharyah)
(12) Malachi (Mal’akhi)

Ketuvim

Books of Truth (Sifrei 'Emeth)*

14.) Psalms (Tehillim)
15.) Proverbs (Mishlei)
16.) Job ('Iyov)

  • Actually an acronym/pun: 'Iyov - Mishlei - Tehilim = 'EMeTh (’-m-t, 'aleph-mem-tav) ‘truth’

The Five Scrolls (Ḥamesh Megilloth)

17.) Song of Songs (Shir ha-Shirim)
18.) Ruth (Ruth)
19.) Lamentations (Eikhah ‘How’)
20.) Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth)
21.) Esther ('Ester)

The rest of the Writings

22.) Daniel (Dani’el)
23.) Ezra-Nehemiah (Ezra-Neḥemyah)
24.) 1-2 Chronicles (Divrei ha-Yamim ‘The Matters [of] the Days’)[/INDENT]

You would notice that some books - such as those of the Torah or Lamentations - are identified by the first prominent word or incipit of each book (which happens to be the way books were identified before people invented proper book titles!) Note that the above order is the standard one today, but historically there was some variation in manuscripts on the ordering of books in the Ketuvim section. For instance, the earliest Masoretic manuscript, the Leningrad Codex (AD 1008), puts 1-2 Chronicles before the three ‘Books of Truth’ (which there are grouped as Psalms-Job-Proverbs); the ‘Five Scrolls’ section are ordered as Ruth-Song of Songs-Ecclesiastes-Lamentations-Esther. As per the Jewish reckoning, the Tanakh consists of only twenty-four books: 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, the Twelve Minor Prophets, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1-2 Chronicles each being counted as a single book.


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