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Study Resources :: Dictionaries :: Septuagint, 1

Dictionaries :: Septuagint, 1

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Below are articles from the following dictionary:
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia

Septuagint, 1:





1. Letter of Aristeas

2. Evidence of Aristobulus and Philo

3. Later Accretions

4. Criticism of the Aristeas Story

5. Date

6. Credibility



1. Early Corruption of the Text

2. Official Revision of Hebrew Text circa 100 AD

3. Adoption of Septuagint by Christians

4. Alternative 2nd-Century Greek Versions

5. Aquila

6. Theodotion

7. Symmachus and Others

8. Origen and the Hexapla

9. Hexaplaric Manuscripts

10. Recensions Known to Jerome

11. Hesychian Recension

12. Lucianic Recension


1. Ancient Versions Made from Septuagint

2. Manuscripts

3. Printed Texts

4. Reconstruction of Original Text


1. Contents

2. Titles

3. Bipartition of Books

4. Grouping and Order of Books


1. Grouping of Books on Internal Evidence

(1) The Hexateuch

(2) The "Latter" Prophets

(3) Partial Version of the "Former" Prophets

(4) The "Writings"

(5) The Latest Septuagint Translations

2. General Characteristics


1. Sequence

2. Subject-Matter


I. Importance.

The Greek version of the Old Testament commonly known as the Septuagint holds a unique place among translations. Its importance is manysided. Its chief value lies in the fact that it is a version of a Hebrew text earlier by about a millennium than the earliest dated Hebrew manuscript extant (916 AD), a version, in particular, prior to the formal rabbinical revision of the Hebrew which took place early in the 2nd century AD. It supplies the materials for the reconstruction of an older form of the Hebrew than the Massoretic Text reproduced in our modern Bibles. It is, moreover, a pioneering work; there was probably no precedent in the world's history for a series of translations from one language into another on so extensive a scale. It was the first attempt to reproduce the Hebrew Scriptures in another tongue. It is one of the outstanding results of the breaking-down of international barriers by the conquests of Alexander the Great and the dissemination of the Greek language, which were fraught with such vital consequences for the history of religion. The cosmopolitan city which he founded in the Delta witnessed the first attempt to bridge the gulf between Jewish and Greek thought. The Jewish commercial settlers at Alexandria, forced by circumstances to abandon their language, clung tenaciously to their faith; and the translation of the Scriptures into their adopted language, produced to meet their own needs, had the further result of introducing the outside world to a knowledge of their history and religion. Then came the most momentous event in its history, the starting-point of a new life; the translation was taken over from the Jews by the Christian church. It was the Bible of most writers of the New Testament. Not only are the majority of their express citations from Scripture borrowed from it, but their writings contain numerous reminiscences of its language. Its words are household words to them. It laid for them the foundations of a new religious terminology. It was a potent weapon for missionary work, and, when versions of the Scriptures into other languages became necessary, it was in most cases the Septuagint and not the Hebrew from which they were made. Preeminent among these daughter versions was the Old Latin which preceded the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.), for the most part a direct translation from the Hebrew, was in portions a mere revision of the Old Latin; our Prayer-book version of the Psalter preserves peculiarities of the Septuagint, transmitted through the medium of the Old Latin. The Septuagint was also the Bible of the early Greek Fathers, and helped to mold dogma; it furnished proof-texts to both parties in the Arian controversy. Its language gives it another strong claim to recognition. Uncouth and unclassical as much of it appears, we now know that this is not wholly due to the hampering effects of translation. "Biblical Greek," once considered a distinct species, is now a rather discredited term. The hundreds of contemporary papyrus records (letters, business and legal documents, etc.) recently discovered in Egypt illustrate much of the vocabulary and grammar and go to show that many so-called "Hebraisms" were in truth integral parts of the koine, or "common language," i.e. the international form of Greek which, since the time of Alexander, replaced the old dialects, and of which the spoken Greek of today is the lineal descendant. The version was made for the populace and written in large measure in the language of their everyday life.

II. Name.

The name "Septuagint" is an abbreviation of Interpretatio secundum (or juxta) Septuaginta seniores (or viros), i.e. the Greek translation of the Old Testament of which the first installment was, according to the Alexandrian legend (see III, below), contributed by 70 (or 72) elders sent from Jerusalem to Alexandria for the purpose at the request of Ptolemy II. The legend in its oldest form restricts their labors to the Pentateuch but they were afterward credited with the translation of the whole Bible, and before the 4th century it had become customary to apply the title to the whole collection: Aug., De Civ. Dei, xviii.42, "quorum interpretatio ut Septuaginta vocetur iam obtinuit consuetudo" ("whose translation is now by custom called the Septuagint"). The manuscripts refer to them under the abbreviation hoi o' ("the seventy"), or hoi ob',(" the seventy-two"). The "Septuagint" and the abbreviated form "LXX" have been the usual designations hitherto, but, as these are based on a now discredited legend, they are coming to be replaced by "the Old Testament in Greek," or "the Alexandrian version" with the abbreviation "G".

III. Traditional Origin.

The traditional account of the translation of the Pentateuch is contained in the so-called letter of Aristeas (editions of Greek text, P. Wendland, Teubner series, 1900, and Thackeray in the App. to Swete's Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, 1900, etc.; Wendland's sections cited below appear in Swete's Introduction, edition 2; English translation by Thackeray, Macmillan, 1904, reprinted from JQR, XV, 337, and by H. T. Andrews in Charles' Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, II, 83-122, Oxford, 1913).

1. Letter of Aristeas:

The writer professes to be a high official at the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 BC), a Greek interested in Jewish antiquities. Addressing his brother Philocrates he describes an embassy to Jerusalem on which he has recently been sent with another courtier Andreas. According to his narrative, Demetrius of Phalerum, a prominent figure in later Athenian history, who here appears as the royal librarian at Alexandria, convinced the king of the importance of securing for his library a translation of the Jewish Law. The king at the same time, to propitiate the nation from whom he was asking a favor, consented, on the suggestion of Aristeas, to liberate all Jewish slaves in Egypt. Copies follow of the letters which passed between Ptolemy and Eleazar, the high priest at Jerusalem. Ptolemy requests Eleazar to select and dispatch to Alexandria 72 elders, proficient in the Law, 6 from each tribe, to undertake the translation the importance of the task requiring the services of a large number to secure an accurate version Eleazar complies with the request and the names of the selected translators are appended to his letter.

There follow: (1) a detailed description of votive offerings sent by Ptolemy for the temple; (2) a sketch of Jerusalem, the temple and its services, and the geography of Palestine, doubtless reflecting in part the impressions of an eyewitness and giving a unique picture of the Jewish capital in the Ptolemaic era; (3) an exposition by Eleazar of portions of the Law.

The translators arrive at Alexandria, bringing a copy of the Law written in letters of gold on rolls of skins, and are honorably received by Ptolemy. A seven days' banquet follows, at which the king tests the proficiency of each in turn with hard questions. Three days later Demetrius conducts them across the mole known as the Heptastadion to the island of Pharos, where, with all necessaries provided for their convenience, they complete their task, as by a miracle, in 72 days; we are expressly told that their work was the result of collaboration and comparison. The completed version was read by Demetrius to the Jewish community, who received it with enthusiasm and begged that a copy might be entrusted to their leaders; a solemn curse was pronounced on any who should venture to add to or subtract from or make any alteration in the translation. The whole version was then read aloud to the king who expressed his admiration and his surprise that Greek writers had remained in ignorance of its contents; he directed that the books should be preserved with scrupulous care.

2. Evidence of Aristobulus and Philo:

To set beside this account we have two pre-Christian allusions in Jewish writings. Aristobulus, addressing a Ptolemy who has been identified as Philometor (182-146 BC), repeats the statement that the Pentateuch was translated under Philadelphus at the instance of Demetrius Phalereus (Eusebius, Praep. Ev., XIII, 12,664b); but the genuineness of the passage is doubtful. If it is accepted, it appears that some of the main features of the story were believed at Alexandria within a century of the date assigned by "Aristeas" to the translation Philo (Vit. Moys, ii.5 ff) repeats the story of the sending of the translators by Eleazar at the request of Philadelphus, adding that in his day the completion of the undertaking was celebrated by an annual festival on the isle of Pharos. It is improbable that an artificial production like the Aristeas letter should have occasioned such an anniversary; Philo's evidence seems therefore to rest in part on an independent tradition. His account in one particular paves the way for later accretions; he hints at the inspiration of the translators and the miraculous agreement of their separate VSS: "They prophesied like men possessed, not one in one way and one in another, but all producing the same words and phrases as though some unseen prompter were at the ears of each." At the end of the 1st century AD Josephus includes in his Antiquities (XII, ii, 1 ff) large portions of the letter, which he paraphrases, but does not embellish.

3. Later Accretions:

Christian writers accepted the story without suspicion and amplified it. A catena of their evidence is given in an Appendix to Wendland's edition. The following are their principal additions to the narrative, all clearly baseless fabrications.

(1) The translators worked independently, in separate cells, and produced identical versions, Ptolemy proposing this test of their trustworthiness. So Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, the Chronicon Paschale and the Cohortatio ad Graecos (wrongly attributed to Justin); the author of the last work asserts that he had seen the cells and heard the tradition on the spot.

(2) A modification of this legend says that the translators worked in pairs in 36 cells. So Epiphanius (died 403 AD), and later G. Syncellus, Julius Pollux and Zonaras. Epiphanius' account is the most detailed. The translators were locked up in sky-lighted cells in pairs with attendants and shorthand writers; each pair was entrusted with one book, the books were then circulated, and 36 identical versions of the whole Bible, canonical and apocryphal books, were produced; Ptolemy wrote two letters, one asking for the original Scriptures, the second for translators.

(3) This story of the two embassies appears already in the 2nd century AD, in Justin's Apology, and

(4) the extension of the translators' work to the Prophets or the whole Bible recurs in the two Cyrils and in Chrysostom.

(5) The miraculous agreement of the translators proved them to be no less inspired than the authors (Irenaeus, etc.; compare Philo).

(6) As regards date, Clement of Alexandria quotes an alternative tradition referring the version back to the time of the first Ptolemy (322-285 BC); while Chrysostom brings it down to "a hundred or more years (elsewhere "not many years") before the coming of Christ." Justin absurdly states that Ptolemy's embassy was sent to King Herod; the Chronicon Paschale calls the high priest of the time Onias Simon, brother of Eleazar.

Jerome was the first to hold these later inventions up to ridicule, contrasting them with the older and more sober narrative. They indicate a growing oral tradition in Jewish circles at Alexandria. The origin of the legend of the miraculous consensus of the 70 translators has been reasonably sought in a passage in Ex 24 Septuagint to which Epiphanius expressly refers. We there read of 70 elders of Israel, not heard of again, who with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu form a link between Moses and the people. After reciting the Book of the Covenant Moses ascends to the top of the mount; the 70, however, ascend but a little way and are bidden to worship from afar: according to the Septuagint text "They saw the place where the God of Israel stood.... and of the elect of Israel not one perished" (Ex 24:11), i.e. they were privileged to escape the usual effect of a vision of the Deity (Ex 33:20). But the verb used for "perish" (diaphonein) was uncommon in this sense; "not one disagreed" would be the obvious meaning; hence, apparently the legend of the agreement of the translators, the later intermediaries between Moses and Israel of the Dispersion. When the translations were recited, "no difference was discoverable," says Epiphanius, using the same verb, cave-dwellings in the island of Pharos probably account for the legend of the cells. A curious phenomenon has recently suggested that there is an element of truth in one item of Epiphanius' obviously incredible narrative, namely, the working of the translators in pairs. The Greek books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel fall into two nearly equal parts, apparently the work of separate translators (see VIII, 1, (2), below); while in Exodus, Leviticus and Psalms orthographical details indicate a similar division of the books for clerical purposes. There was, it seems, a primitive custom of transcribing each book on 2 separate rolls, and in the case of Jeremiah and Ezekiel the practice goes back to the time of translation (JTS, IV, 245 ff, 398 ff; IX, 88 ff).

4. Criticism of the Aristeas Story:

Beside the later extravagances, the story of Aristeas appears comparatively rational. Yet it has long been recognized that much of it is unhistorical, in particular the professed date and nationality of the writer. Its claims to authenticity were demolished by Dr. Hody two centuries ago (De bibliorum textibus originalibus, Oxon., 1705). Clearly the writer is not a Greek, but a Jew, whose aim is to glorify his race and to disseminate information about their sacred books. Yet the story is not wholly to be rejected, though it is difficult to disentangle truth from fiction. On one side his veracity has since Hody's time been established; his court titles, technical terms, epistolary formulas, etc., reappear in Egyptian papyri and inscriptions, and all his references to Alexandrian life and customs are probably equally trustworthy (sections 28, 109 ff, measures to counteract the ill effects upon agriculture of migration from country to town; section 167, treatment of informers (compare section 25); section 175 reception of foreign embassies (compare section 182)). The import of this discovery has, however, since its announcement by Lombroso (Recherches sur l'economie politique de l'Egypte, Turin, 1870), been somewhat modified by the new-found papyri which show that Aristeas' titles and formulas are those of the later, not the earlier, Ptolemaic age.

5. Date:

The letter was used by Josephus and probably known to Philo. How much earlier is it? Schurer (HJP, II, iii, 309 f (GJV4, III, 608-16)), relying on (1) the questionable Aristobulus passage, (2) the picture drawn of Palestine as if still under Ptolemaic rule, from which it passed to the Seleucids circa 200 BC, argued that the work could not be later than that date. But it is hard to believe that a fictitious story (as he regards it to be) could have gained credence within little more than half a century of the period to which it relates, and Wendland rightly rejects so ancient an origin. The following indications suggest a date about 100-80 BC.

(1) Many of Aristeas' formulas, etc. (see above), only came into use in the 2nd century BC (Strack, Rhein. Mus., LV, 168 ff; Thackeray, Aristeas, English translation, pp. 3, 12).

(2) The later Maccabean age or the end of the 2nd century BC is suggested by some of the translators' names (Wendland, xxvi), and

(3) by the independent position of the high priest.

(4) Some of Ptolemy's questions indicate a tottering dynasty (section 187, etc.).

(5) The writer occasionally forgets his role and distinguishes between his own time and that of Philadelphus (sections 28, 182).

(6) He appears to borrow his name from a Jewish historian of the 2nd century BC and to wish to pass off the latter's history as his own (section 6).

(7) He is guilty of historical inaccuracies concerning Demetrius, etc.

(8) The prologue to the Greek Ecclesiasticus (after 132 BC) ignores and contradicts the Aristeas story, whereas Aristeas possibly used this prologue (Wendland, xxvii; compare Hart, Ecclesiasticus in Greek, 1909).

(9) The imprecation upon any who should alter the translation (section 311) points to divergences of text which the writer desired to check; compare section 57, where he seems to insist on the correctness of the Septuagint text of Ex 25:22, "gold of pure gold," as against the Hebrew.

(10) Allusions to current criticisms of the Pentateuch (sections 128, 144) presuppose a familiarity with it on the part of non-Jewish readers only explicable if the Septuagint had long been current.

(11) Yet details in the Greek orthography preclude a date much later than 100 BC.

6. Credibility:

The probable amount of truth in the story is ably discussed by Swete (Intro, 16-22). The following statements in the letter may be accepted:

(1) The translation was produced at Alexandria, as is conclusively proved by Egyptian influence on its language.

(2) The Pentateuch was translated first and, in view of the homogeneity of style, as a whole.

(3) The Greek Pentateuch goes back to the first half of the 3rd century BC; the style is akin to that of the 3rd-century papyri, and the Greek Genesis was used by the Hellenist Demetrius toward the end of the century.

(4) The Hebrew rolls were brought from Jerusalem.

(5) Possibly Philadelphus, the patron of literature, with his religious impartiality, may have countenanced the work.

But the assertion that it owed its inception wholly to him and his librarian is incredible; it is known from other sources that Demetrius Phalereus did not fill the office of librarian under that monarch. The language is that of the people, not a literary style suitable to a work produced under royal patronage. The importation of Palestinian translators is likewise fictitious. Dr. Swete acutely observes that Aristeas, in stating that the translation was read to and welcomed by the Jewish community before being presented to the king, unconsciously reveals its true origin. It was no doubt produced to meet their own needs by the large Jewish colony at Alexandria. A demand that the Law should be read in the synagogues in a tongue "understanded of the people" was the originating impulse.

IV. Evidence of Prologue to Sirach.

The interesting, though in places tantalizingly obscure, prologue to Ecclesiasticus throws light on the progress made with the translation of the remaining Scriptures before the end of the 2nd century BC.

The translator dates his settlement in Egypt, during which he produced his version of his grandfather's work, as "the 38th year under Euergetes the king." The words have been the subject of controversy, but, with the majority of critics, we may interpret this to mean the 38th year of Euergetes II, reckoning from the beginning (170 BC) of his joint reign with Philometor, i.e. 132 BC. Euergetes I reigned for 25 years only. Others, in view of the superfluous preposition, suppose that the age of the translator is intended, but the cumbrous form of expression is not unparalleled. A recent explanation of the date (Hart, Ecclesiasticus in Greek) as the 38th year of Philadelphus which was also the 1st year of Euergetes I (i.e. 247 BC) is more ingenious than convincing.

The prologue implies the existence of a Greek version of the Law; the Prophets and "the rest of the books." The translator, craving his readers' indulgence for the imperfections of his own work, due to the difficulty of reproducing Hebrew in Greek, adds that others have experienced the same difficulties: "The Law itself and the prophecies and the rest of the books have no small difference when spoken in their original language." From these words we may understand that at the time of writing (132-100 BC) Alexandrian Jews possessed Greek versions of a large part (probably not the whole) of "the Prophets," and of some of "the Writings" or Hagiographa. For some internal evidence as to the order in which the several books were translated see VIII, below.

V. Transmission of the Septuagint Text.

The main value of the Septuagint is its witness to an older Hebrew text than our own. But before we can reconstruct this Hebrew text we need to have a pure Greek text before us, and this we are at present far from possessing. The Greek text has had a long and complex history of its own. Used for centuries by both Jews and Christians it underwent corruption and interpolation, and, notwithstanding the multitude of materials for its restoration, the original text has yet to be recovered. We are much more certain of the ipsissima verba of the New Testament writers than of the original Alexandrian version of the Old Testament. This does not apply to all portions alike. The Greek Pentateuch, e.g., has survived in a relatively pure form. But everywhere we have to be on our guard against interpolations, sometimes extending to whole paragraphs. Not a verse is without its array of variant readings. An indication of the amount of "mixture" which has taken place is afforded by the numerous "doublets" or alternative renderings of a single Hebrew word or phrase which appear side by side in the transmitted text.

1. Early Corruption of the Text:

Textual corruption began early, before the Christian era. We have seen indications of this in the letter of Aristeas (III, 5, (9) above). Traces of corruption appear in Philo (e.g. his comment, in Quis Rer. Div. Her. 56, on Ge 15:15, shows that already in his day tapheis, "buried," had become trapheis, "nurtured," as in all our manuscripts); doublets already exist. Similarly in the New Testament the author of Hebrews quotes (12:15) a corrupt form of the Greek of De 29:18.

2. Official Revision of Hebrew Text circa 100 AD:

But it was not until the beginning of the 2nd century AD that the divergence between the Greek and the Palestinian Hebrew text reached an acute stage. One cause of this was the revision of the Hebrew text which took place about this time. No actual record of this revision exists, but it is beyond doubt that it originated in the rabbinical school, of which Rabbi Akiba was the chief representative, and which had its center at Jamnia in the years following the destruction of Jerusalem. The Jewish doctors, their temple in ruins, concentrated their attention on the settlement of the text of the Scriptures which remained to them. This school of eminent critics, precursors of the Massoretes, besides settling outstanding questions concerning the Canon, laid down strict rules for Biblical interpretation, and in all probability established an official text.

3. Adoption of Septuagint by Christians:

But another cause widened still farther the distance between the texts of Jerusalem and Alexandria. This was the adoption of the Septuagint by the Christian church. When Christians began to cite the Alexandrian version in proof of their doctrines, the Jews began to question its accuracy. Hence, mutual recriminations which are reflected in the pages of Justin's Dialogue with Trypho. "They dare to assert," says Justin (Dial., 68), "that the interpretation produced by your seventy elders under Ptolemy of Egypt is in some points inaccurate." A crucial instance cited by the Jews was the rendering "virgin" in Isa 7:14, where they claimed with justice that "young woman" would be more accurate. Justin retaliates by charging the Jews with deliberate excision of passages favorable to Christianity.

4. Alternative 2nd Century Greek Versions:

That such accusations should be made in those critical years was inevitable, yet there is no evidence of any material interpolations having been introduced by either party. But the Alexandrian version, in view of the revised text and the new and stricter canons of interpretation, was felt by the Jews to be inadequate, and a group of new translations of Scripture in the 2nd century AD supplied the demand. We possess considerable fragments of the work of three of these translators, namely, Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion, besides scanty remnants of further anonymous versions

5. Aquila:

The earliest of "the three" was Aquila, a proselyte to Judaism, and, like his New Testament namesake, a native of Pontus. He flourished, according to Epiphanius (whose account of these later translators in his De mens. et pond. is not wholly trustworthy), under Hadrian (117-38 AD) and was related to that emperor; there is no ~probability in Epiphanius' further statement that Hadrian entrusted to Aquila the superintendence of the building of Aelia Capitolina on the site of Jerusalem, that there he was converted to Christianity by Christian exiles returning from Pella, but that refusing to abandon astrology he was excommunicated, and in revenge turned Jew and was actuated by a bias against Christianity in his version of the Old Testament. What is certain is that he was a pupil of the new rabbinical school, in particular of Rabbi Akiba (95-135 AD), and that his version was an attempt to reproduce exactly the revised official text. The result was an extraordinary production, unparalleled in Greek literature, if it can be classed under that category at all. No jot or tittle of the Hebrew might be neglected; uniformity in the translation of each Hebrew word must be preserved and the etymological kinship of different Hebrew words represented. Such were some of his leading principles. The opening words of his translation (Ge 1:1) may be rendered: "In heading rounded God with the heavens and with the earth." "Heading" or "summary" was selected because the Hebrew word for "beginning" was a derivative of "head." "With" represents an untranslatable word ('eth) prefixed to the accusative case, but indistinguishable from the preposition "with." The Divine Name (the tetragrammaton, YHWH) was not translated, but written in archaic Hebrew characters. "A slave to the letter," as Origen calls him, his work has aptly been described by a modern writer as "a colossal crib" (Burkitt, JQR, October, 1896, 207 ff). Yet it was a success. In Origen's time it was used by all Jews ignorant of Hebrew, and continued in use for several centuries; Justinian expressly sanctioned its use in the synagogues (Nov., 146). Its lack of style and violation of the laws of grammar were not due to ignorance of Greek, of which the writer shows, in vocabulary at least, a considerable command. Its importance lay and lies (so far as it is preserved) in its exact reproduction of the rabbinical text of the 2nd century AD; it may be regarded as the beginning of the scientific study of the Hebrew Scriptures. Though "a bold attempt to displace the Septuagint," it cannot be charged with being intentionally antagonistic to Christianity. Of the original work, previously known only from extracts in manuscripts, some palimpsest fragments were recovered from the Cairo Genizah in 1897 and edited by F. C. Burkitt (Fragments of the Books of Kings, 1897) and by C. Taylor (Sayings of the Jewish Fathers2, 1897; Hebrew-Greek Cairo Genizah Palimpsests, 1900). The student of Swete's Old Testament will trace Aquila's unmistakable style in the footnotes to the Books of Samuel and Kings; the older and shorter B text in those books has constantly been supplemented in the A text from Aquila. A longer specimen of his work occurs in the Greek Ecclesiastes, which has no claim to be regarded as "Septuagint"; Jerome refers to a second edition of Aquila's version, and the Greek Ecclesiastes is perhaps his first edition of that book, made on the basis of an unrevised Hebrew text (McNeile, Introduction to Ecclesiastes, Cambridge, 1904, App. I). The suggested identification of Aquila with Onkelos, author of the Targum of that name, has not been generally accepted.

6. Theodotion:

Epiphanius' account of the dates and history of Theodotion and Symmachus is untrustworthy. He seems to have reversed their order, probably misled by the order of the translations, in the columns of the Hexapla (see below). He also apparently confused Aquila and Theodotion in calling the latter a native of Pontus. As regards date, Theodotion, critics are agreed, preceded Symmachus and probably flourished under M. Aurelius (161-80), whereas Symmachus lived under Commodus (180-92); Irenaeus mentions only the versions of Aquila and Theodotion, and that of Symmachus had in his day either not been produced or at least not widely circulated. According to the more credible account of Irenaeus, Theodotion was an Ephesian and a convert to Judaism. His version constantly agrees with the Septuagint and was rather a revision of it, to bring it into accord with the current Hebrew text, than an independent work. The supplementing of lacunae in the Septuagint (due partly to the fact that the older version of some books did not aim at completeness) gave scope for greater originality. These lacunae were greatest in Job and his version of that book was much longer than the Septuagint. The text of Job printed in Swete's edition is a patchwork of old and new; the careful reader may detect the Theodotion portions by transliterations and other peculiarities. Long extracts from Theodotion are preserved in codex Q in Jeremiah. As regards the additional matter contained in Septuagint, Theodotion was inconsistent; he admitted, e.g., the additions to Daniel (Sus, Bel and the Dragon, and the So of Three Children), but did not apparently admit the non-canonical books as a whole. The church adopted his Daniel in place of the inadequate Septuagint version, which has survived in only one Greek manuscript; but the date when the change took place is unknown and the early history of the two Greek texts is obscure. Theodotion's renderings have been found in writings before his time (including the New Testament), and it is reasonably conjectured that even before the 2nd century AD the Septuagint text had been discarded and that Theodotion's version is but a working over of an older alternative version Theodotion is free from the barbarisms of Aquila, but is addicted to transliteration, i.e. the reproduction of Hebrew words in Greek letters: His reasons for this habit are not always clear; ignorance of Hebrew will not account for all (compare VIII, 1, (5), below).

7. Symmachus and Others:

Beside the two versions produced by, and primarily intended for, Jews was a third, presumably to meet the needs of a Jewish Christian sect who were dissatisfied with the Septuagint. Symmachus, its author, was, according to the more trustworthy account, an Ebionite, who also wrote a commentary on Matthew, a copy of which was given to Origen by Juliana, a lady who received it from its author (Euseb., HE, VI, 17). Epiphanius' description of him as a Samaritan convert to Judaism may be rejected. The date of his work, as above stated, was probably the reign of Commodus (180-192 AD). In one respect the version resembled Aquila's, in its faithful adherence to the sense of the current Hebrew text; its style, however, which was flowing and literary, was a revolt against Aquila's monstrosities. It seems to have been a recasting of Aquila's version, with free use of both Septuagint and Theodotion. It carried farther a tendency apparent in the Septuagint to refine away the anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament.

Of three other manuscripts discovered by Origen (one at Nicopolis in Greece, one at Jericho) and known from their position in the Hexapla as Quinta, Sexta, and Septima, little is known. There is no reason to suppose that they embraced the whole Old Testament. Quinta is characterized by Field as the most elegant of the Greek versions F.C. Burkitt has discussed "the so-called Quinta of 4 Kings" in PSBA, June, 1902. The Christian origin of Sexta betrays itself in Hab 3:13 ("Thou wentest forth to save thy people for the sake of (or "by") Jesus thy anointed One").

8. Origen and the Hexapla:

These later versions play a large part in the history of the text of the Septuagint. This is due to the labors of the greatest Septuagint scholar of antiquity, the celebrated Origen of Alexandria, whose active life covers the first half of the 3rd century. Origen frankly recognized, and wished Christians to recognize, the merits of the later VSS, and the divergences between the Septuagint and the current Hebrew. He determined to provide the church with the materials for ascertaining the true text and meaning of the Old Testament. With this object he set himself to learn Hebrew-a feat probably unprecedented among non-Jewish Christians of that time-and to collect the later versions The idea of using these versions to amend the Septuagint seemed to him an inspiration: "By the gift of God we found a remedy for the divergence in the copies of the Old Testament, namely to use the other editions as a criterion" (Commentary on Mt 15:14). The magnum opus in which he embodied the results of his labors was known as the Hexapla or "six-column" edition. This stupendous work has not survived; a fragment was discovered toward the end of the 19th century in the Ambrosian Library at Milan (Swete, Introduction, 61 ff) and another among the Cairo Genizah palimpsests (ed C. Taylor, Cambridge, 1900). The material was arranged in six parallel columns containing

(1) the current Hebrew text,

(2) the same in Greek letters,

(3) the version of Aquila,

(4) that of Symmachus,

(5) that of the Septuagint,

(6) that of Theodotion.

The text was broken up into short clauses; not more than two words, usually one only, stood in the first column. The order of the columns doubtless represents the degree of conformity to the Hebrew; Aquila's, as the most faithful, heads the VSS, and Symmachus' is on the whole a revision of Aquila as Theodotion's is of the Septuagint. But Origen was not content with merely collating the VSS; his aim was to revise the Septuagint and the 5th column exhibited his revised text. The basis of it was the current Alexandrian text of the 3rd century AD; this was supplemented or corrected where necessary by the other versions Origen, however, deprecated alteration of a text which had received ecclesiastical sanction, without some indication of its extent, and the construction of the 5th column presented difficulties. There were

(1) numerous cases of words or paragraphs contained in the Septuagint but not in the Hebrew, which could not be wholly rejected,

(2) cases of omission from the Septuagint of words in the Hebrew,

(3) cases of paraphrase and minor divergences,

(4) variations in the order of words or chapters.

Origen here had recourse to a system of critical signs, invented and employed by the grammarian Aristarchus (3rd century BC) in his edition of Homer. Passages of the first class were left in the text, but had prefixed to them an obelus, a sign of which the original form was a "spit" or "spear," but figuring in Septuagint manuscripts as a horizontal line usually with a dot above and a dot below; there are other varieties also. The sign in Aristarchus indicated censure, in the Hexapla the doubtful authority of the words which followed. The close of the obelized passage was marked by the metobelus, a colon (:), or, in the Syriac VSS, shaped like a mallet. Passages missing in the Septuagint were supplied from one of the other versions (Aquila or Theodotion), the beginning of the extract being marked by an asterisk-a sign used by Aristarchus to express special approval-the close, by the metobelus. Where Septuagint and Hebrew widely diverged, Origen occasionally gave two VSS, that of a later translator under an asterisk, that of Septuagint obelized. Divergence in order was met by transposition, the Hebrew order being followed; in Proverbs, however, the two texts kept their respective order, the discrepancy being indicated by a combination of signs. Minor supposed or real corruptions in the Greek were tacitly corrected. Origen produced a minor edition, the Tetrapla, without the first two columns of the larger work. The Heptapla and Octapla, occasionally mentioned, appear to be alternative names given to the Hexapla at points where the number of columns was increased to receive other fragmentary versions. This gigantic work, which according to a reasonable estimate must have filled 5,000 leaves, was probably never copied in extenso. The original was preserved for some centuries in the library of Pamphilus at Caesarea; there it was studied by Jerome, and thither came owners of Biblical manuscripts to collate their copies with it, as we learn from some interesting notes in our uncial manuscripts (e.g. a 7th-century note appended to Esther in codex S). The Library probably perished circa 638 AD, when Caesarea fell into the hands of the Saracens.

9. Hexaplaric Manuscripts:

But, though the whole work was too vast to be copied, it was a simple task to copy the 5th column. This task was performed, partly in prison, by Pamphilus, a martyr in the Diocletian persecution, and his friend Eusebius, the great bishop of Caesarea. Copies of the "Hexaplaric" Septuagint, i.e. Origen's doctored text with the critical signs and perhaps occasional notes, were, through the initiative of these two, widely circulated in Palestine in the 4th century. Naturally, however, the signs became unintelligible in a text detached from the parallel columns which explained them; scribes neglected them, and copies of the doctored text, lacking the precautionary symbols, were multiplied. This carelessness has wrought great confusion; Origen is, through others' fault, indirectly responsible for the production of manuscripts in which the current Septuagint text and the later versions are hopelessly mixed. No manuscripts give the Hexaplaric text as a whole, and it is preserved in a relatively pure form in very few: the uncials G and M (Pentatruch and some historical books), the cursives 86 and 88 (Prophets). Other so-called Hexaplaric manuscripts, notably codex Q (Marchalianus: Proph.) preserve fragments of the 5th and of the other columns of the Hexapla. (For the Syro-Hexaplar see below, VI, 1.) Yet, even did we possess the 5th column entire, with the complete apparatus of signs, we should not have "the original Septuagint," but merely, after removing the asterisked passages, a text current in the 3rd century. The fact has to be emphasized that Origen's gigantic work was framed on erroneous principles. He assumed (1) the purity of the current Hebrew text, (2) the corruption of the current Septuagint text where it deviated from the Hebrew. The modern critic recognizes that the Septuagint on the whole presents the older text, the divergences of which from the Hebrew are largely attributable to an official revision of the latter early in the Christian era. He recognizes also that in some books (e.g. Job) the old Greek version was only a partial one. To reconstruct the original text he must therefore have recourse to other auxiliaries beside Origen.

10. Recensions Known to Jerome:

Such assistance is partly furnished by two other recensions made in the century after Origen. Jerome (Praef. in Paralipp.; compare Adv. Ruf., ii.27) states that in the 4th century three recensions circulated in different parts of the Christian world: "Alexandria and Egypt in their Septuagint acclaim Hesychius as their authority, the region from Constantinople to Antioch approves the copies of Lucian the martyr, the intermediate Palestinian provinces read the manuscripts which were promulgated by Eusebius and Pamphilus on the basis of Origen's labors, and the whole world is divided between these three varieties of text."

11. Hesychian Recension:

Hesychius is probably to be identified with the martyr bishop mentioned by Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, VIII, 13) along with another scholar martyr, Phileas bishop of Thmuis, and it is thought that these two were engaged in prison in revising the Egyptian text at the time when Pamphilus and Eusebius were employed on a similar task under similar conditions. How far existing manuscripts preserve the Hesychian recension is uncertain; agreement of their text with that of Egyptian versions and Fathers (Cyril in particular) is the criterion. For the Prophets Ceriani has identified codex Q and its kin as Hesychian. For the Octateuch N. McLean (JTS, II, 306) finds the Hesychian text in a group of cursives, 44, 74, 76, 84, 106, 134, etc. But the first installments of the larger Cambridge Septuagint raise the question whether Codex B (Vaticanus) may not itself be Hesychian; its text is more closely allied to that of Cyril Alex. than to any other patristic text, and the consensus of these two witnesses against the rest is sometimes (Ex 32:14) curiously striking. In the Psalter also Rahlfs (Septuaginta-Studien, 2. Heft, 1907, 235) traces the Hesychian text in B and partially in Codex Sinaiticus. Compare von Soden's theory for the New Testament.


12. Lucianic Recension:

The Lucianic recension was the work of another martyr, Lucian of Antioch (died 311-12), probably with the collaboration of the Hebraist Dorotheus. There are, as Hort has shown, reasons for associating Lucian with a "Syrian" revision of the New Testament in the 4th century, which became the dominant type of text. That he produced a Syrian recension of the Greek Old Testament is expressly stated by Jerome, and we are moreover able with considerable certainty to identify the extant manuscripts which exhibit it. The identification, due to Field and Lagarde, rests on these grounds:

(1) certain verses in 2 Kings are in the Arabic Syro-Hexaplar marked with the letter L, and a note explains that the letter indicates Lucianic readings;

(2) the readings so marked occur in the cursives 19, 82, 93, 108, 118;

(3) these manuscripts in the historical books agree with the Septuagint citations of the Antiochene Fathers Chrysostom and Theodoret.

This clue enabled Lagarde to construct a Lucianic text of the historical books (Librorum Vet. Test. canonic. pars prior, Gottingen, 1883); his death prevented the completion of the work. Lagarde's edition is vitiated by the fact that he does not quote the readings of the individual manuscripts composing the group, and it can be regarded only as an approximate reconstruction of "Lucian." It is evident, however, that the Lucianic Septuagint possessed much the same qualities as the Syrian revision of the New Testament; lucidity and completeness were the main objects. It is a "full" text, the outcome of a desire to include, so far as possible, all recorded matter; "doublets" are consequently numerous. While this "conflation" of texts detracts from its value, the Lucianic revision gains importance from the fact that the sources from which it gleaned include an element of great antiquity which needs to be disengaged; where it unites with the Old Latin version against all other authorities its evidence is invaluable.

Written by H. St. J. Thackeray


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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