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Tavis Bohlinger OT796 Spring 2013

TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION THE ORIGIN OF THE SEPTUAGINT Prehistory of the Translation Work Theories of Origin THE INFLUENCE OF THE SEPTUAGINT Ancient Life and the Septuagint Modern Studies and the Septuagint CONCLUSION BIBLIOGRAPHY 1 2 2 3 10 10 15 17 18

It is one of the most painful deficiencies of Biblical study at the present day that the reading of the Septuagint has been pushed into the background, while its exegesis has been scarcely even begun. Adolf Deissmann, The Philology of the Greek Bible INTRODUCTION The purpose of this study is to present a brief survey of two essential issues the study of the Septuagint (LXX).1 The first section is an examination of origin. The second explores the influence of the LXX on both ancient life and modern studies. Within each section, various perspectives and ramifications of its origin and influence are discussed. From the outset, it is important to establish the fact that, there is really no such thing as the Septuagint.2 Emanuel Tov writes that the question, What is the Septuagint? refers to such matters as the nature of the individual translation units, their place of origin, the relation between the translation units, the nature of Greek Scripture as a whole, and the possible development of the translation enterprise.3 Certainly, the study of the LXX is a complex and multi-disciplinary enterprise. Also, the nomenclature associated with the Septuagint varies between scholars. The term Septuagint originally referred to the number of translators, not to any of the Greek translation(s).4 To further complicate things, the seventy (two) translators only produced the Torah, as far as we know, while the rest of the Hebrew Bible was completed anonymously over

1 2 3

Throughout this paper, the terms Septuagint and LXX will be used interchangeably. Karen H. Jobes and Moiss Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000), 30.

Emanuel Tov, Reflections on the Septuagint with Special Attention Paid to the Post-Pentateuchal Translations, in Die Septuaginta Texte, Theologien, Einflusse, ed. Wolfgang Kraus and Martin Karrer, 3-22 (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 3. See the helpful chapter by Peter J. Williams, The Bible, the Septuagint, and the Apocrypha: A Consideration of their Singularity, in Studies on the Text and Versions of the Hebrew Bible in Honour of Robert Gordon, ed. Geoffrey Khan and Diana Lipton, 169-80 (New York: Brill, 2012).

2 the next 300 years. Hence, titles meant to distinguish between the various stages in translation include, Pentateuch-only, Old Greek, Ur-Septuagint, Original Septuagint, Proto-Septuagint, Codex Alexandrinus (A) and Codex Vaticanus (B) LXXA, LXXB, LXXAB,5 so scholars are divided if not uncertain about a working definition. Still, an acceptable understanding can be stated thus: the LXX includes books of the Hebrew canon translated into Greek from the Hebrew, including additions made to some of those books and some other, apocryphal books mostly written originally in Greek.6 THE ORIGIN OF THE SEPTUAGINT Prehistory of the Translation Work An understanding of the situation in Alexandria, Egypt in the 3rd century BC is foundational to comprehending the origin of the LXX. There was a concentration of Jews living in Alexandria, Egypt in the few hundred years before Christ. Although Hebrew was still spoken in Palestine, in Alexandria a knowledge of Greek was not a mere luxury but a necessity of daily life.7 The implications for Jewish religious life were significant, especially since much of the Jewish population had lost their Hebrew.8 Bickerman reveals the implications regarding Judaisms liturgical worship style:

Melvin K. H. Peters, Septuagint, in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David N. Freedman, et al, 5:10931104 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 5:1093. Ibid. Karen Jobes, though conceding to a more general definition for LXX, provides a more nuanced example: Septuagint technically refers only to the oldest Greek version of the Pentateuch, though it became customary to extend the term to the oldest Greek version of the rest of the OT canon as well, to distinguish it from the later versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. See Karen H. Jobes, When God Spoke Greek: The Place of the Greek Bible in Evangelical Scholarship, Bulletin for Biblical Research 16, no. 2 (2006): 220. Henry Barclay Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914), 8.
8 7 6

Bruce M. Metzger, Important Early Translations of the Bible, Bibliotheca Sacra 150, no. 597 (Jan

1993): 36.

3 It is most likely that in the Alexandrian synagogue a dragoman standing beside the reader translated the lesson into Greek. . . . under the conditions of book making in antiquity, it would be a fantastic waste of money and labor to translate, copy and recopy the whole Pentateuch in order to provide help for an occasional oral translation of isolated passages of the Torah.9 The LXX may have been birthed in the synagogues of Egypt through such oral translation. Aristobulus, the first known Jewish philosopher, wrote that older partial translations had already been read by Pythagoras and Plato10 thereby giving credence to the idea that the LXX was not the first attempt made at translating the Hebrew into Greek, highlighting the demand for translation work in the diaspora.11 The situation at Alexandria was unique in that it provided the ideal scenario in which to introduce a translation of the Hebrew Bible, especially of the most liturgically and socially significant portions of the Hebrew scriptures. Still, consensus on any one theory of origin for the LXX has been elusive. Theories of Origin The needs of the diaspora for an understandable translation of their scriptures is just one of the many factors leading to the origin of the LXX. Various theories of origin have sought to pinpoint the reason for the production. Five of these are worth considering at this point.

E. J. Bickerman, Studies in Jewish and Christian History: A New Edition in English Including The God of the Maccabees, 2 vols. (New York: Brill, 2007), 1:168. Martin Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of its Canon (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 75. Swete, 1, questions the existence of prior versions in Greek, noting, So long as the Hebrew race maintained its isolation, no occasion arose for the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into a foreign tongue. . . . this isolation continued until the age of Alexander; it is therefore improbable that any Greek version of the Scriptures existed there before that era.
11 10

4 The Letter of Aristeas The first and most historically attested theory is based upon the Letter of Aristeas, otherwise called Pseudo-Aristeas.12 This letter, considered a primary source13 to the origin of the LXX, is included among the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and probably written around 150-100 BC.14 In the letter is a description of the circumstances surrounding the origin of the LXX. Demetrius, the chief librarian of Ptolemy II (285-247 BC), suggested to the king that he add the Jewish Law to his famous and expansive collection of books.15 The king had assigned Demetrius the task of collecting all the known books in the world, and Demetrius thought that a copy of the Law of the Jews should be included. The king was persuaded, and envoys were sent to Palestine. Seventy-two translators were sent by the high priest in Jerusalem to Ptolemy along with Torah scrolls from the Temple. After a fruitful meeting with the king, the translators were escorted off to comfortable quarters on an island. Seventy-two days later the translators emerged with their work, which was completely without error and in total agreement. The Jewish people in the area rejoiced and accepted it as divine scripture, and the translators were sent home bearing gifts.16 Scholars have pointed out various problems with Aristeas account. Demtrius, the chief librarian, had been banished two years before the events, although Swete thinks he may have still


For a good analysis of the issues, see the chapter, The Dating of Pseudo-Aristeas, in Bickerman, 1:108-

33. R. J. H. Shutt, Letter of Aristeas, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols., ed. James H. Charlesworth, (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 2:7.
14 15 13

Shutt, 8.

Bickerman, 1:169, explains that Ptolemy II was interested in books as he was in exotic animals. By hook or by crook he gathered manuscripts.

The full account is given in Shutt, 7-35.

5 influenced the decision prior to his departure.17 Also, why would a Greek monarch care about undertaking the first great translation work in history on behalf of a minority group under his dominion? The majority of scholars today believe that Aristeas is unreliable, due to historical inaccuracies and the apologetic nature of the letter.18 Responses to the charges of inaccuracy and unreliability have been answered a number of ways. First, it is evident that Ptolemy wished to include in the royal library at Alexandria copies of all the books known to the world.19 Second, there was good reason for him to translate the Jewish law into a language he could read, since the Torah was the sole written source of the law of his subjects in Judaea and the sole authority on their history.20 Third, there were historical consequences for the translation work done in Alexandria. According to Philo, the completion of the work of the LXX was celebrated at Alexandria down to his own time by a yearly festival.21 Swete reveals that the main features of the story were believed by the literary Jews of Alexandria, and even at the Court, more than a century and a half before the Christian era and within a century of the date assigned by Aristeas to the translation of the Law.22

See Peters, 5:1097. According to Swete, 19, Demetrius for many years had been a trusted adviser of the first Ptolemy; and it is not unlikely that the project of translating the Jewish Law was discussed between him and the royal founder of the Alexandrian library, and that the work was really due to his suggestion, though his words did not bear fruit until after his death.
18 19 20 21


Jobes, Invitation, 34. See also Jennifer M. Dines, The Septuagint (New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 30-33. Metzger, 37. Bickerman, 1:169-70. See also Hengel, 75.

Swete, 13. Heinrich Graetz attests to the historical reality of the festival, but shows how the reaction in Palestine was not so positive: Presented in a new garb [namely, Greek], Judaism itself appeard to the pious Judaeans estranged and profaned. Consequently the day that was celebrated as a festival by the Judaeans in Egypt was considered by their brethren in Judaea as a day of national calamity, . . . numbered among their fasts. See Heingrich Graetz, History of the Jews, 6 vols. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1891), 1:512.

Swete, 13.

6 Although there are strong arguments in favor of attributing various levels of historical reliability to Aristeas, the evidence should be secondary to a primary reliance upon the LXX itself. This is Tovs approach to the letters witness. He begins with internal evidence in the LXX text itself,23 and then considers evidence from Aristeas and other external sources.24 Kahles Revision Theory Kahle agreed with most scholars that the translation of the Pentateuch originated in Alexandria but that the historicity of Aristeas was flawed. He was unique, however, in positing that the work done in Alexandria was not a translation, but a revision of a previous work.25 In fact, Kahle included the rest of the Hebrew canon as part of this revision process, believing that it predated Aristeas. In his mind, Aristeas was an attempt to institute one version above other competing translations.26 Kahles underlying goal for LXX studies was not to establish the urtext or Hebrew Vorlage, but to find the original Greek versions which preceded the Christian standard LXX.27 The problem with Kahles theory is that it fails to answer the question of why Aristeas didnt simply write an apology for the earlier standard edition28 of the Law. Most damaging to
Emanuel Tov draws three conclusions about the internal evidence of the LXX: 1) Jewish translators most likely worked on the Pentateuch, and while the exegesis of the other books exhibits Jewishness, the Jewish origin is uncertain; 2) vocabulary in the Pentateuch demonstrates its origin in Egypt; 3) variety in vocabulary reveals the work of numerous translators. See Emanuel Tov, The Septuagint, in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1988), 164. Ibid., 164-65. Tov describes other sources including Epiphanius, who in his treatise On Measures and Weights (4th c. AD) embellished the story in Aristeas further. According to Epiphanius, the entire Hebrew Bible was translated by 36 pairs of elders whose work was in complete agreement.
25 26 27 28 24 23

Sidney Jellicoe, The Septuagint and Modern Study (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), 59. Jobes, Invitation, 36. Jellicoe, 61. Ibid.

7 his theory was the discovery of manuscripts at Qumran which contained in Hebrew many of the distinctive Septuagint readings that up until that time had been preserved only in Greek.29 The argument for the existence of a Hebrew Vorlage thereafter held far too much weight for any scholar to seriously hold to Kahles theory.30 Lagardes Proto-Septuagint Paul Lagarde in the 1900s set the course in LXX scholarship with his emphasis on discovering the single-origin, initial translation, what he called the Proto-Septuagint or UrSeptuagint.31 His principles were first published in a work on the Greek translation of Proverbs in 1863.32 These principles drive much of the Septuagint work being done today. They are: 1) know each translators particular approach; 2) view free translation as better than literal; 3) prefer the evidence for a Hebrew original over the MT.33 His theories have been adjusted somewhat since his death, but his principles remain the working assumption for most specialists.34

Leonard Greenspoon, At the Beginning: The Septuagint as a Jewish Bible Translation, in Translation is Required: The Septuagint in Retrospect and Prospect, ed. Robert J. V. Hiebert (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010), 162; emphasis added. According to Tov, the discovery of the Qumran scrolls in 1947 provided welcome support for the correctness of an approach that had been an integral part of scholarship for more than three centuries, namely, the reconstruction of details in the Vorlage of the LXX by way of retroversion. See Emanuel Tov, The Qumran Hebrew Texts and the Septuagint an Overview, in Die Septuaginta Entstehung, Sprache, Geschichte, ed. Siegried Kreuzer, Martin Meiser and Marcus Sigismund (Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012), 4.
31 32 33 30


Jobes, Invitation, 35-36. Ibid., 244.

Peters, 1095, relates that Lagardes disciple, Rahfls, carried on his mentors Proto-Septuagint work admirably. In addition to his publication of the most popular LXX edition to date in 1935, he inspired the establishment of the Gttingen Septuaginta-Unternehmen, an organization that is currently engaged in producing the most carefully constructed and critically demanding eclectic editions of the LXX according to principles set forth by Lagarde.

Jobes, Invitation, 36.

8 Tovs Modified Approach Emanuel Tov has taken a middle ground in response to Kahle and Lagarde. He sees a process of origination for the LXX composed of four steps:35 1) the original translation; 2) a multitude of textual traditions due to corrections back to the Hebrew inserted in the corpus of individual scrolls; 3) textual stabilization in the first two centuries AD due to preferences among textual traditions; 4) the rise of new textual groups and corruption of others due to revisions done by Origen and Lucian in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Tovs theory seems logical enough, but there are a few problems with his assumptions. Peters identifies two issues that Tov must reconcile with his view. First, he must answer why the original Greek translation was in need of corrections, and why it was so different from the underlying Hebrew to require editing. Second, Tovs view assumes uniformity between the underlying Hebrew texts used for the original translation. As Peters points out, the likelihood of variations in the Vorlage, whether in agreement with the MT or not, eliminates the need for distinction between Tovs first two steps, so that the position is not a median position at all but rather a refinement of the Lagardian hypothesis.36 Alexandrian-Jewish Demand The motivation for Alexandrian Jews of the diaspora to have the scriptures in their vernacular was strong. DellAcqua emphasizes the influence of oral translation practice in the ANE as proof. According to her, Since its very beginnings, Judaism has felt the need to translate the Scriptures for liturgical and instructional purposes, to communicate the content of the text which formed a reference for the lives of the Israelites across language barriers. The

Emanuel Tov, The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research (Jerusalem: Simor Ltd., Peters, 5:1097.

1981), 42.

9 situations that arose from the Babylonian exile on, required the practice of Targum.37 Swete, in his introduction to the Greek Bible, argues that everything points to the conclusion that the version arose out of the needs of the Alexandrian Jews.38 Metzger also sees value in the needs of the Jewish community as an impetus for the translation, stating both liturgical and educational demands.39 Apparently, a mixture of both education and liturgical purposes was the most likely motivation, since the two were interdependent in ancient Jewish life.40 Collins, however, sharply disputes the theory of Jewish demand. She agrees that the Jews in Alexandria had lost their Hebrew, but this fact is essentially irrelevant to the question in hand.41 In her opinion, the Jews were opposed to the idea of a translation, but the persistence of the Greeks won the day. Even though later traditions attributed divine stature to the text, the initial purpose of the translation was not religiously driven: it was simply a Greek kings desire to add one more book to his library in Alexandria.42 Collins research is commendable but her conclusions have not held sway amongst LXX scholars. The five theories above have their strong points, but their explanations are not individually comprehensive. The best understanding of the origin of the LXX is one which will
Anna Passoni DellAcqua, Translating as a Means of Interpreting: The Septuagint and Translation in Ptolemaic Egypt, in Die Septuaginta Texte, Theologien, Einflusse, ed. Wolfgang Kraus and Martin Karrer (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 323.
38 39 37

Swete, 20.

Metzger, 38. He writes that the LXX arose from the liturgical and educational needs of the large Jewish community in Alexandria, many of whom had forgotten their Hebrew or let it grow rusty and spoke only the common Greek of the Mediterranean world. But they remained Jews and wanted to understand the ancient Scriptures, on which their faith and life depended. According to Dines, A distinctive institution in Egyptian Jewish life was the proseuche, or [place of] prayer. . . . The proseuche was the prototype of the synagogue and seems to have been a distinctively EgyptianJewish development. It is likely to have provided a venue both for non-sacrificial worship and for study . . . though the earliest explicit descriptions come only in Philo and Josephus. See Dines, 44.
41 42 40

Nina L. Collins, The Library in Alexandria and the Bible in Greek (New York: Brill, 2000), 178. Ibid., 179.

10 incorporate all of the diverse factors which contributed to the situation in Alexandria. It seems that the combination of political, academic and religious factors all contributed to the creation of the LXX. At the very least, the translation of the Pentateuch in the third century BC owes its production to a multitude of factors which convened at one time and place in a matter of divine providence, whose influence is felt even today. THE INFLUENCE OF THE SEPTUAGINT Ancient Life and the Septuagint In the introduction to Rahlfs critical edition of the LXX (1935), he explains the significance of the Greek translations at that time in history. According to him, The LXX proved of supreme importance in the work of the preservation and expansion of Judaism. . . . the LXX caused them to remain continuously faithful to the Law and to the other Sacred Scriptures, while it also enabled those who were not Jews to study these writings.43 Whereas previously only devoted proselytes willing to learn Hebrew could directly access the teachings of the Hebrew scriptures, in the three-hundred year period between the initial translation of the Torah and the completion of the rest of the books, access was gradually granted to the vast numbers of people in Hellenistic culture to study the inspired writings for themselves, or to make new translations and changes to the work already done. Later Greek Translations The initial translation of the Pentateuch from Hebrew into Greek was a momentous occasion in and of itself. Yet, the effect of the OG on the translation work of the other books of the

A. Rahlfs, Septuaginta: Id est Vetus Testamentus graece iuxta LXX interpretes, 2 vols. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1935), xxiii.


11 Hebrew Bible is also significant. Tov outlines four influences the OG had upon the rest of the translation work from Hebrew to Greek. 1. The vocabulary of the Greek Torah continued in translation of later books. 2. The Greek Torah served as a lexicon for later translators who often turned to that translation when encountering difficult Hebrew words. 3. Quotations and allusions to the Torah in later books were often phrased in Greek in a manner identical to the translation of Torah. 4. The Contents of Greek Torah often influenced wording of later translations on the exegetical level. 44 As translators in later centuries leading up to the time of Christ and beyond continued to translate, correct, and amend their work, the OG was the standard by which their efforts were checked. Although the textual implications of the OG are vast, the sociological impact of the LXX as a whole was even greater. Jewish/Christian Relations The LXX, especially the OG, had become entrenched in Jewish life by the time of Christ. But after the arrival of the church, the Christians likewise took hold of the sacred writings as their own. According to Rahlfs, the earliest Christian communities were formed to a large extent from Jews of the Dispersion, while the LXX, being already everywhere wide-spread and well-known, was simply adopted by the Christians as the Churchs Bible.45 Bickerman points out that even in the different groups perspective on the holy writings there was disagreement:

Emanuel Tov, The Impact of the Septuagint Translation of the Torah on the Translation of the Other Books, in The Greek and Hebrew Bible: Collected Essays on the Septuagint, ed. Emanuel Tov (New York: Brill, 1999), 183. Rahlfs, xxiii. It would be a mistake, however, to think that the earliest Christians had a clear understanding of the origin of their beloved Greek translations. According to Williams, Whether or not translations of books beyond the Pentateuch shared close historical origins with the translation of books of the Pentateuch, we do not know what degree these translations were perceived in the first century of Christianity as having common origins. See Williams, 177.


12 The Jews always distinguished the Torah carefully from the other sacred books. In the Jewish tradition, the Greek Pentateuch alone was the authorized version . . . For it alone Philo claimed divine guidance. But for the Christians the prophets and the hagiographa were much more important than the law, obsolete under the new dispensation.46 Although the diaspora Jews loved their Greek Bible, it wouldnt be long before they rejected it completely due its use by Christians in disputes against them and the establishing of the Hebrew text near the close of the first century.47 One of the major conflicts between Jews and Christians was the interpretation of Isaiah 7. The Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14 was a key point in Justin Martyrs debates with the Jews.48 He relied exclusively on the Greek in this passage, which translates the ambiguous Hebrew word

!" #$% &, marriageable girl, young woman49 with !"#$%&'(, virgin.50 Mller explains the sharp
reaction of the Jewish community against the persistence of Martyr and other apologists, who used the cherished Jewish translation: When the Christian church from the middle of the second century openly began to argue, on the basis of the wording of the Greek translation, against the wording of the Hebrew text, Judaism dissociated itself from the old Greek translation, probably

Bickerman, 165-66. He later adds, it was on account of the contents and not of the style that Christian readers liked Esther, Judith and Tobit, but shunned Leviticus and Numbers (Bickerman, 1:171). William W. Combs, The Transmission-History of the Septuagint, Bibliotheca Sacra 146, no. 583 (Jul 1989): 256.
48 49 47


See the extended treatment of this issue in Hengel, 29-35.

See Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, ed., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 5 vols., rev. Walter Baumgartner and Johann Jakob Stamm, trans. and ed. M. E. J. Richardson (New York: Brill, 19942000), 836. Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotian, Greek translations produced to replace the LXX, all use the unambiguous &%"&)(, *young woman* instead of the LXXs !"#$%&'(, virgin in Isaiah 7:14. Johan Lust, Erik Eynikel, and Katrin Hauspie, Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint, rev. ed., (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2003), 471.

13 in connection with the synod of Jamnia.51 In order to replace the once-revered LXX,52 other literal Greek translations were produced by Aquila (128 AD), Symmachus (end of 2nd c. AD) and Theodotion (end of 2nd c. AD). Aquila, a Jewish proselyte, may have intended to create a Greek translation so literal that it could only be understood by those familiar with Hebrew,53 which would have excluded most members of the Christian demographic. There are additional influences of the LXX on Christian communities worth noting. First of all, once the Christians starting using the LXX in public forums, they faced similar opposition to what the Jews had experienced due to the clumsiness of the Greek.54 On the one hand, Christian apologists had a hard time in vindicating this Greek spoken by the Holy Ghost against gentile ridicule.55 On the other hand, the emperor Julian wrote a polemical letter against the Christians that is impregnated with the language of the Septuagint.56 The koine57 Greek of the

Mogens Mller, The First Bible of the Church: A Plea for the Septuagint (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 40. Everett F Harrison, The Importance of the Septuagint for Biblical Studies: Part One, Bibliotheca Sacra 112, no. 448 (Oct 1955): 350, relates that Christians pressed the fact that it was the Jews themselves who had translated the Hebrew +,-. by !"#$%&'(), virgin. Philo considered the LXX divinely inspired and superior to the original Hebrew: Philo believed that the translators of Scripture knowing that they had to present the original form of the divine Law had not added or taken away or transposed anything. Bickerman, 1:185. According to Mller, 40, Aquila, who was a proselyte, distinguished himself by rendering the text almost word for word, thus making it almost unintelligible to those who did not master the Hebrew language. But exactly this may have been the point with the enterprise, because it made the Hebrew text indispensable. Bickerman, 1:171-72, clarifies the balance maintained by the Seventy in producing a vernacular translation: [They] knew well the rules of Greek syntax. Constructions which have no place in Hebrew, such as the absolute genitive, frequently occur in the Greek Pentateuch. The translators exactly distinguished between the tenses of the indicative in if-clauses, used the subjunctive to represent the Hebrew imperfect in the conditional sentences and alternated the tenses of the subjunctive in order to express different shades of Hebrew meaning. Nevertheless, the language of the Greek Torah is foreign and clumsy.
55 56 54 53 52


Bickerman, 1:171.

Menahem Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, 3 vols. (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1980), 2:502-9.

Swete, 9.

14 LXX which had made the scriptures so accessible also had the negative affect of being a source of derision. Second, the lack of understanding of the Hebrew language by the majority of the Christian population meant that their doctrine was based upon the Greek documents on hand, not the Hebrew. According to Harrison, Few of the Greek Fathers were conversant with Hebrew, so they read their Old Testaments in Greek and built their homilies on this text.58 This has important ramifications for patristic exegesis and theology (not to mention the writers of the NT) that have yet to be fully explored in modern biblical studies. Finally, there are examples of the LXX being used by those outside of Christianity for philosophical and historical purposes. Numenius, an avowed disciple of Plato,59 was a syncretist in the last half of the second century who sought philosophical truth in manifold systems of religious thought, including the Jewish cultus. In his writings, he refers to ' %& /% 0&, the First God, which is most likely sourced from the LXX rendering of Exodus 3:14: %/0 %)) ' 0&, I am who I am.60 Josephus also paraphrased portions of the LXX in his Antiquities of the Jews (12.12-118).61 Clearly, the Jews and Christians of the first century were not the only ones who acknowledged the usefulness of the Septuagint; the secular community of Hellenists recognized its importance as well, including Philo, Paul, and Josephus among others.62

58 59 60 61 62

Harrison, 346. Stern, 2:206. Ibid., 2:216. Metzger, 38. Peters, 5:1102. His inclusion of Paul in this short list of secular Hellenists is unclear.

15 Modern Studies and the Septuagint The importance of the LXX is not confined to the few hundred centuries before and after the Christ-event. The LXX is extremely important to modern studies as well, particularly in four main areas. First, the LXX is a primary witness to the original text of the Old Testament.63 Second, the Greek language is indebted to the LXX, both Classical and koine.64 Third, the LXX informs our understanding of the Jewish way of thinking in the few centuries before Christ.65 Fourth, a proper view of the Christian understanding of the Scriptures in the centuries after Christ demands intimate knowledge with the LXX.66 For these reasons alone, the importance of the Septuagint to modern studies cannot be overstated, yet this area of study needs much more scholarly attention.67 The accessibility of the LXX thanks to technology has made an impact on modern studies never before seen in history, yet the lack of understanding about the LXX is a danger. Advanced software tools such as BibleWorks, Logos and Accordance, new critical editions such as the

Gentry reminds us that, although the importance of the Qumran discoveries cannot be overstated, the Septuagint remains in many cases the earliest witness to the text of the OT and therefore of immense significance and value. See Peter J. Gentry, The Septuagint and the Text of the Old Testament, Bulletin for Biblical Research 16, no. 2 (2006): 194. Swete, 21, observes that the LXX as a whole, or at any rate the earlier part of the collection, is a monument of Alexandrian Greek as it was spoken by the Jewish colony in the delta under the rule of the Ptolemies. Peters, 5:1100, makes the point that the real value of LXX resides not so much in its function as a corrective to some Hebrew text of which we have a copy, but rather as a record of the way in which a group of Jews in the 3d century and for some time thereafter understood their traditions. According to Schniedewind, there lies behind the Greek translation both an intimate knowledge of the theological discourse and a complex intertextual interplay that derive from the Alexandrian community rather than from any individual. See William M. Schniedewind, Society and the Promise to David: The Reception History of 2 Samuel 7:1-17 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 145. Harrison urges that the student of the scriptures be familiar with the Semitic influence of the Septuagint on the New Testament (and possibly the MT), and not just the Hebrew alone. See Everett J. Harrison, The Importance of the Septuagint for Biblical Studies: Part Two, Bibliotheca Sacra 113, no. 449 (Jan 1956): 45. Protestant scholars may have shied away from LXX studies due to a predisposed bias towards the MT, and the difficult questions raised about canonicity. See Jobes, When God Spoke Greek, 224.
67 66 65 64


16 Gttingen edition,68 and the New English Translation of the Septuagint are exciting developments. But for anyone who uses these tools, there must be a conscious avoidance to view the LXX as a single, cohesive work. Williams makes the important point that the earliest use of [the term] Septuagint as a translation is from 1633,69 while prior to that the reference was used exclusively for the translators as people. According to him, the term the Septuagint was simply unavailable as a label for a Greek translation of any scriptures during the period of the Second Temple, New Testament, Rabbis or Church Fathers, and perhaps even later.70 Failing to comprehend the plurality of the translations that make up the LXX can result in misleading conclusions about, for example, Jesus or Pauls use of the Greek translations. Their ancient concept of the term was different than the misguided modern sense of a unified codex, and contemporary studies must not take that for granted. As Bickerman warns, The student of the Greek Bible must always distinguish between the Pentateuch, the Septuagint in the proper sense, and the other scriptural books rendered into Greek.71 Furthermore, for modern studies to be profitable, some consensus must be reached with regards to origins. Lagardes working hypothesis may dominate the field presently, but others warn against the undue attention it places on text-critical issues;72 there are important theological and sociological contributions to be made from LXX studies as well which have yet to be explored.73
This edition is a welcome advancement over Rahlfs, which was based on only three manuscripts (1, A, B) that are later than the 4th century AD. See Combs, 255.
69 70 68

Williams, 176.

Ibid. He continues by addressing the loss over time of the plural designation for the Bible, the Septuagint and the Apocrypha, with the implication that these collections of numerous writings have been misleadingly identified as single, bound volumes.
71 72 73

Bickerman, 1:166. See Jobes, When God Spoke Greek, 219.

Schniedewind cautions that the creative power of the LXX has often been lost in the search for an urtext. See Schniedewind, 144.

17 CONCLUSION This essay has sought to present a brief survey of the origin and influence of the Septuagint. The various theories so far offered to establish the purpose for and place of the work have arrived at beneficial conclusions. However, an eclectic approach, which considers all the factors in Alexandria in the 3rd century BC, will yield the greatest value to scholarship. Tovs prioritization of the internal over the external is sound and should be followed in future studies. The influence of the Greek translations was considered in various spheres. First, the OG can be demonstrated to have affected the translation of other books. Second, Jewish/Christian hostilities led to the abandonment of the LXX by the Jews and the production of new translations and revisions, since the Christians had already adopted the LXX for their own worship and apologetics. Finally, the implications of the LXX for modern study are tremendous. But such study must be undertaken by scholars who are not only well-versed in the languages and history, but also able to navigate the complexities of a field fraught with uncertainties, even at the level of defining of the very term Septuagint. Future scholarly efforts may tend towards either textual, historical or theological concerns, but the essence of the LXX is most clearly understood through the exegetical approach utilized by the ancient rabbis: For them, as for the Seventy, Philo, the Dead Sea sectarians and church fathers, Scripture was not a monument of the dead past but a way of their own life.74 The same should be said for the current generation of scholars, pastors and laymen. This author hopes that future scholarship will become invigorated by the profitability inherent in study of the Septuagint, for the sake of our understanding of ancient Jewish and Christian theology, and for the sake of the daily life of faith of every believer.


Bickerman, 1:191.

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