The Septuagint (a name derived from the Latin word for "seventy", also referred to as the LXX) is a 3rd century B.C. translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. It is the canonical Old Testament of the Orthodox Church.
The translation of the Septuagint undertaken in Alexandria at the behest of the Egyptian King, Ptolemy, who wished to expand the celebrated library of Alexandria to include the wisdom of all the ancient religions of the world. Because Greek was the language of Alexandria, the Scriptures therefore had to be translated into that language.
The Letter of Aristeas, the oldest known source we have for the origin of the Septuagint, details how Ptolemy contacted the chief priest, Eleazar, in Jerusalem and asked him to send translators. Six were chosen from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, giving us the commonly accepted number of seventy-two. (Other accounts have the number at seventy or seventy-five.) Only the Torah (the first five books) was translated initially, but eventually other translations (and even compositions) were added to the collection. By the time of our Lord, the Septuagint was the Bible in use by most Hellenistic Jews.
Thus, when the Apostles quote the Jewish Scripture in their own writings, the overwhelmingly dominant source for their wording comes directly from the Septuagint (LXX). Given that the spread of the Gospel was most successful among the Gentiles and Hellenistic Jews, it made sense that the LXX would be the Bible for the early Church. Following in the footsteps of those first generations of Christians, the Orthodox Church continues to regard the LXX as its only canonical text of the Old Testament. There are a number of differences between the canon of the LXX and that of Roman Catholic Church and Protestant Christians, based on differences in translation tradition or doctrine.
Differences with other Christian Canons
The differences with Rome are fairly small and have never been a subject of much contention between the Orthodox and that communion. The canonical lists are essentially the same in content (some of the names are different) but for the following items: The Latin canon does not include I Esdras (though it uses that name for what the Orthodox call II Esdras); there are only 150 Psalms in the Latin canon, while the LXX has 151 (and the Psalms are numbered and divided differently between the two canons, because the modern Latin canon is based on the Hebrew Masoretic Text, though the Vulgate used the Septuagintal Psalm numbering); the Epistle of Jeremiah is a separate book in the LXX, while it is included as part of Baruch for the Latins; and the Latins do not include either III or IV Maccabees. Traditionally, Roman Catholics used the numbering of the Latin Vulgate, which follows the Septuagint. However, since the Second Vatican Council, Roman Catholic publications, including Catholic Bibles and liturgical texts, have used the numbering found in the Masoretic Text.
The differences with the Protestant canon are based on the 16th century misunderstanding of Martin Luther. When he was translating the Old Testament into German, he mistakenly believed that the oldest source for the Old Testament would be in Hebrew, so he found and used the so-called Masoretic Text (MT), a 9th century Jewish canon compiled largely in reaction to Christian claims that the Old Testament Scriptures belonged to the Church. The MT is thus also the basis for the Old Testament text of the 17th century Authorized Version in English (the "King James Version"). There are multiple differences between the LXX and MT. The MT lacks the following texts: I Esdras, the portion of II Esdras (which the MT simply calls "Ezra") called the "Prayer of Manasseh," Tobit, Judith, portions of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, the Epistle of Jeremiah, the so-called "additions to Daniel" (The Song of the Three Children, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon), the 151st Psalm, and all four Maccabees books. The Psalms are also numbered and divided up differently.
Variations with the Masoretic Text (MT)
There are multiple internal variations between the LXX and the MT. The texts read differently in many places, giving a much more Christological tone to the LXX which was deliberately avoided when the Masoretes were putting together their anti-Christian canon. These differences in wording are the evidence that the Apostles were using the LXX. Here follow several examples of radical differences in wording:
|Gen. 4:7||Hast thou not sinned if thou hast brought it rightly, but not rightly divided it? Be still, to thee shall be his submission, and thou shalt rule over him.||If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.|
|Gen. 4:13||And Cain said to the Lord God, My crime is too great for me to be forgiven.||And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.|
|Exodus 21:16/17||He that reviles his father or his mother shall surely die.||And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.|
|Psalm 39/40:6||Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for me...||Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire, mine ears has thou opened...|
Dead Sea Scrolls
With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid twentieth century many examples have been recovered of the Old Testament in Hebrew from the time of Christ and the Holy Apostles and earlier. Scholarship during the past half century based upon these Dead Sea discoveries has revealed a close agreement between the LXX and pre-Masoretic Hebrew texts. In a review of some of this scholarship, Hershal Shanks notes that ”…many Hebrew texts [are available] that were the base text for Septuagintal translations…”. Further he notes that what ”…texts like 4QSama show is that the Septuagintal translations are really quite reliable” and ”…gives new authority to the Greek translations against the Masoretic text”. Quoting Frank Moore Cross (a co-author of the book under review), Hershal continues ”We could scarcely hope to find closer agreement between the Old Greek [Septuagintal] tradition and 4QSama than actually is found in our fragments”.
The scholarship based upon the new information provided in the Dead Sea Scroll thus supports the millennial old tradition on use of the Septuagint by the Orthodox Church.
- Hershal Shanks, 4QSama - The Difficult Life of a Dead Sea Scroll, Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol 33 No 3, May/June 2007, pp66-70.
- The Septuagint Online
- The Orthodox Study Bible
- The Septuagint LXX: Greek and English by Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton
- Septuagint, Brenton's Edition (omits "deuterocanonical"/"apocryphal" books)
- The Septuagint, compiled from the Unbound website by Henry Sikkema in 1999 (omits "deuterocanonical"/"apocryphal" books)
- New English Translation of the Septuagint. To be released Spring 2008 by Oxford University Press. Provisional edition online. This project is being carried out under the aegis of The International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS). An international team of more than thirty scholars is working on the entire corpus of the Greek Jewish Scriptures. It is the first such English version in 160 years. Called the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS), the text reflects both the wealth of manuscript evidence that has been brought to light since the 19th century and, of course, current English idiom. (Note however, that this project is using the NRSV(1989) version as its English base of referral).
- Septuagint Institute (Trinity Western University, Canada). In 2005 the Septuagint Studies department moved from the University of Toronto to TWU, forming the new Septuagint Institute (SI). The SI complements TWU's already established Dead Sea Scrolls Institute (DSSI), founded in 1995, and together they form North America's new hub of Septuagint research.
- Septuaginta-Unternehmens Institute in Gottingen, Germany (German only at present). The Septuaginta-Unternehmen is a special research institute that was founded in 1908 in Göttingen under the auspices of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences. Its purpose was to conduct sound scientific investigation into the Septuagint and to trace the history of evolution of the Septuagint text, on the basis of the mass of manuscript data, and ultimately to establish a text which could be claimed to be for all intents and purposes identical with the Septuagint in its pristine form, a proto-Septuagint.(1) The institute made Göttingen the nerve centre of Septuagint studies. The first director of the Institute, Alfred Rahlfs, published the critically established Septuaginta, 2 volume edition in 1935 (Septuagint in Greek). The Rahlf's critical edition of the Septuagint for the book of Genesis rests on a foundation of some one hundred and forty manuscripts (nine pre-dating the fourth century CE), ten daughter-versions, plus biblical citations in Greek and Latin literature, and is the most modern critical edition of the LXX text.(2)
- The HEXAPLA Institute. Its purpose is to publish a new critical edition of the fragments of Origen's Hexapla, focusing on the later development of Septuagint tradition.
- Centre for Septuagint Studies and Textual Criticism. Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.