What Is The Septuagint (LXX)?
The Pentateuch was translated from its Hebrew original into Greek around 280 B.C. The Prophets and Writings were translated later, probably all of them by about 130 B.C. as suggested by the Greek Prologue to Ben Sira. Thus, while the term Septuagint is applicable in a technical sense only to the Greek Pentateuch, it is employed loosely for the Greek translations of the Old Testament as a whole. By 100 B.C. the Septuagint Bible had already found its way from its home on the Nile to the remoter Jews of the Dispersion a book from the Hellenistic world for the Hellenistic world. It was the Bible of the proselytes from the heathen ; the Bible of Philo the philosopher, Paul the Apostle, and the earliest Christian missions ; the Bible of the whole Greek-speaking Christian world ; the mother of influential daughter-versions ; the mother of the Greek New Testament. For five centuries or so this version of the Hebrew Bible was dominant; translations into other languages were, as a rule, made from it, and not from the Hebrew, until the Vulgate appeared.
The English word Septuagint derives its name from Latin Interpretatio septuaginta virorum, “translation of the seventy interpreters” (ἡ μετάφρασις τῶν ἑβδομήκοντα). It is the name given to the oldest translation of the Hebrew Bible. It first appears in Greek (οἱ ἑβδομήκοντα, “the seventy”) in the mid-second century A.D. and thereafter in Christian writers, such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyon, Eusebius of Caesarea, and John Chrysostom, to refer in general to the entire Greek Old Testament (η παλαια διαθηκη). It is frequently abbreviated as οʹ (Greek for seventy), LXX (Latin for seventy), or ?.
By diffusing for the first time a knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures to the world at large it was a Praeparatio Evangelica paving the way for Christianity; it was the Bible of the early Church and the parent of numerous daughter versions. Its language is a mine of information on Κοινή Greek, the lingua franca of the new era dating from Alexander the Great. (Henry St. John Thackeray)
The Septuagint, or the Greek version of the Old Testament is, written in full, the Interpretatio septuaginta vivorum or seniorum, i.e. the translation of which the first instalment was attributed by Alexandrian tradition to seventy or seventy-two Jewish elders. In the most ancient Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament it is described as the version ‘according to the LXX.’ (κατὰ τοὺς ἑβδομήκοντα, παρὰ ἑβδομήκοντα), and quoted by the formula οἱ οʹ or οἱ οβʹ (Greek for 70 or 72). Because the Greek letter omicron (ο) is used to represent the numeral LXX, the Septuagint is often referred to with the abbreviation οἱ οʹ or simply οʹ. All forms of the name point back to a common source, the story of the origin of the version which is told in the letter entitled Ἀριστέας Φιλοκράτει.
According to the letter of Aristeas, Demetrius Phalereus (Δημήτριος Φαληρεύς), the chief librarian at Alexandria, proposes to Ptolemy II Philadelphus (Πτολεμαῖος Φιλάδελφος) (king of Ptolemaic Egypt from 282-247 B.C.) to enrich his library by having a translation of the Jewish law-book made for it. Ptolemy agrees to this, and sends an embassy consisting of his chief of guards, Andrew, and Aristeas, the author of the letter, to Jerusalem with rich presents to the high priest Eleazar, asking him to send old and worthy and wise men, to Alexandria, where they were to translate the Pentateuch for the royal library. Eleazar sends seventy-two men (six out of each tribe), who take with them a precious manuscript of the Pentateuch. After having been royally entertained by Ptolemy, Demetrius conducts them to the island of Pharos at Alexandria, where they could work undisturbed. When they had come to an agreement on a section, Demetrius wrote down the version. The whole work was completed in seventy-two days. A copy of the translation was given to the Jewish community at Alexandria. The Jews of Alexandria, on hearing the Law read in Greek, request copies and lay a curse on anyone who would change the translation. The king then rewards the translators lavishly and they return home.
A second direct testimony is from Aristobulus, of Alexandria, who wrote a work on the Interpreation of the Sacred Laws, which he dedicated to King Ptolemy Philometor (Πτολεμαῖος Φιλομήτωρ) (reigned from 180-145 B.C.), of which an extract has been preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Praeparatio Evangelica. Eusebius writes, “And I will quote first the words of the Hebrew philosopher Aristobulus, which are as follows:
‘IT is evident that Plato closely followed our legislation, and has carefully studied the several precepts contained in it. For others before Demetrius Phalereus, and prior to the supremacy of Alexander and the Persians, have translated both the narrative of the exodus of the Hebrews our fellow countrymen from Egypt, and the fame of all that had happened to them, and the conquest of the land, and the exposition of the whole Law; so that it is manifest that many things have been borrowed by the aforesaid philosopher, for he is very learned: as also Pythagoras transferred many of our precepts and inserted them in his own system of doctrines.
‘But the entire translation of all the contents of our law was made in the time of the king surnamed Philadelphus, thy ancestor, who brought greater zeal to the work, which was managed by Demetrius Phalereus.’ ” (The Preparation of the Gospel by Eusebius of Caesarea, Book 13, Chapter 12)
The Importance of the Septuagint For Biblical Studies
Gentlemen, have you a Septuagint? If not, sell all you have, and buy a Septuagint!
Ferdinand Hitzig, a German Bible scholar used to say to his class, “Meine Herren! Haben sie eine Septuaginta? Wenn nicht, so verkaufen Sie Alles, was Sie haben und kaufen Sie eine Septuaginta!”
Adolf Deissmann once wrote, “A single hour lovingly devoted to the text of the Septuagint will further our exegetical knowledge of the Pauline Epistles more than a whole day spent over a commentary.”
Why study the Septuagint?
(1) With the exception of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint antedate by many centuries the oldest existing Hebrew manuscripts (Masoretic Text). It was made between two and three centuries, before the Christian era, and that no other version (except the one used by Plato as maintained by Aristobulus) existed before that era. To judge from the prologue to Ecclesiasticus, the Septuagint was substantially completed before 131 B.C. Thus, the Septuagint is useful and even necessary for a just consideration of the problems of the Hebrew text and its interpretation.
Our oldest manuscripts of LXX (neglecting small fragments) date from about A.D. 350 to near 500; four to five hundred years before the oldest Hebrew manuscript. Thus the question arises, does the Septuagint possibly representan older and purer text of the Old Testament than that obtained from the Hebrew manuscripts?
(2) The Septuagint is very important in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, because translators of the Septuagint adhered too closely to the Hebrew idiom to be even tolerable Greek. It preserves, in most places, the Hebrew order of the words, to an extent which English cannot. This closeness of rendering generally enables us to decide without difficulty the Hebrew original used by the translators. If we had the original Septuagint before us we could restore the Hebrew text from which it was made with comparatively certainty.
(3) A wide knowledge of the Septuagint is therefore absolutely necessary for any one who would make any pretensions to New Testament scholarship. (Rev. L. W. Batten)
The Septuagint must be read as a translation with constant reference to the Hebrew which it represents. It would not be of such great value to one who did not read Hebrew. The student must read the Septuagint and understand all the time exactly what Hebrew ideas are conveyed by the Greek words. That makes it so valuable for the understanding of the New Testament. The one who has read
the Septuagint can read the New, seeing in the Greek the original ideas of the Hebrew mind, or of the mind trained to Hebrew learning.
(4) The use of the Septuagint has been recognized and employed chiefly by lexicographers of the New Testament. Thayer elucidates many words by giving the corresponding Hebrew word for which they were used in the Septuagint.
It has often struck me as curious that the “Septuagint” (LXX) as been so widely neglected among NT scholars, and so often overlooked by PhD students in the field. So, e.g., when PhD students tackle the meaning of some OT passage cited or alluded to in the NT, or the meaning of some word/expression that seems to be derived from the OT, they often (typically?) conduct an admirably detailed analysis of the Hebrew OT passage, but do little (often nothing) with the Greek OT. (Larry Hurtado, New Testament scholar)
(5) The Septuagint was used by the early Greek-speaking Jews and Christians. It was the Bible of the early Church fathers and the Jews of the Dispersion. Old Testament quotations made by New Testament writers are frequently, though not always, in exact or fairly close verbal agreement with the Septuagint; even when this differs markedly from the Hebrew.
The original text of these Jewish prayers for vengeance, found at Rheneia and now preserved at Athens and Bucharest shows us the Jews of Delos, about the year 100 B.C., in possession of the Greek Old Testament. This single picture is typical. The Old Testament, as you know, had been translated from Hebrew into Greek at different times and by different persons in Egypt, beginning in the third century B.C., and the complete version is known as the Septuagint. We see then that by 100 B.C. the Septuagint Bible had already found its way from its home on the Nile to the remoter Jews of the Dispersion – a book from the Hellenistic world for the Hellenistic world. (Adolf Deissmann, The Philology of the Greek Bible, pp5-6)
Septuaginta LXX Project
Septuaginta LXX Project aims to produce an online edition of the Septuagint with a comprehensive critical apparatus, and a new English translation. We seek to collate all extant ancient manuscripts of the Septuagint and make them available at this website.
- A new critical text of the Septuagint that is as close as possible to the Hebrew text (Samaritan Pentateuch or Masoretic Text).
- A comprehensive critical apparatus.
- A new English translation for the Septuagint, Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion.
- Discover or reconstruct the Hebrew vorlage used by the translators of the Septuagint. The primary object of this website is to indicate means for constructing a clue by which scholars may systematically find their way through any Greek translation from Hebrew back to the Hebrew original.
- A PDF version of the Septuagint that will be made available for download.