It is the oldest of several ancient translations of the Hebrew Bible into the Greek language, the lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranean from the time of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). The word septuaginta means "seventy" in Latin and derives from a tradition that seventy (or seventy-two) Jewish scholars translated the Pentateuch (Torah) from Hebrew into Greek for Ptolemy II Philadelphus, 285–246 BC.
The Septuagint includes some books not found in the Hebrew Bible. Many Protestant Bibles follow the Jewish canon and exclude the additional books. Roman Catholics, however, include some of these books in their canon while Eastern Orthodox Churches use all the books of the Septuagint. Anglican lectionaries also use all of the books except Psalm 151, and the full Authorized (King James) Version includes these additional books in a separate section labelled the "Apocrypha". The Septuagint was held with great respect in ancient times; Philo and Josephus ascribed divine inspiration to its authors. Besides the Old Latin versions, the LXX is also the basis for the Slavonic, Syro-Hexaplar (but not the Peshitta), Old Armenian, Old Georgian and Coptic versions of the Old Testament. Of significance for all Christians and for Bible scholars, the LXX is quoted by the Christian New Testament and by the Apostolic Fathers. While Jews have not used the LXX in worship or religious study since the second century AD, recent scholarship has brought renewed interest in it in Judaic Studies. Some of the Dead Sea scrolls attest to Hebrew texts other than those on which the Masoretic Text was based; in many cases, these newly found texts accord with the LXX version. The oldest surviving codices of LXX (Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus) date to the fourth century AD.
Jewish scholars first translated the Torah into Koine Greek in the third century BC. Further books were translated over the next two centuries. It is not altogether clear which was translated when, or where; some may even have been translated twice, into different versions, and then revised. The quality and style of the different translators also varied considerably from book to book, from the literal to paraphrasing to interpretative. According to one assessment "the Pentateuch is reasonably well translated, but the rest of the books, especially the poetical books, are often very poorly done and even contain sheer absurdities".
As the work of translation progressed gradually, and new books were added to the collection, the compass of the Greek Bible came to be somewhat indefinite. The Pentateuch always maintained its pre-eminence as the basis of the canon; but the prophetic collection changed its aspect by having various hagiographa incorporated into it. Some of the newer works, those called anagignoskomena in Greek, are not included in the Jewish canon. Among these books are Maccabees and the Wisdom of Ben Sira. Also, the Septuagint version of some works, like Daniel and Esther, are longer than those in the Masoretic Text. Some of the later books (Wisdom of Solomon, 2 Maccabees, and others) apparently were composed in Greek.
The authority of the larger group of writings, out of which the ketuvim were selected, had not yet been determined, although some sort of selective process must have been employed because the Septuagint did not include other well-known Jewish documents such as Enoch or Jubilees or other writings that are now part of the Pseudepigrapha. It is not known what principles were used to determine the contents of the Septuagint beyond the "Law and the Prophets", a phrase used several times in the New Testament.
The Septuagint derives its name from Latin septuaginta interpretum versio, (Greek: ἡ μετάφρασις τῶν ἑβδομήκοντα, ē metráfrasis tōn hebomēkonta) "translation of the seventy-two interpreters, six from each tribe" (hence the abbreviation LXX). The Latin title refers to a legendary account in the pseudepigraphic Letter of Aristeas of how seventy-two Jewish scholars were asked by the Greek King of Egypt Ptolemy II Philadelphus in the 3rd century BC to translate the Torah for inclusion in the Library of Alexandria. A later version of that legend narrated by Philo of Alexandria states that although the translators were kept in separate chambers, they all produced identical versions of the text in seventy-two days. Although this story may be improbable, it underlines the fact that some ancient Jews wished to present the translation as authoritative. A version of this legend is found in the Tractate Megillah of the Babylonian Talmud (pages 9a-9b), which identifies fifteen specific unusual translations made by the scholars. Only two of these translations are found in the extant LXX.
Modern scholarship holds that the LXX was written during the 3rd through 1st centuries BC. But nearly all attempts at dating specific books, with the exception of the Pentateuch (early- to mid-3rd century BC), are tentative and without consensus.
Later Jewish revisions and recensions of the Greek against the Hebrew are well attested, the most famous of which include the Three: Aquila (AD 128), Symmachus, and Theodotion. These three, to varying degrees, are more literal renderings of their contemporary Hebrew scriptures as compared to the Old Greek. Modern scholars consider one or more of the 'three' to be totally new Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible.
Around AD 235, Origen, a Christian scholar in Alexandria, completed the Hexapla, a comprehensive comparison of the ancient versions and Hebrew text side-by-side in six columns, with diacritical markings (a.k.a. "editor's marks", "critical signs" or "Aristarchian signs"). Much of this work was lost, but several compilations of the fragments are available. In the first column was the contemporary Hebrew, in the second a Greek transliteration of it, then the newer Greek versions each in their own columns. Origen also kept a column for the Old Greek (the Septuagint) and next to it was a critical apparatus combining readings from all the Greek versions with diacritical marks indicating to which version each line (Gr. στἰχος) belonged. Perhaps the voluminous Hexapla was never copied in its entirety, but Origen's combined text ("the fifth column") was copied frequently, eventually without the editing marks, and the older uncombined text of the LXX was neglected. Thus this combined text became the first major Christian recension of the LXX, often called the Hexaplar recension. In the century following Origen, two other major recensions were identified by Jerome, who attributed these to Lucian and Hesychius.
The oldest manuscripts of the LXX include 2nd century BC fragments of Leviticus and Deuteronomy (Rahlfs nos. 801, 819, and 957), and 1st century BC fragments of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Minor Prophets (Rahlfs nos. 802, 803, 805, 848, 942, and 943). Relatively complete manuscripts of the LXX postdate the Hexaplar rescension and include the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus of the 4th century and the Codex Alexandrinus of the 5th century. These are indeed the oldest surviving nearly-complete manuscripts of the Old Testament in any language; the oldest extant complete Hebrew texts date some 600 years later, from the first half of the 10th century. While there are differences between these three codices, scholarly consensus today holds that one LXX — that is, the original pre-Christian translation — underlies all three. The various Jewish and later Christian revisions and recensions are largely responsible for the divergence of the codices.
The sources of the many differences between the Septuagint and the Masoretic text have long been discussed by scholars. The most widely accepted view today is that the original Septuagint provided a reasonably accurate record of an early Semitic textual variant, now lost, that differed from ancestors of the Masoretic text. Ancient scholars, however, did not suspect this. Early Christians—who were largely unfamiliar with Hebrew texts, and were thus only made aware of the differences through the newer Greek versions—tended to dismiss the differences as a product of uninspired translation of the Hebrew in these new versions. Following the Renaissance, a common opinion among some humanists was that the LXX translators bungled the translation from the Hebrew and that the LXX became more corrupt with time. The discovery of many fragments in the Dead Sea scrolls that agree with the Septuagint rather than the Masoretic Text proved that many of the variants in Greek were also present in early Semitic manuscripts.
These issues notwithstanding, the text of the LXX is in general close to that of the Masoretic. For example, Genesis 4:1-6 is identical in both the LXX and the Masoretic Text. Likewise, Genesis 4:8 to the end of the chapter is the same. There is only one noticeable difference in that chapter, at 4:7, to wit:
|If you offer correctly but do not divide correctly, have you not sinned? Be still; his recourse is to you, and you will rule over him.||If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.|
This instance illustrates the complexity of assessing differences between the LXX and the Masoretic Text. Despite the striking divergence of meaning here between the two, nearly identical consonantal Hebrew source texts can be reconstructed. The readily apparent semantic differences result from alternative strategies for interpreting the difficult verse and relate to differences in vowelization and punctuation of the consonantal text.
The differences between the LXX and the MT thus fall into four categories.
In the 3rd century BC, most Jewish communities were located in the Hellenistic world, where Greek was the lingua franca of the time, including among the widely spread Jewish communities. It is believed that the LXX was producted because many Jews outside of Judea needed a Greek version of the scripture for use during synagogue readings or for religious study. Some also theorise that the LXX was the product of Hellenistic Jews as a contribution to the Hellenistic culture. Alexandria held the greatest diaspora Jewish community of the age and was also a great center of Greek letters. Alexandria is thus likely the site of LXX authorship, a notion supported by the legend of Ptolemy and the 72 scholars. The Septuagint enjoyed widespread use in the Hellenistic Jewish diaspora and even in Jerusalem, which had become a rather cosmopolitan (and therefore Greek-speaking) town. Both Philo and Josephus show a reliance on the Septuagint in their citations of Jewish scripture.
Starting approximately in the 2nd century AD, several factors led most Jews to abandon use of the LXX. The earliest gentile Christians of necessity used the LXX, as it was at the time the only Greek version of the bible, and most, if not all, of these early non-Jewish Christians could not read Hebrew. The association of the LXX with a rival religion may have rendered it suspect in the eyes of the newer generation of Jews and Jewish scholars. Perhaps more importantly, the Greek language—and therefore the Greek Bible—declined among Jews after most of them fled from the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire into the Aramaic-speaking Persian Empire when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Instead, Jews used Hebrew/Aramaic Targum manuscripts later compiled by the Masoretes; and authoritative Aramaic translations, such as those of Onkelos and Rabbi Yonathan ben Uziel.
What was perhaps most significant for the LXX, as distinct from other Greek versions, was that the LXX began to lose Jewish sanction after differences between it and contemporary Hebrew scriptures were discovered. Even Greek-speaking Jews — such as those remaining in Palestine — tended less to the LXX, preferring other Jewish versions in Greek, such as that of Aquila, which seemed to be more concordant with contemporary Hebrew texts.
The early Christian Church used the Greek texts since Greek was a lingua franca of the Roman Empire at the time, and the language of the Church. In addition the Church Fathers tended to accept Philo's account of the LXX's miraculous and inspired origin. Furthermore, the New Testament writers, when citing the Jewish scriptures or when quoting Jesus doing so, freely used the Greek translation, implying that the Apostles and their followers considered it reliable.
When Jerome undertook the revision of the Old Latin translations of the Septuagint, he checked the Septuagint against the Hebrew texts that were then available. He came to believe that the Hebrew text better testified to Christ than the Septuagint. He broke with church tradition and translated most of the Old Testament of his Vulgate from Hebrew rather than Greek. His choice was severely criticized by Augustine, his contemporary; a flood of still less moderate criticism came from those who regarded Jerome as a forger. But with the passage of time, acceptance of Jerome's version gradually increased until it displaced the Old Latin translations of the Septuagint.
The Hebrew text diverges in some passages that Christians hold to prophesy Christ, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still prefers to use the LXX as the basis for translating the Old Testament into other languages. The Orthodox Church of Constantinople, the Church of Greece and the Cypriot Orthodox Church continue to use it in their liturgy today, untranslated. Many modern critical translations of the Old Testament, while using the Masoretic text as their basis, consult the Septuagint as well as other versions in an attempt to reconstruct the meaning of the Hebrew text whenever the latter is unclear, undeniably corrupt, or ambiguous.
Many of the oldest Biblical verses among the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly those in Aramaic, correspond more closely with the LXX than with the Masoretic text (although the majority of these variations are extremely minor, e.g. grammatical changes, spelling differences or missing words, and do not affect the meaning of sentences and paragraphs). This confirms the scholarly consensus that the LXX represents a separate Hebrew-text tradition from that which was later standardized as the Masoretic text.
Some sections of the Septuagint may show Semiticisms, or idioms and phrases based on Semitic languages like Hebrew and Aramaic. Other books, such as LXX Daniel and Proverbs, show Greek influence more strongly. The book of Daniel that is found in almost all Greek bibles, however, is not from the LXX, but rather from Theodotion's translation, which more closely resembles the Masoretic Daniel.
The LXX is also useful for elucidating pre-Masoretic Hebrew: many proper nouns are spelled out with Greek vowels in the LXX, while contemporary Hebrew texts lacked vowel pointing. One must, however, evaluate such evidence with caution since it is extremely unlikely that all ancient Hebrew sounds had precise Greek equivalents.
All the books of western canons of the Old Testament are found in the Septuagint, although the order does not always coincide with the Western ordering of the books. The Septuagint order for the Old Testament is evident in the earliest Christian Bibles (5th century).
Some books that are set apart in the Masoretic text are grouped together. For example the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings are in the LXX one book in four parts called Βασιλειῶν ("Of Reigns"); scholars believe that this is the original arrangement before the book was divided for readability. In LXX, the Books of Chronicles supplement Reigns and it is called Paraleipoménon (Παραλειπομένων—things left out). The Septuagint organizes the minor prophets as twelve parts of one Book of Twelve.
Some scripture of ancient origin are found in the Septuagint but are not present in the Hebrew. These include additions to Daniel and Esther. For more information regarding these books, see the articles Biblical apocrypha, Biblical canon, Books of the Bible, and Deuterocanonical books.
The New Testament makes a number of allusions to and may quote the additional books (as Orthodox Christians aver). The books are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Jesus Sirach, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremy (which later became chapter 6 of Baruch in the Vulgate), additions to Daniel (The Prayer of Azarias, the Song of the Three Children, Sosanna and Bel and the Dragon), additions to Esther, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Odes, including the Prayer of Manasses, and Psalm 151. The canonical acceptance of these books varies among different Christian traditions, and there are canonical books not derived from the Septuagint; for a discussion see the article on Biblical apocrypha.
All the printed editions of the Septuagint are derived from the three recensions mentioned above.
The Septuagint has been translated a few times into English, the first one (though excluding the Apocrypha) being that of Charles Thomson in 1808 (his translation was later Revised And Enlarged by C.A. Muses in 1954). The translation of Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, published in 1851, is a longtime standard. For most of the time since its publication it has been the only one readily available, and has been in print continually since. It is based primarily upon the Codex Vaticanus and contains the Greek and English texts in parallel columns. There also is a revision of the Brenton Septuagint available through Stauros Ministries, called The Apostles' Bible. The latest revision was released in January 2008.
A recent interlinear translation (2007) is The Apostolic Bible Polyglot, which includes the Greek books of the Hebrew canon along with the Greek New Testament, all numerically coded to the AB-Strong numbering system, and set in monotonic orthography. Included in the printed edition is The Lexical Concordance of The Apostolic Bible and The English-Greek Index. Online is The comprehensive Concordance of The Apostolic Bible, The Analytical Lexicon and a grammar.
A new translation into English has recently been completed for use as the Old Testament portion of the Orthodox Study Bible. This version was released in early 2008, along with extensive commentary from an Eastern Orthodox perspective.
The International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS) has produced A New English Translation of the Septuagint and the Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included Under that Title (NETS), an academic translation based on standard critical editions of the Greek texts. It was published by Oxford Press in October 2007.
The Eastern / Greek Orthodox Bible (EOB) is an extensive revision and correction of Brenton’s translation which was primarily based on Codex Vaticanus. Its language and syntax has been modernized and simplified. It also includes extensive introductory material and footnotes featuring significant inter-LXX and LXX/MT variants.
Although the integrity of the Septuagint as a text distinct from the Masoretic text is supported by Dead Sea scroll evidence, the LXX does show signs of age in that textual variants are attested. There is at least one highly unreliable nearly complete text of the LXX, Codex Alexandrinus. Nearly complete texts of the Septuagint are also found in the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, which do not perfectly coincide. But the LXX is a particularly excellent text when compared to other ancient works with textual variants. It has been argued that it is unjustified to reject the existence of a Septuagint merely on the basis of variation due to editorial recension and typographical error.
The title "Septuagint" should not to be confused with the seven or more other Greek versions of the Old Testament, most of which do not survive except as fragments. These other Greek versions were once in side-by-side columns of Origen's Hexapla, now almost wholly lost. Of these the most important are "the three:" those by Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, which are identified by particular Semiticisms and placement of Hebrew and Aramaic characters within their Greek texts.
One of two Old Greek texts of the Book of Daniel has been recently rediscovered and work is ongoing in reconstructing the original form of the Septuagint as a whole.
| The Orthodox |
|Modern English name|
|Ἰησοῦς Nαυῆ||Iêsous Nauê||Joshua|
|Βασιλειῶν Αʹ||I Reigns||I Samuel|
|Βασιλειῶν Βʹ||II Reigns||II Samuel|
|Βασιλειῶν Γʹ||III Reigns||I Kings|
|Βασιλειῶν Δʹ||IV Reigns||II Kings|
|Παραλειπομένων Αʹ||Things Omitted I||I Chronicles|
|Παραλειπομένων Βʹ||Things Omitted II||II Chronicles|
|Ἔσδρας Αʹ||I Esdras||1 Esdras;|
|Ἔσδρας Βʹ||II Esdras||Ezra-Nehemiah|
|Ἐσθήρ||Esther||Esther with additions|
|Τωβίτ||Tobit||Tobit or Tobias|
|Μακκαβαίων Αʹ||I Maccabees||1 Maccabees|
|Μακκαβαίων Βʹ||II Maccabees||2 Maccabees|
|Μακκαβαίων Γʹ||III Maccabees||3 Maccabees|
|Ψαλμός ΡΝΑʹ||Psalm 151||Psalm 151|
|Προσευχὴ Μανάσση||Prayer of Manasseh||Prayer of Manasseh|
|Ἆσμα Ἀσμάτων||Song of Songs||Song of Solomon|
|Σοφία Σαλoμῶντος||Wisdom of Solomon||Wisdom|
|Σοφία Ἰησοῦ Σειράχ||Wisdom of Jesus the son of Seirach||Sirach or Ecclesiasticus|
|Δώδεκα||The Twelve||Minor Prophets|
|Ὡσηέ Αʹ||I. Osëe||Hosea|
|Ἀμώς Βʹ||II. Ämōs||Amos|
|Μιχαίας Γʹ||III. Michaias||Micah|
|Ἰωήλ Δʹ||IV. Ioel||Joel|
|Ὀβδίου Εʹ||V. Obdias||Obadiah|
|Ἰωνᾶς Ϛ'||VI. Ionas||Jonah|
|Ναούμ Ζʹ||VII. Naoum||Nahum|
|Ἀμβακούμ Ηʹ||VIII. Ambakum||Habakkuk|
|Σοφονίας Θʹ||IX. Sophonias||Zephaniah|
|Ἀγγαῖος Ιʹ||X. Ängaios||Haggai|
|Ζαχαρίας ΙΑʹ||XI. Zacharias||Zachariah|
|Ἄγγελος ΙΒʹ||XII. Messenger||Malachi|
|Επιστολή Ιερεμίου||Epistle of Jeremiah||Letter of Jeremiah;|
|Δανιήλ||Daniêl||Daniel with additions|
|Μακκαβαίων Δ' Παράρτημα||IV Maccabees||4 Maccabees|