Symmachus the Ebionite

Symmachus the Ebionite (Ἐβιωνίτης Σύμμαχος) (fl. late 2nd century) was the author of one of the Greek versions of the Old Testament. It was included by Origen in his Hexapla and Tetrapla, which compared various versions of the Old Testament side by side with the Septuagint. Some fragments of Symmachus's version that survive, in what remains of the Hexapla, inspire scholars to remark on the purity and idiomatic elegance of Symmachus' Greek. He was admired by Jerome, who used his work in composing the Vulgate.

According to Bruce M. Metzger the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures prepared by Symmachus followed a "theory and method ...the opposite of that of Aquila, for his aim was to make an elegant Greek rendering. To judge from the scattered fragments that remain of his translation, Symmachus tended to be paraphrastic in representing the Hebrew original. He preferred idiomatic Greek constructions in contrast to other versions in which the Hebrew constructions are preserved. Thus he usually converted into a Greek participle the first of two finite verbs connected with a copula. He made copious use of a wide range of Greek particles to bring out subtle distinctions of relationship that the Hebrew cannot adequately express. In more than one passage Symmachus had a tendency to soften anthropomorphic expressions of the Hebrew text".

The Ebionites were a sect of practicing Jews, mainly in Palestine, Syria and Cappadocia, who apparently accepted Jesus as a prophet during the early centuries of the Common Era, but rejected his divinity.

Symmachus also wrote commentaries, not extant, apparently written to counter the canonical Greek Gospel of Matthew, his Hypomnemata; it is probably identical with De distinctione præceptorum, mentioned by Ebed Jesu. Origen states that he obtained these and others of Symmachus' commentaries on the scriptures from a certain Juliana, who, he says, inherited them from Symmachus himself. Palladius of Galatia found in a manuscript that was "very ancient" the following entry made by Origen: "This book I found in the house of Juliana, the virgin in Caesarea, when I was hiding there; who said she had received it from Symmachus himself, the interpreter of the Jews". The date of Origen's stay with Juliana was probably 238-41, but Symmachus's version of the Scriptures had already been known to Origen when he wrote his earliest commentaries, ca 228. Epiphanius unreliably states that Symmachus was a Samaritan who having quarrelled with his own people converted to Judaism.

From the language of many later writers who speak of Symmachus, he must have been a man of great importance among the Ebionites, for "Symmachians" remained a term applied by Catholics even in the fourth century to the Nazarenes or Ebionites, as we know from the pseudepigraphical imitator of Ambrose, the Ambrosiaster, Prologue to the Epistle to the Galatians, and from Augustine's writings against heretics.

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