Israel and the Number 12 in Scripture - Part 1 By Randy Nettles In 2018,…
The Septuagint vs. The Masoretic Text – Part 3
The Septuagint vs. The Masoretic Text – Part 3
By Randy Nettles
The Case for the Masoretic Text
The Masoretic Text (MT) is the basis for most English translations of the Old Testament today and is regarded as the best-preserved text of the Hebrew Bible. Yet the oldest extant manuscript is dated to around AD 900, and we cannot simply assume that its genealogical figures are the most accurate without evidence. However, the Latin Vulgate follows the MT exactly for the figures in question (Genesis 5 & 11), meaning the MT tradition must date at least back to the translation of the Latin text, several hundred years earlier than the oldest surviving MT manuscript.
The Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) is known only through manuscripts from the Medieval period; the earliest manuscript dates to the 10th century. It differs from the MT and the Septuagint (LXX) in multiple places. While it was obviously and intentionally changed to align with Samaritan practices — most notably with the addition of a commandment to build an altar on Mt Gerizim — most scholars agree that it bears witness to an ancient textual Hebrew tradition.
The LXX refers to a family of ancient Greek texts translated from a Hebrew version of the Old Testament. The earliest and most complete copies are preserved in the Christian ‘great uncials’ Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus, though there are LXX fragments (DSS) dating as far back as the 1st century AD, and the New Testament gives many quotes of LXX passages, confirming that those particular readings date at least to the 1st century AD. Many scholars view its version of the Genesis 5 and 11 chronologies as clearly secondary, a recension (a deliberate editorial revision of a text) possibly to agree with the Egyptian chronology of Manetho.
The Inflated Egyptian Chronology
“Without a doubt, the major source for our current Egyptian chronologies are the works of an Egyptian priest called Manetho. They are still the most popular used today, mainly because they are viewed as the most complete and, thus, the best we have. This is despite the fact that both secular and Christian Egyptologists know that these ‘standard’ chronologies are in desperate need of revision.
Manetho lived in the 3rd century BC at the time when Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemies. The Greek conqueror Alexander the Great installed General Ptolemy to rule Egypt. After Alexander’s death, the Ptolemies reigned supreme, but instead of abolishing the culture of Egypt, they adopted it. Ptolemy’s children and subsequent descendants installed themselves as pharaohs, built temples to the Egyptian deities, and even adopted the practice of incestuous marriage in an attempt to keep their own royal bloodline ‘pure’. Many would be familiar with the most famous of the Ptolemaic pharaohs; Cleopatra VII (69–30 BC), whose lovers were the Roman generals Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. She was also the last pharaoh ever to rule Egypt.
There is little doubt that Manetho was trying to prove to the Greeks that the Egyptians were the world’s oldest civilization. This was an important issue amongst the different cultures of the day. Berosus was attempting to claim the same about the Mesopotamians, as was Eratosthenes (Greek), who was the chief librarian at the great library of Alexandria and, interestingly, the first person to calculate the circumference of the earth. In his work Aegyptiace (History of Egypt), Manetho compiled Egyptian history into the thirty dynasties that are commonly used today. This does not include the Ptolemies, who were added later as a 31st Dynasty. As part of his agenda to extend Egyptian civilization as far back as he could, Manetho also included the names of many of the pre-Old Kingdom/pre-dynastic kings that are now thought to be mythical gods, with many of them also being related to creation events. For example, Ra (called Helios in Greek by Manetho) was the sun god and Ptah (Greek: Hephaistos) was the craftsman creator god who was before all things. Even though Manetho’s chronologies are the most widely used, no original copies of his writings exist today.
For the 18th and 19th Dynasties of the New Kingdom, the pharaohs left very good records. Arguably we know more about them than any other period of Egyptian history, but Manetho even disagrees with this. Manetho also contributed to another problem now recognized by many Egyptologists: overlapping dynasties. One commentator also wrote:
“…it looks like Manetho ‘cooked the books,’ stretching out the history of Egypt as long as he could get away with, by adding years that did not exist, listing kings who shared the throne (co-regencies) as ruling alone, and dynasties as proceeding one after another, when many may have overlapped, especially during the intermediate periods. Nevertheless, Manetho’s history is still considered the foundation of Egyptian chronology. For those dynasties which left us almost nothing, like VII–X and XIV, Manetho is considered the most reliable authority, even though the lack of evidence has caused some to ask if those dynasties really existed.”
With regard to co-regencies, Egypt was often broken up into distinct kingdoms — mainly the Upper Kingdom (upper Nile, inland or southern/lower regions) and Lower Kingdom (lower Nile/Nile delta, northern land regions). So, on occasion, Egypt was a divided land with separate rulers. Evidence of this was in the crowns that the pharaohs wore. By looking at reliefs and statues we can often tell whether he ruled over a single/divided kingdom or a united upper and lower kingdom. It is likely that most of Manetho’s overlaps and inflations occurred during some of the hotly disputed intermediate periods between the major Kingdom periods, where we have scant records left by the Egyptian ruling pharaohs, particularly in the king lists. For example, for the 7th Dynasty, Manetho claims that it was composed of 70 kings who ruled for seventy days. Clearly, this cannot be true.”
The Alexandrian Jews who translated the LXX would have been familiar with Manetho’s history of Egypt, which claimed the founding of Egypt was centuries earlier than the biblical date of the Flood. Inflating the Bible’s chronology with a simple, consistent change may have been an attempt to balance the two histories. This meant a lengthening of the Hebrew chronology which appears to have been achieved by adding the additional 100 years to the patriarchal ages at the begetting of their first-born sons.
Inflation in the LXX Septuagint Text?
The Jews were aware of the inflated Egyptian chronology and knew they should not attempt to duplicate such an early creation date. However, they may have tried to compromise and extend their chronogenealogies in favor of a date that was more compatible with the earlier Egyptian dates. In this process of inflation, a certain systematization could be achieved which removed the irregularity of the Hebrew text. Look how consistent and systemized the begotten (paternal) ages are from Adam to Abraham, with an ever-so downward trend after the flood when the postdiluvian’s longevity dwindled: 230, 205, 190, 170, 165, 162, 165, 167, 188, 502 (Noah is the exception), 100, 135, 130, 130, 134, 130, 132, 130, 179 (Nahor was another exception),130, and 100 for Abraham.
In this LXX scenario, every antediluvian and postdiluvian son would have outlived their father (not counting Enoch who was raptured) except for Lamech who apparently died prematurely. This regularity looks much more normal (on paper) than the irregular begotten ages and deaths of the Genesis 5 and 11 patriarchs in the MT, where Noah died only 3 years before Abraham was born. But the question is, does the LXX look too good? “The harmonious systematization of the LXX text seems to be evidence for alteration from irregular Hebrew figures. The principle employed for making a decision of priority is that the irregular is prior because there is no reason why something regular is to become irregular.”
The extra Cainan in the postdiluvian period also contributed to reaching a period of time approximate to that of the Egyptian chronology. In this process, the period of time from creation to the flood was lengthened by 586 years (LXX ), which means that creation took place not 1656 years before the flood (MT) but in the year 2242 AM (LXX). More significant for historical reasons is the longer period of time being added since the flood, which in place of the short 352 years from the flood to Abraham in the MT has 1,232 years (LXX), thus reaching 3,474 years from creation to Abraham. The Samaritan system is closer to that of the MT by the total figure of 2,249 years from creation to Abraham as compared to the 2,008 years of the MT.
Manetho produced his chronology of the Egyptian Pharaohs at least half a century before the LXX translators began their work. His chronology, which incidentally is also a key in modern chronological schemes by Egyptologists, dated the first ‘historical’ Pharaohs to about 3,000 years earlier so that the flood could not have been until before that time.
“Moreover, some of the incredible Egyptian monuments like the great pyramids on the Giza Plateau have dates ascribed to them that would have them being built before the earth-reshaping Flood of Noah’s time around 4,500 years ago. Following a strict biblical chronology, Egyptian civilization cannot predate creation, nor can the pyramids be pre-Flood constructions. It is untenable to place the pyramid’s construction pre-Flood, because of the geological evidence. (I.e. the pyramid blocks containing fossils, like nummulites, which are found in vast numbers within the limestone, no evidence of water erosion on the limestone casing blocks, etc.). Khufu’s Great Pyramid was built after Babel, maybe a century or so, to allow for a workforce large enough to develop, but still allow for the rest of the country to function. The pyramids are simply not as old as most people think they are. Why subscribe to their conventional dates when there is so much disagreement even in secular circles? Moreover, their dates are being revised all the time based on things like carbon-14 dating.”
There are three options or opinions in regard to the possible inflation of ages in the Greek LXX:
1. These differences were introduced in the translation from Hebrew to Greek.
2. These differences existed in Hebrew texts from which the Greek was translated.
3. A combination of the two.
“The fact, however, that the Samaritan Pentateuch agrees with the Septuagint in some differences from the Masoretic Text makes it much more likely that chronological differences go back to a pre-Greek stage of the Septuagint, that is, to the Hebrew manuscripts from which the Septuagint was translated. This is because the Samaritan Pentateuch is in Hebrew and therefore attests to the existence of chronologically variant Hebrew manuscripts. However, we should not look upon the two possibilities of Greek and Hebrew variants as mutually exclusive. With our present knowledge, there is nothing to preclude the hypothesis that figures in Genesis 5 and 11 were variant in the Hebrew stage and revised further in the Greek stage of the Septuagint tradition. But if the variants do go back to a Hebrew stage, we must ask which is original: the Masoretic Text or the Septuagint’s Hebrew predecessor?”
The Apocrypha Included in LXX Septuagint Canon
One reason Protestants use the Masoretic version of the Old Testament is that they don’t agree with the Catholics and the Orthodox Church regarding the books of the Apocrypha being included in the canon of the Old Testament.
The Apocrypha (also called the Deuterocanonical books) are included in Roman Catholic Bibles and are used by some traditions within Christianity. The word Apocrypha means hidden, while the word deuterocanonical means second canon. The books of the Apocrypha are a set of texts included in the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, but not in the Hebrew MT. Catholic tradition considers some of these texts to be deuterocanonical, and the Orthodox Churches consider them all to be canonical. However, Protestants consider them apocryphal, that is, non-canonical books that are merely useful for instruction.
The books in the Apocrypha were mostly written during the four-hundred-year period between the completion of the Old Testament writings and the beginning of the New Testament events. These books include 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. They also claimed additions to the Old Testament books of Esther and Daniel.
Within early Judaism, the writings of the Apocrypha were treated with respect but were not accepted as the official canon of the Hebrew Bible. The early Christian church debated the status of the Apocryphal writings, but few of them believed they belonged in the canon of Scripture. The New Testament quotes passages from the LXX hundreds of times, but none of them are from the Apocrypha’s books. There are many proven historical errors and contradictions in the Apocrypha.
Some of the books of the Apocrypha are technically pseudepigraphical. However, the Pseudepigrapha is generally those books that were not included in the LXX Septuagint and were never accepted by the church as worth including in the Bible. The word Pseudepigrapha means “falsely attributed.” It means that it is a text written under the name of a biblical person but was not really by them. The Pseudepigrapha may have historical value, but they are not considered Scripture as they lacked affirmation by the early Jewish leaders and the early church. They often include errors, and are presented as works by authors other than the true author, or came at a date far after the true events.
The Evidence for the LXX Septuagint Translation – Letter of Aristeas
“Conventional wisdom (politically correct theology and church history) states that Christ and the apostles routinely used the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament done about 200 B.C.) as their daily Bible and quoted from it often in the New Testament. Upon what is this statement based? Does Christ or the apostles ever say that they are quoting the Septuagint? The answer is clearly NO! Yet it is not hard to see that the “conventional wisdom” is dogmatic – that Christ and the apostles were using the Greek translation.
Roman Catholics and liberals use this idea to help support many unbiblical beliefs. Roman Catholics use the idea that Christ quoted the Septuagint to justly include the Apocrypha in their Bibles. Their reasoning goes like this: “Christ used and honored the Septuagint, the Septuagint includes the Apocrypha, so Christ honored and authorized the Apocrypha.” Since no Hebrew Old Testament ever included the books of the Apocrypha, the Septuagint is the only source the Catholics have for justifying their canon. Many Reformers and Lutherans wrote at great length refuting the validity of the Septuagint.
The Septuagint is a very loose translation of the Old Testament. It has much more in common with the “Revised Standard Version” or even “The Living Bible” than the King James Bible. It is used to teach against the doctrine of verbal inspiration. It is used to justify “dynamic equivalence” in translation rather than the formal literal equivalence method (which is based upon the concept of verbal inspiration).
It is easy to see why Roman Catholics and modernists are so devoted to the idea that Christ used the Septuagint! But why are so many evangelicals devoted to an idea for which they can not offer any proof? Many proud evangelicals value the idea of being accepted as “scholarly” and “educated” by the world (the Catholics and the modernists). They substitute conventional wisdom in place of doing their own research and getting solid answers. There is no evidence that the Greek translation of the Old Testament was used by Christ and the apostles.
According to General Biblical Introduction: From God to Us (by H.S. Miller, p. 220): “The Septuagint Version is a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek language for the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria. The abbreviation is LXX.” But why would Christ, when preaching to the Jews of Palestine, use a Greek version designed for the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria Egypt? The existence of this translation is based upon a letter called the “Letter of Aristeas”.
Aristeas claims to be a high official in the court of the Egyptian King Ptolemy Philadelphius. According to this letter, the royal librarian suggests that it would be good to have a Greek Translation of the Old Testament in the Egyptian royal library. The king sent Jews living in Egypt (including Aristeas) to Jerusalem to ask for help. They asked the high priest to send six scribes from each tribe of Israel to Alexandria in Egypt to make this Greek translation of the Old Testament.
They were sent to the island of Pharos where they each did their own translation of the first five books of the Old Testament. All 72 translations were identical (after 72 days of translation work). This supposedly proved that the translators were inspired by God! Of course, no one today believes that this story is actually true but still many base their doctrine of Scripture upon it. H.S. Miller, (General Biblical Introduction: From God to Us, p. 222) said that “The Letter to Aristeas” has been doubted, then denied and that “now it has few, if any, defenders.”
One Bible Only? (Roy Beacham and Kevin Bauder) calls it “a mixture of fact and fable” (p.29). Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible says, “The details of this story are undoubtedly fictitious but the letter does relate the authentic fact that the LXX was translated for the use of Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria (p. 308).
But if this story is fiction then there is no factual information about the origin of the Septuagint. There are no other historical references to the translation of the Old Testament into Greek in Alexandria. The Introduction to the Septuagint (p-ii)(a modern printing of Origen’s Septuagint) states that the “Letter of Aristeas” is “…not worthy of notice except for the myth being connected with the authority which this version (LXX) was once supposed to have possessed.” It also says (p-i), “No information, whatever, as to the time and place of their execution (ancient versions), or by whom they were made exists, we simply find such versions in use at particular times…” It also says (p-i), “No information, whatever, as to the time and place of their execution (ancient versions), or by whom they were made exists, we simply find such versions in use at particular times…” The New Schaff – Herzog Religious Encyclopedia admits: “Of the pre-Christian period of its history (referring to the Septuagint) next to nothing is known.” (Volume II, p.117)
There are no historical references to the Septuagint before the time of Christ except for the “Letter of Aristeas.” Aristobulus, Philo, Josephus, and all of the early Christian writers refer to the same story. A story that no one today believes! For some reason, the work of the Seventy-two began to be commonly referred to as the LXX or the Seventy. There is no clear explanation for why it is called “the Seventy” instead of “the Seventy-two.” The lack of a clear explanation is not unusual in this story.
Supporters of the “Christ used the Septuagint” theory often refer to early Christian writers (such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Augustine) as proof that Christ and the apostles used the Septuagint. The writers quoted can all be found in either the Ante-Nicene or Post-Nicene Fathers. All of these men based their acceptance of the LXX on the bogus “Letter of Aristeas.” The early Christian writers do not add any other information about Christ using the Septuagint. If you do not believe the legendary story of “The Letter of Aristeas” then these writers do not add anything to the discussion. Jerome was a contemporary of Augustine.
Jerome wanted to see a new translation of the Old Testament into Latin. St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin between AD 383 and 404. He originally translated it all from Greek, but as he went on her corrected the Old Testament against the Hebrew original. The Vulgate is usually credited to have been the first translation of the Old Testament into Latin directly from the Hebrew Tanakh, rather than the Greek Septuagint. Augustine opposed the use of Hebrew because he thought the Greek Septuagint was “inspired.”
Jerome understood that the Septuagint of his day was developed by Origen. He believed that Origen used several different Greek manuscripts and that all of them had been corrupted! He disputed Augustine’s assertion that the apostles usually quoted from the Septuagint! He pointed out that their quotations often don’t match any version of the Septuagint or any other Greek New Testament. It is clear that what is called the Septuagint today has nothing to do with the story of “The Letter to Aristeas.” What is called the Septuagint today is the work of Origen (almost 200 years after the time of Christ).
Origen was primarily responsible for making allegorical interpretations of the Bible the standard hermeneutic from his time through the Middle Ages. Because he included many concepts from Plato in his teaching, he is considered a father of both orthodoxy and heresy.
Advocates of the “Christ used the Septuagint” view are quick to pass off statements like the one above as “King James propaganda.” One writer said: “So, why is the King James only advocate so desperate to put the completion of the Septuagint after the writing of the New Testament Scriptures? It is because the Septuagint is not identical to the Hebrew Scriptures from which the King James was translated, yet Christ and the apostles often quoted it.” This attack on the advocates of the King James Bible ignored the testimony of Jerome from the fourth century.
The recognition of the history of the Septuagint is not new. In 1588 (23 years before the release of the King James Bible) William Whitaker wrote: “Learned men question, whether the Greek version of the Scriptures now extant be or be not the version of the seventy elders. The sounder opinion seems to be that of those who determine that the true Septuagint is wholly lost, and that the Greek text as we have it, is a mixed and miserably corrupted document. Aristeas says that the Septuagint version was exactly conformable to the Hebrew originals, so that when read and diligently examined by skillful judges, it was highly approved by the general suffrage of them all. But this of ours differs amazingly from the Hebrew, as well in other places and books, especially in the Psalms of David.” (William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture, 1588, p. 121; Soli Deo Gloria edition 2000).
Whitaker was the foremost defender of the Protestant doctrine of Scripture against Catholicism in his day. He also wrote: “From these and innumerable examples of the like sort we may concede either this Greek version which has come down to our times is not the same as that published by the seventy Jewish elders, or that it has suffered such infinite and shameful corruptions as to be now of very slight authority. Even Jerome had not the Greek translation of the seventy interpreters in its purity; since he often complains in his commentary that what he had was faulty and corrupt.” (Disputations on Holy Scripture, p. 122).
This is not “King James Only” propaganda. It is a sound review of history. In Ira Price’s, The Ancestry of Our English Bible, he mentions several important manuscripts of the Septuagint, p. 52-80. Everyone (except the John Rylands fragment) is the Origen version of the Septuagint – produced long after the New Testament. Every manuscript was produced at least two hundred years after the New Testament that “scholars” claim that it quotes. “But the earliest extant manuscript of this version (the Septuagint) is dated around 350 A.D..” (H. S. Miller, General Biblical Introduction, p. 120).
“Scholars” are fond of saying that the Dead Sea Scrolls prove the Septuagint. In fact, the phrase “the Dead Sea Scrolls proves” is used to justify any number of ideas that have nothing to do with the Dead Sea Scrolls. In fact, there is not one single verse of the Old Testament in Greek in any manuscript found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is nothing about the Septuagint in these scrolls. There are no quotes from the Septuagint or references to it. None of the Dead Sea Scrolls mention anything about the Septuagint. All of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Hebrew or Aramaic.
Some of the Old Testament books found among the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t match the Hebrew of the traditional text. Some scholars call these Hebrew manuscripts “the Qumran Septuagint.” They suggest that these manuscripts were the Septuagint translated back into Hebrew. There is no reference to this in any of the scrolls or anywhere else in history. So why do they believe this? Because they really wish it was true. There is no Qumran Septuagint! The Dead Sea Scrolls do prove that the “sacred language” (the language used in sermons, rituals and commentaries) of the Jews in Palestine around the time of Christ was Hebrew – not Greek.
One of the most commonly suggested pieces of evidence for a Septuagint translation before the time of Christ is the existence of four manuscript scraps that contain verses from Deuteronomy. These manuscript scraps actually date from before the time of Christ and they are the only manuscripts in Greek of any part of the Old Testament ever found that date before the time of Christ. The first three manuscript scraps (Rylands Papyrus 458) were found together and contain Deut. 23, 25:13, 26:12, 17, 19, and 28:31-33. A fourth scrap found in Fouad, Egypt repeats some of these verses and adds Deut. 32:7.
No New Testament writer quotes any of these verses and they prove nothing about what Bible Christ and the apostles used. These are the only manuscripts of the Greek Old Testament from before the time of Christ. All they prove is that someone had translated part of Deuteronomy into Greek before 150 B.C. Since they are never quoted they don’t prove who used this translation or how widespread it was.”
In Part 4, we will look at the story of the development of the Old Testament in Greek – What really happened?