The Septuagint Vs. the Masoretic Text – Part 4
By Randy Nettles
Most historians believe the Hebrew Pentateuch was translated into the Greek language in approximately 250 BC and thus the Septuagint or LXX was born. However, there is no solid proof of a pre-Christian LXX. What is usually referred to as the LXX today is nothing more than compilations of the oldest known manuscripts (in Greek) such as the Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus, which do not even agree with each other in many instances (such as the genealogies in Genesis 5 & 11). Many LXX defenders in support of a pre-Christian LXX version are quoting people like Justin Martyr, Josephus, or Philo. All of these learned men received their information regarding the origin and process of the translation from the famous Letter of Aristeas. None of them have any independent evidence of a pre-Christian LXX.
The LXX (70) supposedly got its name by having been written by seventy Jewish scholars, six from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, who traveled to the city of Alexandria in Egypt. I suppose it was shortened from 72 scholars to 70, as 70 is a special number to the Jews (as it is a multiple of 7). During this time, there were many Jews living in Alexandria, Egypt after Alexander the Great and the Greek army defeated the Persian Empire and founded the city in 323 BC.
There are several problems with this story, however. The custodians of the Old Testament Scriptures were only members of the tribe of Levi and not the other tribes. Most orthodox Jews would never have accepted an O.T. translation made from a heathen, Gentile language. A Greek O.T. translation into a pagan tongue that was produced by the other eleven tribes (in addition to the tribe of Levi) would be unacceptable. The Levites were the guardians of the Old Testament Scriptures as confirmed by the prophet Malachi.
“For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts. But you are departed out of the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts” – (Malachi 2:7-8).
The covenant of Levi was with the Levites alone, to copy and guard the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures. Ezra was a priest and a Levite and was a great-grandson of Hilkiah the priest, who found the Book of the Law in the Temple during the time of King Josiah of Judea.
Regarding the word of God, Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one title shall in no way pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). Jots and titles are only used with the Hebrew written tongue. They are not found in a Greek language translation of the O.T. Scriptures. God committed His O.T. words of truth only to the nation of Israel, not to the Greeks, Romans, or Syrians. “What advantage then has the Jews, or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way! Chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles (Scriptures) of God. For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar” (Romans 3:1-4).
“It is supremely important to recognize the truth that God gave His inspired words in the O.T. Scriptures in the Hebrew language and only to the nation of Israel. Any translation that rejects or departs from the Hebrew text is not the pure words of God. The Greek Septuagint changes the Hebrew text in literally thousands of places and omits hundreds of whole verses from the Hebrew scriptures. It changes many numbers and names, and the book of Jeremiah alone is over one-eighth shorter than its Hebrew counterpart.
Eugene Ulrich is the chief editor of the biblical scrolls from Qumran and is the John A. O’Brien Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Ulrich states: “The oldest extensive manuscripts of the Septuagint that are extant are dated in the fourth century, at least a century after Origen, so we cannot always be certain that our Septuagint text corresponds to that of his day either in its pre-Origenic or post-Origenic form. We do not, and Origen did not, have extant for any book that anyone would consider the original form of that translation. All manuscripts display a considerable amount of textual development certainly unintentional changes, such as the well-known panoply of errors, but also intentional changes, such as clarifications, revisions, doublets, and harmonizations.”
Dr. F.F. Bruce points out that, strictly speaking, the LXX deals only with the Law and not the whole Old Testament. Bruce writes, “The Jews might have gone on at a later time to authorize a standard text of the rest of the Septuagint, but…lost interest in the Septuagint altogether. With but few exceptions, every manuscript of the Septuagint which has come down to our day was copied and preserved in Christian, not Jewish, circles.” (The Books and the Parchments, p. 150). This is important to note because the manuscripts which consist of our LXX today date to the third century AD.
Throughout history, various individuals have taken it upon themselves to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into various foreign languages. Well into the Christian era, there were at least five individuals who attempted a Greek translation – Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotian, Lucian, and Hesychius. Yet all five versions differed not only from the Hebrew texts but from each other as well. When some LXX scholars claim there are a few scraps here and there of a Greek translation of the Septuagint that predate the Christian era, the more likely explanation is these are nothing more than surviving pieces of individual attempts at a personal translation of the Hebrew into another language, just as they did with the Aramaic and Samaritan languages.”
“Jerome owes his place in the history of exegetical studies chiefly to his revisions and translations of the Bible. Until about 391-392 AD, he considered the Septuagint translation as inspired. But the progress of his Hebraistic studies and his intercourse with the rabbis made him give up that idea, and he recognized as inspired the original text only. It was about this period that he undertook the translation of the O.T. from the Hebrew.”
“When it comes to the Dead Sea Scrolls, it seems every scholar has his own opinion on things, and his opinion differs from everybody else’s. The vast majority of the writings found at the DSS sites were written in Hebrew. In fact, in three different types of Hebrew texts. There also were writings found in Aramaic and very few in Greek. It used to be quite fashionable and widely taught that the Jews had lost their use of the Hebrew language at the time of Christ. However, one thing the D.S.S. has done is to demolish this previously held theory. The Hebrew language was very much alive and well in the time of Jesus Christ.
Paul Kahle, a famous O.T. scholar, who has done extensive work on the Septuagint does not believe that there was one original old Greek version and that consequently the manuscripts of the Septuagint (so-called) cannot be traced back to one archetype. His arguments can be summarized as flows: The letter of Aristeas is a mere fabrication (Kahle calls it propaganda), and there is no historical evidence that a group of scholars translated the O.T. into Greek between 250-150 B.C. The research of Paul Kahle shows that there was no pre-Christian LXX. The LXX was written after the New Testament was written, and some of the New Testament readings were placed back into the O.T. translation.
Some Bible critics like to tell us that Jesus was quoting the Greek Septuagint version rather than expounding the Hebrew Scriptures. There are several problems with this view. There is no historical proof that there ever was such a thing as a widely accepted, authoritative, pre-Christian Septuagint version that Jesus could have been reading at this time. The Jews still spoke and read the Hebrew language. Secondly, it was the post-Christian Septuagint versions that were written to bring them in line with many New Testament quotes, not the other way around. Thirdly, if Jesus were quoting the Septuagint, He didn’t do a very good job of it, because the LXX version also differs not only from the Hebrew texts but also from the quote as it is found in the Greek New Testament, in many instances.”
Many scholars doubt whether there were Jews in Palestine (six scribes from all twelve tribes) who had enough knowledge of the Greek language to have executed a translation into that language, for they had not been under Greek control for that long. After all, there are no known versions by the Jews to translate the O.T. Scriptures into other languages of other kingdoms to which they had been subjugated, such as Akkadian or Old Persian.
The Old Testament in Greek – What Really Happened
“Jewish people spread throughout the Greek kingdoms of the Mideast. As the Roman empire spread through the Mideast, the Jewish dispersion increased. Some Jews, known as Grecians or Hellenists, adopted the Greek lifestyle as did much of the Roman Empire. Some of these Jews began to use Greek as their main language. They were represented in religious circles by the Sadducees.
Some entire Jewish communities began to adopt the Greek language, including the large Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt. Some historians have estimated that one-third of Alexandria was Jewish. Many supporters of the “Christ used the Septuagint theory” teach that all the Jews used Greek as their main language and as their sacred language. This, they say, is why Christ and the apostles used a Greek Old Testament. This statement is absolutely against all the historical evidence. Outside Alexandria and a few other distant cities, the number of Jews who used Greek as their main language was very small.
The main language of the Jewish people was Aramaic. This language is related to Old Testament Hebrew. According to the unanimous testimony of the Jewish Mishna and the Jewish Targums, the language of the synagogues and the rabbis of Palestine was Aramaic. No Greek Old Testament could ever have gained any acceptance among the Jews of Palestine. There was an Aramaic translation of the Old Testament in common use among the Jewish people. It was called the Targum of Onkelos. It was printed in 1517 by Cardinal Ximenes. Only in the far regions of the dispersion was there a demand for a Greek Old Testament. There were probably several attempts to translate parts of the Old Testament into Greek. According to “The Letter of Aristeas,” Philo, Josephus, and a writer named Aristobulus, a Greek version of the first five books of the Old Testament were translated in Alexandria.
Alexandria was one of the few places where a demand for a Greek Old Testament might have taken place. These authors clearly maintain that this version closely matched the Hebrew of the first five books of the Bible. The translation currently known as the Septuagint does not match the Hebrew closely at all. The scraps of the John Rylands manuscript apparently come from a pre-Christian era translation of Deuteronomy. Someone invented the legend of the 72 elders in order to give credibility to a Greek translation, possibly one from Alexandria. Philo (who some believe invented the legend) and Josephus promoted this legend. Eventually, someone expanded the story to refer to the whole Old Testament. Whenever someone used a Greek translation of part of the Old Testament, they called it the Septuagint to try and connect it to the legend of the “inspired” Alexandrian translation.
Some early Christian leaders fell for this myth. Greek translations of the whole Old Testament began to appear in the Mideast. Around 140 A.D., a Greek translation was produced by Aquila. According to Jerome, he studied under the famed Rabbi Akiba from AD 95 until AD 135. This translation, made after the New Testament, purposely obscures the Old Testament prophecies about Christ that are fulfilled in the New Testament. Because of this, it found some acceptance among the Jews. Of course, it did not contain the Apocrypha – if it had it would never have been accepted by the Jews. Some writers have called Aquila’s translation “the Septuagint” or “a Septuagint.” There are no existing copies of this text. Theodotian (around 180 A.D.) presented a Greek translation of the Old Testament. He was an “Ebionite” Christian – a heretical sect that denied the deity of Christ. Theodotian claimed to be correcting the original Septuagint.(How do you correct an inspired translation?)
He also obscures many Old Testament prophecies about Christ. Since he was writing for a heretical Christian audience and not a Jewish one, he included some of the Apocrypha. His work was also called “a Septuagint” or “the Septuagint.” A third translator, Symmachus, was also an Ebionite. He produced a Greek translation around 211 A.D. He did not include any of the Apocrypha. His work was also called “a Septuagint” or “the Septuagint.” Origen worked on “restoring” the Septuagint between 220-240 A.D. He claimed that there were as many different Greek translations as there were manuscripts. As he worked on his restoration, he had the translations of Aquila, Theodotian, and Symmachus in front of him. He also claimed to have two other Greek manuscripts that he found in a jar and at least two “corrupted” copies of the true Septuagint.
Of course, Origen had the New Testament. He wrote commentaries on every book of the New Testament. He collated these Greek manuscripts and created his own version of the Septuagint. As the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia declares. “It was Origen who claimed to be able to give the church the true text of the Old Testament and its true meaning.” (ISBE, p. 2276) Origen clearly believed that the Old Testament prophecies referred to Christ. He worked hard at making the Old Testament match the New Testament – even when it didn’t. His Septuagint is what people call the Septuagint today. There is no copy of a Septuagint from Alexandria to compare with his copy. There is no way to know how much of Origen’s Septuagint he simply invented. Some writers have said that to declare Origen’s Septuagint to be the document called the Septuagint today is simply “King James propaganda.”
“Scholars” like Ira Price, H.S. Miller, Frederick Kenyon, and Gleason Archer are clearly not “King James fanatics.” They all recognize that the current document called the Septuagint is the work of Origen. This is simply history. The New Schaff – Herzog Encyclopedia refers to Origen’s Septuagint as “the so-called Septuagint.” (vol. II, p. 116) The Encyclopedia Britannica, (vol. 5, p. 63) states that the text of the Septuagint is, “contained in a few early, but not necessarily reliable, manuscripts. The best known of these are the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus both dating from the 4th century and the Codex Alexandrinus from the 5th century.” All of these early texts are Origen’s Septuagint.
Smith’s Bible Dictionary (p. 432) states about the Septuagint, “moreover it has come down to us in a state of great corruption, which renders it difficult to ascertain what the first translators wrote.” In the fourth century, Jerome complained that the only editions of the Septuagint available were those of Origen’s redaction of the Septuagint. He also claimed that Origen “borrowed” things to place in his Old Testament. When writers like Irenaeus and Justin Martyr (who wrote before Origen) refer to the Septuagint, we have no idea what Greek version they were referring to. It doesn’t exist today. Origen’s Septuagint was made popular by Eusebius. As a result…” evidence of Septuagint readings prior to the time of Origen have been confused or lost.” (Ira Price, The Ancestry of Our English Bible, p. 79) When “scholars” discuss the Septuagint today they discuss a translation produced after the New Testament by a famous commentator on the New Testament.
Christ continually refers to the Hebrew division of the Old Testament – The Law, Prophets, and Psalms (see Matthew 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, and Luke 24:27,44). No known version of the Septuagint has any such division. Origen’s Septuagint has the Old Testament in an entirely different order with the books of the Apocrypha interspersed among them. Christ took it for granted that His hearers used an Old Testament with the historic three-fold division found in the Hebrew Bible.
Jesus frequently read the Scriptures and preached from them in the Jewish Synagogues. Hebrew was the language of the Synagogue and Christ was clearly using a Hebrew Bible when preaching there. No copy of any Greek Old Testament has ever been found in a Jewish Synagogue. Jesus’ public preaching and teaching drew great crowds of the common people. If he had preached in Greek he could never have drawn such an audience. Many Jewish people learned Greek for use in trade and dealing with the Roman Empire but they never accepted it for communication among themselves or in sacred matters.
The Hellenists (Grecians) who favored Greek were a small group often distant from the majority of the people. If Jesus had preached in Greek, both the Pharisees and the Zealots would have used that against Him and the crowds would never have flocked to Him. He undoubtedly preached in Aramaic (the daily language of the Jews – closely related to Hebrew) and read the Scriptures from Hebrew. The Synagogues of Palestine refused to use the Greek and considered the Hebrew sacred. The Hebrew Misneh makes it clear that this was expected from all Jewish leaders.”
There have been many chronologies throughout history that have attempted to date creation and mankind. Probably the most famous one is Ussher’s Chronology by James Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, published in AD 1650. Ussher deduced that the first day of creation was October 23, 4004 BC. Sir Isaac Newton believed creation occurred in 4000 BC. Johannes Kepler, the great 17th-century German astronomer, mathematician, and astrologer, thought the date could be 3992 BC. Joseph Justus Scaliger, a 16th-century French Calvinist religious leader and scholar estimated creation began in 3949 BC. Saint Bede, an English Benedictine monk of the 7th and 8th centuries, deduced creation began in 3952 BC. All of their dates were derived from taking the biblical chronogenealogies derived from the Masoretic Text (MT) of Genesis 5 and 11, at face value.
The Sabbatical Millennium
In my own chronology reckoning of the history of mankind, based upon the MT, I figure Adam and Ever were created in the year 3960 BC. See A Chronology of Mankind – 6000 Years of History (rev310.net). This is only accomplished by determining the Hebrews were in Egypt for 215 years and not 430 years. Their “sojourning” started with Abraham when he entered Cainan and ended 430 years later when the children of Israel made their exodus from Egypt.
Although vague, I believe the Masoretic text does not specifically say the Hebrews were in Egypt for 430 years and the Septuagint certainly does not. “Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:40-41 – Masoretic text). Both the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch translate: “Now the sojourning of the children and of their fathers, which they sojourned in the land of Canaan and in the land of Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.”
Thus, according to my creation date, there have been 5982 years since creation. I believe the margin of error could be +-7 years. By using the Masoretic text and figuring the duration for the passage in Exodus 12:40 as 215 years, we are still under the 6000-year mark for mankind upon the earth. The Masoretic text is the only chronology that allows for a “sabbatical millennium.” This theory, recorded about AD 110 in the Epistle of Barnabas, held that because God had created the world in six days and rested on the seventh (Genesis 1) and because 1,000 years is a day in God’s sight (Psalm 89/90), the world must labor 6,000 years before the Lord’s sabbatical millennium of peace, abundance, and joyful rest would occur. For all the above reasons, I recommend using the Masoretic text over the Septuagint. The King James Version (KJV) and the New King James Version (NKJV) are, in my opinion, the two best English translations of the original Hebrew language.
I believe the adherents of the Septuagint prefer their version of the chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 as it supports a longer time span for both the antediluvian and postdiluvian epochs, which allows for more time after the great flood for the tower of Babel and the pyramids of Egypt to be built. The LXX has a far greater schematization and regularity than the Hebrew text (and the Samaritan Pentateuch) in regards to both the parental and lifespan ages. We observe that in both the antediluvian and the postdiluvian lists. The deaths of the patriarchs fall in the same approximate order as their births. The deaths of the postdiluvian patriarchs occur in the approximate order of their births, which means a relatively regular sequence of the years of death.