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The Septuagint (LXX) is the name commonly given to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) produced in the third century BC. The Septuagint bible includes additional books beyond those used in today's Jewish Tanakh. The additional books were composed in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, but in most cases, only the Greek version has survived to the present. It is the oldest and most important complete translation of the Hebrew Bible made by the Jews. Some targums translating or paraphrasing the Bible into Aramaic were also made around the same time.


Naming and designation

The Septuagint derives its name (derived from Latin septuaginta, 70, hence the abbreviation LXX) from a legendary account in the Letter of Aristeas of how seventy-two Jewish scholars (six scribes from each of the twelve tribes) were asked by the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus in the 3rd century BC to translate the Tanakh for inclusion in the Library of Alexandria. Although they were kept in separate chambers, they all produced identical versions of the text in seventy-two days. Although this story is widely viewed as implausible today, it underlines the fact that some ancient Jews wished to present the translation as authoritative.

Dating and critical scholarship

Modern scholarship holds that the LXX was translated and composed over the course of the 3rd through 1st centuries BC(E), beginning with the Torah.

The oldest witnesses to 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 include the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus of the 4th century AD/CE 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 from around 1000.

Some scholars, comparing existing copies of the Septuagint, Masoretic text, the Samaritan text, and the Dead Sea scrolls, suggest that the Septuagint was not translated directly from what is today the Masoretic Text, but rather from an earlier Hebrew text that is now lost. However, other scholars suggest that the Septuagint itself changed for various reasons, including scribal errors, efforts at exegesis, and attempts to support theological positions, a charge that could equally be made against the Masoretic text. Accordingly, the Septuagint went through a number of revisions and recensions, the most famous of which include those by Aquila (AD 128), a student of Rabbi Akiva; and Origen (235), a Christian theologian in Alexandria.

These issues notwithstanding, the text of the LXX is usually very close to that of the Masoretic. For example, Genesis 4:1-6 is identical in both LXX and Masoretic texts. Likewise, Genesis 4:8 to the end of the chapter is the same. There is only one substantial difference in that chapter, at 4:7, to wit:

Genesis 4:7, LXX (Brenton)
Genesis 4:7, Masoretic (KJV)
Hast thou not sinned if thou hast brought it rightly, but not rightly divided it? Be still, to thee shall be his submission, and thou shalt rule over him. If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

Use of the Septuagint

Jewish use

Jewish attitudes toward translations of their scriptures developed with time. By the 2nd century BC, it was often necessary for the readings in the synagogues to be interpreted from Hebrew into Aramaic, producing the need for the targums, though one Talmud writer forbids their use except for with foreigners. A later Talmudic injunction by Rabbi Simon ben Gamaliel said that Greek was the only language into which the Torah could be accurately translated. The Septuagint found widespread use in the Hellenistic world, even in Jerusalem, which had become a rather cosmopolitan city. Both Philo and Josephus show the influence of the Septuagint in their citations of scripture, though both modified passages that did not agree with the Hebrew text.

Several factors finally led Jews to abandon the LXX, including the fact that Greek scribes were not subject to the same rigid rules imposed on Hebrew scribes; that Christians favoured the LXX; and the gradual decline of the Greek language among Jews. Instead, Hebrew/Aramaic manuscripts compiled by the Masoretes, or authoritative Aramaic translations such as that of Onkelos, of Rabbi Yonasan ben Uziel , and Targum Yerushalmi, were preferred.

Christian use

The Early Christian Church, however, continued to use the LXX, since most of its earliest members were Greek-speaking and because the Messianic passages most clearly pointed to Jesus as the Christ in the Septuagint translation. When Jerome started preparation of the Vulgate translation of the Bible into Latin, he started with the Septuagint, checking it against the Hebrew Masoretic Text for accuracy, but ended up translating most of the Old Testament afresh from the Hebrew. (Jerome based his Psalms off of the Septuagint, however.) However, all the other early Christian translations of the Old Testament were done from the Septuagint with no regard to the Hebrew text.

The writers of the New Testament, also written in Greek, quoted from the Septuagint frequently, though not exclusively, when relating prophesies and history from the Old Testament. Even when Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and other translations appeared, the Septuagint continued to be used by the Greek-speaking portion of the Christian Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church still prefers to use LXX as the basis for translating the Old Testament into other languages, and the Greek Orthodox Church (which has no need for translation) continues to use it in its liturgy even today. Many modern Catholic translations of the Bible, while using the Masoretic text as their basis, employ the Septuagint to decide between different possible translations of the Hebrew text whenever the latter is unclear, corrupt, or ambiguous.

Language of the Septuagint

The Greek of the Septuagint shows many Semiticisms , or idioms and phrases based on Hebrew, and the grammatical phenomenon known as attraction is common there. Some parts of it have been described as "Hebrew in Greek words". However, other sections show an ignorance of Hebrew idiom, so that the literal translation provided makes little sense. The translation in the Pentateuch is very close to the Hebrew, while some other books, such as the book of Daniel show influence from the midrash. Ecclesiastes is near over-literal, while Isaiah is fairly loosely translated. This is cited as near-certain evidence that the translation was in fact made by several different translators.

The translators usually, but not always, employed one and the same Greek word for one Hebrew word whenever it occurs. Thus the Septuagint can be called a mostly concordant translation. However, like most translations of any literary work from one language into another, it shows the effect that often more than one Hebrew word gets translated into the same Greek word, removing some nuances from the text.

Books of the Septuagint

The vast majority of the Septuagint coincides with the Jewish Tanakh, although the order does not always coincide with the modern ordering of the books, which was settled some time before AD 200.

A few books are differently named. Thus the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings stand under the name of the four Books of Kingdoms (Βασιλειῶν), and the Books of Chronicles are called Paraleipomenon (Παραλειπομένων—things left out).

More significant are the books that do not occur in the Tanakh. These are generally accepted by the Orthodox as scripture, though 4 Maccabees is very often relegated to an appendix. Since there are various editions of the Septuagint, however, there are slightly different canons in the various Orthodox jurisdictions. Catholics accept seven of these books, and the additions to Daniel and Esther. Protestants generally regard them as apocryphal. The "neutral" name for these additions, and the name favored by Catholics, Orthodox, and most modern researchers, is deuterocanonical books. (See Books of the Bible for a comparison of canons.)

The additional books in most editions of the Septuagint are 1 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah (considered by Catholics as part of Baruch), additions to Daniel (Prayer of Azariah , Song of the Three Children , Susanna and Bel and the Dragon), additions to Esther, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, Psalm 151, and Odes (including the Prayer of Manasseh).

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