The Septuagint (LXX) is a collection of literature in Greek including translations of the books of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), additions to some of these books, and additional works, most of which were originally written in Greek.
The Septuagint derives its name (Latin septuaginta, 70, hence the abbreviation LXX) from a legendary account in the Letter of Aristeas that claims that seventy-two Jewish scholars (six scribes from each of the twelve tribes) were asked by the Egyptian pharaoh in the 3rd century BCE to translate the Torah so that it could be included 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 hints to the authoritative status that the translation had among Jews. A Talmudic injunction, long since abandoned, said that one may read the Bible in either the original Hebrew or the Greek translation only. Contemporary scholarship, however, holds that the LXX was translated and composed over the course of the 3rd through 1st century BC, with the Torah being the earliest part.
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 Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus of the 4th century CE and Codex Alexandrinus of the 5th century. Textual criticism based on comparisons of existing copies of the Septuagint, Masoretic Text, the Samaritan text, and the Dead Sea scrolls suggests that the Septuagint was not translated directly from what is today the Masoretic Text, but rather from an earlier Hebrew text no longer available to scholars.
Nevertheless, over time, the text is speculated to have been subject to numerous changes, which can be attributed to several causes, including scribal errors, efforts at exegesis, and attempts to support theological positions. Accordingly, the Septuagint went through a number of different revisions and recensions, the most famous of which include those by Aquila (128 CE), 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, differing in one verse or another. 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, at 4:7, to wit:
|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.|
Several factors led Jews to eventually 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; the gradual decline of the Greek language among Jews. Instead, Hebrew/Aramic manuscripts compiled by the Masoretes, or authorative Aramaic translations such as that of Onkelos, of Rabbi Yonasan ben Uziel, and Targum Yerushalmi, were preferred.
The Early Christian Church did, however, continue to use the LXX, since most of the 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 originally started with the Septuagint, checking it against the Hebrew Masoretic Text for accuracy, but ended up translating most the Old Testament afresh from the Hebrew.
The LXX translation was used by the Greek-speaking portion of the Christian Church in the first few centuries of the Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church still prefers to use LXX as the basis for translating the Old Testament into other languages.
|ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΝΑΥΗ||Joshua, the son of Nun|
|ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΩΝ Α||Kings I. (1 Samuel)|
|ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΩΝ Β||Kings II. (2 Samuel)|
|ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΩΝ Γ||Kings III. (1 Kings)|
|ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΩΝ Δ||Kings IV. (2 Kings)|
|ΠΑΡΑΛΕΙΠΟΜΕΝΩΝ Α||Chronicles I.|
|ΠΑΡΑΛΕΙΠΟΜΕΝΩΝ Β||Chronicles II.|
|ΕΣΔΡΑΣ Α||Esdras I.|
|ΕΣΔΡΑΣ Β||Esdras II. (Ezra)|
|ΜΑΚΚΑΒΑΙΩΝ Α||I. Maccabees|
|ΜΑΚΚΑΒΑΙΩΝ Β||II. Maccabees|
|ΜΑΚΚΑΒΑΙΩΝ Γ||III. Maccabees|
|ΜΑΚΚΑΒΑΙΩΝ Δ||IV. Maccabees|
|ΩΔΑΙ (with ΠΡΟΣΕΥΧΗ ΜΑΝΑΣΣΗ)||Odes (with Prayer of Manasseh)|
|ΑΣΜΑ||Song of Solomon|
|ΣΟΦΙΑ ΣΑΛΩΜΩΝ||Wisdom of Solomon|
|ΣΟΦΙΑ ΣΕΙΡΑΧ||Wisdom of the Son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)|
|ΘΡΗΝΟΙ||Lamentations of Jeremiah|
|ΕΠΙΣΤΟΛΗ ΙΕΡΕΜΙΟΥ||Epistle of Jeremiah|
|ΔΑΝΙΗΛ (with ΤΩΝ ΤΡΙΩΝ ΠΑΙΔΩΝ ΑΙΝΕΣΙΣ)||Daniel (with Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Young Men)|
|ΒΗΛ ΚΑΙ ΔΡΑΚΩΝ||Bel and the Dragon|