Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
A New Look at the Origin of the Bible
The SEPTUAGINT -- Is It a Fraud or Forgery?
Recently the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament has come in for a great deal of criticism, one writer calling it a fraud, forgery, and "utterly corrupt." But is this true? When was the Septuagint translated? And for whom? What is the TRUTH? Did Yeshua and the apostles quote from the Septuagint? Was it commonly used in Jewish synagogues throughout the Greek speaking world? Why then did they cease to use it? Was there a CONSPIRACY to edit and emend the ORIGINAL BIBLE? The truth behind this story is a shocking, incredible Bombshell which will shake the world of Judaism and Christianity! There is much more to this story than we have ever known!
In a recent research paper, submitted to the Worldwide Church of God, and distributed to many of its ministers, it was claimed that the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament -- the Greek LXX as it has been called -- is "totally corrupt and unreliable!" Claiming that the "only evidence" that a "Septuagint translation was ever made" was a document called the "letter of Aristeas," the author asserts nonchalantly that
"THERE IS NO OTHER EVIDENCE OF ANY KIND THAT SUCH AN LXX TRANSLATION WAS EVER MADE!" (emphasis his, p.44).
Is this claim true? Or is it a patent falsehood? I would normally not spend any time with refuting this kind of writing subterfuge. However, it has impressed many ministers and several others, to my dismay and consternation. For the truth is, the author of this paper very obviously is extremely prejudiced and biased and does not hesitate to make outlandish claims and reach incredible conclusions, based on the flimsiest evidence and most superficial research!
Claims the author, there is only "ONE and one only" Greek manuscript of the Old Testament written before the time of the Messiah. He asserts, "it is a minute scrap dated at 150 B.C." -- the Rylands Papyrus #458 which contains only the 23-28 chapters of the book of Deuteronomy. He goes on, "That is hardly convincing evidence that the whole Pentateuch had been translated 130 years earlier."
The author then claims that the early church theologian Origen, out of a motive of vanity and desire for fame, apparently, sought to have official church recognition for his work, and produced a 6-column harmony of the available Greek texts of his time, called the Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, and LXX (Septuagint). But the author declares that "in reality this presents nothing more than ORIGEN'S OWN ATTEMPT AT PRODUCING A GREEK VERSION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT FOR WHICH HE WANTED OFFICIAL CHURCH REC0GNITION!" (emphasis his).
Besides the books of the Old Testament canon, the Septuagint includes other ancient Jewish books called the "Apocrypha," such as the first and second books of Maccabees. The author claims that even these books were supposed to have been translated by the 72 scholars sent to Egypt, along with the entire Septuagint. He asserts that no Hebrew high priest would ever have sent these apocryphal books to be translated into Greek, and boasts,
"The fraud that is the LXX should be clear for all to see" (p. 48).
The author accuses Origen of having deliberately and knowingly taking the New Testament quotations from the Old Testament and inserting them into his Septuagint version as found in his Hexapla. He charges:
"When Origen, in the process of putting together his version of the LXX, came to an O.T. passage that he knew is quoted in the N.T., he simply wrote the Greek text from the New Testament into the Greek LXX. In plain English, he made the Greek version of the O.T. quote the Greek of the N.T. verbatim . . . to give greater credibility to his work. That way it would look as if the New Testament writers were quoting from his LXX text . . ." (p. 51).
This ludicrous statement implies clearly that Origen was a crook -- a deceitful manipulator, full of vain intrigue, who falsified his copy of the LXX by deliberately changing all Old Testament portions quoted in the Greek New Testament to conform to the New Testament! Our critic points out that in Hebrew 1:10 we read, "And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth," which he says, is quoted from Psalm 102:25: "Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth." But, says the author, Origen added the word "Lord" to his Septuagint version, making it identical to the quotation from the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. This, the author claims, proves that Origen simply "COPIED the text from Hebrews 1:10-12 back into his version of the LXX," and concludes:
"THE FORGERY STANDS EXPOSED!" (p. 52).
These are very strong allegations. These are terrible accusations. But are they true? The apostle Paul warns us, "PROVE ALL THINGS; hold fast that which is GOOD" (I Thess. 5:21).
In Hebrews 1:6, we read: "And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he said, And let all the angels of God worship him." The author claims this was not intended to be a quotation from the Old Testament, but just a claim made by Paul. The author then claims that Origen deliberately put this phrase into Deut.32:43 to make it appear that Paul quoted the phrase from the Septuagint. Interestingly, the phrase is nowhere found in the Masoretic text of the Old Testament! The author then claims this is a fraud. He says:
"THERE IS NO WAY ANY TRANSLATORS IN 280 B.C. COULD HAVE GOTTEN THAT PHRASE FROM THE HEBREW MANUSCRIPTS AVAILABLE TO THEM!
"ONCE AGAIN ORIGEN'S FORGERY STANDS EXPOSED!" (p. 55, his emphasis).
Unfortunately for our critic, his ignorance is showing. The truth is, modern biblical scholars now know there were a number of variant texts of the Hebrew Scriptures in the time before the Messiah, and one of these other variations was the primary source material for the Septuagint version itself -- a version in some respects distinctly different from the Masoretic text which is the commonly accepted version of the Old Testament, which was itself finalized during the time of the Masoretes, about 500 years after the time of the Messiah.
In summary, then, our researcher concludes, "The only LXX we have today stands exposed as a corrupt forgery!" Unfortunately, a number of people seem to take his assertions at face value. To do so, however, is to believe a fairy tale or fable is the truth!
Let's take, now, and honest look at the Septuagint, and its origin -- from unbiased and scholarly sources, who don't have an ax to grind, but who are simply seeking the truth.
The Facts, Just the Facts
Werner Keller in his book The Bible As History: Second Revised Edition, gives us an interesting insight into the origin of the Greek Scriptures. He has no ax to grind. He isn't writing "contra" anything, but simply showing how archaeology and science delve 4,000 years into the past to document the Bible as history. He writes:
"Two unusually far-sighted rulers, Ptolemy I and his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus, developed their capital city of Alexandria into a nursery of Hellenistic culture and learning . . . and made it a radiant center of attraction for emigrants from Judah among others. In this crucible they steeped themselves in the beauty of the Greek language . . . It was the international language of learning and of commerce, the language of tens of thousands of Israelites who knew no other home.
"The rising generation no longer knew Hebrew as their mother tongue. They could no longer follow the sacred text in the services of the synagogue. Thus it came about that the Jews in Egypt decided to translate the Hebrew scriptures. About 250 B.C. the Torah was translated into Greek, a fact of immeasurable import for Western civilization.
"The translation of the Bible into the Greek tongue was for the Jews in Egypt such an incredible step forward that legend took hold of it. The story is told in an apocryphal letter of Aristeas of Alexandria.
"Philadelphus, the second of the Ptolemaic dynasty, took great pride in the fact that he possessed a collection of the finest books in the world. One day the librarian said to the monarch that he had brought together in his 995 books the best literature of all nations. But, he added, the greatest books of all, the five books of Moses, were not included among them. Therefore Ptolemy II Philadelphus sent envoys to the high Priest to ask for a copy of these books. At the same time he asked for men to be sent who could translate them into Greek. The High Priest granted his request and sent together with the copy of the Torah 72 learned and wise scribes. Great celebrations were organized in honour of the visitors from Jerusalem, at whose wisdom and knowledge the king and his courtiers were greatly astonished. After the festivities they betook themselves to the extremely difficult task which had been assigned to them . . ." (p. 312).
Max I. Dimont, in his book Jews, God and History, also discusses the Septuagint. He shows that it was not a forgery or a fraud perpetrated by Origen upon the world 230 years after the Messiah! Dimont states:
"There is an interesting legend telling how the Greek translation of the Old Testament came to be called the Septuagint. About 250 B.C., word of a famous and beautifully written book possessed by the Jews had reached the ear of the Ptolemaic King Philadelphus. He suggested that seventy Jewish scholars translate the work into Greek. According to this pious legend, each of the seventy scholars worked independently, yet all seventy translations, when completed, were identical, word for word, thus proving God's guiding hand. And so the work became known as the book of the 'Seventy,' or Septuagint in Greek" (p. 114).
Modern scholars tend to discount this legend, as preserved in a "Letter of Aristeas." Nevertheless, whether the letter itself is part fact, part legend, is not the real issue. All scholars agree that the first five books of Moses were translated in Alexandria, Egypt, during the time of the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus! Furthermore, all the ANCIENT sources agree that the essentials of the "letter of Aristeas" are true -- including the Jewish high priest Aristobulus who lived in Alexandria less than a century later, the Jewish historian Josephus of the first century A.D., and the Jewish philosopher and moralist Philo, who lived in Alexandria during the time of Peter and the apostles.
The Witness of Philo of Alexandria
Philo, in his account of the history of the Septuagint, relates the following:
"Some persons, thinking it a scandalous thing that these laws [of Moses] should only be known among one half portion of the human race, namely, among the barbarians, and that the Greek nations should be wholly and entirely ignorant of them, turned their attention to their translation.
"And since this undertaking was an important one, tending to the general advantage, not only of private persons, but also of rulers, of whom the number was not great, it was entrusted to kings, and to the most illustrious of all kings. Ptolemy, surnamed Philadelphus, was the third in succession after Alexander, the monarch who subdued Egypt; and he was, in virtues which can be displayed in government, the most excellent sovereign, not only of all those of his time, but of all that ever lived; so that even now, after the lapse of so many generations, his fame is still celebrated . . . .
"He, then, being a sovereign of this character, and having conceived a great admiration for and love of the legislation of Moses, conceived the idea of having our laws translated into the Greek language; and immediately he sent ambassadors to the high-priest and king of Judea, for they were the same person. And having explained his wishes, and having requested him to pick him out a number of men, of perfect fitness for the task, who should translate the law, the high-priest, as was natural, being greatly pleased, and thinking that the king had only felt the inclination to undertake a work of such character from having been influenced by the providence of God, considered, and with great care selected the most respectable of the Hebrews whom he had about him, who in addition to their knowledge of their national scriptures, had also been well instructed in Grecian literature, and cheerfully sent them.
"And when they arrived at the king's court they were hospitably received by the king; and while they feasted, they in return feasted their entertainer with witty and virtuous conversation; for he made experiment of the wisdom of each individual among them, putting them to a succession of new and extraordinary questions; and they, since the time did not allow of their being prolix in their answers, replied with great propriety and fidelity as if they were delivering apothegms which they had already prepared" (The Works of Philo, p. 494).
Philo relates that "they, like men inspired, prophesied, not one saying one thing and another another, but every one of them employed the self-same nouns and verbs, as if some unseen prompter had suggested all their language to them." This feat was so extraordinary and remarkable, and of such importance, Philo relates, that it was then commemorated by an annual festival!
"On which account, even to this very day, there is EVERY YEAR a solemn assembly held and a festival celebrated in the island of Pharos, to which not only the Jews but a great number of persons of other nations sail across, reverencing the place in which the first light of interpretation shone forth, and thanking God for that ancient piece of beneficence which was always young and fresh" (ibid.).
This fact alone clearly attests to the creation of this extraordinary document of translation during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, and further proves it was at the island of Pharos, just like the letter of Aristeas, and writings of Josephus declare. This festival was still being held in the days of Philo, who "lived from about 20 B.C. to about 50 A.D. He is one of the most important Jewish authors of the Second Temple period of Judaism and was a contemporary of both Jesus and Paul" (ibid., "Foreword," xi, by David Scholer).
Commenting on the origin of the Septuagint, H.B. Swete in Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, writes:
"Philo, on the other hand, represents an Alexandrian tradition which was perhaps originally independent of the letter [of Aristeas], and is certainly not entirely consistent with it. He states that the completion of the work of the LXX was celebrated at Alexandria down to his own time by a yearly festival at the Pharos . . . A popular anniversary of this kind can scarcely have grown out of a literary work so artificial . . . as the letter of Aristeas" p. 13).
The Witness of Aristobulus, the High Priest
Says The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible about the origin of the Septuagint:
"1. The Septuagint. The Old Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures and the earliest complete translation of them. It was called the Septuagint, commonly designated by LXX, after the 70 translators reputed to have been employed on the Pentateuch in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, 285-246 B.C. The number 70 may be an approximation for 72, or it may have developed traditionally . . . Originally the name was applied to the translation of the Pentateuch, but eventually to the whole Greek O.T. ARISTOBULUS, a Jewish high priest who lived in ALEXANDRIA DURING THE REIGN OF PTOLEMY PHILO- METOR 181/180-145 B.C., and who is mentioned in II Maccabees 1:10b, is quoted by Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius as stating that while portions relating to Hebrew history had been translated into Greek previously, THE ENTIRE LAW WAS TRANSLATED from the Hebrew IN THE REIGN OF PTOLEMY PHILADELPHUS under the direction of Demetrius Phalereus" (p. 971).
Before we go on, notice that this man, Aristobulus, himself was a high-ranking HIGH PRIEST and obviously a well-informed, intelligent man, and he lived in Alexandria, Egypt for a while, and that he lived between 60-100 years after the translation was reputed to have taken place. This is important to consider. He very likely had access to knowledge and information we do not have, today. His testimony ought to be considered conclusive on this point. He testifies that indeed the law of Moses was translated from Hebrew to Greek during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus. There was no doubt in his mind, and he lived there -- and only one or two generations removed from the actual event itself!
This would be like the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, today, testifying on a major matter of law or legal precedent concerning the Supreme Court itself in Washington, D.C., which occurred just 60 to 100 years before his time -- a subject with which a person in his august position should be very familiar! The testimony of Aristobulus, therefore, ought to be very persuasive that the Septuagint is not a forgery or a fraud, and that the essential points of the Aristeas letter are correct!
This authority continues:
"The same tradition, but considerably embellished, is contained in a letter purporting to have been written by Aristeas to Philocrates. This letter is generally regarded by modern scholars as spurious THE SAME STORY AS THAT TOLD BY ARISTEAS IS REPEATED WITH SLIGHT VARIATIONS BY JOSEPHUS, who may have had access to the letter" (p. 971).
Notice! Now we have two ancient authorities who confirm the essential story of the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses he every word be established," God says. The fact that Josephus' account differs slightly -- has "variations" -- from the letter of Aristeas is proof that he did not just copy the letter or get his information from the letter itself, entirely, but had other sources at his disposal. These slight "variations" add further weight to the evidence that the story is true, in its important aspects.
Concerning Aristobulus' account of the origin of the Septuagint, H. B. Swete asserts:
The fragment of Aristobulus carries us much further back than the witness of Philo and Josephus. It was addressed to a Ptolemy who was a descendant of Philadelphus, and who is identified both by Eusebius and by Clement with Philometor. Whether Aristobulus derived his information from Aristeas is uncertain, but his words, if we admit their genuineness, ESTABLISH THE FACT THAT THE MAIN FEATURES OF THE STORY WERE BELIEVED BY THE LITERARY JEWS OF ALEXANDRIA, and even at the Court, MORE THAN A CENTURY AND A HALF BEFORE THE CHRISTIAN ERA and within a century of the date assigned by Aristeas to the translation of the Law" (Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, p. 13).
H. B. Swete, who has studied these matters extensively, believes that the "letter of Aristeas" itself is "to a large extent legendary." But, he says, in its defense --
"On the other hand, though the story as 'Aristeas' tells it is doubtless a romance, it must not be hastily inferred that it has no historical basis. That the writer was a Jew who lived in Egypt under the Ptolemies seems to be demonstrated by the knowledge he displays of life at the Alexandrian Court. There is also reason to suppose that he wrote within fifty years of the death of Philadelphus, and HIS PRINCIPAL FACTS ARE ENDORSED, as we have seen, BY A WRITER OF THE NEXT GENERATION. It is difficult to believe that a document, which within a century of the events relates the history of a literary undertaking in which the Court and the scholars of Alexandria were concerned, can be altogether destitute of truth" (p. 16).
The Witness of Josephus, First Century Historian
Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, gives us additional insight into the origin of the Septuagint. His version tends to confirm at least the essentials of the so-called "legend" as given in the "Letter of Aristeas." Josephus, who lived in the generation following the Messiah, and who fought in the Jewish-Roman war of 70 A.D., wrote in his Antiquities of the Jews this straightforward account:
". . .Philadelphus then took the kingdom of Egypt, and held it forty years within one. He procured the law to be interpreted, and set free those that were come from Jerusalem into Egypt, and were in slavery there, who were a hundred and twenty thousand. The occasion was this: -- Demetrius Phalerius, who was library-keeper to the king, was now endeavoring, if it were possible, to gather together all the books that were in the habitable earth, and buying whatsoever was anywhere valuable, or agreeable to the king's inclination, (who was very earnestly set upon collecting of books;) to which inclination of his, Demetrius was zealously subservient. And when once Ptolemy asked him how many ten thousands of books he had collected, he replied, that he had already about twenty times ten thousand; but that in a little time, he should have fifty times ten thousand. But he said he had been informed that there were many books of laws among the Jews worthy of inquiring after, and worthy of the king's library, but which, being written in characters and in a dialect of their own, will cause no small pains in getting them translated into the Greek tongue . . . So the king thought that Demetrius was very zealous to procure him abundance of books, and that he suggested what was exceeding proper for him to do; and therefore he wrote to the Jewish high priest that he should act accordingly" (Antiquities, Book XII, 1, p. 246).
Josephus gives a very in depth presentation of the details of this event. He tells how Aristeus, one of the king's most intimate friends, resolved to petition the king to set all the captive Jews in his kingdom free. Knowing of the desire to get the Jewish books of the law, for the king, he made the following speech to the king:
"It is not fit for us, O king, to overlook things hastily, or to deceive ourselves, but to lay the truth open: for since we have determined not only to get the laws of the Jews transcribed, but interpreted also, for thy satisfaction, by what means can we do this, while so many of the Jews are now slaves in thy kingdom? Do thou then what will be agreeable to thy magnanimity, and to thy good-nature: free them from the miserable condition they are in, because that God, who supporteth thy kingdom, was the author of their laws, as I have learned by particular inquiry; for both these people and we also worship the same God, the framer of all things" (XII, 2).
The entire account, preserved in Josephus, rings true. The king was appealed to and his counselors backed up the request, and the slaves who had been captured by his father or himself were released. Josephus quotes the king's decree. The king then sent fifty talents of gold to the Jewish high priest, and a huge quantity of precious stones, and appointed one hundred talents in money to be used for temple sacrifices in Jerusalem, accompanied by a letter to the high priest Eleazar, stating, in part:
"I have determined to procure an interpretation of your law, and to have it translated out of Hebrew into Greek, and to be deposited in my library. Thou wilt therefore do well to choose out and send to me men of a good character, who are now elders in age, and six in number out of every tribe. These, by their age, must be skillful in the laws, and of abilities to make an accurate interpretation of them; and when this shall be finished, I shall think that I have done a work glorious to myself . . ."
Eleazar the high priest send back a reply as follows:
"When we received thy epistle, we greatly rejoiced at thy intentions; and when the multitude were gathered together, we read it to them, and thereby made them sensible of the piety thou hast towards God. . . . Know then that we will gratify thee in what is for thy advantage, though we do what we used not to do before. . . We have also chosen six elders out of every tribe, which we have sent, and the law with them . . ."
The details that Josephus brings to the whole account, together with the witnesses of Philo, Aristobulus, and Biblical scholarship, all prove conclusively that the translation of the five books of Moses during the time of Ptolemy Philadelpus was not a mere legend, but that the essential contents of the "letter of Aristeas" are based on actual fact. Josephus gives rich incredible detail as to the gifts sent, the return to Egypt, the celebrations, and the journey to the island where the work of translation of the five books of Moses was to be undertaken. Josephus records:
"When he had brought them thither, he entreated them (now they had all things about them which they wanted for the interpretation of their law), that they would suffer nothing to interrupt them in their work. Accordingly, they made an ACCURATE INTERPRETATION, with great zeal and great pains; and they continued to do until the ninth hour of the day; after which time they relaxed and took care of their body, while their food was provided for them in great plenty . . . . Now when the law was transcribed, and the labour of interpretation was over, which came to its conclusion in seventy-two days, Demetrius gathered all the Jews together to the place where the laws were translated, and where the interpreters were, and read them over. The multitude did also approve of those elders that were the interpreters of the law" (Antiquities, Bk XII, 13-14).
Now, our critic claims that Josephus fantasized his whole account, and lied, presumably, and that there was no authentic Jewish translation of the Old Testament, or the five books of Moses, but that there were only small "private" attempts to do so, and that Origen in 230 A.D. created the Septuagint for his own nefarious purposes to gain favor and fame in the Catholic Church. One is forced to wonder -- why would somebody invent a "letter to Aristeas" purporting to show the reasons for the ORIGIN of the Septuagint -- the Greek translation of the five books of Moses -- in about 250 B.C. if there were no such translation in existence whose origin demanded to be explained?
One also wonders how both Josephus, a priest and general of the Jewish army in the rebellion of 70 A.D., could have been "taken in" by such a "fraud" -- how Philo, a very learned Jewish wise man of Alexandria, Egypt, could have fallen for the "concocted plot," and how Aristobulus -- high priest of the Jews just 60 years or so after the "fait accompli" was supposed to have occurred, could have been so completely "deceived"!
Or, is it our "critic" who has deceived himself?
The Witness of Justin Martyr
What need have we of further witness? Nevertheless, there is much more. The early church leader Justin Martyr, circa 110-165 A.D., also wrote concerning the Septuagint and its origin and importance. In his Hortatory Address to the Greeks, Justin declares that he was an eye-witness and personally saw the very cubicles that the Jewish translators had used to transcribe the text of the Torah into Greek. We read his own words:
"But if any one says that the writings of Moses and of the rest of the prophets were also written in the Greek character, let him read profane histories, and know that Ptolemy, king of Egypt, when he had built the library in Alexandria, and by gathering books from every quarter had filled it, then learnt that very ancient histories written in Hebrew happened to be carefully preserved; and wishing to know their contents, he sent for seventy wise men from Jerusalem, who were acquainted with both the Greek and Hebrew language, and appointed them to translate the books; and that in freedom from all disturbance they might the more speedily complete the translation, he ordered that there should be constructed, not in the city itself, but seven stadia off (where the Pharos was built), as many little cots as there were translators, so that each by himself might complete his own translation; and enjoined upon those officers who were appointed to this duty, to afford them all attendance, but to prevent communication with one another, in order that the accuracy of the translation might be discernible even by their agreement. And when he ascertained that the seventy men had not only given the same meaning, but had employed the same words, and had failed in agreement with one another not even to the extent of one word, but had written the same things, he was struck with amazement, and believed that the translation had been written by divine power, and perceived that the men were worthy of all honor, as beloved of God; and with many gifts ordered them to return to their own country. And having, as was natural, marvelled at the books, and concluded them to be divine, he consecrated them in that library. These things, ye men of Greece, are no fable, nor do we narrate fictions; BUT WE OURSELVES HAVING BEEN IN ALEXANDRIA, SAW THE REMAINS OF THE LITTLE COTS AT THE PHAROS STILL PRESERVED, and having heard these things from the inhabitants, who had received them as part of their country's tradition, we now tell to you what you can also learn from others, and specially from those wise and esteemed men who have written of these things, Philo and Josephus, and many others" (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, "Justin's Hortatory Address to the Greeks," XIII).
Justin says that the essential FACTS concerning the Septuagintal books of Moses having been translated at the behest of Ptolemy Philadelphus was absolutely true, and that "MANY OTHERS" had written and borne witness of these things, and that he himself had seen the "little cots" at Pharos that the original translators had used!
When Was the Septuagint Written?
Says Unger's Bible Dictionary, about the origin of the Septuagint:
"1. The Greek Septuagint. The Hebrew Old Testament enjoys the unique distinction of being the first book or rather library of books, for such it is, known to be translated into another language. This translation is called the Septuagint and was made IN THE THIRD AND SECOND CENTURIES B.C. During this period the entire Hebrew Bible was put into the Greek language. It was in the reign of PTOLEMY PHILADELPHUS (285-246 B.C.) that the Pentateuch was put into the Greek tongue . . . . Certainly by the middle of the second century B.C. the Old Testament was COMPLETELY RENDERED IN GREEK. The name Septuagint was eventually applied to the entire Greek Old Testament" (p. 1147).
The dean of evangelical Biblical scholars, F. F. Bruce, says in his excellent book The Canon of Scripture concerning the Septuagint:
"The Greek translation of the scriptures was made available from time to time in the third and second centuries B.C. (say during the century 250-150 B.C.). The law, comprising the five books of Moses, was the first part of the scriptures to appear in a Greek version; the reading of the law was essential to synagogue worship, and it was important that what was read should be intelligible to the congregation" (pp. 43-44).
It should be perfectly clear that there is no truth whatsoever in the claim of our critic who attempts to prove that the Septuagint is a "fraud" and a "forgery" and " completely corrupt"!
The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, under the heading "Septuagint," tells us about the character of the Septuagint, which our critic finds "utterly corrupt." Says this multi-volume authority:
"The Greek OT as it exists today is a composite book, the work of various translators of varied ability who worked at different times. The WHOLE OT WAS PROBABLY COMPLETE BY THE MIDDLE, CERTAINLY BY THE END, OF THE SECOND CENTURY B.C. It is generally held that the provenance of all of them was Egypt . . . The Pentateuch was undoubtedly translated first, probably during the reign of Philadelphus" (volume 4, p. 276).
Peloubet's Bible Dictionary tells us further, about the Septuagint:
"The Jews of Alexandria had probably still less knowledge of Hebrew than their brethren in Palestine; their familiar language was Alexandrian Greek. They had settled in Alexandria in large numbers soon after the time of Alexander, and under the early Ptolemies. They would naturally follow the same practice as the Jews in Palestine; and hence would arise in time an entire Greek version. The commonly received story respecting its origin is contained in an extant letter ascribed to Aristeas . . . This is the story which probably gave to the version the title of the Septuagint, and which has been repeated in various forms by the Christian writers. But it is now generally admitted that the letter is spurious, and is probably the fabrication of an Alexandrian Jews shortly before the Christian era. STILL, THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT THAT THERE WAS A BASIS OF FACT for the fiction; on three points of the story there is no material difference of opinion, and they are CONFIRMED by the study of the version itself: -- 1. The version was made at Alexandria. 2. It was begun in the TIME OF THE EARLY PTOLEMIES, about 280 B.C. 3. The law (i.e., the Pentateuch) alone was translated at first. The Septuagint version was HIGHLY ESTEEMED BY THE HELLENISTIC JEWS BEFORE THE COMING OF CHRIST. Because of the dispersion of the Jews throughout the world the Greek translation of their Scriptures was AN IMPORTANT FACTOR IN PREPARING THE WAY FOR CHRIST'S COMING. Its existence in a language which could be read throughout the world made even the Gentiles familiar with the beliefs of the Jews, and their wonderful history which would of course include the guiding Providence of God, and his promise of a Saviour to come, throughout the nations. No less wide was the influence of the Septuagint in the spread of the GOSPEL. For a long period the Septuagint was the Old Testament of the far larger part of the Christian Church" (p. 604).
The New Bible Dictionary tells us more about the Septuagint. It corroborates the account of Peloubet, and other scholars, and provides additional details for us to consider. As to the origin of the Septuagint, it declares:
"1. ORIGINS. Its precise origins are still debated. A letter, purporting to be written by a certain Aristeas to his brother Philocrates in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.), relates how Philadelphus, persuaded by his librarian to get a translation of the Hebrew scriptures for his royal library, appealed to the high priest at Jerusalem . . . . The same story is told WITH VARIATIONS by Josephus [indicating that Josephus the historian also had OTHER SOURCES for his detailed version of the event], but later writers embellish it with miraculous details. A Jewish priest ARISTOBULUS, who lived in the 2nd century B.C., is quoted by Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius as stating that while portions relating to Hebrew history had been translated into Greek previously, THE ENTIRE LAW WAS TRANSLATED IN THE REIGN OF PTOLEMY PHILADELPHUS . . ." (p. 1258).
This same authority describes the value of the Septuagint by pointing out:
"But in numerous places the unrevised LXX text disagrees with the MT in meaning, order, and content; and this is important, since the LXX was, until recently, the earliest witness to the Old Testament text. No Hebrew MS, until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, was earlier than the late 9th century A.D. Moreover, these Hebrew MSS all contained the text as edited by the Masoretes, whereas the LXX (i.e., before the main revisions) witness to a pre-Masoretic text. Where it differs from the MT, the LXX is in some places evidently inferior, in other places just as clearly superior; sometimes it is supported by the Samaritan text or one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These latter occasionally agree with the LXX, where formerly we thought that the LXX was merely a loose paraphrase, unauthorized by any Hebrew . . ." (p. 1260).
Was Origen Able to Foresee the Future?
Now, if the Septuagint was a complete forgery and a fraud, as our critic claims, one wonders why it is corroborated and supported by passages in other ancient texts such as the Samaritan text and the Dead Sea Scrolls? Our critic claims that Origen wrote the Septuagint about 230 A.D., and falsely claimed it was older. Yet the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm the text of the Septuagint! Was Origen so clever and "psychic" that he could foretell 1,700 years in advance what readings in the Dead Sea Scrolls, WHICH WERE NOT DISCOVERED UNTIL 1948, would say?
Not so! Says F.F. Bruce:
"Origen's chief contribution to Old Testament studies was the compilation called the Hexapla (Greek for 'sixfold'). This was an edition of the Old Testament which exhibited side by side in six vertical columns (1) the Hebrew text, (2) the Hebrew text transcribed into Greek letters, (3) Aquila's Greek version, (4) Symmachus' Greek version, (5) the Septuagint, (6) Theodotion's Greek version. For certain books two and even three other Greek versions were added in further columns. Origen paid special attention to the Septuagint column; his aim was to present AS ACCURATE AN EDITION OF THIS VERSION AS WAS POSSIBLE. By means of critical signs, for example, he indicated places where the Septuagint omitted something found in the Hebrew text or added something absent from the Hebrew text" (The Canon of Scripture, p. 73).
Why was Origen so careful and concerned about making the best possible edition of the Septuagint? Because the Church of his time believed that the original Septuagint, as translated into Greek, was divinely inspired!
Irenaeus, who was born and brought up in the province of Asia, was in his youth a disciple of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and remembered with gratitude the instruction he had received from him, including Polycarp's reminiscences with the apostle John, and others who had been eye witnesses of the Lord. According to the writings of Irenaeus, "The Old Testament writings are indispensable witnesses to the history of salvation; the Septuagint version was DIVINELY INSPIRED" (Bruce, p. 173; Iraneaus, Against Heresies, 3.21.2).
Clement, also, stresses the inspiration of the Septuagint version of the Old Testament (Bruce, p. 188; Clement, Strom. 1.22). He spent the last quarter of the second century, in Alexandria, before migrating to Asia Minor when persecution came on the church in Alexandria in 202 A.D.
With all this historical witness which leads support and credibility to the Septuagint, how should we view this ancient translation? Is there more to it than we have ever imagined?
What Version Did Yeshua the Messiah and the Apostles Quote From?
Contrary to our critic who despises the Septuagint, and claims that New Testament authors did not quote from it, modern scholarship totally disagrees. We read in The New Bible Dictionary:
"V. SIGNIFICANCE. Valuable as a monument of Hellenistic Greek, the LXX occasionally preserves meanings of Hebrew words that were current when the LXX translation was made, but which were subsequently lost. It acts also as a linguistic and theological bridge- head between the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New; for it served as 'Bible' to generations of Greek-speaking Jews in many countries, and it is OFTEN QUOTED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. (Luke and the writer to the Hebrews use it most. Matthew least. The New Testament quotations which do not agree with the LXX can be attributed to inexact quotation from memory, the writer's own translation, translation of Aramaic sources, translation of Hebrew texts different from the MT, perhaps to other Greek translations, perhaps also to deliberate adaptation of the Hebrew under the Holy Spirit's guidance.)" (p. 1261).
The fact that the Septuagint was the translation of choice in the vast majority of New Testament quotations from the Old Testament, by the Messiah and the apostles, ought to tell us something. This fact alone bolsters the authority and importance of the Septuagint version, as it was used at that time! Since the Septuagint was already being used for hundreds of years before Origen was even born, there is no way he could have rewritten the Septuagint to conform to Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament! Such an attempt would have been immediately discovered and exposed. It would be comparable to trying to re-write the U.S. Constitution, today, claiming that the "new" version was the original version of two centuries ago!
Who Was Origen, Anyway?
What was, then, the involvement of Origen, the early church theologian, of Alexandria, and the Septuagint? Was Origen really such a bad fellow, as our critic paints him to be? Was he a scheming paranoid pretentiously seeking his own exaltation and fame? Was he a forger and a fraud? Not at all. He was a brilliant and gifted man of his time, who performed a very valuable work for the Christian church as a whole. Says Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible:
"Modern LXX criticism inevitably goes back to the prodigious work of Origen (d. 254), the father of LXX criticism. By the beginning of the third century the history of the Greek text was already complex. Origen accordingly determined to make a critical edition of the LXX. To this end he studied Hebrew already early in life. By 240 he had collected immense amounts of materials and began active work on his mammoth Hexapla, so named from the six columns of texts it contained. Column 1 contained the Hebrew text which served as the basis for his textual studies. The other columns contained the following texts: II -- the Hebrew text in Greek transcription; III -- Aq.; IV -- Symm.; V -- LXX; VI -- Theod." (p. 275).
Says F. F. Bruce, Origen was the leading Biblical scholar of the entire Greek early church:
"The next surviving Christian list of Old Testament books was drawn up by Origen (AD 285-254), the greatest biblical scholar among the Greek fathers. He spent the greater part of his life in his native Alexandria, where from an early age he was head of the catechetical school in the church of that city; then, in AD 231 he moved to Caesaria in Palestine, where he discharged a similar ministry. He was an indefatigable commentator on the books of the Bible: to this work he devoted his mastery of the long-established techniques of Alexandrian scholarship. . . .
"Origen's chief contribution to Old Testament studies was the compilation called the Hexapla (Greek for 'sixfold'). This was an edition of the Old Testament which exhibited side by side in six vertical columns (1) the Hebrew text, (2) the Hebrew text transcribed into Greek letters, (3) Aquila's Greek version, (4) Symmachus's Greek version, (5) the Septuagint, (6) Theodotion's Greek version. . . . Origen paid special attention to the Septuagint column; his aim was to present AS ACCURATE AN EDITION OF THIS VERSION AS WAS POSSIBLE. By means of critical signs, for example, he indicated places where the Septuagint omitted something found in the Hebrew text or added something absent from the Hebrew text" (The Canon of Scripture, F. F. Bruce, p. 73).
It is a shame for a modern "critic" to try to bring obloquy and opprobrium upon the name and reputation of an eminent biblical scholar who lived some 17 centuries ago, and is no longer alive to defend himself from the accusations, insinuations and slander. Nevertheless, the reputation of Origen as a prodigious, hard-working and painstaking scholar stands defended, and attested to by his very own works, and the ablest of scholars who have studied his writings.
Variant Hebrew Texts
The Samaritan community separated from the Jewish community at some point during the post-exilic period (between 540 B.C. and 100 B.C.). During that time, they canonized their own version of the Hebrew Scriptures. Biblical scholars soon learned that the Samaritan Pentateuch differed from the Masoretic text in some 6,000 instances. At first they thought these differences were due to sectarian disagreements. However, we read in Manuscripts of the Old Testament, by Mark R. Norton:
"After further assessment, however, it became clear that the Samaritan Pentateuch represented a text of much earlier origin than the Masoretic Text. And although a few of the distinctions of the Samaritan Pentateuch were clearly the result of sectarian concerns, MOST of the differences were NEUTRAL in this respect. . . The fact that the Samaritan Pentateuch had MUCH IN COMMON WITH THE SEPTUAGINT, SOME OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS, AND THE NEW TESTAMENT, revealed that most of the differences with the Masoretic Text were not due to sectarian differences. More likely, they were due to the USE OF A DIFFERENT TEXTUAL BASE, WHICH WAS PROBABLY IN WIDE USE IN THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST UNTIL WELL AFTER THE TIME OF CHRIST" (The Origin of the Bible, edited by Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale House Publishers, 1992, p. 163).
This text, like that of the Septuagint, seems to reflect an early Hebrew Old Testament text which was considered authoritative in the centuries prior to and during the time of the Messiah -- yet both of them differ significantly from the Masoretic text which was finalized by Jewish rabbinic scribes during the time 500-900 A.D. Says this same author, concerning the Septuagint itself:
"The Septuagint is the oldest Greek translation of the Old Testament, its witness being significantly OLDER than that of the Masoretic Text. According to tradition, the Septuagint Pentateuch was translated by a team of seventy scholars in Alexandria, Egypt. (Hence its common designation LXX, the Roman numerals for 70.) The Jewish community in Egypt spoke Greek, not Hebrew, so a Greek translation of the Old Testament was sincerely needed by that community of Jews. The exact date of translation is not known, but evidence indicates that the Septuagint Pentateuch was completed in the third century B.C. . . .
"The value of the Septuagint to textual criticism varies widely from book to book. It might be said that the Septuagint is not a single version but a collection of versions made by various authors, who differed greatly in their methods and their knowledge of Hebrew. The translations of the individual books are in no way uniform. Many books are translated almost literally, while others like Job and Daniel are quite dynamic. So the value of each book for textual criticism must be assessed on a book-by-book basis. . .
"The content of some books is significantly different when comparing the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text. For example, the Septuagint's Jeremiah is missing significant portions found in the Masoretic Text, and the order of the text is significantly different as well. What these differences mean is difficult to know with certainty. It has been conjectured that the Septuagint is simply a poor translation and is therefore missing portions of the original Hebrew. BUT THESE SAME DIFFERENCES COULD ALSO INDICATE THAT EDI- TORIAL ADDITIONS AND CHANGES WORKED THEIR WAY INTO THE MASORETIC TEXT" (p. 164-165).
But why would the Jews want to change the text, and alter the text which became known as the Masoretic Text? Perhaps there is much more to this question than meets the eye at first glance!
The Septuagint Text was the standard text used by Jews in the synagogues in the Gentile world, and also became the standard text used by early Christians. For hundreds of years it served its purpose well, without any controversy. Even among the Jews in Judea, Greek was a language spoken by the majority of the people, and there were many Greek-speaking synagogues, even in Palestine. The Septuagint was considered the "official" Greek version of the Scriptures, ever since its original translation. But what happened? Says this same author:
"By the time of Christ, even among the Jews, a majority of the people spoke Aramaic AND GREEK, not Hebrew. The New Testament writers evidence their inclination to the Septuagint by using it when quoting the Old Testament. . . Because of the broad acceptance and use of the Septuagint among Christians, the Jews RENOUNCED IT in favor of a number of other Greek versions. Aquila, a proselyte and disciple of Rabbi Akiba, produced a new translation around A.D. 130. In the spirit of his teacher, Aquila wrote an extremely literal translation, often to the point of communicating poorly in Greek. This literal approach, however, gained this version wide acceptance among Jews" (p. 165).
Consider for a moment the strangeness of this situation. The Jews were so upset with the fact that the Christians were quoting from the Jewish Septuagint to promulgate their new "heresy," that they themselves came to "renounce" the Septuagint, which they had endorsed and accepted for the past four hundred years, and accepted in its place a comparatively poor translation -- very literal but which communicated poorly in Greek!
This was a gigantic step for Rabbinic Judaism to take. This was a major change, and occurred at the inception of the Bar Kochba rebellion, in 130 A.D. Rabbi Akiba, the leading Jewish sage of that time, himself endorsed Bar Kochba as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies, and supported him in his rebellion against Rome. Jewish Christians, then called Nazarenes, of course, could not go along with this identification, nor support the rebellion against Rome -- thus causing a deeper wedge to separate them from the rabbinic Jewish community.
The SOURCE of the Septuagint Text
Where, then, did the original text itself of the Septuagint come from? Since it differs from the Masoretic text, in several places, yet was originally the OFFICIAL BIBLE OF JEWISH SYNAGOGUES throughout the Roman Empire, where Greek was spoken, why is it different, and what do these differences mean? What is their significance? Says The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible:
"The LXX REPRESENTS A PRE-MASORETIC HEBREW TEXT and accordingly is important for textual and exegetical studies . . . .
"The LXX became the O.T. of the Christians, who used it in their controversies with the Jews, even though it differed in various words or passages from the Hebrew text then in vogue. The QUOTATIONS FROM THE O.T. IN THE N.T. ARE USUALLY CITATIONS FROM THE LXX, either verbatim or with unimportant verbal changes; in other cases, the N.T. writers apparently themselves translated from the original Hebrew. The Ethiopian eunuch whom Philip met was reading the LXX (Acts 8:30-33)" (p. 972).
The Septuagint text actually represents a PRE-MASORETIC HEBREW TEXT, which appears to have been lost over the centuries. It is THIS PRE-MASORETIC TEXT, the basis of the LXX, that the Messiah and the apostles and the New Testament writers quoted from!
-- Edited By John D. Keyser.
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