The Greek Old Testament, or Septuagint (, ; from the Latin: septuaginta, lit. 'seventy'; often abbreviated 70; in Roman numerals, LXX), is the earliest extant Koine Greek translation of books from the Hebrew Bible, various biblical apocrypha, and deuterocanonical books. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch, were translated in the mid-3rd century BCE. The remaining books of the Greek Old Testament are presumably translations of the 2nd century BCE.
The full title (Ancient Greek: Ἡ μετάφρασις τῶν Ἑβδομήκοντα, lit. 'The Translation of the Seventy') derives from the story recorded in the Letter of Aristeas that the Hebrew Torah was translated into Greek at the request of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–247 BCE) by 70 Jewish scholars or, according to later tradition, 72: six scholars from each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, who independently produced identical translations. The miraculous character of the Aristeas legend might indicate the esteem and disdain in which the translation was held at the time; Greek translations of Hebrew scriptures were in circulation among the Alexandrian Jews. Egyptian papyri from the period have led most scholars to view as probable Aristeas's dating of the translation of the Pentateuch to the third century BCE. Whatever share the Ptolemaic court may have had in the translation, it satisfied a need felt by the Jewish community (in whom the knowledge of Hebrew was waning). However, the authenticity of Aristeas' letter has been questioned; "[i]t was the English monk Humphry Hody (1684) who was able to show convincingly that the letter was not by a contemporary of Philadelphus."
Greek scriptures were in wide use by the time of Jesus and Paul of Tarsus (early Christianity) because most Christian proselytes, God-fearers, and other gentile sympathizers of Hellenistic Judaism could not read Hebrew. The text of the Greek Old Testament is quoted more often than the original Hebrew Bible text in the Greek New Testament (particularly the Pauline epistles) by the Apostolic Fathers, and later by the Greek Church Fathers. Modern critical editions of the Greek Old Testament are based on the Codices Alexandrinus, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus. The fourth- and fifth-century Greek Old Testament manuscripts have different lengths. The Codex Alexandrinus, for example, contains all four books of the Maccabees; the Codex Sinaiticus contains 1 and 4 Maccabees, and the Codex Vaticanus contains none of the four books.
According to the legend, seventy-two Jewish scholars were asked by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Greek king of Egypt, to translate the Torah from Biblical Hebrew to Greek for inclusion in the Library of Alexandria. This narrative is found in the pseudepigraphic Letter of Aristeas to his brother Philocrates, and is repeated by Philo of Alexandria, Josephus (in Antiquities of the Jews), and by later sources (including Augustine of Hippo). It is also found in the Tractate Megillah of the Babylonian Talmud:
King Ptolemy once gathered 72 Elders. He placed them in 72 chambers, each of them in a separate one, without revealing to them why they were summoned. He entered each one's room and said: "Write for me the Torah of Moshe, your teacher". God put it in the heart of each one to translate identically as all the others did.
Philo of Alexandria, who relied extensively on the Septuagint,[better source needed] writes that the number of scholars was chosen by selecting six scholars from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Caution is needed here regarding the accuracy of this statement by Philo of Alexandria, as it implies that the twelve tribes were still in existence during King Ptolemy's reign, and that the Ten Lost Tribes of the twelve tribes were not forcibly resettled by Assyria almost 500 years previously. According to later rabbinic tradition (which considered the Greek translation as a distortion of sacred text and unsuitable for use in the synagogue), the Septuagint was given to Ptolemy two days before the annual Tenth of Tevet fast.
The 3rd century BCE is supported for the Torah translation by a number of factors, including its Greek being representative of early Koine Greek, citations beginning as early as the 2nd century BCE, and early manuscripts datable to the 2nd century. After the Torah, other books were translated over the next two to three centuries. It is unclear which was translated when, or where; some may have been translated twice (into different versions), and then revised. The quality and style of the translators varied considerably from book to book, from a literal translation to paraphrasing to an interpretative style.
The translation process of the Septuagint and from the Septuagint into other versions can be divided into several stages: the Greek text was produced within the social environment of Hellenistic Judaism, and completed by 132 BCE. With the spread of Early Christianity, this Septuagint in turn was rendered into Latin in a variety of versions and the latter, collectively known as the Vetus Latina, were also referred to as the Septuagint initially in Alexandria but elsewhere as well. The Septuagint also formed the basis for the Slavonic, Syriac, Old Armenian, Old Georgian, and Coptic versions of the Christian Old Testament.
The Septuagint is written in Koine Greek. Some sections contain Semiticisms, idioms and phrases based on Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic. Other books, such as Daniel and Proverbs, have a stronger Greek influence.
The Septuagint may also clarify pronunciation of pre-Masoretic Hebrew; many proper nouns are spelled with Greek vowels in the translation, but contemporary Hebrew texts lacked vowel pointing. However, it is unlikely that all Biblical Hebrew sounds had precise Greek equivalents.
As the translation progressed, the canon of the Greek Bible expanded. The Hebrew Bible, also called the Tanakh, has three parts: the Torah "Law", the Nevi'im "Prophets", and the Ketuvim "Writings". The Septuagint has four: law, history, poetry, and prophets. The books of the Apocrypha were inserted at appropriate locations.
Extant copies of the Septuagint, which date from the 4th century CE, contain books and additions not present in the Hebrew Bible as established in the Palestinian Jewish canon and are not uniform in their contents. According to some scholars, there is no evidence that the Septuagint included these additional books. These copies of the Septuagint include books known as anagignoskomena in Greek and in English as deuterocanon (derived from the Greek words for "second canon"), books not included in the Jewish canon.
These books are estimated to have been written between 200 BCE and 50 CE. Among them are the first two books of Maccabees; Tobit; Judith; the Wisdom of Solomon; Sirach; Baruch (including the Letter of Jeremiah), and additions to Esther and Daniel. The Septuagint version of some books, such as Daniel and Esther, are longer than those in the Masoretic Text, which were affirmed as canonical by the rabbis. The Septuagint Book of Jeremiah is shorter than the Masoretic Text. The Psalms of Solomon, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, the Letter of Jeremiah, the Book of Odes, the Prayer of Manasseh and Psalm 151 are included in some copies of the Septuagint.
Several reasons have been given for the rejection of the Septuagint as scriptural by mainstream rabbinic Judaism since late antiquity. Differences between the Hebrew and the Greek were found. The Hebrew source texts in some cases (particularly the Book of Daniel) used for the Septuagint differed from the Masoretic Text. The rabbis also wanted to distinguish their tradition from the emerging tradition of Christianity, which frequently used the Septuagint. As a result of these teachings, other translations of the Torah into Koine Greek by early Jewish rabbis have survived only as rare fragments.
The Septuagint became synonymous with the Greek Old Testament, a Christian canon incorporating the books of the Hebrew canon with additional texts. Although the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church include most of the books in the Septuagint in their canons, Protestant churches usually do not. After the Reformation, many Protestant Bibles began to follow the Jewish canon and exclude the additional texts (which came to be called the Apocrypha) as noncanonical. The Apocrypha are included under a separate heading in the King James Version of the Bible.
All the books in Western Old Testament biblical canons are found in the Septuagint, although the order does not always coincide with the Western book order. The Septuagint order is evident in the earliest Christian Bibles, which were written during the fourth century.
Some books which are set apart in the Masoretic Text are grouped together. The Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings are one four-part book entitled Βασιλειῶν (Of Reigns) in the Septuagint. The Books of Chronicles supplement Reigns, known as Παραλειπομένων (Of Things Left Out). The Septuagint organizes the minor prophets in its twelve-part Book of Twelve.
Some ancient scriptures are found in the Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew Bible. The additional books are Tobit; Judith; the Wisdom of Solomon; Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach; Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah, which became chapter six of Baruch in the Vulgate; additions to Daniel (The Prayer of Azarias, the Song of the Three Children, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon); additions to Esther; 1 Maccabees; 2 Maccabees; 3 Maccabees; 4 Maccabees; 1 Esdras; Odes (including the Prayer of Manasseh); the Psalms of Solomon, and Psalm 151.
Fragments of deuterocanonical books in Hebrew are among the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran. Sirach, whose text in Hebrew was already known from the Cairo Geniza, has been found in two scrolls (2QSir or 2Q18, 11QPs_a or 11Q5) in Hebrew. Another Hebrew scroll of Sirach has been found in Masada (MasSir).:597 Five fragments from the Book of Tobit have been found in Qumran: four written in Aramaic and one written in Hebrew (papyri 4Q, nos. 196-200).:636 Psalm 151 appears with a number of canonical and non-canonical psalms in the Dead Sea scroll 11QPs(a) (also known as 11Q5), a first-century-CE scroll discovered in 1956. The scroll contains two short Hebrew psalms, which scholars agree were the basis for Psalm 151.:585–586 The canonical acceptance of these books varies by Christian tradition.
In the most ancient copies of the Bible which contain the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, the Book of Daniel is not the original Septuagint version but a copy of Theodotion's translation from the Hebrew which more closely resembles the Masoretic Text. The Septuagint version was discarded in favor of Theodotion's version in the 2nd to 3rd centuries CE. In Greek-speaking areas, this happened near the end of the 2nd century; in Latin-speaking areas (at least in North Africa), it occurred in the middle of the 3rd century. The reason for this is unknown. Several Old Greek texts of the Book of Daniel have been discovered, and the original form of the book is being reconstructed.
It is unclear to what extent Alexandrian Jews accepted the authority of the Septuagint. Manuscripts of the Septuagint have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and were thought to have been in use among various Jewish sects at the time.
Several factors led most Jews to abandon the Septuagint around the second century CE. The earliest gentile Christians used the Septuagint out of necessity, since it was the only Greek version of the Bible and most (if not all) of these early non-Jewish Christians could not read Hebrew. The association of the Septuagint with a rival religion may have made it suspect in the eyes of the newer generation of Jews and Jewish scholars. Jews instead used Hebrew or Aramaic Targum manuscripts later compiled by the Masoretes and authoritative Aramaic translations, such as those of Onkelos and Rabbi Yonathan ben Uziel.
Perhaps most significant for the Septuagint, as distinct from other Greek versions, was that the Septuagint began to lose Jewish sanction after differences between it and contemporary Hebrew scriptures were discovered. Even Greek-speaking Jews tended to prefer other Jewish versions in Greek (such as the translation by Aquila), which seemed to be more concordant with contemporary Hebrew texts.
The Early Christian church used the Greek texts, since Greek was a lingua franca of the Roman Empire at the time and the language of the Greco-Roman Church while Aramaic was the language of Syriac Christianity. The relationship between the apostolic use of the Septuagint and the Hebrew texts is complicated. Although the Septuagint seems to have been a major source for the Apostles, it is not the only one. St. Jerome offered, for example, Matthew 2:15 and 2:23, John 19:37, John 7:38, and 1 Corinthians 2:9 as examples found in Hebrew texts but not in the Septuagint. Matthew 2:23 is not present in current Masoretic tradition either; according to Jerome, however, it was in Isaiah 11:1. The New Testament writers freely used the Greek translation when citing the Jewish scriptures (or quoting Jesus doing so), implying that Jesus, his apostles, and their followers considered it reliable.
In the early Christian Church, the presumption that the Septuagint was translated by Jews before the time of Christ and that it lends itself more to a Christological interpretation than 2nd-century Hebrew texts in certain places was taken as evidence that "Jews" had changed the Hebrew text in a way that made it less Christological. Irenaeus writes about Isaiah 7:14 that the Septuagint clearly identifies a "virgin" (Greek παρθένος; bethulah in Hebrew) who would conceive. The word almah in the Hebrew text was, according to Irenaeus, interpreted by Theodotion and Aquila (Jewish converts), as a "young woman" who would conceive. Again according to Irenaeus, the Ebionites used this to claim that Joseph was the biological father of Jesus. To him that was heresy facilitated by late anti-Christian alterations of the scripture in Hebrew, as evident by the older, pre-Christian Septuagint.
Jerome broke with church tradition, translating most of the Old Testament of his Vulgate from Hebrew rather than Greek. His choice was sharply criticized by Augustine, his contemporary. Although Jerome argued for the superiority of the Hebrew texts in correcting the Septuagint on philological and theological grounds, because he was accused of heresy he also acknowledged the Septuagint texts. Acceptance of Jerome's version increased, and it displaced the Septuagint's Old Latin translations.
The Eastern Orthodox Church prefers to use the Septuagint as the basis for translating the Old Testament into other languages, and uses the untranslated Septuagint where Greek is the liturgical language. Critical translations of the Old Testament which use the Masoretic Text as their basis consult the Septuagint and other versions to reconstruct the meaning of the Hebrew text when it is unclear, corrupted, or ambiguous. According to the New Jerusalem Bible foreword, "Only when this (the Masoretic Text) presents insuperable difficulties have emendations or other versions, such as the [...] LXX, been used." The translator's preface to the New International Version reads, "The translators also consulted the more important early versions (including) the Septuagint [...] Readings from these versions were occasionally followed where the MT seemed doubtful"
Modern scholarship holds that the Septuagint was written from the 3rd through the 1st centuries BCE, but nearly all attempts at dating specific books (except for the Pentateuch, early- to mid-3rd century BCE) are tentative. Later Jewish revisions and recensions of the Greek against the Hebrew are well-attested. The best-known are Aquila (128 CE), Symmachus, and Theodotion. These three, to varying degrees, are more-literal renderings of their contemporary Hebrew scriptures compared to the Old Greek (the original Septuagint). Modern scholars consider one (or more) of the three to be new Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible.
Although much of Origen's Hexapla (a six-version critical edition of the Hebrew Bible) is lost, several compilations of fragments are available. Origen kept a column for the Old Greek (the Septuagint), which included readings from all the Greek versions in a critical apparatus with diacritical marks indicating to which version each line (Gr. στίχος) belonged. Perhaps the Hexapla was never copied in its entirety, but Origen's combined text was copied frequently (eventually without the editing marks) and the older uncombined text of the Septuagint was neglected. The combined text was the first major Christian recension of the Septuagint, often called the Hexaplar recension. Two other major recensions were identified in the century following Origen by Jerome, who attributed these to Lucian (the Lucianic, or Antiochene, recension) and Hesychius (the Hesychian, or Alexandrian, recension).
The oldest manuscripts of the Septuagint include 2nd-century-BCE fragments of Leviticus and Deuteronomy (Rahlfs nos. 801, 819, and 957) and 1st-century-BCE fragments of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Twelve Minor Prophets (Alfred Rahlfs nos. 802, 803, 805, 848, 942, and 943). Relatively-complete manuscripts of the Septuagint postdate the Hexaplar recension, and include the fourth-century-CE Codex Vaticanus and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. These are the oldest-surviving nearly-complete manuscripts of the Old Testament in any language; the oldest extant complete Hebrew texts date to about 600 years later, from the first half of the 10th century. The 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus also partially survives, with many Old Testament texts.:73:198 The Jewish (and, later, Christian) revisions and recensions are largely responsible for the divergence of the codices. The Codex Marchalianus is another notable manuscript.
The text of the Septuagint is generally close to that of the Masoretes and Vulgate. Genesis 4:1–6 is identical in the Septuagint, Vulgate and the Masoretic Text, and Genesis 4:8 to the end of the chapter is the same. There is only one noticeable difference in that chapter, at 4:7:
The differences between the Septuagint and the MT fall into four categories:
The Biblical manuscripts found in Qumran, commonly known as the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), have prompted comparisons of the texts associated with the Hebrew Bible (including the Septuagint). Emanuel Tov, editor of the translated scrolls, identifies five broad variants of DSS texts:
The text of all print editions is derived from the recensions of Origen, Lucian, or Hesychius:
One of the main challenges, faced by translators during their work, emanated from the need to implement appropriate Greek forms for various onomastic terms, used in the Hebrew Bible. Most onomastic terms (toponyms, anthroponyms) of the Hebrew Bible were rendered by corresponding Greek terms that were similar in form and sounding, with some notable exceptions.
One of those exceptions was related to a specific group of onomastic terms for the region of Aram and ancient Arameans. Influenced by Greek onomastic terminology, translators decided to adopt Greek custom of using "Syrian" labels as designations for Arameans, their lands and language, thus abandoning endonymic (native) terms, that were used in the Hebrew Bible. In the Greek translation, the region of Aram was commonly labeled as "Syria", while Arameans were labeled as "Syrians". Such adoption and implementation of terms that were foreign (exonymic) had far-reaching influence on later terminology related to Arameans and their lands, since the same terminology was reflected in later Latin and other translations of the Septuagint, including the English translation.
Reflecting on those problems, American orientalist Robert W. Rogers (d. 1930) noted in 1921: "it is most unfortunate that Syria and Syrians ever came into the English versions. It should always be Aram and the Aramaeans".
The first English translation (which excluded the apocrypha) was Charles Thomson's in 1808, which was revised and enlarged by C. A. Muses in 1954 and published by the Falcon's Wing Press.
The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English was translated by Lancelot Brenton in 1854. It is the traditional translation and most of the time since its publication it has been the only one readily available, and it has continually been in print. The translation, based on the Codex Vaticanus, contains the Greek and English texts in parallel columns. It has an average of four footnoted, transliterated words per page, abbreviated Alex and GK.
The Complete Apostles' Bible (translated by Paul W. Esposito) was published in 2007. Using the Masoretic Text in the 23rd Psalm (and possibly elsewhere), it omits the apocrypha.
(NETS), an academic translation based on the New Revised Standard version (in turn based on the Masoretic Text) was published by the (IOSCS) in October 2007.
The Apostolic Bible Polyglot, published in 2003, features a Greek-English interlinear Septuagint. It includes the Greek books of the Hebrew canon (without the apocrypha) and the Greek New Testament; the whole Bible is numerically coded to a new version of the Strong numbering system created to add words not present in the original numbering by Strong. The edition is set in monotonic orthography. The version includes a concordance and index.
The Orthodox Study Bible, published in early 2008, features a new translation of the Septuagint based on the Alfred Rahlfs' edition of the Greek text. Two additional major sources have been added: the 1851 Brenton translation and the New King James Version text in places where the translation matches the Hebrew Masoretic text. This edition includes the NKJV New Testament and extensive commentary from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. Nicholas King completed The Old Testament in four volumes and The Bible.
Brenton's Septuagint, Restored Names Version (SRNV) has been published in two volumes. The Hebrew-names restoration, based on the Westminster Leningrad Codex, focuses on the restoration of the Divine Name and has extensive Hebrew and Greek footnotes.
The Eastern Orthodox Bible would have featured an extensive revision and correction of Brenton's translation (which was primarily based on the Codex Vaticanus). With modern language and syntax, it would have had extensive introductory material and footnotes with significant inter-LXX and LXX/MT variants, before being cancelled.
The Holy Orthodox Bible by Peter A. Papoutsis and The Old Testament According to the Seventy by Michael Asser are based on the Greek Septuagint text published by the Apostoliki Diakonia of the Church of Greece.
In 2012, Lexham Press published the Lexham English Septuagint (LES), providing a literal, readable, and transparent English edition of the Septuagint for modern readers. In 2019, Lexham Press published the Lexham English Septuagint, Second Edition (LES2), making more of an effort than the first to focus on the text as received rather than as produced. Because this approach shifts the point of reference from a diverse group to a single implied reader, the new LES exhibits more consistency than the first edition. "The Lexham English Septuagint (LES), then, is the only contemporary English translation of the LXX that has been made directly from the Greek."
The International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS), a non-profit learned society, promotes international research into and study of the Septuagint and related texts. The society declared 8 February 2006 International Septuagint Day, a day to promote the work on campuses and in communities. The IOSCS publishes the Journal of Septuagint and Cognate Studies.