whytheology

For the Intersection of the Everyday and the Sacred

The Bible used in the Bible

Today’s Church history minute is all about The Septuagint (or LXX).

A portion from a copy of the Septuagint

What is it? The Septuagint was the first comprehensively translated AND widely used translations of a religious text from a source language into a cultural language. It was a translation of what we know as the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) into Koine (or Hellenistic) Greek, and included additional works that likely only ever existed in Greek, much of which makes of the deutero-canon or apocrypha of the Roman Catholic Church and various Eastern Orthodox churches. It was not the first translation from Hebrew to Greek, but may have been the most comprehensive and was certainly the most pervasive of the pre-Christian translations. The legend is that it took seventy scribes seventy days to translate the Torah (the first five books), and that they each worked independently producing identical translations, demonstrating that the translation was divinely inspired. In truth, this is very unlikely, and the only evidence for it is a letter written centuries after the appearance of the work. (Considering that there is variation within copies of the Septuagint, it only compounds the unlikely-ness of the story). Nevertheless, from that story the version takes its name.

Why is it important? Well, for starters, it was the bible that was primarily read during the time of Jesus. Most Jewish people (and gentiles, realistically) did not read or speak Hebrew. Instead the common language was Greek (not Latin, despite their Roman rule). When the New Testament was being written down, it is now clear that when they decided to quote the Old Testament, they usually used the Septuagint, similar to how we would quote an English translation rather than providing our own. Now on occasion Paul would not do this, but provide his own translation or, somewhat less likely, use a competing translation that is now lost. Yet its significance is also in aiding us getting to a more original Hebrew Manuscript. While the Masoretic Text (the primary Hebrew text used) is excellent, it does, on occasion, differ decidedly and strangely from the Septuagint. After the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in particular, scholars have been able to approximate what the original text likely was.

Fun Fact: Most Eastern Orthodox churches prefer to use the Septuagint (or translations from it) rather than the Hebrew Bible, which is more common in Western churches. While this rarely makes a difference, it may on occasion color the interpretation offered of a passage.

Where might I have heard of it? Unless you know someone who is either a) a member of an Eastern Orthodox church or b) a bible nerd, you have probably only heard about it in passing. If you are not a seminarian, pastor or scholar and heard about it in more depth before today, congratulations, you’re probably a bible nerd (it’s ok, really. Nerds are cool now).

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