Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Role of the Septuagint

The Septuagint (abbreviated LXX) is the name given to the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures which occurred between 300-200 BCE in Alexandria, Egypt. Early Christians held the Jewish scriptures to be authoritative and sacred. Many early Christians spoke and read Greek, thus they relied on the Septuagint for most of their understanding of the Old Testament. The New Testament writers also relied heavily on the Septuagint in that the majority of the quotes cited in the New Testament are quoted directly from the Septuagint. Greek Church Fathers also quoted from the Septuagint. The theology of the early church, as explained by the Fathers of the first several centuries, is based on the wording of the Septuagint.

The Palestinian Jews rejected the Septuagint because it deviated from the Jewish text. It contained extra books such as the Old Testament Apocrypha which the Jews rejected. The Apocrypha consisted of the books of Judith, Tobit, Baruch, Sirach, the Wisdom of Solomon, First and second Maccabees, the two books of Esdras, additions to the book of Esther, and the Prayer of Manasseh. The Daniel of the Septuagint included three sections which were not part of the Hebrew Daniel: The Prayer of Azariah and the Hymn of the Three Young Men, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon. The Septuagint Psalms included an extra psalm found in most copies of the Septuagint but not in the Masoretic text.

A fundamental change in the way the Church viewed the Old Testament occurred on the initiative of Jerome early in the fifth century. Until that time, the Church had relied on the Septuagint in the East and on a Latin translation of the Septuagint in the West. When Jerome determined to make a new translation of the Old Testament into Latin, he decided to use Hebrew as the source text. From the time of Jerome, the Old Testament translation to the vernacular in the West as used Hebrew as the primary source. Jerome made the decision to abandon the Septuagint in favor of Hebrew on the mistaken belief that the New Testament quoted exclusively from the Hebrew Old Testament.

A close examination of the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text show slight variations. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the Qumran region near the Dead Sea in 1947. These scrolls dated as early as 200 BCE contain parts of every book in the Old Testament except Esther. Comparisons of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Masoretic Text show that where there are differences between the Masoretic Text and Septuagint, approximately 95% of those differences are shared between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text, while only 5% of those differences are shared between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint. These “variations” are extremely minor (i.e., grammatical errors, spelling differences or missing words) and do not affect the meaning of sentences and paragraphs. An exception is the Book of Jeremiah in which passages are arranged differently. The majority of the Septuagint, Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls are remarkably similar. Generally speaking, none of the differences come close to affecting any area of teaching or doctrine with several important exceptions, two of which will be noted separately.

A work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

3 Comments:

Blogger Josh McManaway said...

I hate to be nit-picky, but you've made it sound as if Jerome decided upon something and that this was so forever. Jerome fell prey to the myth of Jamniah (Javneh). He spoke to Pope Damasus who said that those books were inspired and meant to be in the canon (which Rome had already declared in 382 - along with the 27 book NT). Jerome, being a good Catholic, went with the Pope's decision.

9:37 PM

 
Anonymous Polycarp said...

So, if the early Christians fully recognized the Septuagint as inspired and given from God, why shouldn't we? If you are going to allow the Rabbis to decide your canon, then perhaps you should rid yourself of the New Testament altogether.

9:47 AM

 
Blogger gentleexit said...

"The Palestinian Jews rejected the Septuagint because it deviated from the Jewish text." But there was no singular text (or singular "Septuagint" for that matter). The Rabbi's had various reasons for going back to Hebrew and rejecting Greek, ignoring the Maccabees etc. as they CHOSE what to put into their text.

The Septuagint(s) is an amazing item. Without it, there is a good argument that there would be no Christianity (http://www.conorpdowling.com/68/build-on-this-translation).

2:43 PM

 

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