The Role Of The Septuagint In The Transmission Of The Scriptures -- By: Michael S. Heiser

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 23:1 (Winter 2010)
Article: The Role Of The Septuagint In The Transmission Of The Scriptures
Author: Michael S. Heiser


The Role Of The Septuagint In The Transmission Of The Scriptures

Michael S. Heiser

Christians who have heard of the Septuagint understand it as the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT. That’s an accurate assessment in simplest terms, but the Septuagint as we know it has a lengthy, complex history. Knowing a bit about that history can give us an appreciation for the important role played by the Septuagint in the transmission of the OT Scriptures and how we should look at our own translations.

Origin And Transmission Of The Septuagint To Modern Times

Most Septuagint specialists believe that the task of translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek occurred in stages, beginning with the Torah, the first five books of the OT, in the early third century BC. Other portions followed over the course of the next century. The reasons are coherent. Other Hellenistic Jewish texts from the third century BC cite the Septuagint, and other books within the Septuagint often repeat translation vocabulary found in the Torah.

The circumstances of the translation are largely unknown, though the transparently legendary story behind its production, as found in the Hellenistic Jewish text The Letter of Aristeas, contains some useful information. Scholars accept Aristeas’ account that the translation was done in Alexandria, Egypt, by Jewish scholars skilled in Greek, but dismiss his account that 70 translators, working independently, produced identical translations, thus demonstrating the inspired nature of the translation! This legend of the 70 is behind the common abbreviation for the Septuagint: LXX (“70” in Roman numerals; hereafter, LXX is used for “Septuagint” in this article).

While quotations of the LXX are as old as the third century BC, the oldest manuscript evidence for the LXX as a running text ranges from the second century BC to the first century AD. The material comes from Qumran as part of the Dead Sea Scroll discovery. Comparison of fragments of the LXX found at Qumran with other LXX manuscripts shows that, already at Qumran, alterations were made to either improve Greek style or bring the Greek into more literal conformity with what would become known later as the Hebrew Masoretic text (MT).

Other manuscript evidence in subsequent centuries brings us to the oldest known (originally) complete Bibles, which date from the fourth and fifth centuries AD. These Bibles, written in uncial script (capital letters), contain the OT (i.e., the LXX), the NT, and certain apocryphal books in Greek. The three earliest are Codex Vaticanus (B), Codex Sinaiticus (S, or א) and Codex Alexandrinus (A). In the wake of these and other uncials, many later copies of the LXX in cursive G...

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