The Septuagint and the Text of the Old Testament -- By: Peter J. Gentry

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 16:2 (NA 2006)
Article: The Septuagint and the Text of the Old Testament
Author: Peter J. Gentry

The Septuagint and the Text of the Old Testament

Peter J. Gentry

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville

This paper assesses the importance and relative worth of the witness of the Septuagint to the text of the OT. Proper methodology is established for using a version as a textual witness, and general guidelines are given concerning the relationship between the Septuagint and Masoretic Text and the worth of the Septuagint in relation to other witnesses to the text of the OT (Dead Sea Scrolls, Syriac, Targums, Vulgate).

Key Words: Septuagint, OT Textual Criticism, Ancient Versions


The term Septuagint normally refers to the Greek version or versions of the Hebrew Scriptures. Uncertainties about the history of the process of translation are responsible for lack of precision in exactly what is meant by the term Septuagint. It is generally agreed that the Pentateuch or Torah was translated from its Hebrew original into Greek during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (283-246 b.c.), possibly around 280, according to reliable patristic testimony.1 The books in the Prophets and Writings were translated later, probably all of them by about 130 b.c. as suggested by the Greek Prologue to Ben Sira.2 Thus, while the term Septuagint is applicable

Author’s note: Paper given at annual meeting of IBR, November 20, 2004. I acknowledge gratefully constructive criticisms from Daniel I. Block, Duane Garrett, John Meade, Elizabeth Robar, Andrew Teeter, and Nancy Woods, who graciously read preliminary drafts of this paper. Naturally, I bear full responsibility for inaccuracies that remain.

in a technical sense only to the Greek Pentateuch, it is employed loosely for the Greek translations of the OT as a whole. This can be confusing, for before all the books had been translated, revisions were already being made of existing translations. The precise line of demarcation between original translations and revisions in this body of texts has not yet been clearly established. The problem of distinguishing original translations from later revisions is compounded by the fact that we have critical, scientific editions for only two-thirds of the books in this corpus.

With such caveats in mind concerning the referent of the term Septuagint, it is nonetheless clear that, in spite of the riches available now through the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint remains in many cases the earliest witness ...

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