The Transmission-History of the Septuagint -- By: William W. Combs

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 146:583 (Jul 1989)
Article: The Transmission-History of the Septuagint
Author: William W. Combs


The Transmission-History of the Septuagint

William W. Combs

Academic Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament
Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Detroit, Michigan

Most teachers, students, and pastors who have occasion to refer to the Septuagint will turn to Rahlfs’ manual edition.1 Many may believe they are using a critical text of the same quality as they are accustomed to working with in the New Testament. They assume that they are citing a text very close to the original Septuagint. However, Rahlfs’ edition is based on only three manuscripts, none of which is earlier than the fourth century A.D.2 Manuscript finds in the last 35 years have demonstrated that these later Christian manuscripts do not fully reflect the original text of the Septuagint. If one were to draw a comparison with New Testament textual criticism, Rahlfs’ edition would be similar to the Textus Receptus of the Middle Ages. For the first time scholars are now in a position to understand the changes that took place in the text of the Septuagint from its origin in the third century B.C. till its appearance in the later Christian manuscripts.

Before 1952 the transmission-history of the Septuagint presented what Jellicoe has called “a neat, straightforward pattern.”3 This traditional view can be summarized briefly.4 The Pentateuch

was translated in Egypt in the third century B.C., with the other Old Testament books being completed by the end of the next century. With the coming of Christianity, the Septuagint was adopted by the church as its “Bible.” Jews became increasingly alienated from the Septuagint as they found it being used against them in disputes with Christians. For example the Septuagint translation of עַלְמָה with παρθένος was appealed to as proof of the virgin birth.5 Also with the fixing of the Hebrew text by Jewish scholars in Palestine at the end of the first century A.D., the deviations between it and the Septuagint caused further rejection of the Septuagint by the Jews.6 Therefore a new translation that conformed to the standard Hebrew text was needed. In the second century A.D. three such translations were produced, those of Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus. Then in the third century came three Christian recensions of the Septuagint by Origen, Hesychius, and Lucian.

As can be seen from this ...

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