|Bible Research > Ancient Versions > Septuagint > ISBE Article > Part 2|
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
The main value of the Septuagint is its witness to an older Hebrew text than our own. But before we can reconstruct this Hebrew text we need to have a pure Greek text before us, and this we are at present far from possessing. The Greek text has had a long and complex history of its own. Used for centuries by both Jews and Christians it underwent corruption and interpolation, and, notwithstanding the multitude of materials for its restoration, the original text has yet to be recovered. We are much more certain of the ipsissima verba of the New Testament writers than of the original Alexandrian version of the Old Testament. This does not apply to all portions alike. The Greek Pentateuch, e.g., has survived in a relatively pure form. But everywhere we have to be on our guard against interpolations, sometimes extending to whole paragraphs. Not a verse is without its array of variant readings. An indication of the amount of "mixture" which has taken place is afforded by the numerous "doublets" or alternative renderings of a single Hebrew word or phrase which appear side by side in the transmitted text.
Textual corruption began early, before the Christian era. We have seen indications of this in the letter of Aristeas (III, 5, (9) above). Traces of corruption appear in Philo (e.g. his comment, in Quis Rer. Div. Her. 56, on Genesis 15:15, shows that already in his day tapheis, "buried," had become trapheis, "nurtured," as in all our manuscripts); doublets already exist. Similarly in the New Testament the author of Hebrews quotes (12:15) a corrupt form of the Greek of Deuteronomy 29:18.
But it was not until the beginning of the 2nd century AD that the divergence between the Greek and the Palestinian Hebrew text reached an acute stage. One cause of this was the revision of the Hebrew text which took place about this time. No actual record of this revision exists, but it is beyond doubt that it originated in the rabbinical school, of which Rabbi Akiba was the chief representative, and which had its center at Jamnia in the years following the destruction of Jerusalem. The Jewish doctors, their temple in ruins, concentrated their attention on the settlement of the text of the Scriptures which remained to them. This school of eminent critics, precursors of the Massoretes, besides settling outstanding questions concerning the Canon, laid down strict rules for Biblical interpretation, and in all probability established an official text.
But another cause widened still farther the distance between the texts of Jerusalem and Alexandria. This was the adoption of the Septuagint by the Christian church. When Christians began to cite the Alexandrian version in proof of their doctrines, the Jews began to question its accuracy. Hence, mutual recriminations which are reflected in the pages of Justin's Dialogue with Trypho. "They dare to assert," says Justin (Dial., 68), "that the interpretation produced by your seventy elders under Ptolemy of Egypt is in some points inaccurate." A crucial instance cited by the Jews was the rendering "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14, where they claimed with justice that "young woman" would be more accurate. Justin retaliates by charging the Jews with deliberate excision of passages favorable to Christianity.
That such accusations should be made in those critical years was inevitable, yet there is no evidence of any material interpolations having been introduced by either party. But the Alexandrian version, in view of the revised text and the new and stricter canons of interpretation, was felt by the Jews to be inadequate, and a group of new translations of Scripture in the 2nd century AD supplied the demand. We possess considerable fragments of the work of three of these translators, namely, Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion, besides scanty remnants of further anonymous versions.
The earliest of "the three" was Aquila, a proselyte to Judaism, and, like his New Testament namesake, a native of Pontus. He flourished, according to Epiphanius (whose account of these later translators in his De mens. et pond. is not wholly trustworthy), under Hadrian (117-38 AD) and was related to that emperor; there is no probability in Epiphanius' further statement that Hadrian entrusted to Aquila the superintendence of the building of Aelia Capitolina on the site of Jerusalem, that there he was converted to Christianity by Christian exiles returning from Pella, but that refusing to abandon astrology he was excommunicated, and in revenge turned Jew and was actuated by a bias against Christianity in his version of the Old Testament. What is certain is that he was a pupil of the new rabbinical school, in particular of Rabbi Akiba (95-135 AD), and that his version was an attempt to reproduce exactly the revised official text. The result was an extraordinary production, unparalleled in Greek literature, if it can be classed under that category at all. No jot or tittle of the Hebrew might be neglected; uniformity in the translation of each Hebrew word must be preserved and the etymological kinship of different Hebrew words represented. Such were some of his leading principles. The opening words of his translation (Genesis 1:1) may be rendered: "In heading rounded God with the heavens and with the earth." "Heading" or "summary" was selected because the Hebrew word for "beginning" was a derivative of "head." "With" represents an untranslatable word ('eth) prefixed to the accusative case, but indistinguishable from the preposition "with." The Divine Name (the tetragrammaton, YHWH) was not translated, but written in archaic Hebrew characters. "A slave to the letter," as Origen calls him, his work has aptly been described by a modern writer as "a colossal crib" (Burkitt, JQR, October, 1896, 207). Yet it was a success. In Origen's time it was used by all Jews ignorant of Hebrew, and continued in use for several centuries; Justinian expressly sanctioned its use in the synagogues (Nov., 146). Its lack of style and violation of the laws of grammar were not due to ignorance of Greek, of which the writer shows, in vocabulary at least, a considerable command. Its importance lay and lies (so far as it is preserved) in its exact reproduction of the rabbinical text of the 2nd century AD; it may be regarded as the beginning of the scientific study of the Hebrew Scriptures. Though "a bold attempt to displace the Septuagint," it cannot be charged with being intentionally antagonistic to Christianity. Of the original work, previously known only from extracts in manuscripts, some palimpsest fragments were recovered from the Cairo Genizah in 1897 and edited by F. C. Burkitt (Fragments of the Books of Kings, 1897) and by C. Taylor (Sayings of the Jewish Fathers 2, 1897; Hebrew-Greek Cairo Genizah Palimpsests, 1900). The student of Swete's Old Testament will trace Aquila's unmistakable style in the footnotes to the Books of Samuel and Kings; the older and shorter B text in those books has constantly been supplemented in the A text from Aquila. A longer specimen of his work occurs in the Greek Ecclesiastes, which has no claim to be regarded as "Septuagint"; Jerome refers to a second edition of Aquila's version, and the Greek Ecclesiastes is perhaps his first edition of that book, made on the basis of an unrevised Hebrew text (McNeile, Introduction to Ecclesiastes, Cambridge, 1904, App. I). The suggested identification of Aquila with Onkelos, author of the Targum of that name, has not been generally accepted.
Epiphanius' account of the dates and history of Theodotion and Symmachus is untrustworthy. He seems to have reversed their order, probably misled by the order of the translations in the columns of the Hexapla (see below). He also apparently confused Aquila and Theodotion in calling the latter a native of Pontus. As regards date, Theodotion, critics are agreed, preceded Symmachus and probably flourished under M. Aurelius (161-80), whereas Symmachus lived under Commodus (180-92); Irenaeus mentions only the versions of Aquila and Theodotion, and that of Symmachus had in his day either not been produced or at least not widely circulated. According to the more credible account of Irenaeus, Theodotion was an Ephesian and a convert to Judaism. His version constantly agrees with the Septuagint and was rather a revision of it, to bring it into accord with the current Hebrew text, than an independent work. The supplementing of lacunae in the Septuagint (due partly to the fact that the older version of some books did not aim at completeness) gave scope for greater originality. These lacunae were greatest in Job and his version of that book was much longer than the Septuagint. The text of Job printed in Swete's edition is a patchwork of old and new; the careful reader may detect the Theodotion portions by transliterations and other peculiarities. Long extracts from Theodotion are preserved in codex Q in Jeremiah. As regards the additional matter contained in Septuagint, Theodotion was inconsistent; he admitted, e.g., the additions to Daniel (Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and the Song of the Three Children), but did not apparently admit the non-canonical books as a whole. The church adopted his Daniel in place of the inadequate Septuagint version, which has survived in only one Greek manuscript; but the date when the change took place is unknown and the early history of the two Greek texts is obscure. Theodotion's renderings have been found in writings before his time (including the New Testament), and it is reasonably conjectured that even before the 2nd century AD the Septuagint text had been discarded and that Theodotion's version is but a working over of an older alternative version. Theodotion is free from the barbarisms of Aquila, but is addicted to transliteration, i.e. the reproduction of Hebrew words in Greek letters. His reasons for this habit are not always clear; ignorance of Hebrew will not account for all (compare VIII, 1, , below).
Beside the two versions produced by, and primarily intended for, Jews was a third, presumably to meet the needs of a Jewish Christian sect who were dissatisfied with the Septuagint. Symmachus, its author, was, according to the more trustworthy account, an Ebionite, who also wrote a commentary on Matthew, a copy of which was given to Origen by Juliana, a lady who received it from its author (Euseb., HE, VI, 17). Epiphanius' description of him as a Samaritan convert to Judaism may be rejected. The date of his work, as above stated, was probably the reign of Commodus (180-192 AD). In one respect the version resembled Aquila's, in its faithful adherence to the sense of the current Hebrew text; its style, however, which was flowing and literary, was a revolt against Aquila's monstrosities. It seems to have been a recasting of Aquila's version, with free use of both Septuagint and Theodotion. It carried farther a tendency apparent in the Septuagint to refine away the anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament.
Of three other manuscripts discovered by Origen (one at Nicopolis in Greece, one at Jericho) and known from their position in the Hexapla as Quinta, Sexta, and Septima, little is known. There is no reason to suppose that they embraced the whole Old Testament. Quinta is characterized by Field as the most elegant of the Greek versions. F.C. Burkitt has discussed "the so-called Quinta of 4 Kings" in PSBA, June, 1902. The Christian origin of Sexta betrays itself in Habakkuk 3:13 ("Thou wentest forth to save thy people for the sake of [or "by"] Jesus thy anointed One").
These later versions play a large part in the history of the text of the Septuagint. This is due to the labors of the greatest Septuagint scholar of antiquity, the celebrated Origen of Alexandria, whose active life covers the first half of the 3rd century. Origen frankly recognized, and wished Christians to recognize, the merits of the later versions, and the divergences between the Septuagint and the current Hebrew. He determined to provide the church with the materials for ascertaining the true text and meaning of the Old Testament. With this object he set himself to learn Hebrew--a feat probably unprecedented among non-Jewish Christians of that time--and to collect the later versions. The idea of using these versions to amend the Septuagint seemed to him an inspiration: "By the gift of God we found a remedy for the divergence in the copies of the Old Testament, namely to use the other editions as a criterion" (Commentary on Matthew 15:14). The magnum opus in which he embodied the results of his labors was known as the Hexapla or "six-column" edition. This stupendous work has not survived; a fragment was discovered toward the end of the 19th century in the Ambrosian Library at Milan (Swete, Introduction, 61) and another among the Cairo Genizah palimpsests (ed C. Taylor, Cambridge, 1900). The material was arranged in six parallel columns containing (1) the current Hebrew text, (2) the same in Greek letters, (3) the version of Aquila, (4) that of Symmachus, (5) that of the Septuagint, (6) that of Theodotion. The text was broken up into short clauses; not more than two words, usually one only, stood in the first column. The order of the columns doubtless represents the degree of conformity to the Hebrew; Aquila's, as the most faithful, heads the versions, and Symmachus' is on the whole a revision of Aquila as Theodotion's is of the Septuagint. But Origen was not content with merely collating the versions; his aim was to revise the Septuagint and the 5th column exhibited his revised text. The basis of it was the current Alexandrian text of the 3rd century AD; this was supplemented or corrected where necessary by the other versions. Origen, however, deprecated alteration of a text which had received ecclesiastical sanction, without some indication of its extent, and the construction of the 5th column presented difficulties. There were (1) numerous cases of words or paragraphs contained in the Septuagint but not in the Hebrew, which could not be wholly rejected, (2) cases of omission from the Septuagint of words in the Hebrew, (3) cases of paraphrase and minor divergences, (4) variations in the order of words or chapters. Origen here had recourse to a system of critical signs, invented and employed by the grammarian Aristarchus (3rd century BC) in his edition of Homer. Passages of the first class were left in the text, but had prefixed to them an obelus, a sign of which the original form was a "spit" or "spear," but figuring in Septuagint manuscripts as a horizontal line usually with a dot above and a dot below; there are other varieties also. The sign in Aristarchus indicated censure, in the Hexapla the doubtful authority of the words which followed. The close of the obelized passage was marked by the metobelus, a colon (:), or, in the Syriac versions, shaped like a mallet. Passages missing in the Septuagint were supplied from one of the other versions (Aquila or Theodotion), the beginning of the extract being marked by an asterisk--a sign used by Aristarchus to express special approval--the close, by the metobelus. Where Septuagint and Hebrew widely diverged, Origen occasionally gave two versions, that of a later translator under an asterisk, that of the Septuagint obelized. Divergence in order was met by transposition, the Hebrew order being followed; in Proverbs, however, the two texts kept their respective order, the discrepancy being indicated by a combination of signs. Minor supposed or real corruptions in the Greek were tacitly corrected. Origen produced a minor edition, the Tetrapla, without the first two columns of the larger work. The Heptapla and Octapla, occasionally mentioned, appear to be alternative names given to the Hexapla at points where the number of columns was increased to receive other fragmentary versions. This gigantic work, which according to a reasonable estimate must have filled 5,000 leaves, was probably never copied in extenso. The original was preserved for some centuries in the library of Pamphilus at Caesarea; there it was studied by Jerome, and thither came owners of Biblical manuscripts to collate their copies with it, as we learn from some interesting notes in our uncial manuscripts (e.g. a 7th-century note appended to Esther in codex S). The Library probably perished circa 638 AD, when Caesarea fell into the hands of the Saracens.
But, though the whole work was too vast to be copied, it was a simple task to copy the 5th column. This task was performed, partly in prison, by Pamphilus, a martyr in the Diocletian persecution, and his friend Eusebius, the great bishop of Caesarea. Copies of the "Hexaplaric" Septuagint, i.e. Origen's doctored text with the critical signs and perhaps occasional notes, were, through the initiative of these two, widely circulated in Palestine in the 4th century. Naturally, however, the signs became unintelligible in a text detached from the parallel columns which explained them; scribes neglected them, and copies of the doctored text, lacking the precautionary symbols, were multiplied. This carelessness has wrought great confusion; Origen is, through others' fault, indirectly responsible for the production of manuscripts in which the current Septuagint text and the later versions are hopelessly mixed. No manuscripts give the Hexaplaric text as a whole, and it is preserved in a relatively pure form in very few: the uncials G and M (Pentateuch and some historical books), the cursives 86 and 88 (Prophets). Other so-called Hexaplaric manuscripts, notably codex Q (Marchalianus: Proph.) preserve fragments of the 5th and of the other columns of the Hexapla. (For the Syro-Hexaplar see below, VI, 1.) Yet, even did we possess the 5th column entire, with the complete apparatus of signs, we should not have "the original Septuagint," but merely, after removing the asterisked passages, a text current in the 3rd century. The fact has to be emphasized that Origen's gigantic work was framed on erroneous principles. He assumed (1) the purity of the current Hebrew text, (2) the corruption of the current Septuagint text where it deviated from the Hebrew. The modern critic recognizes that the Septuagint on the whole presents the older text, the divergences of which from the Hebrew are largely attributable to an official revision of the latter early in the Christian era. He recognizes also that in some books (e.g. Job) the old Greek version was only a partial one. To reconstruct the original text he must therefore have recourse to other auxiliaries beside Origen.
Such assistance is partly furnished by two other recensions made in the century after Origen. Jerome (Praef. in Paralipp.; compare Adv. Ruf., ii.27) states that in the 4th century three recensions circulated in different parts of the Christian world: "Alexandria and Egypt in their Septuagint acclaim Hesychius as their authority, the region from Constantinople to Antioch approves the copies of Lucian the martyr, the intermediate Palestinian provinces read the manuscripts which were promulgated by Eusebius and Pamphilus on the basis of Origen's labors, and the whole world is divided between these three varieties of text."
Hesychius is probably to be identified with the martyr bishop mentioned by Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, VIII, 13) along with another scholar martyr, Phileas bishop of Thmuis, and it is thought that these two were engaged in prison in revising the Egyptian text at the time when Pamphilus and Eusebius were employed on a similar task under similar conditions. How far existing manuscripts preserve the Hesychian recension is uncertain; agreement of their text with that of Egyptian versions and Fathers (Cyril in particular) is the criterion. For the Prophets Ceriani has identified codex Q and its kin as Hesychian. For the Octateuch N. McLean (JTS, II, 306) finds the Hesychian text in a group of cursives, 44, 74, 76, 84, 106, 134, etc. But the first installments of the larger Cambridge Septuagint raise the question whether Codex B (Vaticanus) may not itself be Hesychian; its text is more closely allied to that of Cyril Alex. than to any other patristic text, and the consensus of these two witnesses against the rest is sometimes (Exodus 32:14) curiously striking. In the Psalter also Rahlfs (Septuaginta-Studien, 2. Heft, 1907, 235) traces the Hesychian text in B and partially in Codex Sinaiticus. Compare von Soden's theory for the New Testament.
The Lucianic recension was the work of another martyr, Lucian of Antioch (died 311-12), probably with the collaboration of the Hebraist Dorotheus. There are, as Hort has shown, reasons for associating Lucian with a "Syrian" revision of the New Testament in the 4th century, which became the dominant type of text. That he produced a Syrian recension of the Greek Old Testament is expressly stated by Jerome, and we are moreover able with considerable certainty to identify the extant manuscripts which exhibit it. The identification, due to Field and Lagarde, rests on these grounds: (1) certain verses in 2 Kings are in the Arabic Syro-Hexaplar marked with the letter L, and a note explains that the letter indicates Lucianic readings; (2) the readings so marked occur in the cursives 19, 82, 93, 108, 118; (3) these manuscripts in the historical books agree with the Septuagint citations of the Antiochene Fathers Chrysostom and Theodoret. This clue enabled Lagarde to construct a Lucianic text of the historical books (Librorum Vet. Test. canonic. pars prior, Gottingen, 1883); his death prevented the completion of the work. Lagarde's edition is vitiated by the fact that he does not quote the readings of the individual manuscripts composing the group, and it can be regarded only as an approximate reconstruction of "Lucian." It is evident, however, that the Lucianic Septuagint possessed much the same qualities as the Syrian revision of the New Testament; lucidity and completeness were the main objects. It is a "full" text, the outcome of a desire to include, so far as possible, all recorded matter; "doublets" are consequently numerous. While this "conflation" of texts detracts from its value, the Lucianic revision gains importance from the fact that the sources from which it gleaned include an element of great antiquity which needs to be disengaged; where it unites with the Old Latin version against all other authorities its evidence is invaluable.
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