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The Septuagint is the first authentic Greek version of the Old Testament. It is called the Septuagint from the fact, that it was supposed to be the work of seventy or seventy-two interpreters. Of its origin we have many accounts all of them more or less legendary in nature. Aristæus gives us the first account of its origin. According to him, Ptolemy Philadelphus in the third century B. C., wishing to found a great library in Alexandria, and hearing much of the Jewish Law sent messengers to Eleazar, the high priest, desiring a copy of the Books of the Jewish Law for his library. The high priest, Eleazar, choosing six interpreters from every tribe, sent the seventy-two interpreters to translate the books into Greek. These, after being kindly received by the King, betook themselves to the Isle of Pharos, to a great hall, where for nine hours each day they labored for seventy or seventy-two days, conferring with one another in difficult passages. The work was transcribed with care by men employed by Ptolemy, and was pronounced authentic, and an anathema was pronounced against all who should question its authority. This in brief is the story of Aristæus as related by Flavius Josephus, Antiq., Bk. XII. II. passim. Philo, the Alexandrine Jew, has an account much similar, giving to the interpreters divine inspiration. He does not, however, mention Aristæus, who according to his own story, had a great part in the translation. Nor does he mention Demetrius Phalereus who, according to Aristæus, was the Librarian of Ptolemy. St. Justin the Martyr (†163 or 167 A. D.), has a different version of the origin of the work. According to him, the interpreters were sent to the Isle of Pharos in separate cells, so all mutual communication was cut off. There they executed every one a translation of the Hebrew text, which versions were afterwards found to agree in the most minute details, even to the number of letters. The King, overcome by this miracle, caused the Jews to be treated with great honors, and sent them back loaded with gifts to their own country.

St. Justin avows that he saw with his own eyes the cells of these interpreters. Mention of the seventy cells occurs also in the works of Irenæus, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, and Augustine. St. Epiphanius, who lived in the fourth century A. D., varies the legend somewhat. According to him, there were but thirty-six cells, and two interpreters in every cell.

Many of the Fathers of the Church considered this version inspired. Thus St. Augustine says, that when the seventy departed from the Hebrew text, they did so at the instigation of the Holy Ghost. St. Jerome rejecting the fable of the seventy cells believed that only the Pentateuch was made under Ptolemy. Hence, the origin of the Septuagint is shrouded in obscurity.

Without doubt the interpreters from Judæa under Ptolemy translated at least the Pentateuch; and other unknown authors at unknown dates added the others at subsequent periods. The legend of the seventy cells is critically absurd, and the testimony of Aristaeus of no worth. The varied style of the books of the Septuagint proves that they are not the work of one translator. However legendary be these accounts, we must recognize in the origin of the Septuagint the special providence of God, ordaining that a version of the Holy Scriptures, a complete version of all the books, should exist at the advent of Christ, that the universal kingdom of Christ might be the more easily diffused far and wide through the assistance of the Holy Writ existing in the Greek tongue, which at that time had become the universal medium of communication of thought in the civilized world. The Septuagint has the highest approbation, that of the writers of the New Testament, who quoted the Old Testament chiefly not from the Hebrew, but according to the Greek version of the Septuagint.

The legendary origin of the Septuagint caused many of the old Fathers to believe in the inspiration of the seventy interpreters. St. Jerome inveighs forcibly against this absurdity. When the earlier Fathers in their controversy with the Jews alleged passages from the Septuagint against them, the Jews responded that these were not in the Hebrew Canon of Scripture. Hence, the Fathers, to defend their position invoked the inspiration of the Septuagint. From the Septuagint was made the first Latin translation called the Vetus Itala, and to defend this, St. Augustine asserted the inspiration of the Septuagint.

For the same Spirit who was in the Prophets when they spoke these things was also in the seventy men when they translated them, so that assuredly they could also say something else, just as if the Prophet himself had said both, because it would be the same Spirit who said both; and they could say the same thing differently, so that, although the words were not the same, yet the same meaning should shine forth to those of good sense; and they could omit or add something, so that even by this it might be shown that there was in that work not human bondage, which the translator owed to the words, but rather divine power, which filled and ruled the mind of the translator. (S. Aug. De Civit. Dei, XVIII. 43). And indeed a strong motive which induced the Fathers to defend the inspiration of the Septuagint was the need of some explanation of the variantia in the texts. St. Augustines explanation, admitting the inspiration, filled that need. Many Catholic writers hold with St. Jerome that only the Pentateuch was translated by the seventy interpreters, and the other books added at a later date.

S. Hilary appeals for the authority of the Septuagint to its great antiquity, and to the fact that its translators had the oral tradition of the synagogue. This is the only reasonable motive for its great value.

S. John Chrysostom speaks of the great authority of the Septuagint, but never hints at its inspiration. Hence, we conclude that the Church has never recognized the inspiration of the Septuagint, and the Fathers who defended it were deceived by the legend of Aristæus, while the most illustrious among them do not insist on the inspiration of the Septuagint for its great authority, but on its great antiquity.

The different books of the Septuagint differ greatly in excellence. The Pentateuch is pre-eminent in accuracy and grace of diction. The version of Proverbs is also excellent. The version of Ezekiel is the best of the prophetical works. Job is very imperfectly rendered; many things are omitted, and other things plainly do not reproduce the sense of the original. The Psalms and Ecclesiastes are very defective, and so poor was the version of Daniel, that the Church discarded it, and substituted the version of Theodotion.

The Jews of Palestine at first held in high esteem the Septuagint, but as the Christians, in the rise of Christianity, used it effectively against them, they conceived a great hatred against it. In detestation of it, they compared the day on which it was completed to the day on which the golden calf was set up in the desert, and decreed a fast to take place yearly on that day. (Talmud Tr. Sopher, Meg. Thaanith.) As this hatred was shared by the Hellenist Jews, who were ignorant of Hebrew, they desired other Greek versions; hence arose other Greek versions of the Old Testament.

Of the post-Christian versions, that of Aquila is the first in order of time, and it is in the closest agreement with the letter of the Hebrew text. The traditions relating to Ἀκύλας, in Christian and Jewish writings, are so far in agreement that they may be assumed to refer to one and the same person. By Epiphanius he is described (De Mens. et Pond. §§ 13–15) as of Sinope in Pontus, and as πενθερίδης of the Emperor Hadrian, in whose twelfth year, and 430 years after the LXX., he flourished, and by whom he was commissioned to superintend the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Seeing the faith and miracles of the disciples of the Apostles, he is led to embrace Christianity, but still clings to his faith in the vain ἀστρονομία, and is, in consequence, excommunicated. Filled with resentment, he becomes a pervert to Judaism, and is thenceforth known as Aquila the Proselyte. He devotes himself to the Jewish learning, and renders the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.

Aquila, as a translator, aimed at an extreme literal exactness, for which he is, on the whole, fairly praised as ὁ κυριώτατα ἐρμηνεύειν φιλοτιμούμενος Ἀκύλας (Origen, Comment. on Genesis, I. 16), and, on the other hand, in places censured, as δουλεύων τῇ Ἑβραικῇ λέξει (Origen ad Africanum § 2). His method is, at times, the reductio ad absurdum of a literal rendering; and yet where he is most useless as an exegete he may be an important witness on questions as to the form of the Hebrew text which lay before him.

Jerome, in his Epistle to Pammachius (§ 11, Vol. I. 316), comparing Aquila with the LXX, writes as follows: Aquila autem proselytus et contentiosus interpres, qui non solum verba sed ETYMOLOGIAS quoque verborum transferre conatus est, jure projicitur a nobis. Quis enim pro frumento et vino et oleo possit vel legere vel intelligere χεῦμα, ὀπωρισμόν, στιλπνότητα, quod nos possumus dicere, fusionem, pomationemque, et splendentiam? Aut quia Hebraei non solum habent ἄρθρα sed et πρόαρθρα ille κακοζήλως et SYLLABAS interpretatur et litteras, dicitque σὺν τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ σὺν τὴν γῆν, quod Graeca et Latina lingua non recipit. But elsewhere he compares him favorably with the LXX, describing him as a translator who non contentiosus, ut quidam putant, sed studiosius verbum interpretatur ad verbum (Ep. ad Damasum, § 12, Vol. I. 167). The former passage aptly indicates the two leading principles of Aquila, which were to give a Greek or quasi-Greek equivalent for every fragment of the original, and to maintain a rigid consistency by rendering each root with its real or apparent derivatives by one and the same root in Greek; new forms being freely coined as the occasion demanded, and the Greek idiom being sacrificed to the Hebrew. The peculiar etymological rendering of קָרַן, in Ex. 34:29, which, through the Vulgate, gave rise to the popular representation of Moses with horns on his forehead, is found to have originated with Aquila: Unde et in Exodo juxta Hebraicum et Aquilæ editionem legimus, Et Moyses nesciebat quia CORNUTA ERAT species vultus ejus, qui vere dicere poterat, In te inimicos meos cornu ventilo.

Aquila has been accused by Epiphanius of changing the Messianic testimonies. Not enough of his work remains to examine if this charge be true. Jerome declares in an Epistle to Marcella, that he had examined his work with especial attention to this charge, and had found instead many things most favorable to Christian faith. I am disposed to believe, however, that at times he drew some passages to the Jewish position.

The second Greek version which deserves special mention is that of Symmachus.

Eusebius relates that Symmachus was an Ebionite, and that in certain of his writings which were still extant, he alleged arguments from St. Matthews Gospel in support of his heresy. Jerome likewise, in his Commentary on Habakuk (III. 13, Vol. VI. 656), describes Symmachus and Theodotion as Ebionites: Theodotio autem, vere quasi pauper et Ebionita, sed et Symmachus ejusdem dogmatis, pauperem sensum secuti Judaice transtulerunt; and in his preface to Job he speaks of them as judaizantes hæretici, qui multa mysteria Salvatoris subdola interpretatione celarunt, et tamen in Ἑξαπλοῖς habentur apud ecclesias et explanantur ab ecclesiasticis viris (Vol. IX. Col. 1142). Epiphanius writes Montfaucon, Conspecto hexaplorum ordine, ubi Symmachus ante Theodotionem positus secundum locum in Graecis editionibus occupabat, putavit Symmachum prius Theodotione editionem suam concinnasse. He assigns the version of Symmachus, perhaps rightly, to the reign of Severus (A. D. 193–211)—the Chronicon Paschale specifies the ninth year of this reign—but this account of the author is at variance with the statements of Eusebius and Jerome. Symmachus (he tells us) was a Samaritan, who, from disappointed ambition, became a proselyte to Judaism, and set to work to compose his Greek version of the Scriptures with a specific anti-Samaritan bias.

The version of Symmachus was distinguished by the purity of its Greek and its freedom from Hebraisms. Jerome (following Eusebius) several times remarks: Symmachus more suo apertius, or manifestius; and he praises him as an interpreter, qui non solet verborum κακοζηλίαν sed intelligentiæ ordinem sequi (Comment. on Amos, III. II, Vol. VI. 258). In his preface to Lib. II. of the Chronic. Euseb. (Vol. VIII. 223–4), he writes: Quamobrem Aquila et Symmachus et Theodotio incitati diversum pæne opus in eodem opere prodiderunt; alio nitente verbum de verbo exprimere, alio sensum potius sequi, tertio non multum a veteribus discrepare. Jerome not only commends Symmachus as above, but frequently adopts his renderings, as may be shown by a comparison of their versions.

Symmachus shows his command over the Greek language by his use of compounds, where the Hebrew can only represent the same ideas by a combination of separate words; and no less by his free use of particles to bring out subtle distinctions of relation which the Hebrew cannot adequately express. In like manner, his rendering of the name of Eve by Ζωογόνος preserves the word-play in Gen. 3:20; but other names are less happily rendered.

The last column of Origens Hexapla contained the version of Theodotion. St. Epiphanius states that Theodotion was of Pontus, of the sect of the Marcionites, which he abandoned to embrace Judaism. St. Irenæus affirms that he was an Ephesian, who became a proselyte to Judaism. His epoch is very probably the second half of the second century.

Jerome writes of Theodotion: Qui utique post adventum Christi incredulus fuit, licet eum quidam dicant Ebionitam, qui altero genere Judæus est; but elsewhere he seems to adopt the tradition of his Ebionism. Montfaucon argues from his rendering of Dan. 9:26 that he was a Jew. His aim as a translator being (again in the words of Jerome) non multum a veteribus discrepare, not so much to make a new translation as to revise the old, correcting its errors and supplying its defects, it not unnaturally came to pass that Origen made free use of his version in constructing the Hexaplar recension of the LXX; and that, in the case of the Book of Daniel, even the recension of Origen was popularly discarded in favor of Theodotions version in its entirety. His style does not present such marked peculiarities as those of Aquila and Symmachus. Suffice it to notice that he is more addicted to transliteration than they or the LXX; and that, on account of the number of the words which he thus leaves untranslated, he has been regarded as an ignorant interpreter. The charge, however, cannot be sustained.

Besides the aforesaid versions, three others were in existence of which but little is known. They are designated as Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh, from the position which they occupied in Origens Hexapla. It is probable that they did not contain all the books. The old writers so differ in describing where they were found, that nothing definite can be known of them. Of the seventh no trace remains, and we only know of its existence from the fact that Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. VI. 16) declares, that Origen added it to the other in the edition of the Psalms, thereby making the edition Enneapla.

The great use which had been made of the Septuagint by the Jews previously to their rejection of it, and the constant use of it by the Christians, naturally caused a multiplication of copies, in which numerous errors became introduced, in the course of time, from the negligence or inaccuracy of transcribers, and from glosses or marginal notes, which had been added for the explanation of difficult words, and which had crept into the text. In order to remedy this growing evil, Origen, in the early part of the third century, undertook the laborious task of collating the Greek text, then in use, with the original Hebrew, and with other Greek translations then extant, and from the whole to produce a new recension or revision. Twenty-eight years were devoted to the preparation of this arduous work, in the course of which he collected manuscripts from every possible quarter. Origen commenced his labor at Cæsarea, A. D. 231, and, it appears, finished his Polyglot at Tyre, but in what year is not precisely known.

This noble critical work is designated by various names among ancient writers, as Tetrapla, Hexapla, Octapla, and Enneapla.

The Tetrapla contained the four Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus, the Septuagint, and Theodotion, disposed in four columns; to these he added two columns more, containing the Hebrew text in its original characters, and also in Greek letters. These six columns, according to Epiphanius, formed the Hexapla. Having subsequently discovered two other Greek versions of some parts of the Scriptures, usually called the fifth and sixth, he added them to the preceding, inserting them in their respective places, and thus composed the Octapla; and a separate translation of the Psalms, usually called the seventh version, being afterwards added, the entire work has by some been termed the Enneapla. This appellation, however, was never generally adopted. But, as the two editions made by Origen generally bore the name of the Tetrapla, and Hexapla, Bauer, after Montfaucon, is of opinion that Origen edited only the Tetrapla and Hexapla; and this appears to be the real fact.

The accompanying plates will give some concept of Origens great work.

Aquilas version is placed next to the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew text; that of Symmachus occupies the fourth column; the Septuagint, the fifth; and Theodotions, the sixth. The other three anonymous translations, not containing the entire books of the Old Testament, were placed in the three last columns of the Enneapla. Where the same words occurred in all the other Greek versions, without being particularly specified, Origen designated them by Λ or ΛΟ, Λοιποι, the rest;—Οι Γ, or the three, denoted Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion;—Οι Δ, or the four, signified Aquila, Symmachus, the Septuagint, and Theodotion; and Π, Παντες, all the interpreters.

Where any passages appeared in the Septuagint, that were not found in the Hebrew, he designated them by an obelus ÷ with two bold points (׃) also annexed. This mark was also used to denote words not extant in the Hebrew, but added by the Septuagint translators, either for the sake of elegance, or for the purpose of illustrating the sense.

To passages wanting in the copies of the Septuagint, and supplied by himself from the other Greek versions, he prefixed an asterisk with two points (׃) also annexed, in order that his additions might be immediately perceived. These supplementary passages, we are informed by Jerome, were for the most part taken from Theodotions translation; not unfrequently from that of Aquila; sometimes, though rarely, from the version of Symmachus; and sometimes from two or three together. But, in every case, the initial letter of each translators name was placed immediately after the asterisk, to indicate the source whence such supplementary passage was taken. And in lieu of the very erroneous Septuagint version of Daniel, Theodotions translation of that book was inserted entire.

Further, not only the passages wanting in the Septuagint were supplied by Origen with the asterisks, as above noticed, but also where that version does not appear accurately to express the Hebrew original, having noted the former reading with an obelus, ÷, he added the correct rendering from one of the other translators, with an asterisk subjoined.

In the Pentateuch, Origen compared the Samaritan text with the Hebrew as received by the Jews, and noted their differences.

Since Origens time, Biblical critics have distinguished two editions or exemplars of the Septuagint—the Κοινη or common text, with all its errors and imperfections, as it existed previously to his collation, and the Hexaplar text, or that corrected by Origen himself. For nearly fifty years was this great mans stupendous work buried in a corner of the city of Tyre, probably on account of the very great expense of transcribing forty or fifty volumes, which far exceeded the means of private individuals; and here, perhaps, it might have perished in oblivion, if Eusebius and Pamphilus had not discovered it, and deposited it in the library of Pamphilus the Martyr, at Cæsarea, where Jerome saw it about the middle of the fourth century. As we have no account whatever of Origens autograph, after this time, it is most probable that it perished in the year 653, on the capture of that city by the Arabs; and a few imperfect fragments, collected from manuscripts of the Septuagint and the Catenæ of the Greek fathers, are all that now remain of the work.

As the Septuagint version had been read in the Church from the commencement of Christianity, so it continued to be used in most of the Greek churches; and the text, as corrected by Origen, was transcribed for their use, together with his critical marks. Hence, in the progress of time, from the negligence or inaccuracy of copyists, numerous errors were introduced into this version, which rendered a new revisal necessary; and, as all the Greek churches did not receive Origens Biblical labors with equal deference, three principal recensions were undertaken nearly at the same time, of which we are now to offer a brief notice.

The first was the edition, undertaken by Eusebius and Pamphilus about the year 300, from the Hexaplar text, with the whole of Origens critical marks; it was not only adopted by the churches of Palestine, but was also deposited in almost every library. By frequent transcriptions, however, Origens marks or notes became, in the course of a few years, so much changed, as to be of little use, and were finally omittted; this omission only augmented the evil, since even in the time of Jerome it was no longer possible to know what belonged to the translators, or what were Origens own corrections; and now it may almost be considered as a hopeless task to distinguish between them. Contemporary with the edition of Eusebius and Pamphilus, was the recension of the Κοινη, or Vulgate text of the Septuagint, conducted by Lucian, a presbyter of the Church at Antioch, who suffered martyrdom A. D. 311. He took the Hebrew text for the basis of his edition, which was received in all the Eastern churches from Constantinople to Antioch. While Lucian was prosecuting his Biblical labors, Hesychius, an Egyptian bishop, undertook a similar work, which was generally received in the churches of Egypt. He is supposed to have introduced fewer alterations than Lucian; and his edition is cited by Jerome as the Exemplar Alexandrinum. All the manuscripts of the Septuagint now extant, as well as the printed editions, are derived from the three recensions above mentioned, although Biblical critics are by no means agreed what particular recension each manuscript has followed.

There are four principal printed editions of the Septuagint. The first in time was that of Cardinal Ximenes, printed in his Polyglot, in 1517.

The second principal edition is called the ALDINE EDITION, published in Venice in 1518. It was called Aldine from the printer Aldus Manutius, though it did not appear till two years after his death, and was executed under the care of Andreas Asulanus, the father-in-law of Aldus Manutius.

The third principal edition in order of time, though first in excellence, is that called the SIXTINE EDITION. It was undertaken at the suggestion of Cardinal Montaltus, during the reign of Gregory XIII., and when, at the death of Gregory, Montaltus ascended the papal throne under the name of Sixtus V., he brought the work to completion and hence it bears his name. Its full title is Η Παλαια Διαθηκη, κατα τους Ἑβδομηκοντα δι αυθεντιας Ξυστου É. Ακρου Αρχιερεως εκδοθεισα.—Vetus Testamentum Græcum, juxta LXX Interpretes, studio Antonii Cardinalis CARAFÆ, ope virorum doctorum adjuti, cum prefatione et scholiis Petri Morini. Romæ ex Typographia Francisci Zannetti, 1586, folio.

It is a beautiful edition, of great rarity and value. It contains 783 pages of text, preceded by four leaves of preliminary matter, which are followed by another (subsequently added), entitled Corrigenda in notationibus Psalterii. This last mentioned leaf is not found in the copies bearing the date of 1586, which also want the privilege of Pope Sixtus V. dated May 9, 1587, at whose request and under whose auspices it was undertaken by Cardinal Antonio Carafa, aided by Antonio Agelli, Peter Morinus, Fulvio Ursino, Robert Bellarmine, Cardinal Sirleti, and others. The celebrated Codex Vaticanus 1209 was the basis of the Roman or Sixtine edition, as it is usually termed. The first forty-six chapters of Genesis, together with some of the Psalms, and the book of Maccabees, being obliterated from the Vatican manuscripts through extreme age, the editors are said to have supplied this deficiency by compiling those parts of the Septuagint from a manuscript out of Cardinal Bessarions library, and from another which was brought to them from Calabria. So great was the agreement between the latter and the Codex Vaticanus, that they were supposed to have been transcribed, either the one from the other, or both from the same copy. Various readings are given to each chapter. This edition contains the Greek text only. In 1588, Flaminio Nobili printed at Rome in folio, Vetus Testamentum secundum LXX. Latine redditum.

The fourth of these principal editions is that published by Grabe, at Oxford. This edition exhibits the text of the celebrated Codex Alexandrinus, now deposited in the British Museum. Though Grabe prepared the whole for the press, yet he only lived to publish the Octateuch, forming the first volume of the folio edition, in 1707, and the fourth volume containing the metrical books, in 1709.








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