Eumenis Megalopoulos | Jan 13, 2024

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The Septuagint (Latin for seventy, ancient Greek ἡ μετάφρασις τῶν ἑβδομήκοντα hē metaphrasis tōn hebdomēkonta 'The Translation of the Seventy', Abbreviated LXX), also called the Greek Old Testament, is the oldest continuous translation of the Hebrew-Aramaic Bible into the ancient Greek language of everyday life, the Koine. The translation originated from about 250 BC in Hellenistic Judaism, primarily in Alexandria. Most of the books were translated by about 100 BCE, with the remaining books following by 100 CE.

Originally, the term Septuagint referred only to the translation of the Torah (the five books of Moses). Later, the term was expanded to include all versions of the Greek Old Testament. In this later form, the Septuagint contains all the books of the Hebrew Bible as well as some additional apocryphal and deuterocanonical books. The Septuagint is preserved today primarily as a Christian scriptural tradition. Only a few manuscript fragments of the early Jewish translations have survived.

The Septuagint is one of the greatest achievements of early Judaism. It was the central medium of connecting Greek-speaking Judaism with the original faith traditions as handed down in the Hebrew sacred scriptures. In addition to its use in the congregations, the Septuagint became the basis for theological and historical works (Philon of Alexandria, Flavius Josephus) and also for numerous new writings (including the so-called Apocrypha) that arose in Greek-speaking Judaism. Because of the approximately 400 quotations from the Septuagint, the New Testament also belongs to the history of the Septuagint's influence. In many places, the Septuagint reflects the early Jewish interpretation of Scripture and in turn also influenced rabbinic traditions.

In the 1st century B.C. a revision began in which the choice of words was unified and the Greek text was adapted in formal respects (for example word order) to the Hebrew biblical text (in the version valid at that time) (the so-called kaige recension). This formal adaptation (which was carried out with varying intensity in the different biblical books) led in part to a somewhat strange Greek. Going even further in this direction was the adaptation or new translation by Aquila in the first half of the 2nd century CE, which was appreciated in spite of or because of its linguistic strangeness because it was particularly close (formally) to Hebrew. Both versions of the Greek text were in use in Greek-speaking Judaism until the end of antiquity. Only at the end of antiquity, under Palestinian or Babylonian rabbinic influence, was Greek supplanted by Hebrew as the language of worship. The sometimes quoted dictum that the day of the translation of the Torah into Greek was an unlucky day for Judaism dates only from the 8th century, and that from Babylonian Judaism (post-Talmudic tractate Soferim 1:7).

In the Middle Ages and modern times, the Septuagint (as well as the other Greek translations) was widely ignored, not only because it was used in the Christian sphere, but also because people focused entirely on Hebrew for Jewish identity. Contemporary opinions vary. On the one hand, outdated, negative opinions are sometimes reprinted; on the other hand, there are many Jewish Septuagint scholars, and the preface to the new German translation of the Septuagint was signed in 2007 by Landesrabbiner Henry G. Brandt for the General Rabbinical Conference of Germany (along with representatives of the EKD, the German Bishops' Conference, and the Orthodox Church in Germany).

The Bible translation has traditionally been named with the Latin numeral word septuaginta for "seventy" since the legendary letter of Aristeas (c. 130 BC). The name thus follows the Greek proper name Κατὰ τοὺς ἑβδομήκοντα Kata tous Hebdomêkonta ("according to the seventy"). The work is often identified with the Roman numeral LXX or the letter G {\displaystyle {\boldsymbol {\mathfrak {G}}}} abbreviated.

According to legend, 72 Jewish scholars in Alexandria translated the Torah (five books of Moses) from Hebrew into Greek in 72 days. Each translator is said to have worked for himself, but in the end all 72 translations were absolutely identical: The Holy Spirit had given all of them the same words. The number 72 was rounded down to 70, recalling the seventy elect who were gifted with God's Spirit to help Moses administer justice (Num 11:24ff EU). This also emphasized the verbal inspiration of this translation.

The name was extended to all first Greek translations of biblical books and Greek-written sacred writings of Judaism until about 200 CE. Christians referred to this collection of all Greek-language Jewish sacred writings, which they adopted as their Old Testament.

Book title and arrangement

The Septuagint contains all the books of the Tanakh that Jews and Christians recognize as canonical. It also contains some books and additions that are not part of the canon in Judaism because they either had lost Hebrew originals or none at all. It was written before the three-part canon of the Tanakh had become established. Non-prophetic writings were therefore not added at the back, but inserted into the existing outline of Torah (front) and Prophets (back).

They were not arranged according to a graded rank of revelation, but according to their literary genres, so that the books of history and prophecy, which follow the Torah and are considered Nevi'im in the Tanakh, were separated. Between them came poetic and wisdom books, which in the Tanakh form the third main part of the Ketubim. Moreover, in the LXX the "minor" prophets precede the "major" prophets and are not counted as a common book of twelve prophets, as in the Tanakh, but as individual books. Thus, the major prophetic books in the LXX form the end of the canon and could accordingly be understood even more strongly as an open announcement of the future.

Early church canon lists were inconsistent, especially regarding the distribution of the writings considered ketubim in the Tanakh. Eventually, all churches adopted the four-part division of the LXX canon into Pentateuch, history books, wisdom books, and prophecy books, the sequence of these parts, and largely the internal series of each major part, but placed the "major" before the "minor" prophets, thus bringing them closer to the actual historical course.

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes the LXX additions to Esther and Daniel, the books of Tobit, Judith, the first two books of Maccabees, Jesus Sirach, the Book of Wisdom, Baruch, and the Letter of Jeremiah as deuterocanonical writings, but not the 3rd and 4th books of Maccabees and the 3rd book of Esdras. The 2nd Book of Esdras divides them into the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Most Orthodox churches have included the deuterocanonically named books as Anaginoskomena in their canon, additionally also the 1st Book of Esdras and the 3rd Book of Maccabees. In some Orthodox churches, the Odes with the Prayer of Manasseh, the 4th Book of Maccabees, or a 4th Book of Ezra (which has survived only in Latin and Slavic translations, while the Greek version has been lost) are also recognized as canonical.

Protestantism placed the books with Hebrew text (Tanakh) first in the Old Testament and placed the remaining ("deuterocanonical") writings and the Prayer of Manasseh as the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments. Both the Luther Bible and the (Reformed) Zurich Bible had this arrangement. In the Reformed churches, the Apocrypha were subsequently pushed back and then omitted altogether. It was not until the so-called Apocrypha controversy around 1830 that the Apocrypha were also omitted from many, but by no means all, editions of the Luther Bible. In more recent times, the Apocrypha are widely included in Protestant Bible editions.

Translation of the Torah

The Letter of Aristeas presents the Septuagint, legendarily but historically accurate, as the result of the collective work of a Hellenistic educated elite among the Jewish Torah teachers. It became necessary as the Jewish diaspora grew rapidly and spoke the world language of the time in worship and daily life. It also served to explain Judaism to educated non-Jews and to introduce the Torah into philosophical and ethical discourses of the time. It is conceivable that the Egyptian ruler of the time agreed to the project in order to integrate the strong Jewish minority into his empire and to tie it to the cultural metropolis of Alexandria.

The translators of the Torah proceeded word by word, so that the result at the same time provided the vocabulary for further translations of biblical books. In their choice of words - be it delimiting, be it absorbing - Hellenistic-Egyptian influences and concepts can be seen. Thus Gen 1:1 LXX reads: In the beginning the God made the heavens and the earth. The definite article (ho theos) immediately demarcated Elohim (literally, "gods"), recognizable in the Hebrew context as the henotheistic predicate of YHWH, from general Oriental polytheism.

Translation of other biblical books

A large part of the other writings was also translated in Alexandria. The translation dates can only be narrowed down from some Greek citations of the LXX text in other sources or contemporary historical references in it: Isaiah and the books of Chronicles were thus completed by about 150 BC, the book of Job by 100 BC. The Greek preface to Jesus Sirach, written around 132 B.C., already presupposed a Greek translation of "the Law, the Prophets, and the rest of the books," so that probably only some of the ketubim (scriptures), which were disputed until 100 A.D., were missing at that time. Only the books of Ruth, Esther, Song of Songs and Lamentations were translated in Jerusalem, probably in the 1st century after the destruction of the Temple (70). The last book to be translated was the "2nd Esdras" (Ezra and Nehemiah) around 100 AD.


While the LXX language style usually remains approximately the same within a book, it varies from book to book: Therefore, Paul de Lagarde adopted as a rule a single translator for each book. Paul Kahle, on the other hand, assumed several translation attempts for each book, of which one version finally prevailed.

The methods of the translators differed. Some remained close to the original text and used many Hebraisms: for example, in the Book of Judges, the Books of Samuel and Kings, and the Psalms. These imitated the word usage and syntax of the Hebrew text originals.

Others translated more freely and more adapted to the Greek style and flow of language: for example, in Genesis, Exodus, Job, Proverbs, Isaiah and Daniel. Their LXX version differs in part greatly from the known Hebrew text.

Numerous Aramaisms point to the translators' use of language from contemporary Aramaic.

Already since the 19th century, however, the language of the Septuagint has not been understood as a separate "biblical Greek" but as Koine Greek with - depending on the translator more or less - Semitic echoes.

Revisions and break with the Hebrew text

Even after its preliminary conclusion, the text of the LXX continued to develop. Beyond 100 CE, it remained the Bible of use for Hellenistic Diaspora Jews, even in synagogue worship. Thereafter, it gradually lost influence for several reasons: first, because rabbinically-led Judaism, since the destruction of the Temple (70 CE), began to impose a standard Hebrew consonant text (proto-masoretic text, abbreviated proto-MT). Second, because the standardizing, exegetical method of Rabbi Akiba, who had meticulously studied the Hebrew Scriptures and was a vigorous opponent of Christianity, became dominant. And third, because Christians appropriated the LXX as "their" Old Testament (most Old Testament quotations in the New Testament correspond to the LXX version) and often reinterpreted the Greek text allegorically to counter Jewish interpretations, which reinforced its rejection from the Jewish side.

However, this did not lead to the immediate exclusion of the LXX in Judaism, but initially to intensified attempts to level out the differences between Greek and Hebrew text versions. This leveling began as early as about 100 BCE with the kaige recension of LXX versions of that time. This is shown by the Greek Twelve Prophets Scroll found in a cave in the Nachal Chever near the Dead Sea. Such recensioned versions are also preserved for the Book of Judges and for parts of the Books of Samuel and Kings.

In the 2nd century Aquila, Symmachos and Theodotion translated the now already unified Tanakh again into Greek. In doing so, Theodotion followed the LXX original most closely. These recensions have survived only in fragments and can be inferred as a whole at best indirectly from ancient manuscripts of the Hexapla, which juxtaposed them with the Hebrew text. They were largely lost because the Jews worked ever more strongly toward the MT and rejected or destroyed other versions, while the Christians increasingly passed on Origen's different revision of the LXX as the sole tradition.

Inclusion in the New Testament

The authors of the New Testament adopt the Hebraistic style of the Septuagint only in some books (Gospel according to Luke, Acts of Luke). Otherwise, the Greek in the New Testament has a typical character of its own for each of the writers, since they are original Greek texts and not translations. The often made summary of the Septuagint Greek and the Greek of the New Testament under the keyword Bible Greek is therefore not appropriate.

Many of the Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament are taken from the Septuagint, with variations in detail often indicating that the writers were quoting from memory.

Old church

Since a large part of early Christianity emerged from Greek-speaking Judaism (cf. Acts 6), it is not surprising that the Old Testament was mostly quoted according to the Septuagint by the authors of the New Testament. Most of the church fathers also quoted the Old Testament according to the Septuagint, because only a few church fathers were at all proficient in Hebrew. In addition, the unity of the Old Testament with the New Testament written in Greek, as postulated by the Christians, became more evident.

Even disputes with Judaism or polemics against Judaism usually took the text of the Septuagint as the basis for their argument. This contributed to Jews turning away from the Septuagint and toward the Hebrew text, but also led Origen to produce his great philological work (the Hexapla) in order to scientifically resolve the disputes over the text.


In Christianity, there was at least one revision of the Septuagint text, by Origen. He juxtaposed in six columns (hence the designation Hexapla) the Hebrew text (in Hebrew script and in Greek transcription) as well as the Septuagint and the three younger Jewish translations by Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion. In the Septuagint text, he placed in "brackets" (i.e., with the then-common text-critical marks obelos and metobelos) surpluses of the Septuagint relative to the Hebrew text, and he supplemented, also in "brackets" (i.e., with the then-common text-critical marks asteriscus and metobelos), from the other Greek translations what was missing in the Septuagint relative to the Hebrew text. This Septuagint text, thus adapted to the then accepted Hebrew text, is called the hexaplaric text, which in turn influenced the transmission of the Septuagint.

Traditionally, one speaks of two other Christian revisions, namely the Lucian one for Syria

Ecclesiastical use

The Septuagint is still the most important version of the Old Testament in the Eastern churches. In Greece and Cyprus, it is still used in worship today. Most other Eastern churches use an Old Testament translated from the Septuagint into the respective national language.

The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, used both the Septuagint and the Vulgate, a translation of the Bible by Jerome into Latin, for more than a millennium. However, the church father Jerome changed his original mandate to translate the Vulgate based solely on the Septuagint by also using the Hebrew text as a basis for translation. Nevertheless, he adopted many readings of the Septuagint, which explains the numerous similarities between the Vulgate and the Septuagint vis-à-vis the Masoretic text. Likewise, he largely adopted the canon of the Septuagint. Catholic Bibles follow this decision until today (see also Deuterocanonical).

Martin Luther used the Hebrew Old Testament for his German Bible translation and based it on its (shorter) canon. He used the Septuagint and Vulgate as aids for his translation. He added some of the additional books of the Septuagint and Vulgate to his translation as appendices (the so-called Apocrypha).

After the Council of Trent, a new edition of the Septuagint was prepared under Pope Sixtus V and promulgated in 1587; this Roman Septuagint (also called the editio Sixtina) was binding on the Roman Catholic Church.

About 2000 different manuscripts or manuscript fragments of the LXX or parts of it are preserved. The oldest fragments date from the 2nd century BC and contain texts of the first five books of Moses (Torah) on papyrus or leather scrolls. They confirm the indication of the Letter of Aristeas that the LXX began translating the Torah around 250 BC. They are 4Q122

The fragment 4Q119

The oldest LXX version of the Book of Daniel is contained in papyrus 967, made by two scribes around 200 A.D. It was found in Egypt in 1931 along with LXX papyri for most of the biblical books. LXX versions were also found among the scrolls from the Cairo Geniza.

The Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209 from the 4th century is considered the oldest and best complete LXX manuscript, since it has hardly been influenced by later revisions. Only its Isaiah text follows the Hexapla. Codex Sinaiticus agrees with it for the most part; the deviations are due to revisions of the LXX. The 5th century Codex Alexandrinus, on the other hand, was already heavily influenced by the Hexapla. These three codices, written by Christians, also include the New Testament.

From about 500 A.D. on, manuscripts notated in uncials or majuscules (capital letters) dominate, and from about 1000 on, manuscripts notated in minuscules or cursives.

Relationship to the Masoretic Text

The Masoretic Text (MT) established itself as the authoritative Hebrew biblical text from about 900 onwards and was also considered the original text in parts of Christianity from about 1520 onwards. In contrast, the LXX was considered secondary for a long time. Only new manuscript discoveries forced a differentiation of this judgment and made possible a greater understanding of the processes of text formation and transmission.

In the book of Isaiah, only a few verses of the MT are missing in the LXX. In the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, 1 Kings, Jeremiah, Daniel, Job, Proverbs, and Esther, on the other hand, the LXX not only deviates from the MT in isolated instances, but arranges sections of text differently and contains less text, resulting in shorter book volumes.

In the book of Jeremiah, LXX is about one seventh shorter than MT because it often lacks single verses or groups of verses - up to 3100 words in total. The chapter sequence is different, so that the foreign peoples' sayings in Jer 46-51 MT move further forward in LXX and result in a different series. The LXX also lacks entire sections of text in the Samuel books compared to the MT. This is also true to a lesser extent for the book of Exodus. These differences have been interpreted since the Reformation as arbitrary falsification of the MT by the LXX translators.

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, were found texts closer to the LXX than MT (for example, 4QJerb and d) and largely consistent with its hypothesized retranslation into Hebrew from older manuscripts. Thus, these Hebrew fragments confirmed the LXX version. Textual excesses and textual changes of the MT in the Samuel and Jeremiah books could be identified as later adaptations. This invalidated the hermeneutical prejudice that in cases of doubt MT should be preferred to LXX as more original.

Most scholars today assume that for some books several Hebrew versions were handed down in parallel and on an equal footing until at least 100 CE. Therefore, the early revisions of the LXX may presuppose different Hebrew textual bases. In addition to the adaptations to the Hebrew text, however, inner-Greek textual developments also contribute to the diversity of variants of the LXX.

Original LXX text

The main problem of textual criticism with the help of the LXX is: Before it can be used as a possible correction of Hebrew textual versions, the original wording of the LXX itself must be made accessible, if possible. This is what Alfred Rahlfs and Rudolf Smend tackled with the Göttingen Septuagint Enterprise (founded in 1908, expired in 2015). About two thirds of the Bible books appeared in this LXX edition.

More recent Bible translations, such as the German Catholic Einheitsübersetzung, sometimes resort to readings of the LXX to correct or interpret a distorted or unclear Hebrew text or to render it as a more original Hebrew text (for example, in 1 Sam 1:9 EU). Often, unique and nowhere else attested vocabulary (hapax legomena) can only be translated with the help of the LXX, since ancient Greek offers a larger vocabulary and more possibilities for comparison than ancient Hebrew.

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Secondary literature


  1. Septuagint
  2. Septuaginta
  3. ^ a b The canon of the original Old Greek LXX is disputed. This table reflects the canon of the Old Testament as used currently in Eastern Orthodoxy.
  4. ^ a b Not in the Eastern Orthodox canon, but originally included in the LXX.[49]
  5. Die Oden waren zuerst im Codex Alexandrinus (5. Jahrhundert), Codex Veronensis (Psalter, 6. Jahrhundert) und Codex Turicensis (7. Jahrhundert); ab dem 10. Jahrhundert in den meisten griechischen Psaltern enthalten. Mit zwei Ausnahmen (darunter das Gebet des Manasse) handelt es sich um Gesänge aus anderen Bibelteilen. Für liturgische Zwecke wurden sie am Ende des Psalters eingefügt.[*]
  6. a b c d e f g Cousin Hugues (1992) La Biblia Griega: Los Setenta. Estella: Verbo Divino.
  7. Henri-Charles Puech (Ed.), Las religiones en el mundo mediterráneo y en el Oriente Próximo I: Formación de las religiones universales y de salvación, Historia de las Religiones Siglo XXI, Vol. 5, Madrid, 1985 (4.ª ed.), pág. 180.
  8. KELLY, John Norman Davidson; Early Christian Doctrines; Pág. 53; Continuum; Londres, Inglaterra, 1958; ISBN 0-8264-5252-3.
  9. a b Eugene Ulrich. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible
  10. ^ lettera omicron seguita da un apice
  11. ^ La dinastia dei Tolomei, l'ultima a regnare sull'Egitto indipendente fino alla conquista romana, era di origini greco-macedoni e la loro corte, quindi, di cultura e lingua greca.

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