The Septuagint (LXX) is the name commonly given in the West to the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). It is an important source for biblical studies (Old and New Testament), to make a distinctive contribution to the history of biblical interpretation, and to be of considerable interest for the understanding of the early development of both Judaism and Christianity.^[1]^


The Septuagint, the Greek Bible, represents the first known attempt to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into an Indo-European language. Its name is derived from the Latin septu?gint? meaning "The Seventy," hence the abbreviation LXX. "The Seventy" originates from a legendary account in the Letter of Aristeas of how seventy-two Jewish scholars (six scribes from each of the twelve tribes) were asked by the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus in the 3rd century BC to translate the Torah for inclusion in the Library of Alexandria. The names "Septuagint" and "LXX" are of later Latin origin and are not used in Greek. The usual Greek name for the translation is kata tous ebdomekonta meaning "according to the seventy." From the second century AD onward, the Greek Septuagint itself needed to be translated for readers who did not know Greek. The earliest of these translations are the Old Latin version from North Africa and Italy, and the Coptic versions from Egypt.^[1]^


The Septuagint consists of Greek versions of all the books of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Jewish Tanakh and the Christian Old Testament) and a number of Greek apocryphal (or deuterocanonical) works: the additions to Esther, Jeremiah and Daniel, 1-4 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, I Esdras, Wisdom, Sirach and the Psalms of Solomon. These apocryphal and pseudepigraphical books, although Jewish in origin, owe their survival to their preservation in Christian biblical manuscripts—to their inclusion in the Septuagint. When the earliest Jewish sources refer to the Greek translations, they apparently mean only the five books attributed to Moses. Christian authors, however, from Justin in the second century AD and onwards, refer to the work of the Seventy as covering any or all of the books of the Bible in Greek which were accepted by Christians. The earliest comprehensive manuscripts, from the fourth and fifth centuries AD, indicate that the Septuagint embraces all of the books of the Hebrew canon.^[1]^

It provides our earliest evidence for the way in which the Hebrew Scriptures were understood by non-Hebrew speaking readers, both Jewish and Christian. It also contributes to our knowledge of Koine Greek. To study the Septuagint is to study entire Bibles. The Septuagint has been called a "phenomenon" both linguistically and culturally. It is revered as a remarkable achievement of Hellenistic Judaism, with subsequent impact on early Christianity, and is of major importance for biblical and other studies today. {{#if:Jennifer Dines, The Septuagint.^[1]^| – Jennifer Dines, The Septuagint.^[1]^{{#if:|, {{{3}}}}}{{#if:|, {{{4}}}}}


Dating and critical scholarship

Modern scholarship holds that the LXX was translated and composed over the course of the 3rd through 1st centuries BC, beginning with the Torah. The oldest manuscripts of the LXX include 2nd century BC fragments of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and first century BC fragments of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Minor Prophets. Relatively complete manuscripts of the LXX include the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus of the 4th century AD and the Codex Alexandrinus of the 5th century. These are the oldest surviving nearly-complete manuscripts of the Old Testament in any language; the oldest extant complete Hebrew texts date from around 1000 AD.^[2]^

The sources of the many differences between the Septuagint and the Masoretic text have long been debated by scholars. One extreme view was that the Septuagint provides a reasonably accurate record of an early Hebrew textual variant, now lost, that differed from the Masoretic text. The other extreme, favored by Jewish religious scholars, was that the differences were primarily due to intentional or accidental corruption of the Septuagint since its original translation from the Masoretic text. Modern scholars follow a path between these two views. Origen, a Christian theologian in Alexandria, completed a comprehensive synopsis of each ancient version side-by-side, but his work is now almost completely lost.

Use of the Septuagint

Jewish use

The Septuagint made it possible for Jews who had migrated from the Greek homelands (Greek diaspora) to read their Holy Scriptures in their own familiar language. It also provided an opportunity for non-Jews to study the Old Testament (cf. Acts 8:26).^[2]^^p.54^ Jewish attitudes toward translations of their scriptures developed with time. By the 2nd century BC, it was often necessary for the readings in the synagogues to be interpreted from Hebrew into Aramaic, producing the need for the targumim, though one Talmud writer forbids their use except for foreigners. A later Talmudic injunction by Rabbi Simon ben Gamaliel said that Greek was the only language into which the Torah could be accurately translated. The Septuagint found widespread use in the Hellenistic world, even in Jerusalem, which had become a rather cosmopolitan city. Both Philo and Josephus show the influence of the Septuagint in their citations of scripture, though both modified passages that did not agree with the Hebrew text.

Several factors finally led most Jews to abandon the LXX, including the fact that Greek scribes were not subject to the same rigid rules imposed on Hebrew scribes; that Christians favoured the LXX; and the gradual decline of the Greek language among Jews after most of them fled from the Greek-speaking Roman Empire into the Aramaic-speaking Persian Empire when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Instead, Hebrew/Aramaic manuscripts compiled by the Masoretes, or authoritative Aramaic translations such as that of Onkelos, of Rabbi Yonasan ben Uziel, and Targum Yerushalmi, were preferred.

Ethiopian Jews are the only Jewish community today who accept the Septuagint (minus Ecclesiasticus).

Christian use

The Early Christian Church, however, continued to use the LXX, since most of its earliest members were Greek-speaking and because the Messianic passages most clearly pointed to Jesus as the Christ in the Septuagint translation. When Jerome started preparation of the Vulgate translation of the Bible into Latin, he started with the Septuagint, checking it against the Hebrew Masoretic text for accuracy, but ended up translating most of the Old Testament afresh from the Hebrew. (Jerome based his Psalms off of the Septuagint, however.) However, all the other early Christian translations of the Old Testament were done from the Septuagint with no regard to the Hebrew text, which few of the translators understood.

The writers of the New Testament, also written in Greek, quoted from the Septuagint frequently, though not exclusively, when relating prophesies and history from the Old Testament. Even when Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and other translations appeared, the Septuagint continued to be used by the Greek-speaking portion of the Christian Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church still prefers to use LXX as the basis for translating the Old Testament into other languages, and the Greek Orthodox Church (which has no need for translation) continues to use it in its liturgy even today. Many modern Catholic translations of the Bible, while using the Masoretic text as their basis, employ the Septuagint to decide between different possible translations of the Hebrew text whenever the latter is unclear, corrupt, or ambiguous.

Language of the Septuagint

The Greek of the Septuagint shows many Semiticisms, or idioms and phrases based on Hebrew, and the grammatical phenomenon known as "attraction" is common there. Some parts of it have been described as "Hebrew in Greek words". However, other sections show an ignorance of Hebrew idiom, so that the literal translation provided makes little sense. The translation in the Pentateuch is very close to the Hebrew, while some other books, such as the book of Daniel show influence from the midrash. Ecclesiastes is near over-literal, while Isaiah is fairly loosely translated. This is cited as near-certain evidence that the translation was in fact made by several different translators.

The translators usually, but not always, employed one and the same Greek word for one Hebrew word whenever it occurs. Thus the Septuagint can be called a mostly concordant translation. However, like in most translations of any literary work, often more than one Hebrew word gets translated into one and the same Greek word, removing some nuances from the text.


  1. ? ^1.0^ ^1.1^ ^1.2^ ^1.3^ Jennifer Dines, The Septuagint. London: T&T Clark, 2004. ISBN 9780567084644
  2. ? ^2.0^ ^2.1^ Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995.


See also

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