Ancient Versions of the Old Testament.
In the present chapter only those versions of the Old Testament are noticed which were made independently of the New. Versions of the whole Bible, made in the interest of Christianity, are considered in the following part.


1. This is worthy of special notice as the oldest existing version of the holy Scriptures, or any part of them, in any language; and also as the version which exerted a very large influence on the language and style of the New Testament; for it was extensively used in our Lord's day not only in Egypt, where it originated, and in the Roman provinces generally, but also in Palestine; and the quotations in the New Testament are made more commonly from it than from the Hebrew.

2. The Jewish account of its origin, first noticed briefly by Aristobulus, a Jew (as quoted by Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius), then given at great length in a letter which professes to have been written by one Aristeas, a heathen and a special friend of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, and the main part of which Josephus has copied (Antiq.12.2), is for substance as follows: Ptolemy Philadelphus (who reigned from B.C.285 to 247), at the suggestion of his librarian Demetrius Phalereus, after having first liberated all the Jewish captives found in his kingdom, sent an embassy with costly gifts to Eleazar the high priest at Jerusalem, requesting that he would send him chosen men, six from each of the twelve tribes, with a copy of the Jewish law, that it might be interpreted from the Hebrew into the Greek and laid up in the royal library at Alexandria. Eleazar accordingly sent the seventy-two elders with a copy of the laws written on parchments in letters of gold, who were received by the king with high honors, sumptuously feasted, and afterwards lodged in a palace on an island (apparently Pharos in the harbor of Alexandria), where they completed their work in seventy-two days, and were then sent home with munificent gifts. The story that they were shut up in seventy-two separate cells (according to another legend two by two in thirty-six cells), where they had no communication with each other and yet produced as many versions agreeing with each other word for word, was a later embellishment designed (as indeed were all the legends respecting the origin of this version) to exalt its character in the apprehension of the people, and to gain for it an authority equal to that of the inspired original.

3. The letter ascribed to Aristeas is now generally admitted to be spurious. It purports to have been written by a heathen scholar, yet it bears throughout marks of a Jewish origin. It represents the translators as Jewish elders sent by the high priest from Jerusalem. Yet the version is acknowledged to be in the Alexandrine Greek dialect. For these and other reasons learned men ascribe its authorship to a Jew whose object was to exalt the merits of the Alexandrine version in the estimation of his nation. But we are not, for this reason, warranted to pronounce the whole account a pure fable, as many have done. We may well believe that the work was executed under the auspices of Ptolemy, and for the purpose of enriching his library. But we must believe that it was executed by Jews born in Egypt to whom the Greek language was vernacular, and probably from manuscripts of Egyptian origin. Thus much is manifest from the face of the version, that it was made by different men, and with different degrees of ability and fidelity.

The name Septuagint (Latin, Septuaginta), seventy, a round number for the more exact seventy-two, probably arose from this tradition of the execution of the work by seventy-two elders in seventy-two days. The story of the parchments sent from Jerusalem for the use of the translators (with the request that they might be returned with them) has been rejected on the ground that the text used by them differs too widely from the Palestinian text. See further on this subject in No.5, below. It has been further affirmed that Demetrius Phalereus did not belong to the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, but to that of his father Ptolemy Soter, the son having banished him from court in the beginning of his reign. For this reason some have proposed to assign the founding of the Alexandrian library to the father and not the son. But whatever be our judgment in respect to Demetrius and his relation to the two Ptolemies, the voice of history is decisive in favor of the son and not the father, as the patron of learning.

4. It has been a question whether the Hebrew Scriptures were translated at one time, or in successive portions. The tradition above considered speaks only of the law, or, in the plural, the laws. These might, perhaps, be understood as comprehensive terms for the whole Old Testament, but they probably mean the Pentateuch alone, in which both the Egyptian king and the Jews of his realm would feel a special interest. It is probable that the Pentateuch -- the Law in the proper sense of the term -- was first translated, and afterwards the remaining books. But how long a period of time was thus occupied cannot be determined. Respecting the incorporation into this version of the apocryphal book, see in the appendix to this Part, No.2.

When the translator of the Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), says in his prologue, in immediate connection with his residence and labors in Egypt, that "the law itself and the prophets, and the rest of the books have no small difference [as to force] when read in their own tongue," he plainly refers to the Septuagint version as complete in his day. He visited Egypt "under Euergetes." But to which of the two monarchs who bore that title he refers is uncertain. If to the former, it was between 246-221 B.C.; if to the latter, between 145-116 B.C.

5. The version varies so much in its different parts that it is not easy to give its character as a whole. It is agreed among biblical scholars that the translators of the Pentateuch excelled in ability and fidelity, according to the well-known judgment of Jerome -- "which [the books of Moses] we also acknowledge to agree more than the others with the Hebrew." Among the historical books the translations of Samuel and Kings are the most faulty. Those of the prophets are in general poor, especially that of Isaiah. That of Daniel was so faulty that the Christians in later times substituted for it the translation of Theodotion. See below, No.10. Among the poetical books that of Proverbs is the best. As a whole the Septuagint version cannot for a moment enter into competition with the Hebrew original. Yet, as the most ancient of versions and one which also represents a text much older than the Masoretic, its use is indispensable to every scholar who would study the Old Testament in the original language.

6. Independently of its critical value, the Septuagint must be regarded with deep interest from its close connection with the New Testament. In the days of Christ and his apostles it was known and read throughout the whole Roman empire by the Hellenists; that is, by those Jews and Jewish proselytes who had the Greek civilization and spoke the Greek language. As the Alexandrine Greek, in which this version was made, was itself pervaded throughout with the Hebrew spirit, and to a great extent also with Hebrew idioms and forms of thought, so was the language of the New Testament, in turn, moulded and shaped by the dialect of the Septuagint, nor can the former be successfully studied except in connection with the latter. Then again the greatest number of quotations in the New Testament from the Old is made from the Septuagint. According to Mr. Greenfield (quoted in Smith's Bible Dict., art. Septuagint) "the number of direct quotations from the Old Testament in the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles, may be estimated at three hundred and fifty, of which not more than fifty materially differ from the seventy. But the indirect verbal allusions would swell the number to a far greater amount." The discussion of the principles upon which the writers of the New Testament quote from the Old belongs to another part of this work. It may be briefly remarked here that they quote in a free spirit, not in that of servile adherence to the letter, aiming to give the substance of the sacred writers' thoughts, rather than an exactly literal rendering of the original word for word.

The prophecy of Isaiah, for example (6:9, 10), is six times quoted in the New Testament, wholly or in part, with very free variations of language. Matt.13:14, 15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28: 26, 27; Rom.11:8. From neither of these quotations, nor from all of them combined, could we draw a critical argument respecting either the Hebrew or Greek text of the passage quoted. Neither can we argue from the exact agreement of a quotation in the New Testament with the Septuagint where that differs from the Hebrew, that the Hebrew text has been corrupted. The New Testament writers are occupied with the spirit of the passages to which they refer, rather than with the letter.

7. The Hebrew text from which the Septuagint version was executed was unpointed and much older than the Masoretic text. Were the version more literal and faithful, and had its text come down to us in a purer form (see below, Chap.17, No.2), it would be of great service in settling the exact text of the original Hebrew. With its present character, and in the present condition of its text, it is of but comparatively small value in this respect. Yet its striking agreement with the text of the Samaritan Pentateuch (Ch.13, No.8) is a phenomenon worthy of special notice. Biblical scholars affirm that the two agree in more than a thousand places where they differ from the Hebrew. For the probable explanation of this see above, Ch.14, No.9.

The reader must be on his guard against the error of supposing that these more than a thousand variations from the Hebrew text are of such a nature as to affect seriously the system of doctrines and duties taught in the Pentateuch. They are rather of a critical and grammatical character, changes which leave the substance of revelation untouched. See on this point Ch.3. There is one striking agreement between the Samaritan text and that of the Septuagint in which many biblical scholars think that the true ancient reading has been preserved. It is that of Gen.4:8: "And Cain said to Abel his brother, Let us go out into the field. And it came to pass when they were in the field." etc.


8. In the beginning of Christianity the Septuagint enjoyed, as we have seen, a high reputation among the Jews; and as a natural consequence, among the Jewish converts also, as well as the Gentile Christians. To the great body of Gentile believers it was for the Old Testament the only source of knowledge, as they were ignorant of the Hebrew original. They studied it diligently, and used it efficiently against the unbelieving Jews. Hence there naturally arose in the minds of the latter a feeling of opposition to this version which became very bitter. They began to disparage its authority, and to accuse it of misrepresenting the Hebrew. The next step was to oppose to it another version made by Aquila, which was soon followed by two others, those of Theodotion and Symmachus.

9. Aquila is represented to have been a Jewish proselyte of Pontus, and to have lived in the second century. His version was slavishly literal, following the Hebrew idiom even where it is contrary to that of the Greek. For this very reason, not withstanding all the barbarisms thus introduced, the Jews highly valued it, calling it the Hebrew verity. All that remains of it to us is contained in the fragments of Origen's Hexapla. See below, No.12. Had we the whole work, its extremely literal character would give it great value in a critical point of view, as it would shed much light on the state of the Hebrew text when it was executed.

10. Theodotion was, according to Irenaeus, an Ephesian. Jerome calls him and Symmachus Ebionites, Judaizing heretics, and semi-Christians. He is supposed to have made his version in the last half of the second century. According to the testimony of the ancients, it had a close resemblance in character to the Septuagint. He seems to have had this version before him, and to have made a free use of it. Of the three later versions, that of Theodotion was most esteemed by the Christians, and they substituted his translation of the book of Daniel for that of the Seventy.

11. Symmachus, called by the church fathers an Ebionite, but by some a Samaritan, seems to have flourished not far from the close of the second century. His version was free, aiming to give the sense rather than the words. His idiom was Hellenistic, and in this respect resembled the Septuagint, from the author's familiarity with which, indeed, it probably took its complexion.

Of other ancient Greek versions discovered by Origen in his Eastern travels and made by unknown authors it is not necessary to speak.

12. The text of the Septuagint was never preserved so carefully as that of the Hebrew, and in the days of Origen it had fallen into great confusion. To meet the objections of the Jews, as well as to help believers in their study of the Old Testament, Origen undertook first the work called the Tetrapla (Greek, fourfold), which was followed by the Hexapla (Greek, sixfold). To prepare himself he spent twenty-eight years, travelling extensively and collecting materials. In the Tetrapla, the text of the Septuagint (corrected by manuscripts of itself), and those of Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus were arranged side by side in four parallel columns. In the Hexapla there were six columns -- (1) the Hebrew in Hebrew characters; (2) the Hebrew expressed in Greek letters; (3) Aquila; (4) Symmachus; (5) the Septuagint; (6) Theodotion. See Davidson's Bib. Crit., 1, p.203; Smith's Bib. Diet., 2, p.1202. In some books he used two other Greek versions, and occasionally even a third, giving in the first case eight, in the second, nine columns.

"The great work," says Davidson, "consisting of nearly fifty volumes; on which he had spent the best years of his life, does not seem to have been transcribed -- probably in consequence of its magnitude and the great expense necessarily attending a transcript. It lay unused as a whole fifty years after it was finished, till Eusebius and Pamphilus drew it forth from its concealment in Tyre, and placed it in the library of the latter in Caesarea. It is thought to have perished there when Caesarea was taken and plundered by the Saracens, A.D.653." Bib. Criticism, 1, p.206. Well did Origen merit by his vast researches and labors the epithet Adamantinus [Adamantine] bestowed on him by the ancients. Fragments of the Hexapla, consisting of extracts made from it by the ancients, have been collected and published in two folio volumes by Montfaucon, Paris, 1713, and reprinted by Bahrdt in two volumes octavo, Leipzig and Lubeck, 1769, 1770. It is the hope of biblical scholars that these may be enriched from the Nitrian manuscripts. See further, Chap.28, No.8.

For the four "Standard Text Editions" of the Septuagint Greek version, with the principal editions founded on them, the reader may consult the Bibliographical List appended to the fourth volume of Home's Introduction, edition of 1860.


13. The Chaldee word Targum means interpretation, and is applied to the translations or paraphrases of the Old Testament in the Chaldee language. When, after the captivity, the Chaldee had supplanted the Hebrew as the language of common life, it was natural that the Jews should desire to have their sacred writings in the language which was to them vernacular. Thus we account, in a natural way, for the origin of these Targums, of which there is a considerable number now extant differing widely in age as well as character. No one of them extends to the whole Old Testament.

The question has been raised whether the Targums have for their authors single individuals, or are the embodiment of traditional interpretations collected and revised by one or more persons. Many biblical scholars of the present day incline strongly to the latter view, which is not in itself improbable. But the decision of the question, in the case of each Targum, rests not on theory, but on the character of its contents, as ascertained by careful examination.

14. The first place in worth, and probably in time also, belongs to the Targum on the Pentateuch which bears the name of Onkelos. It is a literal and, upon the whole, an able and faithful version (not paraphrase) of the Hebrew text, written in good Aramaean, and approaching in style to the Chaldee parts of Daniel and Ezra. In those passages which describe God in language borrowed from human attributes (anthropomorphic, describing God in human forms, as having eyes, hands, etc.; anthropopathic, ascribing to God human affections, as repenting, grieving, etc.), the author is inclined to use paraphrases; thus: "And Jehovah smelled a sweet savor" (Gen.8:21) becomes in this Targum: "And Jehovah received the sacrifice with favor;" and "Jehovah went down to see" (Gen.11:5), "Jehovah revealed himself." So also strong expressions discreditable to the ancient patriarchs are softened, as: "Rachel took" instead of "Rachel stole." Gen.31:19. In the poetical passages, moreover, the Targum allows itself more liberty, and is consequently less satisfactory.

According to a Jewish tradition, Onkelos was a proselyte and nephew of the emperor Titus, so that he must have flourished about the time of the destruction of the second temple. But all the notices we have of his person are very uncertain. There is even ground for the suspicion that the above tradition respecting Onkelos relates, by a confusion of persons, to Aquila (Chaldee Akilas), the author of the Greek version already considered. In this case the real author of the Targum is unknown, and we can only say that it should not probably be assigned to a later date than the close of the second century.

15. Next in age and value is the Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Prophets; that is, according to the Jewish classification (Chap.13, No.4), Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve Minor Prophets. In the historical books, this Targum is in the main literal; but in the prophets (in the stricter sense of the term) paraphrastic and allegorical.

The Jewish tradition represents that Jonathan wrote the paraphrase of the prophets from the mouth of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi; a mere fable. Who was the real author cannot be determined with certainty, only that he lived after the so-called Onkelos.

16. There are two other Targums on the Pentateuch, one of them commonly known as the Targum of the Pseudo-Jonathan (because falsely ascribed to the author of the preceding Targum) and the Jerusalem Targum. The latter is of a fragmentary character; and its agreement with the corresponding passages of the former is so remarkable that it is generally considered as consisting of extracts taken from it with free variations. But according to Davidson (in Alexander's Kitto): "The Jerusalem Targum formed the basis of that of Jonathan; and its own basis was that of Onkelos. Jonathan used both his predecessors' paraphrases; the author of the Jerusalem Targum that of Onkelos alone." The style of Pseudo-Jonathan is barbarous, abounding in foreign words, with the introduction of many legends, fables, and ideas of a later age. He is assigned to the seventh century. Keil, Introduc. to Old Testament, Sec.189.

17. The Targums on the Hagiographa are all of late date. There is one on Psalms, Job, and Proverbs, the last tolerably accurate and free from legendary and paraphrastic additions; one on the five rolls -- Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Canticles; which is not a translation, but rather a commentary in the Talmudic style; two on Esther, one on Chronicles.

In the present connection, though not belonging properly to the Targums, may be named the Samaritan version of the Samaritan Pentateuch, printed with the originals in the Paris and London Polyglotts. It is a literal translation executed in the spirit of the Targum of Onkelos, and admitting the same class of variations from the letter of the original.


18. This is the oldest version made by Christians from the original Hebrew. The word Peshito signifies simple, indicating that it gives the simple meaning of the original, without paraphrastic and allegorical additions. It is upon the whole an able and faithful version. It often exhibits a resemblance to the Alexandrine version. We may readily suppose that the translator, though rendering from the original Hebrew, was familiar with the Septuagint, and that this exerted upon his work a certain degree of influence. The Peshito was the standard version for the Syriac Christians, being used alike by all parties; a fact which is naturally explained by its high antiquity. If it be of the same date as the New Testament Peshito, it may be placed not far from the close of the second century.

The Old Latin, and in connection with this, the Vulgate of Jerome, with some other ancient versions of the Old Testament, will be considered in connection with the New Testament.

chapter xv formation and history
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