[St. Pachomius Library]

Septuagint, or Version of the Seventy,
and other Greek versions of the Old Testament

(Septuagint is abbreviated LXX)

The LXX is a Greek translation of the Jewish Bible in widespread use by the I Century and quoted by New Testament writers. It differs in many ways from the Hebrew Masoretic text (i.e. the translators used a Hebrew original different from the one used by modern Jews.) The Dead Sea Scrolls show that Masoretic and non-Masoretic Hebrew versions of the Scriptures co-existed before the destruction of Jerusalem changed Judaism from a Temple-based to a book-based religion.

The name "Septuagint" refers to the committee of seventy (Latin septuaginte) translators mentioned by Aristeas.

The Latin Vulgate Bible is based on a combination of Masoretic and LXX readings, but the Slavonic, Coptic, and Ethiopic versions are thought to come from the Septuagint alone. Apparently in response to its use by Christians, the LXX came under heavy fire in Jewish circles and was largely abandoned in favour of Hebrew or Syriac versions. There were a few Jewish and (curiously) Ebionite attempts to create new translations; see below.

The LXX is in some sense the "official" Orthodox Old Testament, but from the time of Origen's Hexapla until recently there seems to have been little effort to actually publish a standardized version. Ancient manuscripts and fragments differ so much from each other and from the readings in the Church's lectionary that this is something of a problem. The first "official" (hierarchically approved) printed editions, which appeared in Russia and later in Greece in the XIX Century, were essentially reprints of Western scholarly texts based on the Codex Alexandrinus and other ancient manuscripts rather than on the liturgical practice of the Church. Even now, it is not clear to us that there is a universally accepted Orthodox version based on liturgical usage.

The best English translation is very likely Michael Asser's, below. Surprisingly, this translation does not seem to be very well-known. The most widely available version is Brenton's, which, apart from any other defects, unaccountable substitutes Masoretic readings of words for the original Greek, sometimes without even a footnote. Holy Transfiguration Monastery has published a very careful translation of the Psalter, but not, apparently, of the Septuagint as a whole. Read any translation with caution, and if possible compare it to the Greek, before drawing any conclusions.

Norman Hugh Redington


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