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published: 7/3/13

The Septuagint



What is the Septuagint?

An important text in Judaism and Christianity, the Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (i.e. the Christian “Old Testament”), which was written approximately 200 to 300 years before Jesus Christ in Egypt.

The existence of the translation speaks to the influence of Greek culture by means of Hellenization, via Alexander the Great, upon the ancient Israelites. The word “septuagint” is Latin and means “translation of 70 [interpreters].” The translation wasn’t referred to as “the Septuagint” until approximately 400 years after Christ. In literature the Septuagint is often abbreviated “LXX,” which is the Roman numeral 70.






What is the History of the Septuagint?

Many scholars believe that there is an abundance of legend that has grown up around the story of how the Septuagint originated. The often-told story is that the Egyptian king Ptolemy II subsidized the translation the Torah (i.e. the five books of Moses) for Jews in Egypt who were more familiar with the Greek language than the Hebrew one.

Some legends say 70 scholars worked on the translation, others say it was 72. Philo of Alexandria reported that six scholars were chosen from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, which is also believed to be mythological. Ptolemy  II is said to have put each scholar in his own private chamber and instructed each to translate the Torah, which they each did with identical results.

After the Torah was translated, the rest of the Hebrew Bible was completed in future generations. It is believed that the Septuagint was completed in 132 BC.

The Septuagint in Judaism

The use of the Septuagint in Judaism was short-lived. Many Jews at the time came to disregard the translation by the first few centuries after Christ. In part this was because of the Septuagint’s popularity with early Christians, who relied on it because it was written in Greek, not unfamiliar Hebrew.

Yet even if the early Christians hadn’t relied upon it, it was unlikely the Septuagint would have become a primary document for Jews because it wasn’t written in their cherished tongue.

The Septuagint in Christianity

The use of the Septuagint in early Christianity was extensive. Not only was Greek the primary language of the Roman Empire, which provided the political and culture background of the early church, it was the tongue of Gentiles who the Apostle Paul, among others, reached out to as a key part of their evangelistic ministry.

For example when writers of the New Testament quote the Hebrew Bible, or quote Jesus quoting the Hebrew Bible, they often reference the Septuagint, not the original Hebrew. This suggests that the writers of the New Testament believed the Septuagint accurately reflected the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible and even considered it as authoritative as the original.

The Septuagint Today

Today the Septuagint is used in different ways and mostly by Christians. Catholics and Protestants used the translation for New Testament studies since it’s quoted or alluded to so frequently by Paul and other writers. It’s also utilized for language studies since the Septuagint and the New Testament were both written in Koine Greek.

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the Septuagint is the text used to translate the Hebrew Bible into other languages. They also use it liturgically, that is, in corporate worship settings.

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