Considered one of the most important Bible translations ever made, the Septuagint is a translation of the Hebrew OT into Greek. It is referred to in manuscripts as “according to the seventy” (“Septuagint” is Latin for “seventy”). “LXX” is often used in place of the word “Septuagint.”
The legend behind the “seventy” goes back to the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus at Alexandria (284-247 B.C.). This monarch allegedly sent an embassy to Jerusalem with a letter to Eleazar the high priest, requesting that six elders from each of the twelve tribes should be sent to Alexandria to develop a new translation of the Hebrew OT into the Greek language.
“The seventy-two duly arrived with a copy of the law written in letters of gold on rolls of skins. . . . . .The translators were provided with a satisfactory retreat on the island of Pharos, and Demetrius [Demetrius Phalerius, librarian of the famous library of Alexandria] exhorted them to accomplish the work of translation. . . . . .So they set to work, comparing their results, and making them agree. And whatever they agreed upon was suitably copied under the direction of Demetrius. . . . .In this way the transcription was completed in seventy-two days.” (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Vol. 5, p. 343).
The majority of biblical scholars agree that the Septuagint is a worthy translation of the Hebrew OT. For example, Dr. Neil Lightfoot in his book How We Got the Bible notes:
“Although there are numerous textual variations between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text, the great majority of these are minor. Often it is not mentioned how very much the Septuagint supports the Hebrew text. Yet even when the Septuagint differs and offers a better reading, nonetheless it never replaces the Hebrew as the standard form of the text. Because it is a translation, the Septuagint always remains secondary. Only with great care, then, can one speak of ‘the authority of the Septuagint’.” (p. 149)
Influences the Septuagint have had upon the Bible we use today (via the Latin Vulgate) include:
- dividing the OT into grouping of books–Law, History, Poetry, and Prophets
- giving names to the books of The Law–Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy
- subdividing some books–for example, 1 and 2 Samuel.
Additionally, the Septuagint holds special interest for Christians inasmuch as it was the Bible used by the early church; and its language prepared the way for evangelism in the Greek world.
- Our next article begins a discussion of Canonicity
- Return to our Introduction Post to see a list of all articles in this series.
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