Archive for the ‘Septuagint’ Category

When I was reading some of the early Greek Christian writers, like Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius and Athanasius, from the period from 100 to 400, I noticed something strange: they misquote the Bible, and in a way that favours the Christian position over the Jewish one.

This was strange because they did not otherwise seem so dishonest. Then I noticed that Justin Martyr and Clement both misquoted Psalms 96:5 in just the same way, replacing “idols” with “demons” (daimones in the Greek). That was odd because although demons are being cast out right and left in the New Testament, almost nothing is said of them in the Old Testament.

What is going on?

As it turns out, they were faithfully quoting the Septuagint, the main Greek translation of the Old Testament in those day. The Septuagint was translated by Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria in the centuries before Christ, back in the days of the Ptolemies. When Christianity arrived on the scene, the Septuagint was disowned by the Jews, but it is still, to this day, used by  Eastern Orthodox Christians to translate the Bible.

Not just that, but the Septuagint also happens to be what the New Testament mainly quotes. Jesus and Paul rarely quote what we know as the Hebrew Bible. Instead they quote the Septuagint, the Greek Bible that most people knew. In Palestine in those days people knew Aramaic and Greek and maybe some Latin, but only scholars knew Hebrew.

But why are the Hebew and Greek Bibles so different, why idols instead of demons? Did the Septuagint translators just make a mess of it?

In the centuries before Christ there was more than just one Hebrew Bible. We know this from the Dead Sea scrolls. There were three main ones: the Masoretic, the Samaritan (for the first five books only) and the version from which the Septuagint was translated.

Later, after the rise of Christianity, the Masoretic text became the main Bible for the  Jews and it is what present-day Protestant and Catholic Bibles translate. So what we read in our Old Testaments is not quite what Paul and Jesus read. For them Psalm 96 spoke of demons, not idols. And the Christ that Isaiah foretold in verse 7:14 of his book was to be born of a virgin (parthenos), and not just of a young girl (ha’almah).

Another strange fact: the earliest near-complete manuscripts of the Bible are not the Hebrew Masoretic texts of the Jews, but the Greek Septuagints of the Christians! The translations made by an offshoot of Judaism are older than anything we have in Hebrew! The reason for this is that Greek and Christianity were far more common than Hebrew or Judaism, and so created far more copies, more of which last down to our day.

Saint Jerome, when he translated the Bible into Latin, started with the Septuagint, but later switched to “the Hebrew truth”. A practice the West has followed ever since. It is still unclear to me why he switched and which Hebrew text he was using….

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