the First Week of Advent
Click here to learn more!
Septuagint, Talmudic Notices Concerning the
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
It is strange that the writers of the art. SEPTUAGINT in Smith's Dict. of the Bible and in Kitto's Cyclop. should not have mentioned the notices we find concerning that version in the Talmud and other Jewish writings. It is true that in Kitto we find it stated, "It is spoken of in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds;" but where, and what, the reader is at loss to see. Yet these notices are very important, since they throw a great deal of light upon some points which have vexed the interpreters. The oldest notice is that contained in the Mechilta, a Midrashic commentary on Exodus (comp. the art. MIDRASH), where Exodus 12:40 is thus cited: גושן ל וגו אשר ישבו במצרים ובארוֹ כנען ובארוֹ, and where we read, "And this is one of those things which they wrote to king Ptolemy. In the same manner they wrote, Genesis 1:1, אלהים ברא בראשית; Genesis 1:26, אעשה אדם בצלם ובדמות; Genesis 1:27 (comp. Genesis 5:2), ונקוביו; Genesis 5:2, ביום הששי ויכל אלהים; Genesis 11:7, ואבלה ארדה, 40; Genesis 18:12, בֹקרוביה; Genesis 49:6, אבום (instead of שור ); Exodus 4:20, נושא אדם (for החמר ); Numbers 16:15, חמוד; Deuteronomy 4:19 (they added) להאיר; Deuteronomy 17:3, לאומות לעבדם; and they wrote, Leviticus 11:6, and Deuteronomy 14:7, צעירת הרגלים (for הארנבת )." From this passage we can infer that, besides the changes enumerated here, others are not to be excluded; besides, it only speaks in general of those who wrote the Bible for Ptolemy, and neither the number seventy nor seventy-two writers or translators is mentioned. It is different with the relation given in the Jerus. Talmud, M.egilla, 1, 9.
Here the number of changes made is given as thirteen (י ג רבי שינו חכמים ): the passages are the same as given in the Mechilta, with some very slight changes. Thus Genesis 1:27 (comp. Genesis 5:2) we read ונקביו; Genesis 49:6, שור (instead of איש ); Exodus 12:40, ובכל הארצות במצרים; in Leviticus 11:6 (Deuteronomy 14:7) the explanation of the change is given that the name of Ptolemy's mother was ארנתא . The number of the translators is also not given. The Babylonian Talmud, Megilla, 9 a, however, mentions the number of elders as seventy-two, who were put in seventy-two different cells without knowing for what purpose. Then king Ptolemy went to each of these and said to him, "Write for me the law of Moses, your teacher." God disposed it so that they all translated alike. The changes mentioned here are given without any number; but they are almost the same as the above, with slight modifications. Genesis 1:27 (comp. Genesis 5:2), ונקבה is not changed, but בראם is changed into בראו; Genesis 49:6 agrees with the Jerusalem Talmud; and so, likewise, Exodus 12:40. We find, as an addition, that in Exodus 24:5; Exodus 24:11, זאטוטי is written for נערי and אצילי; in Deuteronomy 17:3, we have the addition לעבדם . without לאומות; and to Leviticus 11:6 (Deuteronomy 14:7) a similar explanation is given as in the Jerusalem Talmud, that the name of Ptolemy's wife was ארנבת; and hence they thought that it would be regarded as a mockery, on the side of the Jews, should they have mentioned her name (as that of an unclean animal) in the law. In the Midrashim only single passages are mentioned thus Genesis 1:27 in Bereshith Rabba;. ch. 8, as Mechilta, with which also agrees Genesis 2:2 in ch. 10, Genesis 11:7 with ch. 38; Genesis 18:12 with ch. 48; 49, 6 with ch. 98, where, as in Mechilta, we find אבוס . All these passages are accompanied with the remark that here is one of the changes made for Ptolemy, without giving their number In Shemnoth Rabba, ch. 5 on Exodus 4:20, it is stated that this is one of the eighteen changes made for Ptolemy, without stating wherein these changes consist. In Bereshith Rabba, ch. 63 on Exodus 12:40, in order to show that Abraham was already called "Israel," the verse is quoted, "It is an old matter; the dwelling of the Israelites in Egypt, Canaan, and Goshen," etc. (and thus Abraham's stay in Egypt and Canaan is numbered among the 430 years). In the treatise Sepher Torah, 1, 8, 9, seventy elders are mentioned who wrote the law, and the alterations made are given as thirteen. In the treatise Sopherim, 1, 7, 8, we also read of thirteen alterations made by the translators. In examining more minutely these changes we shall find the following:
1. Genesis 1:1-3, according to the structure of the language and the most ancient traditions still preserved by Rashi and Aben-Ezra, is to be rendered "In the beginning when God created." But as this supposes the existence of primordial waters and of a chaotic mass, which, by the draining of the waters on the second day, became the formed earth, it was thought necessary, in translating the Bible into Greek, and in opposition to the Greek cosmogony and polytheism, to lay great stress on the absolute unity of God and on the absolute creation from nothing. Hence the word ראשית had to be made independent of the following verses, and to be rendered in the beginning, ἐν ἀρχῇ
ἐποιησεν ὁ Θεός , instead of "in the beginning when." This change the Talmud indicates by the pregnant construction אלהים ברא בראשית, thus placing בראשית last, and precluding every other translation than God created in the beginning (Geiger, Urschrift, p. 344, etc.).
2. Genesis 1:26, where we read "Let us make man in our Image (בצלמנו ), after our likeness (כדמותנו )," has been altered into "I will make man in the image (בצלם ), and in the likeness (ובדמות )," to remove the appearance of polytheism.
3. Genesis 2:2, where "And he ended on the seventh (השביעי ) day" has been changed into (הששי ) the sixth day, to avoid the apparent contradiction, since God did not work on the seventh day. This alteration is still to be found in our text of the Sept., and also in the Samaritan version (שתיתה ), and in the Syriac (שתיתיא ).
4. Genesis 5:2 (Genesis 1:27), where "Male and female created he them (בראם ברא אתם ) has been altered into created he him (בְרָאו ), to remove the apparent contradiction in the passage where the man and woman are spoken of as having been created together or simultaneously.
5. Genesis 11:7, for the same reason as in 2, the words "Let us go down, and let us confound" ( רדה ונבלה ) have been changed into "I will go down and I will confound" (ואבלה אררה
6. Genesis 18:12, "After my decay I had again pleasure" has been altered into (אהרי בַּלְתַּי היתה לי עֲדֶנָה, Οὔπω μέν μοι γέγονεν του νυν ), after it had been thus with me hitherto, to avoid the offensive application to the distinguished mother of Israel of the expression בָּלָה, which is used for rotten old garments (comp. Geiger, Urschrift, p. 45 sq.).
7. Genesis 49:6, "In their anger they slew a man, and in their self will they hamstrung an ox," has been altered into "In their anger they slew an ox (שוֹר ), and in their self will they hamstrung a fatted bull (אָבוּס )," to do away with the wholesale slaughter of men.
8. Exodus 4:20, the word חמור, ass, is altered into ὑποζύγια , beasts of burden, because of the reluctance which the translators had to mention the name of this beast. This alteration is still preserved in our text of the Sept.
9. In Exodus 12:40, and all other lands, i.e. "the land of Canaan," has been added in order to remove the apparent contradiction, since the Israelites did not sojourn four hundred and thirty years in Egypt.
10. Exodus 24:5; Exodus 24:11, נערי and אצילי are changed into זעטוטי (=ζητητής; i.e. worthy, or searchers after wisdom), because it was not thought becoming to say that at his great revelation boys or youths (נערים ) were brought as sacrifices.
11. In Leviticus 11:6 and Deuteronomy 14:7, ארנבת =λαγός, a hare, has been altered into χοιρογρούλλος, porcupine or hedgehog, to avoid giving offense to the Ptolemy family, whose name was Lagos.
12. Numbers 16:15, חמר, ass, was changed into ἐπιθύμημα=חמד, a desirable thing, for the same reason as given under 8. This alteration is still in our text of the Sept.
13. Deuteronomy 4:19, the word להאיר =διακοσμέω to shine, has been inserted so as to avoid the idolatry of the heathen being ascribed to God.
14. Deuteronomy 17:3, where we read that God had not commanded the Israelites to worship other gods (in accordance with Deuteronomy 4:19), has been altered to (לאומות לעבד אשר לא צויתי ) which I have forbidden the nations to worship, to preclude the possibility of ascribing the origin of idolatry to the God of Israel.
This much for the alterations. But there are two other very important notices, viz. "that the day on which the translation of the Bible into Greek was made was regarded as a great calamity equal to that of the worship of the golden calf" (Sopherim, 1, 7); and "the day on which it was accomplished was believed to have been the beginning of a preternatural darkness of three days' duration over the whole world, and was commemorated as a day of fasting and humiliation" (comp Kuenen, The Religion of Israel, 3, 214-216). The Samaritans took the same view on account of their hatred of the Jewish translation (comp. Herzfeld, Geschichte, 3, 537). Says dean Stanley, "It needs but slight evidence to convince us that such a feeling, more or less widely spread, must have existed. It is the same instinct which to this hour makes it a sin, if not an impossibility. in the eyes of a devout Mussulman, to translate the Koran; which in the Christian Church assailed Jerome with the coarsest vituperation for venturing on a Latin version which differed from the Greek; which at the Reformation regarded it as a heresy to translate the Latin Scriptures into the languages of modern Europe; and which, in England, has in our own days regarded it in the English Church as a dangerous innovation to revise the Authorized Version of the 17th century, or in the Roman Church to correct the barbarous dialect of the Douay translation of the Vulgate, or to admit of any errors in the text or in the rendering of the Vulgate itself. In one and all of these cases the reluctance has sprung from the same tenacious adherence to ancient and sacred forms — from the same unwillingness to admit of the dislodgment even of the most flagrant inaccuracies when once familiarized by established use. But in almost all these cases, except, perhaps, the Koran, this sentiment has been compelled to yield to the more generous desire of arriving at the hidden meaning of sacred truth, and of making that truth more widely known. So it was, in the most eminent degree, in the case of the Septuagint" (Jewish Church, 3, 286 sq.).
While we agree in the main with the learned dean, yet in the case of the Sept. the explanation of the above given Talmudic statement must be sought for somewhere else. It is known that most of the early controversies with the Jews were conducted in the Greek language, and on the common ground of the faithfulness of the Sept. version, which was quoted alike on both sides. And so it continued to be respected during the age of the writers of the New Test. and the 1st century of the Christian era. As, however, the version grew into use among Christians, it gradually lost the confidence of the Jews, especially when it was urged against them by the Christians. The first signs of this appear in the works of Justin Martyr, in the 2d century. His Dialogue with Trypho the Jew professes to be the account of a discussion which actually took place, and Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. 4, 18) places the scene of it at Ephesus. The Dialogue abounds in citations from the Old Test.; and even such passages are quoted as are not to be found in the Hebrew. The latter circumstance made Justin charge the Jews with removing especially four prophecies of Christ from their copies.
The first of these is: "And Ezra said unto the people, This passover is our Savior and our refuge; and if ye consider and it enter into your heart that we shall, by a figure (ἐνσημείῳ , i.e. the cross), afflict him — and afterwards hope in him, this place shall not be made desolate to all time, saith the Lord God of Hosts. But if ye believe him not, and hear not his preaching, ye shall become a spoil for the Gentiles" (Dial. c. 72). This passage, which is also quoted by Lactantius (Instit. Divin. 4, c. 18), is not to be found in the book of Ezra, and may probably have been interpolated according to the Apocryphal Ezra (6:21) into the copies of the Sept. by some Christian. The second (from Jeremiah 11:19) had, he said, been but recently erased from certain copies, and was retained in others which were preserved in the synagogues. This, however, is found entire in all our present copies. The third passage is said to be taken also from Jeremiah: "And the Lord God remembered his dead, who were fallen asleep in the dust of their tombs, and descended to them to declare unto them the good tidings of his salvation." These words are remarkable from their resemblance to those of 1 Peter 4:6 (νεκροῖς εὐηγγελίσθη. The passage of Jeremiah, as alleged by Justin Martyr, read κατέβη πρός αὐτοὺς εὐαγγελίσασθαι ). "If a genuine passage," says Churton, "the apostle's words seem to contain an allusion to them as well as to the doctrine enunciated in the preceding chapter of his epistle. If interpolated by a Christian convert from some traditional saying of the prophet, or adapted from Peter's words, it seems that the person who introduced them into the text of the Sept. took the words of the apostle in their literal sense, and not as later commentators have conjectured, that the persons called νεκροί were alive at the time of the preaching." The fourth and last passage is from Psalms 96:10, "Declare among the heathen that the Lord hath reigned from the tree" (Dial. c. 73). Out of this passage the Jews are accused of having erased the last words, ἀπὸ τοῦ ξύλου. The words ἀπὸ τοῦ ξύλου are quoted again by Justin Martyr in his Apology; they are also quoted by Tertullian (Adv. Jud. c. 10), Ambrose, Augustine, Leo, Gregory, and others. Yet the words occur in no Greek or Hebrew MS., and the probability is that they were added by some Christian. Under these circumstances we can very well understand the feeling of the Jews towards a version which brought such accusations against them; and this, it seems, gives us the real clue to the Talmudic passage which regarded the day of the translation of the Bible into Greek as a great calamity. See Frankel, Vorstudien zur Septuaginta, p. 25 sq.; Geiger, Urschrift der Bibel, p. 439 sq.; Masechet Soferim (ed. Mü ller, Leips. 1878), p. 12 sq.; Ginsburg, Introduction to the Rabbinic Bible, p. 70 sq.; Churton, The Influence of the Septuagint Version, p. 41 sq.; Reinke, Beiträ ge zur Erklä rung des Alten Testaments, 7, 292 sq.; Friedlander, Patristische und talmudische Studien (Vienna, 1878), p. 133 sq. (B.P.)
These files are public domain.
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Septuagint, Talmudic Notices Concerning the'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​s/septuagint-talmudic-notices-concerning-the.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.