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The oldest and most important translation of the Hebrew Old Testament (OT) is the Septuagint (LXX). It translated the Hebrew into Greek in the third century BC in Alexandria, Egypt. The Letter to Aristide tells the story how the Egyptian king Ptolemy II (285-247 BC) ordered his librarian, Demetrius to collect all the books of the world. Demetrius thought there should be a Greek translation of the Torah so 72 Jews, six from each tribe, were sent to translate the Torah into Greek which they did in 72 days (Charlesworth 1985, 7-34).
There are a number of differences in the LXX from the Masoretic Text (MT), most noticeable is the Book of Jeremiah where the LXX is a third shorter. The chronology in Genesis is also very different than the MT. (Finegan 1998, 195; Larsson 1983, 401-409). Larsson believes that the translators of the LXX tried to harmonize the Biblical chronology with the Egyptian chronology of Manetho by adding 100 years to the patriarchs ages to push back the time of the flood before the first Egyptian dynasty because there is no record of a great flood. Early Christian chronologists emphasized the perfect agreement of Manetho with the LXX (Larsson, 403-4). It is interesting to see how they understood Genesis by the way they translated the text.
There several other important Greek translations that came in the 2nd century AD and later. There is Aquila's (126 AD) translation of the OT into Greek which was upheld by the Jews to counteract the Christian's use and interpretation of the LXX. It is a very literal translation which can be helpful in textual criticism. Aquila might be identified with Onqelos who complied the Targum on the Pentateuch. Symmachus' translation is known for its literary elegance, just the opposite of Aquila's harsh literalness. Theodotion's translation of the OT into Greek is half way between these two extremes. He is known for his transliterations instead of translating. Irenaeus states that Theodotion was an Ephesian and a proselyte to Judaism. Theodotion's translation of Daniel supplanted the original LXX version which was quite different. The Book of Hebrews (11:33=Daniel 6:23) and Revelation both agree with Theodotion's translation (Origen's Hexapla contained these translations). It is also interesting to compare the LXX with New Testament quotations of Old Testament.
Websites about the Septuagint:
- Search the LXX and other translations
- Septuagint: Online Resources.
- Theological and Academic Resources for the Study of the Septuagint and Old Greek Versions
- Computer Assisted Tools for Septuagint/Scriptural Study