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Greek literature can be very helpful in Biblical studies, especially the NT. Most of the great literature is written in Classical Greek which is more formal than Koine Greek.

Homer is credited with composing the Iliad and the Odyssey probably some time before 700 BC (Oxford Classical Dictionary-OCD1949, 435). Tradition tells us that Homer was a blind bard who probably sang lays for the courts of princes for a living.

Hesiod is said by Herodotus to be contemporary with Homer, but was probably later in the 5th or 4th centuries BC. Hesiod with his father and brother, Perses migrated from Aeolis to Greece at Ascra. Hesiod wrote Work of Days in which he addresses his brother about his dispute and that every man should work for a living. He tells of the Five Ages of the World, and then gives advise on farming. Another important work by Hesiod is the Theogony which tells of the creation of the world and gods from Chaos and Gaea by procreation.

Plato lived from about 429 to 347 BC. He wrote 25 dialogues and the Apology. Most important for this study in Genesis one is Plato’s dialogue called Timaeus which is about natural science. Plato describes how the creator made the world from a single spherical living thing which has body and soul made after the ideal model (OCD, 699).

Aristotle lived from about 384 to 322 BC. His father was a physician. At age 17 he entered Plato’s school and stayed unto Plato was succeeded by Speusippus. Later he tutored Alexander the Great and founded his own school. Two of the most important works by Aristotle for our studies are On the Heavens (De Caelo) and Meteorology (Meteorologica).


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 are sent to translate the Torah into Greek which they did in 72 days (Charlesworth 1985, 7-34). Search the LXX and other translations. LXX resources online. See also this excellent web site: The Septuagint  and Computer Assisted Tools for Septuagint/Scriptural Study.

There are a number of differences in the LXX from the 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 (See Appendix A). 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 in 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.

New Testament

The New Testament (NT) when it quotes the OT, quotes mostly from the LXX which was the Bible of the NT church. From Alexander the Great onward Classical Greek became the most important language. At the time of the NT an easier "Koine" Greek was spoken which the NT is written. Before other ancient Greek manuscripts were discovered, it was thought that the NT was written in a special Holy Ghost language. The gospel of Matthew was most likely originally written in Aramaic then translated back into Greek. This would explain the similarities and differences it has with the other gospels. See web site New Testament Greek for resources.

There are about 5,000 Greek manuscripts which contain part or all of the NT. There are three different kinds of manuscripts: (1) papyri, (2) uncials (written in large capital Greek letters), and (3) minuscules (written in small Greek letters). There are also three different text types: (1) Western, (2) Caesarean, and (3) Byzantine.

The two most important collections of papyri were obtained by Mr. Chester Beatty of London in 1930-31 and by Mr. Martin Bodmer of Geneva in 1955-56. The oldest know papyrus fragment of the NT is p52 which contains John 18:31-33, 37-38. It was obtained by Bernard Grenfell in Egypt around 1920. It was discovered by C.H. Roberts in 1934 among other papyri in the John Rylands Library at Manchester (Metzger 1964, 38).

The two most important uncials are a and B. A is also know as codex Sinaiticus since it was discovered at the monastery of St. Catharine on Mount Sinai by Dr. Constantin von Tischendorf in 1844. B is also called codex Vaticanus because it is housed in the great Vatican Library at Rome. Both date to about the 4th century AD. Another important discovery were Greek papyri at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt.

Codex Sinaiticus

In 1844 Konstantin von Tischendorf discovered 43 leaves of a fourth-century Greek manuscript of the Old Testament in a wastebasket in Saint Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. He returned in 1859 to find another fourth-century Greek manuscript that contained the only complete New Testament in uncial now called Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph). It is now in the British Museum. In 1975 eight more pages of Genesis were found inside one of the monastery's wall. Some scholars think Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were among the 50 copies that Emperor Constantine commissioned Eusebius to have

Codex Vaticanus

Another important uncial is called codex Vaticanus, or B because it is housed in the great Vatican Library at Rome. It also dates to about the 4th century AD. Not until 1889-90 was a photographic facsimile made.

Oxyrhynchus Papyri

In 1897 B.P. Grenfell, Hunt and Hogarth started excavating for papyri in Egypt. At Oxyrhynchus they dug for 13 seasons to 1909. They discovered thousands of Greek texts including fragments of the Gospels, Acts, Pauline Epistles, General Epistles, and Revelation. It was the village dumps where they found basketfuls of papyri. So far 3875 documents  have been published in the series entitled Oxyrhynchus Papyri.

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