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The Septuagint Vs. the Masoretic Text – Part I

The origin of the Hebrew language is shrouded in mystery. Jewish tradition as well as various Christian scholars throughout the ages believed that Hebrew was the original language of man. “When God created Adam, he spoke to him” (Genesis 2:16), indicating that God gave Adam a language and this language came from God himself. When we look at all the names of Adam's descendants, we find that all the names from Adam to Noah and his children are Hebrew names, meaning that their name has meaning in Hebrew.


For instance, Methuselah (Genesis 5:21) is Hebrew for "his death brings" (The flood occurred the year that he died). It is not until we come to Noah's grandchildren that we find names that are of a language other than Hebrew. For instance, the name Nimrod (Genesis 11:18), who was from Babylon/Sumer/Shinar and possibly the Tower of Babel, is a non-Hebrew name. According to the Biblical record of names, Adam and his descendants spoke Hebrew.” {1}


Whatever the language that Noah and his sons spoke, that was the one language that was spoken after the flood up until the time of the Tower of Babel. “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech”(Genesis 11:1). At Babel, God confused the language of the whole world and scattered them over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:9).

The family of the sons of Noah (Shem, Japeth, and Ham) is given in Genesis 10, “and by these the nations divided in the earth after the flood” (Genesis 10:32). These 70 descendants of Noah’s sons eventually became nations, so Genesis 10 is referred to as the Table of Nations. It is theorized by some scholars that God created 69 different languages at this time, with the existing language of Hebrew remaining with Shem’s descendants, namely Eber and his son Peleg. Genesis 10:25 says in the days of Peleg the earth was divided. Many theologians believe this verse is referring to the Tower of Babel incident.

THE ANCIENT HEBREW LANGUAGE

Written records documenting languages belonging to the Semitic family reach back to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. Hebrew is a member of a family of ancient languages known as the Northwest Semitic group. All of the languages in this group were similar and several of them developed related styles of script in the first millennium BC. However, none of these scripts are thought to have gone back as far as the time of the Exodus.


“Scholars believe that Hebrew is one of the oldest of these scripts. However, the fact that Old Hebrew is thought to have first emerged around 900 BC contributes to the thinking that the accounts in the first books of the Bible, like the exodus from Egypt, were passed down as oral traditions that became exaggerated and mixed with fiction before being written down centuries later. However, there is new evidence that indicates that Moses could have authored the Torah as an eyewitness account. A strong pattern of evidence is even pointing to the reality that the world’s oldest alphabet was a form of Hebrew invented by the people of Israel while they were in Egypt.


Some of the world’s oldest alphabetic inscriptions were found more than a century ago on the walls of ancient mines in the Sinai Peninsula that were dug by Egyptian slaves. Further investigation showed that the writing was a Semitic script and it was given the name proto-Sinaitic (proto meaning “first”). In time, about two dozen of these inscriptions using a Semitic alphabet were discovered – all recording short messages. The oldest was dated to Egypt’s Middle Kingdom period.


Where did this technology come from, and when exactly were these etchings made? There is no evidence of local populations near the mines in ancient times, so all the activity there is attributed to seasonal mining parties that came from Egypt. One clue pertaining to the development of this early script is that it borrowed symbols for the letters from Egyptian hieroglyphics. There are also many hieroglyphic inscriptions from the Egyptian excavation parties around the Sinai mines. However, new strictly phonetic meanings were given to the symbols in the alphabetic inscriptions.


There would have been no motive for Egyptians to create this Semitic script. So, it appears that the genius of a Semitic alphabet was invented by a Semitic person living in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom, who was familiar with Egyptian hieroglyphs – a writing system that was so complicated, only the elite in society could use it. The pattern is beginning to form.


A series of past Thinker Updates covered Douglas Petrovich’s thesis that Hebrew was the world’s oldest alphabet. He proposed several new letter identifications for these inscriptions that allowed him to read them as Hebrew messages. Egyptologist David Rohl has made different identifications for the words by using ideas from some of the previous scholars involved in this debate for the letter identifications and then using Rabbi Michael Shelomo Bar-Ron to read them as Hebrew. Each thinks the Israelites were responsible for the writing.” Excerpted from: Was Hebrew the First Alphabet in the World and Used by Moses? (patternsofevidence.com)


THE HEBREW TRANSLATED MASORETIC TEXT


“The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew and Aramaic text of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) in Rabbinic Judaism. Most Jews and Protestant Christians consider the Masoretic Text the authoritative Hebrew Bible. The Jews call it the Tanakh and Protestants (and Roman Catholics) call it the Old Testament. While it was written sometime between the seventh and tenth centuries AD, it was based on the meticulously preserved oral tradition and the best available manuscripts of the original Hebrew text.


About a millennium before the Masoretic Text was finished, rabbis began notating the original Hebrew with punctuation and additional letters to help readers correctly interpret the text. These notations were informed by the oral tradition. Initially, they only added consonants and minimal punctuation, but the system evolved over the centuries to address specific confusions.

The Masoretic Text was an answer to a problem that had been building in the Jewish community for centuries: biblical Hebrew was ambiguous, and most Jews didn’t know how to read it anymore. With no vowels, punctuation, or stress marks, the original Hebrew left a lot of room for interpretive errors. And as biblical Hebrew fell out of usage, the Scriptures became virtually inaccessible to the public. The Masoretes first came onto the scene in the sixth century, and they produced a more advanced system of punctuation and accents, building on previous scholarship to more precisely define how to read the text.


Scholars aren’t sure when exactly the Jewish canon was established, but it likely occurred sometime between the second century BC and the third century AD. The Torah (the first five books of the Bible) had always been considered authoritative and had been carefully copied and preserved. But the rest of the canon took longer to define, and so other books splintered off into multiple editions.

The Masoretic Text is traditionally divided into three groups of books: Torah (Teaching), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). This is why the Hebrew Bible is also known by the acronym, Tanakh: Ta (Torah), Na (Nevi’im), Kh (Ketuvim). The books of Masoretic Text look pretty different from most Christian Bibles. While there are 39 books in most Old Testaments, the Tanakh only has 24. Nobody added 15 extra books to the Bible though. The texts are just divided differently. The Jewish Masoretes combined numerous books and reduced the total number to 24. 1 and 2 Kings are combined into one book, and so are 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Chronicles. Nehemiah and Ezra are a single book as well. All twelve of the Minor Prophets are bundled into one book.

The Torah is the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Nevi’im is divided into three sections: the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings), the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel), and the 12 Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). Ketuvim is also divided into three sections: the three Poetic Books (Psalms, Proverbs, Job), the five Scrolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), and other books: Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, Chronicles).

Unlike the Septuagint (Greek translation) and the Vulgate (Latin translation), there are no apocryphal (non-canonical) or deuterocanonical (second canon) books included in the Masoretic Text.”

Excerpted from: What Is the Masoretic Text? The Beginner's Guide - OverviewBible

THE HEBREW TRANSLATED SEPTUAGINT TEXT

According to legend, seventy-two men (six from each of the twelve tribes of Israel) were commissioned to go from Jerusalem to Alexandria, Egypt to translate the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures into the Greek language. This occurred in approximately 250 BC. There are historical records indicating that Ptolemy II (the son and successor of Ptolemy I, one of four generals who took control of Alexander the Great’s empire) requested that the high priest send seventy-two men to Alexandria to work on a Greek translation of the Pentateuch (Torah). Their work was entitled the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX), from the Latin word for seventy.

Most of the entirety of the Septuagint, however, seems to be the accumulated work of various individuals and groups at different times. The LXX became the official Scriptures for Greek-speaking Jews scattered around the Western Mediterranean. In fact, the New Testament authors who were writing to Greek-speaking communities, typically quoted from the LXX, and its prevalent usage continued throughout the early church era. It is still the official Old Testament of the Greek Orthodox Church.

The history of the translation of the Hebrew Torah into the Greek language known as the Septuagint text is very interesting, as well as the New Testament. In 331 BC, the Persian empire fell at Alexander’s feet. Instead of making the peoples of the conquered kingdoms slaves and treating them cruelly, he required them only to embrace the Greek culture and language. For the most part, he made friends of them. This was a fulfillment of God’s providential use of him. Unwittingly, Alexander was being used to accomplish God’s purpose by making Line Greek the lingua franca of the known world. Even Rome would not be able to change the universal language. When the remains of the Greek empire were taken over by the Romans, everyone continued to use Greek as the language of business, trade, and international communication.

So when Jesus the Messiah came and purchased a pardon for the sin of all mankind by his death, the infinitely valuable message about it was entrusted to none other than

Alexander’s creation – Koine Greek. The original manuscript of the New Testament was written in this Common Greek and could be rapidly spread among the Gentiles. Why? Because in the providential working of God, Alexander had made it possible for them to understand. For more information, see The Greatness of the New Testament (rev310.net).

Since Greek was the common language of the Roman Empire, the Septuagint was popular among Jews living under Roman rule. Many of the early Christians didn’t know Hebrew, so they naturally embraced this popular Greek translation as well. While the Law and the prophets remained tremendously important to the Jewish people, the Hebrew Bible became inscrutable to non-Hebrew-speaking Jews. It’s no surprise that a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible emerged. The Septuagint isn’t even the only one. It’s just the translation that became most popular, and it’s the only Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that has survived fully intact.

While the Protestant Bible only has 39 books in the Old Testament, the Septuagint contains 51. Catholics and Orthodox Christians refer to these “extra” books as deuterocanonical (meaning “second canon”), and Protestants refer to them as Apocrypha (meaning “secret, or non-canonical”).

The Septuagint is divided into six sections: the Pentateuch, Historical Writings, Wisdom Literature, Minor Prophets, Major Prophets, and Appendix. We will list the books contained in these sections below, with the deuterocanonical/Apocrypha in bold.

Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Historical writings: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees. Wisdom Literature: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon), Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), Psalms of Solomon. Minor Prophets: Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Lamentations, Letter of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel (with additions). Appendix: 4 Maccabees.

While the Septuagint was widely used in the early Christian church, when the Jewish canon was formally established centuries later, it didn’t include many of the writings we find in the Septuagint. Rabbinic Judaism claimed that the canon hadn’t changed as it was passed down orally, and these writings were never included. This sparked a debate within the church: what should they do with the texts the early Christian church accepted, which Jewish tradition rejected?

The church debated including many of these books in the Christian canon throughout the fourth and fifth centuries, labeling them either “ecclesiastical” or “apocryphal,” depending on the degree to which the early church accepted them. After the Reformation, Protestants supported the Judaic canon, labeled all of these books apocryphal, and removed them from the canon. But Catholics and Orthodox Christian traditions still hold to several of these writings from the Septuagint.

SEPTUAGINT VS. MASORETIC TEXT

“The oldest copy we have of the Septuagint is from the fourth century. The oldest complete copy of the Masoretic Text we have is from the ninth century. But while the Septuagint gives us an ancient Greek translation of the ancient Hebrew text, the Masoretic Text is the ancient Hebrew. And it came from a tradition of carefully passing down the Hebrew Bible word for word. Thus, the Masoretic Text is believed to authentically represent the original Hebrew Bible. This creates a bit of a problem: the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text don’t always see eye-to-eye.

Early church fathers openly called these differences errors. As Jerome translated the Septuagint into the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible), he faced a dilemma. If he only translated from the Septuagint, he would force the books of Matthew and John to “quote” passages that didn’t exist. They were in the original Hebrew, but not the Septuagint. But if the Septuagint was in error, was it not inspired? What would that mean when Paul quoted from the Septuagint?

For centuries, scholars believed these differences between the manuscripts supported the idea that the translators of the Septuagint were more familiar with Greek than with Hebrew and that the Septuagint was an inferior translation. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls threw a wrinkle in the debate. The Dead Sea Scrolls contained more than 200 biblical books, including a nearly complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible that was more than 1,000 years older than the oldest copy of the Masoretic Text, and 500 years older than the oldest copy of the Septuagint. Inside the caves, there was also a smattering of Hebrew scrolls that supported the Septuagint’s translation.

While these ancient scrolls largely affirmed the Masoretic Text’s authority and careful preservation of the original Hebrew, the other copies of Old Testament books revealed that there was possibly a multitude of versions of the original Hebrew, some of which the Septuagint may have come from. The existence of other manuscripts doesn’t tell us whether they were accepted as authoritative.

What we do know is this: while the Septuagint was widely used even among Jews, Jewish tradition did not consider it authoritative. And shortly after the early Christian church started using prophecies in the Septuagint to point to Jesus—around the time people started noticing what appeared to be errors in its translation—popular Jewish culture turned away from it, too.

Most Protestant scholars still uphold the authority of the Masoretic Text, but for many, the Dead Sea Scrolls cast new light on whether or not the differences in the Septuagint were true “errors,” or simply translations based on a different manuscript (one that Jewish tradition rejected).”

Excerpted from What Is the Septuagint? The Beginner's Guide - OverviewBible

OUR MODERN OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE

“The fact is that 99% of all Protestants use a translation of the Bible and certainly do not read either Hebrew (Masoretic Text) or Greek (Septuagint). The same is true of Eastern Orthodox Christians. Virtually all of us use translations. As far as I know, our Orthodox Christian friends who read the Bible use more or less the same translations as we do. So, for virtually all Protestant and Orthodox believers, they read neither the Masoretic nor the Septuagint. They use translations by reputable scholars, and all scholars that I know of use both the Masoretic and the Septuagint texts in attempts at arriving at the best English translation.

In the very early church, when there were no separate Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, one thousand years before there even was such a thing as a Protestant, the Christian Church primarily read the Old Testament from the Septuagint, not the Masoretic Text. This was for two reasons. First of all, the Church was composed mostly of Greek speakers at that time, so, naturally, they read the Bible in a Greek translation, which was the Septuagint. Very few of the early church read Hebrew, so, naturally, they used a translation and the Septuagint was the only Greek translation available in the early church. The disciples could not read the Masoretic Text even if they wanted to (with the exception of Paul, the disciple to the Gentiles).

Another reason the early church did not use the Masoretic Hebrew Bible is that it literally did not even exist at that time. The Hebrew Masoretic Text was produced in the eighth and ninth centuries by Jews in an attempt to create a standard Hebrew text. There was literally no Masoretic Text available in the early Christian Church when the Eastern Church was using primarily the Septuagint! We can assume that the primitive Church had access to Hebrew Old Testaments, but we cannot be sure exactly what the texts at that time were like.

As for the relative advantages and disadvantages, the Masoretic Text has some textual issues because it was produced from Hebrew texts from the 8th and 9th centuries. The Septuagint Text has a different problem, which is that it is not in the original language, but the advantage of the Septuagint for accuracy is that it is a translation made about 250 years BC, so it reflects relatively better Hebrew text. Good scholars who translate the Old Testament into English take into account both the Masoretic and the Septuagint texts, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. In fact, if you look in the margin of your Bible, they will often note which of the versions is being used, as well as give the translation of the other texts in the margin.

Virtually all in the English-speaking world use neither the Masoretic nor the Septuagint. We read translations. All good translations take both the Masoretic and the Septuagint (as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls) into account in a more or less balanced way. This is true of Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox. It is also true of people like myself who are Christians, but who identify as neither Protestant, Orthodox, or Catholic, but simply as Christians. There is no modern English translation that relies solely on the Masoretic Text, although really old translations such as the King James did rely quite largely on the Masoretic.

In any case, the differences, due to copying errors and slips of the pen, are quite minor and, generally, the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint will produce identical translations into English. It is true that there are some advantages to the Septuagint, but the majority of our translations do come from the Hebrew Masoretic Text, even though it is from a thousand years after, simply because it is in Hebrew. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a third source of material for trying to produce the best Hebrew text. The fact is that often the Dead Sea Scrolls are closer to the Septuagint and often they are closer to the Masoretic Text.

In the end, this is a fascinating topic and we, as English speakers, are fortunate to have so many sources for producing good translations of the Old Testament into English, but for everyday use of the Bible, the distinctions between the Masoretic, the Septuagint and the DSS is not a significant issue in how we live out our Christianity.”

Excerpted from What is the advantage of the Masoretic Text over the Septuagint Translation? – Evidence for Christianity by John Oakes.

While most of the differences between the Masoretic and Septuagint Texts are minor word or phrase variations and sentence structures, a few are quite significant. It is not in the scope of this article to examine all of these scripture discrepancies. There are plenty of articles online that delve into this subject or you can just obtain an Old Testament Septuagint “Bible” and compare the contrasting scriptures to your Bible. This is just an introduction to the different manuscripts, copies, and translations that the Old Testament

Bible has evolved from.

In part II, we will examine the differences between the Masoretic, Septuagint, and Samaritan Pentateuch in regard to the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 and also the chronology of Exodus 12:40. We will determine which translation is more in line with the Millennial Day Theory, whereas six thousand years is as one day for the Lord.

Randy Nettles

rgeanie55@gmail.com

Endnotes:

{1} A Short History of the Hebrew Language | AHRC (ancient-hebrew.org)

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