The Jewish Origin of the Septuagint
James Scott Trimm
Pictured above: an example of an ancient fragment
of the Septuagint (not from the Torah) dating to
the First Century CE (AD).
(This fragment contains parts Job 42)
Singer, and other anti-missionaries, claim that the Greek Septuagint translation of the Tanak was created by Christians and that it supposedly contains many places where passages were altered by Christians. This lie continues to circulate on the internet, for example this posting I saw just today:
In fact he origin of the Septuagint is well known. Flavious Josephus records that Ptolemy Philadelphus (around 250 B.C.E.), entered into negotiations with the Jewish High Priest, to obtain a Greek translation of the Torah for the Library of Alexandria. Ptolemy agreed to release many Jewish prisoners in exchange for the book. The Jewish authorities chose seventy-two translators, to produce a Greek translator of the Torah. (Josephus; Antiquities 12:2).
Although the Greek Septuagint (named after the Greek for “seventy”) was initially only a translation of the Torah, by no later than 150 B.C.E. the rest of the Tanak had been included as well, since at that time the grandson of Ben Sirach, in his prologue to his Greek translation of his grandfather’s “Wisdom of Ben Sirach”, briefly compares the Hebrew and Greek versions of “the law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books”.
The Greek Septuagint is actually very important because it is the earliest known translation of the Tanak into another language, and preserves a Greek translation of a Hebrew text of the Tanak, that existed in the third century C.E. (in the case of the Torah; the second century in the case of the Prophets and the Writings). It was not composed by Christians.
While Singer generally accuses Christians of having created the Septuagint in order to alter the text and imbed altered verses to support their arguments into it, in fact exactly the opposite is true.
The Septuagint was the standard Tanak to the large Jewish Community that was thriving in Egypt well before the first Century.
The Tanak records that a large Jewish population took refuge in Egypt after the destruction of Judah in 597 BCE, and the subsequent assassination of the Jewish governor, Gedaliah. (2 Kings 25:22-24, Jeremiah 40:6-8) The Jewish population had fled to Moab, Ammon, Edom and in other countries but returned to Judah upon the appointment of Gedaliah as a Jewish governer. (Jeremiah 40:11-12) However, before long Gedaliah was assassinated, and many sought refuge in Egypt. (2 Kings 25:26, Jeremiah 43:5-7).
According to Josephus, when Alexander was dead and his government had been divided among his generals, Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, by treachery seized Jerusalem, and took away many Jewish captives to Egypt and settled them there. (Josephus, Ant. 12:1:1)
His successor, Ptolemy Philadelphus, restored to freedom 120,000 Jews who had been kept in slavery at the instance of Aristeus, one of his most intimate friends. He also dedicated many gifts to the Jewish God, and showed great friendship to the Jews in his reign. (Josephus, Ant. 12:2:1-15).
The center of the Jewish community in Egypt was the great center of Alexandria, and this became one of the largest Jewish communities of the world during the Second Temple Era. It is this community whom the letters prefacing 2nd Maccabees is addressed.
The Jewish community at Alexandria had a grand synagogue, which is described in the Talmud as one of the great glories of the Jewish people:
It has been taught, R. Judah stated, He who has not seen the double colonnade of Alexandria in Egypt has never seen the glory of Israel. It was said that it was like a huge basilica, one colonnade within the other, and it sometimes held twice the number of people that went forth from Egypt. There were in it seventy-one cathedras of gold, corresponding to the seventy-one members of the Great Sanhedrin, not one of them containing less than twenty-one talents of gold, and a wooden platform in the middle upon which the attendant of the Synagogue stood with a scarf in his hand. When the time came to answer Amen, he waved his scarf and all the congregation duly responded. They moreover did not occupy their seats promiscuously, but goldsmiths sat separately, silversmiths separately, blacksmiths separately, metalworkers separately and weavers separately, so that when a poor man entered the place he recognized the members of his craft and on applying to that quarter obtained a livelihood for himself and for the members of his family.
Relations between the community in Alexandria and the community in Judea were very good. The Talmud records that the sages of Judea once consulted with experts from Alexandria on the baking of showbread and on the making of incense for the Temple (b.Yoma 38a).
The Alexandrian Jewish Community was Hellenistic and used the Greek Septuagint as their primary text of the Scriptures. These were not like the Hellenists of the Maccabean period who abandoned Torah for Paganism, but like Stephen (Acts 7) and the Hellenists in Acts 6. These Hellenists were Greek speaking Jews who remained Torah Observant (at least in there own understanding) while accepting Greek culture. They were very much like American Jews today who embrace American culture, use English Scriptures as their primary texts and write commentaries in English, but retain their Jewish identity.
With the exception of a a few fragments from others, the writings of only one Alexandrian scholar have survived, those of Philo. Philo was an Alexandrian Jew who was born nearly 20 years before Yeshua and died around 20 years after his death. Philo wrote commentary, primarily on the Torah, which was highly midrashic. Philo interpreted the texts in an allegorical manner, finding in them philosophic symbolism. Philo saw the commandments of the Torah as pregnant with deep symbolic truths, which he sought to express in his commentaries. However Philo was very clear that the Torah still retains its literal meaning and he emphasized the importance of Torah observance.
Sadly, the grand Jewish community of Alexandria was completely annihilated by Trajan in the wake of the Jewish uprising in 116 CE. But it is important to remember that in the Second Temple Era the Jewish Community of Alexandria was as important as the Jewish communities in Judea and in Babylon, and their tradition survives in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, their primary spokesman of the first century and the Septuagint was their standard Tanak.
At one time differences between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint were taken to be the result of bad translation. However since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls the new approach has been to recognize that the Septuagint often represents an alternate underlying Hebrew text that differed from the Masoretic Text. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are many biblical manuscripts dating back to a time prior to the first century. These manuscripts give us a sample of the wide variety of textual readings from the pre-Masoretic period. The Dead Sea Scroll biblical manuscripts vary widely, as to text-type. For example two copies of Isaiah found in cave one, agree very closely with the Masoretic Text, while a Hebrew copy of 1Samuel found in cave four has many important agreements with the Greek LXX (Septuagint), against the Masoretic Text.
The Septuagin was the Standard Jewish Greek text of the Tanak that came to be adopted by Christians, and it is Rabbinic Judaism that created its own Greek text in the second Cenury. As we read in Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction, By Ellis R Brotzman:
“In time the Septuagint came to be adopted by the Christian churches. Since it was often used in debates between Christians and Jews, it came to be viewed with suspicion by the latter. This led, in the course of the second century A.D., to the production of three rival Greek versions that each bore a different relationship to the original Septuagint.”
(Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction, By Ellis R Brotzman; pp. 74-75)
So while the anti-missionaries accuse believers in Yeshua as Messiah of having altered the text and fabricated the Septuagint as a Greek text made to agree with their claims, the truth is much to the contrary. It was in fact Rabbinic Jews who fabricated revised Greek versions intentionally revised to counter Septuagint based arguments being made by believers in Yeshua in their ongoing debates with them.
Two days ago we posted that we are in danger of eviction. We expect a certified mail any day now (probably today).
We must raise $2,373 ASAP to pay the past due rent! (We also need to raise about $4OO to cover a needed medication for my wife.) Just three people donated a combined total of $75 in the last two days!
As many of you know my wife spent 53 days in the hospital in Aug-Sept with Septic Shock, where she was in ICU on a ventilator twice during that time and had three major surgeries. She came home to a difficult recovery and is still under home health care. We came home broke and behind on bills. Even now she is in need of a medication that costs almost $400 and is not covered. Many patients that suffer from Septic Shock never fully recover, and now as we are seven months out from her last surgery, it is looking like that may be the case with her.
As you may know, our rent has been past due.
Any day now we expect a certified mail, and simply put, we have got to pay the rent ASAP or we will be evicted!
We currently owe, including late fees, $2,373.
We are looking for three people who can donate at least $777 (one third) right away. However any amount will help!
As many of you know, my wife recently got home after a more than fifty day hospitalization. She spent that time fighting for her life (she was put in ICU on a ventilator twice, and had three major surgeries.) We came home broke. Now the electric bill and rent are both due. (And we are also facing medical bills not covered by insurance).
As I have said to you many times, I look on this work as a co-operative one with me, and all of you combining our resources together in order to get the job done of helping to teach this great truth to all in the world who will listen. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for your continued support, you are the ones who make it all possible by your contributions and your prayers for our work. I truly appreciate your help in every way.
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