The Alexandrian Septuagint vs The Masoretic Text

This article is based on a comment posted on our Facebook group –  Living In The Kingdom, regarding our series: How God Governs From Heaven. It’s a series which covers the Biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation and it’s about the battle for rulership over the nations of the Biblical world.

It’s all to do with these verses …

Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations;ask your father, and he will show you,your elders, and they will tell you. When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. ~ Deuteronomy 32: 7-8 ESV

 

One of our readers disagreed with our blog post and claimed that in Deuteronomy 32, Yahweh set the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the Children of Israel and NOT, as we had written, the Sons of God.

4. It is Israel that God is talking about- Deut. 32:8-9- Song of Moses-When the Most High divided(gen 10,cf. Gen.11:7-Acts 17:26) to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam,, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is his people: Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.

 

Our understanding is that this person got their information from a source that quotes from the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament whereas our quote comes from a translation based on the Alexandrian Septuagint. The answer to the comment will be dealt with in 4 parts. It will cover the history of how the Masoretic Text came into existence and why we believe the Alexandrian Septuagint translation of the Old Testament is beyond doubt, the most trusted and accurate translation.

 


Little did we know where this adventure would lead us and how shocking it was to learn the truth about the Old Testament translations in most of our Bibles.

I  believe every serious Bible reader should know the history of how our Bibles ended up with the Masoretic text and why.


The Authority of the Alexandrian Septuagint

Firstly, we would like to point out that all the writers of the New Testament and Yeshua quoted directly from the Alexandrian Septuagint, even though there were Hebrew translations available to them.

The reason that they used the Septuagint had nothing to do with them not understanding Hebrew, as we know that Yeshua spoke to Paul in Hebrew on the road to Damascus and we know that the writing on the Cross was in Greek, Latin and Hebrew.

“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? ~ Acts 26:12-14

 

Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek. ~ John 19:20

 

The fact that Yeshua, Paul and the other writers of the New Testament quote exclusively from the Alexandrian Septuagint endorses its authority over any other Old Testament translation.

We believe that the reason that they didn’t use the Hebrew translations was that they had been tampered with.

 


The History of the Alexandrian Septuagint

This particular Septuagint has an interesting history:

In 289 B.C., Philadelphus became co-regent of the Ptolemaic Empire with his father, Ptolemy Soter. The Ptolemaic Empire was based in Alexandria, Egypt. In 285 BC Soter abdicated in favor of his 22 year old son, and died two years later at the age of 84.

Towards the latter part of his reign, Soter had been very favorable towards the Jewish population. His son, Philadelphus, continued this policy by releasing many Jewish slaves, and placing some of them in responsible positions in the state as well as in the military.

Soter himself had been a scholar, and encouraged scholarship among the people. He gathered “men of learning” to his court.  It was Ptolemy Soter who established the Great Library at Alexandria and personally appointed Demetrius Phalerius librarian, a man who had similar scholastic tendencies. Demetrius was commissioned to collect all available documents from around the world for the Library so that they could be available and consulted by anyone able to read.

It was a combination of Soter’s love of learning and his appreciation of the Jews that led him to consider the necessity of a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Due to Soter’s advancing age, Josephus, the Jewish historian tells us Demetrius approached the co-regent, Ptolemy Philadelphus, and discussed the proposal. Ptolemy agreed to finance the exercise. Ptolemy sent Andreas, the Captain of his Guard, and one of his close confidants, Aristeas, who had represented Jewish interests on a number of prior occasions, to Eleazar, the High Priest in Jerusalem.

They came with gifts for the Temple and a request that Eleazar send scholars who were fluent in both Hebrew and Greek to do the translation. It was suggested that there should be six from each Tribe. However, Josephus specifically refers to only 70 scholars doing the translation. It is from this fact that the translation was called the Septuagint (Latin for seventy) and abbreviated to LXX (in Roman numerals).[1]

 


Alexandria Was The Capital Of The Jewish World Outside of Israel

Three worlds met in Alexandria: Europe, Asia, and Africa. It was capital of the Jewish world in the Western Roman Empire and there was a vast population of Jews in the region.

the wealth, the thought, and the influence of Western Judaism centred in the modern capital of the land of the Pharaohs.  ~ Alfred Edersheim [2] 

 

Given The Full Approval And Recommendation Of The High Priest

The synagogue system was birthed in Alexandria and the Jews needed a reliable translation of the Hebrew scriptures in Greek, as by now most Jewish people of the Diaspora only spoke in Koiné Greek during the Hellenistic Period. Their ancestors had left Israel centuries before and had gradually lost the ability to read the Scriptures in ancient Hebrew.

Greek was the common universal language throughout the Mediterranean regions and as far as India, everyone spoke it. It was the international language of learning, shipping, education and commerce, much the same way English is today.

The High Priest in Jerusalem accepted a proposal from King Ptolemy to translate a Greek translation, allowed him to finance the enterprise and sent 70 Jewish scholars to Alexandria do the work.

The translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek began in 300 BC on the island of Pharos, off the coast of Alexandria with the books of the law – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The addition of the other books of the Old Testament, that form the Tanakh were later added to it and within 30 years the Septuagint was completed, almost 300 years before Yeshua was born. The Alexandrian Septuagint is the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament. Yeshua and the New Testament writers used this as their source text for writing the New Testament. Copies from this translation were eventually distributed to every Greek-speaking synagogue across the Roman Empire.

It was an authentic, faithful and unbiased text and every year on the Pharos island, the Jews and Greeks had a festival to celebrate its translation, as the Jewish historian Philo records …

On which account, even to this very day, there is every year a solemn assembly held and a festival celebrated in the island of Pharos, to which not only the Jews but a great number of persons of other nations sail across, reverencing the place in which the first light of interpretation shone forth, and thanking God for that ancient piece of beneficence which was always young and fresh. Philo, Life of Moses (vii:41-2)


 

The Septuagint was also used exclusively by the church for the first 4 centuries to convert Jews to Christianity with such great success.

“Until the second century AD, the Jews universally regarded the Greek translation of the OT as a faithful interpretation of the original Hebrew. Philo and Josephus lauded the Greek version, the Sanhedrin authorised it to be read in the Greek-speaking synagogues, and the apostles quoted from it freely. Before the second century of the Christian religion, no traces can be found of any controversy as to the differences supposed to exist in the Greek and Hebrew texts of the sacred books. The unanimous Jewish approval of the LXX during the first four centuries of its existence can only be explained if it was a generally accurate translation of the Hebrew text in circulation during that time. [3]

 

But something started happening from the 2nd Century AD onwards …

  • Why did the Jews begin to repudiate the original Greek Septuagint that they thought of so highly and replace it with new translations?
  • Why were all the Greek-speaking Synagogues across the Roman Empire told to burn their copies of the Alexandrian Septuagint?

We’ll cover these points on our next blog post: Why did the Rabbis tamper with the Greek and Hebrew texts? 

 


Useful Resource: Brenton’s Septuagint (Alexandrian Text) 

Please note that in this series we are not implying that you cannot be saved by the reading of a translation from the MT. But it makes it much harder for a Christian to witness to Jews, unlike in the era of the very early church when the Alexandrian Septuagint was a Jewish person’s Old Testament throughout the Roman Empire.


Footnotes:

[1] http://setterfield.org/Septuagint_History.html

[2] https://biblehub.com/library/edersheim/the_life_and_times_of_jesus_the_messiah/chapter_v_alexandria_and_rome.htm

[3] Primeval Chronology Restored: Revisiting the Genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, Jeremy Sexton, Henry B. Smith Jr.

Image Credit: The Letter of Aristeas deals primarily with the reason why the Greek translation of the Hebrew Law, also called the Septuagint, was needed. It was written by a courtier of Ptolemy II Philadelphus. The letter is also mentioned and quoted in other ancient texts such as Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus and in Life of Moses by Philo of Alexandria. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana Vat. gr. 747 [Public domain]

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