The Septuagint (Latin Interpretatio Septuaginta, Greek Hermeneutica kata ton hebdomekonton, literally "Interpretation According to the Seventy", abbr. LXX) is the first translation of the Old Testament of the Bible into any foreign language--and specifically the classical Greek that was spoken shortly after the death of Alexander the Great.
Upon the death of Alexander in 332 B.C., one of his generals, named Ptolemy Lagus, took over Egypt as King Ptolemy I Soter (literally, "Ptolemy the Savior"). This king built, among other things, the Great Library of Alexandria, which he intended to be a major research center throughout the Mediterranean region.
He continued the generally tolerant policy toward the Jews that Alexander had observed since the priests at Jerusalem had surrendered to him. His successor Ptolemy II Philadelphus (r. 285-246 BC) continued that policy. In his effort to make the Great Library the best center of learning in the known world, Ptolemy Philadelphus sought to translate the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek. Sadly, his staff found Hebrew to be a difficult language to understand, and were not sure of the meanings of several turns of phrase found in the Hebrew text. So Ptolemy appointed a team of seventy scholars, each fluent in Hebrew and in Greek, and assigned to them the task of translating the Hebrew text. Supposedly all of the translators worked independently and arrived at the same exact translation, thus demonstrating that the translated text was as divinely inspired as the original.
The result is a work produced largely by scholarly consensus and was the primary translation in Palestine at the time of Jesus. The Gospels, Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews quoted from the Septuagint often in their respective writings.
The Septuagint contains the thirty-nine canonical books of the Old Testament, but also contains the books called the Apocrypha, which are considered non-inspired, and hence non-canonical, by most Protestant denominations. The Apocrypha are considered canonical by the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox communities, and are included in Catholic Bibles. The Septuagint also includes the anagignoskomena books which are not included in the Apocrypha, and are not included in the Catholic and Protestant Bibles.
See Biblical Canon
Objections to the Septuagint
Any translation is automatically suspect, if only because of differences in grammar and idiom between the source and target languages. Also, later Jews were suspect of anything that had a non-Jewish influence, and so kept the original Hebrew texts. The Masoretic Text is the traditional Hebrew (and in some books, Aramaic), and is the text that is used today both for those who read Hebrew, and for translating to other languages.
Saint Jerome used the Septuagint as the basis of the Gallican Psalter and the book of Job of the Vulgate. After more than a decade he decided the Septuagint was too fraught with mistranslations to be acceptable. At the beginning of the fifth century AD Jerome used only copies of biblical books in Hebrew and in some places Aramaic.
James Ussher, who made himself an expert on Semitic languages, concluded that the Septuagint contained errors of translation, and even errors of fact, that he considered critical and fatal to his purpose of determining a unified chronology of the world. For that reason, he rejected the Septuagint in favor of the Masoretic Text.
In 1947, ancient copies of Hebrew texts in scroll form turned up at Qumran. These "Dead Sea Scrolls" were written over various times, but dated back to the time of Jesus and before. This was a monumental find as it pushed back the time of the earliest known Hebrew text by almost 1000 years and was still a few hundred years earlier than the earliest surviving Greek text. The scrolls vindicate the accuracy of both the Septuagint and the Masoretic text which were surprisingly accurate for the large amount of time that had passed. In those cases where there were differences, the Septuagint was more accurate overall. Septuagint and Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts together vindicate the prophecies of Jesus Christ, because they render any conspiracy to write "prophecies after the fact" temporally impossible.
- The Septuagint on the Web.
- Ptolemy II at Infoplease.com
- Durant, Will, The Story of Civilization, Volume 2: The Life of Greece. ISBN 1567310133
- The Development of the Canon of the New Testament: Vulgate