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The Septuagint (LXX) is a collection of literature in Greek, including translations of the books of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), additions to some of these books, and additional works, most of which were originally written in Greek. It is the oldest translation of the Bible and the only one made in pre-Christian times.

The Septuagint derives its name (Latin septuaginta, 70, hence the abbreviation LXX) from a legendary account in the Letter of Aristeas of how seventy-two Jewish scholars (six scribes from each of the twelve tribes) were asked by the Egyptian pharaoh in the 3rd century BCE to translate the Torah for inclusion in the Library of Alexandria. Although they were kept in separate chambers, they all produced identical versions of the text in seventy-two days. Although this story is widely viewed as implausible today, it underlines the authority that the translation had among Jews. A Talmudic injunction, long since abandoned, said that one may read the Bible only in its original Hebrew or in the Greek translation. Modern scholarship, however, holds that the LXX was translated and composed over the course of the 3rd through 1st centuries BC, beginning with the Torah.

The oldest witnesses to the LXX include 2nd century BC fragments of Leviticus and Deuteronomy (Rahlfs nos. 801, 819, and 957), and 1st century BC fragments of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Minor Prophets (Rahlfs nos. 802, 803, 805, 848, 942, and 943). Relatively complete manuscripts of the LXX include Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus of the 4th century CE and Codex Alexandrinus of the 5th century. Some scholars, comparing existing copies of the Septuagint, Masoretic Text, the Samaritan text, and the Dead Sea scrolls, suggest that the Septuagint was not translated directly from what is today the Masoretic Text, but rather from an earlier Hebrew text that is now lost. However, other scholars suggest that the Septuagint itself changed for various reasons, including scribal errors, efforts at exegesis, and attempts to support theological positions. Accordingly, the Septuagint went through a number of revisions and recensions, the most famous of which include those by Aquila (128 CE), a student of Rabbi Akiva; and Origen (235), a Christian theologian in Alexandria.

These issues notwithstanding, the text of the LXX is usually very close to that of the Masoretic. For example, Genesis 4:1-6 is identical in both LXX and Masoretic texts. Likewise, Genesis 4:8 to the end of the chapter is the same. There is only one substantial difference, at 4:7, to wit:

Genesis 4:7, LXX (Brenton)
Genesis 4:7, Masoretic (KJV)
Hast thou not sinned if thou hast brought it rightly, but not rightly divided it? Be still, to thee shall be his submission, and thou shalt rule over him. If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

Several factors finally led Jews to abandon the LXX, including the fact that Greek scribes were not subject to the same rigid rules imposed on Hebrew scribes; that Christians favoured the LXX; and the gradual decline of the Greek language among Jews. Instead, Hebrew/Aramaic manuscripts compiled by the Masoretes, or authoritative Aramaic translations such as that of Onkelos, of Rabbi Yonasan ben Uziel, and Targum Yerushalmi, were preferred.

The Early Christian Church, however, continued to use the LXX, since most of its earliest members were Greek-speaking and because the Messianic passages most clearly pointed to Jesus as the Christ in the Septuagint translation. When Jerome started preparation of the Vulgate translation of the Bible into Latin, he started with the Septuagint, checking it against the Hebrew Masoretic Text for accuracy, but ended up translating most of the Old Testament afresh from the Hebrew.

The writers of the New Testament, also written in Greek, quoted from the Septuagint frequently when relating prophesies and history from the Old Testament, and even when Latin translations appeared the Septuagint continued to be used by the Greek-speaking portion of the Christian Church for the first few centuries after Christ. The Eastern Orthodox Church still prefers to use LXX as the basis for translating the Old Testament into other languages, and the Greek Orthodox Church (which has no need for translation) continues to use it in its Liturgy even today. Many modern Catholic translations of the Bible, while using the Masoretic text as their basis, employ the septuagint to decide between different possible translations of the Hebrew text whenever the latter is unclear, corrupt, or ambiguous.

Language of the Septuagint

The Greek of the Septuagint shows many Semiticisms, or idioms and phrases based on Hebrew, and the grammatical phenomenon known as attraction is common there.

Books of the Septuagint

ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΝΑΥΗJoshua, the son of Nun
ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΩΝ Α´Kingdoms I. (1 Samuel)
ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΩΝ Β´Kingdoms II. (2 Samuel)
ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΩΝ Γ´Kingdoms III. (1 Kings)
ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΩΝ Δ´Kingdoms IV. (2 Kings)
ΠΑΡΑΛΕΙΠΟΜΕΝΩΝ Α´Omissions I. (1 Chronicles)
ΠΑΡΑΛΕΙΠΟΜΕΝΩΝ Β´Omissions II. (2 Chronicles)
ΕΣΔΡΑΣ Α´Esdras I.
ΕΣΔΡΑΣ Β´Esdras II. (Ezra)
ΜΑΚΚΑΒΑΙΩΝ Δ´IV. Maccabees (often omitted or printed as an appendix in the Orthodox Church)
ΨΑΛΜΟΙPsalms (including Psalm 151. In addition, the LXX numbering of the other Psalms is slightly different from the Masoretic)
ΩΔΑΙ (with ΠΡΟΣΕΥΧΗ ΜΑΝΑΣΣΗ)Odes (with Prayer of Manasseh) (often omitted in the Orthodox Church)
ΑΣΜΑSong of Solomon
ΣΟΦΙΑ ΣΑΛΩΜΩΝWisdom of Solomon
ΣΟΦΙΑ ΣΕΙΡΑΧWisdom of the Son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)
ΣΟΦΟΝΙΑΣ Zephaniah
ΘΡΗΝΟΙLamentations of Jeremiah
ΕΠΙΣΤΟΛΗ ΙΕΡΕΜΙΟΥEpistle of Jeremiah
ΔΑΝΙΗΛ (with ΤΩΝ ΤΡΙΩΝ ΠΑΙΔΩΝ ΑΙΝΕΣΙΣ)Daniel (with Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Young Men)
ΒΗΛ ΚΑΙ ΔΡΑΚΩΝ Bel and the Dragon

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