Have you ever seen those footnotes in your Bible that have “LXX…” in them? Have you ever wondered what those are? You are not alone. If your Bible doesn’t have “LXX…” in the footnotes, it might have “GK: …” or “Heb:…” in the footnotes. These are all notes about the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. As Greek culture soon became dominant in the ancient world, the need for a translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek was quickly needed. As the legend goes, Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 BC) initiated and sponsored a translation of the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) for the library in Egypt. He commissioned 70 or 72 (it is unsure which one) translators for the project. The Greek word “Septuagint” means “seventy.” Hence, this translation became known as the Septuagint. It is also abbreviated in Roman numerals as LXX.
Gradually through time as more translations of the other books of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek came about, the name Septuagint (LXX) was applied to the entire corpus of the Greek Old Testament. It was done by many different anonymous translators over time. It could have been completed by 132 BC.
The Septuagint was the Bible that the earliest Christians used for their Old Testament text. It was also the basis for the Old Latin and version of the Old Testament. St. Jerome’s Vulgate was translated directly from the original Hebrew and thus was one of the primary reasons the early Christians stopped believing the Septuagint was the inspired and preferred version of the Old Testament. Most Christians today have forgotten about the Septuagint. The Eastern Orthodox Church still uses the Septuagint as the basis for their canonical Old Testament.
The Septuagint differs from the Hebrew Bible in several ways. It differs in the order of books and the number of books. It also differs in the contents. Some verses are longer and/or shorter in the LXX as opposed to the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.
The Septuagint includes the Books known as the “Apocrypha” in Protestant English Bibles. The Hebrew Bible contains and is (still!) organized as follows:
|Torah (Instruction)||Nevi’im (Prophets)||Kethuvim (Writings)|
The Septuagint contains and is organized as follows:
|Law||History||Poetry and Wisdom||Minor Prophets||Major Prophets|
Notice that Protestant Christian Bibles today contain the contents of the Hebrew Bible, but the organization of the Septuagint.
The Septuagint also includes differences from the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. For example:
- Psalms 9 and 10 are combined as one Psalm in the Septuagint. Similarly, Psalms 114 and 115 are combined as one psalm in the Septuagint.
- The order of chapter and verses are in different orders. For example. Jeremiah 51-52 in the Hebrew Old Testament correspond to Jeremiah 27-28 in the Septuagint.
- 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings are renamed in the Septuagint. In order they are renamed as 1-4 Reigns.
- Some Septuagint books have multiple versions. Esther, Daniel, and Judges all have two different surviving Greek versions.
The Septuagint is fascinating and important. It is also a growing field of study. As we continue to learn more about the Septuagint, we gain a richer knowledge of the traditions and culture that gave rise to Christianity. Sadly, the study of the Septuagint has often been relegated to the edges of academic study of the Bible. The Septuagint, however, was the Bible of the earliest Christians and perhaps even of Jesus Himself. We need to gain a better appreciation for the Septuagint both in the Church and in the Academy.
Getting Started with the Septuagint:
The New English Translation of the Septuagint. See here.
The Septuagint: What It Is and Why It Matters. Purchase here.
The Septuagint and Biblical Theology. See here.
Translation of the Seventy: History, Reception, and Contemporary Use of the Septuagint. Purchase here.
When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible. Purchase here.
A podcast about reading the Septuagint with experts Gregory R. Lanier and Will Ross. See here.
Introduction to the Septuagint. It is from Will Ross’s website. See here.
Interviews with experts in Septuagint studies. See here.