What is the Septuagint?

The Lighthouse of Alexandria

The Bible as we have it today wasn’t simply handed to man by God; people had to decide what books did and didn’t make it into what’s called the “canon” (e.g., Official Collection of Writings) of the Bible.

Among the most important in the long history of such people are the seventy-two Judean scholars (six from each of the twelve tribes of Israel) who, according to legend, came together around 250 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt (then one of the world’s greatest centers of learning) to translate the Pentateuch — that is, the Torah, or Five Books of Moses — from its original Hebrew into Greek. (Ptolemy, the Greek ruler of Egypt, requested this translation because by the time of his reign so few Jews throughout the vast Greek empire spoke Hebrew. “The laws of the Jews are worth transcribing,” Demetrius, librarian of the renowned Museum of Alexandria, is reported to have said to Ptolemy. “But they need to be translated, for in the country of the Jews they use a peculiar alphabet.” Ptolemy, presumably, answered, “Let’s do it! Let’s translate the Torah!”)

The resultant volume — which ultimately took at least one hundred years to finish, and included the entire Old Testament — is known as the Septuagint (from the Latin word for seventy, for the seventy or so scholars who are said to have launched the work; the book is also known as “LXX,” the Roman numeral for seventy).

The Septuagint is a pivotal book in the history of Christianity, because it quickly became the Old Testament for Jews throughout the Greek empire, and because it opened up the Bible — and with it, the idea that a saving Messiah just might be in everyone’s future — to the non-Jewish world. In the time of Christ, the Septuagint was accepted as the hands-down authoritative translation of the Hebrew Bible; the writers of the New Testament relied almost exclusively upon it for their quotations from the Old Testament.

When you hold a modern-day Bible in your hand, you’re holding the direct result of work done well over 2,000 years ago by preeminent spiritual leaders from the twelve tribes of Israel. These scholars labored to translate God’s language into man’s on the island of Pharos, just off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, in a learning complex that also contained the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, whose light was said to be so bright it could burn up enemy ships before they ever reached the shore.

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  • Oldstuff

    Another great thing to watch it Nova's excellent episode entitled "The Bible's Buried Secrets" which can be seen in its entirety here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/

  • Robert Meek

    Ever so right, Mr. Shore. Yet I am forever amazed at the "can't see past their nose" people on this topic.

    Case in point: I remember a woman livid because a preacher at a funeral used more than one version of the Bible, and her issue was, as she raged with fury, "Everyone knows that the King James Version is the only REAL Bible!"

    I pointed out that "everyone" knows the OT was written in Hebrew, and "everyone" knows the NT was written in Greek. I added (although most do not know this) that "everyone" knows Jesus spoke Aramaic, a dead language, now, like Latin is dead, but the language of his time and era. That in no sense were those words in the KJV the words that Jesus spoke, and that made the KJV a mere English translation subject to error like the other versions were.

    The woman's face was florid purple with rage as she trembled with cold hate and fury.

    A younger woman in the room looked to her, and said "Is that so, Sister?" The older woman, having no intelligent answer, was silent, as noted above.

    I smiled and said "Y'all think I'm a heathen!" The younger one said "No, we don't!" I said, smiling, "Yes, you do, but that's okay. I don't mind." And I walked out of the room.

    The irony here was I was at work at hospital as a RN and I would have been SORELY PUNISHED had they complained.

    That was back in the days when I was not disabled on oxygen as I am now, btw.

    So few know of what you speak here, but it is so easy to learn.

  • Wikipedia has a more technical write-up on this subject. And, here are a few stray beliefs I have acquired, like moss, over time. The name Bible is related to the name Byblos of a 7000 year old city on the Mediterranean. Reeds grew there which were good for making papyrus. The 70 Rabbis wrote their Greek interpretations of the holy writings on papyrus. Over time these writings became known as the Bible, i. e. they were the first collection of books known as the Bible. Thus an ancient writing became part of the Bible if the Rabbis interpreted it and otherwise not. This gives me a pretty good technical explanation of how God created the Old Testament just as Maxwell’s equations

  • (continued) and Einsteins equation give me a pretty good technical idea how God created the cosmos without, of course, any insight into his motives.

  • I am taking a class in World Religion, and was surprised to learn at the lateness of when scriptures were actually compiled into known written formats. I seem to remember an ancient king, and i want to say Josiah rediscovering texts that he used for a reformation movement in his kingdom. What all it included is of course unknown, but it apparently contained codes for law and religion. I may be wrong but I think it is one of the first mentions of written scripture in the bible. Ezra is another that occurs later, yet compilation into the Septuagint even later. I do find that fascinating, especially in light of what some assume scripture to be.

  • Oldstuff

    Nova has an episode on the factual, archeological history of the Bible that covers some of what John wrote. It does not delve into the truth or supernatural aspects…just the facts of the physical book. It also adds some fascinating things and is presented as only Nova can (the best show on PBS IMHO).

    Google “nova bible’s buried secrets” and you can watch it in its entirety. If you have Netflix, you can also add it to your queue.

    [Is it OK without the link John?]

  • I thought was totally interesting. You should do a post on the Latin Vulgate.