Introduction to Septuagint (LXX) Studies

The Old Testament canon (list of books accepted) and text in the Christian tradition has a complicated and diverse history. What follows is a necessarily short and broad brush overview. There are three introductory texts listed at the end of the article where you can get the nuances of the history of the LXX. This is followed by a listing of sources for the Greek text of the Septuagint for further study. Finally, I provide a listing of the few available English translations that are done from the Greek Septuagint text and their sources.

We begin with the two broad categories of texts of the Old Testament.

Masoretic Text (MT)—is a Hebrew text of the Old Testament that was compiled by the Jewish Masoretes. The Masoretes worked to codify the text tradition as in use in community worship. This compilation starts with a base consonantal text that is generally considered finalized around 100 AD. Hebrew is written with consonants that are then marked with vowel pointings. Texts were originally written without vowel pointings and transmitted in this form. The Masoretic tradition arose to standardize the vowel pointings based on actual usage and compile notes to preserve the transmission of the Hebrew text. The compilation of the Masorah is variously placed beginning 600-750 AD completing around 900 AD. The MT is the text used by Jews and Protestants and is the source text for English translations of the bible.

Septuagint (LXX)—is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament from pre-Christian Alexandria. Most early Christian communities translated from this text. This derives its name from the legend that 70 translators all miraculously produced the same translation independently. Thus the Roman numeral LXX or Greek for 70 Septuagint. There is no single group like the Masoretes responsible for collating and editing the LXX. As a result there is more diversity within Septuagint texts than in the Masoretic text. In addition, the translation itself spreads over time and a multitude of translators. The Torah (first five books) were completed first in Alexandria of 300 BC while the other books are added at unknown places and time for at least the next hundred years. This diversity means that there is no such thing as “the Septuagint” as a text in any way comparable to the Masoretic Text. Recent scholarship has attempted to separate the term Septuagint and apply it exclusively to the original translation of the Pentateuch and use the term “Old Greek” as the broader category. This usage of terms is far from universal and should not be assumed unless noted in the particular authors work.

Both the Hebrew MT and the Greek LXX texts are firmly grounded in the Jewish tradition. The Greek LXX is a Jewish translation to make the Hebrew scriptures more accessible to Jews that speak Greek. These texts are both in use by Jewish communities from the third century before Christ and throughout the first two centuries after. The Greek text is widely used by the early Christian communities primarily because of the language. Greek was the common language of the people in the empire and the LXX is a readily available version of the scriptures in that language.

As a result the usage of the LXX by the Christian community becomes one of the reasons why the translation is ultimately shunned by the Jewish community at large. Thus the Jews use the Hebrew text tradition to finalize their version of scripture and the Masorettes begin the process of finalizing the text in the Christian era. But the need for a Greek version still exists so a counter translation in Greek by Jewish authorities is produced. At the same time Christians are compiling their own collections of the Greek LXX scrolls and editing together their own recension of the LXX closely associate with Lucian (311) who is really the final collaborator in a centuries long process. This becomes the basis for the Byzantine Christian lectionary and source for hymnography and homiletic allusions through the ages. Thus we end up with two edited versions of the LXX by this juncture and lots of variation among manuscripts in other lines as well. In short, the textual tradition is a mess.

The Differences in Books

The largest difference between the MT and LXX is in the number of books in scripture. The LXX is a longer canon or list of books with six additional books and three books containing large additional sections. To complicate comparison further these books and sections are often referred to by different names by Protestants on the one hand and Catholic/Orthodox on the other. There are also books which have been preserved and transmitted along with the LXX that are not listed officially in the canon of scripture by Catholic or Orthodox authorities. But among the Orthodox the lists are not universal and have small variations between traditions. And some Orthodox traditions never produced an authoritative list for the Old Testament canon.

Orthodox & Catholic Scripture Protestant Apocrypha
Wisdom Wisdom of Solomon
Ecclesiasticus Sirach
Baruch Chapters 1-5 Baruch
Baruch Chapter 6 Letter of Jeremiah
Tobit Tobit
Judith Judith
Esther (10:4-16:24) Additions to Esther
I Maccabees I Maccabees
II Maccabees II Maccabees
Daniel Chapter 3:24-90 The Prayer of Azariah
Daniel Chapter 13 Susanna
Daniel Chapter 14 Bel and the Dragon
Books transmitted with the LXX but not universally listed as canonical in Orthodox or Catholic traditions
III Maccabees
IV Maccabees
Prayer of Manassas
Psalms of Solomon

The Differences in Text

In addition to these larger sections and whole additional books there are a slew of other variations in text between the MT and LXX traditions. The study of the differences in the exact text of scripture is Textual Criticism. Text critics use the terms pluses and minuses to describe the comparison of the MT and LXX traditions. The pluses of the LXX are texts that appear in the verse in the LXX but do not appear in the MT text. The minuses then are texts that do not appear in the LXX but do appear in the MT. A recently published study by Polak & Marquis find over 300 minuses in just the Pentateuch of the LXX alone. I’m sure the situation with the pluses is similar while the phenomenon is present in all the books as some level as well.

Polak, Frank, and Galen Marquis. A classified index of the minuses of the Septuagint Part I: Introduction. CATSS Basic Tools, ed. Emanuel Tov. Cape Town: Print 24, 2002.
The CATSS (Computer Assisted Tools for Septuagint Studies) is sponsored by University of Pennsylvania. They produce electronic texts and programs to aid in the study of the Septuagint. The minuses are texts that are not in the LXX but are contained in the MT. This volume is the introduction that explains the methodology and source texts for creating a study of the minuses of the Septuagint.

________. A classified index of the minuses of the Septuagint Part II: The Pentateuch. Methodology is covered in volume I. This volume is an exhaustive classification and listing of the actual texts in the Pentateuch. The introduction contains the classifications of the nature of the minuses and their counts. The bulk of the text provides the actual Hebrew and Greek texts in question side-by-side.

The book of Jeremiah is a special case. Here we see really a complete different editorial version in the two traditions. There are large scale differences in the order of material and textual sections. Whole chapters are present in both the Greek & the Hebrew but assembled in different orders. Sections are missing in on or the other tradition. The preface to the book of Jeremiah in the Brenton translation listed in the English translation section below provides a chart of the chapter mappings.

Introductory Books on Septuagint Studies

There are commentaries on the Septuagint text and discussions of the issues around the creation and transmission of the Septuagint. The Septuagint has received a lot more attention since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Previously scholars had assumed that most of the differences between the Septuagint and the Masoretic text indicated bad translations. But the Dead Sea Scrolls have demonstrated that at least some of these readings are from Hebrew original texts and not the invention of translators.

The IOSCS (International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies) is a non-profit academic organization devoted to the study of the Septuagint and related liturature. Membership is inexpensive and gets a copy of their small peer reviewed journal as they are published. The organization is the sponsor of the NETS translation listed below and offers many resources on theirwebsite.

There are three phases to introductory scholarship on septuagint studies in English. We begin at the turn of the last century with the ground breaking work of Swete. This is followed by the work of Jellcoe in the sixties who opens his introduction with the intention to update Swete with new discoveries. Finally, Jobes & Silva publish their update on the status of septuagint studies in 2000.

Swete, Henry Barclay, and Richard Rusden Ottley. An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek. 2nd ed.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914.

The second edition with updated notes by Ottley of the classic five hundred-page study covers the history, contents and literary issues surrounding the Septuagint. The volume is well indexed for both key words and scripture. This also includes a listing of all quotations of the Septuagint in the New Testament and the Greek text of the letter of Aristeus telling the story of the Septuagint translation.

Available on-line: Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Jellicoe, Sidney. The Septuagint and Modern Study. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1968.

Jelicoe sets out to update Swete’s classic study with scholarship since the 1900 creation of that volume. This work concentrates on history and literary issues following versions of the Septuagint and translations to other languages. The work ends with a chapter summarizing the issues current at the time.

Preview on-line: Google Books

Jobes, Karen H., and Moises Silva. Invitation to the Septuagint. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000.

Jobes and Silva have created a fresh study that incorporates prior scholarship with the most current issues as the focus. The book is organized in three parts history, relationship to biblical studies and the current state of Septuagint studies. This work is intended as a text book introduction for biblical theology students.

Preview on-line: Google Books

Klein, Ralph W. Textual criticism of the Old Testament: the Septuagint after Qumran. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974.

This short (fewer than one hundred pages) study outlines the text critical issues between the Septuagint and Hebrew texts in the light of the discoveries at Qumran. Klein summarizes the main issues and presents the basic method for probing the texts.

McLay, R. Timothy. The use of the Septuagint in New Testament research. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

McLay provides a detailed analysis and method for examining Old Testament quotations in the New Testament. The book provides a solid background on the major differences between the MT and Septuagint. The goal of the effort is to help determine the source of the quotations as either from the Hebrew MT or the Greek Septuagint. The book also examines the literary impact of the Septuagint on the New Testament.

Septuagint Texts

Books with the original language texts for scripture come in two types “diplomatic text” and “critical text.” The point of both types of texts is to present a main text with footnotes that indicate the variants that occur in the textual tradition.

A “diplomatic text” keeps a SINGLE manuscript in the main body of the text except where there are physical holes in the manuscript. The introduction will note specific source for the holes in the text and usually mark those areas in some fashion. The footnotes are then the alternate readings from other texts. Here diplomatic carries the sense that you are diplomatically given the material to make your own decision.

A “critical text” has a body text that exists in NO single manuscript. Here the editor of the text is making individual judgments about each variant reading and placing what they feel is the ORIGINAL text in the main body. The footnotes then reflect the alternative choices to what the editor feels is most correct. Here critical carries the sense of the critical judgement of the editor. Thus on any given variant you cannot be sure which manuscript is reflected in the main text. Using the apparatus and the list of manuscripts in the introduction you can logically deduce this with a bit of work.

These works provide the primary sources for the Greek text of the Old Testament (Septuagint). The texts provide a critical apparatus that shows manuscript support for the various readings.

Cambridge School

Swete, Henry Barclay, ed. The Old Testament in Greek according to the Septuagint. 1901.

This three-volume set is a diplomatic text with a strong collection of critical notes on alternate readings. This was the primary scholarly resource until the publication of Rahlfs volumes.

Available on-line: Christian Classics Ethereal Library | Google Books Vol 1 | Google Books Vol 2 | Google Books Vol 3

Brooke, Alan England, and Norman McLean, eds. The Old Testament in Greek according to the text of Codex vaticanus. 9 vols. Cambridge: The University press, 1906.

This is generally known as the “Large Cambridge Editions” as the short hand reference. These are intended to be the comprehensive look at variant texts for the LXX but the series was never completed. The Swete edition was the “handbook” or smaller edition with variants from only the major texts. Three volumes of this larger series appeared between 1906 and 1940. They cover the Pentateuch and most of the historical books. Work ceased with the death of Brooke in 1939.

Available on-line: Google Books Vol 1 Genesis

Göttingen School

Rahlfs, Alfred, ed. Septuaginta: id est, Vetus Testamentum Graece iuxta LXX interpretes. 2 vols. Stuttgart: Privilegierte Wèurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1952.

This two-volume set is a critical text that is the current standard of reference for modern scholarship. This is also the base text that the Greek Orthodox Church makes some modifications to in publishing their current lectionaries through Apostoliki Diakonia. The introductory material is in German, Latin and English.

Preview on-line: Google Books

Göttingen, Akademie der Wissenschaften in. Septuaginta: Vetus Testamentum Graecum. 14 vols. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1931.

This large comprehensive edition is generally called the “Göttingen Septuagint.” Rahlfs edition is the handbook that springs from this school of Septuagint studies. These fourteen volumes are the work of the entire institute and different volumes have different scholars as the lead. The editions are all critical texts.

English Translations

There are two complete translations of the Septuagint into English from the nineteenth century and one of those does not include the apocrypha. Until very recently these were the only game in town.

Brenton Translation

The Septuagint version of the Old Testament and Apocrypha. With an English translation and with various readings and critical notes. Translated by Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972.

This is the only currently available complete English translation of the Septuagint. The edition was first published in 1851 and is in the style of the King James Version. The work is two columns with the Greek text in one column and Brenton’s English translation side-by-side. The Greek source text is Vaticanus.

Available on-line: Google Books

Thomson Translation

The Septuagint Bible, the oldest text of the Old Testament. Translated by Charles Thomson. 2nd ed. Indian Hills, Co: Falcon’s Wing Press, 1960.

Thomson’s translation first appeared in 1808 and has also been reprinted since that time but is far less available than Brenton’s work. This is a straight English translation and does not contain the apocrypha. The source text was Vaticanus. Thompson was the secretary of the continental congress before the revolution and a friend of Thomas Jefferson. His translation was highly praised at the time and he was an acknowledged expert Greek scholar. He previously published the first English translation of the New Testament in North America. This Falcon’s Wing Press edition does make some updates to the translation as noted in their introduction.

Available on-line: Google Books

Modern Translations

There are three modern projects that bring out a fresh English version of the Septuagint. One is a project sponsored by an academic organization and two are Orthodox faith based projects. The International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS) has the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) project. This project was released by Oxford University press in 2007.

NETS Translation Adjustment

A New English Translation of the Septuagint. New English Translation of the Septuagint, ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin Wright. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint) the series introduction and description of methodology is included in this volume. The NETS series is an adjustment of the NRSV translation to the Septuagint text where it is different from the Masoretic text. This translation is based on the Greek text of Rahlfs’ critical text. There are very few notes and nothing beyond the main introduction in the way of supplementary material.

NETS Translation Home Page Publisher Oxford Press on-line: Oxford Press

Papoutsis Translation

Peter Papoutsis translates the project called “The Holy Orthodox Bible.” Volume one containing the Pentateuch was self-published in 2004. Volume IIa the historical books, Vol 4 the Minor Prophets and the Psalms Volume are also complete. The remainder of the translation is in-progress.

The Pentateuch: translated from the Septuagint. Translated by Peter Papoutsis. The Holy Orthodox Bible. Chicago, 2004.

Papoutisis makes his translation from the current Septuagint Greek text published by Apostoliki Diakonia on behalf of the Greek Orthodox Church. This Greek Orthodox approved text takes the Greek text of the Old Testament lectionary then supplements from the Rahlfs critical edition where texts are not used in the lectionary cycle. This edition is the Greek base text for the Paputsis translation. The translation is a hybrid of Modern English with some Elizabethan overtones for stylistic purposes. Thus the text has a King James Version “feel” but is neither modern nor Elizabethan in the grammatical sense.

Self-published and available on-line: Lulu Publishing

Text Posted on-line Christian Library

Orthodox Study Bible Translation Adjustment

The third project is from the same editors and publisher of the Orthodox Study Bible New Testament. This yielded a complete Orthodox Study bible both Old & New Testament in 2008.

Gillquist, Peter E., Alan Wallerstedt, Joseph Allen, and Saint Athanasius Orthodox Academy (Santa Barbara Calif.). The Orthodox study Bible. Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson, 2008.

This complete Old & New Testament study bible follows the English text of the New King James Version. The introductory articles and the explanatory notes however are from a patristic and eastern liturgical perspective. There is an appendix of liturgical readings and the notes indicate major feasts that use the pericope. The Old Testament text is a translation adjustment to the LXX text where they differ from the Hebrew text translated in the original English version.

Conciliar Press on-line: Conciliar Press

Originally Posted July 03, 2009
Last Revised on August 15, 2010