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Codex Sinaiticus Digitization Project Going Live

23rd July 2008

The first online phase of the Codex Sinaiticus digitization project headed by the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham, in cooperation with the British Library and the three other holding libraries, will be going live Thursday 24 July 2008 at

Most news services have been covering this story:

This is an exciting project — I hope other similar projects will be inspired by this one so that more primary texts will be available online. From the available preview, the site should be spectacular.

For more information on Codex Sinaiticus, please see the profile I wrote as part of my Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible series.

Posted in Manuscript, Old Testament, Septuagint, Sinaiticus, Text Criticism | 2 Comments »

“The LXX says…” – Taking Septuagint Criticism Seriously

17th May 2007

Shawn Flynn over at Palimpsest has some interesting thoughts on Septuagint criticism and its use in biblical studies, particularly in the study of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

One of the primary issues that he raises at the beginning of his post is the distinction between “interpretive” translations and “faithful” translations. While I understand what he’s getting at (and the theoretical model underlying his perspective), I’m not sure that such a distinction is always easy to maintain. Nevertheless, the distinction does underscore the important first step of assessing the nature of the Greek text you are dealing with.

Shawn further highlights six steps/questions that should be considered while determining the nature of the LXX text:

  1. First, textual criticism of the LXX must be conducted.
  2. With a tentative LXX/OG text, consider the possible Vorlage of the LXX.
  3. When there is a likely equivalent between the Vorlage and the LXX, other questions must still be considered before equivalence (in terms of equivalent meaning) is assumed.
  4. When there is a divergence between the likely Vorlage and the LXX, what is the reason?
  5. Is there enough information to make a decision?
  6. Did the LXX translator just misunderstand their [sic] Vorlage?

These are all good questions and they represent sound method.

The question that his post raises for me is the high expectations often places on biblical scholars. I personally have read enough NT or OT scholarship to know that scholars often use the LXX uncritically. In fact, even when I was reading some articles for my posts on Psalm 2:12 I was surprised by the way the LXX was appealed to by scholars — some of whom should certainly know better.  The problem is that it is hard enough to keep up in your own field of studies, let alone someone elses field!  Should the NT scholar have to be a LXX scholar in order to use the LXX? These unrealistic expectations plague scholarship in general. Archaeologists look with contempt at biblical scholars who attempt to engage archaeological data; biblical scholars roll their eyes at theologians when they appeal to the Bible. I could list many more examples, but you get my point.

In my opinion, while any biblical scholar who appeals to the Septuagint in a scholarly context should use the best critical texts available and employ sound method, that does not mean she or he has to become a Septuagint scholar. Of course, the degree to which an argument depends on the LXX, the more expertise is required. Thus, a NT scholar who is investigating the quotations of the Old Testament in the New better have a good grip on Septuagintal scholarship! It is the responsibility of Septuagint scholars to disseminate the results of their research to others and produce tools for others to use without having to re-invent them, so to speak.

So while I agree in principle with Shawn’s post, I wonder if he is being too idealistic?  What do my readers think?

Posted in Criticism, Septuagint, Text Criticism | 6 Comments »

Some Septuagint Updates

15th May 2007

I have made some updates to my Resources Relating to the LXX pages on my main website. The updates included mentioning two new resources, both of which I previously announced some time ago.

First, there is the new revised version of Rahlfs’s “pocket” edition of the LXX:

rahlfs-hanhart.jpgSeptuaginta (Alfred Rahlfs, ed.; Editio altera/Revised and corrected edition by Robert Hanhart; German Bible Society, 2006). Buy from | Buy from

This is the popular edition of the Septuagint — and the only affordable version with the complete Greek text. Note that this is not a critical text (e.g., there is only a brief critical apparatus). Rahlfs based his text primarily on codex Vaticanus (B), but when necessary (and in his own opinion based on established text-critical principles) he adopts readings found in codex Alexandrinus (A) and codex Sinaiticus (S) so as to represent as closely as possible the “Old Greek” version of the text (i.e., the “original” text). This new “Rahlfs-Hanhartâ€? edition is a minor, yet significant, revision of Rahlfs’ LXX by Robert Hanhart. This revision is a stop gap measure, since a new critical edition of the LXX Psalms is many years off and there were many small errors in the original edition that needed to be corrected. In addition to correcting small errors, Hanhart also made some modifications to the critical apparatus, including redescribing the way appeals to textual traditions were quantified as well as the inclusion of a number of other uncials and recensions where the first edition only mentioned B, S, or A.

Note that Michael Bird has also recently briefly noted this new edition.

Second, Oxford University Press has just published a useful resource for those interested in the Hebrew and Greek traditions of the book of Psalms:

comparative_psalter.jpgA Comparative Psalter: Hebrew (Masoretic Text) – Revised Standard Version Bible – The New English Translation of the Septuagint – Greek (Septuagint) (John Kohlenberger, ed.; Oxford University Press, 2007). Buy from | Buy from

This useful volume brings together the Masoretic Text (BHS without apparatus) and RSV of the book of Psalms in parallel columns on one page, with the New English Translation of the Septuagint (by Al Pietersma) and Greek Septuagint (the first edition of Rahlfs’s Septuaginta) on the facing page. This resource makes it very easy to see how the LXX translator rendered his text, though the differences between the English translations may suggest differences where none exist since Pietersma made his English translation with an eye on the NRSV and not the RSV. One of primary benefits of this volume is that it is far less expensive than Pietersma’s out-of-print stand alone translation of the LXX Psalms (A New English Translation of the Septuagint: Psalms [Albert Pietersma, translator; Oxford University Press, 2000; Buy from | Buy from]).

John Hobbins has an excellent review of this resource on his Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog.

For more resources related to the Septuagint, see my Annotated Guide to the LXX.

Posted in Codex Updates, LXX Psalms, NETS, Septuagint | Comments Off

A Comparative Psalter: MT, LXX, and English Translations

10th March 2007

[I announced this back in June 2006; it is just now available]

An interesting resource for the study of the Septuagint has just been published by Oxford University Press:

A Comparative Psalter: Hebrew (Masoretic Text) – Revised Standard Version Bible – The New English Translation of the Septuagint – Greek (Septuagint)
John Kohlenberger (ed)
Oxford, March 2007.

Buy from | Buy from

Here’s the blurb from Oxford: This volume brings together the Psalms in a quartet of versions that is certain to be an invaluable resource for students of this core book of the Bible. The texts featured in A Comparative Psalter represent a progression of the text through time. The ancient Masoretic Hebrew and Revised Standard Version Bible are displayed on one page, while the New English Translation of the Septuagint (by Pietersma) and Greek Septuagint are on the facing page. The same set of verses is displayed for all four texts, making it easy to compare to differences between the MT and LXX. The Modern English versions included in this volume are noteworthy for their fidelity to the ancient texts. The first major translation of the Christian Scriptures from the original languages to be undertaken since the King James Version, the RSV debuted in 1952 to critical acclaim. It dramatically shaped the course of English Bible translation work in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, and remains the Bible of choice for many people. Meanwhile, the New English Translation of the Septuagint is the first work of its kind in a century and a half. This major project brings to the fore a wealth of textual discoveries that help illuminate the Book of Psalms for Twenty-first Century readers.

Posted in LXX Psalms, Psalms, Septuagint, Text Criticism | 2 Comments »

The Septuagint Psalm Superscriptions (Part 2) Personal Names and Notions of Authorship (Best of Codex)

22nd November 2006

[Originally posted 3rd July 2005]

There are a total of 37 places where the LXX Psalter has either additions (13x) or expansions (24x) to the superscripts in comparison to the MT Psalter. While these may be classified in a number of ways, I will discuss them under four headings: personal names; genre designations, liturgical notices, and situational ascriptions. This blog entry will focus on personal names. (Note: Chapter and verse references are to the MT with the LXX indicated in parentheses).

Personal Names in the LXX Psalm Superscriptions

In the MT many of the psalms have references to personal names in the superscripts (typically with the preposition ל l). Seventy three psalms contain David; others have Asaph (12x; Pss 50; 73–83); the sons of Korah (11x; Pss 42; 44-49; 84-85; 87-88); Solomon (Pss 72; 127); Ethan (Ps 89), Heman (Ps 88), Moses (Ps 90), and possibly Jeduthun (Pss 39; 62; 77). With rare exceptions, the construction lamed + name is rendered with an articular dative. This includes all of the Asaph psalms and virtually all of the Korahite psalms (there are two contested cases where υπεÏ? + genitive is used: Ps 46(45) and 47(46)). In connection with the David psalms, Pietersma has argued that the six places that Rahlfs uses a genitive in his lemma text should be read as datives. Of the two psalms with Solomon in their titles, one is translated by a dative (Ps 127(126)), while the other is rendered by εις Σαλωμων “for Solomon” (Ps 72(71)).

David in the Septuagint Psalter
In the LXX there are a number of instances where personal names are added, including Jeremiah and Ezekiel in Ps 65(64); Haggai and Zechariah in Ps 146(145); 147:1-11(146); 147:12-20(147); and 148. Most of the changes in personal names, however, relate to David, the “sweet psalmist of Israel.” In 13 cases the LXX adds a reference to David (Pss 33(32); 43(42); 71(70); 91(90); 93(92); 94(93); 95(94); 96(95); 97(96); 98(97); 99(98); 104(103); 137(136). (I should also note that there are two instances where references to David are omitted in the Greek tradition: Pss 122(121) and 124(123)). In all but one instance (Ps 98(97)), the LXX adds this association to psalms that are untitled in the MT. The question that immediately comes to mind are whether these additions reflect a different Hebrew text or are the product of transmission history. Unfortunately, it is difficult to gain any critical purchase on this question since Ï„á¿· Δαυιδ is the default rendering of לדוד. In three cases it is more than likely that the additions reflect a different Hebrew text, as there is textual evidence to support the variant reading, whether among a few Masoretic texts (43(42)), or among the DSS (e.g., 11QPsq has לדוד in Ps 33(32); and 11QPsa and 4QPse also have לדויד in Ps 104(103).

The remaining ten instances are more difficult to access. Al Pietersma, in his study “David in the Greek Psalms” (VT 30 (1980) 213-226), suggests that the Davidic references in Pss 71(70); 91(90); 93(92); 95(94); 96(95); and 97(96); may be called into question because other elements of the LXX superscripts are clearly secondary. While this is essentially a “guilty by association” argument, it’s the best we can do considering the evidence. This leaves four superscripts that add an association with David: Pss 94(93); 98(97); 99(98); and 137(136). It is almost impossible to make any determination with Ps 94(93), as the superscript is uncontested. As a royal psalm, it may be understandable why Ps 98(97) would attract a Davidic superscript, though this does not help explain Ps 99(98) (contra Pietersma). The only superscript where some judgment may be made is Ps 137(136). There is quite a bit of variation among the textual witnesses, with many of them including an ascription to Jeremiah, and some conflating the two and associating the psalm with David and Jeremiah. The textual rivalry between David and Jeremiah could be an indication that the psalm was originally untitled, as it is in the MT tradition and Qumran.

Jeremiah & Ezekiel in the Septuagint Psalter
As noted above, some Greek texts of Ps 137(136) include a reference to Jeremiah in their superscripts. The association with Jeremiah in the Greek tradition is perhaps understandable considering the psalm’s exilic setting, though according to biblical tradition Jeremiah never goes to Babylon. There is a tradition, however, that places Jeremiah in Babylon. In fact, 4Baruch 7:33-36 Ps 137(136):3-4 is actually put into the mouth of Jeremiah. The text reads as follows:

For I [Jeremiah] say to you that the whole time we have been here, they have oppressed us, saying “Sing us a song from the songs of Zion, the song of your God.” And we say to them, “How can we sing to you, being in a foreign land?”

While there is a possibility that the superscript led to 4Baruch making the association, it seems more plausible the other way around because 4Baruch has Jeremiah in Babylon, where singing the psalm makes sense. In addition, in 4Baruch there is no indication that Jeremiah is quoting Scripture.

The reference to Jeremiah in Ps 137(136) is not the only one found in the LXX Psalter. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel are mentioned together in Ps 65(64). The full superscript reads as follows:

εἰς τὸ τέλος ψαλμὸς Ï„á¿· Δαυιδ ᾠδή ΙεÏ?εμιου καὶ Ιεζεκιηλ á¼?κ τοῦ λόγου τῆς παÏ?οικίας ὅτε ἔμελλον á¼?κποÏ?εύεσθαι
To the end. A psalm for David. A song. Of Jeremiah and Ezekiel from the account of the sojourning community, when they were about to go out.

The superscript is somewhat contested, though Rahlfs considered it OG. What is interesting about this superscript, is that like the previous example, there is a double association: a connection with David and with Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Unlike the previous example, it is not clear what triggered the association with Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Within the psalm itself there are no explicit connections with these prophets or the return from exile in general. The reference to “Zion” and the addition of “Jerusalem” in v. 2 may suggest this is one of the “songs of Zion” mentioned in Ps 137. While these (and others I won’t bore you with) readings of the Greek translation may provide some clues as to why the association was made, it is more certain that the association is due to an inner-Greek development rather than a different Hebrew parent text. This is almost certain due to the fact that the superscript employs the atypical conjunction ὅτε, and that the grammatical construction of the modal μελλω (“about to”) plus a complementary infinitive is never found elsewhere in the LXX Psalter, and thus is not congruent with the translator’s technique.

Haggai & Zechariah in the Septuagint Psalter
The final two individuals that we meet unexpectedly in the superscript of the LXX Psalter are the post-exilic prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Ps 146(145); 147:1-11(146); 147:12-20(147); and 148 all include Αλληλουια, Αγγαιου καὶ ΖαχαÏ?ιου “Hallelujah. Of Haggai and Zechariah” (or “A Hallelujah of…”). If you look beyond Rahlfs’ text, then Haggai and Zechariah also show up in Ps 149 and 150, as well as 111(110), 112(111), and even 138(137) and 139(138). Of courses, not all attestations are as strong textually, though it is interesting to note how the tradition surrounding Haggai and Zechariah grew.

How the association of Haggai and Zechariah with these psalms arose is a perplexing question. F. W. Mozley (The Psalter of the Church, Cambridge University Press, 1905, p. 188), conjectures that Haggai and Zechariah were compilers of a small collection of psalms from which these psalms were taken. While that may be the case, a more plausible solution may be to look in these psalms for connections to the post-exilic community. Both Martin Rösel (“Die Psalmüberschriften Des Septuaginta-Psalters,” in Der Septuaginta-Psalter, Herder, 2001, pp. 125-148) and Al Pietersma (“Exegesis and Liturgy in the Superscriptions of the Greek Psalter,” in X Congress of the IOSCS, Oslo 1998, Society of Biblical Literature, 2001, pp. 99-138) appeal to Psalm 147(146) as the text that triggered the initial association. Verse 2 in the LXX has an explicit reference to the return from exile. The texts read as follows:

οἰκοδομῶν ΙεÏ?ουσαλημ á½? κÏ?Ï?ιος καὶ Ï„á½°Ï‚ διασποÏ?á½°Ï‚ τοῦ ΙσÏ?αηλ á¼?πισυνάξει
The Lord is the one who (re)builds Jerusalem; and he will gather the dispersed [diaspora] of Israel

The translation of the Nif’al participle from נדח “drive away” by διασποÏ?α is atypical. Elsewhere the translator renders נדח by εξωθεω“to expelâ€? (5:11) or απωθεομαι “expel, banish” (62[61]:5). Rather than these more general terms, in the passage under question he employs a technical term for the exilic dispersion, διασποÏ?α. Perhaps significant, is the fact that this term also shows up in some witnesses in connection with Zechariah in the superscript to Ps 139(138). This reference to the exilic dispersion in Ps 147 may have spawned the initial association with two prominent figures of the return, Haggai and Zechariah, which then expanded to include other psalms. The fact that the names are in the genitive may suggest these superscripts are products of transmission history, as it is unclear what the Hebrew text could have read to produce such a translation (If the Hebrew was lamed + name, then you would expect an article in the Greek, and there is no precedent for a construction “the hallelujah of Haggai and Zechariah”).

Personal Names and Authorship

One question that comes up in examining the LXX superscripts is how the translator understood the notion of authorship. Interestingly, it appears to be the case that the Greek translator (one of the earliest biblical interpreters) did not see the personal names in the superscripts as an indication of authorship, as a genitive construction would be expected. For example, Didymus the Blind (a 4th century Alexandrian theologian) makes the distinction in the Tura Psalms commentary in connection with Psalm 24:

(Ψαλμος τω δαυιδ): εις τον δαυιδ ο ψαλμος λεγεται αλλο γαÏ? εστιν “του δαυιδ” ειναι και αλλο “τω δαυιδ” λεγεται, οταν η αυτος αυτον πεποιηκως η ψαλλων. “αυτω” δε λεγεται, οταν εις αυτον φεÏ?ηται.
The psalm says “to David,” for others are “of David” and others “to David.” It says “of David,” when he made/wrote it or sang [it]. But it says “to him” when it was brought to him.

So while the Old Greek translation does not seem to indicate authorship, the growing trend in later witnesses is to spell out authorship explicitly by using the genitive. This suggests that the emphasis on individual authorship grew with time.

The evidence from the Greek Psalter fits nicely with a theory of Burton Mack’s I came across a number of years ago in an article entitled, “Under the Shadow of Moses: Authorship and Authority in Hellenistic Judaism” (SBL Seminar Papers 21 (1982) 299-318). In this article Mack argues that the interest in individual authorship only developed as Israel interacted with Hellenism. In the same way that the Greeks had their famous individuals, so too Judaism began to emphasize their own: Moses and the Pentateuch, Solomon and wisdom literature, and — as is clear from the Greek Psalms — David and the Psalter. The growing Davidic connection in the LXX Psalter is also paralleled in 11QPsa, where the prose piece notes that David composed over 4000 psalms “by the spirit of prophecy.”

Posted in Best of Codex, LXX Psalm Superscriptions, LXX Psalms, Psalms, Septuagint | Comments Off

Codex Sinaiticus Integrated into

20th August 2006

This is kind of nifty: over at — a web site that allows you to read the Bible in the original languages or translation side by side — you can now pull up the page in Codex Sinaiticus while you are studying the Greek text, and it’ll even do its best to highlight the exact verse you’re reading! Zack himself says: “Whether you are a Textual Criticism scholar or someone that just thinks the early manuscripts look cool, I hope you’ll find this feature valuable in your study of the Bible.” It is pretty cool!

You can read the full announcment here. If you want to check it out, go here which will take you to the reading pane and then select a parallel text by going to the bottom left of the page, clicking the option box and selecting “Codex Sinaiticus”, and then pressing the Add button. This will pull up links to Sinaiticus as a parallel view to your Greek text.

For a short introduction to Codex Sinaiticus, read my profile here, which is part of my series on the Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible.

Posted in Manuscript, Septuagint, Sinaiticus, Text Criticism | 1 Comment »

New Facsimile Images of Codex Sinaiticus Online

8th August 2006

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts has uploaded new images of Codex Sinaiticus. The images are from the full-sized black and white facsimile of the manuscript edited by Helen and Kirsopp Lake and published by Clarendon Press (NT 1911, OT 1922). The images posted are of the New Testament, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas.

For those who are interested in the Old Testament portion of Sinaiticus, Tischendorf’s 1862 facimile edition of Sinaiticus is availble online from the Biblical Manuscripts Project.

For an introduction to this manuscript, see my Codex Sinaiticus: A Profile (TCHB 5)

(HT Stephen Carlson)

Posted in Manuscript, Sinaiticus | Comments Off

The Practice of Textual Criticism (TCHB 8)

30th July 2006

With some of the theory surrounding textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible behind us, with this post I am going to discuss how to actually go about text criticism.

This is the eighth post in a series on the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

More specifically, in this post I will discuss how to identify and evaluate variants for the reconstruction of this Ur-edition. In the practice of textual criticism, critics traditionally distinguish between external criticism (i.e., the evaluation of the textual witnesses), and internal criticism (i.e., the transcriptional and intrinsic probability of the readings). For the former, critics need to know the textual witnesses and their history; for the latter, they need to be aware of the kinds of errors scribes made and have sensitivity to the context and inner clarity of the text itself.

The Preliminary Task: Collect the Variants

Before the variants can be evaluated, they need to be collected. They should be first collected from the textual witnesses and then compared with the MT, more specifically with the Leningrad Codex (L) as found in BHS. Even if you do not know Hebrew, you can identify the most significant variants in the text notes to most modern English translations (e.g., NIV, NRSV) and may even be able to detect others in differences between the English versions. For instance, Psalm 19:4 [19:5 in BHS] in the NIV reads “Their voiceb goes out into all the earth.” The superscript “b” leads the reader to the footnote, which reads: “b4″ Septuagint, Jerome and Syriac; Hebrew line.” By this note the translators are informing the reader that the variant reading of the text, “voice,” (which they used in the translation) is found in the Septuagint, Jerome’s Juxta Hebraica, and the Syriac Peshitta; while the MT variant is “line.”

As far as what English translations to use, the best translations, from the standpoint of OT textual criticism are: NRSV, NIV, TEV, NASB, NEB, and NJB. All of these translations carefully considered the available evidence when making their textual decisions (in addition, the NJPS will provide a good translation of the MT). Exegetes should avoid using paraphrases like the Living Bible, as it is primarily based on other English translations, as well as old translations such as the KJV, which is about four centuries out of date when it comes to text critical matters.

Exegetes using BHS (or BHQ) will find significant variants in its apparatus. Unfortunately, the apparatus is not the easiest to decipher. In this regard you may want to get yourself a copy of one of these two guides to BHS:

  • William R. Scott, A Simplified Guide to BHS: Critical Apparatus, Masora, Accents, Unusual Letters & Other Markings (3rd ed.; Bibal Press, 1995). Buy from | Buy from
  • Reinhard Wonneberger, Understanding BHS: A Manual for the Users of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd. revised ed.; trans. D. R. Daniels; Pontifical Institute, 1990). Buy from | Buy from

Since the apparatus of BHS, however, contains errors of commissions and omissions with respect to the Versions and the DSS, the advanced exegete will appeal to the critical editions of the ancient Versions and to the DSS themselves (see my posts on the Versions and DSS for more information on critical editions).

Another great resource that I will be posting on in the near future is the massive multi-volume Critique textuelle de l’Ancien Testament edited by Dominique Barthélemy. This is a truly massive undertaking that collates, discusses, and evaluates all of the variants in the Hebrew Bible.

External Criticism: The Evaluation of Textual Witnesses

As noted above, external criticism involves an examination of the textual witness themselves. This primarily entails evaluating the variant in relation to the “original edition” of the MT.

1. Evaluate Relationship to “Original Edition”
“True” variants are restricted to those that arose in the transmission of the “original edition” behind the MT. Before selecting any variant for further evaluation, the critic needs first to determine whether or not it is the product of a tendency within one of the primary text types (e.g., MT, LXX, SP, and unaligned). For example, on the one hand, the shorter variants of Jeremiah should be passed over if they belong to the text’s earlier literary development. On the other hand, the longer variants in the Torah of the pre-Samaritan text, such as an interpolation of Deuteronomy into Exodus, should also be passed-by because they represent a later stage of the text than the “original edition.” When the critic has excluded variants that stand apart from that Ur-edition, he or she will then proceed to evaluate the variant by internal criticism. But before turning to internal criticism, we need to rule out the traditional approach to external criticism.

2. Reject Traditional External Criticism
Sometimes text critics evaluate variants on the basis of the textual witness in which it is found. Some critics prefer a variant in the MT over the SP, or a variant in the LXX over the Tgs., because normally the MT and the LXX are superior to the other two. For example, E. Würthwein notes: “The various witnesses to the text should be examined, beginning with MT, and continuing with the rest in roughly the order of their significance for textual criticism, e.g., SP, LXX, Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, Syriac Peshitta, Aramaic Targums, ….” (The Text of the Old Testament, 112). Then too, some think that a variant in an early text has a prior claim over a variant in a later one, or that a variant in the majority of texts should be preferred.

Such external criteria should be ruled out, however, for four reasons. First, the fact that early corruptions obviously affected all our witnesses, requiring conjectural emendations, shows that one bad “gene” early on could have corrupted numbers of MSS. Second, the Qumran scrolls show an intricate web of relationships, so that one cannot predict a corruption in any given MS. Third, scribes tend to commit the same sort of errors, and therefore the same error could have arisen independently in several sources. Finally, the simple fact is that the Qumran scrolls, though a millennium earlier, do not normally contain better variants than the MT because the scribes in the later tradition tried harder to preserve the original than those at Qumran.

In sum, because we do not know the genetic relationship of any MS to the original edition, in principle a variant in the MT and/or in many witnesses has no prior claim as the better variant; and a variant in an otherwise poor witness, or in only a few, cannot be ruled out.

Internal Criticism: Transcriptional and Intrinsic Probability

Having decided that a variant may stem from the original text, the critic should not evaluate it further on the basis of the textual witness but on its own merits. There are two facets to internal criticism: transcription probability and intrinsic probability.

The task of evaluating a reading on its intrinsic and transcriptional probabilities is both an objective science and a subjective art. The basic rule of thumb is: “that reading is preferable which would have been more likely to give rise to the other”; or, turning that around, “the variant that cannot be explained away is more probably the original.” To explain away a variant, however, demands a firm grasp on the manuscripts, scribal practices, and a lot of exegetical knowledge and of common sense (this is why I believe while many aspire to be textual critics, few can gain enough mastery to actually do it well). Unfortunately, there are no simple rules. Some have likened textual criticism to a dog catching flees. As a dog catches flees not by following rules but by treating each flee individually, so also the text critic must address each variant individually, deftly, and reasonably.

1. Intrinsic Probability
Evaluating a textual variant according to its intrinsic probability involves taking the author’s style and the immediate context into consideration. Inasmuch as the inner clarity of the passage itself is the standard for evaluation, this is a subjective enterprise. It is sometimes difficult to determine what the author’s style or particular vocabulary is, as well as what fits the immediate context best. Nevertheless, while difficult, this is one of the major procedures of OT textual criticism.

2. Transcriptional Probability
Here the text critic needs to keep in mind the kinds of errors scribes committed either unintentionally or intentionally during the transmission of the text.

Unintentional Errors. Within the restraints of this post, I am only able to mention the most common types of unintentional scribal errors.

a. Confusion of similar consonants. Sometimes scribes confuse consonants that are similarly formed, depending on the script, or similarly sounded, such as the gutturals. For example, ד (d) and ר (r) are readily confused both in the Hebrew angular and square script. This is apparently what happened with the name of one of Javan’s sons. Sometimes he is called דדני×? (ddnym), “Dodanim” (Gen 10:4, MT), and other times רדני×? (rdnym), “Rodanim” (1 Chr 1:7, MT; Gen 10:4, SP, LXX). Other consonants that often are confused in the square script are: ב / ×›, ב/ מ, ב / × , ×’ / ו, ×’ / ×™, ×” / ×—, ו / ×–, ו / ר, ×› / × , מ / ס, and ×¢ / צ.

b. Haplography (“writing once”). Due to homoioteleuton, words with similar endings, or, homoiarcton, words with similar beginnings, sometimes a letter or group of letters accidentally drops out of the text. Compare the following readings of Gen 47:16:

  • MT: ו×?תנה לכ×? במקניכ×?
    I will give you for your cattle (cf. KJV)
  • SP, LXX: ו×?תנה לכ×? לח×? במקניכ×?
    I will sell you food… for your livestock (cf. NIV, NRSV)

“Food,” לח×? (lhm), comes after the similarly sounding and appearing “you,” לכ×? (lkm). The scribe likely skipped over “food” when copying the text. Another example comes from Judges 20:13 where the MT refers to the tribe of Benjamin as only בנימן  “Benjamin” instead of the expected בני בנימן  “sons of Benjamin.” The LXX reads “sons of Benjamin” and the Masoretes evidently thought that a scribe must have skipped over בני “sons of”, since they included the vowel pointing for בני even though the consonants are lacking.

c. Dittography (“writing twice”). Sometimes scribes accidentally repeated letters, a word or a phrase. For example, Isa 30:30 in the MT, LXX, Tgs., Syr., and Vulg. all read: הש×?מיע יהוה  “The Lord shall make heard,” while 1QIsa reads: הש×?מיע הש×?מיע יהוה  “The Lord shall make heard, shall make heard.” Apparently the scribe inadvertently repeated הש×?מיע “make heard.”

d. Doublets. This is the conflation of two or more readings, either consciously or unconsciously. For example, the LXX and 1QIsaa of Isa 37:9 conflate the accounts of Hezekiah’s consultation of Isaiah in the MT of Isa 37:9 and 2 Kgs 19:9. Compare the following:

  • MT : ויש×?ב ויש×?לח מל×?×›×™×?
    he again sent messengers (2 Kgs 19:9)
  • MT : ויש×?מע ויש×?לח מל×?×›×™×?
    and when he heard it, he sent messengers (Isa 37:9)
  • LXX, 1QIsa: ויש×?מע ויש×?ב ויש×?לח מל×?×›×™×?
    and when he heard it, he again sent messengers (Isa 37:9)

e. Metathesis. This is the accidental exchange or transposition of two adjacent letters within a word. For instance, Deut 31:1 reads:

  • MT : וילך מש×?×” וידבר ×?ת־הדברי×? ×”×?לה
    And Moses went [vylk] and spoke these words (cf. NIV)
  • 4QDeut, LXX : ויכל מש×?×” וידבר ×?ת־הדברי×? ×”×?לה
    And Moses finished [vykl] speaking these words (cf. NRSV).

The scribe evidently miscopied and reversed the order of ל (l) and כ (k) . The NRSV follows the reading in 4QDeut and the LXX, while the NIV opted for the MT.

f. Different concepts of word and verse divisions. Sometimes scribes, for unknown reasons, divided words and verses differently. For example, a scribe evidently divided the words in Hos 6:5 incorrectly:

  • MT : ומש×?פטיך ×?ור יצ×?
    And your judgments, light goes forth (cf. NASB, KJV).
  • LXX : καὶ τὸ κÏ?ίμα μου ὡς φῶς á¼?ξελεÏ?σεται
    = ומש×?פטי ×›×?ור יצ×?
    And my judgment goes forth as light (cf. NIV, NRSV).

The copyist of the MT evidently attached the ×› (k), of ×›×?ור (k’vr), “as light,” to the preceding word. Compare the following variants in Ps 102:[101 LXX]:24-25a involving different vocalization and misdivision of the verses:

  • MT : עִנָּה בדבך כחו קצר ימי ×?מר ×?לי (The Qere reads ×›×—×™ “my strength”)
    He broke my strength on the way, he cut short my days. 25 I said, “My God….”
  • LXX : ἀπεκÏ?ίθη αá½?Ï„á¿· á¼?ν á½?δῷ ἰσχÏ?ος αá½?τοῦ Τὴν ὀλιγότητα τῶν ἡμεÏ?ῶν μου ἀνάγγειλόν μοι
    = עָנָהוּ בדרך כחו ימי ×?מר ×?לי
    He answered him in the way of his strength: The fewness of my days report to me.

The LXX is different from the MT in reading ×¢× ×” (‘nh), as (Qal) “to answer,” rather than (Piel) “to humble”; taking בדרך כחו (bdrk khv), as a construct; and besides other vocalization changes, it also does not divide the verse in the same place.

Intentional Errors. Sometimes the scribes took liberty to change the text deliberately. Four different types of intentional changes can be noted.

a. Linguistic changes. Scribes often modernized archaic features of a verse, primarily in relation to spelling and grammar. For example, the SP replaces the old infinitive absolute construction of the MT with an imperative or finite verb form. In Num 15:35, the MT reads רָגוֹ×? (ragom), but the SP reads רִגמוּ (rigmu).

b. Contextual changes. Sometimes scribes change the text in order to harmonize certain passages. For instance, in Genesis 2:2, according to the MT, the Tgs., and the Vg, God completed his work on the seventh day, but according to the SP, LXX, and Syr (perhaps independently of each other), he completed it on the sixth day. The scribe(s) evidently changed the text to avoid the possible inference that God worked on the Sabbath.

c. Euphemistic changes. Sometimes scribes changed the text for euphemistic reasons. In Gen 50:23 the SP changes the phrase על־ברכי יוסף (‘l-brky yvsp), “upon the knees of Joseph” into על־נימי יוסף (‘l-bymy yvsp), “in the days of Joseph” because it seemed improper that Joseph’s grandchildren should be born upon his knees. In Deut 25:11 בִּמְבֻש×?ָֽיו (bmbshyv), “his private parts” is changed to בִּבְשָׂרוֹ (bbsrv), “his flesh,” because it seemed too obscene to mention that in a fight a woman would grab a man’s genitals. Similarly, in Deut 28:30 ש×?גל (shgl), “rape, have sex (?)” was deemed way too obscene for public use and so it was changed to ש×?כב (shkb), “sleep,” in both the SP and the MT-Qere. (Perhaps the equivalent of the ancient Hebrew f-word!).

d. Theological changes. We noted above how the Samaritans altered the pre-Samaritan text to defend Mount Gerizim as God’s place of worship. Theological changes also occur in the MT. Compare the following renditions of Prov 14:32:

  • MT: וחסד במותו צדיק
    But a righteous man in his death finds a refuge (cf. NIV).
  • LXX: á½? δὲ πεποιθὼς τῇ ἑαυτοῦ á½?σιότητι δίκαιος
    = וחסד בתומו צידק
    But the righteous man in his integrity finds a refuge (cf. NRSV).

The change from בתומו (btvmv), “integrity” in the LXX to במותו (bmvtv), “death” in the MT could be a case of simple transposition of מ (b) and ת (t). But some scholars think the change in the MT was intentional and reflects an anti-Sadducean point of view. Better known are the changes of early names with the theophoric element בעל (b’l), “Baal,” by the derogatory element בש×?ת (bsht), “shame.” For example, Esh-Baal (“man of Baal”), the name of Saul’s fourth son, in 1 Chr 8:33 is changed to Ish-Bosheth (“man of shame”) in 2 Sam 2:8.

On the whole, however, theological changes are rare in the MT. G. R. Driver notes: “Theological glosses [in our terminology, interpolations] are surprisingly few, and most are enshrined in the tiqqune sopherim [scribal changes], which are corrections of the text aimed chiefly at softening anthropomorphisms and eliminating the attribution of any sort of impropriety to God.”


Sometimes none of the transmitted variants satisfy exegetical expectations. In cases where all witnesses seem “hopelessly corrupt” the text critic may find emendation (a conjectured variant based on the known variants) necessary. Qumran scrolls have now validated this procedure in some cases. F. M. Cross comments: “No headier feeling can be experienced by a humanistic scholar, perhaps, than that which comes when an original reading, won by his brilliant emendation, is subsequently confirmed in a newly-found MS.”

Emendations must satisfy the same criteria by which known variants are evaluated. That is, they must be plausible. There are many emendations proposed where it is very difficult to see how the purported error took place. That being said, there are a number of places where emendation appears to be the best alternative. For example, there seems to have been a confusion of consonants in the angular script in Ezek 3:12.

  • All texts; ברוך כבוד־יהוה ממקומו
    May the glory of YHWH be praised in his dwelling place (cf. NIV).
  • Emendation: ברו×? כבוד־יהוה ממקומו
    As the glory of YHWH arose from its place (cf. NRSV).

The NIV’s “be praised” is based on ברוך (brvk), “be praised,” which is attested in all textual witnesses. The clause, however, is unique, awkward and contextless. Scholars salvage the line by emending ברוך (brvk) to ברו×? (brvm), “when [it] arose.” In the angular script ך (k) and ×? (m) are easily confounded. This emendation nicely satisfies exegetical expectations, Hebrew syntax, and the context of the verse (cf. Ezek 10:4, 15-18).

In sum, McCarter wisely counsels that a text critic should keep the image of a scribe clearly in mind, look first for conscious errors, know the personalities of your witnesses, treat each case as if it were unique, and beware of prejudices

Posted in Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Series, Syriac Peshitta, Text Criticism, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | 2 Comments »

Codex Sinaiticus: A Profile (TCHB 5)

17th July 2006

Codex Sinaiticus (designated by the sigla א or S) was discovered in the nineteenth century by Constantine von Tischendorf at the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai peninsula (hence its name). It is one of the oldest copies of the Christian Bible in Greek. In fact, it is the oldest complete uncial manuscript of the NT.

This is a special fifth post in a series on the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

Tischendorf.jpgThe story of the discovery of the codex is full of intrigue and scandal — OK, so it isn’t Indiana Jones, but for biblical studies it is pretty exciting! In search for ancient manuscripts of the Bible, Tischendorf first visited the monastery of St. Catherine in 1844. While visiting with one of the monks there he noticed a large basket of parchments being used to kindle the fire. Recognizing the parchments as parts of the OT in Greek, he persuaded the monks of their value and they stopped using them as a heat source. After some negotiations he was allowed to remove 43 leaves (which he figured was about one third of what was in the basket). Tischendorf eventually presented these manuscrpts to Frederick Augustus II, King of Saxony, who was his patron at that time. The 43 leaves were deposited in the university library at Leipzip and published under the name of Codex Friderico-Augustanus (MS gr. 1) in 1846.

Tichendorf returned to Sinai in 1853 to secure the reast of the codex, but left empty handed — except for a scrap with a few verses from the book of Genesis. In 1859 he visited yet again and was successful (on his last scheduled day at the monastery) in viewing a large manuscript. After some more negotiations, he was allowed to take the manuscript to Cairo, where he copied it by hand in a period of two months. Then, taking advantage of some internal politics in the monastery and the Orthodox Church, in 1859 Tischendorf received permission to take the codex to St. Petersburg (presumably on loan) and presented it as a gift to the Czar Alexander II of Russia, the protecter and patron of the Greek Church, purportedly in return for influence in the election of a new Archbishop. Tischendorf published a facsimile edition in 1862; the original was deposited in the Imperial Library in St. Petersburg as Codex Sinaiticus Petropolitanus in 1867. The codex was sold by a cash-strapped Russian government to the British Museum in 1933 for a sum of £100,000, half of which was raised by public support. The codex now resides in the British Museum as Additional MS 43725.

Sinaiticus0102.jpgThe codex is made of fine vellum (sheepskin and goatskin) with pages measuring ca. 15 by 13.5 inches (the original size is unknown due to binding). It has four columns per page (two columns in the OT poetic and wisdom books) with 48 lines per column. As with uncial manuscripts, there are no spaces between words, accents, or breathing marks.

Based on scholarly reconstructions, the original manuscript is thought to have consisted of ca. 730 leaves and more than likely contained the entire Christian Bible (with Apocrypha), as well as The Epistle of Barnabus and the Shepherd of Hermas.

Today there are ca. 405 leaves extant in four locations:

  1. The British Museum has 347 leaves, 199 leaves containing 1 Chronicles 9:27-11:22, Tobit 2:2-14:15 (end), Judith 1:1-11:13, 13:9-16:25 (end), 1 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, Isaiah, Jeremiah 1:1-10:25, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechiriah, Malachi, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Job; and 148 leaves with the complete NT as well as Barnabus and Hermas (to Mandates 4.2.3).
  2. The Universitats-Bibliothek at Leipzig has 43 leaves containing 1 Chronicles 11:22-19:17, 2 Esdras 9:9-23:31 [end], Esther, Tobit 1:1-2:2; Jeremiah 10:25-52:34 [end], and Lamentations 1:1-2:20. These leaves were published by Tischendorf with full-size litho-graphic facsimiles in 1844 as Codex Friderico-Augustanus (Leipzig, 1846).
  3. St. Catherine’s Monastery has 12 leaves and 14 fragments containing undisclosed portions of the Pentateuch. These were reportedly discovered in 1975 during renovations precipitated by a fire.
  4. Fragments of three leaves containing verses from Genesis 23-24 and Numbers 5-7 (MS. gr. 259 and MS. gr. 2), Judith 11:13-13:9 (Collection of the Society of Ancient Literature MS. O. 156), and Hermas Mandates 2.7-3.2 and 4.3.4-6 (MS. gr. 843) remain at the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg.

The script is written in a reddish-brown to black iron compound ink with an unornamented uncial hand. While originally thought to be the product of four scribes by Tischendorf and Lake (A, B, C, and D), recent scholarship has isolated only three hands, eliminating scribe C. Up to nine correctors have also been identified, two of whom were also original scribes.

Sinaiticus_Psalms.jpgIts date and provenance of the codex are uncertain. Based on the Eusebian apparatus, a clear terminus post quem can be set for around 300-340 CE. While a terminus ante quem is more difficult to ascertain, paleographically it has been set by a majority of scholars to the mid-fourth century CE based on a comparison with other uncial manuscripts, among other things (one scholar argues for a fifth century date, though with little support). The first two correctors are typically dated contemporaneous with the codex, while the other correctors are typically dated somewhere between the fifth and seventh centuries, and the last two to medieval times. While three different locations have been posited for its origin (Rome, Alexandria, and Caesarea); most scholars seem to prefer Alexandria or Caesarea.

The character of the text, with its many corrections, is uneven. The extant portions of the OT tend to agree with Codex Vaticanus, and are judged to contain superior readings in some books (e.g., 1 Chronicles, 2 Esdras, Isaiah). Similarly, the NT is of a high quality (with the exception of the book of Revelation) and tends to agree with Vaticanus (especially the Gospels and Acts). Canonically, some have considered the inclusion of Barnabus and the Shepherd of Hermas to be significant, though this is far from certain.

In 2006 the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham, in cooperation with the British Library and the three other holding libraries, began a digitization project to produce a new facsimile of the entire codex, as well as an online edition and other tools.

Internet Resources


Posted in Septuagint, Series, Sinaiticus, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | 1 Comment »

Early Versions of the Hebrew Bible (TCHB 4)

15th July 2006

This post continues surveying the witnesses to the text of the Old Testament. This post focuses on the early translation of the Hebrew Bible.

This is the fourth in a series of posts on the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

Early Versions of the Hebrew Bible

Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), the ancient Versions — early translations of the Hebrew text into different languages — were the primary sources for alternative readings when evaluating the Hebrew Masoretic text. In the light of the DSS, however, aside from the Greek translation, most of the Versions are now of lesser importance. Text critics, nevertheless, still compare variants in at least three early versions in addition to the Greek Septuagint: the Aramaic Targums, the Syriac Peshitta, and the Latin Vulgate. These three normally agree with the MT, though their few differences can be important. Tov notes: “Although there are thousands of differences between MT and the translations, only a fraction of them was created by a divergence between MT and the Vorlage of the translation. Most of the differences were created by other factors that are not related to the Hebrew Vorlage” (Tov, Textual Criticism, 123).

1. The Greek Septuagint

Lev_septuagint.jpgThe Septuagint (LXX) is the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. While its true origins are cloaked with mystery, the pseudepigraphal Letter of Aristeas states that 72 Palestinian Jews translated the Pentateuch in 72 days in Alexandria, Egypt, around 285 BCE. As the story of the origin of the LXX was retold in the Church it became yet more exaggerated. According to Justin Martyr, the tradition included the whole OT. Later in the second century Irenaeus reports that the translators worked in isolation but came up with identical results. Finally, Epiphanius of Salamis pushed the isolation idea to the limit. He had the translators do everything in pairs. When the thirty-six translations were read before the king they were found to be completely identical! The name “Septuagint” (“seventy”) derives from this legend, though it appears the number 72 was rounded to 70.

Despite its legendary character, Aristeas is nonetheless accurate insofar as it places the translation of the Pentateuch in the first half of the third century BCE; it associates the version with the Jewish community in Alexandria; and it states that the Pentateuch was translated first. In regards to its Egyptian origins, I should note that there are some minority views that argue for a Palestinian origin of some books of the LXX.

For a thorough treatment of the Letter of Aristeas, see The Legend of the Septuagint: From Classical Antiquity to Today, Abraham Wasserstein and David J. Wasserstein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006; Buy from | Buy from

The LXX is not a uniform translation. Various translators at different times, with varying philosophies of translation and different language capability, translated different portions of the Hebrew Bible. For example, the translation of the Torah is a good formal translation, the translation of the Psalter is very formal, while the translations of Proverbs and Isaiah are less so. Nevertheless, outside of the MT, the LXX is the most important tool for textual criticism because of its antiquity, its independence from the MT, and its completeness. As I noted in a previous post, some Qumran manuscripts attest to this text type.

The name Septuaginta today includes all textual witnesses to the Greek text, including the later revisions of the original Greek translation. For this reason, scholars distinguish between the Old Greek (OG; i.e., the original translation) and the Septuagint (as represented in the extant Greek manuscripts).

Manuscripts of the LXX. Septuagint manuscripts are customarily classified into three groups: papyri, uncial codices, and miniscules/cursives. There are nearly 700 papyri dating to the seventh century and earlier, the most important of which include the Chester Beatty Papyri, which date from the second to fourth centuries CE. Uncials (i.e., manuscripts written in all capital letters) come from the fourth to the tenth centuries, the most important of which include the fourth century Codex Vaticanus (B), the fourth century Codex Sinaiticus (×?), and the fifth century Alexandrinus (A). There are over 1500 miniscules (i.e., manuscripts written in lowercase) which date from the ninth century and later; they are nevertheless important as they often represent copies of very old manuscripts. For example, while the manuscripts referred to with the sigla “boc2e2″ come from the tenth to fourteenth centuries CE, they are our only witnesses to the fourth century Lucianic recension for Samuel and Kings. (Until the eighth century, only uncials were produced, in the ninth and tenth centuries uncials and miniscules were used side by side, and from the eleventh century only miniscules were produced; it is also important to note that until the eighth century, texts were written with their letters in continuous sequence, without word division, accents, breathings, or punctuation.)

During the 500 years or more that separate the hypothetical OG text from these manuscripts, the LXX was corrected to the proto-MT, modified by other texts, influenced by scribal idiosyncrasies, and even underwent several revisions. Therefore, before the Septuagint can be a useful tool in textual criticism, the OG text must first be reconstructed.

The Development of the LXX. There is some debate as to how the Septuagint developed. Paul de Lagarde proposed that there was one original text from which other recensions (a deliberately produced family of manuscripts exhibiting a distinct text type) and that to restore the OG the critic must first classify the variants into several recensions. Basing himself on Jerome, he proposed essentially the following model:


According to this model, by classifying the variants according to their recensions, one can reconstruct for the OG an eclectic text. While much of Lagarde’s orginal theory has been discarded (e.g., the Hesychian recension can’t be recovered), the vast majority of Septuagint scholars continue to hold to his basic notion of an original “Ur-text.” The Göttingen Septuagint series, named Septuaginta, Vetus Testamentum Graecum Auctoritate Societatis Litterarum Gottingensis editum, essentially follows this model and method. An abridged version of this eclectic reconstruction was published by A. Rahlfs, Septuagint, id est Vetus Testamentum graece iuxta LXX interpretes (Stuttgart, 1935; Buy from | Buy from

Paul Kahle, in contrast, took his cues from the witness of the Targums and theorized that there never was an “original” OG text. According to him, the Christians in the second century CE standardized numerous earlier, “vulgar” (i.e., texts to facilitate reading) translations, originally independent of each other. According to this view, one ought not attempt to reconstruct the OG, for such a text never existed. His model may be represented as:


The diplomatic edition of A. E. Brooke, N. McLean, and H.St.J. Thackeray, The Old Testament in Greek According to the Text of Codex Vaticanus (Cambridge 1906-1940) essentially follows this model in that it doesn’t attempt to construct the OG. They chose Codex Vaticanus (B) as their base text, and where it is lacking, they supplement it from Codex Sinaiticus (×?) and Codex Alexandrinus (A).

For a full listing of texts and translations of the LXX, including a complete listing of critical and popular editions, see my Annotated Guide to the Septuagint Pages.

The Character of the LXX. As noted above, each individual book of the LXX has its own idiosyncrasies to its translation and thus a careful examination of its translation technique is necessary before one can retrovert the text with any confidence. In addition, in some portions of the OT, the LXX is significantly different from the MT. For example, in Jeremiah it exhibits a different sequence of chapters and is one-sixth shorter than the MT. Consider this example from Jeremiah 28 (= Jeremiah 35 in the LXX). The additions in the MT are noted with italics, while additions in the LXX are marked bold.

And it came to pass in that year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, in the fifth month, Hananiah son of Azzur the false prophet, who was from Gibeon, said to me…: “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘… Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the house of the LORD that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from this place and took to Babylon, and Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon I am going to bring back to this place, ‘declares the LORD ‘” (Jer 28:1-4a; LXX 35:1-4a).

Throughout Jeremiah the MT consistently presents a more expanded version than the LXX. Aside from the Pentateuch, the same is true of other passages such as 1 Samuel 18-21 and Ezekiel. The LXX, in addition to other large-scale differences, also presents an entirely different text in the books of Daniel and Esther. These differences raise serious questions about the nature of the original text and the goal of textual criticism, to which I will return in a future post.

Revisions of the LXX. Some scribes deliberately revised the OG to agree more with the developing proto-MT. Prior to Origen (200 CE), who brought this process to completion in his famous Hexapla, revisers well-known to history were Aquila (125 CE), Symmachus (170 CE), and Theodotion (180 CE). To these Dominique Barthélemy recently posited a fourth from a Greek scroll of the Minor Prophets (middle of the first century BCE). Barthelemy named it Kaige because of its distinctive translation of Hebrew ×’Ö·×? (gam). Later research showed that the translational units in the Septuagint which are ascribed to Theodotion probably belong to this revision, and so many scholars now refer to it as Kaige-Theodotion. This recension became the text of the LXX in certain sections of the historical books and Daniel.

Lucian (312 CE) revised the text once again, this time in agreement with reading of some texts known from Qumran. Some scholars think that this is the OG itself, while others think it is close to it. Needless to say, it is an important witness to the OG.

The LXX is one of the most significant witnesses to the early text of the Hebrew Bible. If used judiciously, it can be one of the earliest witness that we have available to us. In addition, since every translation is also an interpretation, the LXX also provides a window to view the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Hellenistic Judaism.

For more information about the LXX, including introductions and tools, see my Septuagint Pages.

2. The Aramaic Targums

Targum_Onqelos.jpg“Targum” (Tg.) refers to an early Jewish translation of the Bible into Aramaic. In Second Temple Judaism Hebrew ceased to be spoken as the common language and was replaced by Aramaic, the official written language of the western Persian empire. As the knowledge of Hebrew decreased among the Jewish people, Targums were originally created orally, presumably to preserve its distinction from the truly sacred text which was in Hebrew. Only later were they committed to writing.

The targum fragments found at Qumran show that both free and literal Targums were made. Later these became standardized according to the proto-MT. The various targums include the Palestinian Targum, which does not have a single authoritative form, and those which were revised in Babylon. The best known Targum of the Torah is Targum Onqelos (see image). While scholars are divided about its date (first, third, or fifth century CE) and place of origin (Babylon or Palestine), its influence is unmatched among the Targums; it became official in the fifth century CE after a long history of development (It is also one of the more formal Targum translations). There are also Palestinian Targums of the Torah. The most important Targum to the prophets is the Targum Jonathan. Like the LXX, the Targums are not the work of single individuals.

In general the Targums are probably of more value for the history of exegesis and for the background of the NT than they are for text critical study.

The targums are being translated into English in the series, The Aramaic Bible: The Targums, with Martin McNamara serving as the project director (Liturgical Press, 1987-). An older translation is available from A. Sperber, The Bible In Aramaic: Based on Old Manuscripts and Printed Texts (Brill, reprint 2004; Buy from | Buy from

3. The Syriac Peshitta

The term “Peshitta” means “the simple [translation],” and refers to the Syriac Bible (Syr.). Its Hebrew source is close to the MT, though it shows agreement and disagreement with the above versions, depending in part upon the book. It is not clear whether it was translated by Christians or Jews, though it may be the case that it had Jewish origins and then was later adopted and transformed by Christians.

For a modern translation, though not precise, see George Mamishisho Lamsa, The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts: Containing the Old and New Testaments Translated from the Peshitta, The Authorized Bible of the Church of the East (HarperCollins, 1990; Buy from | Buy from A critical edition is being prepared by the Peshitta Institute of the University of Leiden called The Old Testament in Syriac according to the Peshitta Version (Leiden, 1966-).

4. The Latin Vulgate.

Jerome.jpgRecognizing the need for a uniform and reliable Latin Bible, Pope Damascus commissioned Jerome (Hieronymous) to produce such a work (345-420 CE). Jerome’s original translation of the Psalms (Psalterium Romanum) was a revision of the Vetus Latina, old Latin texts based largely on the LXX. Jerome’s second translation of the Psalms was based on the Hexapla (Psalterium Gallicanum). Dissatisfied with using other translations, Jerome prepared a fresh translation form the “original truth of the Hebrew text” with the help of Jewish scholars. The Vulgate, “the common one” (Vg), translation essentially agrees with the proto-MT. Editions of the Vulgate, however, include, besides the Gallican Psalter, other books based on the Hexapla: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.

There are two critical editions of the Vulgate available: Biblia Sacra iuxta latinam Vulgatam versionem (Rome, 1926-) and the editio minor of R. Weber, Biblia Sacra Vulgata (4th ed.; Stuttgart, 1990; Buy from | Buy from

Employing the Versions in Textual Criticsm

Employing the Versions in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible is a daunting task. Not only do you need to retrovert the translated text, you also need to deal with major uncertainties regarding the origin and development of the Versions themselves — especially considering that many of them are not available in critical editions. In my mind the LXX is the most useful to the text critic, while the other versions are more important for their insight into the interpretation of the biblical text.

Posted in Septuagint, Text Criticism, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | 3 Comments »