Sep’tuagint (the seventy). The Septuagint or Greek version of the Old Testament appears at the present day in four principal editions:—
1. Biblia Polyglotta Complutensis, a.d. 1514–1517. 2. The Aldine Edition, Venice, a.d. 1518. 3. The Roman Edition, edited under Pope Sixtus V., a.d. 1587. 4. Fac-simile Edition of the Codex Alexandrinus, by H. H. Baber, a.d. 1816. [Targums.] The Jews of Alexandria had probably still less knowledge of Hebrew than their brethren in Palestine; their familiar language was Alexandrian Greek. They had settled in Alexandria in large numbers soon after the time of Alexander, and under the early Ptolemies. They would naturally follow the same practice as the Jews in Palestine; and hence would arise in time an entire Greek version. But the numbers and names of the translators, and the times at which different portions were translated, are all uncertain. The commonly-received story respecting its origin is contained in an extant letter ascribed to Aristeas, who was an officer at the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus. This letter, which is addressed by Aristeas to his brother Philocrates, gives a glowing account of the origin of the Septuagint; of the embassy and presents sent by King Ptolemy to the high priest at Jerusalem, by the advice of Demetrius Phalereus, his librarian, 50 talents of gold and 70 talents of silver, etc.; the Jewish slaves whom he set free, paying their ransom himself; the letter of the king; the answer of the high priest; the choosing of six interpreters from each of the twelve tribes, and their names; the copy of the law, in letters of gold; the feast prepared for the seventy-two, which continued for seven days; the questions proposed to each of the interpreters in turn, with the answers of each; their lodging by the seashore; and the accomplishment of their work in seventy-two days, by conference and comparison. This is the story which probably gave to the version the title of the Septuagint, and which has been repeated in various forms by the Christian writers. But it is now generally admitted that the letter is spurious, and is probably the fabrication of an Alexandrian Jew shortly before the Christian era. Still there can be no doubt that there was a basis of fact for the fiction; on three points of the story there is no material difference of opinion, and they are confirmed by the study of the version itself:—
1. The version was made at Alexandria. 2. It was begun in the time of the earlier Ptolemies, about 280 b.c. 3. The law (i.e., the Pentateuch) alone was translated at first. The Septuagint version was highly esteemed by the Hellenistic Jews before the coming of Christ. Wherever, by the conquests of Alexander or by colonization, the Greek language prevailed, wherever Jews were settled, and the attention of the neighboring Gentiles was drawn to their wondrous history and law, there was found the Septuagint, which thus became, by divine Providence, the means of spreading widely the knowledge of the one true God, and his promises of a Saviour to come, throughout the nations. To the wide dispersion of this version we may ascribe in great measure that general persuasion which prevailed over the whole East of the near approach of the Redeemer, and led the Magi to recognize the star which proclaimed the birth of the King of the Jews. Not less wide was the influence of the Septuagint in the spread of the gospel. For a long period the Septuagint was the Old Testament of the far larger part of the Christian Church. Character of the Septuagint.—The Septuagint is faithful in substance, but not minutely accurate in details. It has been clearly shown by Hody, Frankel, and others that the several books were translated by different persons, without any comprehensive revision to harmonize the several parts. Names and words are rendered differently in different books. Thus the character of the version varies much in the several books; those of the Pentateuch are the best. The poetical parts are, generally speaking, inferior to the historical, the original abounding with rarer words and expressions. In the major prophets (probably translated nearly 100 years after the Pentateuch) some of the most important prophecies are sadly obscured. Ezekiel and the minor prophets (generally speaking) seem to be better rendered. Supposing the numerous glosses and duplicate renderings, which have evidently crept from the margin into the text, to be removed, and forming a rough estimate of what the Septuagint was in its earliest state, we may perhaps say of it that it is the image of the original seen through a glass not adjusted to the proper focus; the larger features are shown, but the sharpness of definition is lost. The close connection between the Old and the New Testament makes the study of the Septuagint most valuable, and indeed indispensable, to the theological student. It was manifestly the chief storehouse from which the apostles drew their proofs and precepts.