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What is the origin of the differences in the order of some verses in the book of Proverbs between the LXX and the MT?

Here are two examples:1 the verses 30:1—14 are after 24:22 and the verses 30:15—31:9 are after 24:34.

Is there any evidence to suggest that the translation of the LXX was based on a Hebrew text different from the MT?


Notes

  1. Eugene H. Merrill, Mark Rooker, Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (B&H Academic, 2011), p. 536.
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  • Asking about the ultimate original is too speculative. Asking if there's any evidence of a Hebrew text behind the LXX is a good question though.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 5:44

3 Answers 3

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The books of the Septuagint (= LXX, here not the Septuagint "proper", which is limited to the Pentateuch, but the whole of the Jewish scriptures in Greek) were produced by different translators; the various books thus exhibit vastly different styles and approaches to the task. LXX-Proverbs is well known for being among the most "free" in making the Hebrew text* available for Greek readers in antiquity.

* For the sake of this answer, I'll take the (MT) as the basis of comparison, although I'm not thereby pre-judging the question as to what Hebrew the Greek translator might have had in front of him.

The "special" problems of LXX-Proverbs are immediately apparent to anyone who reads the Greek beside the Hebrew. LXX-Proverbs already attracted specialist attention in the work of the seminal scholar of the 19th Century, Paul de Lagarde, in his Anmerkungen zur griechischen Übersetzung: Der Proverbien (Brockhaus, 1863). A general orientation to the ancient versions of Proverbs is provided by R.N. Whybray, The Book of the Proverbs: A Survey of Modern Study (Brill, 1995), chapter 7, "Texts and Versions".

The problem here in giving a straightforward "yes" or "no" answer to this way of putting OP's question...

Is there any evidence to suggest that the translation of the LXX was based on a Hebrew text different from the MT?

...is that there is an abundance of evidence -- but not quite of the right kind (no "smoking gun"). There are, however, basically two options.

(1) The Greek translator also acted as "editor"

For some, the many, many small scale differences between the LXX and MT are most readily explained by the translator's evident penchant for "Hellenizing" his proverb collection. Here's what Jan de Waard has to say on this by way of summary to his section on the LXX in his edition of Proverbs for the Biblica Hebraica Quinta:

It should particularly be stated that few Greek translators have been so much receptor language and culture oriented as the Greek translator of Proverbs. His respect of the rhetorical canons of Greek poetry is remarkable. ... This insight will certainly put some restrictions on the relevance of G[reek Proverbs] for Hebrew textual criticism.1

To de Waard's work may be added at least two others. First, this view was anticipated long ago by Henry St John Thackeray (best known today for his Loeb translations of Josephus). In his Schweich Lectures published in 1921, he characterized our translator as a "classical scholar" who "happily, put much of his work into verse".2 More recently, the industrious Johann Cook has contributed many studies arguing for the editorial nature of the work of the translator of LXX-Proverbs. Both his monograph on LXX Proverbs, as well as the introduction to his translation for NETS bear this out at great length.3

It isn't surprising, then, that this line of thinking would lead to the conclusion that the large-scale differences, too, find their origins in the hands of this creative, Hellenizing translator.

(2) There was a different Hebrew edition in antiquity

However, as mentioned above, there is no "smoking gun". In the case of other texts -- most notably Jeremiah -- there is a similar relation between MT and LXX, but for which there is Hebrew evidence of the LXX-like text from among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Naturally, then, this raises the possibility of different Hebrew "recensions" (or editions) in antiquity. For some, like Jeremiah, we have the good fortune of accidental preservation of evidence. For others, we don't.

There have been advocates for differing Hebrew recensions in antiquity, which thus gave rise to, and are reflected in, the distinctive shape of LXX-Proverbs -- some "micro", but some "macro" too, as in the examples from OP. Foremost of these scholars is Emanuel Tov. He registers this possibility ("Two Parallel editions of Proverbs") in his standard work, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (3rd edn; Fortress, 2012), p. 304; he argues for it at length in an earlier essay, originally published in 1990, but more conveniently available among his collected essays.4

Tov noticed, of course, the clear precedent of Jeremiah, but also the fact that many of the differences between LXX and MT are not of the Hellenizing variety, but rather have to do with loose structure, missing or differing headings, and so on. That is, these are differences which are more readily explained by a different Hebrew edition, than by the translator's obvious fondness for Greek language and culture.

In this he was anticipated by H.B. Swete.5 Referring specifically to the macro-reordering stated in the Question, Swete writes:

Evidently the order of this portion of the book had not been finally settled when the Alexandrian translator did his work.

Tov also has notably been followed by Michael Fox (author of the two-volume Yale Anchor Bible commentary on Proverbs) who is preparing the Hebrew text for what was called the Oxford Hebrew Bible project. In an essay reflecting on this task,6 he makes explicit his agreement with Tov, and adds:

More precisely, the LXX is a translation of a recension, that is to say, one that descends from a deliberately reworked Hebrew text, and his not merely a translation of a corrupted and elaborated copy of the MT.

Summary

That such informed, able, and judicious specialists align on different sides of this question should obviously counsel caution. (I put that in bold for a reason...)

Meanwhile, my own inclination (FWIW) is towards the latter position (Tov/Fox). They are, I believe, quite right to note that the differences between MT and LXX Proverbs are not all of one kind, and the difference between the differences (!) is best explained by positing different Hebrew recensions in antiquity, one unlike our MT being the basis for the classical-loving Greek translator that took on this project in the early centuries BCE.


Notes

  1. J. de Waard, Proverbs (Biblia Hebraica Quinta, 17; Deutsche Bibelgesllschaft, 2008), p. 8*. See also his specialist study, “Some Unusual Translation Techniques Employed by the Greek Translator of Proverbs”, in R. Sollamo and S. Sipilä (eds), Helsinki Perspectives on the Translation Technique of the Septuagint (Helsinki and Göttingen: Finnish Exegetical Society and Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2001), pp. 185-193.
  2. H. St-J. Thackeray, The Septuagint and Jewish Worship: A Study in Origins (London, 1921), p. 13 (he gives some examples).
  3. J. Cook, The Septuagint of Proverbs: Jewish And/or Hellenistic Proverbs? Concerning the Hellenistic Colouring of LXX Proverbs (Brill, 1997), which has had mixed reviews at the level of detail; see also the PDF of his NETS Proverbs.
  4. E. Tov, [PDF] = "The Recensional Differences between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint of Proverbs", in The Greek and Hebrew Bible: Collected Essays on the Septuagint (Brill, 1999), pp. 419-431.
  5. H.B. Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (2nd edn; Cambridge, 1914), quote on p. 241.
  6. M. Fox, [PDF] = "Editing Proverbs: The Challenge of the Oxford Hebrew Bible", Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 32/1 (2006): 1-22; quote on p. 4.
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Yes, the Septuagint reflects an earlier version of the Hebrew Bible than the Masoretic text. Fragments of a pre-Masoritic version of the consonantal text of the Hebrew Old Testament have been discovered in Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls); the consonantal text was canonised in the 1st century CE; the vocalised (Tiberian, Palestinian and Babylonian) versions were not codified until the 10th century CE. This is why the old translations are important.

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First Point I have worked with and Translated Greek for 45 years Most people who weigh in are ENGLISH ONLY. In The Book of Proverbs I have found MANY Are Scripture Riddles. The Key of these Proverbs is to know the text of the Greek Septuagint well to see what solomon cites or hints at. And these are cited and quoted from Psalms,1Kings 1+2 Samuel back to Genesis and includes the book of Job. So when the Scripture or Text Solomon is citing is found; This is the key to that proverb. This changes the interpretation of that proverb because one has discovered it's GREATER CONTEXT with its lesson taught or moral given, its bad or good history or commandment(s) cited.

Second Point Brenton's Septuagint is passible at points, however many chapters in Brenton's Septuagint ARE NOT TRANSLATED but the KJV Masoretic Text was put in instead. Over 1500 key words in Greek Scripture are NOT TRANSLATED in Brenton.

Which is the version read by English Only Pastors Teachers and today's "Scholars" which are no longer scholars on many topics they claim expertise.

If one has read over and over the Masoretic Text's Translation one can find with careful thinking Who did this or that deed good and evil you will see a few dozen proverbs Key Verse or Passage BUT without retranslating the Greek with its full declensions You Do not really know what Solomon's and Other's proverbs say.

So if you have the Greek text of the Proverb. In some by single Greek words or Short phrases getting all the forms of said Greek word in the LXX one can find a number of these keys so that they are confirmed by the Greek.

This is how all through the Septuagint the Prophets David Solomon etc. 1 Identify the texts or verses they are citing and quoting from. This system was first in place in the ORIGINAL HEBREW, note my words. ((I found this affirmed by two rabbis who wrote a detailed book on the Septuagint. Stating this system was known and used by Rabbis today that was in the ORIGNAL HEBREW and the SEPTUAGINT)) It is not so much in the Masoretic Text due to massive changes by Rabbi Akiba 100ad-130ad when he rewrote the Original Hebrew text. Removing many prophecies of Christ and Objectional texts to their doctrines. And he added a number of rabbincal sayings as was done in a number of Targums.

In 130 ad Rabbi Akiba ordered the Gentile bible (The Septugint) be removed from synagogues and His masoretic text be put in every synagogue. This is the scrolls used in all conservative and ultra conservative synagogues to this day. As per the 1901 Jewish Encylopedia. This alteration was repeatedly afirmed by the Apostolic fathers beginning with Origen in his letter exchange with Africanus on this subject. A huge epistle by Justin martyr reprising a long discussion with chief rabbi of a synagogue in Rome. Name and quote in Greek verse after verse that was removed in the Masoretic text.

Continuing: When the Septuagint was translated in 280 BC As God Stirred up Ptolemy to desire "The Wisdom of the Judeans" He sent messengers to the High Priest in Jerusalem, offering a kings ransom if the High Priest would sent to Egypt translators with their holy scriptures in Hebrew and Translate them into Greek.

The reason is laid out in 2nd Maccabees When Alexander the great was marching to destroy Jerusalem a Second time. God spoke gave visions to the high priest. In which God commanded the High Priest in his full garments (Commanded never to be seen outside of the Temple -- God foreseeing this event) with priests in full garments bearing the Arc behind the high priest. to leave the temple leave jerusalem and march alone to meet Alexander.

(The Claim by Moderns God gave Judeans NO SIGNS for 400 years after their return from the babylonian captivity is false. This was a GIANT SIGN for Israel and for the entire Greek speaking world Alexander was conquering. Alexander is prophesied of in Daniel as the goat) So the High priest obeyed and went forth. Alexander with one or more generals; when he saw the high priest in his garments and the Ark he halted his army. and went with an a few and met the High Priest. Alexander stated in the text that as a child he saw in visions plural This High Priest in his garments and the Ark. And he seeing this did NOT seige Jerusalem but he made them a friend or Protectorate of his kingdom. (Which Later went Awry due to great sin in Jerusalem and Judea of the acceptance of Hellinism with its idols to the point a whisper of people going to the temple. This is why the absolute horrific Judgment with Antiochus arose. Read 1st through 4th Maccabees to comprehend this event and NOTICE all that is quoted from these books by Jesus example His speaking of the antichrist in Matthew 24 is citing Antiochus. That it will be WORSE than the great evil he did)

So there were NOT enough priests fluent in Hebrew and Greek to fulfill Ptolemies Request. So the High Priest unrecorded instructed by God approached the Head of the Pharisees which Provided Rabbis fluent in Hebrew and Greek to fulfill the number 70.

The Septuagint was another Sign Unrecognized by Moderns As God Sent this ahead for Christ and the Apostles

Once the Septuagint was finished Ptolemy was COMPELLED unknowingly by God to send copies of the Septuagint to every Library built by Alexander in every kingdom's major cities he conquered. And Sent to Athens centural library, and others in Greece.

And Ptolemy sent dozens of copies of the full Septuagint to the High Priest in Jerusalem who had no use for the scriptures in Greek. So he gave them to the Chief Rabbi of the Pharisees who being so pleased with this translation byhis rabbis working with the Priests He ordered the Targums with all its versions causing disputes between synagogues removed and the SINGLE TEXT Septuagint be used in all synagogues.

So that Jesus when he annouced his ministry in Nazarth in the synagogue he called for the scroll of Isaiah and found the place and read (There were no chapters until 1300 ad and no verses until 1400 ad created by Roman Catholic Bishops) The greek text Jesus read has words that materially differ from the Masoretic text. (I had in 1983 an 3 volume Hebrew interliner of the entire masoretic text. A checking the text word by word I Isolated several Hebrew words that materially differed from what jesus read in Greek.

Showing conclussively that Jesus did not Read in the synagogue the Original Hebrew as this was Most Holy and guarded in the Temple as charge by Moses to prevent the texts from being altered.

I had also a copy of the Septuagint (This was in the summer of 1983) And found Jesus was in fact 1 READING GREEK and Speaking it. (This was said to be impossible in 5 years in bible school. Which taught Jesus and his disciples were illiterate and only spoke Aramaic) It was in 1983 I first caught Jesus reading word for word from the Greek Septuagint in a Synagogue in Nazareth. NOTE! The Apostles who spoke Aramaic also spoke and could read Greek as evidenced in the Epistles where by Single Greek Words and short phrases they continually cite and quote the verses and texts used in All teaching, and Doctrine from the Greek Septuagint.

Moderns all state the Masoretic Text is what was used by Jesus and the Apostles. (This was never available in Aramaic) The ORIGINAL Hebrew was in the temple alone no Jew was allowed to own a single book much less a full copy of the Hebrew. As it was MOST HOLY and kept only in the Temple. The Original Hebrew text was orally Read by Teaching Priests and taught for all to memorize bit by bit wiht their circuits all through the OT until the Greek Septuagint was written. Then in all synagogues on the sabbath a book was read to hear and memorize,and then commented on under a microscope. Synagogue was dawn to dusk all the way until the modern era the 1700's. Thereafter the Sabbath was reduced in many convative Synogogues and Reformed Synagogues. As a young child I lived in a synagogue being gentile. My father was head custodian and we had an apartment in the basement of the synagogue. I could hear the Sabbath Schule. Along with their services, these were reduced to 3 hours, with a semi feast of synagogue members Friday evenings after sundown when the sabbath began until sundown saturday.

I will note here the second reason beginning with the prophets and holy men were citing and quoting older scripture. THAT THEIR WORDS NOT REST UPON THEMSELVES but upon being in Older Scripture.

For out of the mouth of two and three witnesses shall ever word (Teaching doctrine Revelation) be (Found) Established.

Christ and the Apostles used the same system that had been in place known and used by All Rabbis.

ONLY Christians do not know as this has been long forgotten, But recovered a number of times in Church history Most Recently during the First and Second Awakenings we found confirmations These knew and used this to a degree.

The awakenings were also a restoration of Greek in bible schools in Seminaries of those denominations and Greek was read aloud by John wesley and others as Wesley had a pocket greek New Testament he Read aloud and translated on the fly. I found multiple references to this. His followers translated the full Septuagint for the first time into english and translated into english the writings of the Apostolic Fathers which we have found invaluable! In being able to read the actual original writings instead of books with snippets by denominations about this period, or any period of church history.

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