I have been working through bits of Genesis in Hebrew/Greek parallel, and overall it seems like there are few deviations from the Hebrew in the LXX (as opposed to, say, Proverbs), presumably due to a relatively conservative translator and a source text that was relatively similar to the MT. However, in Genesis 22 there is one discrepancy that stands out to me:

BHS: קַח־נָ֠א אֶת־בִּנְךָ֨ אֶת־יְחִֽידְךָ֤ אֲשֶׁר־אָהַ֙בְתָּ֙ אֶת־יִצְחָ֔ק
ESV: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…”

LXX: Λαβὲ τὸν υἱόν σου τὸν ἀγαπητόν, ὃν ἠγάπησας, τὸν Ισαακ
NETS: “Take your beloved son Isaak, whom you love…”

The Greek avoids the ‘only’ and replaces it with ‘beloved’ despite the somewhat awkward redundancy of ‘beloved….whom you love.’

The same substitution is made in vv. 12 and 16 describing Isaac. We addressed in another Q&A the possible reasons why the term ‘only’ might have been used (despite the existence of Ishmael). I am now wondering how we ended up with a Greek text without that characterization.

  • Does the LXX rendering indicate that the translator, sharing the concerns expressed in the other question, was trying to “correct” the Hebrew source text?
  • Are there other examples in the Genesis translation of this sort of liberty?
  • Or is is better to suppose the translator was using a different Hebrew text that avoided “only”?
  • Also noteworthy are Aquinas' and Symmachus' translations, found here (p. 37).
    – user862
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 17:26

2 Answers 2


You are absolutely right to say that the translator of the the Pentateuch was rather conservative in his translation, often when it differs it can be found to be following a text similar to the Samaritan Pentateuch. In this instance the translator saw the same word that we have in the MT. Moreover I do not think this is an attempt to obscure the problem of Isaac being one of two sons. I think it is more likely that the Genesis translator encountered a word he was unfamiliar with. In other instances where the translator encounters rare words he reads the context and makes his best guess at defining the word contextually.

Probably the most obvious and influential instances of this is in Genesis 1:2 where He encountered חהו ובהו which the American Standard Version accurately translated as "waste and void" (G's influence survives today in the word "unformed"). Not knowing what these very rare words meant He determined that the earth was αορατος και ακατασκευστος or unseen and unfurnished, descriptions which he arrived at due to the fact that the earth was covered with darkness, dry ground had not appeared, and all the hosts(creatures) had not been created. This method of filling his knowledge gap skirts around rare words but creates the unfortunate side-effect of being redundant.

I think this is the case here too. The word יחיד is relatively rare, only occurring 12 times in the MT. It is defined in Holladay's Concise HALOT as "1. only; 2. lonely, abandoned". Ultimately יחיד was translated three ways into Greek: Genesis, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Amos and Zechariah all translate it with αγαπη- forms. Psalms translates it twice as μονογενη, once μονοτρόπους. Judges translates it in both ways! Of the words 12 biblical occurrences 8 times it is translated "beloved". "Beloved" became the standard translation (a calque) of יחיד used by the various Septuagint Translators. I think that this technique is a rather honest way for him to handle his linguistic limitations, much more preferable than omitting the word or taking "wild guesses", he still maintains his interlinear word-for-word style. I would not describe this as taking liberty.

Genesis 22:2

וַיֹּאמֶר קַח־נָא אֶת־בִּנְךָ אֶת־יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר־אָהַבְתָּ אֶת־יִצְחָק וְלֶךְ־לְךָ אֶל־אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם לְעֹלָה עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ׃ (WLC)

He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” (NRSV)

καὶ εἶπεν Λαβὲ τὸν υἱόν σου τὸν ἀγαπητόν, ὃν ἠγάπησας, τὸν Ισαακ, καὶ πορεύθητι εἰς τὴν γῆν τὴν ὑψηλὴν καὶ ἀνένεγκον αὐτὸν ἐκεῖ εἰς ὁλοκάρπωσιν ἐφ᾽ ἓν τῶν ὀρέων, ὧν ἄν σοι εἴπω. (Rahlfs-Hanhart)

And he said, “Take your beloved son Isaak, whom you love, and go into the high land, and offer him as a whole burnt offering on one of the mountains, whichever I mention to you.” (NETS)

CCATS Variants show Sev 467 Arab (2nd) read μονογενη, LaK(Cyprian) reads unicum, and SyhB(unedited lectionary readings by Baars) read + unicum. Aquilas reads τον μονογενη Symmachus τον μονον. 343 reads a conflation τον μονογενη τον αγαπητον. We do not have the extant readings from Theodotian.

The reading μονογενη likely existed in translation in the first century due to its use in the Epistle to the Hebrews 11:17 (Πίστει προσενήνοχεν Ἀβραὰμ τὸν Ἰσαὰκ πειραζόμενος καὶ τὸν μονογενῆ προσέφερεν, ὁ τὰς ἐπαγγελίας ἀναδεξάμενος,) It would not surprise me if this (τὸν μονογενῆ) was under the influence of Theodotian.

Genesis 22:12

וַיֹּאמֶר אַל־תִּשְׁלַח יָדְךָ אֶל־הַנַּעַר וְאַל־תַּעַשׂ לוֹ מְאוּמָּה ‬כִּי עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי־יְרֵא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת־בִּנְךָ אֶת־יְחִידְךָ מִמֶּנִּי׃ (WLC)

καὶ εἶπεν Μὴ ἐπιβάλῃς τὴν χεῖρά σου ἐπὶ τὸ παιδάριον μηδὲ ποιήσῃς αὐτῷ μηδέν· νῦν γὰρ ἔγνων ὅτι φοβῇ τὸν θεὸν σὺ καὶ οὐκ ἐφείσω τοῦ υἱοῦ σου τοῦ ἀγαπητοῦ δι᾽ ἐμέ. (Rahlfs-Hanhart)

He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (NRSV)

And he said, “Do not lay your hand on the youngster nor do anything to him. For now I know that you do fear God, and for my sake you have not spared your beloved son.” (NETS)

**There is no textual-critical issue in the Greek according to CCATS Variants.

Genesis 22:16

וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי נְאֻם־יְהוָה כִּי יַעַן אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת־הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת־בִּנְךָ אֶת־יְחִידֶךָ׃ (WLC)

λέγων Κατ᾽ ἐμαυτοῦ ὤμοσα, λέγει κύριος, οὗ εἵνεκεν ἐποίησας τὸ ῥῆμα τοῦτο καὶ οὐκ ἐφείσω τοῦ υἱοῦ σου τοῦ ἀγαπητοῦ δι᾽ ἐμέ, (Rahlfs-Hanhart)

and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, (NRSV)

saying, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Inasmuch as you have carried out this matter and for my sake have not spared your beloved son, (NETS)

**There is no textual-critical issue in the Greek according to CCATS Variants.

Judges 11:34

וַיָּבֹא יִפְתָּח הַמִּצְפָּה אֶל־בֵּיתוֹ וְהִנֵּה בִתּוֹ יֹצֵאת לִקְרָאתוֹ בְתֻפִּים וּבִמְחֹלוֹת וְרַק הִיא יְחִידָה אֵין־לוֹ מִמֶּנּוּ בֵּן אוֹ־בַת׃ (WLC)

Καὶ ἦλθεν Ιεφθαε εἰς Μασσηφα εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἡ θυγάτηρ αὐτοῦ ἐξεπορεύετο εἰς ἀπάντησιν αὐτοῦ ἐν τυμπάνοις καὶ χοροῖς· καὶ αὕτη μονογενὴς αὐτῷ ἀγαπητή, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν αὐτῷ πλὴν αὐτῆς υἱὸς ἢ θυγάτηρ. (Rahlfs-Hanhart)

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. (NRSV)

And Iephthae came to Massepha, to his home, and see, his daughter was coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. And she was his beloved only child, and he had no son or daughter except her. (NETS)

It should be noted here, that הִיא יְחִידָה receives a double translation as αὕτη μονογενὴς αὐτῷ ἀγαπητή, although some might be tempted to say that the LXX Vorlage was different from the MT; it is more likely that the difference is due to the inclusion of αγαπητη due to its status as a calque for יחיד. A Gottingen or CCATS apparatus does not exist. So the text here is a little uncertain. Some texts omit αὐτῷ ἀγαπητή (Manuscripts BNq). Many of the miniscules also include περιψυκτος (Manuscripts dglnoptvw) *See Cambridge Large Septuagint.

Psalm E22:20 H22:21 G21:21

הַצִּילָה מֵחֶרֶב נַפְשִׁי מִיַּד־כֶּלֶב יְחִידָתִי׃ (WLC)

ῥῦσαι ἀπὸ ῥομφαίας τὴν ψυχήν μου
καὶ ἐκ χειρὸς κυνὸς τὴν μονογενῆ μου· (Rahlfs-Hanhart)

Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog! (NRSV)

Rescue my soul from the sword,
and from a dog’s claw my only life! (NETS)

Deliver my soul from the sword;
my darling from the power of the dog. (KJV)

Deliver my soul from the sword;
Mine only one from the power of the dog. (JPS)

As can be seen there in both the MT and LXX there is no word for life in the second line. This is obscured by the NETS policy of following NRSV. JPS is the most accurate, and it is possible that even KJV is possible if we consider that μονογενη and יחיד could have adopted a colloquial value something like "special" or "favorite".

Psalm 25:16/ G24:16

פְּנֵה־אֵלַי וְחָנֵּנִי
כִּי־יָחִיד וְעָנִי אָנִי׃ (WLC)

ἐπίβλεψον ἐπ᾽ ἐμὲ καὶ ἐλέησόν με,
ὅτι μονογενὴς καὶ πτωχός εἰμι ἐγώ. (Rahlfs-Hanhart)

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. (NRSV)

Look upon me and have mercy on me, because I am an only child and poor. (NETS)

Psalm 35:17/ G34:17

אֲדֹנָי כַּמָּה תִּרְאֶה הָשִׁיבָה נַפְשִׁי מִשֹּׁאֵיהֶם מִכְּפִירִים יְחִידָתִי׃ אֲדֹנָי כַּמָּה תִּרְאֶה הָשִׁיבָה נַפְשִׁי מִשֹּׁאֵיהֶם מִכְּפִירִים יְחִידָתִי׃ (WLC)

κύριε, πότε ἐπόψῃ;
ἀποκατάστησον τὴν ψυχήν μου ἀπὸ τῆς κακουργίας αὐτῶν,
ἀπὸ λεόντων τὴν μονογενῆ μου. (Rahlfs-Hanhart)

How long, O Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their ravages,
my life from the lions! (NRSV)

O Lord, when will you take a look?
Restore my soul from their ravages,
from lions my only one! (NETS)

Psalm E68:6 H68:7 G67:7

אֱלֹהִים מוֹשִׁיב יְחִידִים בַּיְתָה מוֹצִיא אֲסִירִים בַּכּוֹשָׁרוֹת אַךְ סוֹרֲרִים שָׁכְנוּ צְחִיחָה׃ (WLC)

ὁ θεὸς κατοικίζει μονοτρόπους ἐν οἴκῳ
ἐξάγων πεπεδημένους ἐν ἀνδρείᾳ,
ὁμοίως τοὺς παραπικραίνοντας τοὺς κατοικοῦντας ἐν τάφοις. (Rahlfs-Hanhart)

God setteth the solitary in families:
He bringeth out the prisoners into prosperity;
But the rebellious dwell in a parched land. (NRSV)

God settles solitary ones into a home,
leading out prisoners with manliness,
likewise those who embitter them that live in tombs. (NETS)

This is the only time יחיד is plural and the LXX did a good job not calquing it.

Proverbs 4:3

כִּי־בֵן הָיִיתִי לְאָבִי רַךְ
וְיָחִיד לִפְנֵי אִמִּי׃ (WLC)

υἱὸς γὰρ ἐγενόμην κἀγὼ πατρὶ ὑπήκοος
καὶ ἀγαπώμενος ἐν προσώπῳ μητρός, (Rahlfs-Hanhart)

When I was a son with my father,
tender, and my mother’s favorite, (NRSV)

For I became a son, and I am obedient to my father
and beloved in the eyes of my mother, (NETS)

Ta-dah NRSV is saying that יחיד can mean favorite!
So after seeing all that its not too surprising to find that Jeremiah, Amos, and Zechariah are all translated using this calque.

Jeremiah 6:26

בַּת־עַמִּי חִגְרִי־שָׂק וְהִתְפַּלְּשִׁי בָאֵפֶר אֵבֶל יָחִיד עֲשִׂי לָךְ מִסְפַּד תַּמְרוּרִים כִּי פִתְאֹם יָבֹא הַשֹּׁדֵד עָלֵינוּ׃ (WLC)

θύγατερ λαοῦ μου, περίζωσαι σάκκον,
κατάπασαι ἐν σποδῷ,
πένθος ἀγαπητοῦ ποίησαι σεαυτῇ,
κοπετὸν οἰκτρόν,
ὅτι ἐξαίφνης ἥξει ταλαιπωρία ἐφ᾽ ὑμᾶς. (Rahlfs-Hanhart)

my poor people, put on sackcloth,
and roll in ashes;
make mourning as for an only child,
most bitter lamentation:
for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us. (NRSV)

O daughter of my people, put on sackcloth;
sprinkle with ashes;
make for yourself a mourning for a beloved,
a most pitiable lamentation:
because suddenly distress will come upon us. (NETS)

Amos 8:10

וְהָפַכְתִּי חַגֵּיכֶם לְאֵבֶל וְכָל־שִׁירֵיכֶם לְקִינָה וְהַעֲלֵיתִי עַל־כָּל־מָתְנַיִם שָׂק וְעַל־כָּל־רֹאשׁ קָרְחָה וְשַׂמְתִּיהָ כְּאֵבֶל יָחִיד וְאַחֲרִיתָהּ כְּיוֹם מָר׃ (WLC)

καὶ μεταστρέψω τὰς ἑορτὰς ὑμῶν εἰς πένθος
καὶ πάσας τὰς ᾠδὰς ὑμῶν εἰς θρῆνον
καὶ ἀναβιβῶ ἐπὶ πᾶσαν ὀσφὺν σάκκον
καὶ ἐπὶ πᾶσαν κεφαλὴν φαλάκρωμα
καὶ θήσομαι αὐτὸν ὡς πένθος ἀγαπητοῦ
καὶ τοὺς μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ ὡς ἡμέραν ὀδύνης. (Rahlfs-Hanhart)

I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
and the end of it like a bitter day. (NRSV)

And I will turn your feasts into mourning
and all your songs into lamentation.
And I will bring sackcloth on every loin
and baldness on every head.
And I will make him like the mourning for a loved one
and those with himb like a day of suffering. (NETS)

Zechariah 12:10

שָׁפַכְתִּי עַל־בֵּית דָּוִיד וְעַל יוֹשֵׁב יְרוּשָׁלִַם רוּחַ חֵן וְתַחֲנוּנִים וְהִבִּיטוּ אֵלַי אֵת אֲשֶׁר־דָּקָרוּ וְסָפְדוּ עָלָיו כְּמִסְפֵּד עַל־הַיָּחִיד וְהָמֵר עָלָיו כְּהָמֵר עַל־הַבְּכוֹר׃ (WLC)

καὶ ἐκχεῶ ἐπὶ τὸν οἶκον Δαυιδ καὶ ἐπὶ τοὺς κατοικοῦντας Ιερουσαλημ πνεῦμα χάριτος καὶ οἰκτιρμοῦ, καὶ ἐπιβλέψονται πρός με ἀνθ᾽ ὧν κατωρχήσαντο καὶ κόψονται ἐπ᾽ αὐτὸν κοπετὸν ὡς ἐπ᾽ ἀγαπητὸν καὶ ὀδυνηθήσονται ὀδύνην ὡς ἐπὶ πρωτοτόκῳ. (Rahlfs-Hanhart)

And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (NRSV)

And I will pour out a spirit of grace and compassion on the house of Dauid and on the inhabitants of Ierousalem, and they shall look to me because they have danced triumphantly, and they shall mourn for him with a mourning as for a loved one, and they shall be pained with pain as for a firstborn. (NETS)

WELL THATS IT! All Twelve Instances of יחיד.

  • 1
    Thanks, Dan, a helpful survey. Some would say, I think, that the LXX calques were defined in the Pentateuch (the LXX proper), and the later translations are dependent on that (I'm most familiar with E. Tov's arguments in this direction). Which still begs the question: why did the Gen. translator do it? As far as I know "beloved" is not mentioned in any of the Hebrew lexicons for יחיד, and that's the unambiguous meaning of ἀγαπώμενος / -πητός.
    – Susan
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 10:05
  • Thinking about it more. I do recall a tendancy for the Genesis translator to exegete passages and then reach "logical conclusions" about the meaning of words that he does no know. This is how תהו ובהו became αορατος και ακατασκευστος. (Unseen because of darkness and unfurnished as the earths host had yet been created) The translator may have not known the meaning of יחיד but may have exegeted it from אֲשֶׁר־אָהַבְתָּ
    – Dan S.
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 13:30
  • FWIW, in Tov's parallel aligned MT-LXX, he offers יקיר (cf. Jer 31:20) or ידיד (cf. Deut 33:12) as possible reconstructions. I'm not sure that's necessary (to be fair, he marks them as "doubtful"), but that's there. | I disagree that commenting on the meaning of a lexical item entails taking a prescriptive stance. Unless there is a serious dearth of data, meaning is generally ascertained (not just prescribed) within a language, and if there's no evidence of a suggested meaning except in translation, it's not "overly prescriptive" to think we may have a problem.
    – Susan
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 2:45
  • (IMO Prov 4:3 -- lit. "the only (yāḥı̂d) in the sight of my mother" --> (NRSV) "my mother's favorite" -- does not make yāḥı̂d mean "favorite". But like I said, I still find this answer useful and have +1'ed it!)
    – Susan
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 2:45
  • I dont know the Hebrew, but from the study of monogenes, we know that it meant only-precious, only-beloved, as it was used for wife, child etc, which is presented as the most valuable for the person. Thus it is clear that the Greek monogenes can be replaced with beloved as a synonym, towards a functional meaning rather than a more literal.
    – Michael16
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 9:39

St. Athanasius commented on this, in ‘Discourse IV Against the Arians’, indicating the two different words are used as synonyms in a sense, since the sacrifice of Isaac was a prefiguration of the Crucifixion of Christ (emphasis added):

[M]uch is said in the Old [Testament]...about the Son, as in the second Psalm, ‘Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee;’ and in the ninth the title, Unto the ‘end concerning the hidden things of the Son, a Psalm of David;’ and in the forty-fourth, ‘Unto the end, concerning the things that shall be changed to the Sons of Korah for understanding, a song about the Well-beloved;’ and in Isaiah, ‘I will sing to my Well-beloved a song of my Well-beloved touching my vineyard. My Well-beloved hath a vineyard;’ Who is this ‘Well-beloved’ but the Only-begotten Son? as also in the hundred and ninth, ‘From the womb I begat Thee before the morning star,’ concerning which I shall speak afterwards; and in the Proverbs, ‘Before the hills He begat me;’ and in Daniel, ‘And the form of the Fourth is like the Son of God;’ and many others. If then from the Old be ancientness, ancient must be the Son, who is clearly described in the Old Testament in many places. ‘Yes,’ they say, ‘so it is, but it must be taken prophetically.’ Therefore also the Word must be said to be spoken of prophetically; for this is not to be taken one way, that another. For if ‘Thou art My Son’ refer to the future, so does ‘By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established;’ for it is not said ‘were brought to be,’ nor ‘He made.’ But that ‘established’ refers to the future, it states elsewhere: ‘The Lord reigned,’ followed by ‘He so established the earth that it can never be moved.’ And if the words in the forty-fourth Psalm ‘for My Well-beloved’ refer to the future, so does what follows upon them, ‘My heart uttered a good Word.’ And if ‘From the womb’ relates to a man, therefore also ‘From the heart.’ For if the womb is human, so is the heart corporeal. But if what is from the heart is eternal, then what is ‘From the womb’ is eternal. And if the ‘Only-begotten’ is ‘in the bosom,’ therefore the ‘Well-beloved’ is ‘in the bosom.’ For ‘Only-begotten’ and ‘Well-beloved’ are the same, as in the words ‘This is My Well-beloved Son.’ For not as wishing to signify His love towards Him did He say ‘Well-beloved,’ as if it might appear that He hated others, but He made plain thereby His being Only- begotten, that He might shew that He alone was from Him. And hence the Word [i.e. Christ], with a view of conveying to Abraham the idea of ‘Only- begotten,’ says, ‘Offer thy son thy well-beloved;’ but it is plain to anyone that Isaac was the only son from Sara. The Word then is Son, not lately come to be, or named Son, but always Son.1

And so I suspect it is not a significant difference between the two texts.

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