As the English translations of the Masoretic Text show, the word in question, מִזֵּדִ֨ים, may correctly be understood as referring either to sins or people:
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19:13 ESV)
Preserve your servant from arrogant people; do not let them rule over me. Then I will be upright and acquitted of great wickedness. (Psalm 19:13 ISV)
Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19:13 NRSV)
A translator must decide whether the passage is about being spared from presumptuous sins or people. Also, as shown in this answer, another consideration is found in the words זֵד and זוּר. If מִזֵּדִ֨ים from זֵד was read, then the expected translation should convey arrogant or presumptuous men (or sins). On the other hand if ד and ר were confused, or purposely misread, then the translation from זוּר should result in stranger, of another nation, an alien by birth.
The unintentional misreading of this text is considered plausible by scholars like Emanuel Tov. Yet Tov also recognizes the LXX translators were known to deliberately manipulate consonants:
We submit that the translators sometimes knowingly manipulated the Hebrew consonants in order to create words which would fit the context better than the words of their Vorlage, either because the Vorlage was not understandable to them or because the translator made certain adaptations in the wake of other changes or mistranslations, Such renderings do not reflect real variants, but rather ‘pseudo-variants,’ that is, Hebrew readings which existed only in the translator’s mind and not on parchment (see TCU [The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research], 162-171).
Since intentional changes were known to occur, questionable texts should be considered in this light: does the altered text create a pseudo-variant which fits the translator's context better than the original Hebrew? This is particularly relevant to this question since the "mistaken" translation into Greek produced a statement which accurately described the translator's current situation:
Also from strangers spare your slave! If they will not exercise dominion over me, then I will be blameless and cleansed from great sin. (Psalm 18:14 NETS)
The Hebrew scholar, YHVH's servant and a people whom He exiled (became foreigners) for their sins, now back in the land YHVH promised (no longer foreigners) are under the dominion of foreigners (Greeks), not of a promised Davidic ruler or even one who acknowledges YHVH. This person asks to be spared from those ruling them. The "correct" translation of מִזֵּדִ֨ים would be ὑπερήφανος. However, this word fails to clearly convey their foreign identity and ignores their status as enemies to YHVH's servants, because they seek to Hellenize them. The better word in the Greek Vorlage is ἀλλότριος which is used to describe hostile foreigners and also delineates them from ἀλλογενής as in Malachi (see below).
The translator's "mistake" has produced a text which shifted the context from the arrogance of rulers to their status as foreigners hostile toward Judaism: it is a pseudo-variant. The translator follows with another "mistranslation" (see below) in the next verse, reinforcing the deliberate nature of this change.
Finally, the same and similar "mistakes" occur in Malachi, where they create the same affect, showing a consistent pattern to all the alterations and supporting the position all were intentional.
A translation requires interpretation which encompasses how a writer interprets an existing text in historical context. A good example is Chronicles, where it is readily accepted the Chronicler recast events from Samuel and Kings from the perspective of the exile and subsequent return to Israel. Differences are not taken primarily as misreading of existing texts. Instead they are studied as purposeful changes of a new text which a postexilic writer created for their audience. In addition to the historical books, the Chronicler interpreted the Psalmist:
O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones! (Psalm 105:6) [ESV]
O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones! (1 Chronicles 16:13)
While it is possible the Chronicler was working from an alternative text, more likely they took the same approach with the Psalms as with Samuel and Kings. Using Tov's terminology, the Chronicler created a pseudo-variant of Psalm 105:6 to shift the emphasis from the person of Abraham to the nation of Israel, a subtle change affirming the exile did not change the promise.
The historical setting of the LXX is not simply one of a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem and resettlement of the promised land. It is living in the aftermath of Alexander's actions to Hellenize the entire world. The presumption a translator writing during this period was always intent on making an exact translation of the Hebrew text into Greek, is not supported by the scholarly study of the LXX (as Tov shows) or the canonized texts, Chronicles. One should consider whether the translator was following the example of the Chronicler and made changes which were needed to address the needs of their Greek speaking postexilic audience.
As a result of the exile, Scripture became part of corporate worship, especially in communities outside Jerusalem, where a "Temple void" needed to be filled. Henry St. John Thackeray examined the use of the LXX in Jewish worship to make the case much of the LXX was translated to meet the liturgical needs of the Greek speaking Jewish communities.
This is particularly relevant to Psalm 19 which is sung as a hymn on the Sabbath
4 and other festivals.
5 Marc Zvi Brettler comments:
This psalm is recited as part of the preliminary morning service on Saturday and at festivals. It divides neatly into three sections: Vv. 2-7 are a hymn,
focusing on creation, specifically on the sun; vv. 8-11 are a hymn focusing on torah; and vv 12-15, which are connected to the immediately preceding section (see v. 12, them) are a petition to be saved from sin, and for prayers to be heard.
Singing personalizes a text. Translating this verse for liturgical purposes would lead to interpreting the passage accordingly, and, like the Chronicler's use of the Psalms, produce a minor change to the original Hebrew in order to better address their audience. Compared to the Hebrew, the LXX is a more meaningful hymn. Like a modern songwriter who changed the words of a passage to personalize a song, the LXX translator made a minor change to produce a more relevant hymn.
As mentioned above, a translator must first decide if מזדים means the Psalmist is asking for help with sins or people. For a postexilic scholar intent on following the Torah (as in verses 8-11), “arrogant people” is the logical choice as "presumptuous sins" define the times before the exile. Thus the LXX translator understands the passage as "preserve me from arrogant people: do not let them rule over me.” For a person committed to Judaism there is also the very personal meaning: “preserve me from the Greeks; do not let them Hellenize me. Then I will be innocent of forsaking the Torah (for a postexilic writer, a greater transgression than presumptuous sins).”
The LXX translator knows the Greeks provoked people to sin by forbidding Jewish customs and defiling the Temple. From the translator's perspective they were "aliens" illegally ruling a land belonging to the Jewish people, who having served their divine punishment, had been allowed to return to the inheritance promised them, rebuild the Temple, and resume their religious practices.
Understanding the correct word as ὑπερήφανος the translator intentionally changed these proud people to ἀλλότριος, hostile aliens. The Greeks were not merely a proud or arrogant people. They were hostile to Judaism and intent on having them adopt Grecian ideology. This pseudo-variant is an accurate historical statement and easily rationalized as an appropriate choice for anyone who desired to follow the Torah and believed the Greeks were occupying and ruling over Israel contrary to YHVH's divine decrees. Moreover, an accurate translation would not be as meaningful in asking YHVH for help to combat Hellenization.
In the next verse, the LXX translator continued with another "mistranslation" which shows their intent was not to make an exact translation of the Hebrew text:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (19:14)
יִֽהְיוּ לְרָצֹון אִמְרֵי־פִי וְהֶגְיֹון לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ יְהוָה צוּרִי וְגֹאֲלִֽי׃
καὶ ἔσονται εἰς εὐδοκίαν τὰ λόγια τοῦ στόματός μου
καὶ ἡ μελέτη τῆς καρδίας μου ἐνώπιόν σου διὰ παντός,
κύριε βοηθέ μου καὶ λυτρωτά μου. (Psalm 18:15 [19:14] Rahlfs)
Obscured in English translations (which look more at the Hebrew text than the Greek) is the LXX translator's actual word which incorrectly renders אֵמֶר. Instead of the ῥῆμα words of the Psalmist, the LXX becomes λόγια, an oracle, a divine utterance of the Psalmist and so too of the translator.
Malachi, likely the most contemporary divine oracle for the LXX translator, is a message of needed reforms and future hope:
Messages of cultic reform and proper worship are deeply interwoven with the conviction of the coming of a future day in which the LORD will trample all evildoers. Such optimism about an ideal future is typical of prophetic works. Further, the book asks its readers to identify proper behavior in these and all matters with following the Torah (or Teaching) of Moses. As a whole, the book is aimed at persuading its readership to follow the Torah of Moses, or at strengthening their resolve to continue to do so. This message must be understood within the book’s historical setting, soon after the canonization of Torah. Thus, the book presents a prophetic voice that ultimately asserts the superiority of Torah over prophecy.
The use of disputation format in much of the book contributes rhetorically to that purpose, for it allows the arguments of evildoers to be heard, in order to be countered and neutralized. Further, it allows the readers some limited form of self-identification with the actions of evildoers, and as such serves as a call for them to examine themselves and to repent.
As noted by Ehud ben Zvi, the Hebrew Malachi "...must be understood within the book’s historical setting...[and] allows the readers some limited form of self-identification with the actions of evildoers." Any text which invites readers to self-identify with the actions of evildoers necessarily allows the reader to identify others as the evildoers. In the LXX translator's context, the message becomes follow the Torah of Moses and reject Hellenization, which is the work of evildoers.
The theme of a personalized message begins with how the translator named the book, "not as 'Malachi' a personal name, but translates it as 'His Messenger.'
8 In fact, to all Greek speaking communities, like the Psalm, the translator is the messenger and the LXX is the message.
Other more obvious "mistranslations" throughout Malachi follow the pattern of producing a text which personalizes the ruling Greeks as evildoers. They are foreigners who seek to impose their culture on the Jewish people everywhere they have been scattered.
9 It addresses the current problems in light of the future hope: the same sentiment now expressed in the Greek hymn to follow the Torah and to be saved from foreigners ruling over them.
The first "mistranslation" conveys the nature of Greek religion:
#1 - Malachi 2:11
Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. (ESV)
בָּגְדָה יְהוּדָה וְתֹועֵבָה נֶעֶשְׂתָה בְיִשְׂרָאֵל וּבִירֽוּשָׁלִָם כִּי חִלֵּל יְהוּדָה קֹדֶשׁ יְהוָה אֲשֶׁר אָהֵב וּבָעַל בַּת־אֵל נֵכָֽר׃
Ioudas was forsaken, and an abomination occurred in Israel and in Ierousalem, for Ioudas profaned the sacred things of the Lord with which he loved and busied himself with foreign gods. (NETS)
ἐγκατελείφθη Ιουδας, καὶ βδέλυγμα ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ Ισραηλ καὶ ἐν Ιερουσαλημ, διότι ἐβεβήλωσεν Ιουδας τὰ ἅγια κυρίου, ἐν οἷς ἠγάπησεν, καὶ ἐπετήδευσεν εἰς θεοὺς ἀλλοτρίους. (Rahlfs)
Here נֵכָר is correctly translated as ἀλλοτρίους. However, the singular god אֵל becomes plural gods, θεοὺς. The LXX translator has interpreted this passage such that it now describes the conditions of their time. The polytheistic Greeks seek to bring a religion with a pantheon of foreign gods to the Jewish people. Despite having the Pentateuch translated into their language, they have rejected the concept of monotheism and the God of Israel.
#2 - Malachi 3:15
And so, we account the arrogant happy: they have indeed done evil and endured; they have indeed dared God and escaped." (JPS)
וְעַתָּה אֲנַחְנוּ מְאַשְּׁרִים זֵדִים גַּם־נִבְנוּ עֹשֵׂי רִשְׁעָה גַּם בָּחֲנוּ אֱלֹהִים וַיִּמָּלֵֽטוּ
And now we call foreigners happy, and all they are rebuilding while they do lawless things, and they withstood God and escaped. (NETS)
καὶ νῦν ἡμεῖς μακαρίζομεν ἀλλοτρίους, καὶ ἀνοικοδομοῦνται πάντες ποιοῦντες ἄνομα καὶ ἀντέστησαν θεῷ καὶ ἐσώθησαν. (Rahlfs)
As in the Psalm זֵדִ֑ים is "mistranslated" as ἀλλοτρίους.
#3 - Malachi 3:19 (4:1)
For lo! That day is at hand, burning like an oven. All the arrogant and all the doers of evil shall be straw, and the day that is coming -- said the LORD of Hosts -- shall burn them to ashes and leave of them neither stock nor boughs. (JPS)
כִּֽי־הִנֵּה הַיֹּום בָּא בֹּעֵר כַּתַּנּוּר וְהָיוּ כָל־זֵדִים וְכָל־עֹשֵׂה רִשְׁעָה קַשׁ וְלִהַט אֹתָם הַיֹּום הַבָּא אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאֹות אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יַעֲזֹב לָהֶם שֹׁרֶשׁ וְעָנָֽף
For, behold, a day is coming, burning like an oven, and it will set them ablaze, and all the aliens and all those who do lawless things will be stubble, and the day that comes shall kindle them, says the Lord Almighty, and there shall be left of them neither root or branch. (NETS)
διότι ἰδοὺ ἡμέρα κυρίου ἔρχεται καιομένη ὡς κλίβανος καὶ φλέξει αὐτούς, καὶ ἔσονται πάντες οἱ ἀλλογενεῖς καὶ πάντες οἱ ποιοῦντες ἄνομα καλάμη, καὶ ἀνάψει αὐτοὺς ἡ ἡμέρα ἡ ἐρχομένη, λέγει κύριος παντοκράτωρ, καὶ οὐ μὴ ὑπολειφθῇ ἐξ αὐτῶν ῥίζα οὐδὲ κλῆμα. (Rahlfs)
Like the Psalm, זֵדִ֜ים is not correctly translated. However, here it is the slightly different ἀλλογενεῖς. Thus the LXX translator calls the reader to distinguish between two types of foreigners which are not clearly articulated in the Hebrew text: ἀλλοτρίους and ἀλλογενεῖς. Those who will be destroyed when the LORD of Hosts comes are called ἀλλογενεῖς, a foreigner one from a different race (i.e. everyone who is not Jewish). But those currently doing lawless things are ἀλλοτρίους, a foreigner who may be hostile, an enemy which Gesenius states, is a nuance present in זוּר.
The progression from ἀλλοτρίους to ἀλλοτρίους to ἀλλογενεῖς are thoughtful translations which reflect deliberate manipulation of consonants creating pseudo-variants of the postexilic writer who understands there were two types of foreigners: those who are not Jewish and those who are anti-Semitic, desiring to effectively eradicate Judaism by Hellenizing the Jewish people.
Each variance in Malachi and the Psalm reflects the work of a translator creating a text describing the current situation. At the time of translation the “evildoers” are the Greeks ruling over the Jewish people. They are aliens with their foreign gods, who despite receiving the Pentateuch in their language, still fail to recognize Israel's God and His people as His chosen inhabitants of the land.
The supposition of a careless translator fails to explain a change from ἀλλοτρίους to ἀλλογενεῖς and ignores other changes such as λόγια in the Psalm and θεοὺς ἀλλοτρίους of Malachi.
On the other hand, purposeful manipulation of the original text provides a single explanation for every "error" in LXX text of the Psalm and Malachi. They are thoughtful changes to describe the LXX translator's actual conditions. Significantly, Malachi also shows the LXX translators were familiar with the nuances of זוּר which can be more precisely communicated in the Greek language and translated accordingly.
1. Emanuel Tov, Did the Septuagint Translators Understand Their Hebrew Text?, pp. 210-211
2. It is anachronistic to assume the LXX translators understood the Hebrew as cannon to be copied exactly (which would be linguistically impossible) rather than producing a contemporary document for use by a contemporary Greek speaking reader. Moreover, it completely ignores the question of whether a translator recognized the (highly likely) potential of non-Jewish readers and also made changes to address those readers, either to inspire a reader to embrace Judaism or to see the divine condemnation for failing to do so. That is, modern scholars fail to consider the LXX translators saw themselves in the same light as the Chronicler, or any of the supposed postexilic redactors of the other books.
3. Henry St John Thackeray, The Septuagint and Jewish Worship, Kessinger Publishing, 2007
4. Psalm 19
5. Pesukei dezimra
6. Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 1302
7. Ehud ben Zvi, The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 1268-1269
8. Ibid., p 1268.
9. Thus the Greek Malachi has become a message to the Jewish people throughout the world, not just those addressed by the original text.