The Talmud in Megillah.9a describes the process of the translation of the OT to Greek, aka the Septuagint. It lists a number of changes that the Jewish sages deliberately implemented in the Septuagint to prevent possible misunderstanding:

"וְכָתְבוּ לוֹ אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא בְּרֵאשִׁית אֶעֱשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצֶלֶם וּבִדְמוּת"
And they wrote for him (King Ptolemy): "God created in the beginning", thus reversing the order of the words in the first phrase in the Torah that could be misinterpreted as: “Bereshit created God” (Genesis 1:1).
And they wrote: I shall make man in image and in likeness, rather than: “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

I've checked a couple of Septuagint online sites, and in both places the translation is literal:

enter image description here enter image description here

I'm a bit puzzled here, as the Septuagint was seemingly easily available to check even in the Talmudic times.

Is the Talmudic story true and there are different versions of Septuagint, or is the story a fable?

  • 2
    The author of this passage could not have known Greek as changes in word order would not have switch subject and direct object in Greek. This suggests they were not in a position to know how the LXX was translated, and therefore this should be viewed as anti-LXX propaganda.
    – Robert
    Aug 21 '21 at 19:57
  • @Robert They claim it was Jewish sages who translated the Torah (very plausible), so it appears as they passed the tradition of what exactly they did and why.
    – Al Berko
    Aug 21 '21 at 20:17
  • This sounds like an argument based on what is unknown rather than what is known. Stick to the facts.
    – Dottard
    Aug 21 '21 at 21:35
  • 3
    @Robert Absolutely. Also, if Ptolemy read Hebrew how could he mistake "Bereshit bara elohim" for "Bereshit created elohim?" That's more of a problem of now knowing basic Hebrew (prepositions and word order), rather than misreading it theologically or contextually. This seems more like just another one of the Talmudic myths that can't possibly be real discussions/serious explanations (false etymologies and discussions thereof which pervade the entire corpus of Talmudic literature). That, or we severely misunderstand the teaching methods of the Rabbis (using made up stories to make a point). Aug 21 '21 at 21:49
  • @AlBerko We don't know who translated into the Old Greek but we do know that 1) The Pharisees were strongly opposed to the project, and 2) There were large numbers of Hellenized, educated jews who spoke Greek, thus if "jewish sages" were involved, it is extremely unlikely that they would be supporters of the Pharisees or double agents, which is what this passage is suggesting.
    – Robert
    Aug 21 '21 at 22:04

This textual apparatus of the Septuagint (LXX) shows no significant variations in Gen. 1:1.


Inscr γενεσις E


1:4 ειδεν A1 (rescr Ad)

Swete, H. B. (1909). The Old Testament in Greek: According to the Septuagint (Apparatus) (Vol. 1, p. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The variation in Gen. 1:26 has to do with the birds and reptiles at the end of the verse.

26 και των πετ. του ουρα sup ras circ 36 litt Aa | των ερπετων] om των Dvid

Swete, H. B. (1909). The Old Testament in Greek: According to the Septuagint (Apparatus) (Vol. 1, p. 2). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thus, we have no significant variations for

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν. (Gen. 1:1, LXX)


καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός Ποιήσωμεν ἄνθρωπον κατʼ εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν καὶ καθʼ ὁμοίωσιν, καὶ ἀρχέτωσαν... Gen. 1:26a, LXX)

Thus, the LXX preserved the Hebrew word order since Greek uses case rather than word order for the grammar of the nouns. It is not unusually for the Greek New Testament to have Hebrew/Aramaic word order at times since Greek was not the first language for many of the authors. It's inconceivable that Megillah.9a would not realize Hebrew goes from right to left while Greek goes from left to right. Otherwise, they could read nothing. Maybe it's a complaint of having the sacred writings of the Torah written in Greek. None the less it is confusing.

  • Another conspiracy theory? And, as usual based on no information. Many thanks for this excellent and concise answer, yet again. +1.
    – Dottard
    Aug 21 '21 at 22:23
  • A very old conspiracy theory
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 21 '21 at 22:46

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