The Septuagint LXX is the oldest known translation of the Old Testament into ancient Greek. It is generally believed that the formation of the Septuagint began in the 280s BC and in general ended in the I century BC The Masoretic text MT is the authoritative Jewish and Aramaic text of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) in Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.

When researching the book of the Prophet Jonah, I compared the Masoretic text with the ancient Greek translation by the Septuagint. And I saw an interesting and at the same time incomprehensible moment for me.

In Jonah 1:17, the Hebrew word [דָּ֣ג] FISH is translated in the Septuagint as [κήτει] WHALE

MT Jonah 1:17 And the LORD had prepared a great FISH to swallow up Jonah.

LXX Jonah 1:17 And the LORD assigned a great WHALE to swallow Jonah

MT Jonah 1:17 וַיְמַ֤ן יְהוָה֙ דָּ֣ג גָּדֹ֔ול לִבְלֹ֖עַ אֶת־יֹונָ֑ה

LXX Jonah 1:17 Καὶ προσέταξεν Κύριος κήτει μεγάλῳ καταπιεῖν τὸν Ἰωνᾶν·

In Jonah 4:6 the Hebrew word [קִיקָיֹ֞ון] PLANT in the Septuagint translated as [κολοκύνθῃ] GOURD

MT Jonah 4:6 So the LORD God appointed a PLANT and it grew up over Jonah

LXX Jonah 4:6 And assigned the lord God a GOURD, and it ascended above the head of Jonah

MT Jonah 4:6 וַיְמַ֣ן יְהוָֽה־אֱ֠לֹהִים קִיקָיֹ֞ון וַיַּ֣עַל ׀ מֵעַ֣ל לְיֹונָ֗ה

LXX Jonah 4:6 καὶ προσέταξεν Κύριος ὁ θεὸς κολοκύνθῃ, καὶ ἀνέβη ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς τοῦ Ἰωνᾶ

I don't understand why the Septuagint translators translated it this way?

Undoubtedly, they translated into ancient Greek from the Hebrew text. Perhaps, at that time, there was a Hebrew source that was different from the Masoretic text?

Can anyone cite these passages from the Qumran DSS scrolls?

enter image description here

enter image description here

  • 1
    Whale was the preferable English word for the translators. In LXX, Genesis 1:21 uses κήτη in place of hataninim (great sea monsters). Maybe Jonah's fish in LXX was meant to be the leviathan (the personification of chaos)? Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 12:39

1 Answer 1


Assuming different source texts seems to be over complicating this problem. At face value, both of these translations seem perfectly defensible:

The Fish

It's only in modern zoology that a 'fish' and a 'whale' are split into distinctly different categories. In the ancient world the most important difference between these terms would typically be their size - so translating what is clearly a large fish (since it swallowed Jonah) they would have used the word indicative of a large fish.

There is an excellent analysis given over on Amateur Exegete about the peculiarities of this word choice in the LXX, which I've included a brief quote from but is well worth reading in full:

The dg gdwl in the Septuagint

In the Septuagint’s rendering of the passage the dg gdwl is referred to as kētei megalō. We easily recognize megalō as meaning “great” or “large.” But kētei is more obscure and in some ways a surprise. In Genesis 9:2 where the MT tells us that the fear of humanity would be upon all animal life including “the fish of the sea,” the Hebrew word there is the same word used in Jonah 1:17 (2:1) – dg. But in the LXX the word isn’t kētous but ichthyas, a generic word for fish. Assuming the MT reflects accurately the Hebrew original of the text of Jonah, this means that the translator(s) of the LXX did not think that all dg were kētos and that some dg were ichthys."

The Plant

The word we read here as plant (קִיקָיֹ֞ון) is not the generic מַטָּע (plant), but is a far more specific word suspected to come from the Hebrew word for gourd.


  • I saw a similar definition, but "the gourd (as nauseous)" is very unclear. HALOT unfortunately doesn't seem to mention anything like that.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 1:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.