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For convenience, here is the passage (KJV, LXX):

Leviticus 20:5
Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people.
καὶ ἐπιστήσω τὸ πρόσωπόν μου ἐπὶ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐκεῖνον καὶ τὴν συγγένειαν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀπολῶ αὐτὸν καὶ πάντας τοὺς ὁμονοοῦντας αὐτῷ ὥστε ἐκπορνεύειν αὐτὸν εἰς τοὺς ἄρχοντας ἐκ τοῦ λαοῦ αὐτῶν.

Proceeding with caution given the nuance surrounding whether Moloch was a deity or a rite, we can examine one of the most commonly cited passages for the former, specifically the term "whored after". Biblical scholars, such as Buber have pointed out that such language only occurs in the context of idols or demons (Exodus 34:15, Judges 8:27) in the Hebrew.

Yet a exegetical dilemma is exposed if we return to the Septuagint rendering, which reads closer to "chasing after foreign carnal pleasures" than "whoring after" an actual Moloch deity. I've read a bit into the work of Heath Dewrell to learn more. He summarizes the differences, and proposes that the changes may be the result of version control issues or scribal errors:

Where MT reads לזנות אחרי המלך “to whore after the Molek,” LXX has ὥστε ἐκπορνεύειν αὐτοὺς εἰς τοὺς ἄρχοντας “their whoring away into the rulers.” This is not the only discrepancy. Even more significant is LXX εἰς τοὺς ἄρχοντας, which corresponds to MT אחרי המלך . First, LXX preserves a plural form rather than a singular one as in MT, and there is no obvious reason for an LXX translator to have rendered the singular המלך with a plural form. Even more surprising, though, is the anomalous correspondence of MT אחרי to LXX εἰς.

Furthermore, in 20:5 itself, immediately prior to our phrase, the phrase הזנים אחריו “those who whore after him” occurs, referring to those who follow the example of a man who gives his seed למלך. Thus, the relatively uncommon phrase זנה + ב was sandwiched between two instances of the much more common biblical idiom זנה + אחרי ; it would thus not be surprising that a scribe miscopied the more common phrase in place of the less common one.In addition, the fact that מלך eventually came to be understood as the name of a deity, “to whore after Molek” would have made perfect sense to a later copyist, while “to whore in מלכים ” would probably have been confusing.

Question

Dewrell's textual criticism-based hypothesis is persuasive, but I'm hesitant to treat this as an open-and-shut case: is there evidence for a more benign explanation for the deviation of the Hebrew and Septuagint readings of Leviticus 20:5?

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  • This is almost silly - there are thousands of variations between the MT and the LXX and there are numerous forms of the LXX; ie, the LXX is far from uniform. Some of these clearly used different exemplars from the MT. Indeed, the MT dates from several hundred years AD and the LXX dates from about 200 BC.
    – Dottard
    Jun 26, 2023 at 12:27
  • @Dottard You raise an excellent point. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that there are version differences between two documents that are centuries apart. But question still stands in a loose sense: is it that textual criticism is the only game in town for Lev 20:5, or, is there a more hermeneutic solution to explain the LXX reading. Jun 27, 2023 at 3:26
  • Some attempt to make great mileage out of these differences. The problem is, ass soon as one makes a point of one difference, another difference contradicts it. It underlines the point that one should not base a doctrine on a single text.
    – Dottard
    Jun 27, 2023 at 3:47

2 Answers 2

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There is no discrepancy about the general meaning of MT's and LXX's texts you quoted.

To correspond to the term מלך (mlk) of the MT, we find in the LXX (Lev 18:21; 20:1, 5) the term αρχοντι (a derived term from αρχων). Excluding the conclusion that this term refers to an innominate ruler (this is the basic meaning of this Greek word) of Israel’s people, we may safely state that Leviticus was speaking about the divinity Moloc/Molech.

As regards this heathen god, a note of the Bible translation TOB (Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible) – Italian edition – on Lev 18:21, regarding the term ‘Moloc’ says (the following Italian-English translation is mine): “This divine title [Moloc] – to an Hebrew ear – evokes a couple of thoughts: the title of king and the term Shame, that is, The King of Shame. It reminds us the name of Ammonites’ god, Milcom (1 Kin 11:5; 2 Kin 23:13), as well as the name of the mesopotamic god Malik. At last, we may note that at Carthage the term molk defined a child sacrifice. The term Moloc comes from the Vulgate […].”

Going back to the term αρχων, it is granted that it was used – inside the Greek world - also in a generic way (‘a ruler’, as - also - in Mat 9:18; Luk 8:41; 12:58, et al.), but in this given case not only the context (in fact, why the giving of a son to an Israelite ruler would be considered a deserving-death sin?) but also the use of this term in the New Covenant scripts convicts us that here – in Leviticus (LXX) the use of αρχων is specifically related to some deities, that is, demons (compare, please, the reasoning of Paul in 1 Cor 10:20).

First of all, all the evangelists utilized the same Greek term (αρχων, or its derived terms) we find in Lev 20:5 (LXX), in relation to demons: Matthew (9:34; 12:24), Mark (3:22), Luke (11:15), and John (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Moreover, all of them applied that title to Satan, or Beel-zebub, the major spokesman of the demons. On the same wavelength is Paul in Eph 2:2, pointing that the αρχων he speaks about is a ‘spirit’.

Inside the extra-biblical literature, too, αρχων (along with its derived terms) was utilized in connection to the wicked angelic horde (Ignatius of Antioch [Syria’s], Epistula ad Trallanos, 5, 2 (a) [speaking about spirit peoples]; Epistula ad Ephesios, 19, 1 [ET] – ad Magn. 1, 3 [ET]; The Epistle of Barnabas, 18, 2 [καὶ ὁ μέν ἐστιν κύριος ἀπὸ αἰώνων καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, ὁ δὲ ἄρχων καιροῦ τοῦ νῦν τῆς ἀνομίας].

In passing, even though Gnostic literature wants to persuade the reader that among the archons there were God and his heavenly court, sometimes let them slip truth about the real identity of them. In fact, according The Hypostasis of The Archons (Τθ ΥΠOCTACIC ΝΝΑΡΧωΝ), the archons themselves (and some their offspring) were androginous beings (b).

So, it is clear that when the Gnostics sometimes unsling themselves, they – with a forced smile – are obliged to admit, between the lines, that the archons have nothing to do with the biblical God and his sons! (Nowhere in the Bible, the Creator and his sons are at all linked with the concept of androgyny. Differently, some ancient gods – really, demons – often appeared to humans under this guise…).


References:

a) Allen Brent, Ignatius of Antioch and the Imperial Cult (article), contained in Vigiliæ Christianæ, vol. 52, no. 1 (feb 1988), p. 39.

b) The Hypostasis of The Archons - The Coptic Text with Translation and Commentary, by Roger Aubrey Bullard (Berlin, 1970), pp. 34-37.

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  • This issue parallels that of interpreting "elohim" - which can mean either the gods, God, or judge/ruler. Anyway, this is clearly not an open and shut case IMO. Jul 30, 2023 at 15:23
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As Dottard mentions, this is simply one of the many times that the LXX goes in its own strange direction.

Specifically, ⲁⲣⲭⲟⲛⲧⲁⲥ, is a mistranslation of מלך. As a segolate noun, it could be understood as "מֶלֶךְ", "king." Thus you get "rulers" in the Greek. But, that's not the word that, in context, is being used. The word is "מֹלֶךְ" (the detestable god of the Sidonians).

The versions reflect this. The Vetus Latina (which commonly follows the LXX) has: "“principes” (Leviticus 20:5 V-LATINA)". But Jerome cleans up the error in the Vulgate by using the proper name, “Moloch” (Leviticus 20:5 VULG-T)

The Syriac, while taking a somewhat more functional approach, shows that their source text was the Hebrew, not the LXX: ”ܥܠ ܕܛܥܝܢ ܒܬܪ ܢܘܟܪܝܬܐ“ (Leviticus 20:5 PESHOT-T). "Against the one wandering after alien [idols]." There is no reference to rulers/kings (ⲁⲣⲭⲟⲛⲧⲁⲥ).

Likewise, there is no evidence (as Dewrell) suggests, that the Hebrew text is corrupt. This is proven both by the fact that that Hebrew copies are the same here and that there is strong versional support for the MT. Furthermore, there are no copies anywhere which contains Dewrell's reconstructed text.


I'm somewhat confused by your conclusion that "chasing after foreign carnal pleasures" is different than "whoring after". In the Hebrew, the standard definition of "זָנָה" is "commit fornication." Both "chasing after foreign carnal pleasures" and "whoring after" would reflect that meaning.

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