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The ancient Hebrew and Greek versions of Psalms 40:6 are quite different. The Hebrew version says 'my ears you have opened' whilst the Greek LXX has 'a body you restored to me'. Furthermore in Hebrews the LXX is quoted as part of an argument that God never intended the sacrifices of animals to atone eternally for any sins but that this was predicted to be taken on by the Messiah 'who had a body prepared for him', for this final atonement.

My question is how did the LXX possibly interpret the Hebrew text in this way?

Hebrew Based Translation

6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire— but my ears you have opened— burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. 7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll. (The New International Version. (2011). (Ps 40:6–7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.)

Greek Based Translation in the LXX

7* You did not want sacrifice and offering, but a body you restored to me. You did not ask for whole burnt offering, and an offering concerning sin. 8* Then I said, “Behold, I have arrived. In the scroll of the book it has been written concerning me. (Brannan, R., Penner, K. M., Loken, I., Aubrey, M., & Hoogendyk, I. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Septuagint (Ps 39:7–8). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

Note: I did do some research and found out that there is evidence to support ancient Rabbinical application of this Psalm to the Messiah. This fact might help explain the LXX version but it does not seem obvious by any means.

Gen. 4:25. The language of Eve at the birth of Seth: ‘another seed,’ is explained as meaning ‘seed which comes from another place,’ and referred to the Messiah in Ber. R. 23 (ed. Warsh. p. 45 b, lines 8, 7 from the bottom). The same explanation occurs twice in the Midrash on Ruth 4:19 (in the genealogy of David, ed Warsh. p. 46 b), the second time in connection with Ps. 40:8 (‘in the volume of the book it is written of me’—bim’gillath sepher—Ruth belonging to the class מגלת). (Edersheim, A. (1896). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Vol. 2, p. 711). APPENDIX 9 LIST OF OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGES MESSIANICALLY APPLIED IN ANCIENT RABBINIC WRITINGS)

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    I'm not sure the messianic use of the LXX in the first century AD-onward is really relevant to understanding why the LXX differs from the Hebrew. At the very least, that should be a separate question (for Christianity.SE?). – user2910 May 26 '14 at 15:51
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    @MarkEdward According to his reputation, I suspect that Mike is familiar with the type of questions here. – Paul Vargas May 26 '14 at 19:06
  • @PaulVargas I agree with Mark on this one - but answers are free to take a number of perspectives, including disagreeing with the source cited. – Dan May 27 '14 at 1:28
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    FYI: My reason for providing some partial research is not to direct the answer to a predetermined acceptable one, but to simply state an observation that may or may not be included in an answer. It is simply to pass on something I found out that might, or may not be considered relevant. – Mike May 27 '14 at 6:53
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The Idea in Brief

The Hebrew verb to pierce (כָּרָה = H3738) in Psalm 40:6 is the same triliteral root for the Hebrew verb to prepare (כָּרָה = H3739). For example, this second verb (כָּרָה = H3739) appears translated in 2 Ki 6:23 as "prepared." In other words, both verbs have the exact same triliteral root, but have different meanings. The LXX translators had thus understood the verb in this verse not as H3738 ("pierced"), but as H3739 ("prepared").

Additionally the LXX translators understood the word "ears" as metonymy for obedience. Thus the proper rendering in Hebrew would be that the Lord prepared the ears of David for obedience to the Lord. In contradistinction, the ears of King Saul were unprepared:

1 Sam 15:22 (NASB)
22 Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.

In the passage of Psalm 40:6, the LXX translators did not limit the idea to the unstopping or unclogging of the ears of David, which would have been the translation of (כָּרָה = H3738), which means to pierce (or to dig into, as if unstopping of unclogging the ears). The LXX translators went farther: they understood that the Lord had prepared (כָּרָה = H3739) the ears of David in order for him to hear the voice of the Lord, and thus to obey. If and when the ears obey, then the whole person follows, and in this regard King David as a person (his whole body) was a type of living sacrifice to the Lord.

Discussion

First, many modern commentaries understand the context here to refer to the piercing of the ear and/or lobe(s), and in this regard make reference to Ex 21:6 and Deut 15:17, where the ear (singular) is pierced on the doorpost. Keil and Delitzsch (1996), however, indicate that Biblical Hebrew does not support such an interpretation. Instead, Keil and Delitzsch argue that the correct understanding of this verse has to do with the obedience enabled by the Lord, which is consistent with the contrast found 1 Sam 15:22. This verse references the disobedience of King Saul, whose ears were not "listening" -

1 Sam 15:22 (NASB)
22 Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.

Second, The NETS (New English Translation) of the LXX for the Book of Psalms relies on the Greek edition of Alfred Rahlfs (1931), Psalmi cum Odis (Septuaginta: Vetus Testamentum Graecum Auctoritate Academiae Litterarum Gottingensis editum X), Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967. According to the preface of the NETS translation, the version from Rahlfs is the most reliable text of the Psalms in Greek extant. The translation in English therefore appears as follows:

Psalm 39:7(6) (NETS)
7(6) Sacrifice and offering you did not want,
but ears you fashioned for me.
Whole burnt offering and one for sin
you did not request.

NOTE: LXX Psalm 39:7(6) = Psalm 40:6 of the Masoretic Text

According to apparatus criticus of Rahlfs' Septuaginta (upon which the NETS translation was based), the following appears:

enter image description here

According to this citation, Rahlfs relied on the text rendering of ὠτία, which (according to the apparatus criticus) had stemmed from the Psalterium Gallicanum (as noted by the abbreviation "Ga"), which is the Latin translation of the Psalms by Jerome in the Fourth Century. That is, Jerome had relied on the Greek of the Hexapla, which Origen of Alexandria had compiled in the Third Century. In this regard, the Greek of the Hexapla predated the Codex Vaticanus (c. Fourth Cent.), Codex Sinaiticus (c. Fourth Cent.), and Codex Alexandrinus (c. Fifth Cent.), upon which the variant readings of this verse are based. In other words, Rahlfs leaned more toward the earliest appearance of this verse in Greek of the Hexapla, which reflected the reading of "ears" (ὠτία) instead of "body" (σῶμα).

However, when we look at other writings of Origen who had compiled the Hexapla (which no longer exists in its complete original), we see other nuances, which warrant more attention. That is, Origen wrote his Commentary on the Epistle of Romans, which still exists, and in this commentary he mentions the context of Psalm 40:6 in terms not of "ears," but of "body." In his commentary of Romans 12:1, which speaks of the daily sacrifice of the body in devotion to the Lord, Origen writes the following (with emphases added).

Please click the image to enlarge.

enter image description here

Origen mentions neither "ears" nor "body," but appears to take Psalm 40:6 in the same way that Keil and Delitzsch understand the Psalm: that is, the "ears" would be metonymy for obedience, and thus the image of the "body" as the "prepared" sacrifice.

In summary, what we may infer from this data is that the proto-Hebrew Text had indeed mentioned the "ears" (as Origen made clear in his Hexapla), however, the key verb in the verse seems to have more to do with H3739 ("prepared") than with H3738 ("pierced"), and therefore the "ears" would be metonymy for obedience, which is what the LXX translation and Christian New Testament indicate.

Conclusion

The apparent difference of translation between the LXX and the Masoretic Text of Psalm 40:6 may leave doubts as to whether or not the proto-Hebrew Text had ever mentioned "ears," since the word "body" is instead mentioned by three very reliable LXX codices (Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Alexandrinus). However, one significant key to understanding this passage comes from Origen of Alexandria. That is, on the one hand, he is the earliest witness extant who indicates in his Hexapla that the proto-Hebrew texts had used the word "ears" and not "body." On the other hand, Origen interprets the meaning of the verse to say the "body" is "prepared" (as a living sacrifice), which is the meaning found in the three principal codices of the LXX and the Christian New Testament (see Heb 10:5).

In conclusion, while Origen had a reputation for interpreting Scripture in very wide brush-strokes, in this particular instance he appears to bridge the gap between the literal Hebrew Text reading ("ears"), and the amplified translation of the LXX ("body") as found in the major codices of the LXX. (As already noted this view finds support with Keil and Delitzsch.) In other words, Origen had recognized the literal text rendering of "ears" (per the Hexapla), but he also had understood the triliteral root כָּרָה meaning not to pierce (כָּרָה = H3738), but to prepare (כָּרָה = H3739). Because of this nuance of the Hebrew verb, Origen seems to indicate (like Keil and Delitzsch) that "ears" in the Hebrew Text would be metonymy for obedience, which therefore appears as "body" in the three principal codices of the LXX and in the Christian New Testament as well.

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    Hey a lot of good effort went into this answer. Really good job! – Mike May 18 '15 at 15:02
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As a newbie, I don't have sufficient reputation to comment directly on the above answers: so this response should best be considered as a partial answer to one aspect of the question. How could 'ears' come to be written as 'body?' Whilst I can understand that there are reasonable grounds for adopting a wider, more generalised, interpretation of 'ears,' I still find myself questioning whether a scribe or interpreter would deliberately alter the text in this way.

But it seems to me that there is a potentially very simple explanation as to how "ears" (ωτια), if written in uncial characters, could have been misread as "body" (cωμα): - astigmatism. For me, this problem is easily solved using specs: but for the ancient scribes it was not; and was likely to become steadily worse until they could no longer reliably continue their work.

Unlike the general blurriness caused when the eye is unable to focus due to short or long-sightedness, astigmatism has a tendency to create a blurred double image in the affected eye. The direction and distance between the two images depends upon the nature of the distortion in the eye itself, and need not be the same for both eyes. Potentially, therefore, the brain may be presented with up to 4 images of the same detail, and has the problem of achieving a binocular lock between at least one of the images from each eye when attempting to read a word, thereby reducing the apparent number of superimposed images to two or three. But the resultant image is blurred, generally made worse by poor near vision. Light and dark lines running in some directions tend to get emphasised at the expense of others, so that some letters or parts of letters become almost invisible whilst others may still appear quite distinct; and their appearance can change depending upon which specific letter you focus on and how hard you try. So one tends to recognise the general word shape rather than seeing all the detail.

But word recognition does not simply depend on shape. To an even greater extent, what we see as we scan a word can be influenced by what we expect to see. The example below is a well-known spoof: but it illustrates my point...

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

https://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/brain-teasers/scrambled-text

It is not true to say that only the first and last letters matter; though it does seem that they are very important. But so is context and meaning. Most readers of the above will find the correct word coming into their minds before they have fully realised just how badly it is spelt, because a large part of the normal word recognition process is unconscious and context-dependent.

In my own case, the horizontal displacement of images is greater than the vertical; so when attempting to read without my glasses, I tend to see two blurry images of the word; one displaced sideways from the other by between half and one letter's width. This can easily lead to errors. For example, just the other day I glanced at a brochure when not wearing my glasses and misread 'courageous' as 'outrageous.' In that case, the word did not fit the context; and a closer look revealed my error. But, once I have read a word incorrectly it is much more difficult to 'see' it as anything else..

My initial thought on comparing ωτια and σωμα was that with a horizontal astigmatism such as mine the uncial form of ω might easily be read as 'cω'. However, the biggest difference when reading Uncial Greek is the lack of word spacings. I had assumed this would just make it more difficult to recognise where a word began or ended. But when I included the surrounding words I found that in this particular case the Greek text conspires to increase the risk of error; because the preceding word ends with sigma. Even a mild astigmatism makes it very easy for the reader to lose their place when attempting to decipher a line of letters, making it possible for them to think that there are two sigmas rather than one, as illustrated below:

enter image description here

To a Hebrew reader, the concept of prepared or open ears signifying a readiness to hear and obey makes instinctive sense because in Hebrew 'hear' and 'obey' share the same stem. ('He that has ears to hear, let him hear.') But to a non-Hebrew Christian reader this sounds rather odd; whereas the concept of a body prepared by God for his incarnate Son makes perfect sense. So it seems to me entirely possible that a Christian scribe (or a Greek-speaking messianic Jew) on seeing this little word – seemingly beginning with 'cω' and ending with 'α' - could, in all good faith, have misread this as 'cωμα', resulting in a textual variant of the original Septuagint.

But if this were the work of a Christian scribe, then we are looking at a pretty small window of opportunity, as the book of Hebrews is generally dated around 63-64AD and not later than the destruction of the temple in 70AD. The expansion of the church into the Gentile world did not begin till around 40AD. And, given that the church was still in its very early stages of growth at this time and living in expectation of the imminent return of Christ, how likely is it that anyone would have felt it necessary to engage in the extremely laborious task of scribing additional copies of the entire Septuagint?

Possibly, they might have reproduced extracts covering key doctrinal themes: but is there any evidence of this? Or could the author of Hebrews have been the one who misread the text? In either of these two cases it could perhaps be the wide circulation of Hebrews that ultimately persuaded others to adopt this rendering of the text.

Could such an error have occurred somewhere in the Greek-speaking world before Jesus? Possibly. Some Greek-speaking Jewish communities may have been less familiar with the Hebrew identification of hearing and obedience and more open to Messianic perspectives. As has been noted, some Jewish sources had previously acknowledged the potential messianic significance of this psalm.

Note, however that, although the above theory offers a particularly plausible explanation as to how ωτια might be misread as σωμα, it does not so readily explain how the opposite transition could occur. This is because, whereas astigmatic blurring of 'TI' can produce something akin to an uncial 'M', it is more difficult for a blurred 'M' to produce a 'T.' Misinterpretation is still possible, as the scrambled text example illustrates: but it seems less likely. So, despite my personal preference for 'body,' I would have to say that this particular hypothesis tends to favour 'ears.'

  • @NigelJ Thanks for your comment. I was posting with limited time to spare; so didn't do a very thorough job of explaining precisely why astigmatism could be a significant factor in this case. I've endeavoured to clarify this in my revised answer. – Kevin King Dec 30 '17 at 21:26
  • @NigelJ Having looked more closely at the effect of the surrounding words in the Uncial script I have amended my answer to show how this increases the likelihood of an accidental transition from ωτια to σωμα. – Kevin King Jan 7 '18 at 17:43
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In the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), the words "but a body" is replaced by "ears". This is a mistake in the MT, as will be explained a little later in detail.

The Hebrew word for "prepared" is literally "digged", as in "digged a well". This word can have the more abstract meaning of "prepared" or "bought" (Deu 2:6; 1 Ki 6:23; Job 41:6; Hos 3:2) as digging a well or grave is also preparing or paying the price for such through hard work. This means that it was a great effort on God's part to prepare Christ's body. God had to become a man and live in Mary's womb for 9 months. This is too wondrous to explain in words as the previous verse (Psalm 40:5) says.

5 Your works, LORD God, are so many,
which You have wrought so wondrously.
Thy thoughts to us, they cannot be
told in order back unto Thee.
If these I would speak and declare,
they are more than can be numbered.

The word "digged" also implies the crucifixion since it is used that way in Ps 22:16.

MT Hebrew text says "ears You have digged (or prepared) for Me", but Heb 10:5 quote of this verse says "but a body You have prepared for Me".

There is no other Hebrew text available for Ps 40 except MT. Ps 40 has not been preserved in DSS.

The 1st half of the LXX 1903 Greek text for Ps 40:6 agrees exactly with Heb 10:5. (The 1931 Rahlfs' critical edition of the LXX Greek text, differs from the 1903 in that it says "ears" instead of "body". The only existing LXX Greek manuscripts say "body", not "ears". The 1931 edition "corrected" the LXX text to read "ears" based on Jerome's Latin Gallican Psalter, assuming that Jerome translated from an older version of the LXX, but he likely translated directly from the Hebrew as he did the Vulgate. More detail in this B-Greek discussion.)

The correct text is Heb 10:5 and LXX. The MT is in error because:

  1. Heb 10:5, being part of the New Testament, is inerrant. This does not necessarily mean that in all differences between the NT and MT quotes, the MT is in error. The NT quotation may not be an exact translation. However in this case the meaning of "but a body you have prepared for me" is entirely different from "ears you have digged (or prepared) for me." The 1st refers to the incarnation of the Messiah, the second supposedly means that God opened David's or Christ's ears to hear. If the Hebrew text said "ears" Paul could not have written as he did to a suspicious Jewish audience saying "body", which he used to make his point in 10:10.

  2. The MT text, "Ears You digged (or prepared at high price) for me", does not make sense. If the meaning was that God had opened Christ's or David's ears, this would be a very obtuse way of saying something simple. The Hebrew verb karah, "digged", is never used to mean "opened". If the meaning was "to open" then another verb should have been used. It also should have said "my ears", not just "ears". There is no thought in this psalm of giving me ears to hear, but the message of the Messiah's incarnation is continued in the next verse, "Behold, I come".

Some Christians interpret the MT to mean that Christ's ear was figuratively bored through as in Exo 21:6 & Deu 15:17 to be a slave to God forever. This cannot be the meaning here. If that was the intended meaning then it should say "my ear", singular with possessive pronoun, not "ears". The verbs in Exo 21:6 and Deu 15:17 are not karah. If karah was used then that would mean that it was a very painful procedure, which is not at all implied by Exo 21 nor Deu 15.

  1. The error here in the MT is typical of the MT errors as seen by comparison to the DSS. Unlike modern translations, the LXX was very accurate about translating Hebrew conjunctions. In the LXX and Hebrews 10:5, the conjunction "but" is there, but in the MT there is no conjunction. It does seem that a conjunction is missing for the MT to make sense.

The Hebrew word for "ears" is aznaim ‎ אזנים which bears no resemblance to the Hebrew word for body, goof גוף or gveyah ‎ גְּוִיָּה or gevah גוה, . However, if the missing Hebrew conjunction above was az אז, (meaning "then"), then az goof אז גוף or az gveyah אז גויה could be mistakenly (accidentally or on purpose) copied as aznaim אזנים. (The Hebrew "g" gimel ג, looks much like the Hebrew "n", nun נ. The Hebrew "v", vav ו, looks much like the Hebrew "y", yod י. So az gevah אז גוה could have been read as azneih אז ניה, which is close to aznaim אזנים.) Ref. Adam Clarke's Commentary on Psalms.

The post 70 AD Jewish council would be biased against "body" because of it's referring to the Messiah's incarnation and for this reason may have chosen "ears" over "but a body" when deciding on the right text between 2 manuscripts as they did in a few other places such as Isa 7:14 and Ps 22:16, which are proven by the DSS.

The MT is amazingly accurate as seen by comparison to the DSS, which is about 1,000 years older. The texts match up word for word, the vast majority of the differences being the spellings of a few words, which can change the meaning. The type of MT errors that we see when comparing the MT to the DSS with the LXX and NT is the same kind of error we see here.

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I could be wrong but I believe you are assuming that the LXX is translated from the Masoretic and thus this would seem a poor translation of the MT, However, The 72 translators of the LXX did not use the MT to translate the LXX. There is not a surviving copy of the Hebrew that the LXX was translated from and thus your question as I understand it cannot be answered.

The LXX was translated about 270 years before Christ during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.). The MT was not translated until the 8th to 10th century and the oldest copy dates back to the 10th century, thus it would be impossible for the LXX to be translated from the Masoretic.

Here is one citation from http://ecclesia.org/truth/septuagint.html.

Our first Proponent covered is from the Introduction to The Septuagint Bible, as translated into the English language by Charles Thomson in 1808, which gives us much insight into some previously unpublicized history and facts concerning the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Septuagint texts of the Old Testament. Some of its more important points read as follows:

"By the end of the first century of the Christian era—the first of several to be filled with fierce religious controversies—the official Hebrew biblical text had already become considerably altered from what it was in the third, or for that matter in the second or first centuries preceding the Christian era,—thus furnishing grist for the controversial mill, by enabling post-Christian Jewish proponents to answer any opponents who might quote from the Septuagint Bible text, by saying that it was "not the same" as the Hebrew. Of course it was not, for the Hebrew text had changed during the first century of the Christian era, as even a cursory examination of the older and later texts will prove. To cite one of the striking instances of such alterations, "the angels of God" in the ancient Septuagint text of Deuteronomy 32:8 became "the children of Israel" in the post-christian Hebrew version. As Swete after a survey of the evidence concludes:

"At some time between the age of the LXX and that of Aquila (ca. 125A.D.) a thorough revision of the Hebrew Bible must have taken place, probably under official direction; and the evidence seems to point to the Rabbinical school which had its center in Jamnia in the years that followed the fall of Jerusalem as the source from which this revision proceeded. Among the Rabbis of Jamnia were Eleazar, Joshua, and Akiba, the reputed teachers of Aquila." H. B. Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, op. cit., p.320

Here is the link to a site that compares the MT (OTKJV) the LXX (Brentons) and the NT (KJV): http://www.ecclesia.org/truth/comparisons.html

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    Lots of confusion here. First: the story of 70 translators is a legend, not history. Second: What do you mean with "The MT was not translated until the 8th to 10th century"? Translated from what language to what language? Third: Have you ever heard of Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls)? – fdb May 12 '15 at 17:29
  • plus 1 as you could be right, or the text that was used could have been the same as tha Masoretic, guess we can never know. i was hoping someone who was familiar with the Hebrew might have a good conjecture one way or the other – Mike May 12 '15 at 23:50
  • Any History not in the Bible could then be considered "legend" as the Bible is the only definitive truth. Tertullian has recorded the "legend" of the LXX and also stated that he saw the huts that the 72 not 70 stayed in. The point is that the LXX was translated before the MT was copied and edited so the LXX could not have been translated from the MT which answered the Q being asked. It would seem that since the NT quoted this passage from the LXX word for word and the MT says something completely different, that the LXX has the true translation of Ps40:7 and the MT of Ps40:6 is poor copy/edit – JMW May 13 '15 at 2:43
  • The text that was used to translate the LXX could not be the same as the MT. This is why the two read so differently. There are hundred of differences between the MT and the LXX. Dig deeper by looking into the link I just gave you. If you end up disagreeing with the info presented there at least you will have confronted the evidence that opposes your view and you will be able to better defend the view that you form by studying both sides of the issue. The issue being, What is the better text, the LXX or the MT, and which one harmonizes all of scripture the best. IMO it would be the LXX. – JMW May 13 '15 at 4:15
  • But surely we can agree that the text the LXX used and the MT have a common origin if we go back far enough. So we can still try and discover if there's anything in the Hebrew language that would at least make the variation understandable. Or maybe the MT was the same as what the LXX translated but they changed the wording for a reason. Arguing over when and who and legends or not seems irrelevant to what the question is really asking. – Joshua May 13 '15 at 17:31
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May I offer a simple explanation to Psalms 40:6 "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened." NKJV as compared to Hebrews 10:5 "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me." NKJV

The writer to Hebrews did not know Hebrew but only Greek, and he is quoting Psalms 40:6 from the Septuagint.

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