I am currently enrolled in the most fascinating class of my seminary experience. It is a class on the Septuagint. The Septuagint, often abbreviated LXX, is the name for the first translation(s) of the so-called Old Testament. I have written some summaries of the required readings in a way that I hope prove enjoyable and informative. Here’s the first.
“Anyone?” he asked the abnormally silent classroom. After a moment the professor continued, his voice feigning disbelief, “Not one of you has an answer to this question? You’re usually all so talkative.”
Finally one student spoke up. “Maybe you could ask the question again. The silence has caused me to forget how you worded the question—which seems like it may be your point here.”
“Fair enough,” the professor conceded. He then raised up high over his head, for the second time, the black, hard-bound book which had the words “Holy Bible” inscribed in gold lettering on the front cover and asked, “Am I holding the English translation of the Holy Bible?”
The same outspoken student, after a quick look around the room resulting in renewed confidence to speak for the group, cautiously answered, “I think I could say that you’re holding one English translation of the Holy Bible and not break my integrity.”
“Ah, and why do you say, one and not the?”
Several students were heard chuckling at the ridiculously easy nature of the question.
“Well, professor, as you well know, we probably have at least four English translations amongst ourselves in just this classroom, not including digital versions stored on–or accessible by–our phones and laptops.”
“Exactly the point!” At this the just-animated professor paused. “Okay then. With that, we’re now ready to talk about the so-called Septuagint.
“The first question we need to answer is, ‘When? When are we talking about? When did this occur?’
“As with all antiquity, a range is more honest than an exact date, or if an exact date is mentioned, keep in mind that a range is implied. That said, the request and its fulfillment to translate some of what we call the Old Testament into Koine Greek (the Lingua Franca of its day–thanks to Alexander the Great) was around 250 BC. It should surprise no one that the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) was treated first, and only over time does it appear that the rest of the OT (and more) was completed. Moreover, no different than the reason behind our many contemporary English translations, soon after the first so-called Septuagint there was disagreement and desire to do it better or perhaps more accurately. The big (versus only) three recensions/translators (the new ‘r’ word will be defined in a moment) that the historical record attests to are Aquila (ca. 140 AD), Theodotion (ca. 190 AD), and Symmachus (ca. 200 AD).
“Naturally, simply acknowledging these things often causes us to forget we’re in the forest. There is no denying that we find ourselves past the trees, through the roses’ scent, beyond the grass, and into the weeds. The weeds, of course, being the things that will not go away. Either we pull one up and another appears or we kill one only to discover it comes right back. Regarding Septuagint studies, this means that people are both still discovering how all the extant and attested to Septuagints were viewed in history as well as arguing over just how to categorize the many, many seeming distinctives involved in the criticism of ancient texts.
“Yet, decisions must be made and I’ve made them. You’re free to disagree with mine—after the semester. For now, here are some words that I’m going to use. Recensions must include revisions, but revisions do not necessarily produce recensions.
“In other words, there are times when we notice that some writer revised the Septuagint, without entirely revising it.
“But to say it that way is confusing. So in order to prevent the confusion I just introduced, we call the entire revision thing a recension.
“Speaking of recensions, we’ve already mentioned three notable recensions. But there are three more names that you’ll continuously come across. Those being, Hesychian, Hexapala (which is the six-column and no-longer-extant work of a man named Origen), and Lucianic. No doubt, more will be said about these as we go.
“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is one more word that this introduction must include: Vorlage (pronounced “4-log-eyh”). Vorlage is the name for the so-called parent-text to the LXX that history has not preserved, but which scholars believe the above personalities (and more) used to create the first LXX.
“Murky, indeed, are the waters when trying to reproduce the Vorlage.”
This is my summary of pp. 1-62 from Jobes, Karen H., and Moisés Silva’s 2015, Invitation to the Septuagint. 2nd edition. Grand Rapids: Baker. ISBN 978-080103649-1.