The Septuagint & the Rosetta Stone

If our approach to the New Testament is that it is textually Greek and conceptually Hebrew, it would do us well to corroborate that with other documents that are also textually Greek and conceptually Hebrew. Do we have such a document (or documents)? Yes, the Septuagint. What is the Septuagint? Wikipedia tells us:

The Septuagint, named from the Latin word septuaginta (meaning seventy), is a translation of the Hebrew Bible and some related texts into Koine Greek. As the primary Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is also called the Greek Old Testament. This translation is quoted a number of times in the New Testament, particularly in Pauline epistles, and also by the Apostolic Fathers and later Greek Church Fathers. The title and its Roman numeral acronym LXX refer to the legendary seventy Jewish scholars who solely translated the Five Books of Moses as early as the 3rd century BCE.

The traditional story is that Ptolemy II sponsored the translation of the Torah (Pentateuch, Five Books of Moses). Subsequently, the Greek translation was in circulation among the Alexandrian Jews who were not fluent in Hebrew but fluent in Koine Greek, which was the lingua franca of Alexandria, Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean at the time.

In summary, the Septuagint – commissioned and completed more than 200 years before the time of Jesus – is a translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) into a dialect of Greek that was the most common language of the Jews in the diaspora – Jews who for generations had been living outside of Israel and not learned to speak Hebrew and yet desired to read the scriptures in their own language.  It is a prime example of writing that is textually Greek and conceptually Hebrew, and was indispensable to the writers of the New Testament. It was frequently used whenever quoting the Tanakh, or when needing to translate any spoken Hebrew or Aramaic words into Greek.

Just as the actual Rosetta Stone serves as a bridge between the ancient Greek and Egyptian languages, the Septuagint is our bridge between the Hebrew language of the Tanakh and the Greek text of the New Testament. It helps shed light on the Jewish character underlying the text and demonstrates that the Greek text does not always convey the bedrock meaning.

As we continue investigating specific books and passages of the New Testament, the Septuagint will be utilized often in order to reveal connections between the testaments that can often be overlooked. If not otherwise noted, quotations from the Septuagint will be signified with the abbreviation LXX.

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