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The Septuagint – Greek Translation of the Torah

Remains of Septuagint Manuscript

Remains of a Septuagint manuscript from the 4th century, a copy around 600 years after the Septuagint's creation.

Perhaps because most literate Jews could no longer read Hebrew, Jewish scribes in Alexandria were put to work translating into Greek the Five Books of Moses (the Torah). The finished product became known as the Septuagint. Demonstrating their conviction that the Septuagint was the final word on Jewish history, the high priests in charge of the work proclaimed a curse upon any changes that might be made to it. Judaic doctrine would hold that seventy-two translators had worked independently of each other while producing the same result word for word – a miracle in keeping with the belief that the books were the works of divine intervention.

The translator's Greek was difficult for Greek speakers to understand, and, because Jews from different areas used words differently and interpreted what they read differently, when the Septuagint was distributed to Jews outside of Alexandria it created confusion. The curse on changes was ignored. For the sake of clarification, new words were inserted to fit local meaning, and with the passing of decades as the Septuagint was reproduced by hand, more changes were made. Then other writings were imperfectly translated into Greek and added to the Septuagint: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Kings, Judges, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Daniel. The last book of the Old Testament, the Book of Esther, would be translated into Greek around 77 BCE.

It would be from the Septuagint that various other translations would be made: Latin versions, Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Georgian and Slavonic versions. And in the year 1604 AD (Anno Domini, the year of our Lord, Jesus Christ) another translation would draw from the Septuagint, commissioned by England's King James.

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