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Whitaker on the Corruption of the Greek Septuagint (LXX)


“What authority, however, this version should command is uncertain. The ancients used to hold it in the highest estimation, and looked upon it as unique and divine. Epiphanius, in his book of Weights and Measures, says that the translators were not mere interpreters, but, in some sort, prophets also. And Augustine (de Doct. Christ. Lib. 2. c. 15) says, that this version was made by a divine dispensation, and was held in greatest repute among the best learned churches, since the translators were said to have been “aided by such a presence of the Holy Spirit in their interpretation as that they all had but one mouth.” Upon this subject he hath also written largely in his City of God, Lib. 18. c. 42 and 43. In like manner, Irenæus (Lib. 3. c. 25) writes that, though each made his translation apart, yet in the end, when they all met together and compared their several versions, “they all recited the same thing and in the very same words and terms from beginning to the end; so as that the gentiles who stood by might easily perceive, that it was by the inspiration of God that the scriptures were translated.” So Augustine, in the City of God, Lib. 18. c. 42: “The tradition is that there was so wonderful, stupendous, and absolutely divine agreement in their expressions, that although each sat down separately to this task (for so Ptolemy chose to try their fidelity), yet none differed from another even in a single word, though it were synonymous and equivalent, or in the order and placing of the words. But, as if there had been but one translator, so the translation was one; as, indeed, it was one and the same Holy Spirit which was in them all.” Now, while I doubt not that this version was held in high authority, and that deservedly too, I cannot think that the miracles which are told to magnify its authority deserve credit; and, indeed, we find that they are treated as fables by Jerome in the Preface to the Pentateuch. However great may have been the authority of this version, it could not have been greater than that of our version. They, therefore, attribute too much to it, who make it inspired, and equal to the authentic scriptures themselves. For the authority of those interpreters was not so illustrious and certain as that of the prophets: nor is it the same thing to be an interpreter and to be a prophet. Rightly, therefore, does Jerome, in the Preface to the Pentateuch, call the seventy interpreters, not prophets. In his Commentaries also he frequently blames the Greek version of the seventy translators, not only as depraved by the scribes, but even as faulty in itself; which he surely would not have done, if he had deemed that translation to be possessed of such divine and supereminent authority.

Learned men question, whether the Greek version of the scriptures now extant be or be not the version of the seventy elders. The sounder opinion seems to be that of those who determine that the true Septuagint is wholly lost, and that the Greek text, as we have it, is a mixed and miserably corrupted document. Aristæus says that the Septuagint version was exactly conformable to the Hebrew originals, so that, when read and diligently examined by skilful judges, it was highly approved by the general suffrage of them all. But this of ours differs amazingly from the Hebrew copies, as well in other places and books, as specially in the Psalms of David. Nor is there room for any one to reply that the Hebrew is corrupt. For even the papists will not venture to maintain that the Greek is purer than the Hebrew. If they did, they would be obliged to condemn their own Latin version, which agrees much more closely with the Hebrew than with the Greek. Nay, the faults of the Greek translation are so manifest, that it is impossible to find any way of excusing them. There is the greatest difference between the Hebrew and Greek books in the account of times and years. The Greek books reckon 2242 years from Adam and the beginning of the world to the flood, as we read in Augustine, Eusebius, and Nicephorus’ Chronology. But in the Hebrew books we see that there were no more than 1656. Thus the Greek calculation exceeds the Hebrew by 586 years. Again, from the deluge to Abraham there is, according to the LXX., an interval of 1082 years. But if you consult the Hebrew verity, you will not find more than 292. Thus the Greek books exhibit 790 years more than the Hebrew: and all concede the Hebrew numbers to be much truer than the Greek. Genesis 5., in the Greek books, Adam is said to have lived 230 years, or, according to some copies, 330, when he begat Seth. But the Hebrew text shews that Seth was born when Adam was 130 years old. In the rest there is a similar discordance of reckoning times, so as to prove that it was not without reason that Jerome wrote that the LXX. sometimes erred in their numbers. It is even a laughable mistake in the Greek by which Methusalem is made to survive the flood fourteen years. Where did he remain during the deluge? or how was he preserved? Certainly he was not in the ark; in which the scripture testifies that there were no more than eight persons. This, therefore, is a manifest falsity in the Greek edition. But the Hebrew text speaks much more truly of the years and age of Methusalem; and we collect from it that he died in that same year in which the world was overwhelmed by the deluge. Augustine treats of this matter in his City of God, Lib. 15. c. 11. So Jonah 3., according to the Hebrew reading, destruction is denounced against the Ninevites after 40 days. But in the Greek we read otherwise, “Yet three days, and Nineve shall be destroyed:” which is manifestly a false reading; for he could scarcely have traversed the whole city in three days. Augustine (Civit. Dei. Lib. 18. c. 44) invents I know not what mystery in this change of numbers to preserve the authority of the Septuagint, which, nevertheless, in the former place about Methusalem he is unable to defend.

From these and innumerable examples of the like sort we may conclude, either that this Greek version which hath come down to our times is not the same as that published by the seventy Jewish elders, or that it hath suffered such infinite and shameful corruptions as to be now of very slight authority. Even Jerome had not the Greek translation of the seventy interpreters in its purity; since he often complains in his commentaries that what he had was faulty and corrupt.

— William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture (1588), pages 121-122

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