The Place of Greek in the Biblical Theory of Epiphanius (Part 3.3)

Sinaiticus-Job 1Introduction

Continuing the description of Epiphanius’s biblical theory (see Part 1; Part 2.1; Part 2.2; Part 3.1; Part 3.2), in this post I describe Epiphanius’s evaluation of the additions in the Greek translation vis-à-vis the Hebrew text.

Additions in the Seventy-Two

In the next section of On Weights and Measures, Epiphanius delves into the matter of the obelos, that sign used by Origen to mark words and phrases present in the Seventy-Two but were not translated by Aquila and Symmachus. Significantly, he did not say “not present in the Hebrew,” but rather Epiphanius appears to say that the later Jewish revisers did not properly translate the Hebrew’s meaning:

For by themselves the Seventy-Two translators added these words, not without reason, but rather for usefulness. For by having added to the words that are existing elliptically [in the Hebrew] they guided the reading to clarity, in order that we might understand that they were not bereft of the Holy Spirit. For they passed by those words [in the Hebrew] which there was no need to call into question. But wherever it was seeming that the word [in the Hebrew] being translated into the Greek language was defective, there they made the addition (Mens. 3; translation mine).

Thus the Seventy-Two augmented the Hebrew text with their expansive renderings. At one point, Epiphanius describes the Hebrew words existing “elliptically” or “ambiguously” (ἐλλιπῶς; cp. usage in Mens. 2 where the Seventy-Two render the Hebrew elliptically in their removals of repetitions) and at another time as words that “seem to be defective” or “limping” (χωλός). Epiphanius holds that in these instances where the Hebrew is elliptical or seeming to be defective that the Seventy-Two made their additions.

In Mens. 6, he provides a brief example from Psalm 140 of what he means by defective Hebrew expression and the remedy of the Seventy-Two:

In the 140th Psalm there is in the Hebrew thus, “Ἀδωναῒ ἐλὰχ καριθὶ ἰσμαὴλ ἰεββητὰ ἀκὼλ,” which is translated, “Lord, I cried to you, hear me; pay attention to the voice.” The Hebrew does not have, “of my prayer.” See, therefore, how the defective expression (χωλός) is found. But the Seventy-Two translators, by having added the (phrase) “of my prayer,” made the line complete and translated, “O Lord, I cried to you, hear me; pay attention to the voice of my prayer.” And see how the psalm is sung once easily repaired. …For the words were added well for the expression and usefulness to the nations about to be brought into the faith of God and to acquire the inheritance of life from the divine oracles of the Old and New Covenant (translation mine).

The Seventy-Two, according to Epiphanius, make explicit what is implicit in thοse places perceived to be “defective” or “elliptical” in the Hebrew text when they add words. These additions are presented as a benefit to the nations about to acquire the inheritance of life from the divine oracles of the Old and New Testament.


In a final summary of Origen’s use of the critical signs and a summary argument in favor of the Seventy-Two against the Jewish revisers, Epiphanius says:

It is quite clear that the truth will be found in the Seventy-Two [rather than in Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion]. Therefore it is known to those willing to examine this honestly, that not only were they translators but also in part prophets. For they passed over in translation of which there was no need, which (things) Origen set under asterisks in their own places. And likewise also he did not take away the things being added, knowing that there is more need of them, but with obeloi he let be where he found each of the things having been said, only having marked the knowledge concerning the reading of the place through the obelοs (Mens. 17; translation and emphasis mine).

The Seventy-Two are no mere translators, according to Epiphanius, but also prophets in part because of their omissions and additions throughout the translation. Calling them “prophets” is significant because earlier in the discourse, he has already referred to the Hebrew writings as divine books of the prophets (Mens. 9 and 10). Here, he says they were prophets in part (ἀπὸ μέρους), which suggests slight unequal status. Jerome’s statement in his Prologue to Genesis may be in the background here:

And I don’t know who was the first author to construct with his lying the seventy cells in Alexandria, into which were divided those who wrote, with Aristeas the champion of the same Ptolemy, and many after the time of Josephus having reported no such thing, but rather (for them) to have gathered in groups, writing in one basilica, (and) not to have prophesied. For it is one thing to be a seer, another to be an interpreter.

Epiphanius clearly believes the details of the legend of the Seventy-Two more than Jerome, but he also seems to deny the Seventy-Two full prophetic status, settling for “prophets in part.” They have the gift of the Holy Spirit but this may not amount to the same as being prophets of divine books in the mind of Epiphanius. Τhey have performed a remarkable work in the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, for their omissions and additions have smoothed out superfluous repetition and augmented ambiguous Hebrew expression for the nations who were about to receive eternal life.


One thought on “The Place of Greek in the Biblical Theory of Epiphanius (Part 3.3)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s