Origen’s Fifth and Sixth Greek Editions

Clay JarsMost readers will be familiar with the Greek version of the Septuagint. Fewer will have heard of the Jewish revisers/translators, Theodotion, Aquila, and Symmachus. I plan to treat these three in more depth from Epiphanius’s vantage point at a later time. But Origen found two or three more translations and called them the Fifth (Quinta), the Sixth (Sexta), and the Seventh (Septima). There are three sources that describe these translations and the chaotic situation in which they were made, hidden, and found in the second and third centuries. It is worth citing and commenting on them in order to learn what we can about these versions. I conclude with a brief example of these versions from Psalm 1:1.

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 325)

In a context describing Origen’s Hexapla and other versions, he also describes the lesser known translations of the Fifth, the Sixth, and the Seventh (for Psalms at least) which were hidden and then found by Origen.

And in addition to the well-known translations of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, he discovered certain others which had been concealed from remote times—in what out-of-the-way corners I know not—and by his search he brought them to light. Since he did not know the authors, he simply stated that he had found this one in Nicopolis near Actium and that one in some other place. In the Hexapla of the Psalms, after the four prominent translations, he adds not only a fifth, but also a sixth and seventh. He states of one of these that he found it in a jar in Jericho in the time of Antoninus, the son of Severus (Historia 6.16; ANFP).

Regarding these translations, Eusebius says that Origen did not know who made them. Furthermore, he does not know exactly where Origen found each of these translations. One came from Nicopolis near Actium and another was found in a jar in Jericho in the time of Antoninus. He does not assign a specific provenance to any of these, some were found in Greece and others were from Israel from places like Jericho.

Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 392)

Around seventy years later, Epiphanius comments on the same discoveries of Origen. He certainly appears to use Eusebius as a source but he either gives his free interpretation of that source or has independent information since his description appears to fill in some details.

Now concerning the Fifth and the Sixth published edition, I am not able to say who translated them or from where, but only that after the persecution of king [Septimius] Severus [reigned 193–211], the Fifth was found in large jars in Jericho, having been hidden in the times of Antoninus the son of Severus who was surnamed both Karakallos and Geta [198–217]…. In his days, as I said before, the books of the Fifth edition were found in large jars in Jericho having been hidden with other Hebrew and Greek books…. In the midst of these years [Alexander, the son of Mamaia; 218–222], the Sixth publication was found and it had been hidden in jars in Nicopolis, the one near Actia (Mens. 18; my translation).

Epiphanius does not know by whom and from where the translations were made. He clearly assigns the Fifth version to the one found at Jericho in large jars where it was hidden with other Hebrew and Greek books. As for the Sixth, that one was found in jars at Nicopolis (in Greece) near Actium. This last part made more certain where each was discovered than Eusebius had appeared to convey earlier. Epiphanius could have misread Eusebius, offered independent interpretation of his work, or had access to other sources of information on this question. It is not clear how he seems to know exactly where Origen found each version.

Hypomnestikon (393–431?)

Another source of information of rather uncertain provenance itself is known as the Hypomnestikon or Joseph’s Bible Notes (thanks to Eva Mroczek for pointing me to this source).

The Fifth edition was found at Jericho, hidden in bronze jars (ἐν πίθοις χαλκοῖς), not being named with regard to the translator. They say that it was translated by a woman, since the jars were found in the house of an attentive woman in sacred literature.

Another Sixth edition was found in Nicopolis near Actium, after the persecution of Severus.

Hypomnestikon follows Epiphanius on where the Fifth and Sixth versions were found. He does add the bit about “bronze” jars. By far, it adds the most information on the Fifth edition in terms of its translator. But it may have conflated some other material in Eusebius (Hypomnestikon, p. 251). Right after Eusebius’s description of Origen’s versions, he adds that Symmachus, who was an Ebionite, wrote commentaries on the Scriptures. Eusebius says that Origen received these books from a certain Juliana, who received these books and others as an inheritance from Symmachus himself. Perhaps, Hypomnestikon has conflated the story of Juliana with the provenance of the Fifth edition. But maybe not. Maybe there were two women. It would be strange for Hypomnestikon not to name the woman translator of the Fifth version, if he thought the name was Juliana from Eusebius. So a certain Juliana could be the woman who supplied Origen with texts of Symmachus as Eusebius says. Another anonymous woman may have translated the Fifth version. We do not know. What is very interesting is that Hypomnestikon actually suggests that a woman was the translator of the Fifth edition and this woman was a student in sacred literature.


Clearly, the situation was very chaotic in the second and third centuries. We read of Jews hiding Hebrew and Greek scriptural books in clay jars during the times of certain Roman emperors and about Origen finding them as they were stored. How old are these versions? We know they are older than Origen’s textual work. Are these versions the same as those that our later sources refer to as Quinta and Sexta? Probably. These Greek versions appear to be revisions of the Septuagint towards the Hebrew, but they didn’t become as popular among the Jews as the big Three. Based on the current evidence, the Fifth and Sixth versions were not complete Greek Bibles. Eusebius mentions these works in reference to the Psalms and most of the extant evidence for them comes from the same book. Perhaps, Origen was only able to find Psalms in these versions and by his time they had already fallen into disuse and therefore were not being copied. The mystery over these editions continues.

One teaser from the Fifth and the Sixth in Psalm 1:1 is interesting to cite here:

Hebrew: אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי־הָאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֤ר׀ לֹ֥א הָלַךְ֮ בַּעֲצַ֪ת רְשָׁ֫עִ֥ים

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.”

OG: Μακάριος ἀνήρ, ὃς οὐκ ἐπορεύθη ἐν βουλῇ ἀσεβῶν

“Blessed is a man, who does not walk in counsel of wicked people.”

Ε’. S’. τέλειος ὁ νεώτερος ὃς οὐκ ἀπῆλθεν ἐν βουλῇ ἀλλοτρίων

“Devoted is the young man, who does not depart into counsel of foreign people.”

Several items are of interest. “Blessed” has now been conveyed along the lines of “devotion” or “consecration.” The “man” has been cast in terms of “young man.” Perhaps most interesting the “wicked” or “impious” have now been rendered as “foreigners” or “strangers.” When exegeting the Psalms, it will be of interest to keep an eye on these versions for they offer very interesting interpretations of the Hebrew text. Origen and later Christians were fascinated with these versions that have become largely forgotten today. Our exegesis and textual criticism will become more enriched by the relative few fragments that remain.