The Translation of the “LXX” of Job 37:18

This post is a response to Ed Babinski’s questions on my “About” page. He raised a significant question regarding the differences between Brenton’s translation and the NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint) at Job 37:18. His question also gave me the opportunity to look ahead at a verse that I will have to prepare for my dissertation, since this verse is sub asterisk (※).

He asked two questions, 1) what accounts for the disparity between the English translations of the Septuagint, and 2) how does the “LXX” translate Job 37:18? I will answer them in order.

The Problem with Brenton’s Translation

Brenton differs with NETS in two instances in this verse: he has a verb in v. 18a, where NETS has a noun and he reads the word “mirror”, where NETS has “appearance.” I have not done an exhaustive study of Brenton’s translation, but my experience with it is that he sometimes translates the Hebrew text at the expense of faithfulness to the Greek of the LXX. This verse seems to be an example of this phenomenon in both places. In the first example, the LXX has στερεώσεις, which is a plural noun from στερεωσις, “a making firm, a making solid” (see LSJ) or as NETS has it “solidifications.” I prefer NETS here because the noun is a -σις noun and it usually indicates an abstract noun, thus a solidification. The Hebrew text has a Hiphil verb from רקע, and Brenton seems to translate this word instead (see BDB). In the second example, LXX has ὅρασις “appearance”, while the Hebrew has ראי “mirror”, which is listed in both BDB and KB. This word does seem to be a genuine hapax legomenon. Brenton has read the Hebrew text again, for the Greek word does not mean “mirror” (see LSJ). NETS has translated the Greek text more faithfully here, and there is a reason for the Greek translation to which we now turn.

The Reading of the “LXX”

The second question regarding the Greek translation of ראי brings us to the main issue. Most significantly, this reading does not come from the (O)ld (G)reek translator (1-2 centuries BCE), but from the Jewish reviser Theodotion, who completed his work in the 1st century CE (many argue for a late second century date, but see Peter J. Gentry, The Asterisked Materials of the Greek Job for a contrary and persuasive proposal). The text is under the asterisk (※), marking a text present in the Hebrew but absent in the OG, and in this case the Syro-hexapla and Catena Ms 740 preserve the attribution to Theodotion. Thus, when attempting to discover the translation technique, one needs to understand Theodotion’s use of ὅρασις, not necessarily the technique of the OG. Here is the available evidence of ὅρασις for Th (the references correspond to Field):

מראה: Ezek 1:13, 16; 10:22; Dan 8:16, 26  Th.

רוהּ: Dan 3:25 Th

חזון: Dan 9:24; 10:14; (7:13?) Th.

חזוי: Dan 2:28 Th.

Is 22:1 Sym and Th for חזיון.

Ezek. 13:16 Sym and Th for חזון.

Ezek 1:27, 28; 10:10 Aq and Th מראה.

Amos 5:26 Th for סכות perhaps for שכה “to observe, behold.”

Problematic readings occur in Dan 4:7, 7:2, 8:2, and so have been left out of this analysis.

The plethora of evidence allows one to leave aside the double attributions or those instances where Th is joined by Aq and Sym as the author of the lemma, since there are clear cases where only Th uses ὅρασις for Hebrew מראה and חזון.


In Job 37:18, Th must be reading ראי “mirror” as a form of מראה “appearance.” Perhaps, he was unaware of the meaning of this hapax legomenon in the Hebrew Bible. A comparison of the rest of the Versions confirms this, since none of these Versions have an equivalent for “mirror”:

Aquila: also uses ὅρασις “appearance.”

Symmachus: uses an infinitive ὀφθῆναι “to appear.”

Vulgate: qui solidissimi quasi aere fusi sunt.

Peshitta: No equivalent for the reading in question or it has interpreted the reading with “to support simultaneously.”

The Versions all take an interpretive stance, which is almost certainly because of the hapax in the Hebrew text. The only other possibility is to posit that modern Hebrew lexicography is wrong in this case and to posit that the Hebrew word really does mean “appearance” on the basis of Th, Aq, and Sym.

These translators are attempting to render the Hebrew text in front of them in a quite literal way. I doubt we can discern their cosmology based on their rendering of the text. They want to be faithful to the Hebrew text and its message from what I can tell. Perhaps Ed can now enlighten us as to what he thinks is happening in this text regarding ancient cosmology.

Translators Consulting other Translations

Regarding the consultation of other Versions in his own translation work, Jerome says,

Sed de Hebraeo transferens, magis me Septuaginta Interpretum consuetudini coaptavi: in his dumtaxat, quae non multum ab Hebraicis discrepebant.

(But when translating from the Hebrew, rather I joined myself to the knowledge/experience of the 70 translators [i.e. the Septuagint]: precisely in the places which were not differing much from the Hebrews.)

With the launch of the NIV update, some scholars are wondering whether the editors should have scrapped some of the readings of the previous NIV all together. It is interesting that Jerome had a very common sense criterion for the use of other Versions in translation: when they don’t differ much from the Hebrew. It stands to reason, therefore, that if modern scholars can trace gross mistranslations back to previous versions, which do not convey the Hebrew sense well, that they should indeed attempt a new translation of the source text. This principle seems consonant with the Reformation, and Luther and Tyndale seemed to follow it well. What is the church to gain by preserving bad or worse misleading renditions of the original text?

The Hexapla of Job 24:12a and the Modern Translator

I have not posted on the LXX in a while, but I wanted to draw attention to a problem at which I had to look for my dissertation on the Hexapla of Job and show how this work is relevant to modern translations of the Bible.

A sampling of modern translations of this verse is insightful. For example, the ESV says, “From out of the city the dying groan”. The word of interest is “the dying”, and it is also the translation of the NIV. Interestingly, the KJV(!), HCSB, and the NASB have “men” in their translation. So what is happening beneath the surface?

Here is a listing of the MT and the Versions:

MT: מֵ֘עִ֤יר מְתִ֨ים׀ יִנְאָ֗קוּ

LXX: οἳ ἐκ πόλεως καὶ οἴκων ἰδίων ἐξεβάλλοντο

Sym: ἐκ πόλεως ἄνδρας ἐποίησαν στενάξαι (retroverted from Syh  .ܣ. ܡܢ ܡܕܝܢܬܐ ܠܓܒܪ̈ܐ ܥܒ̣ܕܘ ܠܡܬܬ̣ܢܚܘ ܀)

Th: ἐκ πόλεως ἄνδρες κεκράξονται (retroverted from Syh ܬ. ܡܢ ܡܕܝܢܬܐ ܓܒܪ̈ܐ ܢܩ̣ܥܘܢ܀)

Vulgate: de civitatibus fecerunt viros gemere

Pesh:ܡܢ ܓܘ ܩܪܝܬܐ ܡ̈ܝܬܐ ܢܬܐܢܩܘܢ

A few observations are in order. First, the consonantal text of M may be pointed to mean “men” or “the dying”, but the vocalization of M clearly indicates that the former is in view. Now, a modern scholar may dispute this vocalization and claim that M’s vocalization was a relatively new invention; however, this vocalized reading is very old, if not the original reading, since it is also the reading of Theodotion, Symmachus and Jerome’s Vulgate. The LXX does not have either of these readings, but the translator seemed to understand people who are alive, not dead, but this version cannot always be trusted for this type of information in the book of Job. Second, the Pesh certainly has “the dead” or “the dying”. Third, and on a more pedantic note, Jerome seems to have used Symmachus for his translation, since we know he used Sym from time to time and these versions are the only two interpreting the Hebrew verb as a causative “from the city they made/caused men to groan”, when in fact the word is not causative. Thus, the Hexapla actually preserves the earliest evidence of the reading of the Hebrew Bible in this verse.

Now, let me highlight the problem of the ESV, which is the version I use most regularly and I find it to be a good translation overall. The translation, “the dying”, is put into the text without any explanation. As far as the reader knows, this translation is a faithful rendering of the Hebrew text. The problem, however, is that it is a faithful rendering of the Syriac Peshitta and perhaps one other insignificant Hebrew ms., and the English translator did not note the other Versions and witnesses to the text in this instance. What should have happened in this case?

The translator probably should have maintained the principles of the ESV and translated the Hebrew text (codex L) faithfully, and if he disagreed with the reading, he should have put all of the evidence in a footnote below the text. Or he could have put “the dying” in the text and left a footnote indicating that the reading of the Hebrew and the rest of the Versions is “men”.

The reader of the ESV wants to know what the original Hebrew text says, nothing more or less. In Job 24:12a, M and the oldest Versions have preserved the original vocalization. The text should say “From the city, men will groan.”

St. Jerome on Translating according to the Sense

It has been a while since I have posted anything on this site, but here is a snippet from some of the material I have been reading for hexaplaric research.

Regarding translation technique Jerome says:

For I not only admit, but I declare freely that I express not word for word (uerbum e uerbo) but sense for sense (sensum de sensu) in translating from the Greek (except from the holy scriptures, where even the order of the words is a mystery.)

Ad Pammachium de optimo genere interpretandi Epistula LVII, 5

I put off a solution even of such a little question, so that my critics may question and understand that the words (uerba) of scripture must not be examined (consideranda), but the sense (sensum).

Ad Pammachium de optimo genere interpretandi Epistula LVII, 10

Does Genesis 1:1 Teach That God Created the Heavens and the Earth?

At LXX Studies we will more than likely never be the first to break a story to the public, but hopefully we will be able to offer sound reflection on some of the more newsworthy items from the perspective of the Ancient Versions.

This past week, there was some hype due to an announcement that Ellen Van Wolde has made an argument that concludes something to the tune of “the traditional view that God is creator is untenable now.”  As I understand it, a major part of Van Wolde’s argument concerns the translation of the Hebrew word ברא in Genesis 1:1.  Of course the traditional translation of this word is “to create,” but Van Wolde has suggested that the word in this context should be translated “to separate,” so that the text is not teaching the original creation of the heavens and the earth, but only the separation of the heavens from the earth (see Chris for an apt critique of Van Wolde’s analysis of the Hebrew usage).

What Van Wolde means by the “traditional view” is not clear, but one may safely assume that she has in mind the traditional exegesis of Genesis 1:1 which supports the traditional Jewish and Christian view of creation that God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo.  I simply want to list the evidence of the Ancient Versions in order to present the traditional exegesis of this verse.

LXX: ᾿Εν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν.  The text can be translated: In the beginning God created/made the heavens and the earth (see LSJ s.v. αρχη for anarthrous examples with prepositions, where the sense is still clearly definite probably because the lexical item naturally assumes only one beginning).  The LXX, then, uses a verb which does not mean “to separate,” but means “to make” or “to create” ( for the latter meaning see s.v. ποιεω A.2 LSJ).  For a thorough listing of translation equivalents for bara’ in the LXX and for what equivalents one would expect to see if the translators wanted to communicate the sense “to separate” see here.  This translation comes from the 3rd century BC (c. 280 BC) and some might wonder if the translators intended to convey that God only formed the heavens and the earth from existing matter by their use of ποιεω.  Although this is possible, only about 120 years later, we see clearly that the Jews are praying to the LORD God as ο παντων κτιστης (“the creator of all”) among other appellations in 2 Maccabees 1:24.  The Jews clearly have an understanding that God created all things in this period of their history and this theology must come from texts such as Genesis 1:1.

Aquila: ἐν κεφαλαιω εκτισεν θεος συν τον ουρανον και συν την γην.  Aquila employs the very specific verb κτιζω “to create” in order to render the Hebrew text.  Note that Aquila is not using the συν preposition in the normal sense “with” so that someone might be tempted to translate the text: God created with the heavens and with the earth or something like this.  Rather, Aquila uses συν characteristically to translate the Hebrew marker of the direct object את.

Symmachus: Not extant

Theodotion: Not extant

Vulgate: In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram.  Jerome uses creo to communicate the idea of creation, not separation.

Peshitta: ܒܪܫܝܬ ܒܪܐ ܐܠܗܐ܂ ܝܬ ܫܡܝܐ ܘܝܬ ܐܪܥܐ܂  P uses a cognate (bra’) to translate the Hebrew text in this verse.  According to the CAL in the G stem this verb may mean “to create” or “to get well.”  The former is clearly the meaning in this context given that the verb is transitive in this context.

Targum: בֲקַדמִין בְרָא יוי יָת שְמַיָא וְיָת אַרעָא׃  The Aramaic Targum uses the same cognate (bra’) as P, which has the same range of meaning in this dialect according to the CAL.

The Ancient Versions speak with one clear voice that God did indeed create the heavens and the earth, not simply the “stuff” in the heavens and the earth, and they certainly did not understand the text to mean God separated the heavens and the earth.

Therefore any argument to the contrary will have to be established firmly on the basis of the analysis of the Hebrew text of Genesis and the Hebrew Bible as a whole, which is Van Wolde’s project apparently.  However, see John Hobbins’ initial critique of Van Wolde’s analysis of the Hebrew Bible here.

HT: Charles

The Ancient Versions on Isaiah 7.14

Fewer texts in the OT have been more important to the Christian church than Isaiah 7:14. Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho is a great example of the controversy between Jews and Christians over this crucial text.  However, Justin and Trypho argue on the basis of Greek versions alone, and the controversy never descends to the meaning of the Hebrew Bible.  The Versions listed below are translations from the Hebrew text, and I offer some commentary on each one. Continue reading “The Ancient Versions on Isaiah 7.14”