Chapter 13 describes the ancient versions or translations of the Old Testament. Like the ancient versions of the New Testament are independent witnesses to the Greek text, these versions are independent witnesses to the Hebrew text. They help by: 1) telling us something of what the text used before the time of the Massoretes was like; 2) providing clarification or complementation to the Massoretic Text; and 3) very often increasing the credibility of the Massoretic Text. These versions follow below:
Samaritan Pentateuch - This is not a translation but a form of the Hebrew text that arose when the Samaritans separated themselves from the Jews and built their sanctuary on Mount Gerizim around 400 B.C. They adopted their own form of the Hebrew Scriptures which counted only the five books of Moses as authoritative. It contains around 6,000 variants to the Massoretic Text. However, many of these are spelling and grammatical differences and differences due to the peculiar beliefs of the Samaritans. There are a few instances where it agrees with the Septuagint and these cause textual critics to take notice.
Aramaic Targums – After the Jewish exile in Babylon, Aramaic became the spoken language of the Jews. For this reason, when the Hebrew text was read during public worship an Aramaic interpretation had to be provided. Eventually these interpretations, or targums, were written down. By the fifth century there were two official targums, Targum Onkelos of the Pentateuch and Targum Jonathan of the Prophets. Fragments of Targums were found at Qumran and they consistently support the Massoretic Text.
Syriac Peshitta (Simple) – An Eastern Aramaic version begun possibly as early as the middle of the first century A.D. by Jews, Christians, or both. Its earliest form agrees closely with the Massoretic Text, however the later forms are influenced by the Septuagint.
Latin Vulgate – Latin translation of the Old Testament completed by Jerome from 390 – 405 using Hebrew manuscripts which were relatively the same as the Massoretic Text.
The Septuagint – Lightfoot devotes much of the chapter to this version. The compilation of this Greek translation of the Old Testament is documented in the Letter of Aristeas. While there are historical problems with this letter it seems reasonable the it rightly documents that the translation of the Pentateuch took place in Alexandria in the third century B.C. Since Aristeas only writes of the translation of the Pentateuch, we do not know how or when the remainder of the Old Testament was translated. However, it is certain that the entire Old Testament was available in Greek well before the rise of Christianity. The Septuagint was never a unified and guarded form of the Old Testament text and because of this it is hard to say what it means to the Hebrew text when it differs from the Massoretic Text. Because of the Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries it must at least be acknowledged that it is possible that there were different forms of the Hebrew text of Jeremiah and 1 and 2 Samuel. However, Lightfoot writes:
Although there are numerous textual variations between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text, the great majority of these are minor. Often it is not mentioned how very much the Septuagint supports the Hebrew text. Yet even when the Septuagint differs and offers a better reading, nonetheless it never replaces the Hebrew as the standard form of the text. Because it is a translation, the Septuagint always remains secondary. Only with great care, then, can one speak of “the authority of the Septuagint.”
Apart from the Septuagint’s relation to the text, it has had great influence. The titles Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy came from the Septuagint through the Latin Vulgate. The grouping of books into Law, History, Poetry, and Prophets and the dividing of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, etc. are a result of the Septuagint. It was also the only Bible the early church had and it was the text most often quoted from by the apostles and inspired writers of the New Testament. Even New Testament terms and phrases such as “apostle,” “atonement,” “covenant,” “faith,” “forgiveness,” “glory,” “law,” “peace,” “redemption,” “righteousness,” and “truth” are derived from the Septuagint. Lightfoot closes the chapter by writing the following:
Today we can only be grateful for the Septuagint. The New Testament was written in Greek, but before it came the Old Testament translated into Greek. It was in God’s providence that the Septuagint by its language and vocabulary would open up the way for the gospel in a world dominated by Greek.
Stand firm in Christ,Chase