The Old Testament is a collection of 39 books containing the records of man’s dealings with God in that dispensation, their history and the covenant made with Abraham and his seed, as well as the law given to Moses. Writings from ancient prophets inspired by God also testified of the coming of Jesus Christ and His mission and ministry to atone for the sins of the world for those who would repent, receive the ordinances and live the gospel.
The oldest Greek version of the Hebrew Bible is called the Septuagint. The early Christian Church used it as its religious text until around the mid-fourth century.
Up until that time one of the major languages of the Roman Empire and the church was Greek, with the exception of the Syriac and Ethiopian Orthodoxies. Also, the early influential theologians, writers and teachers of the church, tended to accept Philo’s (An Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who used allegory to fuse and harmonize Greek philosophy and Judaism) account of the Septuagint’s miraculous and inspired origin. New Testament writers also quoted extensively from the text.
Jerome was considered a scholar, which at that time, implied that he was fluent in the Greek language. Recognized by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches as a Saint, he knew some Hebrew when he began his translation of the old Latin version of the Septuagint, which he then compared against the available Hebrew text. His belief was that the Hebrew text better testified of Christ than did the Septuagint. At that point, he broke with the tradition of the church and translated most of the Old Testament from Hebrew rather than Greek.
His choice was severely criticized by Augustine, his contemporary who considered the Septuagint inspired, and others who were not happy with Jerome breaking tradition. Jerome moved to Jerusalem to better understand Jewish scripture commentary. Over time, acceptance of Jerome’s version increased in the West until it displaced the Old Latin translations of the Septuagint. Jerome, commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382, completed this work by 405.
Today’s scholars questions and doubt the quality of Jerome’s Hebrew knowledge. The Greek Hexapla, which is the term for an edition of the Old Testament in six version compiled with the versions placed side by side …
- Hebrew transliterated into Greek characters
- Aquila of Sinope
- Symmachus the Ebionite
- A recension of the Septuagint, with interpolations from Theodotion’s text, which are clearly marked as such (by the use of obeloi).
… is now considered the main source for Jerome’s “iuxta Hebraeos” translation of the Old Testament.
Many of the modern translations of the Old Testament that use the Hebrew text as their foundation, consult the Septuagint and other versions in an attempt to reconstruct the meaning of the Hebrew text whenever it is unclear, obviously corrupt, or uncertain.
Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, many of the oldest Biblical verses, especially those in Aramaic, relate more closely with the Septuagint than with the Hebrew text. It’s may be important to note that the majority of these variations are minor, for example, grammatical changes, spelling differences or missing words that don’t appear to affect the meaning of the affected passages.
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