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The Septuagint is the ancient Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, translated between the 3rd and 2nd century BCE in Alexandria by 72 Elders under the orders of Egyptian King Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
The Septuagint, or simply "LXX" (70), is the name commonly given in the West to the ancient, Greek version of the Old Testament translated in stages between the 3rd to 1st century BC in Alexandria. It is the oldest of several ancient translations of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The name means "seventy" in Latin and derives from a tradition that seventy-two Jewish scholars (LXX being the nearest round number) translated the Pentateuch (or Torah) from Hebrew into Greek for one of the Ptolemaic kings, Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-247 BC). As the work of translation went on gradually, and new books were added to the collection, the compass of the Greek Bible came to be somewhat indefinite. Some of the newer works, those called apocrypha in Greek, are not included in the Hebrew canon. Among these books are Maccabees and the Wisdom of Ben Sira. Also, the LXX version of some works, like Daniel and Esther, are longer than the Hebrew. Several of the later books apparently were composed in Greek.
By the 3rd century BCE, Jewry was situated primarily within the Hellenistic world. Outside of Judea, many Jews may have needed synagogue readings or texts for religious study to be interpreted into Greek, producing a need for the LXX. Alexandria held the greatest diaspora Jewish community of the age and was also a great center of Greek letters. Alexandria is thus likely the site of LXX authorship, a notion supported by the legend of Ptolemy and the 72 scholars. The Septuagint enjoyed widespread use in the Hellenistic Jewish diaspora and even in Jerusalem, which had become a rather cosmopolitan (and therefore Greek-speaking) town. Both Philo and Josephus show a reliance on the Septuagint in their citations of Jewish scripture.
The Septuagint is first mentioned in the spurious Letter of Aristeas (which scholars believe was written by a Hellenistic Jew in the mid second century BC) of how seventy-two Jewish scholars were asked by the Greek King of Egypt Ptolemy II Philadelphus in the 3rd century BC to translate the Torah for inclusion in the Library of Alexandria. A later version of that legend narrated by Philo of Alexandria states that although the translators were kept in separate chambers, they all produced identical versions of the text in seventy-two days. Although this story is widely viewed as implausible today, it underlines the fact that some ancient Jews wished to present the translation as authoritative.
The LXX was held with great respect in ancient times; Philo and Josephus ascribed divine inspiration to its authors. It formed the basis of the Old Latin versions of the Old Testament and is still used intact within Eastern Orthodoxy. Besides the Old Latin versions, the LXX is also the basis for Gothic, Slavonic, old Syriac (but not the Peshitta), old Armenian, and Coptic versions of the Old Testament. It has great significance for all Christians and Bible scholars - the LXX is quoted by the Christian New Testament and by the Apostolic Fathers. While Jews have not used the LXX in worship or religious study since the second century CE, recent scholarship has brought renewed interest in it in Judaic Studies. Some of the Dead Sea scrolls attest to Hebrew texts other than those on which the Masoretic Text (MT, the Hebrew text of the Tanakh as generally used in Judaism) was based; in many cases, these newly found texts accord with the LXX version. The oldest surviving codices of LXX date to the fourth century CE.
Starting approximately in the 2nd century, several factors led most Jews to abandon the LXX. Christians naturally used the LXX since it was the only Greek version available to the earliest Christians; and since Christians, as a group, had rapidly become overwhelmingly gentile and, therefore, unfamiliar with Hebrew. The association of the LXX with a rival religion may have rendered it suspect in the eyes of the newer generation of Jews and Jewish scholars. Perhaps more importantly, the Greek language — and therefore the Greek Bible — declined among Jews after most of them fled from the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire into the Aramaic-speaking Persian Empire when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Instead, Jews used Hebrew/Aramaic manuscripts later compiled by the Masoretes; and authoritative Aramaic translations, such as those of Onkelos and Rabbi Yonathan ben Uziel.
The oldest manuscripts of the LXX include 2nd century BC fragments of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and 1st century BC fragments of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Minor Prophets. Relatively the earlier complete manuscripts of the LXX include the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus of the 4th century and the Codex Alexandrinus of the 5th century. These are indeed the oldest surviving nearly-complete manuscripts of the Old Testament in any language; the oldest extant complete Hebrew texts date 700 years later, from around 1000. While there are differences between these three codices, scholarly consensus today holds that one LXX — that is, the original pre-Christian translation — underlies all three. The various Jewish and later Christian revisions and recensions are largely responsible for the divergence of the codices.
The sources of the many differences between the Septuagint and the Masoretic text have long been discussed by scholars. The most widely accepted view today is that the Septuagint provides a reasonably accurate record of an early Semitic textual variant, now lost, that differed from ancestors of the Masoretic text. Ancient scholars, however, did not suspect this. Early Christians—who were largely unfamiliar with Hebrew texts, and were thus only made aware of the differences through the newer Greek versions—tended to dismiss the differences as a product of uninspired translation of the Hebrew in these new versions. Following the Renaissance, a common opinion among some humanists was that the LXX translators bungled the translation from the Hebrew and that the LXX became more corrupt with time. The discovery of many fragments in the Dead Sea scrolls that agree with the Septuagint rather than the Masoretic Text proved that many of the variants in Greek were also present in early Semitic manuscripts. . These issues notwithstanding, the text of the LXX is in general close to that of the Masoretic.
All the books of western canons of the Old Testament are found in the Septuagint, although the order does not always coincide with the modern ordering of the books. The order of books in the Septuagint may date before the 1st century AD.
Some books that are set apart in the Masoretic text are grouped in the Septuagint together. For example the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings are in the LXX one book in four parts called "Of Reigns"; scholars believe that this is the original arrangement before the book was divided for readability. In LXX, the Books of Chronicles supplement Reigns and it is called Paraleipoménon (things left out). The Septuagint organizes the minor prophets as twelve parts of one Book of Twelve.
Some scripture of ancient origin are found in the Septuagint but are not present in the Hebrew canon, what we call apocrypha.
The title "Septuagint" is of course not to be confused with the seven or more other Greek versions of the Old Testament, most of which do not survive except as fragments.