Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Septuagint vs Masoretic Text in Genesis: Textual Criticism Questions



This post is more of a question to my readers rather than being of the usual explanatory nature. I invite all to participate to post and give their thoughts on this subject. I enjoy learning about Biblical manuscripts and how they have been handed on to us in our Bibles today. Most of you know that there is a difference between the Protestant and Catholic Canon of Scripture. The Septuagint form of the Old Testament has been carried down in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, while the Protestants have chosen to carry the Masoretic, or Hebrew text of the Old Testament. I will readily admit that I am not a Biblical scholar, but only a hack when it comes to this subject, hence I am asking for some help here.

In looking at the textual variants in the book of Genesis between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text that we have there are several differences in the texts. I will list some of them below. These textual variants are not small differences, and the meaning behind the text at times are very different. These are just a few examples below. There is a complete list of the textual differences here on this website. Check it out, it is very interesting to look at the highlighted differences that this guy points out.

From the Septuagint
1.2 But the earth was invisible and unfinished, and darkness was over the abyss, and the Spirit of God moved over the water.

From the Hebrew
And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

From the Septuagint
2.4 This is the book of the genesis of heaven and earth, when they were made, in the day in which God made the heaven and the earth

From the Hebrew
These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that Yahweh God made earth and heaven.

From the Septuagint
3.6 And the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes to look upon and beautiful to contemplate, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave unto her husband also with her; and they ate.

From the Hebrew
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.

The Catholic Church teaches that all of Sacred Scripture is inspired, and that it is without error in all things. That means that the historical record is without error as well as things that pertain to theology and so forth. This has been the constant teaching of the Church. I will not go into demonstrating that here, that is the platform I am working from on this post. The Catholic Church also has decided with its authority from God what books and texts of books are part of the Canon and which are not. If it were left to each individual to pick and choose the canon among ourselves going by our own research, we would all honestly conclude that we would probably not come up with the same books, or the same texts of the books from these ancient manuscripts that the Catholic the Church did. Some books were disputed even among the early churches.

Now to my point. We have differences in the above texts from the Septuagint and the Masoretic text. Which of these is guaranteed to be the proper inspired text? I know the Church has pointed out that the original manuscripts were the pure and true inspired text, since we do lose something when we translate things. These texts however do differ enough for us to question which is the true text. Since I am Catholic I take the Church's word for it that the Spetuagint is the text chosen by the Church. How would anyone else outside the Catholic or Orthodox Church decide that the Hebrew text is the correct one? How would they decide which manuscripts to follow?

My second point is, even among the Septuagint manuscripts and the Hebrew manuscripts themselves, there are differences. How does the Catholic Church, and those outside the Catholic Church decide which manuscripts to use? Without the original manuscripts how do we know which texts are the closest, or the exact as the originals?

From doing some reading I know there are certain rules for trying to decide which textual variant is the correct one. For example using the dates of the manuscripts as well geographical distribution are referenced. Some scholars say the shorter the text the more accurate it is, and one author writes that it is crucial to find the text which best accounts for the rise of the other variant readings from that particular author. Even with these tools how did the Catholic church, and those outside the Church decide with infallible certainty that the text we have now is the correct, or most correct text, next to the original Biblical manuscripts?

In being a Catholic I have a luxury in just taking the Church's word for it. That being said, I would like to know how the Catholic Church decided this, and secondly I am interested to know how Protestants have come to decide what text they will go by, since it is the only rule of faith they profess. After-all, one variation of text can lead someone to believe a certain dogma or teaching that would differ from another using another variant. All comments are welcome.


Update 1.

Here is an interesting source as to how a method of textual criticism is used with several manuscripts containing the passage of John 1:3. In the explanations concerning punctuation some of the conclusions drawn are still not 100% certain.

5 comments:

Hebrew Student said...

Your blog wrestles with the "problem" of how the Catholic church decides which manuscript is the correct one - Hebrew or Greek. For the Catholic Church, this is very simple. The Hebrew Bible comes from Jews, so they simply say that it is not as good as other texts. In every case, Catholics automatically say that the Greek LXX has a superior text. It is that simple. They have abandoned the original hebrew text and prefer the LXX. The LXX texts we have are several centuries after Christ.

Matthew Bellisario said...

That still does not answer how which manuscripts were chosen among the Greek. Thanks

orthodox said...

Since you are Roman Catholic, I'm not sure why you would be so dogmatic about saying the LXX is the text of the Church, given that the Latin Vulgate was not translated from the LXX, but rather a Hebrew text which was closer to the Masoretic text than the LXX.

What the original reading is, is a pretty complex set of considerations. Some of the differences are obviously translational, and this is confused by your rendering two English translations. The Hebrew word has a circle of meaning, the Greek has a circle, and then you are comparing two other circles from the English. So part of the issue is looking for where all the circles might overlap.

The thesis that the shorter reading is preferred is one that is applied to the NT text. But the OT text is really a whole different ball game. It has a completely different history, and the two major witnesses - the LXX and the MT both have their origins in a single non-original source. The LXX's source is some now long lost manuscript. And the MT's source is some redaction or standardisation that happened somewhere along the line. This is a lot different to the NT where there are quite a lot more independent streams of manuscripts, and a lot more cross pollination between them.

As the comment in "Invitation to the Septuagint" (P150) says, "With frustrating frequency, even the most capable scholar will be unable to decide with certainty whether a given reading in the Greek is due to a variant parent text or to the work of the translator".'

cantueso said...

You must realize that there is an additional problem in that you compare the English versions of two different translations.

The Church accepts these local versions, but this kind of investigation would have to be done with the Latin version, not its English or Spanish or German version.

Besides, what you selected to quote are differences of wording, not of meaning.

Fasolis said...


"Your blog wrestles with the "problem" of how the Catholic church decides which manuscript is the correct one - Hebrew or Greek. For the Catholic Church, this is very simple. The Hebrew Bible comes from Jews, so they simply say that it is not as good as other texts. In every case, Catholics automatically say that the Greek LXX has a superior text. It is that simple. They have abandoned the original hebrew text and prefer the LXX. The LXX texts we have are several centuries after Christ."

False. Rather Masoretic Text is severa centuries after Christ (8th Century a.D.) And Jesus in Gospels cites LXX text and not masoretic text.

Of course protestants prefered to follow masoretic text and Jamnia canon. Catholics and orthodoxes prefered Alexandrine canon with LXX books.

Jamnia was an hypotetical council celebrated by jews. They established the jew canon of Bible. Lutero and Reform follow this canon. Of course in this council the nazarenes (followers of JesuChrist) were comdened.