Found in translation – Septuagint the first Christian bible

I have blogged before on the viral nature of the Christian faith and how Greek very quickly became the language of choice for Christian writers even though Jesus composed and taught in Aramaic and it isn't clear how much Greek he knew.

Pharos Since the summer I have started to read the Septuagint the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures. This translation was made by 70 scribes (hence the name) in the 2nd century BC in Alexandria – so was part of the flowering of Jewish culture carried on the wave of Alexander's empire. It seems to have been used far more regularly than the Hebrew scriptures – was it more accessible/portable? Was it considered a literary text so suitable for distribution through libraries and private ownership instead of being kept for public reading in a synagogue. It was one of the great successes of the codex – when writing moved from scrolls to bundles of papyrus with single spine. Or a book as we have come to call it. And its use was so widespread among the early Christian churches that the rabbis began to brief against it as a Christian conception. The apostle Paul makes use of the Septuagint in his letters though as a former rabbinic student he must have been able to read Hebrew – perhaps the Septuagint was easier to come by.  

Its slow going – I've got about halfway through Genesis – the first book and try to read a psalm a day. One of the pleasures of reading what are often familiar texts in an unfamiliar language is the sense of freshness.  This morning's psalm was a particular jog because it was about the king – an odd topic. But it made me wonder how literally early Christians read these texts – did they assume that whenever the King was referenced is the psalms that it was referring to Christ? Probably. Because the English translation 'anointed' is usually rendered Cristus. So I am learning to see the Bible rather differently as a Christian text much further removed from Jewish culture than the last hundred years of English translations carefully updated from the Hebrew versions.  There are quite significant differences – the book of Esther is almost twice as long – again most Christians today only know the Hebrew version.

What the Septuagint puts paid to is the notion that there is only one version of the Bible with slight variants in punctuation. This has been a mainstay of Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism whose notion of truth is constructed along modernist lines of textual criticism. Read the original and you will find that the 'evidence' for the truth of the faith is much more diverse: the words and actions of Jesus, whether prophecies came true or not, the ethical usefulness of sacred texts but equally that the existence and character of God is perfectly clear in the created order.

Forgive the enthusiasm of a mechanic but it is a pleasure to lift the lid of a vintage model and to start rummaging around in the engine bay. I will keep you posted on what else I find. And hope that I don't bore you in the process. Here's a link to a whole site on the topic.

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