The Masoretic Hebrew vs. The Septuagint (Part 1)



Let’s face it, in the Orthodox Church, the Masoretes and their Masoretic text of the Hebrew Old Testament have gotten a bad name.  It is argued almost universally that Orthodox Christians ought to use the Septuagint Old Testament, because (1) It represents a translation of an older Hebrew text, (2) It includes books not found in the Masoretic text, (3) the Apostles used the Septuagint, and (4) the Masoretic text is corrupt due to changes that were made in the text in order to obscure Messianic prophecy. After all, why would you follow a medieval Jewish text when you could follow a Greek text preserved by Christians from the beginning? These are rather strong claims to make, so it is incumbent upon us to investigate if they are true and to what degree they may or may not be accurate. In order to do this, I will write a series of posts investigating these claims in order to paint an accurate picture of what the Masoretic text and the Septuagint really are. This could take some time, so bear with me as I gradually unfold this rather complex issue.


The Masoretic Text

To begin with, let’s look at what the so-called Masoretic text actually is. To speak about the Masoretic text, we are referring to a particularly important point in the transmission history of the Hebrew Bible. For centuries, the Hebrew Bible had been continuously hand-copied by Jewish scribes with the utmost meticulousness and care requiring professionalism which is beyond imagination. It ultimately fell to specially trained scribal schools to do this monumental task, and one of these schools was known as the Masoretes or the בעלי המסורה baˤǝlē ham-massōrā, “the masters of transmission.” In fact, the noun מסורה massōrā, from which we get the word Masorete, means something like “transmission” or even “tradition.” Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that these men were operating within a very strict scribal tradition, perhaps the strictest tradition the world has ever seen.

The Masoretes themselves were comprised of scribes from the 6th-10th centuries CE, which culminated in two family lineages, the ben Asher family and the ben Naphtali family, who produced more or less standardized Hebrew texts. While the received Masoretic text in use today does not follow either one or the other completely, they nevertheless comprised the foundation of what would become the standard Hebrew Bible.

What made this standardization possible were two things:

(1) The Masoretes invented a system of vocalization, punctuation, and cantillation marks for the consonantal Hebrew text. Like Arabic, Hebrew has always been written without vowels, so that the earliest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, those found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (more on that later), are without vowels. This inevitably leads to ambiguities and uncertainties when reading the text, as a particular consonantal word can be read in a variety of ways depending on where one might place the vowels. The Masoretes invented a system of vocalization, known today as the Tiberian system of vocalization, which followed with extreme exactitude the pronunciation of Hebrew that they had received in their tradition. This system of vocalization was incredibly precise, noting, for example the difference between a short vowel /a/, a long vowel /ɑ/, and the half short vowel /ă/, and the half short vowel /ɔ̆/.  Vowels were indicated using a system of dots, bars, and other marks placed around the consonants known as niqqūd “pointing.” In addition, this system of pointing indicated an elaborate scheme of punctuation as well as a system for noting cantillation for chanting the text in the synagogue.

(2) The Masoretes kept meticulous notes about the Hebrew text in the margins of the manuscripts. There are two of these margins, the large and the small, known respectively as the Masorah Magna and the Masorah Parva. These margins noted, for example the number of times a particular word occurred in the entire Hebrew Bible.  For example, if a word occurred only once in the Hebrew Bible, the Masoretes would place a circle over the word and note in the margin ֹל, which is an Aramaic abbreviation for לא אית or לית lā ˀīṯ or lēṯ meaning “there is not (any more of this word).” Also, the Masoretes even kept track of the number of words and letters in a particular book. At the end of a book or a large section, they would note, for example, סכום התיבות של תורה תשעה ושבעה אלף ושמונה מאות וחמשים וששה “The sum of the words in the Torah is 97,856,” or סכום האותיות של תורה ארבעה מאות אלף ותשע מאות וארבעים וחמשה “The sum of the letters in the Torah is 400,945.” This system of accounting assured that not “one jot or tiddle” would be left out.

So the Masoretes were only one link in the chain of a long tradition of the transmission of the Hebrew Bible.  They themselves did not change the consonantal text, but only noted it and described it with the kind of precision that we would normally associate with computers.  As such, the so-called Masoretic Text existed long before the Masoretes, going back as far as the Dead Sea Scrolls, a text we will call the Proto-Masoretic Text.


Multiple Recensions

The Dead Sea Scrolls serve for us as a snapshot in time of the Hebrew Bible. From the myriad of biblical manuscripts discovered among the Scrolls in the caves surrounding Khirbet Qumran, we find that there was not just one type of Hebrew Bible in circulation from the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE, but there were in fact several. This is a basic fact that we have to deal with – there is not just one Hebrew Bible, nor is there just one Greek Bible. There were several of each, all circulating at the same time, and they competed with one another among various Jewish sects. The Proto-Masoretic text was just one of these recensions of the Hebrew Bible, and the Hebrew text that became the basis for the Greek Septuagint was another. Let’s explore this idea a little further.

We might have the rather simplistic idea that each book of the Hebrew Bible came in to existence at one time,  and that each book existed as a complete whole from the time of its composition. Unfortunately, this is just not the case, for we have ample evidence that biblical books circulated in more or less a state of flux. For example, we have copies of the Psalter from Cave 11 at Qumran that show a very different order than either the Masoretic or Septuagint Psalters and include non-canonical psalms, the so called Psalms 152-155, which were only known previously from the Syriac tradition. The Book of Jeremiah was written down at various times. A core section of the book, chapters 1-25, comprising the early prophetic oracles of Jeremiah, was composed then destroyed (Jer. 36). Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch, re-wrote that section as well as additional material, including the Oracles against the Nations, which is variously placed at the end of the book in the Masoretic text, but after chapter 25 in the Septuagint. The Septuagint edition is also about 1/8 shorter, indicating that some of the Jeremiah material had not been included in that recension. The multiplicity in versions of a particular book show that the state of the book was in flux, but it is difficult to determine which is earlier or “more original.” One might think that the Proto-Septuagint version of Jeremiah was an earlier or more original text, but this is not necessarily the case. The Masoretic “additions” could have circulated independently for some time concurrent with the Proto-Septuagint text. In other words, these additions could be just as ancient as the Proto-Septuagint text itself, but because of the lack of manuscript evidence, we cannot know for sure. In fact, it becomes apparent that the very notion of an “original” text does not exist, because it is impossible to point to any particular point in the development of a book and say that it is “original.”

There were other recensions in addition to the Proto-Masoretic and Proto-Septuagint texts, such as the Proto-Samaritan Pentateuch, and a text unique to the cache of manuscripts found in the caves surrounding Qumran. Emanuel Tov summarizes the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls biblical manuscripts with the following percentage breakdown:†

Qumran-specific texts – 20%
Proto-Masoretic texts – 35%
Proto-Samaritan texts – 5%
Proto-Septuagint texts – 5%
Non-Aligned texts – 35%

This breakdown notes texts that specifically show some variation toward one or another recension. If there is no distinction, a text falls into the non-aligned category.  As you can see, among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Proto-Masoretic text was by far the most popular aligned text, accounting for some 35% of manuscripts. Proto-Septuagint texts account for only 5%. It’s apparent from this picture that, at least in Palestine, the Proto-Masoretic text was gaining superiority, even among sectarian groups, and eventually it won out over the others within the post-70 CE Jewish community.


The Nature of the Masoretic Text

In spite of the fact that the Proto-Masoretic text was the most popular or the most well-respected recension of the Hebrew Bible in Palestine, we cannot see it as being pristine or error free. In fact, the Masoretes themselves noted where certain errors had crept into the consonantal text. Instead of correcting the errors themselves, they left the errors in the text, but noted the correction in the marginal Masorah. This practice gives us two readings for a given instance, the כתיב kǝṯīḇ (often written ktiv) “written” and קריא qǝrēˀ (often written qre) “spoken.”

The actual text of the Masoretic Hebrew Bible comes from a number of medieval manuscripts, notably the Aleppo Codex, dated to the 10th century CE, which comprises most of the Hebrew Bible with the exception of the Torah, part of the Minor Prophets, and a great number of the Writings.  The critical edition of the Masoretic text in use by scholars today is a reproduction of the Leningrad Codex, dated to 1008 or 1009 CE. All variants found in other manuscripts of the Masoretic text and any other recension from the Dead Sea Scrolls is collated against the text found in this codex.

Aside from the Masoretic edition of Jeremiah discussed above, the only other major identifying mark of the Masoretic text is a corrupt version of the book of 1 Samuel. When I use the term “corrupt,” I mean only that the consonantal text had experienced a number of errors in the transmission process very early on.  These errors occurred well before the time of Christ, and resulted in at least three different versions of the Book of 1 Samuel, the Proto-Masoretic, the Proto-Septuagint, and a unique version found within the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is much to say about this specific issue, and I will deal with it in full in a subsequent post.


What to Take Away

There are a number of things to take away from this cursory look at the Masoretic text:

(1) There were multiple versions of the Hebrew Bible circulating at the same time. They represent “snapshots” of the various stages of the development of the Hebrew Bible that were taking place even up to the time of Our Lord. The Masoretic text was one of these recensions, even the most popular, though it was not the only one. Furthermore, determining what is earlier or more “original” is often fraught with difficulty if not being impossible altogether without more evidence.

(2) While the Masoretic text itself represents the culmination of a tradition of textual transmission in the Middle Ages, the text itself is much older, going back to the time of the Second Temple. In this respect, it is very likely that Our Lord would have known and used the Proto-Masoretic text.

(3) The Masoretic text was meticulously kept, literally down to the letter. Along with the antiquity of the Proto-Masoretic text, it is wrong to claim that the Jews changed the text of their Bible in order to obscure certain Messianic prophecies. Such an accusation is libelous, since there is absolutely no evidence for it. In fact, as I will demonstrate in a subsequent post, there are instances where the Septuagint itself obscures Messianic prophecy! Most of the distinctive readings found in the Masoretic text were introduced long before the Masoretes took stylus to parchment, even being found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

(4) The Masoretic text is a very good and faithful text of the Hebrew Bible, though it is not perfect. Specifically in the case of 1 Samuel, particular care must be exercised to determine what is the best reading of that book.

(5) For Orthodox Christians, the Masoretic Hebrew Bible may be used as a valuable tool for understanding the text of the Old Testament. Along with the Septuagint, it stands as a parallel witness to the Old Testament, which was never confined to one particular recension or another. The priority of the Septuagint over the Masoretic Hebrew ought to be determined on a case-by-case basis, and even when the Masoretic text can be determined to be more original or an earlier text, the Septuagint may be preferred for reading in church simply because of its place within the Christian tradition, and because the distinctive features of the Septuagint have become important within Orthodox theology, liturgy, and even iconography (e.g. the “Angel of Great Council”).

(6) The preference for the Septuagint in the Orthodox Church cannot be said to be on account of the poor state of the Masoretic text or that the Septuagint is always or even the majority of the time an earlier or more original text. This simply cannot be demonstrated from the facts.

In the next post, we will examine the history and nature of the Septuagint and the phenomenon of Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible in general.


†Tov, Emanuel. Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible. 2nd Rev. Ed. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2001., 114-117.


  1. Very interesting information, multiple version of Hebrew and Greek, each book did not exist “as a complete whole from the time of its composition.” Looking forward to more.

  2. Thank you for this study. I am not capable of fleshing all this out for myself, but it is very important to me that there are people who can and will and will share it with the likes of me on lowly non-academic sources such as Facebook and personal blogs.

  3. Dear Eric,

    Thank you very much for this article. This is a very intriguing read for me and I am eager to read your additional posts on the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint. My undergraduate degree was in Biblical Studies, so I took both Biblical Hebrew as well as Koine Greek classes. Although I haven’t retained much from those classes, I love learning about Biblical textual criticism, both Old and New Testaments.

    Thank you once again for sharing your knowledge about the Hebrew Bible.



  4. God being offended… Is it God’s desire for us to conform to the standards of this world, or are we called to bear a higher standard as a witness, especially in the market place of ideas that is the world where you say BCE/CE is now the standard.

    1. If I force such conventions upon non-Christians, it can be disrespectful. I for one do not want to use Islamic or Jewish conventions for dating historical events, so why should I require them to use a Christian convention? Nevertheless, I am closing this discussion, since I feel that there is little usefulness in it.

      1. Eric,
        Please help me out here. Why use the Masoretic text when ALL the old testament quotes in the Greek gospels contradict it but correlate to the Septuagint. I cannot comprehend why Jerome adopted the Hebrew and discarded the Septuagint when every single quotation from the New Testament conflicts or a completely contradicts it, i.e. Exodus 1:5 and Act 7:14, plus 4 more pages of these discrepancies.

        I have been into textual criticism for 6 months now and have discovered that every single bible translation out there, 200 plus use the Masoretic. It’s like a bad joke! see the irony?

        Rabbinical Judaism believes the Aleppo codex Torah is the direct word of God even though the Jews did not adopt the ashuri script until 500 B.C. which ezra transliterated the Paleo from what was originally Assyrian.

        with all humility, help

        1. “Why use the Masoretic text when ALL the old testament quotes in the Greek gospels contradict it but correlate to the Septuagint.” Ummm, this is not even close to being correct. In fact, many quotes reflect alignment with recensions of the LXX which correct toward the MT. Some NT quotes are even done from memory and do not conform to any text.

          The script issue is, well, a non-issue. The Hebrew square script was borrowed from Aramaic long before the time of Christ, and is present in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The paleo-Hebrew script is also present in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but otherwise is only attested in inscriptions on stone and pottery. It has no bearing on the legitimacy of anything regarding the Bible. I’m not really sure what your problem is here.

          1. Please forgive my digression but I have been frustrated in getting to a certain point on why is the Masoretic Text exalted with such authority that it has literally replaced the text type for the Old Testament in 99% of Bible translations. The only extant copy is the Aleppo and Leningrad codex, there is no evidence of the manuscripts or scrolls that the masoretes used to copy and correct from.

            I have several pages of NT ->Masoretic Text quote discrepancies which I cannot get beyond. I can post them here if you wish but I did not want to clutter up your blog.

            My point on the script is that around the 5th century B.C. , Ezra transliterated the Paleo Hebrew to the Asuri script. Some of my Jewish orthodox brothers believe that the existing Masoretic text is what Moses had which is not true. They give the Text full authority which bases every letter of every word exact from the time of Moses. We know this is not true and that Bible code, Kabbalah, etc… could never work because the text has been changing since the beginning.

            I believe all scripture is important but do not understand why Jerome dismissed, then the Reformers rejected the Septuagint which seems to clearly support it’s usage by the early Messianic Jews and confirmed veracity in the DSS.

            I am reading Emanuel Tov’s books on Textual Criticism (Awesome!) which also brings up translator issues on dismissing the Septuagint. In the following video, Tov also states theological motives for translation, one case was when it came to the term “Sons of God”

            I’ve been learning Hebrew and reading through the Biblia Hebraica to ensure that the English was translated correctly in some of the modern bibles. I have found dependencies and in one case in the Stone Edition where instead of translating “Bene-Ha-Elohim” to “Son’s of God”, Genesis 6:2, they translate it to “Judges.”, what’s up with that?

            Take for example Exodus 1:5 and Acts 7:14 which Stephan states that the loins of Jacob produced 75 souls yet the Masoretic text states 70. The Septuagint written over 1200 years before the Masoretic text supports Act 7:14 with 75.

            My humble question is, are Christians and Jews using the wrong text type for the Old Testament “Tanahk” when we have extant versions of older texts dating back over 700 years. It just seems to me that Talmudic Rabbinical Judaism, a sixth century creation subjectively corrected the text to correspond with its practices.

            Every quote is from memory including the Torah. According to orthodox Judaism, the Oral Torah is what keeps the integrity of scripture. This defies logic since there are so many variations of Torah and it took the masoretes over 400 years to correct it to their view.

            I think that the Masoretic text needs correction using what we have today in MSS and the DSS. The Septuagint would be a great resource to use in these corrections since when I match up the dependencies, the Septuagint usually supports the accurate outcome. Until then, how can we be exegetical about scripture when the source is in question?

            I thank you for your Patience and I appreciate your access, a novice in textual criticism…

          2. Eric,
            I read through your informative blog and kind of get the gist of some of the perspectives I have been looking for. No need to answer my previous blog since I found most of the answers on your other postings.

            I do recommend viewing Emanuel Tov’s youtube video lecture to everyone, especially at timeline 32:32.

            I realize that this debate has been going on for millennium, but now we have Google and the DSS which assist in development and qualifications of materials.


  5. I believe the Church teaches that the standard texts of the Old Testament are found in the LXX and the Peshitta, and to a lesser extent the Vulgate. When it comes to variations within the LXX tradition, I think you would have to give preference to those textual traditions which are most commonly used.

    This does not mean that we should ignore the Hebrew text, but since the Hebrew text is not the text that the Church has preserved, it is of lesser authority when it differs with those texts that the Church has preserved. However, when the Hebrew Text clearly matches those texts, then there is no reason why our translations and interpretations should not follow it as closely as possible.

    But it is also true that the Fathers often note when the Hebrew text differs from the LXX, and then often offer an interpretation of that text too, as having some significance.

    1. Fr. John, you’ll notice that I did not state that the Hebrew should be preferred in the Church over the LXX. I even stated that the LXX may be preferred for the sake of tradition. I only argue that the MT is not as bad as is often made out to be, and that it is an important witness to the text of the OT.

      1. I think every priest should have at least a year of Hebrew, so that they can engage the Hebrew Text, but the fact that the Hebrew text was preserved by a group of people who rejected Christ and so had some incentives to read and edit the text in a way that undercuts the Christian message means that when the two texts diverge, caution in treating the Hebrew text is in order. However, when the texts agree, as they do, more often then not, the Hebrew text should be studied as the original form of the text in question.

        1. Unless you can demonstrate in the Hebrew text through actual textual evidence where the Jews edited their biblical texts in such a way, you are being libelous. There is no reason to speak in such a way. It is not only libelous but injurious and beneath the dignity of a Christian. The LXX is not always the original form of the text, but my argument, which I will bear out in the next several posts, is that it does not have to be in order to be the text of the Christian Church.

          1. Eric,

            Your statement to Fr John is a bit harsh, lacking charity and respect due a priest.

            It is not libelous at all to state what used to be an uncontroverted fact: the Fathers stated that the post-AD-70 Jews altered, in some cases, the Hebrew text out of anti-Christian malice. Were the Holy Fathers then libelous? Did they utter things injurious and beneath the dignity of a Christian?

            An excessive devotion to one particular critical school can color one’s perspective out of proportion.

          2. Just because the Fathers did something a long time ago doesn’t mean that it is necessarily right or should be repeated today. And yes, if they accused the Jews of doing so without any textual evidence, it is libelous. You can’t just say such things about an entire ethnicity and religion without evidence! If I was too harsh toward Fr. John, then I apologize. If I was angry, it is only because I remarked in my post that it is wrong to do such things, and then he did it anyway.

          3. Eric, what I actually said was that the Jews had an incentive to read and edit the text in ways that undercut the Christian message. As you well know, the Hebrew text was originally written without punctuation, spacing between words, and without vowel points, and so the Jews that added vowel points, spacing, and punctuation were editing the text… and if a text was capable of being read in more than one way, they did in fact have an incentive to opt for editing in a way that supported their position and undercut ours. And as Michael pointed out, many Fathers stated that the Jews did edit things out or make changes that were done out of malice. I was simply pointing out that even without intentionally changing the meaning of the text, when they added vowel points, spaces between words, and punctuation, their anti-Christian bias could have been a factor. And more importantly, the fact that this editing of the text occurred outside of the Church means that we have less reason to believe that the Holy Spirit was guiding those editors to accurately preserve the text. Whereas we can and do believe that God has preserved the text within the Church.

          4. Can you provide evidence of this? Did the Fathers provide evidence of this can be corroborated by modern philology? Please show me the evidence rather than just saying that they had motive. That doesn’t hold up, and neither does the Fathers’ claim unless you can provide evidence.

          5. I will also say that, as a scholar, I cannot operate on the basis of suspicion of mal-incentive on the part of the Jews without any evidence. That sort of thing has no place in the academy, and I cannot maintain my integrity while entertaining such ideas. It boarders on bigotry, and it could be very, very damaging to my career. I cannot and will not stand for it. Any further comments of that nature on this blog from anyone will no longer be approved. If you have such ideas, you must provide detailed evidence for it.

          6. There are multiple problems with that link you provided, but I don’t wish to engage them here. It is not reasonable for Christians of any stripe to suspect that the Jews would have altered their texts without direct evidence. The link you provided gives no such evidence. Such suspicion is not reasonable. Now, having said that, you would notice in reading my post that I said nothing in regard to the Church or the LXX. In fact, I said that the LXX could in fact be preferred in the Church regardless of what the MT says. I have many more things to say in this regard in further posts, so I respectfully ask you to withhold further comment until I post additional material.

  6. It is refreshing to find an Orthodox scholar expressing, with considerable clarity, what I believe to represent the consensus of textual scholarship on these questions.

    I confess to a regret that there are still Orthodox Christians who imagine that one textual tradition is “more reliable” than the other, or who accuse the Jews of falsifying the Sacred Scriptures.

    It is useful to remember that we don’t have a single Jewish manuscript of the LXX. All of them were copied by Christians, who—notoriously—felt free to alter the Sacred Text for any of a number of reasons. If anyone is in doubt on this latter point, all he has to do is consult the apparatus critici of any edition of the New Testament.

    On the other hand, Jewish copyists were far more careful to copy the text they had in front of them. In later additions to this blog, perhaps, some attention may be given to the Vulgate, which overwhelmingly supports the integrity of the Masoretic text.

    I have always agreed with Saint Augustine’s view that the Sacred Text in both traditions are divinely inspired.

    Nor have I been able to shake the suspicion that Orthodox opposition to the Masoretic Text smacks—more than a little—of anti-Semitism.

    1. This may reflect the consensus of academia. It is not the consensus found in the writings of the Fathers and the saints.

      Also, I recall St. Augustine gave St. Jerome a hard time about his translation of the vulgate from the Hebrew text as it existed in that time, but if you compare the vulgate with the masoretic text, you see that the masoretic text continued to change. The careful scribal tradition you describe certainly came into being at some point in the process, but there is no evidence that it existed between the time of Christ and about the 7th century.

      And I am not sure what you mean here, when you say:

      “It is useful to remember that we don’t have a single Jewish manuscript of the LXX. All of them were copied by Christians, who—notoriously—felt free to alter the Sacred Text for any of a number of reasons. If anyone is in doubt on this latter point, all he has to do is consult the apparatus critici of any edition of the New Testament.”

      The fact that you have a wide degree of texts of the Greek New Testament to review, from a wide range of times and geographic locations is due to the fact that Christian scribes did not consistently destroy old manuscripts, as Jewish Scribes did. That is why, apart from the dead sea scrolls, he have almost no Hebrew texts older than the 10th century, whereas we have complete manuscripts of the New Testament from the 4th Century, portions going back to the second and third century, and fragments from the first.

      If you destroyed every manuscript that was older than the 10th century of the New Testament Greek Text, you would have a highly uniform text… and even as it is, the vast majority of Greek NT manuscripts are reflect a consistent textual tradition that has few significant variations.

      And the claim that this is antisemitic insults the fathers of the Church, and is belied by the fact that although the Peshitta is not as widely used in the Orthodox Church, simply because Greek is more widely known than Syriac), it has been regarded as of equal authority to the Septuagint, and Syriac is a Semitic language… the language of Christ Himself.

      My Hebrew is rusty, but I took two years of it in college, and I have said that I think every Orthodox clergyman would do well to study it for at least a year… because for one thing, simply knowing how Hebrew works, gives you a much better idea of how to understand the Old Testament. But as an Orthodox Christian, I don’t believe it is possible to defend the idea that the Church considers the Masoretic text to be as reliable as the Septuagint or the Peshitta. If someone wishes to dispute that, please cite the saints and fathers of the Church that taught such a thing.

  7. You appeal to the Peshitta to defend the LXX? Since the Peshitta was translated from the LXX, that takes brass.

    One hardly knows what to make of the assertion, “If you destroyed every manuscript that was older than the 10th century of the New Testament Greek Text, you would have a highly uniform text… and even as it is, the vast majority of Greek NT manuscripts are reflect a consistent textual tradition that has few significant variations.”

    That is simply ridiculous. You don’t even have that for St. Luke’s Gospel, much less the rest of the NT.

    One also observes the challenge: “I don’t believe it is possible to defend the idea that the Church considers the Masoretic text to be as reliable as the Septuagint or the Peshitta. If someone wishes to dispute that, please cite the saints and fathers of the Church that taught such a thing.”

    Well, since none of the ancient Fathers could possibly have been familiar with the Masoretic Text, this is not a very reasonable proposition.

    The very word “reliable” is the problem.

    If, by reliable, one means “closest to the original,” then one is making a truly Protestant argument. The Orthodox Church has never appealed to an “original text.” And they great freedom they displayed in the manuscripts of the New Testament amply demonstrates that the very notion was unknown to them.

    What I object to mostly is the ascription of mendacious motives to the Hebrew copyists. I do not care who makes this claim, it is an abject calumny for which there is not the slightest shred of evidence. Truth to tell, I find this (uniquely Eastern Orthodox) notion even more objectionable than that of the Protestants. It really impossible for me to imagine a Jewish copyist deliberately altering the Sacred Text, once the Hebrew Scriptures had reached canonical status. Moreover, the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, since the 1950s, demonstrates how faithfully the Jewish scribes transmitted the Bible through the centuries.

    You appeal to the Fathers, do you? To a Church Father you will go.

    St. Augustine perceived clearly very point I have in mind to make. In Augustine’s view there is no need for us to choose between the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament, because each of these two textual sources represents God’s revelation at a particular point in history. That is to say, Augustine accepts both readings, ascribing the prophetic Spirit, not only to the original authors of Holy Scripture, but also to those translators who gave us the Greek version of the Bible.

    Augustine claimed a prophetic freedom for those translators. “It is to be believed,” he wrote, “that they were moved by the divine Spirit to say something differently, not by their gift as translators, but exercising the freedom of those that prophesy” (divino Spiritu . . . prophetantium libertate aliter dicere). This, said Augustine, is what the Apostles implicitly taught when they quoted the Old Testament in Greek (The City of God 15.14).

    The reason for the canonical authority of the Septuagint, according to Augustine, was the divine inspiration of those responsible for it: “For the same Spirit who was in the prophets when they spoke these things was also in the seventy men when they translated them, so that assuredly they could also say something else, just as if the prophet himself had said both, because it would be the same Spirit who said both; and could say the same thing differently, so that, although the words were not the same, yet the same meaning should shine forth to those of good understanding; and could omit or add something, so that even by this it might be shown that there was in that work not human bondage, which the translator owed to the words, but rather divine power (divinam potius potestatem), which filled and ruled the mind of the translator.”

    Since both the original authors and their canonical translators were guided by the same Holy Spirit, Augustine argued, it was not necessary that both sources said exactly the same thing: “If, then, as it behooves us, we behold nothing else in these Scriptures than what the Spirit of God has spoken through men, if anything is in the Hebrew copies and is not in the version of the Seventy, the Spirit of God did not choose to say it through them, but only through the prophets. But whatever is in the Septuagint and not in the Hebrew copies, the same Spirit chose rather to say through the latter, thus showing that both were prophets” (18.43).

    Finally, I hope the host of this blog site will permit me to quote from the introduction to my commentary on Genesis, published by the owner of this site:

    “This canonical text has been handed on to us by the apostolic churches chiefly in the Greek form, the Septuagint. This is the text of authority in the Church.

    “This affirmation does not mean, however, that the Greek text
    necessarily represents an “original” text better than the traditional
    Hebrew manuscripts preserved by the Jews. Often enough it may, but
    that is not what we mean when we speak of the canonical authority
    of the Greek. In our affirmation of the Septuagint’s canonical author-
    ity, it is obvious that we Orthodox Christians do not limit divine
    revelation to an original text or “autograph” composed by the bibli-
    cal author himself.

    “We cannot logically affirm the canonicity of the
    Septuagint except by postulating the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the
    entire development of the biblical material throughout the centuries
    that link the prophets with the apostles. After all, no reasonable
    Christian will claim divine inspiration for Isaiah’s Greek translators and simultaneously deny that inspiration to Isaiah himself!

    “Thus, in a given passage, we are not obliged to choose between
    the inherited Hebrew and Greek readings. It is quite legitimate to
    accept both, each of them representing a different stage in the devel-
    opment of the biblical tradition. This approach, which I think both
    reasonable and respectful, will be taken in the present book, where
    both the Christian and Jewish copies of Genesis are consulted.

    “The Septuagint’s canonicity is not absolute. It is rooted in
    the respect commonly shown for this version in the New Testament,
    but its historical application has been far from rigid. The tradition
    of the Christian biblical manuscripts shows, rather, a considerable
    diversity in textual selections. The most notable example, I suppose,
    is the Book of Daniel. After Origen, in his famous Hexapla, placed
    Theodotion’s translation of Daniel in a parallel column with that of
    the Septuagint, Christian copyists compared the two renderings and
    decided that they much preferred Theodotion!

    “Thus, in spite of the traditional and venerable authority of the
    Septuagint in the Church, Theodotion’s translation of Daniel came to
    predominate among Christian manuscripts. For instance, his version
    was adopted as the Danielic text of the Byzantine liturgical lectionary.
    Similarly, Theodotion’s translation of Daniel, not the Septuagint’s,
    was the version translated into almost all the other ancient versions
    used by the Church: the Peshitta Syriac, both the Boharic and Sahidic
    Coptic, the Latin Vulgate, the Ethiopic, the Armenian, the Arabic,
    and the Slavonic. (The exceptions are the Syro-Hexaplar and the
    Vetus Latina, both translated from the Septuagint.) So great was the
    dominance of Theodotion in this respect that the ancient Septuagint
    version of Daniel almost disappeared from history, not a single copy
    of it being known until the discovery of the Chisianus Codex in 1772.
    These plain historical facts should preclude any rigid interpretation
    of the Septuagint’s canonical status.”

    1. This is all very wonderful, Fr. Pat. Thank you for your comments, which align with my own views exactly. You anticipate much of what I will say in my next post about the LXX. I do welcome your continued contributions to the comments on this site.

    2. I also second Fr. Patrick’s comments about the Peshitta. It is recognized universally that the Peshitta was translated from the Hebrew MT, and many think it was a Jewish translation subsequently adopted by the Syriac Church. I myself wrote my MA thesis on the translation technique of the Peshitta Psalter, and therein I noted its basic affinity for the MT in spite of its own freedom of expression and only the occasional alignment with the LXX. The Peshitta is aware of the LXX but it does not confirm or support it by any rule.

    3. Since Eric has corrected the assertion that the Peshitta was translated from the Peshitta, let me pass on to your claim that it is ridiculous of me to say that“If you destroyed every manuscript that was older than the 10th century of the New Testament Greek Text, you would have a highly uniform text… and even as it is, the vast majority of Greek NT manuscripts are reflect a consistent textual tradition that has few significant variations” is “simply ridiculous.”

      Fr. Patrick, there are basically three families of Greek manuscripts. There is the Byzantine Text type, which among ancient manuscripts represents about 80% of the text that have survived. And certainly by the 10th century, it was without question the predominant text type, and fairly uniform. Then there is the Alexandrian Text type, which is much smaller in number, and not nearly so widespread in its use geographically. The number of ancient copies that have survived are due largely to the climate of Egypt. The text type fell into disuse for the most part, by the 10th century. Then you have the so-called “Western-Text”, which is arguably not really a family, but more of a collection of odd-ball manuscripts that differ with each other as much as they differ with the Byzantine (aka Majority) Text type. If you waved a wand, and all the manuscripts prior to the 10th century disappeared, you would have very little that did not relfect the Byzantine Text Type.

      You wrote: “Well, since none of the ancient Fathers could possibly have been familiar with the Masoretic Text, this is not a very reasonable proposition.”

      If you are acknowledging that there is a significant difference between the earlier Hebrew Manuscripts prior to the Masoretic rescension, then you seem to be conceding the argument here. By the Masoretic rescension took shape between the 7th and 10th century, and so in its earlier forms, it would have been around during the patristic period.

      You further wrote: “What I object to mostly is the ascription of mendacious motives to the Hebrew copyists. I do not care who makes this claim, it is an abject calumny for which there is not the slightest shred of evidence. Truth to tell, I find this (uniquely Eastern Orthodox) notion even more objectionable than that of the Protestants. It really impossible for me to imagine a Jewish copyist deliberately altering the Sacred Text, once the Hebrew Scriptures had reached canonical status. Moreover, the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, since the 1950s, demonstrates how faithfully the Jewish scribes transmitted the Bible through the centuries.”

      By adding spaces between words and vowel points, the masoretic editors did alter the text — that is not a matter that can be disputed. I did not say that they consciously changed the meaning of the text, but when you have lines of consonants without vowels, spaces between words, or punctuation, you often run into instances in which the text could be read in more than one way. I trust the translators of the Septuagint (who were in the Old Testament Church, and who lived closer to the time when Hebrew was still a commonly spoken language) to have done it honestly and accurately more than I would trust those outside the Church… and one big reason for this is that the grace of the Holy Spirit is present in the Church, and guides the Church into all truth. We have no such guarantees for those outside the Church.

  8. When Eric wrote, “the Peshitta was translated from the Hebrew MT,” this was clearly a lapsus digiti. (He did not mean to type those last two letters.)

    When I wrote, “the Peshitta was translated from the LXX,” that was obviously a lapsus mentis. (I did not mean to get out of bed today.)

    That is to say, he made a scribal error, whereas I had a complete mental breakdown.

    Although I have always read Holy Scripture with a sustained attention to the appropriate critical apparatus, it has been a very long time, about a half-century, since I took Carlo Martini’s course in Textual Criticism.

    For all I know, they may have discovered scores of new manuscripts since my youth.

    I appreciate so much, then, the services of this younger scholar, who is manifestly on top of things.

    1. You are correct. I mean to say that the Peshitta was translated from a proto-MT Hebrew source, or else a text resembling what we know to be the MT. To my knowledge textual critics have not posited a proto-P Hebrew recension analogous to the proto-LXX Hebrew found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Perhaps if I were not in the throws of my dissertation, I would consult the relevant sources.

  9. Eric:

    I greatly appreciate your initial post here, and look forward to those to come. I also greatly appreciate the back and forth between my former father confessor, Father Patrick, and Father John (whose parish I hope to visit if I am visiting Spring again any time soon). It is useful to me to see revered priests in vigorous discussion yet withal one of respect and dignity. Thank you, Fathers.

    Your posts, Eric, seem to be aligned with Timothy Law’s thoughts in his “When God Spoke Greek.” I’m re-reading this book with a fellow parishioner (a chapter per week over coffee). But what seems to be alignment may be a mistaken apprehension on my part. Can you speak to where you and Law agree/disagree, if there are any major divergences?

    I understand if you would prefer to allude to these things in coming posts.

    1. Unfortunately, I have not yet had time to read Law, though it is on my list. I suspect, however, that our views would differ very little if any. What I am summarizing in these posts is nothing novel or unique to “my views” until it comes to how to apply them to Orthodoxy, wherein a may have a few things to say (so stay tuned). I would like to say, however, that I at least try to stay within the bounds of good scholarship as well as within the confines of Orthodoxy, though, as you can see from this thread, there are differing opinions of what that is.

  10. Father John says, “If you are acknowledging that there is a significant difference between the earlier Hebrew Manuscripts prior to the Masoretic rescension, then you seem to be conceding the argument here.”

    I concede nothing of the sort; indeed, all the evident goes to the contrary.

    I was stating a plain fact: Almost none of the Church Fathers could read Hebrew. This is what makes an appeal to their authority, with respect to the Masoretic Text, a shaky enterprise.

    1. The fathers were certainly aware of differences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Text of their time. Sometimes, when the Hebrew text presented an interesting alternative they would mention it, and give an interpretation of that alternative reading. When those alternative readings undercut some passage of particular importance to Christians, they would argue that the Septuagint text was correct, and the Hebrew text incorrect. St. John Chrysostom and Blessed Theodoret make mention of Hebrew variants with some regularity.

      1. I think it is quite certain given our knowledge of the transmission history of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles that the binary “correct” and “incorrect” is inadequate. The Fathers were not necessarily in error in their judgment, just without knowledge that we have today. Rather we should speak of “early” and “late” or perhaps even “before” and “after.” In other words, to say that the Hebrew is “incorrect” is itself an “incorrect” statement, for it is entirely possible and even demonstrable through philology that the LXX did alter the Hebrew meaning to produce readings de novo according to the will of the translators. I have thus called the LXX “Old Testament 2.0” for this reason. It is therefore very unwise for us to simply consign the Hebrew to being “incorrect” in these cases when other explanations are possible. We may even let them stand together, which, for example, the Lucianic recension often did. Cf. Is 9:6. The original LXX only read “Angel of Great Council,” whereas the Lucianic recension added a fresh translation of the Hebrew “Wonderful, Councilor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Father of the age to come.” So, in this case, both the LXX and the MT readings stand side-by-side in the same text. Neither is more “correct” than the other.

        1. When producing a text, like the Orthodox Study Bible, or any other translation, one has to decide on a particular text. When we read texts aloud in Church, we cannot read multiple versions… we have to pick one. And while in many cases we can speak of alternative translations, there also many cases in which there is a correct text and an incorrect text. For example, in the book of Habakkuk, there are a number of places in which the Masoretic text is simply unintelligible — and every translation into English is actually using the Septuagint, Peshitta, and/or Vulgate.

          And you may be able to make a compelling case that in some instance or another the Septuagint reading was pulled out of thin air, but someone else may come behind you and make a compelling case that your arguments are all wrong. You can’t prove such a thing, because there no way to prove what the Hebrew text actually was that the Septuagint was translated from.

          1. Father John observes, “When producing a text, like the Orthodox Study Bible, or any other translation, one has to decide on a particular text. When we read texts aloud in Church, we cannot read multiple versions… we have to pick one.”

            I hope we all agree on this. And, since the LXX is (on the whole) the liturgical text inherited in the Church, liturgical translations are properly based on the LXX.

            In the East we have always done this, I believe.

            This practice is amply justified by Apostolic and patristic authority. It neither requires nor implies any judgment on the inherited Hebrew OT.

            The Orthodox Study Bible amply serves that practice, and I rather hope all the Orthodox jurisdictions will, in due curse, adopt the OSB for such use in our parishes.

            What we must NOT do, in my opinion, is adopt the PC monstrosity widely used at present in Greek parishes and in the educational publications of the Greek Archdiocese.

  11. Since Father John has not commented on it, I hope we may assume his agreement with Saint Augustine’s thesis that the Old Testament has come down to us in two authoritative traditions—Hebrew and Greek—both of them, with respect to Divine Inspiration, of equal value.

    If he does agree with Saint Augustine on this question, then his argument with Eric Jobe is over.

    1. St. Augustine repeatedly expressed his preference for the Septuagint, and so the quotes you provided not withstanding, they fall short of proving that he considered the contemporary Hebrew texts of his time to be equally reliable as the Septuagint.

      His idea that at least some of the differences between the Septuagint and the contemporary Hebrew texts of his time is one I do not believe is found elsewhere in the writings of the Fathers.

      1. Father John remarks, “St. Augustine repeatedly expressed his preference for the Septuagint.”


        He knew of the Hebrew readings only from the ongoing publications Jerome was making until his death in 419. It was a whole new world to Augustine, and often he did not know what to make of it.

        The important point is that Augustine explicitly recognized the Divine Inspiration of the Hebrew text Jerome was working with. He says so. I quoted the texts—in Latin. Try to live with it.

        1. Even the fathers who did not know Hebrew knew of the major differences between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint… we know this is true, because they talk about them. I doubt Cassiodorus, for example, knew Hebrew, and yet if you look at his Commentary on Psalm 39[40]:6-8: “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not; but a body hast thou prepared me: whole-burnt-offering and sacrifice for sin thou didst not require. Then I said, Behold, I come: in the volume of the book it is written concerning me, I desired to do thy will, O my God, and thy law in the midst of mine heart” (which is quoted verbatim from the Septuagint in Hebrews 10), and he points out that the Jews neither have sacrifices any longer, nor do their texts have the statement “a body hast thou prepared me”, and says that “they are appropriately silent, speechless at the words which confront them (Explanation of the Psalms, Vol 1, p. 402).

          And St. Augustine also, elsewhere says “Now among translations themselves the Italian (Itala) is to be preferred to the others, for it keeps closer to the words without prejudice to clearness of expression. And to correct the Latin we must use the Greek versions, among which the authority of the Septuagint is pre-eminent as far as the Old Testament is concerned…”

          In the quote you are focusing on, he is speaking generally, not with reference to any specific texts in which Jews and Christians might have tended to argue over. But even if he had plainly stated that the Hebrew Text of his time was of equal authority to the Septuagint, that would only prove that one Father was of that opinion. That is clearly not the opinion found in the Fathers generally.

          1. Father John says, “Even the fathers who did not know Hebrew knew of the major differences between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint… we know this is true, because they talk about them. I doubt Cassiodorus, for example, knew Hebrew”

            I am so happy that Father John recognizes the authority of Latin Fathers. That advantage will serve him well as he grows toward correcting some of his other views.

            He is correct about Cassiodorus. Cassiodorus read both the Vetus Latina (translated from the LXX) and the Vulgate (translated from Hebrew). THAT comparison between two Latin versions is how Cassiodorus knew the places where the Hebrew and the Greek texts differed. (Also, THAT is the only way Augustine knew. Augustine read no Hebrew and rather limited Greek. His only Bible was Latin.)

            I can hardly believe Father John’s appeal to Cassiodorus to bolster his preference for the LXX. The mind reels at this appeal. Cassiodorus established the most prolific “scriptoria” in the whole Church. Thousands of Latin manuscripts were copied by his monastic scribes. It is safe to say that no single man at the time was more responsible for producing copies of Jerome’s Vulgate, which was translated from . . . . (drum roll) . . . . Hebrew.

            Thanks to Cassiodorus and men like him, the Vulgate gradually replaced the Vetus Latina in the Western part of the Church. Thanks to Cassiodorus and his friends, Jerome became the primary textual authority, against which there was no appeal. From the mid-fifth century, Jerome’s Vulgate, because of its direct parentage from Hebrew, assumed in the minds of Western Christians a precedence over the Greek tradition rendered in the Vetus Latina. Western Christians became convinced that one of their greater advantage over the East was a closer connection to the Hebrew Bible. One constantly heard of the Hebraica Veritas to explain the superiority of the Western Church over the Greeks.

            That attitude prevails to this day. The reluctance of many Eastern Orthodox Christians to recognize the authority of the traditional Hebrew Text is widely regarded as an irrational prejudice and a form of sectarian obscurantism.

            By way of animadversion, it is instructive reflect that Psalter is the one OT book where the Vetus Latina (translated from the LXX and extended in the Gallican Psalter) was almost universally preferred to Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew Psalms.

            The reason is surely obvious: People do not like to change the way they pray. When Jerome produced his “Psalmi secundum Hebraeos” early in the fifth century, some folks tried to pray it, but it was tough going. The Latin Church had been praying the Vetus Latina of the Psalms for 300 years, and they simply were not going to change if they didn’t have to.

            Consequently, very few manuscripts of the whole Vulgate contained Jerome’s translation of the Psalms from Hebrew. Indeed, I have in front of me at the moment the 1959 Vatican edition of the Vulgate. It does not even contain the “secundum Hebraeos” but the Gallican Psalter, based on the LXX. (The new critical edition of the Vulgate does contain both, on opposing pages.)

            I confess to the same weakness with respect to the Psalter. As a priest, I pray the Canonical Hours each day and, therefore, pray through the whole Psalter each week. Since I have prayed the LXX-based Gallican Psalter for my whole life, I would find it impossible to switch to some other version. I hope to die with the words of the Vetus Latina on my lips.

            For the rest, I have been reading the Bible in Greek for 60 years, and in Hebrew for fifty. I love both of them. Both of them are the Word of God. I have never discovered any theological reason for preferring one to the other.

            From the perspective of literary experience, however, there is simply nothing to compare with reading the Hebrew OT.

            I even read the Gospels in a Hebrew translation.

          2. My primary area of study is Hebrew poetry, so you can imagine that I feel the same way about the Hebrew Psalter as you do about the Vetus Latina. The manner in which the LXX obscures much of the parallelism is quite jarring to me. I can’t “pray it” because it is not “beautiful” to me.

          3. In response to Fr. Patrick, from what I can find, it appears that Cassiodorus only produced one commentary, and that is his commentary on the Psalms… and he tracks pretty close to the Septuagint in everything I have read so far, though according to the introduction of the English translation, he at times used Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew, though more often used either the translation found in St. Augustine’s commentary, or the Gallican Psalter. But in any case, Cassiodorus clearly does not think that the Hebrew text is an inspired alternative in the instance I cited.

            Also, many of the Greek Fathers would also have had some idea of the content of the Hebrew text from the Jewish translations of the Hebrew text — and so the claim that the Fathers rejected the Hebrew version, while being ignorant of it, is not really true. If St. Augustine was uniquely ignorant of the context of the Hebrew text, that is all the more reason why his unique opinions on the matter should not be held up as a standard.

          4. Eric, are you speaking of the LXX Psalter in Greek itself, or a translation? The Jordanville Psalter, which tries to stick closer to the Slavonic often does obscure the Hebrew Parallelism, but the Boston Psalter generally does not.

          5. I’m speaking of the LXX itself. For example, Ps. 16 (17) is a mess. Ps 119(120):5 is another good example. The Hebrew contains parallelism of two place names, Meshek and Qedar, אויה לו גרתי משך /שכנתי עם אוהלי קדר “Woe is me, for I have sojourned in Meshek / I have dwelt among the tents of Qedar.” The LXX read משך as a 3ms qal perfect verb mašāḵ, meaning “to draw out, prolong.” It also read גרתי as a noun with a 1cs pronominal suffix rather than a 1cs qal perfect verb, i.e. “I have prolonged my sojourn” rather than “I have sojourned in Mesheq.” Now, the new LXX reading is fine as far as it goes as it can carry meaning, but it does obscure the poetic parallelism between the two toponyms and the two 1cs qal perfect verbs.

  12. I rejoice that the Masorites are not being accused, in the correspondence on this blog site, of deliberate mendacity. This is a genuine step forward in the discussion.

    I look forward to more comments on the LXX by Eric Jobe.

    This is necessary, because I still detect, in the correspondence on this blog site, the vestigial suspicion that the introduction of the Masoretic markings seriously altered the Hebrew Bible familiar to Origen and Jerome.

    This is certainly not the case. The MT represents essentially the same Bible from which Jerome translated the Vulgate. The differences are not significant.

    (As a young student, by the way, and at the same time I was studying textual criticism under Carlo Maria Martini, I visited St. Jerome’s and inspected the large manuscript room where Jean Gribomont and his team were working on the critical edition of the Vulgate. There were large tables all around, supporting photostatic copies of hundreds of manuscripts. It was a heady, nearly unnerving experience for a young man. Someday I will also tell you about my inspection of Albright’s own annotated copy of Wooley’s book on Ur. It gives me a rush, even at this late date, to think about it.)

    Likewise, one cannot appeal to those Masoretic markings to explain more than a few minor differences between the MT and the LXX. These difference are too great to be explained in such a simplistic way.

    Finally, the critical apparatus in the common edition of the MT (Kittel) shows nowhere near the complexity and variety evident in the critical apparatus of the LXX. There are fewer textual variants in Hebrew than there are in Greek.

    That is to say, no textual problems are solved simply by one’s preference for the LXX over the MT. That preference must still come to grips with the considerable discrepancies within the manuscripts of the LXX.

    I have had to deal with this difficulty on several occasions, such as in my articles

    on Tobit


    and Susanna

    Indeed, with respect to Susanna, most Christian copyists preferred Theodotian to the LXX anyway, forcing Rahlfs to include it.

    1. Fr. Patrick, in truth, the raison d’etre of this blog is to deal with many of these issues rather head-on. There will be much scrounging through the Göttingin apparati, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and various NT manuscripts. Unfortunately, I am woefully incompetent in Latin studies. I can at least cite what I need to and pick through a text, but I will defer to others for that material. I am a primarily a Hebraist, secondarily an Aramaist with competency in multiple dialects, and I consider myself equally competent in Biblical Greek. I also have some facility in Ugaritic and Ethiopic Ge’ez. The relationship between the Greek and Hebrew Bibles is a keen interest of mine, and I will no doubt explore that relationship throughout the future life of this blog.

    2. Kittel’s MT is no longer the standard Hebrew Text — the current standard (unless something has change recently) is the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. But pointing out that there are fewer notes in the critical apparatus does not prove much, since as I pointed out — apart from the Dead Sea Scrolls — the evidence prior to the 10th century has been destroyed.

      Most of the significant discrepancies in the Greek NT are found in manuscripts well prior to the 10th century, and so if Christian’s had adopted similar practices to that of the Masoretic scribes, we wouldn’t know about most of those discrepancies.

      And as a matter of fact, there significant differences between the Vulgate and the MT. And usually when such differences exist, the Vulgate is closer to the LXX.

      1. The Vulgate is based upon the Old Latin, which was translated from the LXX. St. Jerome edited it toward the Hebrew he had, so the Vulgate will show alignment with both LXX and proto-MT texts.

        1. But obviously St. Jerome edited the Latin texts to make them match the Hebrew text known to him, and so when there are significant differences with the MT we have today, there is no reason to think that the Hebrew text St. Jerome had matched the MT, but he simply chose to ignore the difference.

          1. Do you know what Hebrew texts St. Jerome had with him? Have you compared them in detail with the MT? Unless you have, your statement there is invalid.

          2. I can’t think of any other ancient translation of Scripture that we have nearly as much information about in terms of who did the translation, and how they approached it than the Vulgate. We know Jerome considered the Hebrew Text to be the most reliable, and so given what we do know about the translator and his approach, it is indeed true that “…there is no reason to think that the Hebrew text St. Jerome had matched the MT, but he simply chose to ignore the difference.” If you wish to deny the accuracy of that statement, what is the reason or reasons you have that would lead you to believe that St. Jerome would have ignored the Hebrew text when it differed with the the Latin text that he was correcting?

  13. I have no idea why the links to my articles on Tobit and Susanna could not be pasted on this blog page.

    Let me try it again:

  14. Eric Jobe comments, “I also have some facility in Ugaritic and Ethiopic Ge’ez.”

    Well, so much for my dissipated youth. Dahood was on the faculty. I could have done it if I weren’t so lazy. It’s an ongoing problem.

  15. Father John mentions, “Kittel’s MT is no longer the standard Hebrew Text — the current standard (unless something has change recently) is the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia.”

    I stand corrected. I have both of them.

  16. Much of this is far above my pay grade, but I think perhaps it should be clarified what Eric is not (at least in my understanding) saying, namely, that the LXX and MT are both “canonical” in the sense that they should be accorded the same liturgical space.

    Much has been mentioned about what is more “reliable,” etc., in the comments, but my question each time has been “Reliable for what purpose?” If the “reliability” is to get to some “original,” I think that there is an unsolvable problem there. There is simply too much complexity and lack of manuscripts to be able to know what the “original” might be, and there is also a lot of problem with the idea of an “original” to begin with — even if we could miraculously find original manuscripts from the attributed writers and thus edit our canonical texts, we should likely have to eviscerate much that is well-known and well-loved for us.

    If “reliability” is for the purposes of liturgical usage, well, of course that is something else. But Eric is not arguing that liturgical usage ought to be this or that.

    If “reliability” is for the purposes of exegesis, it seems to me that many different manuscript traditions are represented even within just patristic exegesis. And even if the LXX is preferred (which of course makes sense, since it is the canonical liturgical text), it is not clear to me why an exegesis which takes the MT or even some other manuscript family into account should be utterly inadmissible so long as the interpretation yields results that are according to the Orthodox faith.

    I am sure that Eric likely intends to get into all this in future posts. Even this post is a “part 1,” and may there be many more hundreds of other posts on this site exploring all these issues.

    In the end, I don’t think Orthodoxy has anything to fear from textual criticism done by faithful sons and daughters of the Church. Orthodoxy is the Church. The Scriptures are the Church’s Scriptures. It is not a betrayal of the faith to explore all that those things mean, and it certainly cannot be a betrayal simply to ask questions about where our texts have gone and how they have changed over the centuries of their use.

    I would much rather a faithful son of the Church ask these questions and seek for their answers than cede the ground of this particular discipline to those who do not share our loyalties, who, by their arguments going unanswered, may serve to draw away the faithful and the potential faithful.

    1. Thank you, Fr. Andrew. Indeed, I have made no prescriptive statements, only descriptive. I have noted, for example, that even if the MT were to be preferred on philological or text-critical grounds in isolated cases, the LXX could still be preferred for liturgical use. I have at times corrected an Epistle reading toward the Byzantine Majority text, even though it might or might not have been “original.” I agree with Fr. Andrew that the concept of an “original text” is a farce, especially in regard to the OT. One can search for original texts through source criticism until no text exist at all (Which makes arguments for the LXX Jeremiah, because it is shorter and therefor earlier, rather silly, since it is demonstrable that various Jeremiah traditions were circulating in various collected forms at the same time as there were for Daniel and Enoch). And yes, there will be more to come, so stay tuned! Though, I am very busy these days, so I may not be able to post as frequently as the discussion here would benefit from.

  17. Father John says, “If St. Augustine was uniquely ignorant of the context of the Hebrew text, that is all the more reason why his unique opinions on the matter should not be held up as a standard.”

    He was not “uniquely ignorant.” He simply did not read Hebrew.

    Nor did Chrysostom, nor most of the other Fathers. So it is pointless to quote them as though they knew anything, or had anything important to say, about this subject.

    Also, I am not into “should.”

    “Did,” however, is of interest to me.

    And there is no doubt that St. Augustine’s view of TWO authoritative versions of the Bible DID become the standard view in the West.

    Nor was the Western respect for the Hebrew text ever, as far as I know, a point of contention between the East and the West during those centuries when they were still in communion.

    It should not be a point of contention now, unless someone is disposed to be contentious.

    1. St. John Chrysostom was in fact aware of the differences between the Hebrew and Greek text, because we was familiar with the Jewish translations of the Hebrew text into Greek.

      And your claim that St. Augustine’s understanding of “two authorized versions” evidently did not extend to Cassiodorus, as we see in the passage I cited. He clearly did not think that the Hebrew text of that passage constituted a legitimately alternative, and inspired text.

      And whatever the view of the west may or may not have been — and I am not inclined to accept your characterization based solely on St. Augustine’s meager comments that have been cited — that is not the view of the Orthodox Church. You can look in any number of sources to find that the Septuagint and the Peshitta are the standard and authoritative texts the Orthodox Church uses (Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) and Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfayev) being two examples that come to mind.

      1. Father John proclaims, “the Septuagint and the Peshitta are the standard and authoritative texts the Orthodox Church uses.”

        Having read all the correspondence on this blog site, I am unable to discover a single person who challenges that point.

        Why, then, all this contention about something no one disagrees with?

        1. Then perhaps your answer to this question will clear up the whole matter. How can you assert that the Hebrew Masoretic is equally, with the Septuagint, inspired by God… and yet not say that this text is not equally authoritative?

          1. I don’t think a connection can be so easily made between the notions of inspiration and authoritativeness. Aside from the usual epistemological problems associated with those concepts, authoritativeness (different than authority) is produced within a complex web of historical accidence, which includes accessibility (which the ancients by-and-large did not have to the Hebrew text). Just because the Hebrew was inspired – and is, insofar as it remains Holy Scripture – does not necessitate that it carry equal authority within the Church, though it may be used to inform such authority or it may be granted authority in special cases.

          2. You state that it is not a necessary conclusion that something can be equally inspired without being equally authoritative, but don’t state how this can be so. How is it possible to affirm that God inspired something, and then to turn around and say that it nevertheless is not authoritative? 2 Timothy 3:16-17 seems to draw a direct connection between inspiration, and authority.

          3. I stated exactly how it is so, in that authoritativeness (i.e. not “authority”) is something that is granted by the Church at a particular time according to the particulars of historical accidence. The Hebrew text was most certainly authoritative at one time, but that authoritativeness was passed to various translations throughout the Christian world as it forgot the Hebrew language. The 2 Timothy passage draws a connection between inspiration and profitability, but not necessarily authoritativeness, and the Hebrew text is most certainly still profitable for all the things listed there.

          4. The Church does not have autonomous powers. The authority of the Church comes from God. If God has equally inspired the Masoretic text, then that text is equally authoritative because it is inspired by God Almighty. When the Church canonized the Scriptures it did not add inspiration to them by calling them authoritative. It called them authoritative, because it recognized those texts as inspired.

            Aside from that, Fr. Patrick has claimed that the western Church has always recognized that there are two equally inspired textual traditions (the Septuagint and the Masoretic text) — and so if we grant, for the sake of argument, that this is so… unless we are also saying that this was an error …how can that recognition not mean that the western Church recognized both textual traditions as equally authoritative?

            I can’t think of any precedent in the history of the Church for the Church saying that something is inspired by God Almighty, but not authoritative.

          5. So what you’re saying is that the Hebrew Bible as came into existence from the mouthes and pens of the Prophets was not inspired, is that right?

          6. No, I am not saying that the Hebrew Bible as it came into existence from the mouths and pens of the Prophets was not inspired, nor has anything I said suggested such a thing. The problem is that that Masoretic text is not identical to the Hebrew Bible as it came into existence from the mouths and pends of the Prophets. If it was, I would agree with your position on this matter. And the degree to which it differs from that text, and differs from the Septuagint and the Peshitta, is the degree to which it is not inspired.

            But if I believed that the Masoretic Text was equally inspired with Septuagint, I would have to also affirm that it was equally authoritative, because I am unaware of any basis for separating something being inspired by God and it being authoritative.

  18. Father John comments, “from what I can find, it appears that Cassiodorus only produced one commentary, and that is his commentary on the Psalms.”

    That search somehow missed Cassiodorus’s commentaries on Acts, the Pauline Letters, and the Book of Revelation.

    Maybe Father John means only OT commentaries.

    1. I didn’t find any reference to those commentaries, though I have not made an extensive search for them… but if his commentary on the Psalms is his only commentary on an Old Testament book, then that would be the only one relevant to this conversation.

  19. Eric, permit me, please, to post one further comment relative to the Vulgate:

    Jerome, in spite of his phenomenal temper, was no rebel; it was not his intention, in translating freshly from Hebrew to Latin, to disturb the faith of ordinary believers.

    This is one of the reasons why the texts of the Vulgate occasionally support the LXX against the MT. Jerome simply stuck with the Vetus Latina when altering it might unnecessarily disturb people.

    In translating into Latin, Jerome was reluctant to change too much those passages used extensively in the divine services. He respected the sensitivities of the faithful by whom those passages, heard frequently in church, were cherished.

    When the Vulgate does agree with the LXX, we should not rashly suppose that this is a merely textual question. Pastoral concerns also influenced Jerome’s choices on occasion. This aspect of the matter is easily overlooked by those with a ham-handed approach to what is, essentially, a historical concern.

    I suspect that his pastoral sensitivity may be the reason Jerome got a bit agitated in his famous controversy with Saint Augustine over what sort of plant covered the head of Jonah. I doubt it had occurred to Jerome that ordinary Christians could become so picky about a detail involving no truth of the Faith. He felt he had gone to some lengths not to offend the faithful, but here they were, calling for his head.

    So, when Augustine complained that the folks in North Africa stormed out of church over the nature of that plant—evidently at Pascha, when the whole Book of Jonah was read—Jerome became a tad frustrated and got more than slightly sarcastic in his response.

    Augustine was caught in the middle. He could not challenge Jerome’s familiarity with the Hebrew text, nor did he want to trouble the believers in North Africa.

    Anyway, Jerome’s pastoral sensitivity will go a long way to explaining why the correspondences between the Vulgate and the MT are so uneven from book to book.

    I am hardly the first person to observe the pastoral nuance and complexity in Jerome’s style style of translation. Gribomont, for instance, wrote on it decades ago.

      1. Father John asks, “Are your characterizations of St. Jerome’s approach to translating the Hebrew based on St. Jerome’s words explaining his approach, or your speculating here?”


        They are based on my reading of the Vulgate since 1947 and my reading of the Masoretic text since about 1962.

        It is not an eccentric understanding of Jerome but a common view. In support of it, I mentioned Gribomont, the chief editor of the critical edition of the Vulgate.

        I don’t intend to provide an extensive bibliography, but one may want to consult Gribomont’s comments on the subject in volume 4 of Quasten’s PATROLOGY.

        Try to keep in mind, Father, than on the day you were born I was reading the Bible in Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, and Latin.

        1. Fr. Patrick, I appreciate your years of experience and studies, but what you say above confirms that you are basing what you said about St. Jerome’s approach to translation based on speculation, rather than any hard evidence from the writings of St. Jerome himself, or any contemporary who might have pointed out that he fudged on his translation of the Hebrew text, as you suggested.

          It is certainly within the realm of possibility that St. Jerome would have fudge on his translation and opted for the Septuagint reading out of concern for offending people, but if he was afraid of such offense, he could have avoided it entirely by sticking with the Septuagint. The fact that his writings give every evidence that he considered the Hebrew Text to be better would suggest that when his translation differed from the Masoretic Text, it is more likely because the Hebrew Text he had differed from the Masoretic text, unless, as with the case of Habakkuk in the MT, he ran into patches in which the Hebrew was unintelligible, and fell back on the Septuagint because he had no alternative.

  20. Eric, if you are disposed to receive it, let me make a paternal observation relative to this blog site.

    You are trained in the skills of textual criticism, where the chief danger is that the scholar may fall asleep from the sheer lack of excitement. In my experience there is not, nor should there be, the slightest note of animated contention in textual studies.

    Over the years I have been personally acquainted with textual critics of the first order—men such as Jean Gribomont, chief editor of the Vulgate critical edition, and Carlo Maria Martini and Bruce Metzger, two editors of the critical edition of the NT.

    I cannot imagine how any of them would handle the kinds of negative commentary you have endured since you launched this blog site.

    Your major critic is not a textual scholar but an overactive Orthodox polemicist. Relying on the skills inherent in your academic discipline, I don’t see any way you will ever be able to address his criticisms, his carping censures in which gall and risibility compete for prominence. You’re not playing the same game as your critic. He is not adhering to the rules that are taken for granted in textual studies. Thus, when you step out on the green and attempt to sink a delicate put, he rushes through a scrimmage line and tackles you.

    If this blog site is going to provide the level of service that you are capable of giving it, something has to change. There should be no place on this site for outdated and ill-informed Orthodox apologetics.

    1. Thank you, Fr. Patrick. I completely agree with your thoughts here, and I have recently advised another person along the same lines. It is unfortunate that such polemicists are drowning out the sound of reasoned scholarship in a number of areas, not just textual criticism. I have let the conversation in this post go to an extent that I perhaps would not allow it to if I could do it over again, though I feel that it will serve an illustrative purpose for future posts. While I do not expect every commenter on this site to be able to dialogue at the same level as you or I, I do want to establish a standard for dialogue. On the other hand, I do not want to be unnecessarily censorious. In the future, I will be much more guarded in approving comments.

    2. Fr. Patrick, if I make an invalid argument, please point out the flaws. If I say something that is inaccurate, please correct the error. But please refrain from personal attacks. Prior to your first comment on this post, in which you essentially suggested I was antisemitic, I had every intention of letting my exchange with Eric end on this post, when he said to wait for his further posts on the subject… but I am not inclined to let comments of that sort pass. Let’s please stick to the issues, rather than making this about personalities.

      *EDIT FROM THE MODERATOR* I’m letting this one though on account of the charge of anti-Semitism. I do think charges of anti-Semitism are not necessarily ad-hominem if they are backed with evidence. Nevertheless, particular care should be given to make sure that proper evidence is given. Nevertheless, the original claim that Fr. John made stating that the Jews had altered their Scriptures was made without providing evidence, and that position was maintained by Fr. John even after both I and Fr. Patrick had stated that it was an illegitimate argument since there is no evidence for it. I will let such an argument stand on its own merit.

  21. With these last comments by Fr. John, I am suspending comments on this post. I think we have all said what we want to say, and everyone has had ample time to respond. I do not think that there is any benefit to further comments, as we have come to an impasse on our respective positions.

  22. Thank you for writing this blog and making it available to us. As a person who was raised a Southern Baptist and then almost converted to Orthodox Judaism ( I was actively seeking it for 7 years) I have heard from each side. Now that I am coming into Eastern Orthodoxy I was seeing a lack of biblical scholars on Tanakh, or anyone else for that matter who could answer some basic questions. I will admit that I bought into the myth that the “Jews changed it!” and I am glad I can now put that myth to rest and move on. I got one question for you, how can we be sure that both the MT and LXX are “inspired”? Or is there even such a thing as inspired scripture?

    1. The notion of inspiration is difficult to define. 1 Tim. 3:16 only mentions that inspired scripture is “profitable.” If we go beyond that, to try to pin down exactly what inspiration entails brings us to several difficulties. I will likely do a full post about this soon, so I won’t go into details here. I do think inspiration is real, though I think it must be understood within the broader notion of the presence of the Spirit within the Church, i.e. the Scripture is inspired insofar as it exists within the continuous activity of the Spirit in the Church.

  23. Thank you for this informative introduction to the texts. I myself am a reader of the MT. I translate in my own awkward way a little every day. I am continually astonished at the beauty of the Hebrew and its resonance with my reading and experience of the work of Jesus in his day.

    This past month, I have been working with Isaiah chapters 53 to 55. My summary of this work (always a work in progress) is here. (BTW, my tradition is Anglican. I began learning Hebrew seriously at age 60. I have sung as a drone in choir practice in the Orthodox Church in Patmos.)

    I am deeply impressed by the love and care for the text within the Hebrew tradition. I think that as scribes copy, they, as we are, are in conversation with the Most High.

    One example of a correction that can be made to the MT by the LXX and/or the DSS (and there are many) is the case of Psalm 145(144) which will illustrate the dialogue. This acrostic, like all the acrostics of Book 5 of the Psalms (111(110), 112(111), 119(118)), is perfect. There is no letter missing. But in the MT, the verse for N is missing in 145. The LXX Psalm 144 via back translation allows reconstruction, but equally, the verse is found in Hebrew manuscripts of the DSS. I have rendered it with the necessary N as:

    Note that faithful is יהוה in his words
    and merciful in all his deeds
    נאמן יְהוהָ בדבריו
    וחסיד בכול מעשיו

    The tradition silently adds a verse from Amos (5:2)

    No more to rise, fallen
    is the virgin Israel
    cast off on her own ground,
    there is no one to raise her up.

    This verse from Amos fits the tragic situation of exile and diaspora following the destruction of Jerusalem and it fits the thought of Psalm 145 in a way that anticipates the consolation of verse 14 through the repetition of ‘fallen’. It has the necessary nun (N) in Hebrew and is easily translated for the N required in English. It is part of the Rabbinic scribal conversation with Hashem.

    Note the continuing repetition of ‘all’ in this psalm (17 times). The nun verse and verse 17 act as a frame to highlight the support that is characteristic of יהוה when there is trouble. The verse from Amos lacks this characteristic ‘all’. The sound of K (all/every = כל) in the psalm is very clear, like a drum beat.

    I wonder if you would are aware of the use of the te’amim from the MT. These signs above and below the text and separate from the nikkudim allow the reconstruction of the ancient music of the Hebrews. I note particularly the major disjunctive, ^ under a syllable, that divides most verses in two. It sometimes does not occur, but never occurs more than once in a verse. The signs predate any chapter and versification, so they show that the notion of fixed segments of the text is ancient. On my sight I have hundreds of examples of the reconstructed music. My examples are done by a computer program which I wrote. It shows me that the ancient scribes were very much aware of the objective use of signs as a medium of digital communications. The signs are essentially hand signals and are easily interpreted by a computer applying the right rules.

    1. Unfortunately, I am not well skilled in reading the cantillation marks or the MT punctuation beyond the basics. Most of what I read is unvocalized anyway (the Dead Sea Scrolls), so I have not taken the time yet to delve into that.

      1. Thank you for your reply and for all your clear posts that I have scanned this morning. I have heard that there are scrolls in the DSS that have cantillation marks. I have not seen any examples in my own searching. If you find any, I would love to hear about them.

        I have a brief introduction to the signs as music, based on the work of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura from the last century, at this address here.

  24. is the Jeremiah in the Vulgate longer or shorter (like in the Qurman and the LLX)? Also how come we have so few ancient Hebrew manuscripts compared with the New Testament? Is it because we haven’t been looking hard enough.
    Jews lived all over the Middle East in the Middle Ages. There should be dozens of manuscripts in Hebrew from that period.

  25. Sorry for the late post, but I’m new to this blog and Orthodoxy.

    I am very glad to find a lucid explanation of the faithful preservation of the Hebrew text compared to the Septuagint.

    The idea that the Hebrew scribes would intentionally alter the text their holy scripture is really beyond the pale.

    I first got into the research of Hebraic roots reading Alfred Edersheim’s “Life of Jesus The Messiah”. His appendix on O.T. verses interpreted by the Pharisees are Messianic is astounding. His references are to Midrash Rabbah in turn reference the Tanakh, i.e. the Hebrew Holy Scripture. Now, since I am limited to English, I have had to use translations of Hebrew and Aramaic found in the Soncino Press and Jewish Publication Society. Not to mention the Art Scroll series on Ruth, Ester, and Genesis.

  26. I have an exegetic bent and Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon commended the “OSB” and was clearly less than pleased the “PC”.

    I hope that the “OSB” is the Orthodox Study Bible by St. Athanasius Academy of the Orthodox Theology. My priest recommended it and I have found it fascinating.

    What is the “PC” that is in wide use?

  27. Hallo, Eric !

    I am a Ph.D. candidate in Old Testament Interpretation at the University of Athens. Do you know if there is a comparative study between the MT and the LXX text of Jeremiah ? My main interest is in the double translations, that is to say certain verses of the Masoretic text translated in two (or even three) different ways, following different vocalization by the LXX translators.

    all the best,


    1. Not that I know of, but I haven’t looked at a bibliography for that area of study in a while. A quick WorldCat search did not turn up anything comprehensive, though there are numerous monograph-length studies of individual portions of Jeremiah. There is a monograph devoted to the translation technique of the Peshitta of Jeremiah, which I used a bit for my MA thesis. You might start in one of those volumes for some good bibliographic entries. Otherwise, I would search through the various anthology volumes collecting LXX papers for bibliographic info. Something comprehensive would be too long for most studies, so piecing together various parts might be your best bet.

  28. Hi Eric,

    This has been an interesting exchange of views!

    I agree with a comment you made with respect to ‘soma’ being the most likely original LXX reading for Psalm 40:7, as quoted in the NT (Heb.10:5), as testified by extant LXX copies and Bodmer XXIV. NETS, without LXX evidence, translated according to Rahlf’s position. However, from a Christian perspective, I would regard the NT support as decisive.

    Patrick Henry Reardon, commenting above, described the Christian scribes who copied the LXX, as: “Christians, who—notoriously—felt free to alter the Sacred Text for any of a number of reasons.”

    However, I don’t believe this stance met with your disapproval, so I am wondering if it was simply overlooked or if this is also your own position?


  29. Hello Mr. Eric Jobe
    Thank you for this blog I stumbled into this, looking for something else im glad I found this blog, very happy .My question is after reading all this, please im a bit confused now. Which is the best Bible to read? Please im trying to teach myself everything about the Bible would love to go to college and get my studies and degree on Bible teaching but im probably to old to start and dont have the funds.My joy is teaching the Bible. Please let me know what is the Best Bible. And, all this information on The LXX, And HeBrew Bible. I want to know it all. If all of you could help that would be wonderful I dont have much income in buying all these books, so if there’s another way I would truly appreciate it. Blessings to all of you,and looking forward to hearing from you, Mr. Jobe. Thank you

  30. I do not even know the way I finished up right here, but I thought this
    post was once good. I do not understand who you might be however certainly you’re going to a famous blogger for those who aren’t already.

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