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The Importance of the Septuagint.


We know the history of writing of the Septuagint and believe in this ancient church legend. In the second year of rule of Ptolomaios the Second Philadelphus (282 BC), on the blessing of righteous protopriest Eleazar, the chosen from the 12 generations of Israel translators made this translation. Thanks to this providential matter, the spiritual preparation to the encounter and acceptance of the Son of God was spread beyond the Jewish nation and covered the population of the Mediterranean shores, which all in that time, in the lesser or greater degree spoke and understood Greek.

How great the significance of the Septuagint in the matter of the first sermon of the Christianity was, can be seen from the fact that in the end of the 1st century an overwhelming majority of the converted into Christianity originated not from Hebrews or yet unprepared pagans, but the so-called proselytes, i.e. heathens, who were acquainted with the Old-Testament Law in Greek translation and attracted to it spiritually. This attraction to the Law of heathens was fulfilled by the Jews through spreading among the heathen the holy books in Greek, i.e. the Septuagint. The main flow of the process of spreading of the Christianity during the second half of the first century can be imagined likewise: heathens, communicating with the Jews, got from them holy books in Greek, read them, got attracted spiritually to these Divine words, searched but could not find neither in the very books, nor with the Jewish interpreters the explanations of many things, which stayed unclear for them in the Scripture. The Christian preachers came, and showing how everything, predicted in the Scripture, came to pass and happened in Jesus Christ, through that found new souls for the Lord. The history of a nobleman of the queen of Ethiopia, who was enlightened by Apostle Philip, is an illustration of this process.

The references that exactly this way happened the conversion into Christianity during the sermon of St. Apostle Paul, we would find in the book of Acts: in Antiochia of Pisidia the holy apostle explains the history of the Old Testament in the Christian light, and "And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God" (Acts 13:42, 43). ""And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed" (Acts, 14:1). "Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few" (Acts 17:1-4).

"The Christians accepted the Septuagint, as their own version of the Old Testament, and used it alone for sermons and protection of their faith. With that the Christians in the known measure assigned the Divine inspiration to the translation of the Septuagint, for its variants in the translation providentially helped the Christian arguments… The Septuagint made it easier for the Christian missionary work among heathens. It was that Bible, which the first fore-preachers of the Gospel had in hands, coming through all the parts of the Roman empire in the first years of the Christianity, when there were still no books of the New Testament. The ancient Judaism tilled the furrows for sowing the Evangelical seeds by the Septuagint in the Western world," — writes A. Daceman in his book "The New Light of the New Testament."

Seeing, what a powerful weapon the Septuagint is for the attraction of people, whom they already thought to be their followers, to the hated by them Christianity; the leaders of Judaism with all their might started hating the Septuagint, in spite of the fact that this was the unique translation of the holy books, officially approved of by the Jewish religious authority and fulfilled by the unanimous exploit of all the 12 generations of Israel. The Talmud says: "Cursed is the day when the seventy Elders translated the Law into Greek for the Egyptian king. This day is similar to that, when Israel made the golden calf."

Therefore, in the second century AD the Judaism makes new translations of the Old-Testament books into Greek. These are the translations of Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion, made in the second century. In these translations the anti-Christian tendency — the attempt to change the Messianic places in the Old Testament, make them less evidently relating to Christ the Savior, is clearly seen.

In the same time the Judaism started its grandiose work on the reformation of the original of the Holy Scripture — its ancient Hebrew text — to establish its stability. This reformation, which took place since the 2d till the 8th centuries, consisted of the fact that the Jewish Scribes, the so-called Massorites, i.e. the keepers of tradition, according to the definite, checked by them sample rewrote all the books of the Holy Scripture, meant to be read in the synagogues, checked them letter by letter, entering the new system of vowels and punctuation marks. Then, under the fear of harem — a curse, forbade the Jews the usage of any of other variants of the Holy Scripture, except for this, checked this way. With that, in their work on the Hebrew text the Massorites as well, in all ways, tried to put more shade to the clarity of the Messianic extracts, which predicted Christ the Savior.

The fight around the prophesy of St. Isaiah is especially known: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son" (7:14). In the original text here, without a doubt, stood the word "Betula" — a Virgin, which now was proved by the newest discovery of the most ancient manuscript of the prophesy of Isaiah close to the Dead Sea. The holy 70 interpreters translated the word "Betula’ with a Greek word "Parthenos." Meanwhile, the Jewish scribes in their Massorite variant instead of the word "Betula-Virgin" put the word "ga-alma" — a young woman. In the translations of Acquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion here in Greek is put the word "neanis" — a young woman, in spite of the fact that in this case this extract looses the meaning of the prophetic words, at which pointed even the ancient Christians apologists: what a sign can be the conceiving and birth of a son of a young woman, if it happens daily throughout the whole world?

Thus, since the earliest époque of Its history the Church of Christ had to choose between the several variants of the Holy Scripture. The Church, absolutely definitely, without any hesitation, gave preference to the God-inspired translation of the 70, having made only one exception: the Church changed the book of Prophet Daniel according to the translation of Theodotion, for in the translation of the 70 here is seen a very notable difference with the Jewish original. With this detail the Church one more time showed that It is not bound by anything, even by the authority of the highly estimated by It holy ancient interpreters, but It freely chooses and recognizes Its Holy Scripture.

The Church extremely reveres the translation of the 70 — the Septuagint. St. Irineus thinks that the holy interpreters were as much inspired by the Holy Spirit, as the prophets and apostles (Irineus 3, chap.11, 4). St. Justin the Philosopher in his "Addressing to the Greeks," Tertullian, St. Cyprian, blissful Augustine, Clement of Alexandria call the translation of the 70 as God-inspired. St. Basil the Great calls it the most famous in the Church.

The Church gives Its preference to the translation of the 70, not only among other translations, but also prefers it to the Jewish original of the Old Testament.

The Church does not rely onto the Jewish original of the Old Testament, to be more exact, on its preserved till now form — the Massorite one, for during two thousands of years of the Christian history the Hebrew original was kept in the non-Christian medium, hostile to the Christianity, was re-written by the non-Christian hands. Even if one does not suspect any mal intention then anyway these non-Christian copyists could always make a mistake, not knowing the mysteries of the Christian faith and therefore not understand the complete meaning of those holy books, which they were rewriting; always could make a mistake, and, having made, could not understand that.

The text of the translation of the 70 was kept in the Christian medium, was rewritten by the Christians, knowing the fullness of the sense of the Holy Scripture, and what is the most important — all the time it stayed under the unceasing control of the Church — the keeper of the Truth, the infallible image of the Holy Spirit.

The Church admits that the Septuagint is not only an authoritative text, but defines the composition of the Holy Scripture according to the Septuagint. The Septuagint completely preserved the Holy Scripture, and the Massorite tradition partly lost it. We talk about the so-called "canonical" and "non-canonical" books of the Old Testament, the canon of which was defined by the council of the Jewish rabbis in Jamnia at the end of the 1st or the beginning of the 2d century AD. Surely the Church could not accept this cannon as the leading one for Itself, and instead of it, while defining the Divine inspiration of the Holy Books, is lead by Its rules: the 85th Apostolic rule, the 33d rule of the Carthage council, the 60th rule of St. Athanasius the Great, and by the ancient church tradition, which counts 50 books to be in the composition of the Holy scripture of the Old Testament. The Jerusalem local Council of 1672, the statements of which were established by the similar in time Constantinople council; and on the behalf of the Russian Church were signed by Its representative Archimandrite Joseph, proclaims: "The non-canonical book, senselessly and deliberately called apocryphal, are the invariable and functional part of the Holy Scripture."

The Holy Scripture of the New Testament is very closely connected exactly with the Septuagint. Many places in the New-Testament books will not be clear, if we use any other variant of the Old Testament. For example, the reference of Ap. Paul in the Epistle to Hebrews (chap.1, verse 6) to Psalm 96:7, where, on the Massorite tradition stands "worship him, all ye gods," while Ap. Paul says: "let all angels of God worship Him," the way as we find in our text of the Septuagint. In the comparison with the Massorite text, the reference in the speech of Apostle James in the Acts (15:16) to prophet Amos is not clear. The references of Apostle John ""A bone of him shall not be broken" does not stand in the Massorite text in this way (but in the similar way), but these words keep absolute precision in the text of the 70 (Ex. 12:10). The words of the Lord in the so-called "First Gospel" in the Massorite text, concerning the promise, given to the people after the downfall about the fact that "The woman’s seed shall bruise serpent’s head," which the Massorites do not have, and many other things Но не только внутренне, а и внешне Новый Завет в своем греческом подлиннике тесно связан именно с Септуагинтой. Not only inwardly, but as well outwardly the New Testament in its Greek original is closely connected exactly with the Septuagint.

The entire Holy Scripture of the New Testament is written in the language of the Septuagint. Even the only New Testament book, which was originally not written in Greek, the Gospel of St. Mathew, soon after it was written was translated either by the very Evangelist or by apostle John the Theologian into the language, which we call the language of the Septuagint, for the Septuagint, as any literary work, created its language, and exactly in this language, and not in any variation of Greek are written all the New Testament books. Almost all the references to the Old Testament in the New One (except the Gospel of Mathew) are made onto the text of the Septuagint.

To the fact how great the unity of the Septuagint and the New Testament is, testify the Protestant Biblicists, which do not have any grounds to be very much disposed to the Septuagint — the known German Biblicist E.V. Griffield and the Head of the Department of the Biblical History and Literature of the Sheffield University F.F. Bruce, referring to Griffield, writes: "Only the one, who studies the New Testament in Greek together with the Septuagint, gets the full understanding about the unity of the Bible, which he will not get by studying the Old Testament in another version" (F. F. Bruce, The Old Testament in Greek).

Together with the New Testament the Septuagint with its content satiated the entire following life of the Church: Its order of Divine Services, Its edifications to Its children, the laws and rules of the church and the creations of the holy fathers. Let us get back to the Divine service. In the translation of the ancient Christian Divine service from Hebrew into Greek there appeared one more important change: the chanting form of the major part of the holy text was lost. It was saved in the Greek text only in those especially filled with chants parts of the Old Testament books, which especially rhythmically were translated into Greek and in the church official practice got the name of the Old Testament chants, and surely in Psalms, which were and remained the main source of the chanting material for the Divine service.

That was why the most significant part of the Holy Scripture in Greek started to be read, but not chanted in the Divine services; they started to chant only psalms and the Old Testament chants, to which further on were added those few chant-parts, which contain the Holy Scripture: the chant of the Theotokos in the encounter of Hers with St. Elizabeth (i.e. Magnification), the chant of Zechariah on the birth of St. John the Baptist and the chant of St. Simeon the God-Receiver.

Because of this scantiness of the chanting material in Greek there appeared the need in new chants for Divine services. In the first Christian times was composed the based on the described in the Gospel angelic chant hymn "Glory to God in the highest" (the so-called Gloria), martyr Athenagor writes hymn "Gentle Light" and then the Church starts to be filled with inspired creations of the great church chant-composers.

All these church creations unfailingly used the language, images and thoughts of the Holy Scripture. The law, which we established at the beginning of this essay: the preparation for the encounter and acceptance of the Son of God, which took place in both the historical and official process, but mostly through the Holy Scripture, — this law remains valid.

Partly this connection is dictated by the very content of the Divine service. The order of the vespers consists of chanting and reading of Psalms, which later began to be mixed with chanting of the so-called sticheras, i.e. chants, which are devoted to the celebrated feast, and with the reading of the parts of the Old Testament books, the so-called paremias. Consequently, more than a half of the vespers consists of the Old Testament material, and new chants are composed in the language of the Holy Scripture, i.e. the language of the Septuagint.

The same can be said about the matins, the first part of which consists as well of chants and reading psalms, and the second part of it — of chanting of the so-called Old Testament chants. Nowadays this second part is changed by chanting and reading of the so-called canons, which originally were composed as the commentaries to the words of the Old Testament songs. Only this alone defines the Biblical character of the content and language of the canons. The matins ends with the ancient Christian hymn "Glory to God in the highest."

Finally the very Liturgy is significantly filled with the Biblical elements. In there, those elements are more adapted. Mostly the outline of the Liturgy is influenced by the least read in the church book of the Holy Scripture — the Revelation. The common arrangement of the Liturgy: standing of the clergy around the Throne, coming in and going out from the Altar, the terminology of the sacred acts: the Sacrifice, the Lamb, the Holy Table, the Altar are, on the one hand, the reproduction of the ancient Old Testament sacred action. And on the other, and in the greater sense, are the reflections of the images of the Revelation. All the Liturgical phrases of a priest are either a literal reproduction, or a paraphrase of the doxologies of the Revelation. For example: "To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (Rev.1:6). "Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever" (5:13). "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things" (4:11). On the basis of the Revelation are composed many chants of the Liturgy, for example: "Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come" (4:8).

All this in the most profound and all-sided way fills the entire Divine service of the Orthodox Church with the words, images and thoughts of the Holy Scripture.

Already for some times we drew attention to the inner basis of that. Now we shall say about the practical conclusion, which is important for those who would wish to occupy themselves with the holy and joyful, inspiring matter of translation of the infinite Divine service wealth of the Orthodox church into contemporary Western languages. For that one needs plunge into the Biblical form of his own mother language absolutely and completely. Only on this condition his translation will be full-value, artistically full-blooded and he will avoid both the dangers — Zillah and Haribda of any artistic translation: there will be neither slavish literal conveying of the strange text, nor free narration-interpretation, far from the original, for a translator, filled with the language of the Holy Scripture, will enrich his language through the source, which had enriched the language of those, whose works he translates — the church chants’ creators.

This, what we said about the connection of the New Testament with the Septuagint, we shall say concerning the Divine service. In it much stays unclear for us, if we use any other variant of the Holy Scripture of the Old Testament, but the Septuagint.

For example, the 1st song of the canon of the Pentecost says: "Covered by the divine cloud, he that was slow of tongue proclaimed the Law written by God." Knowing the Holy Scripture an Orthodox understands that here the speech is about Moses, for like that "of uncircumcised lips" (tongue-tied) he is called in the book of Exodus in the translation of the 70, but not "non-verbal" as the Massorite text conveys (Ex.6:30).

Without knowing the books of Maccabees, we would not understand, for instance, the 8th irmos of the 6th exclamation: "and purified the sacrifice of righteous with water" where it is said about the event, described in the 1st chapter of the 2d book of Maccabees (and not about the sacrifice of prophet Isaiah, as some think. In this last case it would be "purified sacrifice and water").

In the 109th Psalm of the Massorite text there are no words of the Navity Prokimenon and verses "from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth," which are taken from the text of the 70.

If we add that by the language of the Septuagint, with the same images, hints and indications of its sacred text are written the creations of the majority of the holy fathers of the Eastern Church, then we would understand that the above given words of E.V. Greenfield and F.F. Bruce that for the one, who is reading the Holy Scripture of the Old Testament in the translation of the 70 and the New Testament in the original, the inner and outer unity is being revealed more brightly and profoundly — these words can be related to the entire church field. For an Orthodox Greek, knowing the Holy Scripture of the Old Testament in the translation of the 70 and the New Testament in the original church narration, while reading the holy fathers and listening to and participating in the Divine services, the fundamental truth of the Orthodoxy that the voice of the Holy Spirit did not cease after writing of the last lines of the Holy Scripture, that in its full strength it continues to sound in the whole life of the Church, mostly in the Divine service and creations of Its holy fathers, reveals itself definitely and clearly.

But this spiritually enriching realization becomes available not only to Greeks. Almost in the same measure we, the Orthodox Russians, possess it, for our Holy Scripture of the Old Testament in the church-Slavonic is strictly church-traditional, and we have the Divine service in the same language, in all senses.

We sincerely want to wish the same to our West-European Orthodox brothers: to read carefully, get used to the God-inspired translation of the 70, to get imbued with its language, images, to choose the most ecclesiastic, traditional, proved and established by the Church among the codes of the New Testament, to master this language of the Old and New Testaments, and with the help of this language to translate the whole gigantic wealth of the Orthodox divine service.

For the one, who will perfectly know the Biblical language, this task will be greatly simplified by the fact that the majority of phrases and images in the divine services’ texts will be known to him, as if prepared for him.

But with that inevitably arises one more question, equally important as the question of the Septuagint. This question is: which variant of the New Testament must one use, to stay on the church path steadily?

As it is known, already blessed Geronimo complained about the multitude of different versions in different manuscripts of the New Testament, saying: "Tot paene versiones, qout codides" — the variations are the same in numbers as codes.

If we have a look at the critical publications, for example, of Nestle, with the scientific system, i.e. with the reference to different versions, we shall see that literally no word in the Holy Scripture will remain still. Though, the majority of these versions is insignificant: into "Capernaum" or into "Capernauma" came the Lord; "like light" His clothes was in the Transfiguration, or "like snow," etc. But there are very important differences, for instance, like: to enter or not the words of Christ "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" into the Gospel of Mathew; to enter into the Gospel of Mark the second half of his narration about the Resurrection of the Lord. In the Gospel of Luke the malefactor asked the Lord to remember him "in thy kingdom" or simply remember? Should one enter into the Gospel of John the narration about the adulteress, about whom the Lord said to the scribes: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." To enter or not into the Epistle of John the professing of the Holy Trinity: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one" ?

All these things are the questions about the different versions. The modern Protestant publishing offices solve these problems in different ways: on the basis of the authority of various famous Biblicists, on the basis of accord between the majority of the manuscripts, i.e. on the principle of the majority of voices, or on the basis of the greater antiquity of the manuscripts, etc. All these are not our, church ways.

The question of different versions can be interesting for us as well, but purely historically: what the variants of the text were. The critical publishing issues like of Nestle, where this question is put scientifically and visually — are useful. But we shall solve this problem, not guided by the testimony of the majority of manuscripts and not because of their antiquity, and less on the basis of the authority of the out-of-church Biblicists, but basing upon the voice of the Church. For us is infallible that the text of the Holy Scripture and the Old and New Testaments, which belongs to the Church, is accepted by It and exists for Its Divine life.

Applying the out-of-church scientific contemporary terminology, we more or less approximately can accept as the church text the group of manuscripts, which is marked with the letter "K," otherwise called as Keni or Constantinople, for these manuscripts in their majority and the samples, from which they were copied, were kept and rewritten under the guidance and control of the Church, while the rest of the groups of manuscripts, marked with the letters "H," "I’ and "K" (Egyptian, Jerusalem and Western) are the fruits of labors of some persons and did not get the sanction of the Church.

With this, it must be noted that exactly the manuscripts of the group "K" became the basis for the first Greek printed edition, made by Erasmus of Rotterdam in 1516 (only the Revelation in this edition was taken from another, unsatisfactory source). And the edition of Erasmus of Rotterdam under the name "textus receptus" became the source for the majority of the Western-European translations. The later translations in the majority of cases resort to other originals.

We shall be faithful to the church ways.

In the spiritual world there are many roads and paths, but the direct, correct and truthful way is always the one — the church way. It started with the creation of the world, the repentance of Adam, the exploit of Noah, the calling of Abraham, the history of the Chosen Nation, Christ the Savior, His holy Apostles, holy fathers, the exploit of monks and faithfulness of all the children of the Church of Christ and will continue till the end of ages.

As any friendly family has its language, its expressions and images, the same way the people, belonging to this way have their own language, images, legends and traditions: one language, the same expressions and images since the Creation of the world and the time of the Sinai Law till the present days. This language, these images and expressions are good to be translated into all earthly dialects, if only to search for them, care about it and not to turn to the wrong paths.

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