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Lesson 10

VERSIONS OF THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES

"Versions" of the Hebrew Scriptures are translations of them into other tongues or languages. All of the early versions were handwritten, and hence were in manuscript form. Some of the versions were themselves versions of earlier translations from the Hebrew; as, for instance, the old Latin versions were translated from the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures.

In point of age the Samaritan Pentateuch is the earliest witness to the Hebrew text of the Scriptures. Samaria, you remember, was the capital of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, and the name of the capital came to be applied to the whole of the territory occupied by the northern faction of the nation of Israel. When the Israelites of Samaria were carried off captive by the Assyrians in 740 B.C. heathen populations were moved into Samaria from other parts of the Assyrian empire. They came to be called Samaritans, and it was this Samaritan community that produced the Samaritan Pentateuch some 300 years later. It is not actually a version or translation of the original Hebrew, but is a transliterated Hebrew text in Samaritan characters and interspersed with some Samaritan idioms. Though it reaches back to the fifth century before Christ for its origin, the manuscripts upon which today's printed text is based are not of a date anywhere near so early.

It was at about this time that the Aramaic paraphrases came into use. Hebrew was gradually being superseded by Aramaic as the language of the common people of the Jews, and from Nehemiah's time onward it was necessary that the reading of the Hebrew Scriptures be accompanied by paraphrases or interpretations in the Aramaic tongue, that the common people of the Jews could understand the reading. (Neh. 8: 8) The Aramaic word for "interpretation" or "paraphrase" is targum, and these rather loose and free translations of the Hebrew Scriptures were called Targums.

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The Jewish scribes and priests were very reluctant to put these paraphrases into writing, thinking the Scriptures too holy to translate. But the mistaken veneration and superstition of religious Jews was not permitted to block Jehovah God's purpose of having his Word made available to the common people. Translations in permanent form were destined to come.

As far as the Aramaic paraphrases are concerned, they were beginning to be committed to writing around the time of Christ. The Targum of Onkelos is thought to be the oldest Aramaic version existing, setting forth the Pentateuch. The original of this Targum was written in the first century after Christ. In this same century the Targum of Jonathan on the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve minor prophets was recorded. The Targums in their present written form, however, cannot be earlier than the fourth or fifth century after Christ.

Though originally written in the first century after Christ, the Targums are not the earliest written translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The earliest among the versions as well as the most important is the Greek Septuagint (symbolized by LXX). It was produced to meet the needs of Greek-speaking Jews at Alexandria, Egypt. The name first applied strictly to the Pentateuch version, but afterwards was extended to include all the Hebrew books as they were translated. This work of translation began about 280 B.C., it being likely that during that year the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures were completed.

All of the Septuagint books were combined into a single book by at least the first century after Christ, at which time the Septuagint was accepted by the Greek-speaking Jews of the Dispersion as genuine Scripture. From them this Greek version passed over to the Christians and is quoted from in the writings of Jesus' apostles and disciples. The direct quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures have been computed to be 365, besides nearly 375 references

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or allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures more or less definite. The great majority of these quotations from the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures are taken by the apostles and disciples almost literally from the Septuagint, while some few appear to be new renderings made by them of the original Hebrew. The Septuagint was therefore based on a Hebrew text earlier than the Masoretic text. It was doubtless based on an old, well-written copy of the Hebrew Scriptures as preserved in the court of the temple at Jerusalem many years before the destruction of that temple.

Of the Syriac versions of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Peshitto (P'shitta) or "simple" revision is translated from the Hebrew direct, although some books seem to have been influenced by the Septuagint. The date of the Peshitto version of the Hebrew Scriptures is assigned to the second century after Christ. Its underlying Hebrew text or translation was the same as for the Masoretic text.

Aquila was a Jewish proselyte of Pontus in Asia, an apostate from Christianity, and his Greek version of the Hebrew text is very literal. Fragments of the Greek versions by Theodotion and Symmachus, both of the second century after Christ, were preserved through Origen's multiple version called the "Hexapla" (meaning "sixfold"), as was the translation of Aquila. The I contained in six parallel columns the Hebrew text, the Hebrew transliterated into Greek letters, the Septuagint revised somewhat by Origen to correspond to the Hebrew text, and the three Greek translations above mentioned, namely, those of Theodotion, Aquila and Symmachus.

About A.D. 382 Jerome started work on the Latin Vulgate Bible. Old Latin versions existed before this, but they were based on Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jerome's Vulgate was based on a Hebrew text practically identical with that of the Masoretes, but he did also make references to Greek versions in his work of translation. By A.D. 404 Jerome had rendered the entire Bible from the Hebrew and Greek texts into Latin, and his work

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came to be known as the Vulgate, meaning the "vulgar" or "common" edition of the Scriptures. It became the basis of Western Biblical scholarship for a thousand years.

Other versions yet remaining are the Egyptian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Gothic and Armenian. With the exception of the Arabic, all of these versions of the Hebrew Scriptures appear to have been made, not direct, but through the medium of the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint, incidentally, is reliably preserved for us in the three famous manuscripts Vaticanus 1209, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus, along with the text of the Christian Greek Scriptures.

The first English version of the entire Hebrew Scriptures translated direct from the Hebrew text appears to be that of the popular King James Version or Authorized Version Bible, published in 1611. "Jehovah" does not occur in the Septuagint version, that name being there represented by the Greek words for "the Lord" (ho kyrios), and for this reason the name Jehovah has been obscured for many centuries. The original Hebrew text does contain the name Jehovah in its more than 6,800 occurrences. It is therefore fitting that the existent Hebrew text, even in the face of the possible corruptions therein, be used as the basis of translation into any other language today. Almighty God has even permitted it to work out so since the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, and that for reasons which can be appreciated in this "day of Jehovah".


REVIEW: 1. What are "versions"? 2. What do you know about the Samaritan Pentateuch and its production? 3. When and why were Aramaic paraphrases used by the Jews? and why were they not early put into written form? 4. When were the Targums recorded? 5. What was the earliest and most important written translation of the Hebrew Scriptures? and why and when was it produced? 6 When was the Septuagint bound in book form? and how was it used by the early Christians? 7. What information is given as to Syriac versions and other Greek versions? 8. Who made what prominent Latin version, and when? 9. What English version has been produced direct from the Hebrew text? 10. Why is direct translation from the Hebrew text so very fitting for this "day of Jehovah?
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