Jeremiah - Septuagint vs Masoretic

Jerry Heath's picture

The clear distinction between the Septuagint and the Masoretic version of Jeremiah is problematic.

The Septuagint is commonly referred to as the Eqyptian version because it is thought that Egypt is where it was translated and the geographic separation with the Palestinian area could explain some of the textual differences with the Masoretic.

The Masoretic is sometimes referred to as the Babylonian version because it was developed by those who returned from Babylon.

In my view the Eqyptian, Septuagint, version of Jeremiah should be more authentic since Jeremiah went with the group that escaped to Eqypt. This group would have a more authoritative version of what Jeremiah wrote.

Jerry Heath

Jerry Heath's picture

Babylonian Talmud

From my knowledge we have three versions available. The Babylonian or Masoretic text, the Eqyptian which is represented by the Septuagint and some texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Palestinian which is represented by the Sameritan bible and some Dead Sea Scrolls (notable by the particularly square Hebrew characters).

I hope there is an English translation of the Samaitan text soon. That should help people like me who do not know Hebrew. I like this reference about comparing the texts:

It seems less polarized toward any text than other accounts.

My view of the Serptuagint is that it is a compilation of a number of Greek "Targums." In that view the number seventy means a large number of "something" that was brought together. Targums were originally Aramaic but the Egyptian Jews were Greek speaking. Aramaic would be no more helpful than Hebrew. So they developed a "lectionary" that was in Greek so they could understand. Somewhere along the way a number of these lectionaries (Targums) were put together in a book and called the Septuagint. Some form of that or the Greek Targums behind it was accepted in Jesus day as authoritative as we see from quotes in the New Testament. Of course these texts are related to the Eqyptian version more than the Babylonian version. They were translated and brought together in Egypt. Note that the Septuagint is in koine or common Greek which would be the language of Targums.

The Samaritan has a disadvantage over the Masoretic in that it is only the Pentateuch. But in the Samaritan view the rest of the Old Testament was just Judean propaganda. A history that is closer to the story the Samaritans tell in on the site:

Most Samaritan histories are gleaned from the what is said in the bible (which says very little) and speculation. Mostly speculation actually.

They claim a history that goes back before David's kingdom and the foreigners that supposedly intermarried with them to make them inferior never happened. Another point of their history is that the Samaritans claim they have the original word and it was by Moses, the only prophet. But even then their Pentateuch is very close to the Masoretic.

The Masoretic group seems to like the fact that there are few differences. It is wonderful that the three versions are so close. Closer than versions of any other ancient text.

My disagreement with the Masoretic group is that they want us to accept the Masoretic without looking at the context. The Babylonian captivity definitely effected how they put scripture together. The return from captivity was the center of everything.

The return from captivity was an extremely important miracle. But Christians hold that the scriptures point to something more important. The Eqyptian text seems to support Christianity more than the Babylonian (in the few places that they differ). We know less about the Samaritan version than the other two so we can't say a lot from that vantage.

The important issue is that of context. There is no meaning without context. When you read the bible the "information" you get from that reading is based on the context of the bible (the context that you understand at that moment). The context includes where the book comes from historically and culturally. We know much about that history and are in a positon to compare the history of three versions, the text content of two, and perhaps someday the textual context of the third. We need to recognize the context. There is no meaning without context.