Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Textual Examples Wherein MT and the Jewish Revisions Differ

In this post, I give a few examples wherein Theodotion, Aquila, or Symmachus reflect a different vocalization of the consonantal text than what the later Masoretes recorded as the traditional reading. The issue is this: how closely do the Three (1–2 century Jewish revisers of the Greek Jewish Scriptures) mirror the Masoretic Text (9–10 century)? Of course, the general answer is that they followed the proto-MT closely, but that is different than saying they agree with the MT perfectly. As a caveat, textual criticism focuses on the differences between texts (which is what I'm about to do), but let's not let these relative few, but important differences, distort our view of the overwhelming agreement between MT and the Three. It's difficult to overstate the Three's close agreement with MT, which is why it would be easy to gloss over places where they disagree. My examples come from Job and Isaiah, and they could be multiplied.

Job 34:6a

MT: עַל־מִשְׁפָּטִי אֲכַזֵּב
Concerning my judgment/right, I lie

OG: ἐψεύσατο δὲ τῷ κρίματί μου
He lied about my judgment/right

Theodotion and Aquila: περὶ τὴν κρίσιν μου ψεῦσμα
There is a falsehood/lie concerning my right/judgment

Comment: The Old Greek read אכזב as a verb similar to later MT, while Th and Aq read it as אַכְזָב, an adjectival/nominal "false" or "falsehood." They read the same consonants with different vocalizations. As an aside, HALOT's entry of אַכְזָב probably could have cited the readings of Theodotion and Aquila here in support of this rarely attested Hebrew lexeme (cf. HALOT 1:45).

Job 35:9a

MT: מַרֹב עֲשׁוּקִים יַזְעִיקוּ
Because of the multitude of oppressions they cry out

Theodotion: ἀπὸ πλήθους συκοφαντούμενοι κεκράξονται
From a multitude those oppressors/those being oppressed will cry out.

Symmachus: συκοφαντιῶν
Of oppressions

Comment: There is no Old Greek for this verse, the Greek line in our MSS coming from Theodotion. Sym agrees with the vocalization of MT, “oppressions”  (cp. Ecclesiastes 4:1), while Th read עָשׁוֹקִים “oppressors” or עֲשׁוּקִים “the oppressed” (the latter option may equal the vocalization of MT but indicates a different derivative, the pl. pass. ptc.). In any case, Theodotion and MT attest to the same consonantal text but different vocalizations or understandings of those consonants. Or, if we want to read MT as the pass. ptc., then Symmachus has the different reading or understanding.

Isaiah 3:12a

MT: ֹוְנָשִׁים מָשְׁלוּ בו
And women rule him

OG: καὶ οἱ ἀπαιτοῦντες κυριεύουσιν ὑμῶν
And creditors rule you

Theodotion: δανεισται

Aquila: ἀπαιτοῦντες

Symmachus: γυναικες

Comment: Symmachus agrees with MT in his reading of נשים "women." But Theodotion and Aquila read נשים as נֹשִים "creditors" from I נשׁא/II נשׁה “to lend” (the analogous formation of III-ה and III-א verbs). Therefore, this is another example of some of the Jewish revisers agreeing with the Old Greek's reading of the consonantal text where the Masoretes preserved a different vocalization, still an ancient reading as Symmachus confirms.

Isaiah 53:8b

MT: ֹמִפֶּשַׁע עַמִּי נֶגַע לָמו
Because of the transgression of my people, the strike was to them.

OG: ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνομιῶν τοῦ λαοῦ μου ἤχθη εἰς θάνατον
Because of the lawless deeds of my people, he was led to death.

Theodotion: ἀπὸ ἀθεσίας τοῦ λαοῦ μου ἥψατο αὐτῶν
Because of the faithlessness of my people, he struck them.

Aquila: ἀπὸ ἀθεσίας τοῦ λαοῦ μου ἥψατο αὐτῶν
Because of the faithlessness of my people, he struck them.

Symmachus: διὰ τὴν ἀδικίαν τοῦ λαοῦ μου πληγὴ αὐτοῖς
On account of my people's unrighteousness, the strike was to them.

Comment: The purpose of this example is not to engage the textual issue between the OG and MT (as fun and interesting as that one is). More modestly, today, I want to point readers to the fact that MT vocalized נגע as a noun (cp. Symmachus), while Theodotion and Aquila rendered the same consonants as a verb (cp. Jerome's Vulgate: percussit eos/eum).


There are some large-scale differences between the readings of Theodotion and proto-MT (e.g. parts of Theodotion Daniel and the longer ending of Theodotion Job). But most readings of the Three are of the kind surveyed in this post. These readings, preserved for us in Origen's Hexapla and its subsequent Christian reception, give evidence for the history of the Hebrew Bible and also for Jewish exegetical approaches to their texts around the turn of the era and into the Rabbinic period. They provide a link between the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Old Greek on the one hand and the later Medieval Hebrew MSS on the other. Thus we would do well to pay attention to them.


  1. Thanks for this John. Very enlightening.

  2. John, have you ever written on the variation between Theodotion and the OG in Daniel 7? I'm particularly curious about the conflating of the son of man with the ancient of days.

    Your article here seems to touch on similar issues.

    Thank you for the contribution!

    1. I haven't. Tough book to get a hold of (, but Peter Gentry's essay "The Son of Man in Daniel 7: individual or corporate?" might be what you are looking for. Let me know if this helps.

  3. This was very helpful. As a tangential question: do you have any strong evidence for rabbinic exegesis elsewhere in the OG?

    1. Thanks, Joel. It's a great question but I'm not sure of the answer. It seems date and provenance of the translations would be key factors; that is, we need to be careful we are not reading earlier Greek translations in the light of later rabbinic exegesis.

  4. Are there any variants to the MT Isaiah reading in the Isaiah Scrolls?

    1. In 53:8, yes. But the Three do not agree with it either. I don't remember for 3:12, but I don't think so.

  5. Same goes for comparing to Jerome, who dealt with a proto MT of sorts from what I know...

    So much for the supposed purity of the MT. Go LXX (I feel like a salesman lol.. this might be my 3rd post doing that). It certainly shouldn't be discounted as much as it has.

    1. Well, the MT may still be older/more original. I haven't decided between readings here. I only wanted to note that there are some differences between the Three and MT (more if we kept cataloguing :-)).

  6. Is there any support from Theodotion, Aquila, Symmachus to Matthew gospel regarding Hosea 11.1?

    1. Look here

    2. Thank you so much, Dirk. Very significant.

    3. Yep, what Dirk said :-).