Masoretic vs Septuagint

There are two versions of the old testament, a Greek version, and a Hebrew version. The Masoretic Text is written in Hebrew and is dated to around 900-1100 AD. On the other side, there is the Septuagint (aka the LXX) which is a Greek translation of the Old Testament that goes back before the time of Jesus to around 300 BC. The Masoretic Text preserved the Hebrew since, for the layman Jews, spoken Hebrew had faded out of use by then and had been replaced by the Aramaic spoken by the empires that ruled Israel since Babylonian Exile. Some suspect that Jews tampered with the Masoretic Text to cover up messianic prophecies (like Psalms 22:16). While others suspect that this Septuagint was corrupted by Jews that adopted Greek philosophy and altered the meanings of certain scriptures. Then are those that see value in both and recognize that when one has errors the other offers a solution.

There are some simple discrepancies like the names of locations or people. For example, the Red Sea is called the “Sea of Reeds” or Yam Suph (ים סוף) in Hebrew text, but the Greek Septuagint calls it “Erythra Thalassa” or Red Sea (Ερυθρὰ Θάλασσα). In Numbers 3:28, some translations say 8,600 people, and others say 8,300 people. 8,300 is the correct answer since the total number of firstborns from all three Levite clans is 22,000 (Num 3:39) and that sum is made from the number of Merarites (6,200 ) and Gershonites (7,500) added to Kohathite. 8,300 + 7,500 + 6,200 = 22,000. The Masoretic text adds an extra 300 to the Kohathites while the greek text says 8300. This is likely the result of a scribal error or degradation of a manuscript. One possibility could be that one letter got interpreted as another because the ink faded in certain places. The Hebrew letter gimel (ג‎) which has a value of three, can look like a vav (ו‎), which has a value of six if certain parts are worn away. If the two marks are missing then the gimel may look like a vav and this could be the reason it got translated as a “6” causing 8300 to become 8600. This is one idea, but there could be various reasons for it. In the end, we have the older Septuagint manuscript, showing us the correct version.

The Septuagint and Masoretic texts also have different versions of Exodus 12:40. In the Septuagint it says the Israelites were in Canaan and Egypt for 430 years, while the Masoretic says the Israelites who sojourned (implies a reference to the time of Abraham) for 430 years are not free to leave Egypt. Some modern English translations have fused the two and created a version that says the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for 430 years which is mathematically impossible since the from Jacob to Moses at max could only be 350 years. More on this subject can be found here.

One of the most significant discrepancies is the ages of the patriarchs between Noah and Abraham. In the Masoretic Text, there are about 350 years between the flood and the birth of Abraham. In the Greek Septuagint, the ages of the patriarchs are all extended by around 750 years. In the Septuagint version of Genesis 5, 100 extra years are added to the ages of the patriarchs before their firstborn sons are born and 100 years are taken from their lifespans after their firstborn sons are born. For example in the Masoretic Text, Gen 5:3-5 says Adam was 130 when Seth was born and lived another 800 years making him 930 when he died. The Septuagint says Adam was 230 when Seth was born and lived another 700 years and dies at 930. The final totals are the same but the numbers making them are altered by shift 100 years to before the next patriarch is born. There are exceptions, one exception to this is Jared in Gen 5:18-20 which is the same in both manuscripts. Methuselah in Gen 5:25-27 shifts 20 from post-firstborn to pre-firstborn instead of 100 years like the others. Furthermore, Lamach has completely different numbers in each manuscript. Gen 5:28-31 says Lamach’s age numbers are 182 + 595 = 777 in the Masoretic, and 188 + 565 = 753 in the Septuagint. In the Septuagint version of Genesis 11, the ages before for the patriarchs are extended by 100 years before their firstborns are born starting with Shem’s son Arphaxad. The exception is Nahor who has an extra 150 years before his firstborn son is born. Their lifespans after the birth of their firstborns each vary. Terah and Abraham’s ages are consistent in both manuscripts, however.

The Dead Sea Scrolls don’t have this part of Genesis and the new testament doesn’t directly quote from it, so it remains debated. Although the genealogy of Luke 3:35-36 has Cainan between Arphaxad and Shelah which is only in the Septuagint version of Genesis 11. This and other scriptural references to the old testament suggest that the New Testament favors the Septuagint manuscript of the Old Testament. However, the pro-Masoretic camp has suggested that New Testament copyists referenced the Septuagint for Old Testament quotes because Greek was the business language of the day and most 1st century Jews were only using the Greek text. Until we get a third witness or some direct revelation the debate will continue for those chapters. In the meantime, we can use the clues we are given to solve the simpler discrepancies.

Here are the English translations of Genesis 11 from both sources for comparison:
Genesis 11: KJV (Masoretic Text)
Genesis 11: BST (Septuagint)

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 added more info to the mix. The Dead Sea Scrolls are believed to have been written by the Essenes a Jewish sect that was around before the first century and include fragments of the old testament and some apocryphal books. The scrolls are believed to be as old as 400 BC to as late as the first century. I’ve heard the Dead Sea scrolls have more in common with the Septuagint than the Masoretic Text, but the genealogies are more consistent in the Masoretic Text. The goal here isn’t to argue which one is better, I just wanted to educate people on the fact that bible translation is more complicated than they realize. In the KJV English bible, the Masoretic Text is used for the Old Testament but the New Testament often quotes the Septuagint when referencing the Old Testament.

Note on the New Testament:
In addition to that, there are various new testament manuscripts one of the oldest being the Codex Sinaiticus which was discovered in 1844, over 200 years after the KJV was published. Newer English translations are often based on the Codex Sinaiticus, and that is why they sometimes remove verses that are in the KJV. The KJV’s new testament is built from various manuscripts which were later than the Codex Sinaiticus. Some have argued that since the Sinaiticus is the oldest of NT manuscripts (around 325-360 AD) it takes precedence. There is also a Codex Vaticanus which may be slightly older. The other side argues that older doesn’t always mean better and that the later manuscripts were based on lost manuscripts from the same time as or earlier than Sinaiticus. There is even a KJV-only movement that rejects any Hebrew or Greek text because they believe they are corrupted. Yet another debate between scholars on text. Overall the main information is the same but there are variations and omissions between translations, sometimes to keep in mind when studying the bible.

These discrepancies don’t devalue the word of God as truth. It simply reminds us that while God is perfect, humans are imperfect so he had to work through human failures. Despite mistranslations and copyist errors here and there, God has made it so that we can have multiple manuscripts to fill in any errors that come through. So when one manuscript gets something wrong two others will get that thing right. Truth is determined by the word of two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15, 2 Cor 13:1), and these different manuscripts each function as “witnesses”. In other words, God built a self-correction mechanism for any issues that occurred over the years.

Some examples include Ps 22:16, as well as Ps 40:6 and Heb 10:5

On Psalm 22:16:
Ps 22:16 has two versions, one that reads, “My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet.” And another that reads, “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; Like a lion are my hands and feet”. One of them says hand and feet are priced, and another says like a lion my hands and feet. There is an annotation on bible hub about the variations between vav and yod. The second one is in most translations of the Masoretic Text, while the first is most older translations like the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls. Many Orthodox Jews prefer the second version because that doesn’t sound like the crucifixion of Christ, and they claim the first is a Christian corruption. However the lion translation is more recent because the Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint are dated hundreds of years before the time of Jesus, but Christianity emerged 1,200 years prior to the Masoretic text. The Hebrew word karah (כָּרָה) means to mine or bore, to make a hole or dig a pit. This is reinforced in various places throughout the Old Testament. For example, in Exodus 21:33 or in 2 Chronicles 16:14.

From the Ellicott’s Commentary:
“The word thus rendered has formed a battle-ground for controversy. As the Hebrew text at present stands the word reads k?ari (like a lion). (Comp. Isaiah 38:13.) But no intelligible meaning can be got out of “like a lion my hands and my feet.” Nor does the plan commend itself of dividing the verses differently, and reading, “The congregation of wicked men have gathered round me like a lion. On my hands and my feet I can tell all my bones.” The punctuation of the text must therefore be given up, and a meaning sought by changing the reading. The necessity of a change is supported both by the ancient versions and by some MSS., and also by the Masora; though considerable difference exists as to what the word should be read. If the authority of the ancient versions alone were to decide, some verb in the past tense must be read, but the most reasonable course is to accept the present text, but with a different vowel, treating it as a participle, with suffix, of k-r, whose root-idea, according to Ewald, is “to bind;” but according to most other scholars is “to dig.” It is, however, so doubtful whether it can mean to dig through–i.e., to pierce–that it is better to understand here a binding of the limbs so tightly as to dig into them, and wound them. Render: ‘The band of villains [literally, breakers] surrounded me, binding my hands and feet so as to cut them.'”

Read More Here

A quote from an article explaining the issue with Psalms 22:16 historically.
“What causes such confusion is that the two Hebrew words for “pierced” and “lion” are remarkably similar. All that separates the two Hebrew words is the length of an upright vowel stroke. A majority of Hebrew manuscripts, from the Masoretic text, of Psalm 22 have the “lion” reading, while a minority of manuscripts contain the “pierced” reading. However, which reading is in the majority is not always the deciding factor in determining which reading is correct. For example, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which predate most other Hebrew texts by over a thousand years, note that the term is unmistakably “pierced.” In addition, the oldest Syriac, Vulgate, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions also go with “pierced.” The same is true in the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which was completed approximately 200 years before the birth of Christ.

So, even though the Hebrew manuscripts that say “lion” outnumber the manuscripts that say “pierced,” the older Hebrew manuscripts, and manuscripts in other languages that predate most of the Hebrew manuscripts, strongly argue for “pierced” is the correct reading. Those who argue for “lion” typically claim that “pierced” is a corruption, inserted by Christians, in an attempt to create a prophecy about Jesus. However, the fact that there are many manuscripts that predate Christianity that have the “pierced” reading disproves this concept. In fact, it is more likely that the “lion” reading in the Masoretic Hebrew text is the corruption, as the Masoretic manuscripts predominantly date to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, after Christianity was established, giving the Jews a reason to conceal what the Hebrew Scriptures predict regarding Jesus Christ.”

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There are some issues with Ps 40:6 and Heb 10:5 which quotes Ps 40:6. In Hebrews, it quotes the Septuagint but the Masoretic text seems to have a different version.

Heb 10:5 says “you have prepared for me a body”, this is missing in the old testament, instead, it says “my ears open and I understand you don’t require burnt and sin offerings”. Then you have prepared my body line in the new testament is quoted from the Septuagint. It is explained in Heb 10:8-12 that this is a reference to Jesus giving his body as a substitute for animal sacrifices.

Ellicott’s Commentary offers a possible explanation for this:
“…Considering the general principles of their translation, we may with greater probability suppose that they designed merely to express the general meaning, avoiding a literal rendering of a Hebrew metaphor which seemed harsh and abrupt. They seem to have understood the Psalmist as acknowledging that God had given him that which would produce obedience, and to this (they thought) would correspond the preparation of a body which might be the instrument of rendering willing service. If the present context is carefully examined, we shall see that, though the writer does afterward make reference (Hebrews 10:10) to the new words here introduced, they are in no way necessary to his argument, nor does he lay on them any stress.”

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This article on Biblical chronology list some of the differences between Masoretic, Septuagint, Dead Sea Scroll, and Samaritan Pentateuch: