The collection of compositions commonly known as the Septuagint is an ancient translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish Scriptures, into Greek. Although there are many English translations of the Bible, only a few English translations of the Septuagint exist. Most English translations of what Protestant Christians call the “Old Testament” are translations from Hebrew and Aramaic, because these are the languages in which these books of the Bible were originally written. By contrast, the Septuagint is, for the most part, itself a translation of these Hebrew and Aramaic biblical books into Greek.
And yet, the Septuagint itself should be studied—and therefore translated—because of the important role it plays in biblical studies. More often than not, when the New Testament writers quote the Jewish Scriptures, they quote the Septuagint. Other early Christian literature does the same, including the apostolic fathers, post-New Testament extracanonical material, and later patristic writings. Not only is it likely that the Septuagint was the Bible of the apostle Paul, it was probably also the one consulted by Josephus, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, and perhaps even John Chrysostom.
The Lexham English Septuagint (LES) is the only contemporary English translation of the Septuagint that has been made directly from the Greek. Just as those who use English translations in their study of the Bible find that insight and understanding of a given passage can be enhanced by comparing translations, our desire is that the LES would be one of the primary English translations of the Septuagint consulted in one’s study of the Jewish Scriptures, of apocryphal/deuterocanonical literature, and even of the New Testament and patristic literature.
Guiding translation principles
The LES is treated and understood as a Greek document, and it is translated with the desire to allow English readers to read the Greek document. Although it may be helpful to consult the underlying Hebrew and Aramaic texts—particularly when the Greek text is difficult to understand—we must remember that the Septuagint was a Greek document, written so that Greek speakers and readers who knew little or nothing of Hebrew could read and hear the writings of the Hebrew Bible in their native tongue.
The second edition of the LES makes more of an effort than the first to focus on the text as received rather than as produced. Because this approach shifts the point of reference from a diverse group to a single implied reader, the new LES exhibits more consistency than the first edition. Every effort was made to render the Greek in its own right, with no eye to the Hebrew at all. The LES is an attempt to answer the question, “How would this text have been read—understood and experienced—by a fourth century, Greek-speaking gentile Christian?” This implied reader’s knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish customs is restricted to what could be learned from the Greek Scriptures and by observing fourth-century Jews in the Greco-Roman world.
The English translation should feel idiomatic where the Greek is idiomatic. It should feel formal where the Greek is formal. It should feel foreign where the Greek feels foreign. In other words, it is not only acceptable, it is positively desirable for the LES to feel like a translation, to the extent that Greek readers would have been aware that they were reading a translation. Ideally, the translation should be as rough or as smooth as the Greek would have seemed to a Greek reader who knew no Hebrew.
Because the first edition of the LES began with dozens of individual translators working on individual books, and because it was edited in the same way—one book at a time, by five editors—there were places where a phrase or term was not consistently translated across the whole of the LES. For example, one translator might have rendered ἔλεος as “pity” and the others as “mercy.” The second edition of the LES makes more of an effort to focus on the text as received rather than as produced and therefore exhibits some effort to establish lexical consistency, especially where inconsistency in English word choice obscured verbal connections within or between passages—or semantic associations that would have occurred to the ancient Greek reader.
This post is adapted from the editor’s introduction to the Lexham English Septuagint, second edition (Lexham Press, 2020).