Thursday, April 4, 2024

LXX vs Hebrew Genesis 5

 

The LXX Genesis Chronologies—A Closer Look

Bodie Hodge, M.Sc., B.Sc., PEI

Biblical Authority Ministries, April 4, 2024 (In-Depth)

There is a debate over chronologies—so what else is new (Titus 3:9)? I really don’t like diving into chronological debates but I keep having people knock on my door, send me messages, and stop me in the hallway to deal with these debates.

One of the best ways to understand the chronological debates in Scripture is to tally things up yourself to see firsthand the intimate issues and intricacies. Chronologically, I’ve been pushed (not by choice) into the sojourn debate and the age of the earth debate—again, it was not because I wanted to. Though, I have a great deal of respect for those who dive into this meticulous subject. And now it seems another similar type of debate must be dealt with.

I’ve largely stayed out of this particular debate until I read a message shared by a colleague. We were standing in the hallway when he showed me a message that stated something to the effect that if we aren’t following the LXX translation (Old Testament translated into Greek) then we are part of the problem of opposing God and His Word.

First off, this person was not arguing for biblical authoritybut rather for translational authority. Note, translational authority is a distinctly different category from biblical authority.

Nearly all the inerrant, God “breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), texts of Old Testament Scripture were originally penned in biblical Hebrew, with only a few passages in Aramaic[1] (the New Testament was written in Koine Greek). So now you might be wondering, what was the big deal? Why is someone so passionately urging us to hold a certain translation as “superior” to the original language texts?  To answer this, let’s consider the chronology data in Genesis 5 regarding the pre-Flood patriarchs from Adam to Noah (10 generations in total).   

This particular debate stems from the popular Masoretic Text (in Hebrew) of Genesis 5 versus the Greek LXX (Septuagint), which renders the chronologies in Genesis 5 a bit differently. In other words, the chronologies in both texts are close but don’t completely agree with each other. So, the natural question is… which one is trustworthy? And therefore, which one has been put into error in subsequent copies, or through translation, and why?

For those immediately wondering if this causes an issue with inerrancy—calm down. This doesn’t affect the inerrancy of Scripture at allthe Bible’s original texts were inerrant. The discussion here is about copies and translations of those inerrant texts. Simply put, something has gone awry with one of these families of texts to cause the discrepancythus, inerrancy is preserved.  

Where Can Potential Mistakes Be Introduced?

 

One needs to understand where changes could occur in either text family from a big picture. Copying mistakesespecially in the old days when this was done meticulously by hand—is one obvious way. Things like misspelled words, updating the word because the language has changed, ink stains where you can’t read a previous text properly, water stains, frayed or ripped pages, and so on, can contribute to copyist errors. Through textual criticism (which is a good thing!), we can usually ascertain the original text rather easily.[2]  

Another obvious way is via translator issues (like translational bias) where a translator thinks a passage means something (that it may not) and translates it as such. Hebrew idioms or passages can sometimes be metaphorical, poetic, songs, or prophecy that uses certain imagery. And the translator has to figure out how to translate those (sometime tricky) types of passages into another language.

In summary, there are essentially two translation methods—"word-for-word" (called formal equivalence) and "thought-for-thought" (called dynamic equivalence). And translators have to attempt to strike a balance using these two methods, which can be difficult. That is, using too much “word-for-word” could miss the Hebrew idioms, metaphorical meanings, and so on. Whereas using too much “thought-for-thought” could introduce the translator’s bias (or belief) as opposed to the actual intended meaning of the inspired text.

Furthermore, a translation can sometimes mishandle a translational rule. For example, the length in inches was a span more than threescore and a baker’s dozen. The correct answer is 82 inches knowing that a score is twenty (and you have 3 of them making 60) and that a baker’s dozen is 13 (which gives you 73) and a span is 9 inches that needs to be tacked on making the final 82 inches. Consider for a moment the KJV rendering of Psalm 90:10: The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. If a translator doesn’t know the precision of these English terms, they could err in a translation into Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese, etc. 

Hence, this is why it’s good to have multiple translators constantly check and compare any translation to the original text (if possible).

Nevertheless, translator issues and biases occur more than you might think—just look at the multitudes of English Bible translations (and their updates) trying to reduce translational issues. Regarding chronology, utilizing original language dates immediately reduces any translator bias to zero.

With original language texts, like a Hebrew text for instance, any errors would likely come in one way:

1.      In the copying phase

With a translation, errors would likely come in two ways:

1.      In the translational phase

a.      Translator Issues

b.      Inaccurate starting texts due to previous copying mistakes

2.      In the copying phase subsequently since the translation was completed

Of course, this is assuming that translators or copyists (like the scribes) were not intentionally trying to destroy the text. Furthermore, the Masoretic text is not the only source of Hebrew for the Old Testament chronologies. The three primary sources for original language texts are the Masoretic Text (MT), Samaritan Pentateuch (SP), and the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS).

It is worth noting that while there are chronology concerns in the Masoretic Text (MT), which are more in the Persian period[3], any MT discrepancy is well after other events that can be used to anchor actual dates for chronology. So these are not part of the discussion on the Genesis 5 renderings.  

Original Language Text Data For Genesis 5 Chronologies

 

There is one Dead Seas Scroll (DSS) fragment found from Genesis 5 (specifically Genesis 5:13-14) of Cainan (Kenan) and it matches with the MT and the SP saying:

“And Kenan lived eight hundred and forty years after he became the father of Mahalahel, and had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Kenan were nine hundred and ten years, and he died.”[4]

Table 1 shows the original language texts and the data we have for the Genesis 5 lineages. These include the Masoretic Text, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and what little data we have from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Table 1: Original Language Texts for Genesis 5

(Tabulated as: age at fathering the next child in the lineage; years lived after the child; total years lived)

Name

Masoretic

Samarian Pentateuch[5]

Dead Sea Scrolls

Adam

130; 800; 930

130; 800; 930

 

Seth

105; 807; 912

105; 807; 912

 

Enosh

90; 815; 905

90; 815; 905

 

Cainan

70; 840; 910

70; 840; 910

70; 840; 910

Mahalaleel

65; 830; 895

65; 830; 895

 

Jared

162; 800; 962

162;785; 847

 

Enoch

65; 365; Translated

65; 365; Translated

 

Methuselah

187; 782; 969

67; 653, 720

 

Lamech

182; 595; 777

53; 600; 653

 

Noah

500; 350; 950

500; 350; 950

 

 

Early Translation Data For Genesis 5 Chronologies

 

Table 2 (below) has the data for early translations of the Hebrew of Genesis 5 into three different ancient languages. These languages are Latin, Greek, and Aramaic. There are two ancient independent sources for the Aramaic translations—the Peshitta (Syriac) and the Targum of Jonathan. The Old Testament of the Latin Vulgate (4th-century Latin translation of the Bible) was translated from Hebrew texts found in and around Bethlehem around AD 400.

The portions of the Old Testament written in Aramaic (269 verses) are primarily in Daniel and Ezra. Aramaic is similar to Hebrew, as compared to Greek and Latin, and is a variant Chaldean language of the Babylonians and Ur. Let me briefly explain the history behind this language.

Abraham hailed from Ur of the Chaldees (or Chaldeans), which is his ancestral people (Genesis 11:28-31). And so, the languages that derived from Abraham (Arabic with Ishmael; Edomite with Esau, biblical Hebrew with Isaac down through Moses, etc.) along with these other Chaldeans (also known as Babylonians) were all forms of Heber/Eber’s language as it came down through Peleg at Babel (Genesis 10:24-25)—hence the name “Heberew” or Hebrew.

As the Chaldeans began to reign with a powerful empire, under Nebuchadnezzar out of Babylon, the Chaldean language began to dominate several lands within the Empire (similar to how Greek and Latin languages dominated various areas within the Greek and Roman Empires).

The Chaldean language deviated into two forms—Eastern and Western. The Western form dominated the lands of Aram (think of the Mountains of Ararat and Armenia) but stretched westward toward the holy land and Syria and beyond. This form of Chaldean (West Chaldea AKA West Chaldee) became known as Aramaic because it was dominant in the lands of Aram. In ancient Syria, it was Syriac—a variant form of Aramaic or West Chaldee.


This is why there are quite a few similarities between the Jewish Hebrew and Aramaic—they stem from the same source at the Tower of Babel. Though, the languages are different enough to keep the average person of that day from grasping them without a little work (e.g., Isaiah 36:11). [Think of it like this—English came out of a German language about 1000 years ago. Yet most English speakers can’t regularly converse in German without learning it. But an English speaker can easily learn German (since we actually share a lot of words and grammar) as opposed to Japanese or Hungarian.]

In the same way, a Hebrew speaker could learn a sister language like Aramaic or Chaldean much easier. For instance, the Chaldean grammar and words were easily learnable for Daniel when he went into captivity under Nebuchadnezzar (e.g., Daniel 1:4). This is unlike the Assyrian language, which was totally different from Hebrew (e.g., Jeremiah 5:15) and difficult for Hebrew speakers in Assyria when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was enslaved and taken captive by the Assyrians.

All this to say that Aramaic is very similar to Hebrew in many ways. In fact, it’s even called “Hebrew” in many English translations of New Testament passages (like John 19:13-20 and Acts 24:14). Nevertheless, I’m still treating these Aramaic works as a translation because the biblical Hebrew of the Old Testament is being converted into the Aramaic form.

The numbers for Genesis 5 in these early translations are as follows in Table 2. 

Table 2: Early Translations of Genesis 5

(Tabulated as: age at fathering the next child in the lineage; years lived after the child; total years lived)

 

Name

Latin Vulgate

Aramaic Peshitta[6]

Greek Septuagint

Aramaic Targum (Jonathan)[7]

Adam

130; 800; 930

130; 800; 930

230; 700; 930

130; 800; 930

Seth

105; 807; 912

105; 807; 912

205; 770; 912

n/a; n/a; 912

Enosh

90; 815; 905

90; 815; 905

190; 715; 905

90; 815; 905

Cainan

70; 840; 910

70; 840; 910

170; 740; 910

70; 840; 910

Mahalaleel

65; 830; 895

65; 830; 895

165; 730; 895

65; 830; 895

Jared

162; 800; 962

162; 800; 962

162; 800; 962

162; 800; 962

Enoch

65; 300; 365 Translated

65; 300; 365 Translated

165; 200; 365 Translated

65; 300; Translated

Methuselah

187; 782; 969

187; 782; 969

167; 802; 969

187; 782; 969

Lamech

182; 595; 777

200; 595; 777

188; 565; 753

182; 595; 777

Noah

500; 350; 950

500; 350; 950

500; 350; 950

500; 350; 950

 

Discussion

 

From looking at the numbers, it’s clear that there is general agreement between the original language texts, the two Aramaic texts (Peshitta, Targum), and the Latin Vulgate texts., There were minor glitches in Lamech’s initial age at 200—the math doesn’t even work for the Peshitta; and three of the Samaritan Pentateuch ages are off. Otherwise, 6 of the 7 are quite good confirmations of each other.  The only major outlier is the Greek Septuagint translation (LXX). 

With the first seven, except Jared, exactly 100 years was added to the age of the patriarch prior to having a child and subtracted from the age of the patriarch after they had the child, thus immediately adding 600 years to an overall chronology that none of the other texts have!  (Nor has any original language text had anything like this.)

Obviously, this large discrepancy is not due to a copyist error, but rather an active and intentional moving of 100 years from one column and adding it to another column uniformly during a translational phase. Was this done because the LXX Genesis translator didn’t understand the way the numbers were written out and thus mistranslated it?

It’s possible. Actually, this same translator did the same thing in Genesis 11—taking 100 years from one column and moving to back to the initial age. For instance, in Genesis 11:12 where original language texts and other early translation have Arphaxad at age 35, the LXX has, “And Arphaxad lived a hundred and thirty-five years, and begot Cainan” (Genesis 11:12 LXXE). The LXX did the same column shift of ages in Genesis 11 in certain instances.

 It’s possible that the translator failed to translate these ages correctly and misapplied translational rules. This could easily be explained as a translational misunderstanding—because it was consistently done. But regardless, this change was obviously done during the translational phase.

Was it an active bias? I don’t think there is any active bias to Lamech and Methuselah age glitches. These appear as the typical copyist glitches. These types of glitches are like what we see in the Samaritan Pentateuch or the one in the Peshitta (where they can’t read a number or it is smudged ink or a water mark or previously errant copy of a number) and they at least try to work the math out correctly arrive at the final age between the three numbers.

But the obvious moving of 100 years from one column to another in Genesis 5 and 11 makes me think that the translator either didn’t translate it correctly (an innocent mistake on his part) or was actively trying to inflate dates while still trying to preserve the integrity of the text.

If it is innocent, I understand—that is where a good review process by secondary translators would have been helpful. If it was intentional, then let’s ask the question… why? Or more precisely, what was going on during that time in the culture that could help us understand the grounds for such a change?

After all, a translation is only as good as its translators. Some “translations” (made up by cults) have very clear biases—take for instance, in modern times, the Jehovah’s Witness translation (New World Translation/NWT) or the King James Version of 1833—also called the “Joseph Smith Translation” (JST) used by Mormons. Both have intentional changes to fit their respective errant theology by neglecting the original language text and meaning.[8] In the case of the Mormon translation, there are over 3000 verses that have been changed, added, or modified.

Original language texts are automatically closer to the original inspired and inerrant text. Nevertheless, since all human beings are fallible creatures prone to error, translator bias is real. So, what was going on about 2000 years ago (3rd–2nd century BC) when the LXX was being translated?

Historical researcher and translator Larry Pierce points out that about 2,000 years ago, various cultures were vying to be the oldest so they could claim to be the first or preeminent. Thus, cultures would intentionally try to push their histories back farther and farther into a chronology war.[9] 

But consequently, as they did this, they continued to lose, embellish, and disconnect their history! God’s Word reveals that every great people group goes back to the same event—the events at Babel after the Flood (Genesis 11). So why was this so easy for many cultures to simply push back their dates? Larry Pierce points out that the great scientist and historian Isaac Newton realized how it was done. Pierce writes,

“Newton points out that except for biblical history, early historians did not use absolute dates until around 250 BC. Before that time, they usually marked time by the reign of kings.”[10]

So, without an absolute timeline, this was easy for cultures with random reference dates to rulers. But the Bible has dates that are very precise. And so, how does one deal with cultures that keep trying to push back their alleged history? Did a translator of the LXX try a clever way to push back dates, in an attempt to give biblical history a little older push, while still trying do justice to the text? It’s possible. Regardless, there was definitely a motive for translational bias.

If Solomon can be influenced by pagan women even with his great wisdom (Nehemiah 13:26), then so can translators (i.e., man is not perfect). This is why any translation should always be judged by original language texts. So in the midst of these chronology wars in the third century B.C., scholars quickly translated the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek language, which had become the universal trade language of that time.

The LXX, like the historical battles in surrounding cultures, potentially lengthen dates early on in an attempt to demonstrate Jewish claims of antiquity (along with the Egyptian and Greek claims who were controlling them in Alexandria). Again, these chronology wars were significant at the time the LXX was being translated.[11]  

The Septuagint (AKA Interpretatio septuaginta virorum or seniorum) is abbreviated as the Roman numeral for 70 (LXX) because it was said that 70 (more precisely 72) scholars produced this translation in Alexandria, Egypt (a Greek city in Egypt) in about 70 days. The style of Greek was not classical or Hellenistic Greek but that which was common in Alexandria (Alexandrian).

In fact, the LXX has many other issues with regards to its Genesis translation. For instance, the Egyptian (and Greek) understanding of the heavens was influential for the translation of raqia as something solid στερεωμα (stereoma), which is where we get firmament and firmamentum (Latin).[12] Furthermore, in Genesis 6:2-3, sons is translated as “angels” in the LXX.

And as a result, the LXX introduced a novel translation of the word nephilim as giants, followed by the Latin Vulgate as well as the King James Version. Nephilim is a noun derived from the word that means “to fall” and a simple rendering would literally be “the fallen”. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says:

“Actually, the translation ‘giants’ is supported mainly by the LXX and may be quite           misleading.”[13]

Another LXX glitch presents itself when one does a careful analysis of the pre-Flood patriarchs. If dates are carefully added up within the LXX, then there is the famous “problem of Methuselah”. Genesis 5:27 says that “all the days of Methuselah which he lived were 969 years and he died.” And so, tallying up the dates using the LXX would mean that he died 14 years after the Flood, which is a problem because only eight people survived the Flood in the Arkand Methuselah was not one of them.

Outside of Genesis, there are also other instances of bad arithmetic in the LXX. Numbers 1 details the number of men in each of the 12 tribes of Israel. They add up to 603,450, but Numbers 1:46 gives the total 603,550. They got it wrong on the tribe of Reuben. The correct figure for the tribe of Reuben is 46,500 instead of the LXX figure of 46,400.

And In Numbers 26, there is yet another glitch. Again, the tribes are numbered, and they add up to 580,630, but the total given in Numbers 26:51 is 601,730.

Other times, I’m told that early Christians favored the LXX, so we should too and even Jesus quoted from it. There is no doubt early Christians were using the LXX—a Greek translation in a Greek speaking world! However, consider a careful analysis of the precision of wording Christ used when quoting the Old Testament.

“Jesus quoted from the Old Testament about 64 times in the Gospels. More than half of His quotes agree with both the LXX and the MT. In 12 instances, Jesus’s quotes differ from both the LXX and the MT. In 7 instances, He sides with the LXX over the MT. And in another 12 instances, He agrees with the MT over the LXX. So if we make a case that other ancient texts such as the LXX should never be used instead of the MT, then Jesus would be in error as He clearly didn’t draw explicitly from what we know today as the MT.[14][15]

A total of 24 times, Jesus’s wording was deviant from the LXX rendering. And yet, Jesus’s accuracy is always 100%!

Returning to Genesis, the LXX’s addition of 1,500 years in Genesis (between pre-Flood and post-Flood patriarchs) does nothing to synchronize with old earth and secular evolutionary timelines. Although it does come closer to matching the stretched dates of some secular civilizations, like Egypt which have been found errant.[16] At Biblical Authority Ministries, we utilize the MT chronology with consultation to other original language texts simply because translations can have these types of obvious errors.

Again, the LXX adds about a hundred years to most of the progenitors named in Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 that doesn’t match with any original language text or any early translation by Jews or Christians. For instance, instead of Genesis 11:14 reading “Salah lived thirty years and begat Eber,” the LXX reads “Sala lived an hundred and thirty years and begot Heber.” These shifted additions are not found in any original language text, fragment, or any other early translation (e.g., the Peshitta, which is a Syriac/Aramaic translation).

Jerome, who translated the Latin Vulgate relied on Hebrew language texts (but did consult the LXX) long before the MT came into existence. And yet, he was open about the fact that the LXX had problems when he translated the Latin Vulgate. (The MT dates match with the Latin Vulgate dates.) It should also be noted that Josephus—a Jewish historian in the first century AD, who followed the LXX closely, actually agreed with the MT date over the LXX on the age of Lamech as a first century witness.[17]

Final Thoughts

 

It's important to note that this is not just an accidental scribal error. It is clearly an attempt a translator to alter the translational text in the LXX to extend the dates. So, when analyzing all these early texts and translations, there is really only two options:

1. The scribes/translators uniformly adjusted most of the dates to reduce the number of years in the chronology in different places with different languages and different times:  

(1) Hebrew scribes for the MT

(2) Hebrew Scribes for the Samaritan Pentateuch

 (3) Hebrew /Aramaic scribes for the DSS

 (4) Jerome in Latin

(5) Aramaic Peshitta translators

(6) the Aramaic targums translators  

2. A Greek translator inserted the extra centuries by moving 100 years here and there from one column to another.

Which one looks more reasonable to you? (The answer should be clear!) That is, I can think of no reasonable motive for why the Hebrew/Aramaic scribes would want to reduce the length of years, but I can see why the Greek-influenced scribes could want to extend the periods. They were living in the Greek world, which believed in a slightly older earth, thus making the LXX more “acceptable” to them with the extended years. After all, this is exactly what we see today with compromised Christians adding the secular humanism’s long ages by reinterpreting the Bible (in Genesis 1) to include that immense amount of time (“millions of years”)!

So, which text is most likely correct—the LXX or all the others (which largely agree)? The LXX is clearly the outlier.  We have several articles that address the LXX chronology in various respects. Please see the following links for more information:

 

·        https://answersingenesis.org/bible-history/some-remarks-preliminary-to-a-biblical-chronology/

·        https://answersingenesis.org/bible-timeline/genealogy/can-we-trust-the-genealogies-in-genesis/

·        https://answersingenesis.org/bible-history/how-long-ago-was-the-curse/

·        https://answersingenesis.org/bible-timeline/genealogy/when-did-methuselah-die/

·        http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/oect/gaps-genesis-genealogies

 



[1] Note, there are no books in the Bible written entirely in Aramaic, but there are Aramaic portions that can be found in Ezra, Daniel, and Jeremiah.

[2] Ron Rhodes, Manuscript Support for the Bible's Reliability, Reasoning From the Scriptures Ministries, April, 11, 2018, https://www.brianoconnell.org/uploads/7/2/4/9/72493145/manuscript_evidence_for_the_bible_-_by_ron_rhodes.pdf.

[3] In a nutshell, the MT scholars sought to shorten the Persian period so it could discredit the Messianic claims of Jesus as fitting with Daniel’s prophecies (for example, the Seder Olam).

[4] The Dead Se Scroll Bible, Translated by M. Abegg, Jr., P. Flint, and E. Ulrich, HarperOne Publishers (A division of HarperCollins Publishers), New York, NY, 1999, p. 8 [4QGenb: Gen 5:13 (or 14)].

[6] David Bauscher, The Holy Peshitta Bible Translated (The Old Testament), Lulu Publishing, New South Wales, Australia, 2018.

[8] For instance, see: Bodie Hodge, Is Jesus the Creator God?, Answers in Depth, December 12, 2007, https://answersingenesis.org/jesus/jesus-is-god/is-jesus-the-creator-god/.

[9] Larry Pierce, Chronology Wars, Answers Magazine, January 1, 2010, https://answersingenesis.org/bible-history/chronology-wars/.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Larry Pierce, Chronology Wars, Answers in Genesis, January 1, 2010, https://answersingenesis.org/bible-history/chronology-wars/.

[12] As a side note, sadly, most (if not all) flat-earthers have commonly used this term, firmament (as translated in the KJV), to justify their false belief of a hard “dome” that covers a circular flat earth (think of a snow-globe). For more information on why, and where this originated, start by checking out the following article: https://answersingenesis.org/astronomy/earth/does-bible-teach-earth-flat.

[13] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry (1393a) נפילים‎ (nepîlîm) giants, the Nephilim, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980, as accessed through Online Bible.

[14] G. Miller, “Septuagint,” A Christian Thinktankhttp://www.christian-thinktank.com/alxx.html, January 30, 1995.

[15] Bodie Hodge and Stacia McKeever, Two Ages at Once, Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions, Volume 1, December 15, 2008, https://answersingenesis.org/bible-timeline/genealogy/two-ages-at-once/.

[16] Elizabeth Mitchell, Doesn’t Egyptian Chronology Prove That the Bible Is Unreliable?, New Answers Book 2,  July 22, 2010, https://answersingenesis.org/archaeology/ancient-egypt/doesnt-egyptian-chronology-prove-bible-unreliable/.

[17] Josephus, The Revised Works of Josephus, Chapter 3, The Deluge — God’s Covanent with Noah — Death of Noah.

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