The Septuagint: What It Is and Why It Matters

Why Do We Recommend This Book? 

The Septuagint: What It Is and Why It Matters is one of the best introductions to the Septuagint that I have seen. The main reason for this qualification is that in 216 pages the authors are able not only to introduce the readers to the Septuagint in a very accessible way, but also to argue for its relevance for today’s study of the Bible. The introduction is clear enough to serve as a first encounter with the Septuagint, while the 255 footnotes throughout the book provide sufficient food for further study for those who want more.

The book has two main sections, which the title already suggests: 1) What is the Septuagint? and 2) Why does the Septuagint matter? The first part consists of four chapters that are devoted to describing the Septuagint from different angles:

  • the first two chapters deal with the origin of the Septuagint and how people came to speak about the Septuagint, while they also explain that there is no such thing as the Septuagint;
  • the third chapter gives an overview of the characteristics of the Greek Old Testament by discussing the underlying translation philosophy and methods as well as its style and register;
  • the fourth chapter describes how the Septuagint developed through revisions and recensions.

Many readers will find the second section the most interesting part of the book: why does the Septuagint matter? Does the Septuagint still have any significance for today? And only for scholars or also for pastors and laypeople? Therefore the authors discuss three topics in this section:

  • chapter five discusses the relevance of the Septuagint for Old Testament Studies. One aspect is the fact that the Septuagint contains more texts than the Hebrew Old Testament, while from another perspective the Septuagint can be seen as an early interpretation of the Hebrew Old Testament;
  • chapter six deals with the same question for the New Testament. The Septuagint has undeniably influenced the New Testament in many ways, but should it be considered as ‘the Old Testament Bible’ for New Testament authors and the early church?
  • chapter seven finally answers the question what kind of authority the Septuagint has. In order to do so, the authors make a helpful distinction between 1) normative authority, 2) derivative authority, and 3) interpretative authority.

The book is interspersed with interesting examples that show the relevance of the study of the Septuagint for today. For laypeople I especially like the Appendix with ‘Ten Key Questions about the Septuagint’ which serves as a concise summary (8 pages) of the most important aspects of the Septuagint and study thereof. This section also provides a small bibliography (13 titles) of recommended resources for further exploring the topics which are discussed in the book.

The only aspect that I find missing in this introduction is a discussion about how the source text of the Septuagint compares to the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Old Testament, also in comparison to what we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Did the Septuagint translators have access to a much older Hebrew text than the MT? This question significantly impacts how people assess the authority of the Septuagint.