When we compare Christian and Jewish versions of Bibles, we will often – though not too often – see some crucial differences, especially when comparing translations. Much of that can of course be explained as interpretation, but that isn’t always the case. There are two original texts considered to be the Jewish and the Christian text respectively. For the Jews we are talking about the Masoretic Text (MT), and for the Christian the Septuagint (Sep.).
These differences have, of course, been the reason for much discussion. It is expected, even when there are no differences there are still discussions on interpretations.
Nevertheless, these differences do help to a much more extensive discussion, even on small matters. The most central maybe is regarding which original is the correct one. But before I continue, then let me explain what I mean when I write “original.” I don’t mean to say that they are the original text/s, nor that they are the ones used today. Or rather, the MT is actually the most used, but for Christian translations the Septuagint is also used. The Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of Hebrew text/s (we are not sure which), differs in a number of words from the MT, which is based on the Rabbinical tradition on reading and pronouncing the Hebrew texts. Let me give an example on one place where they differ:
In the beginning of Genesis 2 we read about how the heaven and the earth were finished, and that God rested (or ceased) from the work. In the second verse though what seems to be a problem arises when reading the MT. It says like this: “And on the seventh day God had finished his work which he had made: and he rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.” Whenever I read this I always imagine some reader reading this out loud with a powerful voice. Anyway. The translation I have quoted are not so good, the word for “had finished” is actually waychal, “he finished.” The problem arising from this is that God both created – though finishing it – and rested. Okay, I hear you argue that maybe it’s just a figure of speaking, maybe we should understand it as the translation says, that God actually finished the last details on the sixth day. The problem being that that’s not what the text says, God finished on the seventh day, and that is how it always has been understood. I’ll get back to that one.
In the Septuagint the second verse is a little different stating: “And God finished on the sixth day his works which he made, and he ceased on the seventh day from all his works which he made.” Do you see the difference? Instead of both finishing the work and ceasing/resting on the seventh day, He actually finishes the sixth, and then on the seventh does He cease/rest. And then relating to something interesting, when we read the Samaritan text we are reading the exact same Hebrew text as the MT, expect in one case; the day is not haShvi’i, but haShishi, the sixth day instead of the seventh day, agreeing to the Septuagint (or the other way around, depending on which came first). This might have been the cause to some debate, since there was a rabbinical response (and now I’ll return to why the Hebrew text cannot be understood as God finishing the sixth, while resting on the seventh day). The response goes: “What did the world lack (after the first sixth day, on the seventh day)? Rest! Shabbat came – Rest came; and the work was thus finished and completed!” That is, since rest was part of the creation, God – by resting – finished the creation, and thus did the finishing the work and resting on the same day come together.
This is one example which shows that the Septuagint isn’t a translation of the MT, showing that there were more Hebrew texts out there. Of course, those relating to the Septuagint would say (and indeed do) that the text the Septuagint is translated from is the true text, while the followers of the MT would deny that.
So what is it?