Is the Septuagint a superior text for the Genesis genealogies?
Published: 25 September 2018 (GMT+10)
Textual preservation is a critical issue for the Bible believer. If we are to say that the Bible has been inspired, we need to know what it contains. Scholars have been discussing this issue for millennia, but one aspect of this debate has garnered considerable attention in our circles recently: the Masoretic (MT) vs. Septuagint (LXX) debate. More specifically, the current discussion is over the respective chronologies found in those two manuscript families, with the MT giving a total span of time about 1,300 years less than the LXX.
We have attempted to approach this from a strictly scholarly viewpoint and have remained ‘willing to be persuaded’, allowing the data to take us where they will. To that end, we have carefully examined the evidence on both sides. See, for example Textual traditions and biblical chronology.
Sadly, we have discovered multiple lapses of sound scholarship among those promoting the LXX. We are thus making an appeal to the LXX proponents to more properly document their sources and more clearly explain their position. They are using a methodology foreign to anyone studying in this area and it is nearly impossible to validate most of their claims (detailed below). It takes substantial work to understand what they are saying. This does not mean they are incorrect; in fact, they could still be right, but for none of the reasons they suggest!
Our purpose is not to denigrate anyone specifically, but we will focus on the writings of one of the main and most recent proponents of the LXX chronology within the biblical creationist camp. Putting aside everything else, we will lay out our analysis of two of his recent works while specifically asking for multiple points of clarification. If the case for the LXX can be made, we will accept it. However, there is much work to be done before that can happen.
In two recent papers published in creationist literature, Henry Smith has argued that the Septuagint preserves a better chronology in Genesis 5 and 11. However, we believe his scholarship is significantly flawed. Specifically, he misinterprets and mis-cites multiple sources, as we will document below. Several of these errors are quite serious. In many ways, this is a textbook case of how scholarship should not be done. But we hope every reader understands that this is not personal. It is only grudgingly that we are brought to this point. Smith is a friend who has contributed a widely cited paper to our Journal of Creation. We could have used examples from other authors, but we chose to use these two articles due to their prominence in the discussion and the fact that they have been published recently.
Both papers we will be discussing are freely available online. He and others have published multiple articles on the subject in several different venues, but we are restricting our analysis to these two. The first is titled: Methuselah’s begetting age in Genesis 5:25 and the primeval chronology of the Septuagint: a closer look at the textual and historical evidence.1 The second is titled: The case for the Septuagint’s chronology in Genesis 5 and 11.2 We encourage the reader to read the papers for themselves, to see that we are accurately portraying what has been written. Due to the sheer number, quotes from these papers will be parenthetically cited as “ARJ” or “ICC” along with a page or note number.
We are not trying to be comprehensive, either. Our purpose is to establish a pattern and to make specific recommendations that will help further the conversation. Thus, if we discuss Pseudo-Philo but skip Demetrius the Chronographer, it is not because we are trying to hide anything. Indeed, we would have something to say about just about every point made. It will take us more than 6,000 words to address less than 100 words, a few sentences, of these two articles. This is indicative of a major problem. We do not have space to address every error that we found.
We want to know which text is more likely original, but in examining the evidence we initially came down on the side of the Masoretic because we believe there is much evidence to support it. Smith, however, does not accept this, and says that our approach was biased from the start (ICC, p. 120). We can only respond that we are doing our best, in good faith, to do good scholarship. We have also been happy to make corrections when someone has pointed out an error in our previous work, which has happened several times. Indeed, we allowed Smith to correct one of our points, which we fully accepted. We can only hope that LXX supporters will show an equal willingness.
Before getting into the details, please allow us to summarize and categorize the issues we have seen. The interested reader is encouraged to delve deeply into the topic and can do so in the material below. For now, however, let us take the 10,000-foot view.
Smith did not have to address our prior work, but in ICC (p. 120) he systematically misinterprets our main arguments before concluding, “Cosner and Carter deduce that the MT’s chronology is original, a conclusion that was baked into the methodological cake from the outset.” (ICC p. 120). This shows that he does not know how we came to our parsimonious text, which we have refined and will hopefully be presenting an updated version of soon. There were a few weaknesses in our first work, which he could have pointed out. Instead, he issued a general denouncement without showing that he actually understood the methodology. Our revised parsimonious text is considerably stronger, and supports the MT, but that will have to wait for a future publication.
Yet, there are weaknesses which pervade both of Smith’s papers. First is the oddly stilted and selective nature of the bibliography. Why are there so many obscure chronographers while the best MT supporters are not even mentioned, or quickly dismissed? Why does Smith not note the multiplicity of opinions regarding which text is superior and why changes might have been made? Why does Smith cite supporting witnesses from the 12th century, but not Bede, an important opposing witness from the turn of the 8th? Simply put, his bibliography does not look like he started out with an unbiased search for the truth. There are far too many secondary sources, and there are far too many obscure, hard-to-find authors from only several centuries ago. In other words, one cannot trace many of his claims back to primary sources.
We want to be clear: our criticisms of this work do not mean that the LXX is an inferior text. They simply mean that LXX supporters have a lot of work to do. At present, there is almost no actionable information contained in their writings. We look forward to this being corrected, but from what we have seen so far it appears that the evidence points away from the LXX, especially after the information is properly sourced.
The debate is important because Genesis is history
There are a few points to take away that should encourage us. This is a debate that has recurred throughout church history, and each side can point to some excellent scholars who supported their view. This is not a debate that should define whether we regard someone as a Christian, or even as someone who has a high view of Scripture. Studying the debate gives us several insights into how sophisticated early ‘text criticism’ was; they were really thinking about and wrestling with complex matters. In an age where the manuscript evidence and tools for doing text criticism were limited, we can both admire their work and allow it to help us make decisions today. Also, Christians on every side were concerned about this issue because they believed that Genesis was history, and that adding the begetting ages in Genesis gives a straightforward chronology from which we can derive the age of the world.
Detailed analysis of select passages from Smith
When examining Smith’s work, a problem with his sources comes up extremely early (i.e. the third sentence of his introductory paragraph in the ARJ paper). Concerning the date differences between the MT and LXX, he says that “Eusebius (AD 260–340) is the first known author to explicitly cite and discuss the divergences, followed by Ephraem of Syria (AD 306–373)…” (ARJ, p. 169). That sounds innocuous enough, but in the note for that statement, he says,
“Ephraem of Syria is the first known ancient source to explicitly argue that the Jewish rabbis of the second century AD deflated the primeval chronology by ca. 1300 years in their Hebrew MSS for the purpose of discrediting Jesus as the Christ: ‘The Jews have subtracted 600 years [in Genesis 5] from the generations of Adam, Seth, etc., in order that their own books might not convict them concerning the coming of CHRIST: he having been predicted to appear for the deliverance of mankind after 5500 years.’ Cited in: Hales (1830, 278). For additional citations of Ephraem’s claims, see: Assemani (1719), Wacholder (1974, 99), and Anstey (1913, 46).” (ARJ, note 3, all punctuation and italics in original).
But Smith did not cite an original source for the Ephraem quote. As good students of biblical scholarship, we should trace everything back to the original if possible. But after repeated attempts, we were not able to authenticate this quote by Ephraem the Syrian, nor to trace it further back than Hales (who Smith referenced in the quote above). This is a critical piece of evidence for those that support the LXX’s authority. Smith repeats claims of some ancient authors that the Jews deflated the primeval chronology. There is no traceable evidence of a gathering of Jewish leaders that would have the ability or the authority to do this. The burden of proof is on Smith to document when and where the Jews decided to take this route, and how they implemented it.
Smith also cites the Bibliotheca Orientalis by J.S. Assemani for the ‘deflation’ claim, which would take it back about a century (to the 1700s). I (LC) tried to find this quote in the massive four-volume work, which is written entirely in foreign languages, but given that Smith did not give a clue as to where the quote was contained therein, I was unable to authenticate it. I was also unable to get a copy of Wacholder. While Anstey also references the quote, he does not give an original source. Furthermore, Anstey clearly asserts that Ephraem was wrong in his claim! In any case, the quote by Ephraem is not admissible if it is not able to be traced back to an original source. And the burden of documentation proof is on the one who would admit it as evidence.
Yet, Ephraem the Syrian wrote a commentary on Genesis. One might expect to be able to ascertain his specific interest in chronology, and what text he was drawing from, by consulting that work. In his comment on Genesis 5, Ephraem says,
“Then after he [Moses] had finished writing about the tribes of the descendants of Cain and had completed the story of the words of Lamech to his wives, [Moses] turned to record the generations of the house of Seth, beginning from Adam, saying that when Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he begot a son in his own likeness according to his image.”3
But the LXX has “230” years for Adam’s age when Seth was born. Ephraem also says that Noah was 500 when he bore his sons, about which all traditions agree.
There is another intriguing statement in Ephraem’s commentary that conclusively shows he was using a MT-like chronology. Regarding Melchizedek, he says:
“This Melchizedek is Shem … Shem lived not only to the time of Abraham, as Scripture says, but even to [the time of] Jacob and Esau, the grandsons of Abraham.”4
This statement is true if we use the MT chronology, but is impossible with an LXX-like chronology, for with the extended ages of paternity in the LXX chronology of Genesis 11, Shem would have been long since dead. How can anyone claim that Ephraem viewed the MT chronology as a corruption by unbelieving Jews, when he was more than happy to use it in multiple places in his Genesis commentary?
Thus, we have already uncovered multiple problems: Smith’s quote above claims to be from Ephraem the Syrian, but it is not yet traceable back to anything Ephraem the Syrian actually wrote. We could not authenticate it and Smith provides no way for anyone else to effectively do so. This is sloppy on his part. Furthermore, Ephraem’s extant work includes a commentary on Genesis in which he uses the Masoretic text! Unlike Smith, we cited a primary source to make it easy for anyone to find. Why did Smith not reference Ephraem’s Genesis commentary? Was he unaware that it existed?
Update (4 October 2018): A helpful reader was able to provide us with the Wacholder reference. This allowed us to pinpoint the specific location of the quote within Assemani's Biblioteca Orientalis. Assemani traces the quote to Ephraem’s Exposition of Genesis and Exodus, which as we showed uses an MT chronology and lacks any such statement by Ephraem.
We are unable to trace the quote further than Assemani. In any case, it is clear that an entire line of scholars, from the 18th through the early 20th centuries, transmitted an apparently fake quote. This has been cited by numerous modern LXX advocates who also did not bother to authenticate it. We have attempted exactly that, and not only were we unable to do so, but we found strong evidence that Ephraem believed no such thing.
The situation doesn’t get any better when we try to verify what Smith said in the second half of this one sentence. Here it is in full:
“Eusebius (AD 206–340) is the first known author to explicitly cite and discuss the divergences, followed by Ephraem of Syria, Jerome, (AD 340–420), Julian of Toledo (AD 642–690), Jacob of Edessa (AD 640–708), Byzantine chronology George Syncellus (d. AD 810), and Armenian annalist Bar Hebraeus (AD 1226–1286), just to make a few” (ARJ, pp. 169, 171).
Following that, he claims:
“Each of these ancient authors (save Jerome) argued that the Jewish rabbis in the second century AD deflated the primeval chronology by ca. 1300 years in their Hebrew manuscripts to discredit Jesus as Messiah” (ARJ, note 4).
We have already examined Ephraem of Syria and found no such thing. Eusebius argues for the superiority of the LXX, but as Smith admits in the very same note, “Eusebius does not attribute the motive to messianic chronology and discrediting Jesus, [sic] rather, their purpose was to encourage their contemporaries to lower their age of marrying” (ARJ, note 4).
The Jewish Encyclopedia claims that Julian of Toledo accused the Jews of falsifying their chronology in connection with an argument that the Messiah was to arrive in the “sixth age”.5
We had to search for this information, however, because Smith did not provide this source as a reference. Rather, his source says that the Jews were basing their eschatological interpretation on the Babylonian Talmud. It also claims that Julian of Toledo’s refutation:
“ … interprets the texts of the New Testament that explicitly point to Jesus Christ as the Messiah foretold by the prophets of the ancient covenant, whose texts are interpreted by the apostolic writers as indicating the fullness of time, and not following the calculation of years. Jesus, the Messiah, was in fact born precisely in the fullness of times. It is, therefore, not the calculation of years that counts, as the Jewish scholars maintain, but rather the whole of the historical facts in which Jesus presents himself as the true Messiah of God.”6
In other words, this LXX-supporting witness defines the “sixth age” by epochs demarcated by events in salvation history, not by calendar dates. This is the same argument that Bede (who was clearly a MT supporter) used in his Letter to Plegwin.7
Furthermore, the reason Julian preferred the LXX is because he believed the account of its inspiration contained in the writings of another ancient author, Aristeas (2nd century BC), who claimed that all 70 of the supposed translators came up with the exact same Greek text, word for word. This is something no scholar accepts today.8 And again, where is the original source for this quote? All we were able to find was the Jewish Encyclopedia reference, claiming Julian accused the Jews of deflating the chronology, and Smith’s reference which attributed completely different argumentation and reasons for LXX preference. As far as we can tell, Julian preferred the LXX chronology because he believed the translators were inspired, which no one believes today. Saying the Jews altered their text was not based on a scholarly comparison of the texts but was a conclusion from an a priori belief that the LXX was inspired.
Yet another ancient author mentioned by Smith, Jacob of Edessa (AD 640–708), claimed the Jews falsified the Hebrew numbers to disqualify Jesus from being the Messiah under the eschatological scheme of chiliasm.9 But Jacob of Edessa simply asserts this without any evidence to substantiate it, and it is just as late a statement as that of Julian of Toledo (seventh century).10
George Syncellus (died after AD 810) used the LXX numbers, but it is unclear whether he is drawing from the LXX directly or from Josephus who he claims to be quoting (although in the same section he confuses the book of Jubilees with Josephus). We checked,11 and it is clear that Syncellus preferred the Septuagint because he thought that the LXX ages of begetting made better sense of the ages at which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob bore their children (in other words, it makes more sense if everyone has children later than if some had children around 30 years of age and others around 80 to 100). This was found in the exact source Smith himself cited! If the source claims that the Jews deflated the chronology because of chiliasm, it is not at that place, for his reason has nothing to do with the dating of the coming of the Messiah.
Yet another ancient source cited by Smith, Bar Hebraeus (AD 1226–1286) follows the LXX and shows awareness of the differences between the different texts,12 but we can’t find a statement in his writing that the Jews intentionally altered their text. Also, he says in the same work that Jesus was born on December 25, so he’s clearly dealing with traditions outside the text proper.13 This is enough for us to discount this source entirely. If Smith wants to include him, he needs to properly document the source material and explain why the author is important.
So, out of the people Smith said (1) preferred the Septuagint, and (2) believed the Jews intentionally deflated the text, in order to (3) prove Jesus was not the Messiah, Ephraem the Syrian apparently believed none of those things (although he did not love the Jews), Eusebius believed 1 and 2, but not 3. Julian of Toledo and Jacob of Edessa believed all 3, but it is unclear what sources they were drawing from, and they lived over 500 years after the alleged fact. We are left with zero supporting evidence for this very important claim.
When was the switch from the LXX to the MT made? Did it even happen?
Thus far, we have examined but a single sentence! Yet, in the very next sentences of his ARJ paper, Smith says,
“Most ancient Christian scholars argued for the originality of the LXX’s primeval chronology. This strong consensus lasted for over 14 centuries until the Reformation, when the MT supplanted the primacy of the LXX in the western church.”
One can refute this statement with a little bit of critical thought. The Latin Vulgate drew on the Hebrew rather than the Greek text, and clearly used the MT chronology. Smith conveniently chooses not to engage with it. But the Vulgate quickly became the predominant text in the Western church. Therefore, the MT became the ‘default’ chronological text over 1,000 years before Smith claims it did (4th century vs. 16th century). Bede was an early Anglo-Saxon scholar who was read widely over the next 1,000 years and is highly regarded even today. He preferred the MT over the LXX; in his Letter to Plegwin, he sided with Jerome over Eusebius on the issue.7 But Bar Hebraeus, a little-known scholar who lived 400 years later than Bede, is consequential?
One of the major problems with the LXX primacy idea is that we do not have anything like it in the original language, Hebrew. Pseudo-Philo (aka LAB = Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum or Book of Biblical Antiquities) is listed as a strong witness to the existence of a Hebrew text with LXX numbers. But Smith’s discussion of the text is highly selective. While a lot of scholars do think that LAB was written in first century Palestine, in Hebrew, they also believe that it was translated into Greek, and then into Latin. This is conjecture, because LAB exists only in Latin manuscripts that date to over 1,000 years after its original composition.
There are any number of things that could have happened to the manuscript in the intervening period. For instance, a ‘helpful’ Greek scribe might have noticed that LAB’s numbers differed from his copy of the LXX, and so he substituted the LXX numbers into the manuscript. Yes, that’s a just-so story, but so is Smith’s assertion that the Hebrew originally had LXX numbers that got corrupted over time.
LAB 3:6 says “Now it was the sixteen hundred and fifty-second year from the time when God made heaven and earth, in which the earth along with those inhabiting it was destroyed on account of the wickedness of their deeds.” The note accompanying it in the scholarly edition says, “The figure is close to what can be deduced from the MT’s chronology, 1656. This total, however, cannot be reconciled with the chronology of Ps-Philo 1, and the section may well be a scribal gloss.” That statement is pure interpretation. Another interpretation would be: early in the Greek transmissional history of LAB, the scribe replaced MT numbers with LXX numbers, but didn’t change 3:6. They’re both stories and neither is any better than the other. We don’t have a manuscript to tell us one way or another.
Smith says, “Since LAB was written in Israel at least three centuries after the Pentateuch was translated into Greek in Egypt, it is completely independent of the LXX translation enterprise” (ARJ, p. 173). But that is a huge assumption, given that LAB was written well after the LXX numbers would have been disseminated across the Greek-speaking world and was transmitted in Greek for some period of time by people who also would have been familiar with the LXX.
In Smith’s ARJ paper, he analyses the textual evidence for Methuselah’s begetting age in Genesis 5 (the MT begetting age is 187, and the current LXX number is 167, which puts Methuselah’s death after the Flood). We actually think Smith makes a good case for the original LXX begetting age for Methuselah being 187. Thus, we won’t be using the argument that the LXX makes Methuselah die 14 years after the Flood.
However, Smith’s argumentation is flawed in other areas.
We hate to be so blunt, but Smith’s citation of Augustine’s City of God XV:13 is wildly incorrect. He says, “Clearly aware of the 167/187 discrepancy, Augustine (AD 354–430) provides the most logical and plausible explanation for the reading of 167,” and then quotes Augustine,
“One must therefore more plausibly maintain, that when first their labors began to be transcribed from the copy in Ptolemy’s library, some such misstatement might find its way into the first copy made, and from it might be disseminated far and wide; and that this might arise from no fraud, but from a mere copyist’s error. This is a sufficiently plausible account of the difficulty regarding Methuselah’s life.”
But two chapters earlier, in the chapter entitled “Whether, in computing years, we ought to follow the Hebrew or the Septuagint” Augustine says something rather important. For context we will quote him at length:
“However, if I ask them which of the two is more credible, that the Jewish nation, scattered far and wide, could have unanimously conspired to forge this lie, and so, though envying others the authority of their Scriptures, have deprived themselves of their verity; or that seventy men, who were also themselves Jews, shut up in one place (for Ptolemy king of Egypt had got them together for this work), should have envied foreign nations that same truth, and by common consent inserted these errors: who does not see which can be more naturally and readily believed? But far be it from any prudent man to believe either that the Jews, however malicious and wrong-headed, could have tampered with so many and so widely-dispersed manuscripts; or that those renowned seventy individuals had any common purpose to grudge truth to the nations. One must therefore more plausibly maintain, that when first their labors began to be transcribed from the copy in Ptolemy’s library, some such misstatement might find its way into the first copy made, and from it might be disseminated far and wide; and that this might arise from no fraud, but from a mere copyist’s error. This is a sufficiently plausible account of the difficulty regarding Methuselah’s life, and of that other case in which there is a difference in the total of twenty-four years. But in those cases in which there is a methodical resemblance in the falsification, so that uniformly the one version allots to the period before a son and successor is both 100 years more than the other, and to the period before a son and successor is born 100 years more than the other, and to the period subsequent 100 years less, and vice versa, so that the totals may agree—and this holds true of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh generations—in these cases error seems to have, if we may say so, a certain kind of constancy, and savors not of accident, but of design.
Accordingly, that diversity of numbers which distinguishes the Hebrew from the Greek and Latin copies of Scripture, and which consists of a uniform addition and deduction of 100 years in each lifetime for several consecutive generations, is to be attributed neither to the malice of the Jews nor to men so diligent and prudent as the seventy translators, but to the error of the copyist who was first allowed to transcribe the manuscript from the library of the above-mentioned king. For even now, in cases where numbers contribute nothing to the easier comprehension or more satisfactory knowledge of anything, they are both carelessly transcribed, and still more carelessly emended. For who will trouble himself to learn how many thousand men the several tribes of Israel contained? He sees no resulting benefit of such knowledge. Or how many men are there who are aware of the vast advantage that lies hid in this knowledge? But in this case, in which during so many consecutive generations 100 years are added in one manuscript where they are not reckoned in the other, and then, after the birth of the son and successor, the years which were wanting are added, it is obvious that the copyist who contrived this arrangement designed to insinuate that the antediluvians lived an excessive number of years only because each year was excessively brief, and that he tried to draw the attention to this fact by his statement of their age of puberty at which they became able to beget children. For, lest the incredulous might stumble at the difficulty of so long a lifetime, he insinuated that 100 of their years equalled but ten of ours; and this insinuation he conveyed by adding 100 years whenever he found the age below 160 years or thereabouts, deducting these years again from the period after the son's birth, that the total might harmonize. By this means he intended to ascribe the generation of offspring to a fit age, without diminishing the total sum of years ascribed to the lifetime of the individuals. And the very fact that in the sixth generation he departed from this uniform practice, inclines us all the rather to believe that when the circumstance we have referred to required his alterations, he made them; seeing that when this circumstance did not exist, he made no alteration. For in the same generation he found in the Hebrew manuscript, that Jared lived before he begat Enoch 162 years, which, according to the short year computation, is sixteen years and somewhat less than two months, an age capable of procreation; and therefore it was not necessary to add 100 short years, and so make the age twenty-six years of the usual length; and of course it was not necessary to deduct, after the son's birth, years which he had not added before it. And thus it comes to pass that in this instance there is no variation between the two manuscripts.
This is corroborated still further by the fact that in the eighth generation, while the Hebrew books assign 182 years to Methuselah before Lamech's birth, ours assign to him twenty less, though usually 100 years are added to this period; then, after Lamech's birth, the twenty years are restored, so as to equalize the total in the two books. For if his design was that these 170 years be understood as seventeen, so as to suit the age of puberty, as there was no need for him adding anything, so there was none for his subtracting anything; for in this case he found an age fit for the generation of children, for the sake of which he was in the habit of adding those 100 years in cases where he did not find the age already sufficient. This difference of twenty years we might, indeed, have supposed had happened accidentally, had he not taken care to restore them afterwards as he had deducted them from the period before, so that there might be no deficiency in the total. Or are we perhaps to suppose that there was the still more astute design of concealing the deliberate and uniform addition of 100 years to the first period and their deduction from the subsequent period -- did he design to conceal this by doing something similar, that is to say, adding and deducting, not indeed a century, but some years, even in a case in which there was no need for his doing so? But whatever may be thought of this, whether it be believed that he did so or not, whether, in fine, it be so or not, I would have no manner of doubt that when any diversity is found in the books, since both cannot be true to fact, we do well to believe in preference that language out of which the translation was made into another by translators. For there are three Greek Mss., one Latin, and one Syriac, which agree with one another, and in all of these Methuselah is said to have died six years before the deluge.
That was a long quote, but the point is clear: Augustine is noting that there are two kinds of differences between the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. There are those which are most likely the result of a simple scribal error, and there are those which must be intentional, because they are systematic. Augustine argues that the Hebrew manuscripts are too widely spread to be changed uniformly, and in any case, the Jews would not ‘cut off their nose to spite their face’ by corrupting their own Scriptures. This is the Achilles’ heel of the idea that the MT was the result of a deliberate attempt to change the Bible. How could such a change have been made, then disseminated across the entire Jewish world (which ranged at least from Morocco to Burma14 by that time), without causing a major conflict?
But the Septuagint was originally translated in Alexandria, and very early could have had the ages inflated. Augustine’s reason for this is that the inflator wanted to make the genealogy look more plausible to those who would be skeptical about the ages at which men had their children. By inflating the ages so that one-tenth of the age would put the father post-puberty, they could argue that the pre-Flood genealogy reckoned one of our years as 10 of theirs.
The sources Smith cites to support the LXX (1) often don’t say what he claims they say, and (2) those who make claims that agree with his position often simply assert them without evidence.
We have only discussed a small portion of Smith’s ARJ paper, but the issues we have discussed show that there are clear problems with Smith’s research and argumentation. The analysis of his few sentences above suffices to establish a pattern. Our advice to our readers is to remain skeptical.
The Case for the Septuagint’s chronology in Genesis 5:11?
Smith’s second paper, “The Case for the Septuagint’s chronology in Genesis 5:11” is not any better.
He rehashes some points from the introduction of the ARJ paper, then moves on to demolish a view of inspiration no one has ever held (that God “certainly does not promise to preserve the OT Scriptures in the Masoretic Text alone.” ICC, p. 117). One statement is especially worth dissecting:
“Until the Reformation, a majority of Christian chronologists believed the LXX preserved the original numbers” (Hales, pp. 211–214).
The only reason we can imagine for Smith citing Hales here is that he dearly hopes no one will ever look up what Hales actually wrote. For the person who wishes to find the book (freely available online), one sees on these pages a simple list of dates that various people and texts have for the ages of the earth. Not all of them are pre-Reformation, not all of them are Christian (the list includes Jewish, Hindu, and Persian writings, at a glance), not all of them are chronologists (some are texts that simply give an age without background calculations) and a majority do not fall within a window allowed by an LXX reading. In fact, there are a few more ages that fall within the Masoretic date range than the LXX, as well as a good number which fit neither.
Hales gave the list to show the variation of dates cited for the creation of the world—not to establish a majority supporting one textual tradition. The original sources are not easily findable. And there are clearly other reasons why a given source might prefer one textual tradition over another. Is anyone really surprised that a Greek-speaking person from Alexandria or Constantinople preferred the LXX? Is anyone really surprised that someone in Rome preferred the dates in the Vulgate/MT tradition? There are other considerations at work here, and this is not a valid way to use the data set Hales gives us, at least not without substantial additional work on it. Smith does not say he has done this work. Once again, it is up to the person making the claim to substantiate it.
Smith makes a number of demonstrably untrue and apparently prejudicial statements in the paper. For example:
“Even though the Reformers had largely accepted the Gen 5/11 MT chronology as original, a number of subsequent Christian chronologists argued that the LXX fundamentally preserves the original figures, and the MT’s primeval chronology is the result of a deliberate post-AD 100 corruption (Goodenow 1896; Hales 1830; Hayes 1741; Jackson 1752; Russell 1865; Seyffarth 1859). Unfortunately, modern conservatives have not engaged with their arguments” (ICC p. 119).
This is untrue. Christian chronologists who prefer the MT have been engaging with the arguments all along, as anyone who bothers to acquire a passing knowledge of both sides will find out. Jerome, Augustine, and Bede are just a few of the scholars in the ancient world who looked at the evidence and came to the conclusion that the Hebrew numbers were better attested than those in the LXX. He also says,
“Moreover, evangelicals tend to quickly dismiss LXX Gen 5/11 either because of the numerous (and often substantial) text critical divergences between the LXX and MT in other OT books, or because of unsubstantiated theological predispositions favoring the MT” (ICC p. 119).
This is also untrue. Smith’s interaction with our paper Textual Traditions and Biblical Chronology gives no indication that he understands why it is even relevant. Our failure to be convinced by his bad arguments is not an indication that we, let alone others, are ‘quickly dismissing’ anything.
Smith says that the proto-MT could have been more easily controlled than the LXX, because the proto-MT was under strict rabbinic control (ICC, p. 119). This, however, is contradicted by Augustine, who says precisely the opposite (City of God, quoted above)—that it was the Hebrew manuscripts that were spread over a huge geographic area, while the LXX was contained in Alexandria at the time of its translation, so an early copy could have been corrupted. If Smith thinks that Augustine is a reliable manuscript witness regarding the five manuscripts which contained Methuselah’s begetting age of 187, he should likewise regard him as reliable when he speaks about other things pertaining to the state of the manuscripts. And yet, there does not even have to be any “corruption”. If a Hebrew manuscript with LXX-like numbers existed in Alexandria, the translators could have faithfully represented what they thought was the original as they turned it into Greek. But let the reader understand that there is not a single shred of evidence for any such manuscript, in Hebrew.
Our challenge to the LXX advocates
LXX proponents have some work to do before we can even begin to analyze the validity of their claims. Specifically, any of the following would be a tremendous leap forward:
- Document your sources, specifically an authentication of the Ephraem the Syrian quote—especially in light of the clear evidence that he actually preferred a chronology consistent with the MT and conflicting with the LXX.
- Demonstrate the existence of an early 2nd Century Palestinian Jewish gathering that would have had sufficient authority to change the Hebrew manuscripts and had the power to disseminate them widely.
- Establish a plausible textual history that begins with a LXX-like original that does not resort to ‘conspiracy’ theorizing.
This is a worthwhile debate for those who believe that Genesis is an inspired historical record, and it deserves to be conducted with the very highest standards of scholarship.
References and notes
- Smith, H.B., Jr., Answers Research Journal 10:169–179, 2017, answersingenesis.org. Return to text.
- Smith, H.B., Jr., Proceedings of the Eighth ICC, ed. J.H. Whitmore, pp. 117–132, icc.org. Return to text.
- Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis p. 133. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 151. Return to text.
- Singer, Isidore and Adler, Cyrus et al., eds. Julian of Toledo, in Jewish Encyclopedia 7:391, 1901–1901; unedited full text from JewishEncyclopedia.com, 2002–2011. Return to text.
- Stancati, S.T., Julian of Toledo: Forgnosticum Futuri Saeculi. Vol. 63, Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation (Mawah, NJ, 2010), p. 126. Return to text.
- Bede, The Reckoning of Time, Wallis, F., trans. (Liverpool University Press, 1999), pp. 405–415. Return to text.
- Ref 6, pp. 126–127. Return to text.
- Chiliasm is derived from the Greek word for ‘thousand’. It is the belief that the world will last for 7,000 years, with each thousand years corresponding to one of the days of Creation Week, and the seventh day corresponding to a future Millennium. It was a common eschatological scheme for both Jews and Christians, though there are different forms. Return to text.
- ter Haar Romeny, B. Jacob of Edessa on Genesis: His quotations of the Peshitta and his revision of the text, in ter Haar Romeny, B., ed., Jacob of Edessa and the Syriac Culture of His Day, Brill: Boston, 2008, p. 154. Return to text.
- Syncellus, G., Excerpts from “The Chronography”; tertullian.org. Return to text.
- Bar Hebraeus, Chronography I, syriacstudies.com/AFSS/Syriac_Articles_in_English/Entries/2009/9/29_Bar_Hebraeus_Chronography_The_Patriarchs._From_Adam_to_Moses_Translated_from_Syriac_by_Ernest_A._Wallis_Budge.html. Return to text.
- Bar Hebraeus, Chronography VIII, syriacstudies.com/AFSS/Syriac_Articles_in_English/Entries/2009/9/29_Bar_Hebraeus_ChronographyThe_Roman_Emperors_Translated_from_Syriac_by_Ernest_A._Wallis_Budge.html. Return to text.
- Carter, R.W., The genetic history of the Israelite nation, Journal of Creation 32(1):114–120, 2018. Return to text.