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A fragment of the LXX text of Exodus from the 4th c. CE

A fragment of the LXX text of Exodus from the 4th c. CE

If one were to compare the account of the building of the Tabernacle (Exod 35-40) preserved in the Septuagint (aka, LXX; a Greek translation of the Torah dating to the 3rd c. BCE) with that preserved in the standard Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) that underlies our English Bibles, or with that of the Samaritan Pentateuch, one would observe that the Septuagint version is significantly shorter and parts of it have a different arrangement.  In the LXX version of Exod 35-40 the following verses are missing:

  • 35:8, 18
  • 40:7-8, 11, 28, 31-32.
  • 36:10-33
  • 37:4, 11-12, 14, 20, 22, 24-28
  • 38:2, 5-7
  • 39:34, 39
  • The variations between the texts are too extensive to be explained away as mere scribal errors.  The sort of gross scribal incompetence necessary to produce this degree of textual variation can scarcely be imagined.  No, the variations most likely indicate that the translators of the LXX were working with a Hebrew text very different from the MT

    What that means is that well into the 3rd century BCE the text of at least this section of the Torah (or the Pentateuch) was not settled and was possibly still developing even then.  This evidence suggests, at least to my mind, that Julius Wellhausen may have been on the right track in thinking that the segments of the Pentateuch that scholars call the “Priestly material,” or “P” for short (of which Exod 35-40 is part) largely dates to the days of the Second Temple.  That is to say, we have in the LXX version of Exodus concrete evidence of the Pentateuch’s formation stretching well into the days of the Babylonian Exile and beyond.  Whether or not the development of the Priestly material began in the days of Moses, it was clearly still evolving for many, many centuries after.

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