The problem of the Septuagint version of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29)

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Illustration: Codex Sinaiticus, a 4th-century manuscript of the Septuagint

The book of Jeremiah has come down to us in two different versions: the Greek version, known as the Septuagint, and the Hebrew version, known as the Masoretic Text. There are significant differences between the two terms of wording, structure and length.

  • Wording: The Septuagint version of Jeremiah lacks approximately 2,700 words when compared with the Masoretic Text. At the same time, the Greek text contains some 100 words not found in the Hebrew.
  • Structure: Chapters in the Septuagint version of Jeremiah do not follow the same order as those in the Masoretic Text. The most striking example of divergent arrangement concerns the oracle against foreign nations. In the Hebrew text these appear as chapters 46-51. In the Septuagint these same oracles fall in the middle of Jeremiah, between 25:13 and 25:15, with verse 14 being omitted. Furthermore, the order of the oracles is different. The Hebrew sequence is Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar, Elam and Babylon. The Septuagint, on the other hand, addresses Elam, Egypt, Babylon, Philistia, Edomn, Ammon, Kedar, Damascus and Moab, in that order.
  • Length: The overall lengths of the two versions is unequal. The Septuagint text of Jeremiah is nearly one eighth shorter than the Hebrew version – the equivalent of seven to eight chapters.

Several partial Jeremiah manuscripts in Hebrew found among the Dead Sea Scrolls in Cave 4 may shed light on this complex issue. Two significant manuscripts agree with the Masoretic Text, but another text, a fragment containing Jeremiah 9:22-10:18, may reflect the Ording of the Septuagint. This evidence suggests that the book of Jeremiah may have circulated in two distinct Hebrew editions, one which we see through the window of the Septuagint translation, and the other as the traditional version of the Masoretic Text. Even if the Septuagint does reflect the fact that the book circulated in more than one “edition”, this does not imply that the Hebrew text of Jeremiah emerged fairly early and that for a long time both circulated among the Jews. The book of Jeremiah itself suggests a rather involved and difficult history (see chapter 36). Jerusalem was destroyed and the people scattered, with some going to Babylon but others, including Jeremiah himself, traveling to Egypt. In light of the turmoil of these times, it is not surprising that there were different collections of the prophet’s messages. The two anthologies of his sermons and writings could have circulated from very early and yet both be authentic collections of Jeremiah’s prophecies. It is important, then, to note that the Septuagint is based upon a different version of the same book, as opposed to being a different book.


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