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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XVI

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XVI.—Origen’s Earnest Study of the Divine Scriptures.

1. So earnest and assiduous was Origen’s research into the divine words that he learned the Hebrew language, 1884 and procured as his own the original Hebrew Scriptures which were in the hands of the Jews. He investigated also the works of other translators of the Sacred Scriptures besides the Seventy. 1885 And in addition to the well-known translations of Aquila, 1886 Symmachus, 1887 and Theodotion, 1888 he discovered certain others which had been concealed from remote times,—in what out-of-the-way corners I know not,—and by his search he brought them to light. 1889

2. Since he did not p. 263 know the authors, he simply stated that he had found this one in Nicopolis near Actium 1890 and that one in some other place.

3. In the Hexapla 1891 of the Psalms, after the four prominent translations, he adds not only a fifth, but also a sixth and seventh. 1892 He states of one of these that he found it in a jar in Jericho in the time of Antoninus, the son of Severus.

4. Having collected all of these, he divided them into sections, and placed them opposite each other, with the Hebrew text itself. He thus left us the copies of the so-called Hexapla. He arranged also separately an edition of Aquila and Symmachus and Theodotion with the Septuagint, in the Tetrapla. 1893



Origen’s study of the Hebrew, which, according to Jerome (de vir. ill. chap. 54), was “contrary to the custom of his day and race,” is not at all surprising. He felt that he needed some knowledge of it as a basis for his study of the Scriptures to which he had devoted himself, and also as a means of comparing the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old Testament, a labor which he regarded as very important for polemical purposes. As to his familiarity with the Hebrew it is now universally conceded that it was by no means so great as was formerly supposed. He seems to have learned only about enough to enable him to identify the Hebrew which corresponded with the Greek texts which he used, and even in this he often makes mistakes. He sometimes confesses openly his lack of critical and independent knowledge of the Hebrew (e.g. Hom. in Num. XIV. 1; XVI. 4). He often makes blunders which seem absurd, and yet in many cases he shows considerable knowledge in regard to peculiar forms and idioms. His Hebrew learning was clearly fragmentary and acquired from various sources. Cf. Redepenning, I. p. 365 sq.


On the LXX, see Bk. V. chap. 8, note 31.


Aquila is first mentioned by Irenæus (Adv. Hær. III. 21. 1, quoted by Eusebius, Bk. V. chap. 8, above), who calls him a Jewish proselyte of Pontus; Epiphanius says of Sinope in Pontus. Tradition is uniform that he was a Jewish proselyte, and that he lived in the time of Hadrian, or in the early part of the second century according to Rabbinic tradition. He produced a Greek translation of the Old Testament, which was very slavish in its adherence to the original, sacrificing the Greek idiom to the Hebrew without mercy, and even violating the grammatical structure of the former for the sake of reproducing the exact form of the latter. Because of its faithfulness to the original, it was highly prized by the Rabbinic authorities, and became more popular among the Jews in general than the LXX. (On the causes of the waning popularity of the latter, see note 8, below.) Neither Aquila’s version, nor the two following, are now extant; but numerous fragments have been preserved by those Fathers who saw and used Origen’s Hexapla.


Symmachus is said by Eusebius, in the next chapter, to have been an Ebionite; and Jerome agrees with him (Comment. in Hab., lib. II. c. 3), though the testimony of the latter is weakened by the fact that he wrongly makes Theodotion also an Ebionite (see next note). It has been claimed that Symmachus was a Jew, not a Christian; but Eusebius’ direct statement is too strong to be set aside, and is corroborated by certain indications in the version itself, e.g. in Dan. ix. 26, where the word χριστός, which Aquila avoids, is used. The composition of his version is assigned by Epiphanius and the Chron. paschale to the reign of Septimius Severus (193–211); and although not much reliance is to be placed upon their statements, still they must be about right in this case, for that Symmachus’ version is younger than Irenæus is rendered highly probable by the latter’s omission of it where he refers to those of Theodotion and Aquila; and, on the other hand, it must of course have been composed before Origen began his Hexapla. Symmachus’ version is distinguished from Aquila’s by the purity of its Greek and its freedom from Hebraisms. The author’s effort was not slavishly to reproduce the original, but to make an elegant and idiomatic Greek translation, and in this he succeeded very well, being excellently versed in both languages, though he sometimes sacrificed the exact sense of the Hebrew, and occasionally altered it under the influence of dogmatic prepossessions. The version is spoken very highly of by Jerome, and was used freely by him in the composition of the Vulgate. For further particulars in regard to Symmachus’ version, see the Dict. of Christ. Biog. III. p. 19 sq.


It has been disputed whether Theodotion was a Jew or a Christian. Jerome (de vir. ill. 54, and elsewhere) calls him an Ebionite; in his Ep. ad Augustin. c. 19 (Migne’s ed. Ep. 112), a Jew; while in the preface to his commentary on Daniel he says that some called him an Ebionite, qui altero genere Judæus est. Irenæus (Adv. Hær. III. 21. 1) and Epiphanius (de mens. et pond. 17) say that he was a Jewish proselyte, which is probably true. The reports in regard to his nationality are conflicting. The time at which he lived is disputed. The Chron. paschale assigns him to the reign of Commodus, and Epiphanius may also be urged in support of that date, though he commits a serious blunder in making a second Commodus, and is thus led into great confusion. But Theodotion, as well as Aquila, is mentioned by Irenæus, and hence must be pushed back well into the second century. It has been discovered, too, that Hermas used his version (see Hort’s article in the Johns Hopkins University Circular, December, 1884), which obliges us to throw it back still further, and Schürer has adduced some very strong reasons for believing it older than Aquila’s version (see Schürer’s Gesch. d. Juden im Zeitalter Jesu, II. p. 709). Theodotion’s version, like Aquila’s, was intended to reproduce the Hebrew more exactly than the LXX did. It is based upon the LXX, however, which it corrects by the Hebrew, and therefore resembles the former much more closely than Theodotion’s does. We have no notices of the use of this version by the Jews. Aquila’s version (supposing it younger than Theodotion’s) seems to have superseded it entirely. Theodotion’s translation of Daniel, however, was accepted by the Christians, instead of the LXX Daniel, and replacing the latter in all the mss. of the LXX, has been preserved entire. Aside from this we have only such fragments as have been preserved by the Fathers that saw and used the Hexapla. It will be seen that the order in which Eusebius mentions the three versions here is not chronological. He simply follows the order in which they stand in Origen’s Hexapla (see below, note 8). Epiphanius is led by that order to make Theodotion’s version later than the other, which is quite a mistake, as has been seen.

For further particulars in regard to the versions of Aquila and Theodotion, and for the literature of the subject, see Schürer, ibid. p. 704 sq.


We know very little about these anonymous Greek versions of the Old Testament. Eusebius’ words (“which had been concealed from remote times,τὸν π€λαι λανθανούσας χρόνον) would lead us to think them older than the versions of Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus. One of them, Eusebius tells us, was found at Nicopolis near Actium, another in a jar at Jericho, but where the third was discovered he did not know. Jerome (in his Prologus in expos. Cant. Cant. sec. Originem; Origen’s works, ed. Lommatzsch, XIV. 235) reports that the “fifth edition” (quinta editio) was found in Actio litore; but Epiphanius, who seems to be speaking with more exact knowledge than Jerome, says that the “fifth” was discovered at Jericho and the “sixth” in Nicopolis, near Actium (De mens. et pond. 18). Jerome calls the authors of the “fifth” and “sixth” Judaïcos translatores, which according to his own usage might mean either Jews or Jewish Christians (see Redepenning, p. 165), and at any rate the author of the “sixth” was a Christian, as is clear from his rendering of Heb. iii. 13: ξῆλθες τοῦ σῶσαι τὸν λαὸν σου διὰ ᾽Ιησοῦ τοῦ χριστοῦ. The “fifth” is quoted by Origen on the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, minor prophets, Kings, &c.; the “sixth,” on the Psalms, Song of Songs, and Habakkuk, according to Field, the latest editor of the Hexapla. Whether these versions were fragmentary, or were used only in these particular passages for special reasons, we do not know. Of the “seventh” no clear traces can be discovered, but it must have been used for the Psalms at any rate, as we see from this chapter. As to the time when these versions were found we are doubtless to assign the discovery of the one at Nicopolis near Actium to the visit made by Origen to Greece in 231 (see below, p. 396). Epiphanius, who in the present case seems to be speaking with more than customary accuracy, puts its discovery into the time of the emperor Alexander (222–235). The other one, which Epiphanius calls the “fifth,” was found, according to him, in the seventh year of Caracalla’s reign (217) “in jars at Jericho.” We know that at this time Origen was in Palestine (see chap. 19, note 23), and hence Epiphanius’ report may well be correct. If it is, he has good reason for calling the latter the “fifth,” and the former the “sixth.” The place and time of the discovery of the “seventh” are alike unknown. For further particulars in regard to these versions, see the prolegomena to Field’s edition of the Hexapla, the article Hexapla in the Dict. of Christ. Biog., and Redepenning, II. 164 sq.


Nicopolis near Actium, so designated to distinguish it from a number of other cities bearing the same name, was a city of Epirus, lying on the northern shore of the Ambracian gulf, opposite the promontory of Actium.


Origen’s Hexapla (τὰ ἑξαπλᾶ, τὸ ἑξαπλοῦν, τὸ ἑξασέλιδον, the first form being used by Eusebius in this chapter) was a polyglot Old Testament containing the Hebrew text, a transliteration of it in Greek letters (important because the Hebrew text was unpointed), the versions of Aquila, of Symmachus, of the LXX, and of Theodotion, arranged in six columns in the order named, with the addition in certain places of a fifth, sixth, and even seventh Greek version (see Jerome’s description of it, in his Commentary on Titus, chap. 3, ver. 9). The parts which contained these latter versions were sometimes called Octapla (they seem never to have borne the name nonapla.) The order of the columns was determined by the fact that Aquila’s version most closely resembled the Hebrew, and hence was put next to it, followed by Symmachus’ version, which was based directly upon the Hebrew, but was not so closely conformed to it; while Theodotion’s version, which was based not upon the Hebrew, but upon the LXX, naturally followed the latter. Origen’s object in undertaking this great work was not scientific, but polemic; it was not for the sake of securing a correct Hebrew text, but for the purpose of furnishing adequate means for the reconstruction of the original text of the LXX, which in his day was exceedingly corrupt. It was Origen’s belief, and he was not alone in his opinion (cf. Justin Martyr’s Dial. with Trypho, chap. 71), that the Hebrew Old Testament had been seriously altered by the Jews, and that the LXX (an inspired translation, as it was commonly held to be by the Christians) alone represented the true form of Scripture. For two centuries before and more than a century after Christ the LXX stood in high repute among the Jews, even in Palestine, and outside of Palestine had almost completely taken the place of the original Hebrew. Under the influence of its universal use among the Jews the Christians adopted it, and looked upon it as inspired Scripture just as truly as if it had been in the original tongue. Early in the second century (as Schürer points out) various causes were at work to lessen its reputation among the Jews. Chief among these were first, the growing conservative reaction against all non-Hebraic culture, which found its culmination in the Rabbinic schools of the second century; and second, the ever-increasing hostility to Christianity. The latter cause tended to bring the LXX into disfavor with the Jews, because it was universally employed by the Christians, and was cited in favor of Christian doctrines in many cases where it differed from the Hebrew text, which furnished less support to the particular doctrine defended. It was under the influence of this reaction against the LXX, which undoubtedly began even before the second century, that the various versions already mentioned took their rise. Aquila especially aimed to keep the Hebrew text as pure as possible, while making it accessible to the Greek-speaking Jews, who had hitherto been obliged to rely upon the LXX. It will be seen that the Christians and the Jews, who originally accepted the same Scriptures, would gradually draw apart, the one party still holding to the LXX, the other going back to the original; and the natural consequence of this was that the Jews taunted the Christians with using only a translation which did not agree with the original, and therefore was of no authority, while the Christians, on the other hand, accused the Jews of falsifyng their Scriptures, which should agree with the more pure and accurate LXX. Under these circumstances, Origen conceived the idea that it would be of great advantage to the Christians, in their polemics against the Jews, to know more accurately than they did the true form of the LXX text, and the extent and nature of its variations from the Hebrew. As the matter stood everything was indefinite, for no one knew to exactly what extent the two differed, and no one knew, in the face of the numerous variant texts, the precise form of the LXX itself (cf. Redepenning, II. p. 156 sq.). The Hebrew text given by Origen seems to have been the vulgar text, and to have differed little from that in use to-day. With the LXX it was different. Here Origen made a special effort to ascertain the most correct text, and did not content himself with giving simply one of the numerous texts extant, for he well knew that all were more or less corrupt. But his method was not to throw out of the text all passages not well supported by the various witnesses, but rather to enrich the text from all available sources, thus making it as full as possible. Wherever, therefore, the Hebrew contained a passage omitted in the LXX, he inserted in the latter the translation of the passage, taken from one of the other versions, marking the addition with “obeli”; and wherever, on the other hand, the fullest LXX text which he had contained more than the Hebrew and the other versions combined, he allowed the redundant passage to stand, but marked it with asterisks. The Hexapla as a whole seems never to have been reproduced, but the LXX text as contained in the fifth column was multiplied many times, especially under the direction of Pamphilus and Eusebius (who had the original ms. at Cæsarea), and this recension came into common use. It will be seen that Origen’s process must have wrought great confusion in the text of the LXX; for future copyists, in reproducing the text given by Origen, would be prone to neglect the critical signs, and give the whole as the correct form of the LXX; and critical editors to-day find it very difficult to reach even the form of the LXX text used by Origen. The Hexapla is no longer extant. When the Cæsarean ms. of it perished we do not know. Jerome saw it, and made large use of it, but after his time we have no further trace of it, and it probably perished with the rest of the Cæsarean library before the end of the seventh century, perhaps considerably earlier. Numerous editions have been published of the fragments of the Hexapla, taken from the works of the Fathers, from Scholia in mss. of the LXX, and from a Syriac version of the Hexaplar LXX, which is still in large part extant. The best edition is that of Field, in two vols., Oxford, 1875. His prolegomena contain the fullest and most accurate information in regard to the Hexapla. Comp. also Taylor’s article in the Dict. of Christ. Biog., and Redepenning, II. p. 156 sq. Origen seems to have commenced his great work in Alexandria. This is implied by the account of Eusebius, and is stated directly by Epiphanius (Hær. LXIV. 3), who says that this was the first work which he undertook at the solicitation of Ambrose (see chap. 18). We may accept this as in itself quite probable, for there could be no better foundation for his exegetical labors than just such a piece of critical work, and the numerous scribes furnished him by Ambrose (see chap. 18) may well have devoted themselves largely to this very work, as Redepenning remarks. But the work was by no means completed at once. The time of his discovery of the other versions of the Old Testament (see above, note 6) in itself shows that he continued his labor upon the great edition for many years (the late discovery of these versions may perhaps explain the fact that he did not use them in connection with all the books of the Old Testament?); and Epiphanius (de mens. et pond. 18) says that he was engaged upon it for twenty-eight years, and completed it at Tyre. This is quite likely, and will explain the fact that the ms. of the work remained in the Cæsarean library. Field, however, maintains that our sources do not permit us to fix the time or place either of the commencement or of the completion of the work with any degree of accuracy (see p. xlviii. sq.).


Valesius remarks that there is an inconsistency here, and that it should be said “not only a fifth and sixth, but also a seventh.” All the mss. and versions, however, support the reading of the text, and we must therefore suppose the inconsistency (if there is one, which is doubtful) to be Eusebius’ own, not that of a scribe.


Greek: ν τοῖς τετραπλοῖς ἐπικατασκευ€σας. The last word indicates that the Tetrapla was prepared after, not before, the Hexapla (cf. Valesius in hoc loco), and Redepenning (p. 175 sq.) gives other satisfactory reasons for this conclusion. The design seems to have been simply to furnish a convenient abridgment of larger work, fitted for those who did not read Hebrew; that is, for the great majority of Christians, even scholars.

Next: Chapter XVII

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