Origen's Hexapla

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Origen's Hexapla

Post by MrMacSon » Thu Nov 16, 2017 10:24 pm

The Hexapla (gr. Ἑξαπλά) is an edition of the Old Testament prepared by Origen in the third century. The Hexapla was prepared in six (hence the name) columns containing different versions of the Scriptures. These included a Hebrew (probably the Masoretic) text, four different Greek versions (a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew text and versions by Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion), and the Septuagint:
  1. Hebrew
  2. Hebrew transliterated into Greek characters
  3. Aquila
  4. Symmachus
  5. Septuagint
  6. Theodotion
During the second and third centuries a number of versions of the Old Testament were available each having variations in texts. This created confusion about what was the true text of Scriptures. While the Church had chosen the Septuagint as its own, it differed from the Hebrew version of the second century that was the standard prepared by Jewish Rabbis under Akiba the founder of Rabbinic Judaism.

In the interim many textual changes had occurred through corruption during transcriptions, additions and deletions, and mistakes through translations since the Hebrew text used when the Septuagint was prepared.

During the second century Greek translations of the Scriptures were made by Aquila of Sinope, Symmachus the Ebionite, and Theodotion. Each had its own characteristics and variations from the Septuagint and each claimed to be superior. Origen attempted to reveal the true text of the earlier Hebrew Scriptures by establishing the exact relations of the Septuagint to the then current Greek and Hebrew versions. This he did by presenting side by side each version of the Scriptures in six columns in what became called the Hexapla. Origen’s arrangement placed in the first column the Hebrew text in Hebrew, in the second column the Hebrew text transliterated in Greek characters, in the third column Aquila’s Greek version, in the fourth Symmachus’ Greek version, in the fifth the Septuagint, and in the sixth Theodotion’s Greek version.

Origen apparently added a seventh and eighth column for certain books of the Scriptures containing other Greek translations. These were called Quinta and Sexta as they were Origen’s fifth and sixth versions, or editions, of his studies. Origen apparently produced also five, seven, and eight column arrangements of versions of the Scriptures that were called Pentapla, Heptapla, and Octapla.

The purpose of compiling the Hexapla is disputed. Most likely, the book was intended for the Christian-rabbinic polemic regarding the corruption of the text of Scripture. The codex included the Hebrew text, its vowels in Greek transcription and at least four parallel Greek translations, including the Septuagint; in this respect, it is a prototype of the later polyglot. A number of sources say that for the Psalter there were two or three versions of the translation, as for some prophetic books. At the end of his life, Origen created an abbreviated version of his work - the Tetrapla, which included only four Greek translations (hence the name).


After the completion of the Hexapla, Origen prepared a minor edition, or extract from it, consisting of the four principal versions, Aquila, Symmachus, the Septuagint, and Theodotion; this is the Tetrapla.

It has been sometimes maintained, however, that the Tetrapla is the earlier work and was expanded into the Hexapla, principally on the ground that the Hexapla, which in a few instances has a superior reading, as at Psalm 86:5, presents light missing to Origen when he composed the Tetrapla, a very unstable ground, we judge, for the Hexapla did not leave the hand of Origen as a printed work becomes independent of a modern author, but received occasional additions and corrections with the progress of his knowledge. The language of Eusebius implies that the Tetrapla was the later work.

The dates of the two works, however, cannot be definitely fixed; all we know, says Field, is that the Hexapla or the Tetrapla was composed before Origen's letter to Africanus (c. 240).

No copy of the entire Hexapla, on account of the immense labour and expense involved, seems ever to have been made, but the Psalter, minus the first column, was copied, as the two fragments prove. A reading in Isaias is quoted from the Pentapla, which possibly (though very doubtfully) implies the existence of a similar copy.

Shortly after the beginning of the fourth century, Pamphilus, the martyr, and Eusebius, Bishop of Cæsarea, gave out an edition of the fifth column of the Hexapla, containing the Septuagint, the insertions from Theodotion and Aquila, and the symbols, together with variant readings on the margin, in the belief that they were bestowing on the Church the purest text. It was through the reproduction of this edition by later scribes, without Origen's critical signs, that arose the Hexaplar text which so greatly increased the confusion of Septuagint manuscripts. However, it hardly circulated outside of Palestine. It was translated into Syriac, "with the Origenic signs scrupulously retained", by Paul, Bishop of Tella, in Mesopotamia, who accomplished the work at Alexandria about 616-17.

Several books and large portions of this Syro-Hexaplar text survive, and are the source, in a very great measure, of our knowledge of Origen's work.

The Hexaplar text also influenced St. Jerome very strongly in his first two translations of the Psalter into Latin, the Psalterium Romanum and (particularly) the Gallicanum. Saint Jerome also followed the Hexaplar text, for which he had a very high regard, as the basis of his translations, no longer extant, of other books.

The same influence is further seen in the Coptic (Sahidic), the Arabic, and the Armenian versions. If the original Septuagint text be taken as the standard, it is unquestionable that Origen's influence, both upon the Septuagint and its daughter versions, ultimately availed, through the negligence of copyists, to remove them further from the pristine purity of the Biblical text; but by all those who regard the Hexaplar text, by reason of its insertions and corrections from the textus receptus, as nearer to the original Hebrew than is the Septuagint, his influence must be judged to have worked, on the whole, for the spread of a truer text.

The Hexaplar manuscript was kept at Cæsarea in Palestine, where it was consulted by Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Jerome; it disappeared from sight shortly after the beginning of the seventh century.


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