Friday, January 2, 2015

Masoretic misreadings in the Psalms, from the Septuagint

How reliable is the scripture of the Bible?  The Hebrew text is known to be very reliable, the Masorites would count the letters in their copies to ensure the reliability.  However in a previous post, Is the Masoretic Text of the Bible the Most Reliable?, I uncovered at least one instance where a line was dropped from Psalm 145, right after verse 13. The line is present in the ancient Greek Septuagint, as well as the Peshitta (Aramaic). Moreover, this line was uncovered in an ancient Hebrew manuscript among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is obviously original: Psalm 145 is an alphabetic acrostic Psalm, and the line begins with the missing letter N (Hebrew nun).

This, in my view, now gives greater weight to certain readings of the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures that was made between the 3rd and 1st centuries B.C.  It is an important translation, for our current Hebrew texts date from the 9th-10th centuries A.D.  The Dead Sea scrolls pushed this back to the 1st century B.C.-1st century A.D., but they are fragmentary. Not only do the Dead Sea scrolls largely agree with the Masoretic text, but a few of them contain readings that agree with the Septuagint. The Septuagint, right now, contains within it our oldest Hebrew text, which can often be derived by reverse engineering.

The Greek Septuagint (LXX) has fallen out of favour among most modern Bible translations, as the Septuagint text (LXX) was not protected in the same manner as the Hebrew text. The Septuagint (LXX) does contain later additions - for example, among the Psalms, the Septuagint  (LXX) adds in a text from Paul's letter of Romans in the middle of Psalm 14, and adds a later Psalm as Psalm 151. However ignoring the Septuagint (LXX) entirely in translation is a mistake. For the Psalms, the Septuagint had a very good Hebrew text: the Hebrew original had the latest alphabet with square characters, but without the vowel points of the later Masorites (Mozley, xviii-xix). Mozley, from his The Psalter of the Church, summed up his conclusions:
"Taken as a whole, the LXX Pss. are identical with the Masoretic.The variations if numerous are small. Of the many additions widely employed only 14:3, 145:14 (with Vulgate 136:27) exceed a single line and clearly none are original or add really new matter with the exception of that in 38:21. The non-addition of original matter, such as is found in many of the historical books, in Proverbs and Daniel, is remarkable in the "hymn book of the Jewish Church," whose structure so easily allowed for interpolation. The only case of it, Ps. 151, is on the one hand expressly excluded from the book, on the other hand is less than any Ps. a general hymn" (Mozley, xx).
This was published in 1905.  With the discovery and publication of the Dead Scrolls of the 20th century, we now know that Ps. 145:13 (14) was probably original and not a later addition.  Mozley's The Psalter of the Church (1905) summarized articles by Baethgen as published in Jahrbucher fur protest. Theologie (1882). However it is not very useful to the general public who have no knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and it is hard to distinguish between Greek misreadings and possibly original Hebrew readings that differ from our current Masoretic text.

So what else could have been original? For this I made use of free Bible software theWord, and lined up the Masoretic with the KJV, the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Peshitta. From there, it became relatively easy to "reverse engineer" the Septuagint to uncover better readings of the Hebrew than the Masoretic. The reason for this: Jesus confirmed that every "jot and tittle" of scripture is Divinely inspired (Matt. 5:18) and Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). For without spiritual truth there is no spiritual life according to the truth. The proof of Divine inspiration of scripture was provided by Swedenborg in his massive work Heavenly Arcana, for which he strived to obtain a translation as close to the Hebrew original as possible. One slip of the word, and the internal spiritual sense of the scripture could be lost. There are of course, critics who always declare that the "Bible is corrupt," or even worse, frauds who state they have uncovered some lost original text. Our current text is about 99% accurate, here follows (most significant, not all) of the small 1% of variant readings to the Masoretic text which are probably original. The first quote is derived either from the KJV or ESV, the second quote is my own translation. I use English transliterations of the Hebrew with the number from Strong's concordance for reference.


You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. (ESV)
You shall rule them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.

"Break" (Hebrew ra'a', #7489) is read as "rule" (perhaps Hebrew radah, #7287) in the Septuagint and Vulgate.  The Peshitta has "shepherd" (indicating Hebrew ra'ah, #7462). This verse is quoted in the book of Revelation, where the word "rule" is always used (see Rev. 2:27, 12:5, 19:15). By this is meant one will rule over evils ("nations") through knowledge of literal external truths ("rod of iron") until the falsities of one's own mind become of no account ("broken as a potter's vessel"). Iron symbolizes the lowest external truth (below that of gold, silver and brass), and clay represent's what belongs to one's own self as opposed to the Divine.


O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after lies?
O ye sons of men, how long will ye be heavy of heart?
do you love vanity and seek after lies?

The alternate text appears in both the Septuagint and Vulgate. Although the text looks completely different, it looks similar in Hebrew. The Masoretic Hebrew and the "reverse engineered" alternate text look like this side by side:

So which is correct? The original is suspicious, for scripture never references one's own glory, but always assigns glory to God. "My glory" is used only in reference to praising God (see Ps. 3:3, 16:9, 30:12, 57:8, 62:7, 108:1).  To be "heavy of heart" can also be translated as to be "hard of heart," which means hardening one's heart in selfishness, as when Pharoah "hardened his heart" against Moses. The alternate text fits the parallelism: the first half of the verse refers to the will of the evil, and the second half to their falsity which confirms their will. Moreover the alternate text allows completion of the second question with a why (the KJV added the words in italics). That the alternate text is correct, is shown internally in the Psalm, where "joy of heart" is mentioned in verse 7.


You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.
You have given joy to my heart,
More than in the time that their grain and wine and oil increased.

Septuagint, Vulgate and Peshitta all have "and oil" after wine. Omitted in Masoretic. All three are mentioned together in Deut. 7:13, 11:14, 12:17, 14:23, 18:4, 28:51, 2 Chr. 31:5, 32:28, Neh. 5:11, 10:39, 13:5,12, Jer. 31:12, Hos. 2:8,22, Joel 2:19, Hag. 1:11. Only wheat and wine are mentioned in Gen. 27:28, 27:37, Deut. 33:28, 2 Kin. 18:32, Isa. 36:17, Lam. 2:12, Hos. 2:9, 7:14.

The addition is likely original, it is more likely that it was dropped than added later. These are not figures of speech, each word is symbolic of something spiritual. All three appear together in the book of Revelation:
And I heard a voice in the midst of the four animals, saying, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and hurt not the oil and the wine. (Rev. 6:9)
We have here wheat, barley, oil and wine. No one, without revelation, will have any understanding of what the spiritual meaning is of this - in the literal sense it makes no sense. Swedenborg was shown the meaning which he explains in detail in Apocalypse Revealed and Apocalypse Explained: Things from the field (wheat and barley) have reference to external good, things that are produced out of usefulness, but oil and wine respectively refer to internal spiritual good and truth. "Joy of heart" is above this, for happiness originates from love alone.


God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. (ESV)
God is a righteous judge, strong and patient:
And He does not denounce every day.

A horrible mistranslation, which still has not been corrected in one of the more recent English translations. Instead of God (Hebrew 'el, #410) the Septuagint and Peshitta read "not" (Hebrew 'al, #408). In this case the Masoretic vowel points are incorrect. Moreover, the phrase "strong and patient" appear in the Septuagint and Vulgate, which are likely original. "Strength" has reference to the will, and "patience" in reference to the thought. It is thus parallel with the statement from verse 9:
For the righteous God proves the hearts and kidneys.
Even in common everyday language, the "heart" has reference to the will or love. "Kidneys" in ancient times referred to one's ability to discern truth from falsehood (kidneys act as a filter between nutrients and waste).  In the afterlife, our intentions and thoughts are explored, and everyone is judged according to the truth from the memory of one's life and conscience. Although scripture states that God is "angry" in several passages, this is only an appearance: God is love itself and never gets angry. He only appears angry to those who have turned away into evil, and those in evil are in their punishment of evil. Instead of acknowledging their fault, God appears to them as "angry," when in fact out of love God is constantly drawing all towards him.


Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have ordained strength
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings You have perfected praise

Instead of "ordained strength" the LXX and Vulgate have "perfected praise."  The latter version is quoted by Jesus in Matt. 21:16 indicating it is the correct version. In this case, the texts are completely different, and I am not sure what the original Hebrew was.


The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. His ways are always grievous.

This is more correctly translated as follows:

The wicked in the haughtiness of his anger will not enquire after Him,
God is not in any of his devised plans, his ways are always profane.

The word translated as "grievous" (Hebrew chuwl, #2342) is never used in this context, and for the most part means "painful." Both the LXX and Vulgate have "profane" or "filthy" here (Hebrew chalal, #2490). The word profane is always used in the context of the absence of God, so is most probably original here.


His eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.
His eyes behold the poor,
His eyelids prove the sons of men.

The word "poor" are present in both the LXX and Vulgate, and has been dropped in the Masoretic.  It is definitely the original text: the line is now split into two separate lines, restoring the poetic structure of the overall Psalm. That they are original, is also shown from the following parallel lines in the same Psalm:
Jehovah proves the righteous (verse 5)
His face beholds the upright (verse 7)
Thus the two flip the usage of "prove" and "behold" of verse 4. Moreover, in the spiritual sense, according to Swedenborg, the "poor" are those who desire good and yet are lacking it, and "sons of men" in this context would be in reference to those who desire truth. Good, being more internal and spiritual than truth, is thus referenced by eyes, and truth being more external than good is referenced by eyelids.


(omitted in Masoretic)

And I will sing praise to the name of Jehovah Most High.

This line is omitted in the Masoretic, and is present in both the LXX and Vulgate. It is a duplicate of Psalm 7:17, however phrases are repeated throughout the Psalms as found in the Masoretic.  I consider it original, as with this line the poetic structure of the Psalm is restored. "Sing praise" is more accurately translated as "play music."


He that swears to his own hurt, and changes not.
He who swears to his own neighbour,
And changes not.

This Psalm enumerates the qualities of the people who will enter heaven. Instead of "hurt" (ra'a', #7489) the Septuagint and Vulgate have "neighbour" (rea', #7453). The word neighbour makes this line more in parallel with verse 3:
Nor does evil to his neighbour
Swearing oaths was one of the rituals abrogated with the coming of Jesus (Matt. 5:33-37), and in its place, honesty in all of one's actions towards others.


My flesh also shall rest in hope.
For you will not leave my soul in hell; neither will you suffer your Holy One to see corruption.

Yes, my body shall lie down in safety,
For you will not abandon my soul in the underworld;
Neither will You suffer your Holy One to see corruption

This particular verse was quoted by the apostles to show that the body of Jesus would not suffer corruption in the tomb, but would rise in a glorified state.  There are several mistranslations here, one significant one is that the Bible never in reality mentions the world "hell" but rather Sheol, which I have translated as the "underworld," a common conception in the ancient world.  The "underworld" refers to an intermediate realm between heaven and hell which all enter immediately after death, which Swedenborg details in his visions in his work, Heaven and Hell. The salvation that Jesus wrought actually occurred in the spiritual realm after his death, when, as a glorified Divine human, he descended into the lower realms and released souls that were stuck there due to the dominion and power of hell. Instead of "abide" (shakan, #7931), the Septuagint, Vulgate and even the KJV have "rest" (shakab, #7901), which is more accurately translated as "lie down."


Like a lion my hands and my feet.
They pierced my hands and my feet.

Psalm 22 is a detailed prophecy of the crucifixion of Jesus, and was quoted by him while on the cross. In this verse, the Masoretic is definitely corrupt - it ends with a yod and rendered as "like a lion," and as it stands there is no verb. The Septuagint and Peshitta both have "pierced," the Vulgate has "dug" indicating a verb meaning to "dig" (karah, #3738). This Hebrew word seems to also mean "pierce," as in to bore or open (as in Ps. 40:6). In order to translate this word as a verb, it should end with a vav instead of a yod, which is supported by a Psalms fragment from the Dead Sea scrolls. Another alternative is that karah may be a corruption for "pierce" (daqar, #1856) which is also found in Zech. 12:10.


For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones are consumed.
For my life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighing,
My power stumbles because of my affliction, and my bones are consumed.

Iniquity obviously makes no sense here from the context. Instead of iniquity ('avon, #5771) the Septuagint, Vulgate and Peshitta have "poverty" ('aniy, #6041). Translated as "affliction" ('aniy can be either poverty or affliction). Bones, like other parts of the body, are used to refer to some aspect of the personality, in this case, one's own self derived thought.

PSALM 35:16 - "CAKE" OR "SCORN"?

With hypocritical mockers in feasts, they gnashed upon me with their teeth.
With hypocritical mockers in scorn,
They gnashed upon me with their teeth.

This is a case where the Masoretic makes no sense. The word that the KJV translates as "feasts" actually means "cake."  Instead of "cake" (ma'owg, #4580) the Septuagint has "most contemptuously" and the Vulgate has "scorn" (from la'ag, #3933).


I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.
I have seen the wicked as terrible,
And exposing himself like the cedars of Lebanon.

The word translated as "bay tree" means to be "born native," and perhaps by extension "native growth" of some sort. Instead of "born native" ('ezrach, #249) and "green" (ra'anan, #7487), the Septuagint and Vulgate have "the cedars of Lebanon" ('erez, #730 + Lebanown, #3844). Below is the Masoretic followed by the restored Hebrew text:


For he sees that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.
Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.

For he sees that wise men die,
The fool and the brutish person perish together, and leave behind their wealth to others.
Their sepulchres shall be their houses forever,
And their dwellings unto generation and generation, they call their lands after their own names.

The word translated as "inward thought" actually means "inner part" or "bowels." Instead of "inward thought" (qereb, #7130, lit. "inner part"), the Septuagint, Vulgate and Peshitta have "sepulchres" or "graves" (qeber, #6913). The Masoretic transposed two letters here. The ESV actually got the translation right here, and followed the Septuagint with the word "sepulchres."


You have brought a vine out of Egypt: you have cast out the heathen, and planted it.
You prepared room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land.

You have brought a vine out of Egypt:
You have cast out the nations, and planted her.
You prepared a way before her,
And caused her to take deep root, and it filled the land.

The Masoretic is incomplete here, and to fix it the KJV added the word "room" to complete the sentence. ESV took a second stab at it and added the word "ground."  The Septuagint has "a way" here, omitted in the Masoretic (see Isa. 40:3, 57:14, 62:10 where the same phrase is used). Instead of "You prepared a way" the Vulgate has "You were the guide of its journey." The Peshitta has "You did prepare the ground" from which the ESV probably took its translation. The addition is significant, for John the Baptist references himself as fulfilling the role of one "preparing the way" in Isa. 40:3 to prepare the way for the Messiah. He baptized in the Jordan, just as the Israelites had to cross the Jordan to enter the promised land from Egypt. Baptism signifies repentance and cleansing from sin, which one must practice in order to "prepare the way" for the Divine love and truth to enter one's heart. Love and happiness cannot be experienced until sins are first removed, only after that can it be planted and take root.

PSALM 90:8-9 - "SECRET" OR "TIME"?

You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
For all our days are passed away in your wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.

You have set our iniquities before You,
Our time in the illumination of Your face.
For all our days pass away in Your wrath:
We spend our years moaning.

Instead of "secret" ('alam, #5956) the Septuagint has "age," the Vulgate has "life" (from 'olam or 'owlam, #5769, meaning "forever" or sometimes "time"). In this case, the Masoretic vowel points are incorrect, from the context it is obvious that it is referencing our life time as viewed in the light of God's face.  I thought this was interesting - this is a Psalm of Moses, and it could be an early reference to the "life review" that one has after death in front of the light at the end of the tunnel. Multiple witnesses have reported that after having been revived, in the life review they see the consequence of all their actions towards others. In this case, as the original had no vowel points, both "secret" and "time" may be in fact correct.


...from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.
I have begotten You from the womb of the dawn,
You have the dew of Your youth.

Here, many translations have a footnote on this stating that the "Hebrew is uncertain." This one is interesting - Psalm 110 is a Messianic prophecy, and was quoted by Jesus when he questioned the Jewish rabbis on the Messiah being the son of David. This phrase is found in the Septuagint, Vulgate and Peshitta but is missing in the Masoretic. The restoration of the phrase helps restore the poetic structure of the Psalm. It is similar to the following Messianic prophecy in Psalm 2:

I will declare the statute of God,
Jehovah has said to me:
You are my Son,
This day I have begotten You.

Whereas among the older Christian churches they regard Jesus as a Son "begotten from eternity," in the New Church the Son is Jesus born in time to the virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit. The "Son" is not another person, but rather the human vessel by which Jehovah made himself incarnate.


Yes, there are other variants, here I have selected a few of the more interesting ones. I will probably publish all of it in a new translation of the Psalms. So for those of you who have been wondering why this blog has been a bit delinquent, now you know why.

The question arises, were these variants accidental, or intentional?  In other words, did certain Jews tamper with their own text with regards to Messianic prophecies?  Many can be explained with transposed or dropped letters, or alternate vowel marks. But take a look at the above variants: several of the variants occur when there is a Messianic prophecy involved, or a New Testament quote. Otherwise the text is very accurate, and there is simply not a lot of disagreement. At first I thought it was accidental, but then came across this variant of Psalm 41:1:
Blessed is he that considers the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. (KJV)
Happy is he who has intelligence concerning the poor and needy:
Jehovah will rescue him in the day of evil
(restored from LXX)
At first, it seems insignificant. It is obviously original, for "poor and needy" is a common phrase that appears through scripture. In the spiritual sense, the "poor" are those who are not in good, yet desire it, and the "needy" are those who are without knowledge of truth, and yet desire to know. True charity is seeing the need of others, and fulfilling that need according to usefulness. But was dropping "needy" accidental?  So I thought, until I determined the Hebrew word for "needy" - ebyown. In the first century A.D., ebyown took on a completely new meaning. That Hebrew word was used for the Ebionites. Who were the Ebionites? They were Jewish Christians. And they had a strong command of the Hebrew scripture, it is said that they had a version of the gospel of Matthew. Here is a short description of them from Wikipedia:
The term Ebionites derives from the common adjective for "poor" in Hebrew (singular: אֶבְיוֹן ev·yōn, plural: אביונים ev·yōn·im), which occurs fifteen times in the Psalms and was the self-given term of some pious Jewish circles (e.g. Psalm 69:33 ("For the LORD heareth the poor") and 1 QpHab XII, 3.6.10). The term "Ebionim" was also a self description given by the people who were living in Qumran, as shown in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The term "the poor" was at first a common designation for all Christians - a reference to their material and voluntary poverty.
The graecized Hebrew term "Ebionite" (Ebionai) was first applied by Irenaeus in the 2nd century without making mention of Nazarenes (c.180 CE). Origen wrote "for Ebion signifies 'poor' among the Jews, and those Jews who have received Jesus as Christ are called by the name of Ebionites." Tertullian was the first to write against a heresiarch called Ebion; scholars believe he derived this name from a literal reading of Ebionaioi as "followers of Ebion", a derivation now considered mistaken for lack of any more substantial references to such a figure. The term "the poor" (Greek ptōkhoí) was still used in its original, more general sense. Modern Hebrew still uses the Biblical Hebrew term "the needy" both in histories of Christianity for "Ebionites" (אביונים) and for almsgiving to the needy at Purim.
An interesting connection here: Ebionites are associated with the Qumran community, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered - the same scrolls which confirmed Ps. 145:13 as possibly genuine.


I did not find anything unusual or weird in the variants - most of the variants were Greek misreadings of the original Hebrew, those I filtered out looking for significant variants in content or meaning that were likely original. However, I did find something rather weird in terms of translation for Psalm 77, which concerns the appearance of God before Moses to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. Here is the KJV version of verse 18:

The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven: the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook.

At first it looks fine. Except for one thing: "heaven" is a mistranslation. Here is the corrected translation:

The voice of Your thunder was in the wheel,
The lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and quaked.

Now that is odd.  Even the translators of the Septuagint didn't know what to make of it, and translated it as "abroad." The ESV translators mistranslate it as "whirlwind." The Vulgate gets it correct with "wheel."  There are other possible references to flying wheels:

O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind. (Ps. 83:13)

The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a wheel before the whirlwind. (Isa. 17:13)

In the last quote the KJV changes "wheel" to "rolling thing." But no, its definitely a wheel, the same word is used to refer to the wheels of chariots.


Between the time of the Masoretic manuscripts of the 9th-10th centuries, and the Septuagint translation of the 3rd century B.C., there are very little differences - this simple analysis shows that the text of the Psalms as we have it now is about 99.5% accurate.  And yet translators should not be naive to assume 100% accuracy.  Of the differences, the variant clarifies the original meaning - only in two instances here (Ps. 7:11 and 15:4) was there a change in meaning. Note that the Masoretic text is highly accurate, the LXX contains many false variants due to a misreading of the original Hebrew. So discernment must be applied, using the Masoretic as a baseline.

People without knowledge of the Bible like to assume it was corrupt - this is quite common in the Muslim world, where clerics teach the people that the Bible has been significantly altered. This is simple not true, and it is a falsehood that is used (or excuse) to keep the mind closed to the truths that are revealed in scripture.


  1. Updated the comment on Ps. 22:16 - the Masoretic actually reads "like a lion" instead of "dig" or "pierce" - plus added another find from the Dead Sea scrolls.

  2. Note that for Ps. 110:3, there is another blog which talks about how the "Hebrew is uncertain" for this verse, and how various translations try to fix it. None of them reference the Septuagint. See


Comments, questions, corrections and opinions welcome...