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Symmachus (translator)

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Symmachus (/ˈsɪməkəs/; Greek: Σύμμαχος "ally"; fl. late 2nd century) was a writer who translated the Old Testament into Greek. His translation was included by Origen in his Hexapla and Tetrapla, which compared various versions of the Old Testament side by side with the Septuagint. Some fragments of Symmachus's version that survive, in what remains of the Hexapla, inspire scholars to remark on the purity and idiomatic elegance of Symmachus' Greek. He was admired by Jerome, who used his work in composing the Vulgate.



Eusebius inferred that Symmachus was an Ebionite (Ἐβιωνίτης Σύμμαχος "Symmachus the Ebionite"),[1] but this is now generally thought to be unreliable.[2] The alternative is that he was a Samaritan who converted to Judaism.[3][4] Epiphanius' account that Symmachus was a Samaritan who having quarrelled with his own people converted to Judaism[5][6] is now given greater credence, since Symmachus' exegetical writings give no indication of Ebionism.[7] At some time in his life, he had also written a commentary on the Aramaic Gospel of Matthew, known then as According to the Hebrews.[8]

Symmachus ben Joseph


A rabbi from the time of the Mishnah, named Symmachus ben Joseph, is identified by some with Symmachus the translator; others hold the claim to be unfounded,[9] although Epiphanius of Salamis puts Symmachus within the time-frame of Rabbi Meir, saying that Symmachus had converted to the Jewish religion after being a Samaritan.[10] The rabbinic Symmachus was a student of Rabbi Meir,[11][12] and his teachings are mentioned in the Mishnah under the name Sūmkos (Hebrew: סומכוס).[13]

His translation


According to Bruce M. Metzger[14] the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures prepared by Symmachus followed a 'theory and method... the opposite of that of Aquila':

for his aim was to make an elegant Greek rendering. To judge from the scattered fragments that remain of his translation, Symmachus tended to be periphrastic in representing the Hebrew original. He preferred idiomatic Greek constructions in contrast to other versions in which the Hebrew constructions are preserved. Thus he usually converted into a Greek participle the first of two finite verbs connected with a copula. He made copious use of a wide range of Greek particles to bring out subtle distinctions of relationship that the Hebrew cannot adequately express. In more than one passage Symmachus had a tendency to soften anthropomorphic expressions of the Hebrew text.

However, Symmachus aimed to preserve the meaning of his Hebrew source text by a more literal translation than the Septuagint.

Saint Jerome admired his style but faulted his translation in two areas important to Christians, saying that he substituted the Greek word neanis (woman) for parthenos (virgin) in Isaiah 7:14 and Genesis 24:43.[15] Symmachus' Greek translation of the Pentateuch appeared in Origen's Hexapla, in which he had written κεραύνιος (= onyx) for the precious stone known in Hebrew as bareḳet in Exodus 28:17.[16]

Lost works


According to Eusebius, Symmachus also wrote commentaries, then still extant, apparently written to counter the canonical Greek Gospel of Matthew, his Hypomnemata;[17] it may be related to the De distinctione præceptorum, mentioned in the catalogue of the Nestorian metropolitan Abdiso Bar Berika (d.1318).[18] Eusebius also records Origen's statement that he obtained these and others of Symmachus' commentaries on the scriptures from a certain Juliana, who, he says, inherited them from Symmachus himself (Historia Ecclesiae, VI: xvii); Palladius of Galatia (Historia Lausiaca, lxiv) records that he found in a manuscript that was "very ancient" the following entry made by Origen: "This book I found in the house of Juliana, the virgin in Caesarea,[19] when I was hiding there; who said she had received it from Symmachus himself, the interpreter of the Jews". The date of Origen's stay with Juliana was probably 238-41, but Symmachus's version of the Scriptures had already been known to Origen when he wrote his earliest commentaries, ca 228.[citation needed]

Later traditions


From the language of many later writers who speak of Symmachus, he must have been a man of great importance among the Ebionites,[citation needed] for "Symmachians" remained a term applied by Catholics even in the fourth century to the Nazarenes or Ebionites, as we know from the pseudepigraphical imitator of Ambrose, the Ambrosiaster, Prologue to the Epistle to the Galatians, and from Augustine's writings against heretics.

See also



  1. ^ A view repeated by Jerome, in his De Viris Illustribus (LIV).
  2. ^ Salvesen, Alison, ed. (1998), Origen's Hexapla and fragments, p. 179, Barthelemy brilliantly unraveled the mystery by demonstrating that Eusebius incorrectly inferred from Irenaeus, whom he cites in connection with Aquila and Theodotion, that Symmachus was an Ebionite
  3. ^ Tov, Emanuel (1992), Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (2nd ed.), Minneapolis: Fortress Press, pp. 146–47.
  4. ^ Epiphanius, Treatise on Weights and Measures - Syriac Version (ed. James Elmer Dean), Chicago University Press c1935, p. 32. Click to see online translation of Epiphanius' Treatise on Weights and Measures
  5. ^ De mens. et pond. (in Latin), 14
  6. ^ Epiphanius' Treatise on Weights and Measures - The Syriac Version (ed. James Elmer Dean), University of Chicago Press 1935, p. 32
  7. ^ Fernandez Marcos, Natalio (2007), The Septuagint in Context, Boston: Brill, pp. 125–26.
  8. ^ Klijn, A.F.J.; Reinink, G.J. (1973). Patristic Evidence for Jewish-Christian Sects. Leiden: E.J. Brill. ISBN 978-9-00403763-2. (OCLC 1076236746), s.v. Jerome, de vir. ill. LIV
  9. ^ "SYMMACHUS - JewishEncyclopedia.com".
  10. ^ Epiphanius' Treatise on Weights and Measures - The Syriac Version (ed. James Elmer Dean), University of Chicago Press 1935, p. 32
  11. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 13b
  12. ^ Sherira Gaon (1988). The Iggeres of Rav Sherira Gaon. Translated by Nosson Dovid Rabinowich. Jerusalem: Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press - Ahavath Torah Institute Moznaim. p. 55. OCLC 923562173.
  13. ^ Mishnah Eruvin 3:1; Baba Metzia 6:5; Ḥullin 5:3. See: The Mishnah (ed. Herbert Danby), Oxford University Press, 1974
  14. ^ Metzger, Bruce M. (1993), "Theory of the translation process", Bibliotheca Sacra, 150 (598), UK: Biblical studies: 140–150.
  15. ^ Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, Alban Butler
  16. ^ Field, Frederick (1875). Origensis Hexaplorum quæ Supersunt. Oxford (1875) s.v. Exo. 28:17, based on Jerome's testimony in Epist. LXIV ad Fabiolam, 16, who wrote: "Symmachus dissented and called the emerald by the name of onyx."
  17. ^ Mentioned in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae, VI, xvii: "As to these translators it should be stated that Symmachus was an Ebionite. But the heresy of the Ebionites, as it is called, asserts that Christ was the son of Joseph and Mary, considering him a mere man, and insists strongly on keeping the law in a Jewish manner, as we have seen already in this history. Commentaries of Symmachus are still extant in which he appears to support this heresy by attacking the Gospel of Matthew. Origen states that he obtained these and other commentaries of Symmachus on the Scriptures from a certain Juliana, who, he says, received the books by inheritance from Symmachus himself."; cf. Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, chapter 54
  18. ^ Assemani, Bibl. Or., III, 1
  19. ^ The context makes clear that Caesarea Mazaca in Cappodocia is intended.