Posted by: mattcolvin | July 26, 2020

Notes on LXX Genesis 49-50

49:1 – συνάχθητε – literally, “Be gathered together,” rendering the Hebrew הֵאָֽסְפוּ֙. τί ἀπαντήσει ὑμῖν ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν – “what will meet/encounter you at the end of days” – an oddly, well, “eschatological” formula. It raises the question of what the referent of “the end of days” is; the end of whose days? The days of Jacob’s sons?

49:1-27 – In general, the song of Jacob is full of Hebrew wordplay that cannot be translated. The result is opaque and bizarre Greek in the LXX.

49:3 – Reuben is called σκληρὸς φέρεσθαι καὶ σκληρὸς αὐθάδης – “hard to bear and hard self-willed.” The Hebrew is יֶ֥תֶר שְׂאֵ֖ת וְיֶ֥תֶר עָֽז. It is difficult to see how יֶ֥תֶר can rightly be translated with σκληρὸς. Properly, יֶ֥תֶר means “the excess” of something, e.g. if one log sticks out farther than the rest, the amount that it exceeds the other logs is the יֶ֥תֶר. This meaning is captured by the first word of 49:4: ἐξύβρισας, with its root ὕβρις.

49:4 – ἐξύβρισας: “you were insolent.” The Hebrew sense has been obliterated here in the Greek. פַּ֤חַז כַּמַּ֨יִם֙ means “bubbling like water,” with the connotation of instability or unreliable shifting (cf. Jer. 23:32, where false prophets mislead the people with “reckless lies,” Judges 9:4, where “Abimelech hired vain and light persons, which followed him,” and Zep. 3:4, where Israel’s prophets are “light and treacherous persons”). But the Nahum Sarna adduces cognates in Arabic, Aramaic, and Syriac, which suggest that the pḥz root means “to be haughty, boastful, reckless” or “to be wanton, lascivious.” These connotations are quite appropriate to the context, in which Jacob faults Reuben for his act of lying with Bilhah.

49:4 – ἀνέβης γὰρ ἐπὶ τὴν κοίτην τοῦ πατρός σου – “you went up to your father’s bed.” It is ironic that Paul will later rebuke the Corinthians for tolerating this very act: “sexual immorality of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” (1 Corinthians 5:1) Perhaps it was not tolerated among pagans, but it was unfortunately famously committed by one of the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel.

49:6 – “…and in their desire, they hamstrung an ox.” Calum Carmichael argues that the ox is symbolic of Israel, so that Jacob is faulting Simeon and Levi for the hostility they created between his clan and the Shechemites by their murder of all the men of Shechem after the rape of Dinah.

49:7 – ἡ μῆνις αὐτῶν – The fierce anger of Simeon and Levi is denoted with the opening word of the Iliad, used for the rage of Achilles.

καὶ διασπερῶ αὐτοὺς – “I will scatter them.” The LXX uses the same root as “dispora,” even though the scattering in this instance is ἐν Ιακωβ rather than among the Gentiles. The reference seems to be to the fact that the Levites do not have their own land and that the tribe of Simeon “remained unsettled until quite late in the monarchy period” (Sarna).

49:9 – Judah is said to have gone up ἐκ βλαστοῦ, “from the sprout” or “shoot” or “bud.” The Hebrew has מִטֶּ֖רֶף, which can mean either “a green shoot” (Gen. 8:11) or else “an animal torn in pieces, the prey of a wild beast” (Job 4:11, 29:17, 38:39) and metaphorically, the spoil of robbers (Ps. 76:5). It is possible that Jacob puns on these two meanings. The LXX misses the latter completely, thereby obscuring the connection with the Joseph story and Jacob’s “recognition” of Joseph’s coat (“a wild beast has torn him in pieces”).

50:16-17 – It seems that Joseph’s brothers are putting words in their father Jacob’s mouth, and this raises the question of what Jacob knew concerning the events of chapter 37. Did he ever have his mistaken impressions corrected? The brothers, for their part, have never made a confession, least of all before their father.

50:26 – It is interesting that Joseph is not said to have been embalmed the way that his father Jacob was earlier in the chapter. This, in fact, is an omission from the LXX, which says merely that “they buried him” (ἔθαψαν αὐτὸν), whereas the Hebrew says that he was embalmed (וַיַּחַנְט֣וּ אֹתֹ֔ו) and placed in, not a coffin, but an ark (בָּאָרֹ֖ון), using the same word that designates Noah’s ark and the ark of the covenant. These connections are abandoned by the LXX, which has only ἐν τῇ σορῷ, “in the coffin.”

Above: Another abandoned ark.


  1. The sons of Jacob were a terrible lot yet they became the patriarchs of Israel. Gives one hope for their own family. God’s grace is beyond ou human comprehension.

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