Ascertaining ‘Earlier’ Readings
Of course, aside from such major differences it is almost impossible to be certain at any point that a version (Greek, Latin, Syriac) did not read what MT now has but modified it in some way, consciously or by accident and for any one or more of a number of reasons. The same broadly applies to small-scale substantive differences in other Hebrew texts (Qumran, Samaritan). But what we can say is that Hebrew text traditions other than the tradition represented by MT existed in the third century BCE to the first century CE. However, it should be emphasized that by and large where they share the same material (i.e. outside of the cases represented by Job, Jeremiah, and the deutero-canonical/apocryphal books) there is a very high degree of correspondence between these texts and the consonantal text of MT.
We can never be absolutely certain about which is the ‘earlier’ text in any given instance. As a possible example of where LXX might reflect a form of the text prior to MT (or MT precursor), see Ps. 75: 6 (EVV 5), where MT reads tedabberu beṣawwa'r ‘ataq (‘you (are not to) speak with a neck impudence’). However, LXX has ‘do not speak against God unrighteousness’, where (leaving aside the difference between ‘impudence’ and ‘unrighteousness’) it seems clear that the translator has read a text that instead of šw'r, which could only be vocalized as ṣawwar (‘neck’), had ṣwr, which could be vocalized either as ṣawwar (‘neck’) (i.e. a variant spelling of ṣaww'ar) or as ṣur (‘rock’), interpreted by LXX as a title for God. It seems likely here that LXX (here followed by REB) represents an earlier form of the text, with ṣwr, to which the tradition represented by MT has inserted an aleph (') in order to ensure a ‘neck’ reading over a ‘rock’ one.
On the other hand, at the end of Hos. 14: 3 (EVV 2) MT reads literally ‘and we will repay bulls, our lip’, which appears to mean ‘we will offer in sacrifice words (of praise, thanksgiving) instead of, or alongside, animals,’ a sentiment consistent with the beginning of the verse: ‘take with you words and return to Y’. But LXX (followed by NRSV) has ‘and we will repay the fruit of our lips’, which seems to reflect a reading of the text not as parim śep̄atenu (prym śptnw) but as peri miśśep̄otenu (‘fruit from our lips’) (pry mśptnw) or (invoking the use of ‘enclitic mem’) peri-m śep̄otenu (‘fruit of our lips’). However, it is far from clear that LXX has preserved a more original reading here. Instead, it is possible that the translator simply misread the Hebrew text, perhaps under the influence of the expression ‘fruit of the lips’, which occurs in Hebrew and Greek Jewish sources later than the Hebrew Bible, but is not attested (elsewhere) within it.
A more certain example of a mistake in LXX is at Gen. 18: 12, where the LXX translator seems to have read ‘dnh not, as in MT, as ‘edna (‘(sexual) pleasure’) but as ‘adena (‘thus far’), found at Eccles. 4: 2. The form ‘adena almost certainly derives from a variety of the Hebrew language other than that represented by pre-exilic, ‘classical’ prose. Its use at Gen. 18: 12 is one indication of the influence on the Greek translators of more or less colloquial and dialectal, ‘post-classical’, forms of Hebrew as well as by Aramaic, which was probably more familiar to them than Hebrew of any kind. This Aramaic influence is reflected in some LXX transliterations of the Hebrew text, based on Aramaic rather than Hebrew (e.g. pascha (‘Passover’), sabbata (‘Sabbath’)), and occasionally a Greek translator has understood a Hebrew word as though it were Aramaic. For example, at Isa. 9: 4 (EVV 5), in a difficult text, bedamim has been understood not as ‘with blood’ but (as in Aramaic) as ‘in compensation’. Studies of the techniques of the LXX translators include Olofsson 1990; Beck 2000; Sollamo and Sipilä 2001.
In various biblical passages, it has been argued that the present text of MT is the result of confusion in the transition from the earlier, Hebrew script to the later, Aramaic one (see above). For example, at Ps. 137: 5, ‘if I forget you, Jerusalem, my right hand will forget’ has been emended to ‘…I will forget my right hand’ by pointing to the similarity between the third person feminine prefix (taw, t) in the older alphabet and the first person one (aleph,’) in the Aramaic alphabet. Similarly, 1 Sam. 24: 11, ‘and he said to kill you, but she had pity upon you’ has been resolved by the same device, ‘…but I had mercy upon you’, in this case supported by LXX. It has also been claimed that MT precursor (or its predecessor) incorporated a number of abbreviations. For example, at Deut. 32: 35, MT reads ‘to me [ly] is vengeance, and repaying at the time their foot slips’. However, here LXX has ‘on the day of vengeance’, a reading that seems to reflect Hebrew lywm, which is precisely what we find in the Samaritan Pentateuch, in parallelism with l't (‘at the time’) (cf. REB, CEV). On the other hand, at Judg. 19: 18 LXX has ‘my house’, and many modern translations (and Nova Vulgata (a recent papally authorized revision of the Vulgate intended to represent scholarly editions of the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible)) assume that bet yhwh (‘house of Y’) in MT is the result of an early misunderstanding of the first person possessive suffix (beti (byty) (‘my house’)) as an abbreviation for the tetragrammaton.