The Messianic Confusion About the Omer, Part V: The Appeal to the Septuagint

by Geert ter Horst


Messianic defenders of the rabbinic (pharisaic) calendar regarding the Omer count and the Feast of Weeks often make an appeal to the Septuagint (LXX) translation to defend their interpretation of the relevant texts of Lev. ch. 23. This appeal to an important degree is a futile matter, however, because, as we’ll see below, apart from a single ambiguity, the LXX strongly agrees with the masoretic text. Although the LXX has “complete weeks” instead of “complete Sabbaths” in Lev. 23:15, and thus seemingly offers some ground for the rabbinic interpretation, yet it translates here, like the masoretic text, “the morrow after the Sabbath” (“epaurion town Sabbatown”). Moreover, the terminological distinction between ‘Shabbat’ and ‘Shabbaton’ is preserved in the LXX and the annual feast days are not called Sabbaths. The Greek ‘Sabbaton’ is used as the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Shabbat’ and the Greek ‘Anapausis’ as the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Shabbaton’. Consequently, there is no ambiguity about the referent of ‘Sabbatown’ (‘Shabbat’) in Lev. 23:15. This can only be the weekly Sabbath.[1]

The only text that is problematic in the LXX translation of Lev. ch. 23 is :11. Instead of “the morrow after the Sabbath” the LXX translates here: “the morrow after the first (day)” (“tei epaurion tes prowtes”). This verse indeed seems to support the rabbinic Nisan 16 theory. In that case “the first” of :11 would refer to “the first day” (“hemera he prowte”) of :7, i.e. the first day of Matzot.

From this instance alone it cannot be concluded, however, that the LXX confirms or supports the rabbinic theory. Far from it. This text only proves that the LXX offers no definite clarity on the issue, or is perhaps inconsistent. This translation “the morrow after the first (day)” (“tei epaurion tes prowtes”) in :11 does  by no means take away the other translation, in :15, “the morrow after the Sabbath” (“tes epaurion town Sabbatown”). These two LXX texts are difficult to reconcile, but there is no valid reason why the first (:11) should be given more weight than the second (:15). Since the distinction between the weekly Shabbat and the annual Yamim Tovim is carefully maintained by the distinction between ‘Sabbaton’ (as translation of ‘Shabbat’) and ‘Anapausis’ (as translation of ‘Shabbaton’) one should not expect this distinction to be suddenly enfeebled by the one time occurrence of “the morrow after the first (day)” in :11.

The LXX was resived and edited several times and it is by no means excluded that the conflict about the Omer has left its traces in these revisions, so that the pharisaic view possibly could assert its influence in :11. On the other hand it is also quite possible that the LXX translation of Lev. 23:11 is a case of textual corruption. An explicatory comment (e.g. “the morrow after the Sabbath, which is the first day”) might have entered the main text, and thus what at first was a reference to a Sunday was changed into a reference to the 16th of Nisan. We simply don’t know. Whatever may be the case, it is clear that it is not possible to derive from the text of the LXX a decisive argument in favour of the rabbinic theory of the Omer count.

Ironically, the messianic appeal to the Septuagint to defend the pharisaic datings of the Omer and Shavuot is not appreciated by Rabbinic Judaism, which brought the LXX into disrepute after the first century, because it was much used by Christians and seemed to favour a Christian interpretation of the Tanach. Thus the means chosen by some Messianics here apparently doesn’t properly relate to the end. The halachic argument for the rabbinic position avoids any appeal to the Septuagint.


[1] J. van Goudoever, in his Biblical Calendars, concedes that the Greek Sabbaton can also mean ‘week’. He says (p. 18): “The word Sabbath in Greek can in fact only mean the seventh day of the week, or the week, but not the festival day”. If it means ‘week, however, this can only be a week from Sunday to Sabbath inclusive. This amounts to the same thing, since the morrow after the week is the same day as the morrow after the Sabbath, namely Sunday. [Cf. J. van Goudoever, Biblical Calendars, E.J. Brill — Leiden 1961 (1959)]


2 Responses to “The Messianic Confusion About the Omer, Part V: The Appeal to the Septuagint”

  1. 1 Jonathan Doi April 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    What ever happened to you article (6th) on the historical transition from the earlier priestly calendar that was preserved by the Sadducees, to the present pharisaic calendar? I was really looking forward to it.

  2. 2 messianic613 April 6, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    This article was only announced but hasn’t yet appeared. I hope to publish it between Pesach and Shavuot.

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