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Symmachus the Ebionite

Author of one of the Greek versions of the Old Testament included by Origen in his Hexapla

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Symmachus the Ebionite, author of one of the Greek versions of the Old Testament included by Origen in his Hexapla and Tetrapla. Some fragments of this version survive in what remains of the Hexapla. Symmachus also wrote “Commentaries”, not extant, apparently to support the heresy of the Ebionites by attacking the Gospel of St. Matthew. “Origen states that he obtained these and other commentaries of Symmachus on the Scriptures from a certain Juliana, who, he says, inherited them from Symmachus himself” (Eusebius, “Hist. Eccl.”, VI, xvii). Palladius (Hist. Laus., lxiv) found in a manuscript “very ancient and arranged in stichoi” the following entry made by Origen: “This book I found in the house of Juliana, the virgin in Caesarea, 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, i.e. during the persecution of Maximin, but this tells us nothing about the date of Symmachus’s version of the Scriptures which was known to Origen when he wrote (about 228) his earliest commentaries (see Swete, “Introd. to O. T. in Greek”, p. 50). It used commonly to be accepted, on the supposed authority of St. Epiphanius (De mens. et pond., xvi), that Symmachus flourished in the age of Severus (193-211), but the text of Epiphanius is full of the wildest blunders. The Syriac translator who (as was first pointed out by Lagarde), had a less corrupt text before him, reads Verus not Severus, and explains a little later that by this emperor is meant Marcus Aurelius (161-80). All that can be said is that there is nothing improbable about this date. Epiphanius says further that Symmachus was a Samaritan who having quarrelled with his own people went over to Judaism, but all other ancient authorities are unanimous in making him an Ebionite. From the language of many writers who speak of Symmachus (Ambrosias-ter, “Prol. in Ep. ad Galat”; Philastrius, lxiii; St. Augustine, “Contra Faust.”, XIX, iv, xii), Symmachus must have been a man of great importance in his sect, if not the founder of a sect within a sect. His version of the Old Testament was largely used by St. Jerome, who twice speaks of two editions of it. As a translator he aimed at writing good Greek and not at the slavish literalness of Aquila. “Aquila et Symmachus et Theodotio … diversum paene opus in eodem opere prodiderunt, alio nitente verbum de verbo exprimere, alio sensum potius sequi, tertio non multum a veteribus discrepare” (St. Jerome, “Prolog. in Euseb. Chronicon”).


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