Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Theodotion, otherwise Theodotus

Theodotion, otherwise Theodotus (so Suidas s.v. κνίζων), author of the Greek version of the O.T. which followed, as those of Aquila and Symmachus preceded, that of the LXX in Origen's columnar arrangements of the versions. Of his personality even less is known than of either of the other two translators. The earliest author to mention him is Irenaeus, in a passage which, by reason of its higher antiquity and authority, must be our standard to test the accounts of later writers, who probably derived their accounts partly from it. Irenaeus (III. xxi. 1, p. 215), referring to the word "virgin" παρθένος) in Is. vii. 14, affirms that the passage is to be read "not as certain of those who now venture to misinterpret the Scripture, 'Behold, the damsel (νεᾶνις) shall be with child and shall bear a son'; as Theodotion of Ephesus interpreted it and Aquila of Pontus, both Jewish proselytes; following whom the Ebionites pretend that he was begotten of Joseph." Eusebius cites this (H. E. v. 8), adding nothing to it.

In attempting to fix the time when Theodotion flourished, the one certain and tolerably determinate datum we possess is, that his version must have been made before the composition of the above treatise of Irenaeus—therefore before 180–189. A second but less available datum is the fact, admitted by all, that he came after Aquila. Thus we conclude that his work cannot have been so late as 189 or earlier than 130. Some consider that the expression of Irenaeus, "those who are now venturing" implies that Theodotion had then only just completed his translation; but this puts undue force on the words. The expression merely contrasts comparatively recent translations with the ancient and primary authority of the LXX. But direct evidence leads us to place Theodotion c. 180, and Symmachus from 15 to 30 years later—dates which agree well with the few known facts. Indirect evidence of an earlier date for Theodotion has been claimed as found in the apparent use of his version in the Trypho of Justin Martyr, a work written not later than 164, perhaps some 20 years earlier. But the fallacious character of this evidence is shewn in D. C. B. (4-vol. ed. 1887).

Theodotion's work was not so much an independent translation as a revision of the LXX, with its insertions usually retained, but its omissions supplied from the Hebrew—probably with the help of Aquila's version. Theodotion's was the version Origen usually preferred to the other two for filling omissions of the LXX or lacunae in their text as he found it; and from it accordingly comes a large part of the ordinary Greek text of Jeremiah, and still more of that of Job. Thus in these books we have fuller materials for learning the character of his version than that of either of the others; and still more in his version of Daniel, which has come down to us entire, having since before Jerome's time (how long before we are not told) superseded that of the LXX so completely that the latter was lost for centuries, and is now extant only in a single Greek copy, the Cod. Chisianus, and in the Syro-Hexaplar translation contained in Cod. Ambrosianus (C. 313 Inf.). Any one who compares this version with Theodotion's which is usually printed in all ordinary editions of the Greek O.T. must agree with Jerome (Praef. in Dan.) that the church chose rightly in discarding the former and adopting the latter. Indeed, the greater part of this Chisian Daniel cannot be said to deserve the name of a translation at all. It deviates from the original in every possible way; transposes, expands, abridges, adds or omits, at pleasure. The latter chapters it so entirely rewrites that the predictions are perverted, sometimes even reversed, in scope. We learn from Jerome (in. Dan. iv. 6, p. 646) that Origen himself ("in nono Stromatum volumine") abandoned this supposed LXX Daniel for Theodotion's. Indeed, all the citations of Daniel, some of them long and important passages in Origen's extant works, agree almost verbatim with the text of Theodotion now current, and differ, sometimes materially, from that of the reputed LXX as derived from the Chisian MS. He seems, moreover, to have found the task of bringing its text to conform to the original by the aid of Theodotion's a hopeless one, as we may judge by his asterisks, obeli, and marginalia in the two MSS. referred to. Yet that this is the version which Origen placed as that of the LXX in the penultimate column of the Hexapla and Tetrapla is certain.

Theodotion, though not an independent translator, was by no means an "unlearned" one, as Montfaucon (Praelimm. in Hexapla) calls him. The chief, and apparently the only, ground for this is his practice of frequently transliterating words of his original. Dr. Field, however, has well shewn (Prolegg. in Hexapla IV. iii.) that he guides himself mostly by definable rules—the words so dealt with being names of animals (as θεννὶν for σειρῆνες), plants (as ἀχὶ for βούτομον), vestments (as βαδδὶν for ποδήρης), or articles used in worship (as θεραφὶν for κενοτάφια or [Aq.] μορφώματα). In such cases, his choosing to transliterate, rather than adopt a conjectural Greek rendering from a former version or hazard a new guess of his own, indicates scrupulous caution, not ignorance. He proves at least that he diligently consulted the original, and often shews a wise discretion in forbearing to translate a word whose meaning cannot be determined, or for which the Greek language has no equivalent. As well might the English translators of 1611 be called "unlearned" for retaining such words as "teraphim," "Belial," or the revisers of 1881–1884 because they replace the "scapegoat" of A.V. by "Azazel," and for "hell" give "Sheol " in O.T. and "Hades" in N.T.

Theodotion's version included all the canonical books of O.T. except, probably, Lamentations. Of the apocryphal books, he is only known to have included Baruch and the additions to Daniel.