Ant AND Bee, You Sluggard!

Ant AND Bee, You Sluggard!
Proverbs 6:8


The Septuagint is, roughly speaking, a Greek language translation of earlier (and lost) Hebrew language versions of the books of the Old Testament. The Septuagint, often referred to with the abbreviation LXX, was prepared and compiled prior to the birth of Christ, from roughly 200 to 50 BC. For Greek-speaking Jews and converts during the time of Jesus and Paul and those who wrote the New Testament, the Septuagint was an often-used source document for quotations from the Tanakh (Old Testament).

No LXX manuscripts (physical artifacts) of substance survive from the time before Christ, and the surviving LXX is pieced together from manuscripts dated after 200 AD.

Even though the Hebrew scriptures were originally written and circulated in the early Hebrew language well before the time of Christ, the earliest high quality physical Hebrew manuscripts surviving in our hands today date from well after the time of Christ. It wasn’t until the 800s AD (more or less) that the Jewish Masoretes began assembling and codifying the Hebrew texts that we know today as the Jewish Tanakh, or Christian Old Testament. As it turns out, the Greek LXX often reflects earlier renditions of Jewish scriptural documents, as the translators of Hebrew-to-Greek 100 years prior to Christ were working with Hebrew documents of that time, which are now lost.

In any event, the LXX and its body of manuscript artifacts add to the body of Hebrew manuscripts used by scholars and translators in the study of our Bible.

The surviving ancient and medieval manuscripts of Biblical source material, whether for Old or New Testaments, do not date back to times of events and authorship. The physical surviving artifacts are always copies, and the copies carry occasional copyist errors, editorial insertions, and the occasional deliberate alteration. These nearly always involve only single words and portions of phrases.

In this Bible Bit we highlight an anomaly which is somewhat more lengthy.   Our passage is in Proverbs chapter 6 at verse 8, where the Septuagint adds about two verses worth of text. 


Here is Proverbs 6:6-8 in the “official” Hebrew text of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), maintained by the Deutsche Bibel Gesellschaft (German Bible Society):

6לֵֽךְ־אֶל־נְמָלָ֥ה עָצֵ֑ל רְאֵ֖ה דְרָכֶ֣יהָ וַחֲכָֽם׃
7אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֵֽין־לָ֥הּ קָצִ֗ין שֹׁטֵ֥ר וּמֹשֵֽׁל׃
8תָּכִ֣ין בַּקַּ֣יִץ לַחְמָ֑הּ אָגְרָ֥ה בַ֝קָּצִ֗יר מַאֲכָלָֽהּ׃

While here is the Septuagint’s Greek of the same Proverbs 6:6-8, also from the German DBG’s “official” repository:

6    ῎Ιθι πρὸς τὸν μύρμηκα, ὦ ὀκνηρέ, καὶ ζήλωσον ἰδὼν τὰς ὁδοὺς αὐτοῦ
καὶ γενοῦ ἐκείνου σοφώτερος·
7    ἐκείνῳ γὰρ γεωργίου μὴ ὑπάρχοντος μηδὲ τὸν ἀναγκάζοντα ἔχων
μηδὲ ὑπὸ δεσπότην ὢν
8    ἑτοιμάζεται θέρους τὴν τροφὴν πολλήν τε ἐν τῷ ἀμήτῳ ποιεῖται τὴν παράθεσιν.
8    aἢ πορεύθητι πρὸς τὴν μέλισσαν καὶ μάθε ὡς ἐργάτις ἐστὶν
τήν τε ἐργασίαν ὡς σεμνὴν ποιεῖται,
8b    ἧς τοὺς πόνους βασιλεῖς καὶ ἰδιῶται πρὸς ὑγίειαν προσφέρονται,
ποθεινὴ δέ ἐστιν πᾶσιν καὶ ἐπίδοξος·
8c    καίπερ οὖσα τῇ ῥώμῃ ἀσθενής, τὴν σοφίαν τιμήσασα προήχθη.
(Alfred Rahlfs / Robert Hanhart edition of the Septuagint Greek, Deutsche Bibel Gesellschaft)

You don’t have to read either Greek or Hebrew to observe the Greek has something extra. Verse 8 is quite a bit longer in the Septuagint, and this not simply because the Greek takes a few more words to express the same thing. The LXX Greek adds a strophe — an entire two or three lines or verses — tacking this on to verse 8. The editors of this LXX (at the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (German Bible Society) in Stuttgart) have added additional verse numbering with an 8b and 8c and an additional number 8.

Back to the Hebrew.  Here again is an English translation based on the Hebrew:

6    Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
7    Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
8    Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
        (King James Version)

And here is another:

6    Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise,
7    Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler,
8    Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest.
        (New American Standard Bible)

Now again, back to the Greek. Here is Lancelot Brenton’s 1851 English translation of the Septuagint, which has the extended verse 8:

6    Go to the ant, O sluggard; and see, and emulate his ways, and become wiser than he.
7    For whereas he has no husbandry, nor any one to compel him, and is under no master,
8    he prepares food for himself in the summer, and lays by abundant store in harvest.
Or go to the bee, and learn how diligent she is,
and how earnestly she is engaged in her work;
whose labours kings and private men use for health,
and she is desired and respected by all:
though weak in body, she is advanced by honouring wisdom.
(Brenton’s Septuagint, 1851)


So, the Hebrew source of our Old Testament uses the imagery of the humble but diligent ant in its Proverbs 6 poetry, while the Greek source uses imagery of both ant and bee.

Only recently has a scholarly group taken on the task of again translating the Septuagint Greek into English. Brenton’s translation has long been the standard. Here is our passage from a 2009 translation for the NETS project by Johann Cook:

6     Go to the ant, O lazybones, and zealously observe its ways, and become wiser than it;
7     for without having any cultivated land nor anyone that forces it nor being under any master,
8     it prepares its food in summer, and it makes its provision plentiful in harvest time.
8a     Or go to the bee, and learn how industrious she is
and how seriously she performs her work
8b     whose products kings and commoners use for their health.
Yes, she is desired by all and honored.
8c     Although she is physically weak, by honoring wisdom she was promoted.

Translators into English weigh the various ancient source materials and the variations in the text found in these versions and manuscripts.  Translation teams using source X as their primary original-language vehicle do at times reject the text of X and instead go with the wording in what the believe to be a more original reading in some other ancient material.

We at Bible Bits do not find however English translations accepting the Septuagint’s lines regarding the bee as acceptable for their English Bible products.  This is understandable for English translations prepared prior to the wide availability of Lancelot Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint (along with concomitant scholarly interest) in the mid-1800’s, but even 20th century translations reject the idea of including the “bee” text.  The recent NET Bible team make note of the LXX additions in their translator notes.

Does your study Bible or commentary make note of this LXX material in Proverbs 6:8?  Can you find an English translation of Proverbs which determines that the LXX verse 8 is the more ancient and original?

Please read the actual Bible for yourself, and we pray that our Lord God blesses you with his goodness and mercy!   🙂


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