The translation of Aquila

end of 5th century – beginning of the 6th century


What did the early Jews do with old Bible manuscripts that could not be used anymore? Because of their respect for the holy Name of God, they did not throw them away or destroy them. They stowed the old documents away in a room belonging to the synagogue, called geniza. When there was no more room in the geniza, they took the material to sacred ground and buried it ceremoniously. Time decomposed the material.

In the year 1890 Solomon Schechter discovered such a geniza in Cairo, Egypt. He found a tremendous amount of manuscripts, including Bible fragments. This geniza was found intact because the documents were placed in brickwork - in this way hidden for centuries. Superstition may have played a part in this. A poisonous snake was presumed to be at the entrance of the geniza, ready to kill thieves.

In between the old documents was a very important one, written about 128 A.D. by a Jew proselyte named Aquila. The document was a palimpsest, a manuscript, which was re-used - in most instances the parchment would be washed and/or scraped and resurfaced, then written on again. In this case, the letters were scraped from the original scroll, but the new text was still visible under the old one. The parchment contains parts from the Psalms in Greek, translated by Aquila. In various places the Divine Name is written in Old-Hebrew.


Facsimile made by B. Bonte


It is interesting to know that the 3rd century theologian, Origines used Aquila’s translation in his famous Hexapla. In this enormous work he placed 6 columns besides each other, containing Hebrew Scriptures.

Column 1: the Hebrew and Aramaic text
Column 2: the Greek transliteration from column 1
Column 3: Aquila's Greek translation
Column 4: Symmachus' Greek translation
Column 5: the Greek Septuagint, reviewed by Origenes
Column 6: Theodotion's Greek translation

By presenting these translations together Origines hoped to shed more light on the original text.




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