In this section, Athanasius continues to expound the prophecies in Scripture of Christ and how they were fulfilled in him alone.
But all Scripture teems with refutations of the disbelief of the Jews. For which of the righteous men and holy prophets, and patriarchs, recorded in the divine Scriptures, ever had his corporal birth of a virgin only? Or what woman has sufficed without man for the conception of human kind? Was not Abel born of Adam, Enoch of Jared, Noe of Lamech, and Abraham of Tharra, Isaac of Abraham, Jacob of Isaac? Was not Judas born of Jacob, and Moses and Aaron of Ameram? Was not Samuel born of Elkana, was not David of Jesse, was not Solomon of David, was not Ezechias of Achaz, was not Josias of Amos, was not Esaias of Amos, was not Jeremy of Chelchias, was not Ezechiel of Buzi? Had not each a father as author of his existence? Who then is he that is born of a virgin only? For the prophet made exceeding much of this sign. Or whose birth did a star in the skies forerun, to announce to the world him that was born? For when Moses was born, he was hid by his parents: David was not heard of, even by those of his neighbourhood, inasmuch as even the great Samuel knew him not, but asked, had Jesse yet another son? Abraham again became known to his neighbours as a great man only subsequently to his birth. But of Christ’s birth the witness was not man, but a star in that heaven whence He was descending.
However, I was actually intrigued by a note from those who translated the version of On The Incarnation available on CCEL discussing the mistranslation of the LXX and all Latin translations. Given that the Greek LXX in one form or another was pretty much the undisputed Old Testament scripture of the whole church (either in Greek or in translation) until the time of the Protestant Reformation I’m intrigued when specific differences are pointed out. This note is on Athanasius quote from Jeremiah 11. Of course, I take the statement that the LXX mistranslates the Hebrew with a grain of salt since we don’t actually have the text from which the LXX was translated. And, if I recall correctly, Jeremiah is one of the texts we know had several variations in existence in and around the time the LXX was translated (roughly 200 BCE off the top of my head). And I also keep in mind the surviving complaints of, for instance, Justin Martyr that as the rabbis were putting together what we now call the Masoretic text, they were making changes designed to weaken the effectiveness of the Christian proclamation among the Jewish people.
So I looked at the verse in numerous translations. The only English translation of the LXX I own is the one in the OSB. One of the first things I noticed is that this is not merely a matter of the translation of one word or phrase. Jeremiah 11 in the LXX, while similar to the Masoretic text, is different enough that this verse is actually verse 18, not 19. Here is Jeremiah 11:18 from the OSB.
For I did not know I was like an innocent lamb led to be sacrificed. They plotted an evil device against me, saying, “Come, let us put wood in his bread, and destroy him root and branch from the land of the living, so his name might not be remembered any longer.”
The OSB also notes that Jeremiah 11:17-12:5, 9-11, 14, 15 is read in Church on both Holy Thursday and Holy Friday every year. Clearly it’s considered an important passage, yet it’s one I can’t recall ever hearing in the context of a Protestant Church. Following are several different translations of Jeremiah 11:19 as rendered (I imagine) from the Masoretic text.
But I was like a docile lamb brought to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised schemes against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be remembered no more.” (NKJV)
I was like a lamb being led to the slaughter. I had no idea that they were planning to kill me! “Let’s destroy this man and all his words,” they said. “Let’s cut him down, so his name will be forgotten forever.” (NLT)
But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter;
And I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
And let us cut him off from the land of the living,
That his name be remembered no more.” (NASB)
I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree and its fruit;
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
that his name be remembered no more.” (NIV)
Before this, I was like a gentle lamb waiting to be butchered. I did not know they had made plans against me, saying:
“Let us destroy the tree and its fruit.
Let’s kill him so people will forget him.” (NCV)
I don’t have any great insights, but I don’t believe this can be reduced to a mistranslation. Even ignoring the earlier differences in this one chapter, the structure of the LXX translation feels markedly different from the rest. I think it’s more likely that the LXX translators were working from a different Hebrew text of Jeremiah than the one used in the Masoretic Jewish canon. There’s definitely more going on than a simple mistranslation.