Some Letters of H. B. Swete – Part I

H. B. Swete (1835-1917)

In the course of my dissertation research I have recently found myself tucked away in the manuscripts room of the Cambridge University Library. My aim is hopefully to discover more about the regrettably unfinished project alluded to in a footnote in Swete’s Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (1900):

“A lexicon was planned in 1895 by a Cambridge Committee, but the work is suspended for the present.”

Although you may think reading hundred year-old mail to learn more about a failed project is bizarre, the fact is that the correspondence I’ve been sorting through is over two thousand years more recent than the Egyptian personal correspondences I typically mull through in papyri.

But I digress. The point is, I haven’t yet found anything more about this delicious hint of a Cambridge Lexicon of the Septuagint that never was. However, I have found some other fascinating items, which I’d like to share here in a few posts.*

The Old Testament in Greek

If you are new to Septuagint studies, you may not be aware of the range of texts in existence. Much like the New Testament, the text of the Septuagint has been prepared numerous times in critical editions, some of which are more or less valuable for various purposes. This isn’t the place to get into all the critical texts that have been produced thus far, though more information can be found in the T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint (see here).

The most epoch-making of these critical editions, however, was compiled under the editorship of Swete. Prior to this, only four editions of the Greek Old Testament had been printed, which you can read about in Swete’s introduction to Volume 1 (here). I came across two interesting letters pertaining to how this edition came into existence. First, the invitation to from Cambridge, and secondly, Swete’s reply. The first is below:

Invitation from Cambridge University Press

I have transcribed each page, with the symbol | indicating a line break. The images have been enhanced for clarity, and can be clicked on and enlarged. I’ve also taken the liberty to include relevant links. If you think I’ve gotten something wrong – or can decipher some of what I have left as [?] lacunae – please say so in the comments below!

Clare College Lodge
Feb. 10, 1883

My dear Dr Swete,
I have been requested by the Syndics | of the CUP to ask you whether it would be appealing to you | to edit on behalf of the Syndics an Edition of the Septuagint | which was originally projected about eight years ago under | the auspices of Dr Scrivener, but has made very little progress | up to the present time. The plan originally sketched | out is contained in a letter from Dr Scrivener to the | V. C. & Syndics of the CUP dated Jan. 22, 1875, | of which a copy is enclosed & numbered (1). | In consequence of other engagements Dr Scrivener | made very little progress with the work: and it | was agreed about two years ago to suspend the

work altogether. This was done chiefly because it was | believed that Prof. Lagarde was about to publish a | Edition of the LXX. When it appeared that there was | very little likelihood of this Dr WestcottDr Hort, Mr | Bensley & Mr Kirkpatrick were requested to consider whether | it was desirable to proceed with the work , & if so | whether the original plan should still be adhered to. | A copy of their Report to the Syndicate dated Oct. 1882 | is enclosed & numbered (2). They further reported | on Oct. 25, 1882 that it was desirable that a smaller (?) | Edition of the Vatican MS of the Septuagint with | variants from Sinaitic & Alexandrian MSS | should be published as soon as possible. It was | hoped all this time that Dr Scrivener whould \have/ continued | to act as Editor in chief: and this hope was only | abandoned on my hearing from Dr Srivener about | the middle of January that he had had a |

[page 3] serious illness & must now definitively renounce all hope of | editing the LXX. He has very handsomely offered to place his | materials at the service of the Syndics for the work. The | Committee above named met again to decide what should | now be done and upon their recommendation (of which |a copy is enclosed and numbered (3)) the Syndics have | charged me to invite you to take Dr Srivener’s place.

I enclose two specimen pages of the proposed work, | one numbered (1) shewing what it would have been on the | original plan, the other numbered (2) shewing what it | will be on the new plan of making the Vatican the | basis of the text.

It would be a great pleasure to me to learn that | you were disposed to entertain the proposal which I | have now made on behalf of the Syndics.

I remain
My dear Dr Swete
Yours very truly
E. A. [Edward Atkinson]

Swete’s Reply

I will be transcribing and posting Swete’s reply in the near future (along with some other historical goodies).


* I should say that I have not looked too diligently into whether I am permitted to share these images publically. If you are someone in charge of such things and wish me to take them down, do let me know at


  1. I’m fascinated by these. Thanks for posting them! My wife’s paternal grandfather’s uncle was George Milligan (of Moulton & Milligan fame), so I find this very interesting.

  2. couple more:
    after (1) reads: In consequence of other engagements
    were requested to consider whether… instead of were requested to decide whether
    desirable that a smaller (?) Edition
    Alexandrian instead of Alexandrinus ?
    abandoned on my hearing (insert my)
    The | Committee above named (instead of wanted) met again to consider what should now be done…
    …and upon (instead of offer) their recommendation

    1. Not sure I agree with your first reading. The “The” is pretty clear to me, and your reading doesn’t improve the sense necessarily. Willing to be persuaded.

      Agreed on “consider”

      “smaller” seems plausible to me. I’ll insert it.

      “Alexandrian” yes but also I think “Sinaitic”

      Agreed on “named” etc.

      Not sure about inserting “my” as it doesn’t seem necessary to me.

      Agreed on “upon” and have joined this with the following sentence.

      1. Thank you for sharing this post Will.

        I wonder if instead of “smaller Edition” it reads “Mixthe [μιχθη] Edition.” My main cues are the “x” (compare with “Alexandrian” two lines below, and “text” on p. 3 at the end of the first full paragraph), and the dot placed above the word slightly to the left of what appears to be the “i.” The “t” lacking a cross mark occurs four lines above in the word “the.” If this is the reading, I imagine it will come up in Swete’s response… It seems to fit the description in Swete’s OT in Greek (p. 189: “the preparation of ‘a portable text…taken from the Vatican MS., where this MS. is not defective, with the variations of two or three other early uncial MSS.'”). Looking forward to Swete’s response!

      2. Interesting suggestion, which I find plausible. I have never seen textual evidence referred to this way, however (i.e., “mixed” minor texts?).

        On p. xii of vol. 1 of his Old Testament in Greek, Swete notes that it constitutes the “smaller or manual edition” of two editions originally planned by the Syndics (the larger having a more detailed apparatus, and later realized [in [part] by Brooke & McLean).

      3. I agree, it is an unusual use of “mixed.” If “Mixthe” were the reading in the letter, I was thinking it would mean mixed in those cases where Vaticanus is defective and is supplied with readings from the other uncials mentioned.

  3. ‘In consequence of other engagements Dr Scrivener made …’
    this makes sense, and it’s definitely an ‘In’ (unless it’s an emoticon).

    His ‘the’s have a clear hor. line e.g. bottom of p.2: ‘The middle of’.

    Whereas, currently, ‘The emergence of other of other engagements Dr Scrivener | made very little progress with the work:’ lacks sense.

    ‘abandoned on \my/ hearing’ – the ‘my’ is clearly in the text !


    1. But this is a capital “The” unlike bottom of p. 2. Still, your argument for the sense of the line makes sense (!) to me now. The idiom is unusual but it does work.

      Misunderstood your previous comment and thought you were suggesting a contextual insertion – “my” now inserted!

      Thanks again!

      On Fri, Jul 28, 2017 at 11:09 AM, Septuaginta &c. wrote:


  4. Thanks for these, Will! We’re the specimens included and/or Scrivener’s letter? I’d be interested to see those. I once tried to track down F.H.A. Scrivener’s papers (he was also working on a GNT), but never came up with anything.

    1. Yes, these were present as well (along with the samples), but I did not take pictures of them. Speaking of tracking things down, I seem to recall you saying you were once looking for Hort’s grave in the cemetery behind my house, which I have now located.

  5. The reading “smaller edition” is, I think, quite certain. Note the “s” in should two lines down.

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