The body of manuscript evidence compiled by origen at caesarea in palestine before a.d. 245 for comparison of the existing Greek versions of the OT with the Hebrew text current in his day. The name (τά [symbol omitted]ξαπλ[symbol omitted], i.e., βιβλία, the sixfold books) derives from the arrangement given to the pages of this work by Origen. For most of the OT books, he presented in six parallel vertical columns (1) the Hebrew consonantal text in Hebrew letters;(2) a spelling out of the Hebrew as actually pronounced, insofar as that could be represented with the Greek alphabet; (3) the rendering of Aquila; (4) the rendering of Symmachus; (5) the ancient Septuagint (LXX) rendering, modified in the light of the Hebrew and the Greek of the other columns, with critical symbols (see below) to call attention to ways in which the older Greek form and the Hebrew failed to agree; and (6) the early revision of the LXX ascribed to Theodotion. For some books, Origen had available added translations or recensions, so that in the Psalms, for instance, mention is made of a Quinta (fifth), a Sexta (sixth), and even a Septima (seventh) Greek rendering by unknown hands; the number of columns would correspondingly increase from six to at least eight. (The Septima, however, may never have been more than marginal notes.) The Hexapla was thus a complex and bulky work; it remained available for consultation at Caesarea until about a.d. 600 and was used by St. Jerome among others. Copies of it were mainly by way of extracts. Origen himself is said to have prepared an abridged edition (Tetrapla, fourfold) omitting the two Hebrew columns. The final fate of the complete work is unknown; today it survives only in fragments from the Books of Kingdoms (Samuel and Kings) and the Psalms, along with excerpts in the margins of Greek LXX MSS, citations in the patristic literature in several languages, and extensive portions of the fifth column, especially in Syriac and Arabic translations. The recompiling and critical evaluation of these materials is one of the continuing tasks of students of the LXX; attribution of a particular reading to one or another of the original columns is often either lacking or given incorrectly in the sources.
The Hebrew in Origen's first column was, like all other Hebrew OT texts from the early second Christian century onward, extremely close to the consonantal text as printed in the Hebrew Bibles of today. The second column transliteration is sufficiently consistent in its orthography (see G. Mercati, "Il problema …") so that one must suppose that in this form it was contemporary with Origen. It has been shrewdly conjectured, however, (T.W. Manson, cited by Kahle), that this kind of transcription is at least the heir to a Jewish practice of providing a reader's guide in Greek letters to the liturgical sections to be proclaimed from Hebrew scrolls in the synagogues of the diaspora. That the LXX translation was originally made from transliterations of this sort rather than from a Hebrew consonantal text is a quite fanciful theory; the true interest of the second column for modern scholars is its pre-Masoretic evidence for the historical pronunciation of biblical Hebrew. In editing the fifth or LXX column, Origen inserted, marked with an asterisk, usually from "Theodotion," the Greek equivalent of those passages in the Hebrew text not to be found in the older translation. Passages in the LXX for which the Hebrew showed no equivalent were retained, but signaled at the beginning with an obelus. The limits of either type of variant text were marked at the end by a metobelus. There is some question whether this apparatus was employed in the Hexapla itself (the Mercati Psalm fragments do not show it), or whether it was used in a resultant text drawn from the fifth column for separate circulation.
That the Hebrew text of his own day should have served as Origen's exclusive norm leaves something to be desired from the point of view of modern textual criticism; but the invaluable collection of materials is none the less precious on that account. It is simply not true, however, that this was the first critical work done on the OT in Greek; Origen was heir to a continuing process of revision carried on in Jewish circles in Palestine, both in Hebrew and in Greek, during the first century b.c. and the first and early second Christian centuries. Sometimes the basis for the fifth column was not an unrevised LXX, but the product of "Theodotion," or even, for Ecclesiastes, of Aquila. Nor was the arrangement of the columns invariable throughout the OT; in the case of Ecclesiastes, when the "LXX" column was occupied by Aquila's work, the third column apparently contained Symmachus, and this has led to faulty attributions by later writers. In the Psalms, the Quinta seems to have occupied the customary place of "Theodotion." From 2 Sm 11.2 to 1 Kgs 2.11, "Theodotion" stands in the fifth column and a "Lucianic" text in the sixth. Abridged transcriptions of the Hexapla after the time of Origen have led to further inconsistencies in the evidence for the content of the various columns.
Bibliography: f. field, Origenis Hexaplorum quae supersunt, 2 v. (Oxford 1875). g. mercati, Psalterii hexapli reliquiae (Vatican City 1958–) v. 1; "Il problema della seconda colonna dell' Esaplo," Biblica 28 (1947) 1–30, 173–215. d. barthÉlemy, Les Devanciers d'Aquila (Vetus Testamentum Suppl. 10; 1963). p. kahle, "Die von Origenes verwendeten griechischen Bibelhandschriften," Studia patristica 4 (Texte und Untersuchungen Zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 79; 1961) 107–117. h. b. swete, An Introduction to the O.T. in Greek (rev. ed. Cambridge, Eng. 1914) 59–86.
[p. w. skehan]