Translator of the Bible into Greek; flourished at the end of the second or the beginning of the third century of the common era. According to Eusebius and Jerome, he was an Ebionite and consequently a Christian; according to Epiphanius, a Samaritan who embraced Judaism. Geiger has tried to identify him with the tanna Symmachus ben Joseph; but this view has been generally regarded as unfounded. Symmachus' translation of the Bible won such quick recognition and was adopted so rapidly that Origen incorporated it in his Hexapla. Field has made the most complete collection of the fragments which have been preserved in the Hexaplar manuscripts. New material has been furnished of late years by the Hexaplar discovery of Mercati, a complete publication of which has yet to be made, and by the small Hexaplar fragment discovered and published by Taylor. In contrast to the Septuagint, to Aquila, and to Theodotion, Symmachus writes good Greek, comparatively free from Hebraisms; and he strives above all to reproduce clearly the sense of the original (comp. Field, "Origenis Hexaplorum," etc., xxx. et seq.). He has, therefore, only seldom transcribed in Greek letters Hebrew words which were difficult to translate, as his predecessors often did.
Some uncertainty still prevails as to Symmachus' relationship to Aquila and Theodotion. Swete holds it probable that when Symmachus made his translation he had before him the work of both of these translators. In Symmachus' variations from the Septuagint, Geiger finds unmistakable traces of Jewish tradition in that he takes into account the dogmatic convictions of Judaism at the time (avoiding anthropomorphisms, referring to resurrection and everlasting life, softening harsh expressions), follows rabbinic interpretations in other ways also, and adopts for many words in the Bible a meaning which occurs only in the later Hebrew. This does not contradict the fact that he was an Ebionite—a fact of which Harnack has furnished important proofs, even tracing back to him the name of the Ebionite sect of the Symmachians. Jerome often made use of the translation of Symmachus, for which compare Field, l.c. xxxiv.-.xxxv., in which work also (xxxvi.-xxxvii.) an alleged second recension of his translation is mentioned.
- Field, Origenis Hexaplorum Quœ Supersunt Prolegomena, xxviii.-xxxvii.;
- Geiger, Jüd. Zeit. i. 39-64;
- Dict. of Christian Biography, iv. 748-749;
- Harnack, Gesch. der Altchristlichen Literatur, i. 209 et seq.;
- Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc. iii. 23;
- Swete, Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, pp. 49-53;
- Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 314 (assembles the literature on Mercati's find);
- Taylor, Hebrew-Greek Cairo Genizah Palimpsests . . . Including a Fragment of the 22d Psalm According to Origen's Hexapla, Cambridge, 1900 (contains text of Symmachus for Ps. xxii. 15-18, 20-24;
- also material on Symmachus, pp. 39-41).
- Compare also the bibliographies of the articles Aquila, Origen, and Theodotion.