The Hexapla is an edition of the Old Testament prepared by Origen in the third century. The Hexapla was prepared in six (hence the name) columns containing different versions of the Scriptures. These included a Hebrew (probably the Masoretic) text, four different Greek versions (a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew text and versions by Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion), and the Septuagint.
During the second and third centuries a number of versions of the Old Testament were available each having variations in texts. This created confusion about what was the true text of Scriptures. While the Church had chosen the Septuagint as its own, it differed from the Hebrew version of the second century that was the standard prepared by Jewish Rabbis under Akiba the founder of Rabbinic Judaism. In the interim many textual changes had occurred through corruption during transcriptions, additions and deletions, and mistakes through translations since the Hebrew text used when the Septuagint was prepared.
During the second century Greek translations of the Scriptures were made by Aquila of Sinope, Symmachus the Ebionite, and Theodotion. Each had its own characteristics and variations from the Septuagint and each claimed to be superior. Origen attempted to reveal the true text of the earlier Hebrew Scriptures by establishing the exact relations of the Septuagint to the then current Greek and Hebrew versions. This he did by presenting side by side each version of the Scriptures in six columns in what became called the Hexapla. Origen’s arrangement placed in the first column the Hebrew text in Hebrew, in the second column the Hebrew test transliterated in Greek characters, in the third column Aquila’s Greek version, in the fourth Symmachus’ Greek version, in the fifth the Septuagint, and in the sixth Theodotion’s Greek version. Origen apparently added a seventh and eighth column for certain books of the Scriptures containing other Greek translations. These were called Quinta and Sexta as they were Origen’s fifth and sixth versions, or editions, of his studies. Origen apparently produced also five, seven, and eight column arrangements of versions of the Scriptures that were called Pentapla, Heptapla, and Octapla.
The Hexpla was a work in progress for Origen, and a complete copy of the entire Hexapla may never have been produced, given the very large amount of labor and costs involved in doing so. Fragments of portions of the work have been found as well as quotations and translation of portions that appear in various other works by later scribes.
While the original work is lost, the fragments have been collected in several editions over the past few centuries. Recently, these fragments with other materials that have been discovered in the last hundred years are being re-edited by an international group of Septuagint scholars. This work is being carried out as The Hexapla Project under the auspices of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, and directed by Peter J. Gentry (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Alison G. Salvesen (Oxford University), and Bas ter Haar Romeny (Leiden University).