Perhaps his most impressive contribution to scholarship was the Hexapla. In the church of his day, there were variant translations of the Old Testament into Greek. In view of these variant readings, he undertook to review them, analyze them, compare them to the original Hebrew – and publish the results, creating a tool that enabled later scholars to pursue the same line of study more easily. The Hexapla was a ground-breaking work in textual scholarship of the Bible in which six (occasionally more) editions of the Old Testament were laid out side-by-side. I will pass along the description of the Hexapla given us by the church historian Eusebius:
So meticulous was the scrutiny to which Origen subjected the Scriptural books that he even mastered the Hebrew language, and secured for himself a copy, in the actual Hebrew script, of the original documents circulating among the Jews. Moreover, he hunted out the published translations of Holy Writ other than the Septuagint, and in addition to the versions in common use – those of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion – he discovered several alternative translations. These had been lost for many years – I don’t know where – but he hunted them out of their hiding-places and brought them to light. These were wrapped in mystery, and he had no idea who wrote them; the only thing he could say was that he had found one at Nicopolis near Actium and the other at some similar place. Anyway, in his Hexapla of the Psalms, after the four familiar versions he placed in parallel columns not only a fifth but a sixth and seventh translation; in the case of one, he has added a note that it was found at Jericho in a jar during the reign of Antoninus, the son of Severus. All these he combined in one volume, breaking them up into clauses and setting them side by side in parallel columns, along with the original Hebrew text. Thus he has left us the copies of the Hexapla, as it is called. In a separate publication he put the versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion alongside the Septuagint, in his Tetrapla. (History, 6.16)In the days before word processing, the monumental work of creating the Hexapla and Tetrapla took years of Origen’s life to complete. This also resulted in a corrected critical edition of the Septuagint translation of the Bible, considered more authoritative by Jerome than the older translation which had not undergone critical review in comparison to the Hebrew received text.
Origen’s contributions – and the church’s unqualified gratitude for his textual studies – show that the early church was not interested in suppressing variant readings, but in studying them. Origen’s scholarly approach – and the recognition it received – was a mark of the intellectual integrity of both the scholar and the church that praised and welcomed his contribution to the field of textual criticism of the Bible.