THE work of the Bible Society may be said to have been begun at Alexandria under the Ptolemies: for there the first translation of the Bible, so far as it then existed, was made.
Under the old kings of Egypt there was no city on the site of Alexandria, but only a coast-guard station for the exclusion of foreigners, and a few scattered huts of herdsmen. These monarchs had no enlightened appreciation of the benefits of commerce, and cherished a profound distrust of strangers, especially of Greeks, whom they regarded as land-grabbers. But when the Greeks knocked at the doors of Egypt in a way that admitted of no refusal, the lonely coast-guard station saw a great change come over itself. Founded by Alexander the Great in B.C.331, Alexandria became the capital of the new Greek kingdom of Egypt and took its place as a great centre both of commerce and of literature, the rival of Carthage in the one, of Athens in the other.
Alexander is credited with having perceived the advantages of situation which conferred upon Alexandria its rapid rise to prosperity. With the Mediterranean on the north and Lake Mareia or Mareotis on the south, it received the products of the inland, which came down the Nile and were conveyed into the lake by canal-boats, and then exported them from its harbours. Under the Romans it became of still greater commercial importance as the emporium of the trade then developed between the East and the West, of which it had a practical monopoly.
The vicinity of sea and lake had advantages also in the way of health: for in the summer the etesian winds set in from the north, and the lake, instead of stagnating, was kept full and sweet by the rise of the Nile at that season. The kings too by their successive enclosures secured those breathing-places which are so necessary for the health of a great city. It is estimated by Strabo that a quarter, or even a third, of the whole area was occupied by parks and palaces.
Among the royal buildings was the famous Museum with its covered walk and arcades, and its hall for the |fellows| of the Museum, as Professor Mahaffy aptly calls them, to dine in. This institution had endowments of its own, and was presided over by a priest, who was appointed by the King, and, at a later period, by the Emperor.
What relation, if any, the Alexandrian Library, which was the great glory of the Ptolemies, bore to the Museum, is not clear. The Museum stood there in Roman tunes, and became known as |the old Museum,| when the emperor Claudius reared a new structure by its side, and ordained that his own immortal histories of the Etruscans and Carthaginians should be publicly read aloud once every year, one in the old building and the other in the new (Suet. Claud.42). The library however is related to have been burnt during Caesar's operations in Alexandria. Not a word is said on this subject by the historian of the Alexandrian War, but Seneca incidentally refers to the loss of 400,000 volumes.
The inhabitants of Alexandria are described by Polybius, who visited the city under the reign of the second Euergetes, commonly known as Physcon (B.C.146-117), as falling into three classes. There were first the native Egyptians, whom he describes as intelligent and civilised; secondly the mercenary soldiers, who were many and unmannerly; and thirdly the Alexandrian citizens, who were better behaved than the military element, for though of mixed origin they were mainly of Greek blood.
Polybius makes no mention of Jews in Alexandria, but we know from other sources that there was a large colony of that people there. Their presence in Egypt was partly compulsory and partly voluntary. The first Ptolemy, surnamed Soter, who had a long and prosperous reign (B.C.323-285), had invaded Palestine and captured Jerusalem on the sabbath-day, on which the Jews offered no defence. He carried away with him many captives from the hill country of Judaea and from the parts about Jerusalem, and also from Samaria. These were all planted in Egypt, where they carried on their quarrel as to which was the true temple, whither yearly offerings should be sent -- that at Jerusalem or the one on Gerizim. (Cp. Jn.4:20.) Soter, recognising the fidelity of the Jew to his oath, employed many of these captives to garrison important posts, and gave them equal citizenship with the Macedonians. This liberal treatment of their countrymen induced many more Jews to immigrate voluntarily into Egypt, in spite of the prohibition in the Mosaic law -- |Ye shall henceforth return no more that way| (Dt.17:18). There were also Jews in Egypt before this time, who came there under the Persian domination, and others before them who had been sent to fight with Psammetichus (B.C.671-617) against the king of the Ethiopians (Aristeas § 13). Jeremiah, it will be remembered, was carried perforce by his countrymen into Egypt (Jer.43:5-7, 44:1), some of whom may have escaped the destruction which he prophesied against them (Jer.42:16). This was shortly after the reign of Psammetichus. Thus the return of the Jews to Egypt was no new thing, and there they again multiplied exceedingly, even as they are recorded to have done at the first. Philo, who was a contemporary of Jesus Christ, but lived into the reign of Claudius, declares that of the five districts of Alexandria, which were named according to the first five letters of the alphabet, two were especially known as Jewish quarters, and that the Jews were not confined to these (Lib. in Flac. § 8, II 525).
With this large Jewish population in Alexandria, whose native language was now Greek, and to whom Hebrew had ceased to be intelligible, we see an obvious reason why the first translation of the Bible should have been made in that city. Arguing a priori we should certainly be inclined to assume that it was the necessities of the Alexandrian synagogue that brought about the translation. This however is not the account which has conic down to us, and which worked its way into the fabric of Christian belief. That account represents the desire of the second Ptolemy for the completeness of his library, and Pagan curiosity about the sacred books of the Jews, as having been the motives which led to their translation into, Greek. It is contained in a letter purporting to be written by one Aristeas to his brother Philocrates.
Aristeas, we gather, was a person of high account at the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus (B.C.285-247), probably one of the three captains of the royal body-guard, Sosibius of Tarentum and Andreas (§§ 12, 40) being the other two. He was a warm admirer of the Jewish religion, but not himself a Jew by race. Rather we are invited to think of him as a philosophic Pagan interested in the national customs of the Jews (§ 306). On one occasion he was present when King Ptolemy addressed a question to his librarian, Demetrius of Phalerum, the Athenian statesman and philosopher, as to the progress of the library. Demetrius replied that it already contained more than 200,000 volumes, and that he hoped in a short time to bring the number up to 500,000; at the same time he mentioned that there were some books of the Jewish law which it would be worth while to have transcribed and placed in the library. Then why not have it done?' said the king. You have full powers in the matter.' Demetrius mentioned a difficulty about translation, and the king came to the conclusion that he must write to the High-priest of the Jews in order to have his purpose effected. Hereupon Aristeas seized an opportunity, for which he had long been waiting. He represented to the king that he could hardly with any grace ask a favour of the High-priest while so many of his countrymen were in bondage in Egypt. This suggestion being seconded by silent prayer on the part of Aristeas and by the concurrence of Sosibius and Andreas, the result was an immense act of emancipation, by which all the Jewish slaves in Egypt, amounting to over 100,000, regained their freedom, at a cost to the king of more than 660 talents. The way was now clear for the contemplated accession to the library. The king called upon the librarian to send in his report, which is quoted as from the royal archives. In it Demetrius recommended that the king should write to the High-priest at Jerusalem, asking him to send to Egypt six elders from each of the twelve tribes, men of approved life and well versed in their own law, in order that the exact meaning of it might be obtained from the agreement among the majority (§ 32). Not content with his munificence in the redemption of the slaves, the king further displayed his magnificence in the handsome presents he prepared for the Temple, consisting of a table inlaid with precious stones together with gold and silver vessels for the use of the sanctuary. The conduct of the embassy was intrusted to Andreas and to Aristeas himself, who gives his brother an interesting account of the Temple and its services and the magnificent vestments of the High-priest, the conjoint effect of which he declares is enough to convert the heart of any man. Notices are also given of the citadel and of the city and country -- its cultivation, its commerce, its harbours, and its population -- which in some respects show the temerity of the tourist, for the writer speaks of the Jordan as flowing at the country of the Ptolemaeans' (§ 117) into another river, which in its turn empties itself into the sea.
The High-priest Eleazar, in compliance with the request of Pbiladelphus, selected seventy-two venerable elders, six from each tribe, whose names are given, men not only learned in the law, but also skilled in the language and literature of the Greeks, who were to accompany the ambassadors to Egypt on the understanding that they were to be sent back when their work was done. Before their departure Eleazar held a conversation with his guests, in which he offered a defence of the ceremonial ordinances of the Jewish law, and expounded views on the symbolic meaning of clean and unclean animals, resembling those set forth in the Epistle which goes under the name of Barnabas.
When the deputation arrived in Egypt, the king waived the requirements of court ceremonial and received the elders in audience at once. He first paid reverence to the volume of the law written in letters of gold, which they carried with them, and then extended a welcome to its bearers. After this they were entertained for a week at banquets, at which everything was arranged by a special court functionary in accordance with their own customs, so that there might be nothing to offend their susceptibilities. Elisha, the eldest of the Seventy-two, was asked to say grace, the ordinary court-chaplains being superseded for the occasion. The grace he pronounced was as follows: May God almighty fill thee, O King, with all the good things which he hath created; and grant to thee and to thy wife and to thy children and to those who think with thee to have these things without fail all the days of thy life!' (§ 185). The delivery of this benediction was followed by a round of applause and clapping of hands.
The feast of reason was added to the enjoyment of the royal fare. For at a certain point in the proceedings the king addressed questions of a vaguely ethico-political character to the elders, which were answered by them to the admiration of all, especially of the philosophers who had been invited to meet them, among whom was Menedemus of Eretria. Each evening for five days ten elders were interrogated, but on the sixth and seventh evenings eleven were taken, so as to complete the whole number. The questions were elaborated by the king beforehand, but the answers were given impromptu by the elders. The record of them occupies a considerable portion of the letter (§§ 187-294). The law of the answer, if we may so put it, seems to be that each should contain a reference to God and a compliment to the king. We are assured that we have them as they were taken down by the royal recorders.
At the close of this week's festivities an interval of three days was allowed, after which the elders were conducted by Demetrius to the island of Pharos, which was connected with the mainland by a dam nearly a mile long and a bridge. At the north end of this island they were lodged in a building overlooking the sea, where they would enjoy absolute quiet. Demetrius then called upon them to perform their work of translation. We have particulars of their habit of life while it was going on. Early in the morning every day they presented themselves at court and, having paid their respects to the king, returned to their own quarters. Then they washed their hands in the sea, offered up a prayer to God, and betook themselves to the task of reading and translating. Their work was harmonized by collation, and the joint result was taken down by Demetrius (§ 302). After the ninth hour they were free to betake themselves to recreation. It so happened, we are told, that the work of transcription was accomplished in seventy-two days, just as though it had been done on purpose (§ 307).
When the whole was finished, Demetrius summoned all the Jews in Alexandria to the island of Pharos, and read the translation aloud to them all in the presence of the interpreters, after which a solemn curse was pronounced upon any one who altered it. Then the whole work was read over to the king, who expressed much admiration at the deep insight of the law-giver and asked how it was that historians and poets had combined to ignore his legislation. Demetrius of Phalerum replied that this was because of its sacred character. He had heard from Theopompus that that historian had once wished to avail himself in his history of some inaccurate renderings from the Jewish law, and had suffered from mental disturbance for more than thirty days. In a lucid interval he prayed that it might be revealed to him why he was thus afflicted. Thereupon he was informed in a dream that it was because he had presumed to divulge divine things to common' men (§ 315: cp. Acts 10:15). I have also,' added Demetrius, received information from Theodectes, the tragic poet, that, when he wished to transfer some of the contents of the Bible into a play of his own, he found himself suffering from cataract on the eyes, from which he only recovered after a long time, when he had propitiated the god.' On hearing this the king paid reverence to the books, and ordered them to be kept with religious care.
The elders, having now accomplished the work for which they had come, were dismissed by the king with handsome presents both to themselves and to Eleazar, to whom Philadelphus at the same time wrote a letter begging that, if any of the elders purposed to come and see him again, the High-priest would not prevent it.
Such is the traditional account of the origin of the Septuagint, of which we have next to consider the value. But first there are a few points to be noted.
To begin with, we see the reason of the name. The Seventy (Lat. LXX: Gk. hoi O) is a round number for the Seventy-two. There were seventy-two interpreters, who took seventy-two days over their work.
Next we see that the name is a misnomer as applied to the Greek version of the Old Testament generally. There is no word in Aristeas as to a translation by the Elders of anything but the Law. But the name, having once been applied to the Greek translation, was gradually extended, as the Prophets and the Books were added in a Greek dress to the Law.
Thirdly we have to notice that in the Letter of Aristeas no claim to inspiration is advanced on behalf of the translators.
That the Bible, as we have it in English, is inspired, has often been tacitly assumed, but seldom laid down as a doctrine. But the inspiration of the Greek version was a point of belief with those who used it, and presumably is so to the present day in the Greek church. Already in Philo we find this claim advanced. He says that the interpreters all agreed in employing exactly the same words, as though by the whispering of some unseen prompter' Vita Mosis II § 7, II 140), and that a comparison of the original with the translation by those who are acquainted with both tongues will clearly show that they were not mere translators, but inspired hierophants and prophets.
Josephus (Ant. XII 2), presumably because he was not a Hellenist, and could read his Bible in the Hebrew, does not see the necessity for this doctrine of the inspiration of the Septuagint. He follows Aristeas closely, except at the end, where he actually turns the curse pronounced on alteration into an invitation to retrench superfluities or supply defects!
The early Christian Fathers gave play to their imagination over the story of the Septuagint. Justin Martyr (Apol. I 31 §§ 2-5) has a brief allusion to it, but the amount of credit which is due to him in this connexion may be judged from the fact that he makes Ptolemy send to King Herod for interpreters of the sacred books!
Irenaeus about a quarter of a century later (A.D.175) says that Ptolemy, being afraid lest the translators might combine to conceal the truth in some matter by their interpretation, had them isolated, and ordered each to translate the whole. When it was found that they all agreed word for word, then of a truth the Gentiles knew that the Scriptures were interpreted by inspiration of God. But this, he adds, was nothing surprising, seeing that, when the Scriptures had been lost during the captivity in Babylon, God inspired Ezra to rewrite them.
Clement of Alexandria (about A.D.190) follows to the same effect as to literal inspiration, and adds the prophetic writings to the work of the first interpreters (Strom. I § 148, p.409 P).
Eusebius, with his exceptional regard for truth, is content to give us an epitome of Aristeas.
Epiphanius however (died A.D.402) is lavish of details. He tells us that the king had thirty-six houses constructed on the island of Pharos, in which he shut up the interpreters two together. In these houses, which had no windows in the wall, but only skylights, the interpreters worked from morning till evening under lock and key. In the evening they were taken over in thirty-six different boats to the palace of Ptolemy Philadelphus, to dine with him. Then they slept two together in thirty-six different bedrooms. All these precautions were taken to prevent communication between the pairs, and yet when the thirty-six copies of each book of the Bible were compared together, they were found to be identical. So manifestly were these men inspired by the Holy Ghost, and where there was an addition made to the original, it was made by all, and where there was something taken away, it was taken away by all; and what they took away is not needed, and what they added is needed.'
This explicit assertion of the plenary inspiration of the Septuagint is manifestly prompted by the craving for an infallible Bible, which was felt in ancient as in modern times. St. Jerome, who, unlike the bulk of the Christian Fathers, made himself acquainted with the text of the original, nailed this false coin to the counter; nevertheless his younger contemporary Augustine gave it full currency again, declaring that the same Spirit which spoke through the prophets spoke also through their interpreters, and that any diversities there may be between the translation and the original are due to prophetic depth.'
These later embellishments of the story of the Septuagint may unhesitatingly be set aside as the outcome of pious imagination. But what of the original narrative which goes under the name of Aristeas? Is that to be regarded as fact or fiction?
At first sight we seem to have strong external evidence for its truth. There was an Alexandrian Jew named Aristobulus, who is mentioned at the beginning of Second Maccabees as the teacher of king Ptolemy' (1:10). The Ptolemy in question was the sixth, surnamed Philometor (B.C.180-145). Aristobulus, though a Jew, was also a Peripatetic philosopher, and anticipated Philo as an exponent of the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture. So at least we gather from Eusebius, who in his Praeparatio Evangelica several times quotes a work on the Interpretation of the Holy Laws' addressed by Aristobulus to Philometor. The interest of this work to us is that in it Aristobulus refers to the translation made in the reign of his majesty's ancestor Philadelphus under the superinten dence of Demetrius Phalereus. This seems decisive in favour of the historic character of the main facts recorded in the Letter of Aristeas. And there is another piece of external evidence to be added. For Philo, who himself lived at Alexandria, tells us that a festival was held every year on the island of Pharos in honour of the place whence the blessing of the Greek Bible first shone forth (Vita Mosis II § 7, II 141).
The external evidence being thus favourable, let us now examine the internal.
Time is the great revealer of secrets, and it is also, in another sense, the great detector of forgeries. We have therefore first to inquire whether the document is consistent in point of chronology with its own claims. Who are the persons mentioned, and did they live together? With regard to what may be called the minor characters there is no difficulty. Aristeas himself, Andreas, and Sosibius are otherwise unknown, while in the case of Menedemus of Eretria, Theodectes, and Theopompus, we are not debarred by considerations of time from accepting what is said of them, though it would fit in better with the reign of the first than of the second Ptolemy. But the relations between Ptolemy Philadelphus and Demetrius of Phalerum, as represented in the Letter, are inconsistent with what we know from other sources. Demetrius was expelled from Athens in B.C.307 by his namesake Demetrius the Besieger of Cities. Having subsequently found his way to Egypt, he became the chief friend of Ptolemy Soter, by whom he was even intrusted with legislation. Unfortunately for himself he advised that monarch to leave the kingdom to his children by his first wife Eurydice. Soter however left it to Philadelphus, the son'of Berenice, on whose accession Demetrius was disgraced. He died soon after owing to a snake-bite received during his sleep. This account is given by Diogenes Laertius (V § 78) on the authority of Hermippus, whom Josephus declares to have been a very exact historian. If his authority is good in favour of the Jews, it must be equally good against them.
It would seem then that, if Demetrius of Phalerum had anything to do with the translation of the Jewish Scriptures, that translation must have been made under the first Ptolemy. This is actually asserted by Irenaeus, who seems here to have followed some account independent of Aristeas. And in another respect this alternative version of the facts is intrinsically more credible. For, whereas the Letter of Aristeas represents Eleazar as an independent potentate, Irenaeus expressly says that the Jews were then subject to the Macedonians, by whom he doubtless means Ptolemy Soter, who is recorded to have subdued the country. But, if the Letter of Aristeas is wrong on so vital a point of chronology, it is plain that it cannot have been written by its assumed author, who can hardly be supposed to have been mistaken as to whose reign he was living under. In that case its historical character is gone, and we are at liberty to believe as much or as little of it as we please.
There are some minor points which have been urged as proofs of historical inaccuracy in the Letter, which do not seen to us to have any weight. One is connected with the letter of Eleazar, which begins thus (§ 41) -- If thou thyself art well, and the queen Arsinoe, thy sister, and the children, it will be well, and as we would have it.' Now Philadelphus had two wives in succession, both named Arsinoe. By the first, who was the daughter of Lysimachus, he had three children, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Berenice; by the second, who was his own sister, he had none. But then, as Eleazar was addressing Ptolemy, who was aware of these facts, it would have been superfluous for him to guard himself against misconstruction (cp. § 45). Again (§ 180) Philadelphus is made to speak of his victory 'in the sea fight against Antigonus.' It is asserted that Philadelphus was really defeated in this battle: but, if so, this fal sification of fact is not inappropriate in the monarch's own mouth. Who does not know the elasticity of the term 'victory'?
More important than the preceding are two passages in which the author, despite his cleverness, seems to forget that he is Aristeas, and to speak from the standpoint of his own later age. For in § 28, in commenting on the systematic administration of the Ptolemies, he says for all things were done by these kings by means of decrees and in a very safe manner.' Now it is conceivable that Aristeas might say this with reference to Philadelphus and his father Soter, but it seems more like the expression of one who could already look back upon a dynasty. Again in § 182, in recording how the national customs of the Jews were complied with in the banquet, he says for it was so appointed by the king, as you can still see now.' This could hardly be said by a person writing in the reign of which he is speaking.
Our inquiries then seem to have landed us in this rather anomalous situation, that, while external evidence attests the genuineness of the Letter, internal evidence forbids us to accept it. But what if the chief witness be himself found to be an impostor? This is the view taken by those who are careful to speak of the pseudoAristobulus. Aristobulus, the teacher of Ptolemy, would be a tempting godfather to a Jewish author wishing to enforce his own opinions. One thing is certain, namely, that the Orphic verses quoted by Aristobulus (Eus. Pr. Ev. XIII 12) are not of Greek but of Jewish origin. This however does not prove much. For since they were employed by some Jew, why not by one as well as by another? The Jewish Sibylline verses also go back to the reign of Ptolemy Philometor. There is another thing which may be affirmed with safety, namely, that the closest parallel to the Greek of Aristeas is to be found in the Greek of Aristobulus. Indeed it might well be believed that both works were by the same hand. We incline therefore to think that whatever was the date of the Interpretation of the Holy Laws' was the date also of the Letter of Aristeas. If the former work is really by Aristobulus writing under Ptolemy Philometor, then we assign the Letter to the same period. But, if the Jewish love of pseudonymity deludes us here also, then we are unmoored from our anchorage, and can be certain of nothing except that the Letter was accepted as history by the time of Josephus, who paraphrases a great part of it, and mentions the name of the supposed author. Philo's evidence is not so clear. He agrees with the author of the Letter in making the translation take place under Philadelphus, but he diverges from him, as we have seen, in asserting its inspiration, nor does he anywhere refer to the writer as his authority in the way Josephus does.
The Teubner editor of the Letter, Paul Wendland, puts its composition later than the time of the Maccabees (say after B.C.96) and before the invasion of Palestine by the Romans, B.C.63. The earlier limit is determined by arguments from names, which might be disputed, and the later is taken for granted. We ourselves think that the work was composed before the Jews had any close acquaintance with the Romans: but there is a point which might be urged against this view. Among the questions asked lay Philadelphus of the Elders there are two in immediate succession -- (1) What kind of men ought to be appointed strategoi? (2) What kind of men ought to be appointed commanders of the forces'? (§§ 280, 281). One or other of these questions seems superfluous until we inquire into the meaning of strategoi in this context. The answer to the question in the text clearly shows that the word here stands for judges.' Now, if we remember that strategos was the Greek equivalent for the Roman praetor, it might at first seem that it could only have been under the Romans that strategos acquired the meaning of judge.' But this leaves out of sight, the question how strategos came to be selected as the equivalent of the Roman praetor. -The word must already in Greek have connoted civil as well as military functions before it could have seemed to be a fit translation of praetor. And this we know to have been the case. The strategoi at Athens were judges as well as generals. At Alexandria they seem to have become judges instead of generals.
Turning now from the date of the Letter of Aristeas to that of the Septuagint itself, we have already found that there were two forms of the tradition with regard to its origin, one putting it under the reign of the second, the other tinder that of the first Ptolemy The latter comes to us through Irenwus and is compatible with the part assigned to Demetrius of Phalerum in getting the Law of Moses translated, whereas the former is not. Both versions of the story were known to Clement of Alexandria, who gives the preference to the former. They were combined by Anatolius (Eus. H.E. VII 32), who declares that Aristobulus himself was one of the Seventy, and addressed his books on the Interpretation of the Law of Moses to the first two Ptolemies. This however is out of keeping with the fragments of Aristobulus themselves.
From the Prologue to Ecclesiasticus we may fairly infer that the Law, the Prophecies, and the rest of the Books,' so far as the last were then written, already existed in Greek at the time of writing, and the text itself shows acquaintance with the phraseology of the Septuagint version of the Pentateuch. That Prologue cannot have been written later than 132 B.C., and may have been written as early as the reign of the first Euergetes, who succeeded Philadelphus (B.C.247-222).
Philo displays an acquaintance through the Greek with all the books of the Old Testament, except Esther, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and Daniel. But he quotes the Prophets and Psalms sparsely, and seems to regard them as inferior in authority to the Law.
The making of the Septuagint, as we have it, was not a single act, but a long process, extending perhaps from the reign of the first Ptolemy down to the second century after Christ: for the translation of Ecclesiastes looks as if it had been incorporated from the version of Aquila, of which we shall speak presently. Tradition is perhaps right in connecting the original translation of the Law with the desire of the early Ptolemies for the completeness of their library. Eusebius sees in this the hand of Providence preparing the world for the coming of Christ by the diffusion of the Scriptures, a boon which could not otherwise have been wrung from Jewish exclusiveness (Pr. Ev. VIII 1).
We need not doubt Tertullian's word when he says that the Old Testament Scriptures in Greek were to be seen in the Serapeum in his own day along with their originals. But the question is how they got there. Were they really translated for the library? Or, having been translated by the Jews for their own use was a copy demanded for the library? On this question each must judge for himself. To us the story of the Seventy-two Interpreters carries no conviction. For why should the king send to Judaea for interpreters, when there was so large a Jewish population in his own kingdom? The seventy-two interpreters, six from each tribe, savour strongly of the same motive which dictated the subsequent embellishments of the story, namely, the desire to confer authority upon the Hellenist Scriptures. We lay no stress in this connexion on the loss of the ten tribes, which has been supposed to render the story impossible from the commencement. If it had been an utter impossibility to find six men from each tribe at Jerusalem, no Jew would have been likely to invent such a story. Moreover in New Testament times the ten tribes were not regarded as utterly lost (Acts 26:7, James 1:1). Though they never came back as a body, probably many of them returned individually to Palestine; and the Jews were so careful of their genealogies that it would be known to what tribe they belonged. The wholesale emancipation of Jewish slaves by Philadelphus at his own cost is so noble an example to kings that it is a pity to attack its historicity: but it is necessary to point out that the price recorded to have been paid for each, namely twenty drachmas, is utterly below the market-value, so that the soldiers and subjects of Philadelphus would have had a right to complain of his being generous at their expense. Josephus is so conscious of this flaw in the story, that in two places he quietly inserts a hundred' before the twenty drachmas,' notwithstanding that this sixfold, but still modest, price does not square with the total.
Of any attempt prior to the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew Scriptures we have no authentic information. It is true that the writer of the Letter speaks of previous incorrect translations of the Law (§ 314) as having been used by Theopompus: but his motive seems to be a desire to exalt the correctness of what may be called the authorised version. Similarly Aristobulus (Eus. Pr. Ev. IX 6, XIII 12) speaks of parts of the Pentateuch as having been translated before Demetrius of Phalerum' and before the supremacy of Alexander and the Persians.' But again there is a definite motive to be found for this vague chronological statement in the attempt which was made at Alexandria to show that Plato and before him Pythagoras were deeply indebted to Moses. For when the Alexandrian Jews paid Greek philosophy the compliment of finding that in it lay the inner meaning of their own Scriptures, they endeavoured at the same time to redress the balance by proving that Greek philosophy was originally derived from Jewish religion, so that, if in Moses one should find Plato, that was only because Plato was inspired by Moses. The motto of this school is conveyed in the question of Numenius What is Plato but Moses Atticizing?' One of its methods, we regret to add, was the fabrication of Orphic and Sibylline verses, to which we have already had occasion to allude. This industry was carried on by the Christians, and affords a reason why in the vision of Hermas (Herm. Past. Vis.114 § 1) the Sibyl could at first sight be confounded with the Church. In Lactantius the Sibylline verses form one of the chief evidences of Christianity.
Of translations of the Old Testament subsequent to the Septuagint the three most famous are those of Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus. Aquila, like his namesake, the husband of Priscilla, was a native of Pontus, and though not a Jew by birth was a prose. lyte to the Jewish religion. His version is distinguished by the total sacrifice of the Greek to the letter of the Hebrew text. So much is this the case that a Hebrew prefix which is both a sign of the accusative and has also the meaning with' is represented, where it occurs in the former sense, by sun, so that we are presented with the phenomenon of sun with the accusative. This peculiarity presents itself in the Greek version of Ecclesiastes alone among the books of the Septuagint, so that the rendering of that late work may be conjectured to be due to Aquila. This translator lived during the reign of Hadrian (A.D.117-138).
Theodotion of Ephesus is said to have lived towards the close of the same century, under Commodus (A.D.180-192). He also was a Jewish proselyte. His work was rather a revision of the Septuagint than an independent translation. So far as the book of Daniel is concerned, it was accepted by the Christian Church, and the older Septuagint version was discarded.
Symmachus of Samaria, who, according to Eusebius (H.E. VI 17), was an Ebionite Christian, flourished in the next reign, that of Septimius Severus (A.D.193-211). His version was more literary in form than that of Aquila.
The reader will observe that all three of these versions come from the side of Judaism. The Christian Church was content with the Septuagint, whereon to found its claim as to the witness of the Old Testament to Christ. Eusebius points to the providential nature of the fact that the prophecies which foretold his coming were stored in a public library under the auspices of a Pagan king centuries before his appearance, so that the coincidence between prediction and fulfilment could not be ascribed to any fraud on the part of the Christians. The Jews however were not so well satisfied with this aspect of things. The question of the Virgin birth divided the religions world then, as it does now. Aquila and Theodotion were at one in substituting neanis for parthenos in Isaiah 7:14, and the Ebionites found support in this for their declaration that Jesus was the son of Joseph. There were writings of Symmachus still extant in the time of Eusebius, which were directed against the Gospel according to St. Matthew (H.E. VI17).
Besides these well-known versions there were two other anonymous ones, which were brought to light through the industry and good fortune of Origen, the most scholarly of the Christian Fathers. One of these, which was called the Fifth Edition, was found hidden in an old wine-cask at Jericho in the reign of that Antoninus who is better known as Caracalla (A.D.211-217); the other, which was called the Sixth Edition, was discovered in the subsequent reign of Alexander Severus (A.D.222-235) concealed in a similar receptacle at Nicopolis in Epirus, where we may presume St. Paul to have spent his last winter (Tit.3:12). Who knows but that it may have been one of the books which he was so urgent upon Timothy to bring with him? We do not think the chances very strongly in favour of this hypothesis: but it would account for some things, if we knew St. Paul to have had access to another version besides the Septuagint.
The renderings of the four main versions were arranged by Origen in parallel columns along with the original both in Hebrew and Greek characters, in a work which was consequently known as the Hexapla. For the Psalms Eusebius tells us Origen employed not only a fifth, but also a sixth and seventh interpretation' (H.E. VI 16). There was another work published by Origen called the Tetrapla, which contained only the Septuagint along with the versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. What the I seventh interpretation' spoken of by Eusebius was, it would be hard to say. What is called by Theodoret the Seventh Edition was the recension of Lucian, which was later than the work of Origen. Lucian was martyred under Diocletian (284-305 A.D.).
The work of Origen might enlighten the learned, but it did not affect the unique position held in the Christian Church by the Septuagint ever since it was taken over from the Hellenist Jews. We are familiar with the constant appeal made by the writers of the New Testament to Scripture,' an appeal couched in such words as It is written' or As the Scripture saith.' In the great majority of cases the Scripture thus appealed to is undoubtedly the Septuagint; seldom, if ever, is it the Hebrew original. We have seen how, even before the Christian era, the Septuagint had acquired for itself the position of an inspired book. Some four centuries after that era St. Augustine remarks that the Greek-speaking Christians for the most part did not even know whether there was any other word of God than the Septuagint (C.D. XVIII, 43). So when other nations became converted to Christianity and wanted the Scriptures in their own tongues, it was almost always the Septuagint which formed .the basis of the translation. This was so in the case of the early Latin version, which was in use before the Vulgate; and it was so also in the case of the translations made into Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, and other languages. The only exception to the rule is the first Syriac version, which was made direct from the Hebrew. When at the close of the fourth century St. Jerome had recourse to the Hebrew original in revising the accepted Latin text, the authority of the Septuagint stood in the way of the immediate acceptance of his work. , The Churches of Christ,' said St. Augustine, do not think that anyone is to be preferred to the authority of so many men chosen out by the High-priest Eleazar for the accomplishment of so great a work.'
Nevertheless Jerome's revision did triumph in the end, and under the name of the Vulgate became the accepted text of the Western Church. But the Vulgate itself is deeply tinctured by the Septuagint and has in its turn influenced our English Bible. Many of the names of Scripture characters, e.g. Balaam and Samson, come to us from the Septuagint, not from the Hebrew; our Bible often follows the verse-division of the Septuagint as against that of the Hebrew; the titles of the five books of Moses are derived from the Septuagint, not from the Hebrew. Thus the Septuagint, while it still survives in the East, continued its reign even in the West through the Vulgate; nor was it until the time of the Reformation that the Hebrew Scriptures themselves began to be generally studied in Western Europe.
Never surely has a translation of any book exercised so profound an influence upon the world as the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. This work has had more bearing upon ourselves than we are perhaps inclined to think. For it was the first step towards that fusion of the Hebraic with the Hellenic strain, which has issued in the mind and heart of modern Christendom. Like the opening of the Suez Canal, it let the waters of the East mingle with those of the West, bearing with them many a freight of precious merchandise. Without the Septuagint there could have been, humanly speaking, no New Testament: for the former provided to the latter not only its vehicle of language, but to a great extent also its moulds of thought. These last were of course ultimately Semitic, but when religious ideas had to be expressed in Greek, it was difficult for them to escape change in the process.
So long as the New Testament is of interest to mankind, the Septuagint must share that interest with it. The true meaning of the former can only be arrived at by correct interpretation of the language, and such correct interpretation is well-nigh impossible to those who come to the Jewish Greek of the reign of Nero and later with notions derived from the age of Pericles. Not only had the literary language itself, even as used by the most correct writers, undergone great changes during the interval, but, further than this, the New Testament is not written in literary, but rather in colloquial Greek, and in the colloquial Greek of men whose original language and ways of thinking were Semitic, and whose expression was influenced at every turn by the phraseology of the Old Testament. If we wish then to understand the Greek of the New Testament, it is plain that we must compare it with the Greek of the Old, which belongs, like it, to post-classical times, is colloquial rather than literary, and is so deeply affected by Semitic influence as often to be hardly Greek at all, but rather Hebrew in disguise. That everything should be compared in the first instance with that to which it is most like is an obvious principle of scientific method, but one which hitherto can hardly be said to have been generally applied to the study of the New Testament. Now however there are manifold signs that scholars are beginning to realise the importance of the study of the Greek Old Testament in its bearing upon the interpretation of the New.
Attic Greek was like a vintage of rare flavour which would only grow on a circumscribed soil. When Greek became a world-language, as it did after the conquests of Alexander, it had to surrender much of its delicacy, but it still remained an effective instrument of thought and a fit vehicle for philosophy and history. The cosmopolitan form of literary Greek which then came into use among men of non-Attic, often of non-Hellenic origin, was known as the Common (koine, sc. dialektos) or Hellenic dialect. Aristotle may be considered the first of the Hellenists, though, as a disciple of Plato, he is far nearer to Attic purity than the Stoics, Epicureans, and Academics who followed him.
Hellenistic Greek we may regard as the genus, of which Alexandrian Greek is a species. Now the language of the Septuagint is a variety of Alexandrian Greek, but a very peculiar variety. It is no fair specimen either of the colloquial or of the literary language of Alexandria.
The interesting light thrown upon the vocabulary of the Septuagint by the recent publication of Egyptian Papyri has led some writers to suppose that the language of the Septuagint has nothing to distinguish it from Greek as spoken daily in the kingdom of the Ptolemies. Hence some fine scorn has been wasted on the myth' of a Biblical' Greek. Biblical Greek' was a term aptly applied by the late Dr. Hatch to the language of the Septuagint and New Testament conjointly. It is a serviceable word, which it would be unwise to discard. For, viewed as Greek, these two books have features in common which are shared with them by no other documents. These features arise from the strong Semitic infusion that is contained in both. The Septuagint is, except on occasions, a literal translation from the Hebrew. Now a literal translation is only half a translation. It changes the vocabulary, while it leaves unchanged the syntax. But the life of a language lies rather in the syntax than in the vocabulary. So, while the vocabulary of the Septuagint is that of the market-place of Alexandria, the modes of thought are purely Hebraic. This is a rough statement concerning the Septuagint as a whole: but, as the whole is not homogeneous, it does not apply to all the parts. The Septuagint does contain writing, especially in the books of the Maccabees, which is Greek, not Hebrew, in spirit, and which may fairly be compared with the Alexandrian Greek of Philo.
The New Testament, having itself been written in Greek, is not so saturated with Hebrew as the Septuagint: still the resemblance in this respect is close enough to warrant the two being classed together under the title of Biblical Greek. Hence we must dissent from the language of Deissmann, when he says The linguistic unity of the Greek Bible appears only against the background of classical, not of contemporary |profane,| Greek.' Biblical Greek does appear to us to have a linguistic unity, whether as compared with the current Alexandrian of the Papyri or with the literary language of such fairly contemporary authors as Aristeas, Aristobulus, and Philo, not to add others who might more justly be called profane.'
The language of the Septuagint, so far as it is Greek at all, is the colloquial Greek of Alexandria, but it is Biblical Greek, because it contains so large an element, which is not Hellenic, but Semitic.
Josephus, it has been asserted, employs only one Hebraism, namely, the use of prostithesthaiwith another verb in the sense of doing something again' (see Gram. of Sept. Gk. § 113). For the accuracy of this statement it would be hazardous to vouch, but the possibility of its being made serves to show the broad difference that there is between Hellenistic Greek, even as employed by a Jew, who, we know, had to learn the language, and the Biblical Greek of the Septuagint.
The uncompromising Hebraism of the Septuagint is doubtless due in part to the reverence felt by the translators for the Sacred Text. It was their business to give the very words of the Hebrew Bible to the Greek world, or to those of their own countrymen who lived in it and used its speech; as to the genius of the Greek language, that was entirely ignored. Take for instance Numbers 9:10 Anthropos anthropos ho ean genetai akathartos epi psuche anthropou, e en hodo makran humin e en tais geneais humon, kai poiesei to pascha Kurio. Does anyone suppose that stuff of that sort was ever spoken at Alexandria? It might as well be maintained that a schoolboy's translation of Euripides represents English as spoken in America.
One of our difficulties in explaining the meaning of the Greek in the Septuagint is that it is often doubtful whether the Greek had a meaning to those who wrote it. One often cannot be sure that they did not write down, without attaching any significance to them, the Greek words which seemed to be the nearest equivalents to the Hebrew .before them. This is especially the case in the poetical passages, of which Deuteronomy 33:10b will serve for an instance -- epithesousin thumiama en orge sou, dia pantos epi to thusiasterion sou.. We can account for this by aid of the original: but what did it mean to the translator?
Another obvious cause of difference between Biblical and Alexandrian Greek is the necessity under which the translators found themselves of inventing terms to express ideas which were wholly foreign to the Greek mind.
The result of these various causes is often such as to cause disgust to the classical student. Indeed a learned Jesuit Father has confessed to us what a shock he received on first making acquaintance with the Greek of the Septuagint. But the fastidiousness of the classical scholar must not be nourished at the expense of narrowing the bounds of thought. The Greek language did not die with Plato; it is not dead yet; like the Roman Empire it is interesting in all stages of its growth and its decline. One important stage of its life-history is the ecclesiastical Greek, which followed the introduction of Christianity. This would never have been but for the New Testament. But neither, as we have said before, would the New Testament itself have been but for the Septuagint.