Re: Quality of the Septuagint - Which books?

From: Jeffrey Gibson (
Date: Sat Oct 11 1997 - 09:16:53 EDT

On Sat, 11 Oct 1997, Carl W. Conrad wrote:

> At 7:02 PM -0500 10/10/97, Jim West wrote:
> >> I've heard that there were many (~70) [translators of the LXX]
> >
> >This is myth pure and simple. The LXX is a text which was translated by
> >various persons in various places over decades if not centuries.
> I think it's fair to say that it is myth, but not that it is pure and
> simple. The story is told in a little work called, if I recall aright, the
> "Letter of Aristeas," and narrated amusingly by E.M. Forster in his 20th
> century classic, _Alexandria: a History and a Guide_: the story is that
> when Ptolemy wanted to include in the great Alexandrian library the sacred
> works of the peoples of the world, he got in touch with authorities in
> Jerusalem who sent seventy (whence the Latin title, Septuaginta) scholars
> to Alexandria. They were housed in huts or tents individually on the island
> of Pharos and asked each individually to write a version of the Pentateuch.
> When they were finished, they all were in verbatim agreement, and the
> resulting version was duly cataloged in the great library. If anybody
> believes that, I have a bridge I'd like to sell as soon as possible. But it
> remains a great story.

I think it's imortant to note the intention behind the story in Aristeas,
namely to validate the LXX as an authoritative text in the face of
declamations against, and obvious hostility toward, tampering with "God's
word". The "argument" of Aristeas is that it could hardly have been a
co-incidence that the 70 ended up with identical translations; both the
idea behind a Greek version of TANAK and the version's actual wording
was divinely "authorized." So within the Jewish world of the third to
second centuries BCE there must have been a prototype of the debate
which raged in England when the AV was published and which got repeated
in the English speaking world with the publication of the RV and the RSV,

By the way, Aristeas can be found online at the non-canonical homepage.
It's a fascinating text to read. But the story of the seclusion of the
scholars on Pharos only takes up a few verses. Much of the text devotes
itself (as I recall) to stories of how Ptolemy made sure the assigned
translators were up to the task.

Jeffrey Gibson

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