p.3d The translating of Hebrew into the Greek
This article covers the supernatural story of how the Septaugint, more accurately the first 5 books of Moses were translated into Greek from the Hebrew.
The term Septuagint means "seventy" in Latin (70 is the number of the Sanhedrin) and is a reference to the seventy elders in the Old Testament. It is also called the LXX claiming to be translated around 250 BC in Alexandria, Egypt.
From around 300 BC the Greek language became the speaking language in much of the world, even the Jews in the Roman Empire spoke (Koine) Greek, the common language spoken among the people, which is different than the higher form of classical Greek.
The first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language is said to be at the request of Ptolemy II of Egypt, 284–246 BCE. In the Letter of Aristeas, who was counselled by his chief librarian Demetrios of Phaleron to collect (by purchase or to copy) all the books in the world. This included a request to have the Hebrew law books translated into Greek, adding this translation into the great library at Alexandria. He wrote a letter to Eleazar, the high priest at Jerusalem who was asked to choose six men from each of the twelve tribes. 70 Jewish scholars learned in the Torah were enlisted to translate the Hebrew into Greek. On arrival at Alexandria, the translators were greeted by the king and given a sumptuous banquet. They were then given separate secluded housing on the island of Pharos to do their translating.
This story then bends to legendary proportions. When the 70 (or 72) translators completed they emerged they independently rendered identical versions. Which makes this very supernatural!
Many questions need to be asked and answered. Would a high priest in Israel consent to this immense project for a ruler of Egypt? Would he want the Hebrew translated into their language? Why would Eleazer send these men to the king of Egypt to translate the Scripture into a language they despised at the time. Why wouldn’t they send them one copy made in Israel instead of sending 70 rabbis (elders?) to go to Egypt with 70 scrolls of the book of Moses law? The religious Jews did not speak Greek in their temple, but they were willing to travel to Egypt at the Pharaoh’s request in order to translate Gods Word? Another question would be, why would they need 70 copies for a single library?
I do not believe Religious Jews would have consented to do this, Not all these points can be answered. I think there are better explanations.
The Septuagint, Translation of the Seventy", derives from the story recorded in the Letter of Aristeas.
“This was the reply which the high priest made. But it does not seem to me to be necessary to set down the names of the seventy [two] elders who were sent by Eleazar, and carried the law, which yet were subjoined at the end of the epistle. However, I thought it not improper to give an account of those very valuable and artificially contrived vessels which the king sent to God, that all may see how great a regard the king had for God; for the king allowed a vast deal of expenses for these vessels, and came often to the workmen, and viewed their works, and suffered nothing of carelessness or negligence to be any damage to their operations. And I will relate how rich they were as well as I am able, although perhaps the nature of this history may not require such a description; but I imagine I shall thereby recommend the elegant taste and magnanimity of this king to those that read this history.”
Elders is not an office but a term for older knowledgeable or wise men. Others call the translators scholars or Rabbis, but we have nothing to validate this. Not just anyone could copy, much less translate into the Greek language accurately.
The story says, 70 [or 72] Jewish Rabbis came from Israel, and that all of them not only spoke Greek, but also, were fluent in Greek, that they were qualified to intricately translate the Hebrew into it.
One story adds that Ptolemy offered to free the 100,000 Jewish slaves in Egypt if they agree. The problem with this is that Alexandria had a large Jewish population who were free and had built synagogues to worship in, so this makes no sense.
Further questions, like, were they rabbis or scholars? Which synagogues did they come from? This would mean they brought with them 70 scrolls of the Hebrew from their synagogues, which was not in abundance. We have no names of any of the rabbis nor the synagogues they came from, so how can we put such credence into this story with so many of the details missing?
The Alexandrian Jews were the founders of Hellenistic Judaism. Hellenistic Judaism was a integration of Jewish and Greek culture, which also incorporated merging (sometimes more or sometimes less) Greek philosophy, paganism, in with Judaism. Greek had become these Jews primary language, necessitating the Hebrew laws to be translated into Greek. It is the Greek-speaking Jewish communities that mainly adopted the Septuagint as their Bible.
God can say yes and he can say no. If we look further into the past before Israel became slaves to the Egyptian Pharaoh in Gn. 46:2-4 "God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, "Jacob, Jacob!" And he said, "Here I am." And He said, "I am God , the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.“ He has a purpose (present or future) in what he says, he even said “I will go down with you to Egypt.”
By this time period of 300 BC there certainly was tension between the Greek and non Hellenized Jews. There were a few cities spread apart where Jews settled into the Greek culture ,like those in Alexandria Egypt . Furthermore, it must be remembered that God told Israel in Deut. 17:16 “Do not go back to Egypt.” Why would For 70 or 72 Rabbis go back to Egypt, wouldn’t that mean they were disobedient.
This may be why there was so much animosity to those Jews who lived in Alexandria. This is written by Jeremiah the prophet over 250 years prior to the translation of the Septuagint in Egypt.
Jer. 42:11 Israel in captivity is told not be afraid of the king of Babylon, by the LORD, 'for I am with you, to save you and deliver you from his hand.” V:13 " But if you say, 'We will not dwell in this land,' disobeying the voice of the LORD your God, saying, 'No, but we will go to the land of Egypt where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor be hungry for bread, and there we will dwell' -- 15 Then hear now the word of the LORD, O remnant of Judah! Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: 'If you wholly set your faces to enter Egypt, and go to sojourn there, then it shall be that the sword which you feared shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt; the famine of which you were afraid shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there you shall die. So shall it be with all the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to dwell there. They shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. And none of them shall remain or escape from the disaster that I will bring upon them.' "For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: 'As My anger and My fury have been poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so will My fury be poured out on you when you enter Egypt. And you shall be an oath, an astonishment, a curse, and a reproach; and you shall see this place no more.' "The LORD has said concerning you, O remnant of Judah, 'Do not go to Egypt!' Know certainly that I have admonished you this day . “
It was these Jews who adopted the pagan practice of burning incense to the Queen of Heaven. Jer. 44:24-25 “ Moreover Jeremiah said to all the people and to all the women, "Hear the word of the LORD, all Judah who are in the land of Egypt! Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying: 'You and your wives have spoken with your mouths and fulfilled with your hands, saying, "We will surely keep our vows that we have made, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her." You will surely keep your vows and perform your vows!'
"Therefore hear the word of the LORD, all Judah who dwell in the land of Egypt: 'Behold, I have sworn by My great name,' says the LORD, 'that My name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, "The Lord GOD lives." Behold, I will watch over them for adversity and not for good. And all the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end to them. Yet a small number who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah; and all the remnant of Judah, who have gone to the land of Egypt to dwell there, shall know whose words will stand, Mine or theirs. And this shall be a sign to you,' says the LORD, 'that I will punish you in this place, that you may know that My words will surely stand against you for adversity.'
So the Jews who settled in Egypt were not looked upon well from those in Israel.
The Translation account, (or the story), goes like this: Over 70 (or 72 days), the translators completed their 70 (or 72) separate translations with 70 or 72 identical copies of the Hebrew Torah translated into the Greek; called the Septuagint (Latin for 70).
There’s an old saying among Jews: “Wherever there are two Jews there are three opinions.” The saying goes something like this: “This person says this, that person says that, but what does Rabbi so and so say on this?
The point is, for there to have been 70 (72) translations by 70 (72) different translators conform to one another and identically match each other’s translation into another language, is highly unlikely.
The fact that there are NO Septuagint manuscripts of these 72 men that have ever been found, is problematic, but also very suspect, because there are twenty full handwritten copies of the letter in Greek about the translation project in Egypt, (written from the 11th to the 15th century) that have survived. Why have these many letters been preserved and not one of the seventy copies of the Hebrew translated copies of the Torah (Pentateuch) into the Greek has been preserved?
The Septuagint translated in Egypt, only contained the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). But why are the 5 books of the Septuagint not found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, nor the whole Old Testament in Greek? The Essenes were known to collect all kinds of religious parchments.
Some have said that the reason there are none of the seventy translations today, is because the library in Alexandria was burned down! Why would anybody, especially the King of a nation, keep ALL seventy copies in one place. There is no record or indication that any of the 70 (72) copies were distributed between the Greek speaking Jews in Alexandria, who needed the translation. There seems to be two stories taking place. One of necessity for the Jews to read their Bible in the language they speak and the other about the library.
[With Heiser, there appears to be an infatuation with the number 70 (72) his numbers are necessary in order to make his whole false premise of the 70 sons of god rule over the nations sound more believable. I will explain this in more detail later.]
Back to the story of the letter that is known as the Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates and was repeated in later sources, including Philo of Alexandria, and Josephus in “Antiquities of the Jews.”
The Jewish Talmudic tractate contains the rules relating to the preparation of holy books, and the laws of Torah reading . Written about 500 AD Tractate Megillah has a very different view on this translating event.
Chapter 1 Said R. Jehudah: The sages allowed to write in Greek only the Pentateuch, but not anything else. And this was also allowed only because of what occurred with Ptolemy the king, as follows: It happened to Ptolemy the king that he took seventy-two elders from Jerusalem, and placed them in seventy-two separate chambers, and did not inform them to what purpose he had brought them. And afterward he entered to each of them, and said to them: Translate me the Torah of Moses from memory. And the Holy One, blessed be He, sent into the heart of each of them a counsel, and they all agreed to have one mind, and changed as follows: Instead of "In the beginning God created the world," they wrote, "God created the world in the beginning"; instead of Gen. i. 26 they wrote, "I will make a man in an image"; instead of Gen. ii. 2 they wrote, "And God finished on the sixth day, and rested on the seventh day"; instead of Gen. v. 2 they wrote, "created him"; instead of Gen. xi. 7 they wrote, "Let me go down"; [xviii. 12]: "And Sarah laughed among her relatives"; instead of xlix. 6, "In their anger they slew an ox, and their self-will lamed a fattened ox." And instead of Ex. iv. 20, "Set them on a porter (man-carrier)"; instead of ibid. xii. 40, "Dwelt in Egypt and in other lands"; and ibid. xxiv. as ibid., "Against the respectable men of Israel." Instead of Num. xvi. 15, "Not one precious thing I took away"; and instead of Deut. iv. 19 they wrote, "assigned to light for all nations"; instead of ibid. xvii. 3, "which I have not commanded to worship"; and instead of Lev. xi. 6, "the hare," which is expressed in the Bible "Arnebeth," as Ptolemy's wife was named so they wrote, "and the beast that has small feet." https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/tractate-megillah-chapter-1
Even catholicexchange refer’s to the Talmud version , of the king himself went into each room, telling the elder present to copy out the Torah by memory in Greek. So they did. And when the translations were compared, they were identical.
Commenting: The story of Aristeas doesn’t have much credibility in the scholarly world. (Not to mention the Talmud’s mystical account.) And perhaps understandably so: his account is riddled with elements of the fabulous. It’s now even doubted that Aristeas was the real author. But there does seem to be a consensus that there is a kernel of truth to all this—and that is that sometime around 282 BC the Torah was actually translated in ancient Greek in Alexandria, Egypt.
This I agree with because it makes more sense.
We read, that the “Septuagint did not receive a universally favorable reception among the Jews: 'That day was as ominous for Israel as the day on which the golden calf was made since the Law could not be accurately translated” (Mesechet Sopherim [Tractate for Scribes] 1.7)
There is no other mentioning of this so-called miraculous event in Egypt. Their last miracle witnessed was from Moses. Now under their king Ptolemy II, the new miracle is a Bible? A More Perfect Word in the Greek, than of the Hebrew language itself! In other words, are we to accept that God gave a better, more accurate translation into the Greek language, than that of the Hebrew itself. That the Hebrews themselves had been using for over 1,400 years, of which, they had copied so carefully, and faithfully all those years? This view does not fit with the biblical account of God giving His Word to the Hebrew people in their language.
Some say the Septuagint was translated by a group of Jewish rabbis that actually lived in Alexandria Egypt, which had a large population of Greek speaking Jews at the time. This seems much more credible than the alleged supernatural story of Ptolemy II.
Bruce Metzger writes:
“Most scholars who have analyzed the letter have concluded that the author cannot have been the man he represented himself to be but was a Jew who wrote a fictitious account in order to enhance the importance of the Hebrew Scriptures by suggesting that a pagan king had recognized their significance and therefore arranged for their translation into Greek .” (Metzger, B., The Bible in Translation (Baker Academic, 2001), p. 15.)
Bruce M. Metzger was one of the most influential New Testament scholars of the 20th century.
Some scholars point out, the historical inaccuracies in the Letter of Aristeas. It is known that on the assumption of his throne, Ptolemy II banished Demetrius of Phaleron. One of those credited as being present at the banquet, a certain Menodemus of Eritria, is known to have died two years before Ptolemy II succeeded to the throne. In other words, many believe the miracle story of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible never took place as told in Aristeas’ letter.
Who is Ptolemy II?
Ptolemy II married the daughter of Alexander’s general Lysimachus. He removed her for having concerns of rivalry. Ptolemy then married his half-sister, called Arsinoe II. (Reference: www.britannica.com/)
His father Ptolemy I had several building projects: a large temple in honor of the goddess of Isis and her son. Ptolemy II continued His father’s projects, along with many other temples to Egyptian gods that were finished by Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
The three oldest synagogue inscriptions thank Ptolemy for granting the Jews “sanctuary” rights and allowed them to build synagogues. Whatever might have been taking place with the Septuagint version translation, though beneficial to the Greek speaking Jews in Egypt, it was not honored by their king, (for he was a pagan) who only wanted the translations done in order for his library. But why have 70 copies made. I might add that in Egypt of all places? The place where their Pharaoh and Nation was humiliated by Israel’s God.
He developed agriculture and commerce and made Alexandria a leading centre of the arts and sciences (a city in Egypt that was founded by Alexander the Great). During this time the Alexandria library became one of the largest and most prestigious libraries of the ancient world. The library was part of a larger research institution called the Mouseion , dedicated to the Muses, (the nine goddesses of the arts). (Murray, S. A., (2009). The library: An illustrated history. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, p.17)
Apparently there were many ransacks of this library throughout its history. In 48 B.C. a fire destroyed 400,000 of the library’s papyrus scrolls. Octavian conquered Alexandria in 30 B.C. which shifted the center of intellectual life to Rome. the Alexandrian Library was no longer the center learning, though it remained in use until the fall of the city of Alexandria into the Arab/Muslim hands occurred in 642 AD. The biography of Yaḥyā al-Naḥwī we find ibn al-Qifti is the first to tell the story of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria at the hands of the Arab invaders of Egypt in the seventh century. Being from a direct order by the second successor of Muhammad, Caliph Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭab (634 – 644 AD), to his emir, ‘Amr ibn al-ʿĀṣ.
“it was the first translation of any part of the Hebrew Bible into another language” https://biblearchaeology.org/research/new-testament-era/4022-a-brief-history-of-the-septuagint . For the Greek speaking Jews, it was necessary.
The Greek Jews are mentioned numerous times in the New Testament, but nowhere does it mention the Bible in their language nor that this event took place. Jews were from different countries, we see in Acts 18:24 ‘ Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus .” The letter is also mentioned and quoted in other ancient texts, in Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus (c. 93 AD). Which states that The Jewish Hellenistic philosopher Philo was from Alexandria (ca. 20 B.C.–A.D. 50) recounts the translation of the LXX Pentateuch in his tractate Life of Moses.
Josephus viewed Philo’s account as an embellishment of the superiority of the LXX (Septuagint) translation. Philo claims that the translation was divinely inspired (making its authority equivalent to the Hebrew). The 72 translators independently rendered completely identical wording. Philo claimed that the translators were carried away with the gift of prophecy so as to render their translation identical with the Hebrew. What does prophecy have to do with a being translated into another language? That is not prophecy.
The tradition, or legend, to translate that produced 72 identical versions, that were perfectly translated exactly the same, makes this a supernatural story. Some propose Philo invented the legend.
Many find the Letter of Aristeas is unreliable. There are large differences in style and usage between the Septuagint’s translation of the Torah and its translations of the later books in the Old Testament.
Text of Philo tells us what happened to the synagogues in Alexandria: “ they set up in every one of them images of Gaius [Caligula], and in the largest, and most famous, and most celebrated [The Great Alexandria Synagogue] of them they erected a brazen statue of him borne on a four-horse chariot. … For, in the first place, one may derive them from about ten kings or more who reigned in order, one after another, for three hundred years [ie. Since 262 BC when they began in Alexandria], and who never once had any images or statues of themselves erected in our synagogues, though there were many of their relations and kinsmen whom they considered, and registered as, and spoke of as gods. ” (Philo, Embassy/Legat. 132-139, Alexandria, 41-45 AD)
The Greek translation from the Hebrew text was not supervised as it would have been in Israel, with the Hebrew being copied to Hebrew by the Scribes. Do we discount everything in the Septuagint, no, of course not, but neither should we with the Masoretic; every passage of each translation, should be taken on their own merit?
If we look at this story in a practical way, we find that it took each elder 70 days to translate the 5 books of Moses (the law). For it to be done in such a short amount of time, would be next to impossible for the following reasons.
1. Genesis 50 chapters 1533 verses 38,262 words,
2. Exodus 40 chapters, 32, 685 words
3. Leviticus 27 chapters 24,541words
4. Numbers 36 chapters 32,896 words
5. Deuteronomy 34 chapters 28, 352 words.
This adds up to 131,226 words divided by 70 days is nearly 2,000 words a day, translated and written from one language to another (1,874 words to be exact). That is over 120 words per hour for 15 hours, which is over two words every 60 seconds (written with no mistakes). To believe the supernaturalism of these 72 men’s translations, would be to believe that these Greek translations are more inspired and more miraculous than what was given to the Hebrew Prophets originally.
This story is quite different than how any translating would be done in Israel. Who would supervise the translating of the Hebrew Scriptures, how would the same strict checks and balances be employed that would ensure the accuracy of each translation as being true to the original Hebrew?
Others have said that it is possible that the process started in Philadelphus's reign, and that it had taken much longer, nobody can really know.
Some claim the Septuagint (LXX) Greek translation of the Old Testament includes missing verses or corrections. How are we to actually know what was missing from the Masoretic Text or that which had been corrected or not corrected in the Greek?
I would think these would not be circulated, they would be removed from reading as the Hebrew texts were treated.
"Paul Kahle (a famous O T scholar) who has done extensive work in the Septuagint does not believe that there was one original old Greek version and that consequently the manuscripts of the Septuagint (so-called) cannot be traced back to one archtype...
The letter of Aristeas is mere fabrication (Kahle calls it propaganda), and there is no historical evidence that a group of scholars translated the O. T. into Greek between 250 - 150 B. C.
The research of Paul Kahle shows that there was no pre-Christian LXX. No one has produced a Greek copy of the Old Testament written before 300 A. D.
In fact, the Septuagint "quotes" from the New Testament and not vice versa, i. e. in the matter of N. T. - O. T. quotation, the later formulators of the Greek O. T. made it conform with the New Testament Text ."
I think what Kahle says has some merit and we should consider what he says. Again the Septuagint is the whole Old Testament, not just the five books of Moses.As far as I know no copy of any Greek Old Testament has been found in a Synagogue, Hebrew was the language reserved for the Jews sacred matters.