Letter of Aristeas

From Academic Kids

The so-called Letter of Aristeas is a Hellenistic Jewish forgery or pseudepigrapha. Josephus (Antiquities XII:ii passim) ascribes to a certain Aristeas a letter ascribing the Greek translation of the Jewish Law to seventy-two interpreters sent into Egypt from Jerusalem at the request of the librarian of Alexandria, resulting in the Septuagint translation.

Over twenty manuscripts of this letter are preserved and it is often mentioned and quoted in other texts.

The work is a glitteringly staid account with no plot relating how the king of Egypt, presumably Ptolemy II Philadephus, is urged by his librarian Demetius of Phalarum to translate the law books of the Jews. The king responds favorably, including giving freedom to Jews who had been taken into captivity by his fathers and sending lavish gifts (which are described in great details) to the temple in Jerusalem along with his envoys. The high priest Eleazar choses exactly six men from each tribe, giving 72 in all; he gives a long sermon in praise of the Law. When the translators arrive in Alexandria the king weeps of joy and for the next seven days puts philosophical questions to the translators, the wise answers to which are related in full. The 72 translators then complete their task in exactly 72 days. The Jews of Alexandria, on hearing the Law read in Greek, request copies and lay a curse on anyone who would change the translation. The king then rewards the translators lavishly and they return home.

Early philological analysis proved the letter was a forgery. In 1684, Humphrey Hody published Contra historiam Aristeae de LXX. interpretibus dissertatio, in which he showed that the so called "Letter of Aristeas" was the late forgery of a Hellenized Jew, originally circulated to lend authority to that version. The dissertation was generally regarded as conclusive, although Isaac Vossius (1618-1689), who had been librarian to Queen Christina of Sweden, published an angry and scurrilous reply to it, in the appendix to his edition of Pomponius Mela.


See also

External links

fr:Lettre du pseudo-Aristée

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