The Septuagint is first mentioned in a letter of Aristeas to his brother Philocrates, in which he tells of its origin.  Ptolemy II Philadelphus, King of Egypt (287-47 BCE) had recently established the famous library at Alexandria.  Demetrius of Phalarus, chief librarian, persuaded him to enrich it with a copy of the sacred books of the Jews.  To win the good graces of this people, Ptolemy, by the advice of Aristeas, an officer of the royal guard, an Egyptian by birth and a pagan by religion, emancipated 100,000 slaves in different parts of his kingdom.  He then sent delegates, including Aristeas, to Jerusalem, to ask Eleazar, the Jewish High Priest, to  provide him with a copy of the Torah, and Jewish scholars capable of translating it into Greek.

The letter tells us that they were very successful, returning with a richly ornamented copy of the Torah and seventy-two Jewish scholars (six from each tribe).  Ptolemy II  received them with great honor.  For the next seven days they astonished everyone by the  wisdom they displayed in answering seventy-two questions.  They were then taken to the solitary island of Pharos to make their translation.  Their work was completed in seventy-two days.  The first reading of the translation was in presence of the Jewish priests, princes, and people assembled at Alexandria, who all recognized and praised its perfect conformity with the Hebrew original. The king was greatly pleased with the work and had it placed in the Alexandrian library.

Aristeas' account gained credence when Aristobulus (170-50 BCE), in a passage preserved by Eusebius, says that "through the efforts of Demetrius of Phalerus a complete translation of the Jewish legislation was executed in the days of Ptolemy."  Aristeas's story is also repeated almost verbatim by Flavius Josephus (Ant. Jud., XII, ii) and substantially, with the omission of Aristeas' name, by Philo of Alexandria (De vita Moysis, II, vi).  Many Fathers and ecclesiastical writers till the beginning of the sixteenth century accepted the letter and the story as genuine.

Jerome rejected certain parts of the story because he said they were fabulous and untrue ("Praef. in Pentateuchum";"Adv. Rufinum", II, xxv).  Others challenged the position of some Church authorities who declared that its was translated under "divine inspiration."   There was also a debate over how much of the Old Testament was actually translated.  Some argued that the "Torah" included only the first five books of the Jewish Bible, others said it included the entire Hebrew Bible. 

Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest version of the Old Testament Scriptures which is extant, or of which we possess any certain knowledge, is the Septuagint.  It was in use for about three centuries before the time when the books of the New Testament were written.  The early Christians then used it for almost three centuries, until the creation of the New Testament.  New Testament writers and scribes apparently used the Septuagint in their work. 

After the diffusion of Christianity, copies of the Septuagint became widely dispersed amongst the new Christian communities that were formed.  Before many years had elapsed the Septuagint became the Bible of many Gentile Christians.  Today, however, many have little or no knowledge of one of the most important documents in the history of the Christianity.  

Related Links

General Information & History of the Septuagint
An Historical Account of the Septuagint
l  Comparison of the Dead Sea Scrolls & the Septuagint
l  New Advent Discussion of Septuagint
l  Septuagint (Encyclopedia Britainica)
l  Septuagint and the Modern Versions
l  The Library of Alexandria
The Septuagint
l  The Septuagint - Theological & Academic Resources
l  The Septuagint Section
l  Time-Line for the History of Judaism

Manuscripts & Translations of the Septuagint
l  Duke Papyrus Collection
l  Septuagint in HTML Format
l  The Brenton English Translation of the Septuagint



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