|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
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.
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.