Letter of Aristeas

Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates

for other needs. I shall give you a full account of the workmanship after I have set before you copies of the letters. The letter of the king ran as follows: 'King Ptolemy sends greeting and salutation to the High Priest Eleazar. Since there are many Jews settled in our realm who were carried off from Jerusalem by the Persians at the time of their power and many more who came with my father into Egypt as captives - large numbers of these he placed in the army and paid them higher wages than usual, and when he had proved the loyalty of their leaders he built fortresses and placed them in their charge that the native Egyptians might be intimidated by them. And I, when I ascended the throne, adopted a kindly attitude towards all my subjects, and more particularly to those who were citizens of yours - I have set at liberty more than a hundred thousand captives, paying their owners the appropriate market price for them, and if ever evil has been done to your people through the passions of the mob, I have made them reparation. The motive which prompted my action has been the desire to act piously and render unto the supreme God a thank offering for maintaining my kingdom in peace and great glory in all the world. Moreover those of your people who were in the prime of life I have drafted into my army, and those who were fit to be attached to my person and worthy of the confidence of the court, I have established in official positions. Now since I am anxious to show my gratitude to these men and to the Jews throughout the world and to the generations yet to come, I have determined that your law shall be translated from the Hebrew tongue which is in use amongst you

Megillah 9a

Babylonian Talmud

The Gemara continues: And this was due to the incident of King Ptolemy, as it is taught in a baraita: There was an incident involving King Ptolemy of Egypt, who assembled seventy-two Elders from the Sages of Israel, and put them into seventy-two separate rooms, and did not reveal to them for what purpose he assembled them, so that they would not coordinate their responses. He entered and approached each and every one, and said to each of them: Write for me a translation of the Torah of Moses your teacher. The Holy One, Blessed be He, placed wisdom in the heart of each and every one, and they all agreed to one common understanding. Not only did they all translate the text correctly, they all introduced the same changes into the translated text.

 Notes and References

"... The tradition of the [Septuagint] translation made for King Talmai (i.e. Ptolemy) persists in rabbinic sources too, e.g. b. Meggilah 9a-b. So, following the storyline of the Letter of Aristeas, Philo gives the initiative to Philadelphus as the result of divine inspiration. Philadelphus consults the high priest; the high priest appoints the translators; the translators answer the king's philosophical questions (though not in such detail as in the Letter of Aristeas); the translations they produce are identical ..."

Dines, Jennifer M. The Septuagint (pp. 65-73) T&T Clark, 2004

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