« PreviousContinue »
34 THE ALEXANDRIAN LIBRARI. prepared, though those who originated it had much narrower views.
Among the names which occupy a large place in ancient history, that of the Ptolemies is one of the most notable. The influence of their dynasty in the later history of Egypt was not unlike that of the Pharaohs in the earlier, One of them, nained Ptolemy Philadelphus, was fond of books ; not a great reader, probably, but anxious to form a library in his capital, and, if possible, to make Alexandria the seat of eastern learning. He therefore commissioned an Athenian, called Demetrius Phalereus, to collect books, authorizing him to spare no expense in carrying out this plan. Demetrius had heard of the sacred manuscripts of the Jews, and was desirous of adding a copy of them in intelligible Greek to the collection of his master. Ptolemy concurred in this feeling, and sent an embassy to Eleazar the high priest, at Jerusalem, with a view of obtaining a correct copy of the ancient Scriptures, and of inducing a band of grave and learned men to visit Alexandria, and translate the work into Greek. Aristeas, an officer in the king's hoặsehold, (whose letter to his brother gives us this account,) and another nobleman, carried the royal letter to Jerusalem, taking with them many costly offerings for the temple. They were favourably received by the authorities of the nation. Eleazar sent back a copy of the law at least, written in letters of gold upon skins of exquisite beauty. Six elders out of each
35 tribe, seventy-two in all, were a so chosen, and sent with the messengers of Ptolemy to execute the proposed translation. On their arrival, the king graciously received them, tested their wisdom by seventy-two different questions, and after sumptuously feasting them for many days, ordered them to be conducted to the isle of Pharos, in the harbour of the capital. Here they commenced their work, daily comparing their separate versions, and then dictating the approved version to Deinetrius. In seventy-two days they completed their translation, which was then read in the presence of the king. He expressed his high admiration of their learning, and rewarded them with several talents of gold. He then sent them back to Jerusalem with great honour, and commanded the version itself to be deposited with the utmost care in the Alexandrian library. Such is the narrative of Aristeas. What with the “ seventy-two translators," the “ seventy-two questions," and the “seventy-two days," it is easy to see that the version is not inappropriately named the version of the Seventy, or, as more fully written, of the Seventy-two.
Philo, the Jewish philosopher, who lived at the commencement of our era, and was ignorant of many of the circumstances narrated by Aristeas, has himself given an account not less extraordinary. According to him, Ptolemy Philadelphus sent to Palestine for some learned Jews to execute this translation. On their arrival at Alexandria, he tells us they went to
THE SEVENTY: ITS ORIGIN.
Pharos, and there executed each a distinct version. When these versions were compared, it was found that they exactly agreed both in sense and in expressions. Naturally it was concluded that the translators must have been Divinely directed; "every word,” it was added, “ being dictated to them by the Spirit of God.” He informs us also that a festival was celebrated in his own day by the Alexandrian Jews, to preserve the memory of this version, and to thank God for the blessing which had thus been conferred upon their body: the Jews of Palestine, however, marking the time of the completion of this work by a fast.
These are the two accounts that have come down to us, and it is evident that there is much fable connected with each. A very cursory examination of the version itself shows it to have been made by different hands; probably at different times, and certainly without any such accuracy or perfection as would justify the supposition of miraculous interference on its behalf. Nearly all modern writers, from Scaliger downwards, deny the genuineness of the narrative of Aristeas. Dr. Masch thinks that the translation was promoted by Ptolemy on political grounds, in order to check the intercourse of the Jews in Egypt with Judæa. The reason alleged by the embassy to Jerusalem he regards as a pretence, and the whole narrative of Aristeas as a plausible story, got up under royal patronage to gain influence for the new translation. Horne supposes that the version
THE SEVENTY: ITS VALUE. was undertaken by Jews for the use of their countrymen, and that neither Demetrius nor Ptolemy had any concern in it. A large number of ancient authorities, including Josephus, Clement of Alexandria, and even the Talmud, concur in the leading facts of the history above given; and it may be safely affirmed that, about 285 B.C., the whole or the greater part of the Old Testament was translated at Alexandria into the Greek tongue, under what circumstances precisely, and by whom, we are not now likely to know.
The plans of Ptolemy in forming his library were doomed to an early disappointment. Many of the books were burned in the days of Julius Cæsar, about fifty years before Christ, and it is probable that the autograph copy of the Seventy perished in the flames. Some centuries later, whatever remained of this noble collection was destroyed by Omer, one of the Mohammedan caliphs. His soldiers, finding a large number of books when the city was taken, asked what was to be done with them. The dilemma in which their master placed the destiny of these volumes is one of the most destructive on record. “Either," said he, “ these books contain nothing but what may be found in the Koran, or they contain more: if the former, they are useless; if the latter, they are impious additions to our knowledge : let them be burned.” Already, however, had the library at Alexandria done its work; it had given to the heathen, all unconsciously, the words of eternal lite
THE SEVENTY: ITS VALUE. The value and influence of this version on the ancient world it is not easy now to unủerstand. It set forth the truths of the Old Testament in a tongue unrivalled for strength and beauty. It gave to heathen philosophy, as Gale has shown, some of the best and purest sentiments it ever taught. It formed a connecting link between Judaism and humanity, between Palestine and the world. It rendered the Greek language a fit vehicle for the Divine communications of our Lord, and it made the New Testament familiar, so far as phrases and expressions were concerned, to the Jews themselves. It was in this tongue, and from this version, that Moses was read every Sabbath among the thousands of Jews who were scattered abroad. It is even now one of the best expositors of both Testaments, throwing light upon the Hebrew of the first, and the Hellenismis, or Hebrew-Greek, of the second.
At first the Jews in Palestine viewed this version with dislike, for it tended to weaken the ties that bound the Jew to his country ; but as the Greek language gradually superseded the vernacular dialects of Asia, it came to be regarded with favour, and was read even in the synagogues of Judæa. The inspired writers of the New Testament constantly quote from it, though some of their quotations (more than a third of the whole) are taken directly from the Hebrew; the writers thus intimating " that the Holy Spirit did not intend in the New Testament to canonize any version by constant and perpetual use."