Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE SEVENTY: ITS VALUE.

37

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 life.

38

THE SEVENTY: ITS VALUE,

The value and influence of this version on the ancient world it is not easy now to understand. 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 Hellenisms, 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."

THE CODEX ALEXANDRINUS.

39 The two most celebrated manuscripts of this version are the Codex Alexandrinus and the Codex Vaticanus. The latter is in the library of the Vatican at Rome. It was probably written towards the close of the fourth century; is on parchment, in uncial or capital letters, three columns to a page,

without

any

division of chapters, verses, or words. Its history is not known. The Codex Alexandrinus is now in the British Museum, and is reckoned one of the richest treasures of that noble collection. The work consists of four volumes in small folio, and was presented by Cyril Lucar, the Greek patriarch of Constantinople in the seventeenth century, to sir Thomas Roe, ambassador from Charles I., as a present to his master. It was deposited in the Museum in 1753. The patriarch brought it with him from Alexandria, and gives the following account of its history. " This manuscript,” says he, was transcribed by Thecla, an Egyptian lady of distinction, upwards of thirteen hundred years ago. She lived not long after the council of Nice. Her name was heretofore at the end of the book, but when Christianity was subverted by the errors of Mohammed, the books of Christians were likewise persecuted, and the name of Thecla was expunged ; however, it has been transmitted to us by tradition," On the manuscript itself is written in Arabio, in a later hand than the original, “ It is reported that Thecla wrote this book with her own hand." The style of writing in the manuscript corre

40

THE SEVENTY ; AND THE JEWS.

sponds with this account. It was evidently executed by a lady, and from internal evidence of various kinds it is concluded that the whole was written not later than the beginning of the fifth century. Both the Old and New Testaments have been printed in type cast for the purpose, line for line, as in the original, at the expense of the British government.

The version of the Seventy, therefore, was in use in the commencement of the Christian era from Italy to Babylon. But two distinct influences were soon at work to diminish its popularity, and to make it necessary that a new version should be prepared. The religion of the gospel, though a religion of peace, divided the world ; Jew against Gentile, and Gentile against Jew. To the Bible both parties appealed, and to the version of the Seventy. The Jews, however, pressed with arguments taken from it, began to deny that it agreed with the original Hebrew. Consistency required that denial in such a case should become abhorrence. In process of time the fast which the Jews in Palestine had instituted to execrate the memory of the version, was observed by the rest of the nation. This denial, moreover, required proof. Accordingly, Jerome says that the Jews of his day had altered the text of the Seventy, and expunged passages which they could not alter. At last they gave it up entirely, adopting in its stead the version of Aquila, a renegade Christian, who had turned Jew, and been admitted into the school of

JEROME AND THE VULGATE. R. Ahiba, one of their most celebrated teachers. This feeling in relation to the Seventy suggested to Origen the importance of a revised version in Greek, a work which he executed with great care. His version, in fifty volumes, six columns to a page, must have presented a curious contrast to the compact one-volumed quartos of modern days. This was the first polyglot Bible ever made, and was destroyed by the Saracens at the destruction of Cæsarea.

Added to this influence was another. Greek was beginning to lose its hold upon the nations. The language of imperial Rome was taking its place, especially in Africa and Italy, where Christians were already a numerous party. In that language, as Augustine complained, every controversialist attempted a version of his own, making it generally, not from the Hebrew, but from the Seventy. It became increasingly important, therefore, to provide a version adapted to this large class of readers. To meet this want, Jerome (382) turned his thoughts to examine existing versions, and to compare them with the original Scriptures. What Latin versions he found, it is not easy now to ascertain ; whether one or more. Several fragments had been published before his day, and he himself refers to the labours of his predecessors in that department; so that it is at least clear that there existed in Italy from the second century some versions of Scripture into the vernacular tongue. At the request of Damatus, the bishop of Rome, Jerome com

« PreviousContinue »