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Bible lore

by James Comper Gray

Excerpt:

1. Pre-eminent amongst these, both because of its antiquity and its importance, stands the SepTuagint; or, the translation of the seventy (and therefore, in Biblical works, usually written seventy in Roman numerals, thus, LXX.). It seems to have derived its title, not as Eichhorn supposes, from the approval of the Alexandrian Sanhedrim of seventy, or seventy-two; but from the general belief, at one time, in a letter of Aristeas, in which he describes the work of seventy-two learned men who came from Jerusalem to Alexandria to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. The purport and history of this letter, which Josephus has transcribed (Antiquities xii . 2, 4), are as follows: Aristeas, who was an officer of the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus, addressing his brother Philocrates, states, in this so-called letter, that the king—at the instigation of his librarian, Demetrius Phalerus— sent an embassy to Jerusalem, to request a copy of the Hebrew Scriptures; and that seventy-two persons might accompany it, six from each tribe, skilled in the Hebrew and Greek languages, by whose aid a translation might be made into the latter tongue. Philo, a learned Jew, adds to this letter some notes of his own, in which he asserts that the translators were placed in the island of

Pharos, each by himself, and made so many separate translations, and that these most miraculously agreed, word for word, with each other. Irenaeus (iii. 24) relates the same story. Justin Martyr adds that he was taken to see the cells in which the interpreters worked. Epiphanius, however asserts that the translators were divided into pairs, in thirty-six cells, each pair being provided with two scribes, and that thirty-six versions, agreeing in every point, were produced by the gift of the Holy Spirit . While St. Augustine agrees with the inspiration of the translators, St . Jerome courageously throws aside the entire account of both the cells and the inspiration. Such is the story—together with a few of the opinions upon it —which in all probability gave to this ancient Greek version the title of Septuagint. Probably the more genuine account is that given by Aristobulus (cir. B.C. 200), who says, "It is manifest that Plato has followed our law, and studied diligently all its particulars. For, before Demetrius Phalerus, a translation had been made by others, of the history of the Hebrews going forth out of Egypt, and of all that happened to them, and of the conquest of the land, and of the exposition of the whole law. Hence it is manifest that the aforesaid

philosopher borrowed many things ; for lie was verylearned, as was Pythagoras, who also transferred many of our doctrines into his system. But the entire translation of our whole law was made in the time of the king named Philadelphus, a man of greater zeal, under the direction of Demetrius Phalerus." "This," says Mr. W. A. Wright, "probably expresses the belief which prevailed in the second century beftre Christ; viz., that some portions of the Jewish history had been published in Greek before Demetrius, but that in his time, and under his directions, the whole law was translated: and this agrees with the story of Aristeas." After a most careful examination of the whole history, it is now currently believed by those who are best qualified to judge, that, during the reign of Ptolemy Lagus, Demetrius Philareus proposed the fitness, in a literary point of view, of a translation of the Jewish Scriptures; that the work then commenced was carried on at intervals, and was finally completed in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (successor of Ptolemy Lagus) about the year 285 B.g The moving cause which gave birth to this version is thus explained by the last-quoted writer: "It is well known that after the Jews returned from the captivity of Babylon, having lost, in great measure,

the familiar knowledge of the ancient Hebrew, the readings from the books of Moses, in the synagogues of Palestine, were explained to them in the Chaldaic tongue, in Targums or paraphrases [these will be explained in a subsequent paper of this series]; and the same was done with the books of the prophets, when at a later time they also were read in the synagogues. The Jews of Alexandria had probably still less knowledge of Hebrew; their familiar language was Alexandrian Greek. They had settled in Alexandria in large numbers soon after the time of Alexander, and under the early Ptolemies. They would naturally follow the same practice as their brethren in Palestine; the law first, and afterwards the prophets would be explained in Greek, and from this practice would arise in time an entire Greek version. All the phenomena of the version seem to confirm this view; the Pentateuch is the best part of the version; the other books are more defective, betraying probably the increasing degeneracy of the Hebrew MSS., and the decay of Hebrew learning with the lapse of time." Whether it was a purely literary purpose, as suggested above, or whether it was the necessity of a people who had lost, in great measure, the Hebrew, and adopted the Greek tongue, that originated the LXX, it is instructive to observe how the providence of God overruled heathen curiosity or Hebrew exigencies for giving to the world the old Hebrew Scriptures in that language in which the Gospel should first be preached. When the Apostles preached Jesus and the resurrection, and supported their arguments by quotations from the writings of Moses and the prophets, their hearers were able, like those of Berea, to "search the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Whatever its inaccuracies, the LXX. must have very materially aided in the establishment of Christianity amongst the peoples of the Gentile world. It was the version that was publicly read wherever Greek was spoken. With the exception of Origen and Jerome, the early Fathers of the Church were ignorant of Hebrew; they therefore used this version; and from it all the early translations were made, the Syriac alone excepted. In the form of the vulgate, the Church of Rome still reads it, and to this day it is the version in common use in the Greek and the greater number of the Oriental churches.

2. The language spoken by the people of northern Syria and Mesopotamia, and, after the captivity, by the inhabitants of Galilee also, was the Syriac, or western Aramaic. So close is the resemblance between this tongue and the Chaldee, or eastern Aramaic, that Chaldee, written in Syrian characters, and without the point, is good Syriac, with the exception only of one inflection of the verbs. The two dialects differ mainly in the matter of the vowel points, and in the use of a different character. Into this ancient Syriac language several translations of the Old Testament were made at a very early date. Of these, two are regarded as preeminent among the Syriac versions. (i) The Peschito, or literal version (from a Syrian word signifying simple, or literal), is so called on account of its close adherence to the text, without the admixture of any allegorical interpretations. This "Old Syriac version" is one of the most ancient and valuable translations of the Bible. Various traditions ascribe it to the age of Solomon (who is said, by the Syrians themselves, to have had it made for the use of Hiram, king of Tyre), or to Asa, a Samaritan priest; while the New Testament, so it is asserted, was translated by Thaddeus and other apostles, in the time of Agbarus, king of Syria. Ephrem the Syrian referred to it in the middle of the fourth century as being then generally known and used, and therefore it must have been in existence a considerable time before. The majority of modern critics refer its date to the first century. Michaelis, whose opinion on this point is usually followed, ascribed the translation of both Testaments to the most flourishing period of the Syrian churches; namely, the end of the first or the beginning of the second century. The New Testament, which contains the four Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles of St . Paul (including the Hebrews), the first of St. John, the first of St. Peter, and of St . James, is one of the best versions in any language; and is used as their standard by the churches of Syria and of the East . (2) The second of the principal Syriac versions is the Syro-philoxenian version of the New Testament; and is named after Philoxenus (Bishop of Hierapolis, in the province of Aleppo, 488-518), under whose auspices it was translated by Polycarp from the Greek text . It was subsequently (a.d. 616) revised by Thomas of Heraclea (whence it is sometimes called the Heraclean version), but is considered very inferior to the Peschito. To the Bible student, this version is the more interesting from the fact that it was the common language of Palestine in the time of our Lord.


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