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Biblical Archaeology Review 2:2, June 1976

How the Septuagint Differs

In a fascinating article, Pere Pierre Benoit of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française in Jerusalem, raises anew the question whether the Septuagint translation of the Bible is divinely inspired. Whether or not one agrees with Pere Benoit that it is, his careful discussion of some differences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text is illuminating and instructive.

According to a legend preserved in the so-called Letter of Aristeas (no one knows who actually wrote it), the Septuagint translation of the Bible was commissioned by Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt so that he would have a copy of the Jewish lawbook for his famous library in Alexandria. To secure the cooperation of Eleazer, the Jewish high priest in Jerusalem, Ptolemy set free the many Jews who had been sold into slavery by Ptolemy’s father after his military campaign in Palestine in 312 B.C. In gratitude, Eleazer the high priest sent 72 elders from Jerusalem (six from each tribe) to Alexandria, where they were royally entertained and finally secluded on an island to undertake their work. In 72 days of joint labor they completed the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The translation was accepted and sanctified by the Jewish community, and any changes were officially forbidden. Ptolemy then sent the translators home with costly gifts. Thus, Aristeas.

According to Philo, a Jewish philosopher who lived at the turn of the era, the Jewish translators worked independently; by divine inspiration, however, they produced identical translations. The legend has also been embellished in other ancient sources which recite how the translators were shut up in separate cells in strictest seclusion, yet produced the same translation.

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