On a recent trip to Harvard's Houghton Library I was able to take a look at one of the first English translations of the Letter of Aristeas, published in 1715, edited by John Ernest Grabe and translated into English by Thomas Lewis. This volume is apparently not available online (at any rate, my searches have proven fruitless), though several American libraries hold a copy (if WorldCat can be trusted). (Images of some pages may be viewed here.) I took advantage of my trip to Boston for the SBL to take a look at this book, especially its preface.
The preface was apparently written by Lewis rather than by Grabe and translated by Lewis. Primarily two reasons lead me to this view. First, after the Letter of Aristeas there appears "The History of the Angels, and Their Gallantry with the Daughters of Men," and the preface to this document is explicitly the work of Lewis insomuch as he refers to Grabe by name (p. 177). Also, I take it that the "best Authority"—mentioned in the last paragraph of our preface as constituting the basis for the presentation of Aristeas—is Grabe, and so this third person reference would again indicate that it is Lewis who penned the preface.
I was interested in this preface primarily because it is sometimes cited as an important early articulation of the Alexandrian Canon idea. See, for instance, Albert C. Sundberg, Jr., "The Old Testament: A Christian Canon," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 30 (1968): 143–55, at 144n4, who attributes this view to Lewis.
In a slightly more extensive, but still brief, interaction with this preface, Sundberg says the following:
Grabe had published an edition of the Letter of Aristeas in Greek. Thomas Lewis "made English" this work and published it in 1715. In the preface, presumably prefixed by Lewis, it is asserted that a larger Old Testament collection was used at the Jewish temple at Leontopolis in Egypt, from which it passed by the hands of wandering Jews, into Palestine. Jesus and his apostles, when they cited from the scriptures, made use of this version, and thus it passed into the church. But Lewis' theory is too fantastic to merit serious consideration. (The Old Testament of the Early Church [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964], 19)
In the context of this statement from Sundberg, the implication is that the "larger Old Testament collection" in use among Jews at Leontopolis would have included the deuterocanonical books. In the preface, Lewis does propose that a Greek translation of a large collection of Jewish Scripture was in use at Heliopolis (= Leontopolis), but this collection was "large" in comparison to the Greek translation of the Septuagint, which—as Lewis argued—amounted to the Pentateuch alone. So, Lewis is talking about books of the Hebrew Bible outside the Pentateuch. In fact, Lewis explicitly mentions the Law and the Prophets as contained in this translation. That means that this preface has nothing at all to do with the Alexandrian Canon idea, and the earliest articulation of the view should be attributed to Francis Lee in 1719 (note again this post).
But you can see for yourself whether I'm misinterpreting Lewis. Here is the complete preface, along with inserted page numbers in brackets. The bit about Heliopolis appears at pp. viii–ix.
The History of Aristeas, concerning the Version of the Septuagint, is of that Antiquity, and so Particular and Faithful in the Account, that I wonder it never appeared in our Language to any Advantage. We have no Record of this Immortal Action, but what we receive from Josephus (who imperfectly transcribed our Author) and [ii] some uncertain Traditions, which afford but a broken Idea of an Enterprize so Glorious, that deserves so well of Religion and the Learned World.
The Author before us was a Jew by Extraction, who resided at the Court of Ptolomaeus Philadelphus King of Egypt. He was a Person of singular Moderation and Wisdom; of great Esteem with the King for his Judgment and Modesty, and admitted into all his Counsels. To Aristeas we owe, not only the Relation, but the Being of the Septuagint. He was the first who advanced the Undertaking; was principally in the Management of the Business, and therefore the best [iii] qualified to deliver the Circumstances of it.
It is past Controversie, I suppose, that the Person who bears the Name of this Treatise, was in the same Character we represent him; though I am sensible it is disputed by the Great Scaliger; who imagines the History of the Interpreters to be later in Time, than wherein we have placed it: But we may as well debate upon the Authority of all Ancient Writings; since Josephus (of the same Nation, and Faithful where Moses is not to be opposed) and Philo the Jew, allow this Relation to be the Genuine produce of Aristeas the Embassador to Jerusalem, and the Favourite in the Egyptian Court.
[iv] The name of the Septuagint proceeds from the Seventy Two Interpreters, and call'd so for the sake of the Sound: For I cannot believe a Manuscript in the Bodleian Library, which informs us that two of the Elders never arriv'd at Alexandria, but died upon their Journey.
The Learned in all Ages have been various in their Opinions concerning the Version of the Septuagint: St. Jerome assures us, that the Seventy Two Translated only the Five Books of Moses, because our Author, Aristobulus, and Philo say, they only interpreted the Law; which, in the common Acceptation, [v] only signifies the Pentateuch; and if any one takes it to imply all the Books of the Old Testament, they will find Josephus informing us, that the Word Law only imports the Writings of the Jewish Legislator, which is only applicable to Moses. The Thalmudists are of the same mind: Yet Justin, and most of the Ancient Fathers were of Opinion, that the Seventy Translated the whole Bible: But this, in my Judgment, seems to be Physically impossible: For (to use the Words of D'Espieres) we cannot morally suppose, that those immense Volumes of the Holy Scriptures, could be even Transcrib'd in the Space of Seventy Two Days; much less be perfectly Translated out of [vi] the Hebrew into the Greek Language.
We may believe therefore, that the Five Books of Moses, and no more, were Interpreted at Alexandria, and that they were dispos'd of in the Royal Library there. The Version, we cannot doubt, was accurate and exact, according to the Purity of the Hebrew Text; but the Corruptions and Mistakes that are obvious to be discover'd in our common Translation, seem to convince, that our Greek Septuagint is either altogether different from the Interpretation of the Seventy, or very miserably abus'd and deprav'd insomuch that a Learned* Jesuit [vii] declares it to be rather a Labour of Divine Omnipotence, than Human Industry, to recover it to its Primitive Integrity. And his Censure appears to be just; For we are assur'd by History, that the Library of Ptolomaeus Philadelphus was burnt in the time of the Alexandrian War, and the Original Version, 'tis certain, perish'd in the Flames: We are satisfied, that there was another Library erected (which was called the Daughter of the First) by Cleopatra, the last of the Alexandrian Queens, in the Temple of Serapis; to furnish this Library, Herod the King of the Jews at that time sent the Holy Books, in the Hebrew Language, and likewise a Greek Interpretation, [viii] that was made use of by the Greeks in Syria and Palestine, and was to be seen in the time of St. Chrysostom: But by what means that Version, which was in use among the Primitive Fathers of the Church, came to pass upon the World for the Genuine Labour of the Seventy Two Interpreters, it cannot be improper to look into Antiquity and discover.
Before the Fall of the Ptolomaean Library, wherein the Perfect Interpretation was dispos'd, we have an Account from Alexander Polyhistor, that there was a confus'd Interpretation, not only of the Pentateuch, but likewise of the Prophets, in the Hands of the Jews: [ix] The Author of this Version is supposed to be a Jew, who Officiated in the Temple of Heliopolis; which was built by Onias, one of the Generals of Ptolomaeus Philometor, in opposition to the Temple at Jerusalem: And, it is probable, this Version was read in that Temple by some Apostate Priests, who ministered in the Offices, and were very little concern'd about the Justness or Purity of the Translation. From Egypt this corrupt Interpretation was receiv'd by many of those Jews, who were dispers'd among the Greeks, in whose Synagogues, part of the Law, and the Prophets, was read out of those imperfect Books, every Sabbath Day. From these wandering Hebrews, this Version was [x] deliver'd to the Grecians, and from them to the Latins. And our Saviour, and his Apostles, when they had occasion for Citations out of the Old Scriptures, made use of this vitious Interpretation, for this reason, I suppose, because it was commonly admitted, and universally known by all the Jews: Yet this, by the way, is no Argument to prove the Authority of this Version; for it was Prudence in the Apostles not to appeal to any other Interpretation than what was familiarly handled and every Body was intimately acquainted with.
[xi] But yet it cannot be deny'd, that the Greek Edition, corrupt as it was, was very Authentic in the Christian Church, though it varies in Chronology, and the Relation of some Historical Facts, from the Purity of the Hebrew Original: But that which confirm'd it in the Opinion of the Learned, was the Glorious Title of the Seventy Two Interpreters; which it gradually assum'd, as the Copies of the Pure Version grew in disuse, and out of the Hands of the World. this Additional Character gave it a Recommendation; and to fortifie it with Divine Authority, there was invented a Device, That the Seventy two Hebrews were shut up in diffe- [xii] rent Apartments, out of the Communication of each other; and that upon a Comparison of their Translations, there was a perfect Harmony and Agreement between them, to the minutest Words and Circumstances: As if (says a great* Critic in Sacred Writings) to satisfie the Request of Ptolomaeus the King, every Interpreter must have a Manuscript of the Law to himself: Or, as if the High Priest could divine, that the King of Egypt would make such an Experiment, and tempt the Divine Power, without any [xiii] manner of Occasion. I know not who (says St. Jerom) thought of the Fiction of the Seventy Cells at Alexandria, into which the Elders were dispos'd, that they might be separate in their Labours; since Aristeas and Josephus after him, have given us no such Account, but that they compar'd their Works together in one Apartment; I never heard that they Prophesied.
I confess the contrary Opinion has very great Authority to support it: St. Justin the Martyr, or the Author of the Oration against the Greeks; St. Irenaeus and St. Clement, are very positive on the [xiv] other side: The Words of St. Justin upon the occasion, run thus: These Things, ye Grecians, we relate to you, not as a Fable, or fictitious History, but as Men who have seen the Ruins of those several Apartments in the Tower; we deliver to you what we heard from the Natives, the Inhabitants, who successively receive the Accounts of their Countrey from their Ancestors.
To this I observe that it is no wonder if St. Justin was induc'd by the Inhabitants to give Belief to this Narration, which they affirm'd to flow down to them from their [xv] Fathers; expecially since it consisted so well with the Interest of the Church, for whose Service it was, that the Divine Authority of that Interpretation should be preserv'd, which was to be an Instrument of Conviction and Persuasion to Jews and Gentles. And here Eusebius of Caesarea very justly admires the Divine Providence; alledging, that the Jews would not have suffer'd any Translation after the coming of Christ; or at best would have impos'd a corrupt Version upon the World: But they could not object against This of the Septuagint, as being done by Hebrews (as they believ'd) chosen by their High Priest, and, by Consequence, was [xvi] very just, and of the best Authority.
The Time of the Alexandrian Interpretation has been likewise disputed: The Learned Dr. Stillingfleet acknowledges, that Tradition varies about this Matter but all agree, that it was about the Time of Ptolomaeus Philadelphus, yet are not certain in which Year of his Reign; Scaliger places it in the Thirty Third; but Eusebius and Jerom in the Beginning; which the Doctor thinks most probable, and settles it in the Time wherein Ptolomaeus Philadelphus reign'd with his Father Lagus; and so the difference a- [xvii] mong the Fathers (some of whom place it in Lagus's Time, and others in his Son's Reign) is reconciled; and this Remark appears to be exact, because Demetrius Phalereus, who is mentioned as President of the Royal Library, was banished by Philadelphus, as soon as his Father was dead; which proves, that this Affair was executed before the Death of Ptolomaeus Lagus.
This Account of the Septuagint I have taken from the Judgment of the best Authority, and, perhaps, some Satisfaction may arise from it: But whether the Old [xviii] Testament, or the Writings of Moses only, were Translated by the Seventy Hebrews; whether the Genuine Version be entirely lost, or continued down to us, I observe, upon the whole, that the Common Interpretation is of great Authority in the Christian Church and a Glorious Emolument to Religion: that the Encouragement and Protection of Learning, give a greater Lustre, even to the Character of Kings, than the brightest Circumstance of their Reign; for the Name of Ptolomaeus Philadelphus may expect to flourish, by his Alexandrian Library, and the Interpretation of the Septuagint, when the greatest [xix] Heroes in Story are lost in Revolutions of Time, and their Memories are no more.
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