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Aristeas, Letter of

ARISTEAS, LETTER OF

The Letter of Aristeas is a narrative that, under the guise of a letter, purports to tell how a Greek translation of the Law of Moses was made during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285247 b.c.). Recounted by a Gentile courtier named Aristeas for his brother Philocrates, the narrative may be summarized as follows. Demetrius of Phalerum, the royal librarian, informs Ptolemy that the Jewish Law is worthy of inclusion in the royal library, but that manuscripts and translators are needed (911; 2832). Aristeas, a pious and influential courtier, first persuades Ptolemy to emancipate all Jewish slaves as a gesture of good will, and then leads a delegation to the high priest in Jerusalem (1227; 3340). Aristeas's delegation requests a team of 72 translators, to which the high priest Eleazar readily agrees (4146). Elaborate details follow, such as the names of the translators (4750), the gifts sent by Philadelphus (5182), descriptions of the temple, the temple service and the holy city (83120), and a disquisition on the logic of the Jewish dietary laws (12871). The translators receive a royal welcome upon their arrival in Egypt (17386), and display their wisdom at a series of seven banquets hosted by Philadelphus (187294). They then set about their task and produce a consensus translation in exactly 72 days (3017). The new translation is approved by the Jewish community, and a curse is pronounced against anyone who would alter it (30811). Philadelphus marvels at the wisdom of the Law and sends the translators back to Jerusalem with lavish gifts (31221).

The Letter of Aristeas has attracted scholarly interest primarily for its relevance to the origin of the Septuagint. The document was known to Josephus, who cites it in his Jewish Antiquities (12.2.115 §11118), and possibly to Philo, who recounts a similar version of LXX origins (De vita Mosis 2.2544). Previous generations of scholars have viewed the narrative as motivated by apologetic concerns, either for the LXX or for a Jewish cultural ethos. Because of its sympathetic portrayal of the Ptolemaic ruler and its cosmopolitan outlook, recent assessments view the document as a product of a Jewish community open to a principled rapprochement with Hellenism. Many scholars have dated the work to the 2d century b.c., though both earlier (3d century b.c.) and later dates (1st century b.c.) have been suggested.

Bibliography: Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.38082. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. j. h. charlesworth, 2.734. m. hadas, Aristeas to Philocrates (Letter of Aristeas) (New York 1951). g. boccaccini, "The Letter of Aristeas: A Dialogical Judaism Facing Greek Paideia," in Middle Judaism: Jewish Thought 300 b.c.e. to 200 c.e. (Minneapolis 1991), 16185. l. j. greenspoon, "Mission to Alexandria: Truth and Legend about the Creation of the Septuagint," Bible Review 5 (1989) 3441. v. a. tcherikover, "The Ideology of the Letter of Aristeas," Harvard Theological Review 51 (1958) 5985.

[j. n. rhodes]

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