The LXX Myth and the Rise of Textual Fixity

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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This brief study investigates the desire for a fixed textual form as it pertains to scripture in the Judean tradition. It particularly delves into this phenomenon in three early versions of the Septuagint origin myth. This paper argues that this myth is invaluable for the study of transmission and reception of scripture, as it is one of the earliest testimonies to the desire for a scriptural text to be frozen. By highlighting the ways the author of the Letter of Aristeas, Philo, and Josephus deal with the issue of textual fixity in the origin myth, this study aims to elucidate the range of opinions held by Judeans concerning the process of transmission of their holy books.

Journal for the Study of Judaism

In the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period




Tessa Rajak, Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible of the Ancient Jewish Diaspora (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 27; Benjamin G. Wright III, Praise Israel for Wisdom and Instruction: Essays on Ben Sira, Wisdom, the Letter of Aristeas and the Septuagint ( JSJS 131; Leiden: Brill, 2008), 279; Arie van der Kooij, “The Promulgation of the Pentateuch in Greek According to the Letter of Aristeas,” in Scripture in Transition: Essays on Septuagint, Hebrew Bible, and Dead Sea Scrolls in Honour of Raija Sollamo (ed. Anssi Voitila and Jutta Jokiranta; JSJS 126; Leiden: Brill, 2008), 179-92, esp. 179.


V. Tcherikover, “The Ideology of the Letter of Aristeas,” HTR 51 (1958): 59-85; John R. Bartlett, Jews in the Hellenistic World: Josephus, Aristeas, The Sybilline Oracles, Eupolemus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 14; John J. Collins, Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora (New York: Crossroad, 1986), 179-82; Judith Lieu, “Impregnable Ramparts and Walls of Iron”: Boundary and Identity in Early ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity’,” NTS 48 (2002): 297-313.


Ian Scott, “A Jewish Canon Before 100 B.C.E.: Israel’s Law in the Book of Aristeas,” in Early Christian Literature and Intertextuality, Volume I: Thematic Studies (ed. Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias; JSNT 391; London: T&T Clark, 2009), 42-64. Martin Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of Its Canon (tr. Mark E. Biddle; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2002), 11-12, 50-51, inter al.


Eugene Ulrich, “The Notion and Definition of Canon,” in The Canon Debate (ed. Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002), 21-35 at 29.


Harry M. Orlinsky, “The Septuagint as Holy Writ and the Philosophy of the Translators,” HUCA 46 (1975): 89-114, esp. 96-97.


Ulrich, “Notion,” 29. The emphasis is retained from the original.


James A. Sanders, “The Issue of Closure in the Canonical Process,” in The Canon Debate (ed. Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002), 252-63, esp. 256, terms this verbal inspiration, which he differentiates from the looser dynamic inspiration of the message and the more strict literal inspiration of even the letters.


Timo Veijola, Das 5. Buch Mose Deuteronomium (ATD 8,1; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004), 113-14.


Bernard M. Levinson, “The Neo-Assyrian Origins of the Canon Formula in Deuteronomy 13:1,” in Scriptural Exegesis: The Shapes of Culture and the Religious Imagination. Essays in Honour of Michael Fishbane (ed. Deborah A. Green and Laura S. Lieber; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 25-45, esp. 35-36.


Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), 261-65.


The fragments are found in Eusebius, Praep. ev. 12.12.1-2.


Paul Wendland, “Zur ältesten Geschichte der Bibel in der Kirche,” ZNW 1 (1900): 267-90, esp. 269-70.


Giuseppe Veltri, Libraries, Translations, and “Canonic” Texts: The Septuagint, Aquila, and Ben Sira in the Jewish and Christian Traditions ( JSJS 109; Leiden: Brill, 2006), 40.


Veltri, Libraries, 36.


Wright, Praise, 306. Emphasis added.


Cf. D.W. Gooding, “Aristeas and Septuagint Origins: A Review of Recent Studies,” VT 13 (1963): 357-79.


Dries De Crom, “The Letter of Aristeas and the Authority of the Septuagint,” JSP 17 (2008): 141-60. We do not necessarily agree with all De Crom’s conclusions about how these different aspects function to confer authority upon the LXX, especially given his lack of reference to the emergent nature of authority, but we do agree with the principle that they function as proofs.


Adam Kamesar, “Philo and the Literary Quality of the Bible: A Theoretical Aspect of the Problem,” JJS 46 (1995): 55-68, esp. 58.


Niehoff, “Questions,” 344, 359.


Beckwith, “Formation,” 41.


Sanders, “Issue,” 256; Ulrich, “Notion,” 24-25.


Tcherikover, “Ideology,” 60-61.


Tcherikover, “Ideology,” 82.


Sanders, “Issues,” 258. This would correspond with Sanders’ third stage of transmission, wherein God no longer acts within history and so humanity is forced to interact with the text in new ways.


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