What Do You Do When a Text is Failing? The Letter of Aristeas and the Need for a New Pentateuch

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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This study highlights features of the Letter of Aristeas that reveal how that story conceives of the royal translation project. It will apply the concept of ‘auxiliary texts’ developed by Markus Dubischar based on the conversation theory of Paul Grice in order to show that Aristeas understands the Hebrew Pentateuch as a failing text. It will be shown that because Aristeas both respects the traditions and teachings contained within the Pentateuch, and recognizes the failure of the text outside of a particular context, it sees the translation as necessary for the Pentateuch’s survival. The study will compare the statements related in prologues from Graeco-Roman ‘auxiliary texts’ to statements in the Letter of Aristeas to underline the ways how the Greek translation of the Hebrew text is simultaneously conceived of as a correction of the problems inherent in the Hebrew text tradition, and is not attempting to entirely replace that tradition.

What Do You Do When a Text is Failing? The Letter of Aristeas and the Need for a New Pentateuch

in Journal for the Study of Judaism




Moses HadasAristeas to Philocrates (New York: Harper & Brothers1973) 55-56; Sylvie Honigman The Septuagint and Homeric Scholarship in Alexandria: A Study in the Narrative of the Letter of Aristeas (London: Routledge 2003) 1 13; Wasserstein and Wasserstein Legend 21. All of the above testify to the fact that this work neither follows epistolary formulae nor does the narrator even claim to be writing a letter in any sense. Rather it is pointed out that despite being addressed to a certain Philocrates the narrator calls his work a διηγήσις or narrative from the start (§1). As to the narrator’s purported identity as a Greek courtier Timothy Michael Law When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2013) 36 notes that this is a persona taken on in order to provide the text with greater credibility. A similar sentiment can be observed in Victor Tcherikover “The Ideology of the Letter of Aristeas” htr 51 (1958): 59-85 esp. 63.


John BartlettJews in the Hellenistic World: Josephus Aristeas the Sibylline Oracles Eupolemus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1985) 16-17 argues on the basis of an analysis of Aristeas’s relationship to other literature including Hecataeus of Abdera the Greek translation of the Pentateuch and Aristobulus that a date in the middle of the second century bce is most likely.


Dubischar“Survival” 42.


Dubischar“Survival” 43.


Dubischar“Survival” 44-47.


Dubischar“Survival” 46-47.


Dubischar“Survival” 46-47.


Paul GriceStudies in the Way of Words (Cambridge: Harvard University Press1989) 26-29. Dubischar “Survival” 51-56.


Dubischar“Survival” 46-47.


Dubischar“Survival” 56.


Dubischar“Survival” 56-57.


Translation from Dubischar“Survival” 49.


Robert Carroll“Jewgreek Greekjew: The Hebrew Bible is All Greek to Me, Reflections on the Problematics of Dating the Origins of the Bible in Relation to Contemporary Discussions of Biblical Historiography,” in Did Moses Speak Attic? Jewish Historiography and Scripture in the Hellenistic Perioded. Lester Grabbe (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press2001) 91-107esp. 93.


Wasserstein and WassersteinLegend19-20. Paul Wendland Aristae ad Philocratem Epistula cum ceteris de origine versionis LXX interpretum testimoniis (Leipzig: Teubner 1900) vii-ix allows that the practice may go back even further to larger editions of the Greek bible.


Wright“Pseudonymous” 60-61; De Crom “Letter” 148-49.


Dubischar“Survival” 47. See also Markus Mülke “Die Epitome—das bessere Original?” in Horster and Reitz Condensing Texts—Condensed texts 69-89 esp. 74-76.


WrightPraise283. Gooding “Aristeas” 360.


De Crom“Letter” 156-57.


This is the main conclusion of Borchardt“LXX Myth” 14-15.


Cf. HonigmanSeptuagint119-39; Wright “Pseudonymous” 49-50; Zuntz “Aristeas” 109-26.


Dubischar“Survival” 62.


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