Glory to God in the Highest for the Septuagint!
As I have mentioned elsewhere, the Jewish people had a very great love for the Septuagint for centuries. Why? Because they had forgotten Hebrew and spoke only Greek or Aramaic. Consequently, the Septuagint translation was the only way they could understand their Holy Scriptures. The other advantage was that the Septuagint became the cause for thousands of pagans to convert to Judaism.
Philo, a contemporary of our Saviour, was one of Judaism’s greatest apologists and defenders. Through the many tracts that he wrote, many converted to Judaism. Yet, as is known, Philo knew no Hebrew and based all his texts on the Septuagint.
But with the appearance of Christianity, all those pagan converts and thousands of the Jews themselves began to turn to and espouse the Christian Faith. In view of the fact that the Septuagint was so effective in the hands of the Apostles, this caused a sharp and desperate reaction among the leaders of the Jewish religion, and they renounced the Septuagint. What had formerly been a day of celebration for them was turned into a day of mourning and grief. Even Philo’s valuable tracts were all renounced.
Essentially, in their desperation, the teachers of Israel reverted to a text (the Hebrew Bible) which only they, the rabbis, could read and understand, but which was incomprehensible to virtually all of their people.
Yet, as writer Alexander Zvielli points out (Jerusalem Post, June, 2009, p. 37) both Philo (known more fully as Philo Judaicus of Alexandria, c. 20 B. C.–A. D. 50) and Josephus Flavius (A. D. 38–A. D. 100) respected the Septuagint highly. In fact, the popularity of the Septuagint in the ancient Jewish community and the Hellenistic world is undeniable.
Zvielli writes: “Although some modern scholars claim that the Letter of Aristeas (which describes how the Septuagint was translated), is an imaginative composition written for the sole purpose of presenting the Jewish people, Jerusalem and Judea in a favorable light, The Letter presents us with a contemporary record and a valuable window into the past. It is written with the personal knowledge of an eye-witness, Aristeas, an officer at the court of the Egyptian emperor Ptolemy Philadelphus (285–247 B.C.), who addresses his brother Philocrates, and we are informed in the Letter that Ptolemy discovered that there were no translations of the Jewish Law in his world-famous library of Alexandria and, consequently, he demanded that Eleazar, the High Priest of Jerusalem, send him skilled translators to rectify the situation.
“Eleazar found this request ‘contrary to nature,’ and hesitated to comply, but since Judea was under Ptolemy’s rule, he had no choice.“
Accordingly, seventy-two (hence, ‘Septuagint’ — from the Latin for ‘seventy’) hand-picked Judean scribes left for Alexandria, where their translating skills in both Hebrew and Greek, as well as their general knowledge, was tested by the king himself. The sages answered many difficult questions, and took special care to explain to the king some Jewish customs, such as circumcision and the dietary laws, which were often ridiculed in pagan Hellenistic society.