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sumably to this circumstance that we owe a Greek translation of the Bible.
There are many different accounts both as to the date and origin of the Septuagint. According to the best accredited, Ptolemy Philadelphus (284-247 B.C.) ordered a transcript of the Pentateuch for the great Alexandrian library then being formed. This is the account given by Philo and by Josephus; who also betray a strong desire to prove its sacred origin. The Talmud and Justin Martyr, impelled by a similar motive, relate that seventytwo interpreters were shut up in separate cells, where each one completed his own version; and when all had done, the seventy - two translations corresponded even to the minutest detail. Whatever the origin, the date may be assigned to the middle of the third century B.C.
The Alexandrine Jews were ignorant of Hebrew. Only to the doctors of the Synagogue was that language known, and to them was it known only as a dead language. Consider well this important truth. Not to the Egyptian Jews and Hellenists merely, but to the Jews of Syria, to the still more numerous Jews of Babylon, indeed to the entire race, Hebrew was a dead language; and had been so, virtually, ever since the Babylonian captivity; or we may certainly say for nearly 400 years B.C. From the epoch marked by the return of the Jews under Zerubbabel, their language gradually became Aramaic. This was allied to Hebrew as Latin is allied to French. Both were of Semitic origin. The dialect of Babylonia and Mesopotamia was called Eastern Aramaic or Chaldee ; that of Syria, Western Aramaic or Syriac. This latter was the language of Christ, and of the whole of Palestine in His time. Nehemiah, describing the condition of the Jews as he found it “in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes” (433 B.C.), says, “ Their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each
people” (Neh. xiii. 24). Although this proves that Hebrew was then but partially obsolete, the enormous influx of Babylonian Jews who knew nothing but Aramaic soon established the latter, to the final extinction of their former tongue. Hebrew was exclusively employed in the Synagogue. It was used in Jewish worship just as Latin is used in the Church of Rome ; and probably most of the official readers and expounders of the Scriptures knew about as much of “the sacred language” as the majority of the Catholic priests know of Latin. The congregations were as ignorant of the sense in one case, as they now are in the other.
The ordinary difficulty of accurately translating a dead language was but an insignificant fraction of the prodigious labour encountered by the Greek translators. Those who learnt Hebrew, learnt it solely by oral teaching. If they wanted to know the meaning of a word there was no dictionary to refer to; its meaning depended on its sound, and its correct sound depended on tradition. The formidable inconvenience of this may be understood when it is stated that the words were continuous—without breaks; and that no vowels, points, or accents were ever used at all, until after the completion of the Talmud (600 A.D.) 1 It is needless to say that the same combination of consonants would serve for various sounds; and that this consequently led to much diversity of Rabbinical interpretation. The Greek translators had often to guess at the sense of a passage they could not understand. That they were sometimes unable even to guess, is evident from the fact that they occasionally inserted the Hebrew word as it stood in the original before them.
What was that original ? We may safely reply that, as a recognised collection of authentic writings, it had no existence. In the first place, it is impossible to tell when
1 According to the famous Jewish date of the vowels at the beginning scholar Levita, Luzatto fixes the of the sixth century.
the Jewish canon was closed. The earliest catalogue extant of the sacred books is that of Josephus, in the middle of the first century. We know, to be sure, what books were translated, but we also know that many of these are now considered apocryphal, both by the Jews and by ourselves. In the second place, although the Christian Churches treat the Bible as a whole—all parts of which are equally ordained to reveal the purposes of God, the Jews, at the close of the canon, divided their twenty-four books into three parts; each part being of inferior sanctity to the one before it. The Torah, i.e., the Law, or the Pentateuch, is pre-eminently sacred. It is the direct and immediate dictation of God. The Nebhiîm or Prophets, stand next as indirectly inspired. And the Ketubîm or Holy Writings, which include the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, &c., are held to be of attenuated inspiration, and hence of inferior sanctity.
The Rationalist might be tempted to regard these descending grades as indicative of the common relation between reverence and antiquity. The inference, however, would be invalidated by the authorship assigned by Hebrew tradition to the Psalms. Some of these are ascribed to Moses, Abraham, Melchisedec, and even to Adam. With respect to the last named, Rabbi Wogue shrewdly remarks, “ Albeit that Adam (if he spoke Hebrew) may have uttered a portion of Ps. cxxxix., the last six verses at least ought to be denied him; and even in the first part it seems sufficiently strange that the first man could have spoken of his mother.” 1
Still, for the Jew, every syllable, every letter of the Torâh emanates direct from God; and every line of it was penned by the hand of Moses. The devoted reader of the Bible would scarcely hold himself pledged to believe that Moses wrote the account, in the last chapter of Deuteronomy, of his own death and burial. But to the devout Jew no such laxity is permissible. Upon this point the Talmud is definitive. “Even he who should say, All the Law comes from God save such a verse—falls under the sentence, 'he that despiseth the word of the Lord and hath broken His commandment, that soul shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him?" (Num. xv. 31). Rabbi Simeon consequently meets the above objectionthat Moses must either have lied or else have written after his death-by the rejoinder that: Moses wrote at the dictation of God; and the responsibility of recording the death as a past event was assumed by the Deity.
1 Histoire de la Bible et de L'Exegese Biblique, &c., par L. Wogue, Grand Rabbin, &c.
This unbounded veneration was never extended to other portions of the Old Testament, even after the canon was closed. From the first commencement of its formation under Ezra and Nehemiah, the Law alone was regularly read in the places of worship. The Prophets were occasionally, but not systematically, recited; and the Hagiographa, or Holy Writings rarely, if at all, until later times. From this it would follow that the less esteemed books were less familiarly known, tradition would be more frequently at fault, and diversity would grow with every increase to the number of hand-made copies. This too would explain the frequent divergence between the Samaritan Bible and the Septuagint. It would also lead to the conclusion, amply attested by Rabbinical literature, that at the time of the Greek translation there were many texts and many books of disputed sanctity.
The incomparable superiority ascribed to the Law above all other Scriptures had, moreover, an effect upon these which is of the greatest importance for us; so far, at least, as we are concerned with conformity between originals and transcripts. The preservation of authenticity was entirely in the hands of the scribes. When Ezra returned to Judea in 478 B.C., his object was to restore the law of Moses; which seems somewhat unaccountably
to have fallen, during the sixty or seventy years that had elapsed after the destruction of Jerusalem, into almost utter neglect. His effort was to compile and collate such of the old manuscripts as had escaped destruction. What remnant of these there may have been, we have no means of judging. But considering the desuetude or ignorance of the Law, so clearly set before us by Ezra and Nehemiah; considering how Jerusalem was treated by Nebuchadnezzar; how he razed the walls of the town, and destroyed the Temple and every public building by fire; how under such circumstances it is as much as men can do to save their lives,—the natural inference would be that the perishable and cumbersome skins on which the holy works were inscribed, and which, if originals, were kept in the Temple, must nearly all have been annihilated. Such indeed was evidently the opinion of those Jews who afirmed that, by the aid of miraculous assistance, Ezra reproduced the whole of the Sacred Writings from memory.
Be that as it may, it is certain that Ezra, and the scribes who followed up Ezra's work, until the time of Alexander, i.l., for nearly 150 years, were sedulously engaged in establishing the supremacy of the Law; and of interpreting and editing the rest of the Scriptures under a deep sense of their subordinate value. To the Christian, who looks upon the prophetic writings and the Psalms as the surest confirmation of his creed, this view is completely subversive of his own. Yet it cannot be denied that the Old Testament, as transmitted to us, is the Old Testament as the scribes compiled, revised, and we might almost say of parts, composed it. Assuredly no one questions the survival of some of the ancient writings. But it is hard to conceive now, the imperfect, confused, and dislocated condition in which the scribes found, and had to deal. with, them. For all but trained experts the task would have been a hopeless one. The ancient language, as we have seen, had died out. More than this, the character in