Friday, December 21, 2007

LXX Wrap up

To celebrate 8 Tevet, the DovBear community has been conversing loudly on the origins and uses of the LXX, or Septuagint. In what follows I summarize the two competing perspectives.

People who know/care about history

Origins: Written, perhaps by Jewish scholars or sages, to serve the Hellenistic Jewish communities in and around Alexandria.

(Interpolation: Hellenistic Jews were Jews who lived in Hellenist areas during the Hellenistic period. This is not the same as a Hellenized Jew. A Hellenized Jew is a Greek of Jewish origin. Today we'd call them assimilated. Not every Hellenistic Jew was also a Hellenized Jew. Scholarship says that, for the most part, Hellenistic Jews were shul goers and keepers of commandments. It is true that at times the non-diaspora Jews in Palestine were not the least bit pleased with the Hellenistic Jews, but likewise there were times when the Jews of Lita were not the least bit pleased with the Yeks.)

Uses: Nowadays you can't cross the Jewish street without Hebrew. This wasn't so when the LLX was written in c250 BCE.There was no Talmud, no Mishna, and very few prayers. Hebrew qua Hebrew was of less relative importance, and the LXX was used by the Greek speaking Jews as their standard Bible. In fact, scholarship holds that Philo, the greatest Jewish sage of Alexandria, knew no Hebrew and relied on the LXX exclusively.

Perspective of the Rabbis: Largely negative. There are some remarks about the LXX fulfilling Noach's words about יַפְתְּ אֱלֹהִים לְיֶפֶת, וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָהֳלֵי-שֵׁם. The legend of 70 or 72 Rabbis participating in the translation suggests it either had early legitimacy, or that the authors of the legend wished to provide it with legitimacy (though note that some of the translating Rabbis had Greek names) However, the three main sources, beginning with Taanit say that it was a very, very bad thing (Note: Among the three negative sources there is dispute: מסכת סופרים פרק א הלכה ז says that the translation was done by 5 elders. אבות דרבי נתן פרק ל"ז agrees 5 elders did the work, but disagrees with Taanit on how many changes were made.)

Reason for their negative perspective: Likely, they held that the LXX was a dilution of the One True Torah. They may also have doubted the legitimacy of the Greek community, or they could have been writing at a time when the LXX had already fallen out of Jewish use.

People who don't

Origins: 72 Sage were summoned by Ptolmy the Greek King (never mind that he was a Macedonian ruler of Egypt) The competing legends of 5 elders is irrelevant, not known, or ignored. The fact that there is no supporting evidence for the legend is barely a minor inconvenience. The one true Torah view is the one that appears in Taanit, all other views, including the two other Rabbinic sources, barely register as nuisances.

(Interpolation: No difference between Hellenistic and Hellenized Jews is recognized. Anyone who lived in Alexandria was probably some kind of no-nothing reformer, the proof being that they didn't have any Hebrew and needed/used a treif book like the LXX in the first place)

Uses: Originally commissioned by Ptolmy for the purpose of encouraging assimilation. Later, some know-nothing reform Jews living in Alexandira may have used it at their make believe shuls, but who cares they were assimilated hellenized god-haters anyway.

Perspective of the Rabbis: Entirely negative

Reason for their negative perspective: You're asking a question on Rabbis? You sheigetz! Obviously, if they had a negative perspective they received it via daas Torah or it was part of the direct chain going back to Sinai. In any case, they are right you are wrong, so please excuse me while I put my fingers in my ears.

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