The Letter of Aristeas

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Introduction

In The Letter of Aristeas, one of the most noteworthy and ancient recoveries in this collection, we have come a long way from Adam and Eve, a long way from the Flood. This writing presents a spectacle of the resiliency of the human race, which has repeopled the Earth, with powerful nations living in pomp and splendor.

The Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates is a Hellenistic work of the 3rd or early 2nd century BC, assigned by some Biblical scholars to the Pseudepigrapha. The letter is the earliest text to mention the Library of Alexandria

Josephus, who paraphrases about two-fifths of the letter, ascribes it to Aristeas of Marmora and to have been written to a certain Philocrates. The letter describes the Greek translation of the Hebrew Law by seventy-two interpreters sent into Egypt from Jerusalem at the request of the librarian of Alexandria, resulting in the Septuagint translation.

Coins of Ptolemy II’s parents Ptolemy I and Berenice I

You will read here of the first great bibliophile-Ptolemy Philadelphus. He desires to collect into his library at Alexandria “all the books in the world.” Finally in his passion to secure one great work the Hebraic Laws-he trades 100.000 captives for that book. This is probably the highest price ever paid for a single work. It presents an unusual reason for the end of the Great Captivity.

Bust of Ptolemy II,

The events of this narrative took place during the lifetime of the famous Queen Arsinoe, who died 270 B. C. The exact date of the writing is uncertain.

Queen Arsinoe

The details of court life, the discussion of social problems of the day are of the utmost interest and vividness. It is an odd discovery in this day and age to see the king and his guests playing at questions and answers during their banqueting,

The structure of this absorbing work is as follows:

  1. Dedication of the book to Philocrates. 
  2. Preliminary action:
    (a) The proposal of the Librarian to liberate the Hebrew captives in exchange for a book.
    (b) The emancipation.
    (c) The letter of Philadelphus to Eleazar.
    (d) The reply.
    (e) The names of the committee appointed to translate the book.
  1. Description of the royal presents:
    (a) The table (probably the most elaborate piece of furniture ever produced).
    (b) The other presents.
  1. Description of Jerusalem.
    (a) The temple (and the water-works system).
    (b) The ceremony.
    (c) The citadel.
    (d) The city.
    (e) The countryside.
  1. Eleazar’s farewell. 
  2. Eleazar’s explanation of the law (this is profound wisdom). 
  3. The reception. 
  4. The banquet (72 questions and answers). 
  5. The translation of the Book.

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