« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
qualities and in all its narrow aspects it is the world into which Christ was born. Nay! He speaks the nobler accents of its language : He is bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh. We cannot understand Him, or His struggle with the forces around Him, without understanding this Jewish world. That which He took for His own and baptized with living water for the whole world's use is here, and that which rose against Him, and cried, “We will not have this man to be our King,” is here also.
Note.-S.P.C.K. edition, by Charles (1917).
THE LETTER OF ARISTEAS
THE writing of pseudonymous epistles was favourite form of literature in the Roman world. We must not, therefore, be surprised that the Letter of Aristeas, which claims to be the work of a courtier of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285–247 B.c.) and to give an account of contemporaneous events, turns out upon examination to belong to a later date. It contains several statements which make so early a date as the reign of the great Ptolemy impossible, but scholars are not yet agreed as to its real date. Schürer would place it 200 B.C., some German critics as late as A.D. 33, while Dr. Andrews follows Wendland in selecting 96-93 B.C., and supposes it underwent some editing by a later hand.
The Jewish motive throughout is far too obvious for it to have been written by a Greek courtier. The writer is evidently a Pharisaic Jew who adopts the Hellenic disguise in order to introduce his defence of his own religion and nation more easily into Gentile hands. It has been compared to a modern historical novel written with a purpose. This purpose was partly political and partly religious. The sections which deal with the generous action of Ptolemy in releasing his father's Jewish prisoners were no doubt written with a political object, while the description of the translation of the Scriptures by the seventy-two, and the account of the Holy Land, Jerusalem, and the Temple and its services, together with the seventytwo questions solved by the translators, are meant to exalt the Jewish religion, and are fine instances of the constant characteristics of the race. It should be remembered that the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek was a real landmark, and afforded an unparalleled opportunity amid the decay of religions for Jewish proselytism.
The letter is dedicated to Philocrates, the writer's brother : “My brother in character no less than in blood, but one with me as well in the pursuit of goodness,” and begins by telling how Demetrius of Phalerum, the president of the King's library, lamented to the King that among the 200,000 volumes under his charge there was no_translation of the Sacred Scriptures of the Jews. Ptolemy determined to remedy the deficiency, and selected Aristeas to go on an embassy to Jerusalem to request the High Priest Eleazar to send a body of scholars to translate the Scriptures at Alexandria. Aristeas thinks this an excellent opportunity to press the King to emancipate the large number of Jews who had been transported from Palestine by his father, some 30,000 of whom were acting as garrisons of the country districts. He suggests that this will be a quid pro quo for the privilege, hitherto granted to none, of having the Hebrew Scriptures translated into his own tongue. The King agrees to emancipate the captives, and pays their owners twenty drachmæ a head, the total amount being no less sum than 660 talents.
In the copy of the decree which is inserted, and which should ever guide the policy of conquerors, Ptolemy says
“We think that it was against our father's will and against all propriety that they should have been made captives. The spoil which fell to the soldiers on the field of battle was all the booty they should have claimed. To reduce the people to slavery in addition was an act of absolute injustice."
The King sends a gift of 100 talents of silver to Eleazar for the Temple sacrifices, and devotes fifty talents of gold, and seventy of silver, and a wealth of precious stones to the fashioning of fifty libation cups, five bowls, and a magnificent table for the offerings in the Temple, the making of which he personally superintended. This wonderful table with its "mæander” of rubies, emeralds, and onyx, its immense ruby pedestal, and its feet carved like lilies supporting the top, is elaborately described, and gives one no doubt a correct impression of the luxury and artistry of the time. Eleazar grants the King's request," unusual as it is," and selects six members from each tribe to accompany Aristeas to Alexandria.
A most interesting account of the Temple, city, and country is here interposed, reproduced, it is thought, from a lost work of Hecatæus, and is followed by a disquisition on the enactments of the laws that deal with food, justifying them on allegorical grounds in the manner usual among Alexandrian Jews.
The elders are received with all ceremony by the King, and entertained magnificently for seven days before they begin their labours, the King seating himself with them each night at the banquet. An opportunity is thus given for a display of the gnomic wisdom of the East, Ptolemy nightly propounding twelve questions or problems, which are answered in turn by the elders from Jerusalem.
At the end of the week they are installed in a house on the Pharos Island, where they work daily till three o'clock “in a place which was delightful for its quiet and its brightness," and complete their translation in seventy-two days. It is then read in the presence of the Jewish population, declared to be quite accurate, and a curse is pronounced against any who should tamper with it. Ptolemy receives the scrolls with great satisfaction, and dismisses the translators laden
with costly presents. Such is the account of the origin of the Septuagint, accepted by Josephus, legendary, of course, but free from the marvellous additions of later writers. The whole story is most cleverly contrived to throw every possible ray of glory on the Law and the race that
possessed it, and it must have been a useful instrument for Jewish propaganda.
The description of the Temple with its high walls, inexhaustible supply of water, and wonderful cisterns is no doubt accurate : “ They led me more than four furlongs outside the city and bade me peer down towards a certain spot and listen to the noise that was made by the meeting of the waters, so that the great size of the reservoirs became manifest to me.”
We are shown the orderly and reverent ministration of the 700 priests, each with his own task, to bring wood, or oil, or fine wheat flour, or spices. Some with brawny arms bring the flesh for the burntoffering, throwing the limbs of a calf weighing more than two talents with each hand in a wonderful way on to the high place of the altar, and never miss placing them on the proper spot." Others rest hardby till their turn comes, and the place is so still that you would think no human being was present. Then we are told of the majestic Eleazar with his golden bells and variegated pomegranates, his coloured girdle, and the oracle on his breast inscribed with the tribal names, each precious stone "flashing forth in a wondrous way its own particular colour": his tiara with the sacred names in sacred letters on a plate of gold. He created such awe and confusion of mind as to make one feel one had come into the presence of a being from another world.”
We ascend the citadel that frowns above the Temple with its towers and strong fortifications, its warlike engines and machines, and its 500 guardsmen, who are only allowed to leave their post on feastdays in detachments, and from thence look down upon the city, with its terraced roads, on which the temple-worshippers pass up and down. Their land is of small area, but the Jews are described as an agricultural people cultivating abundant crops, and pasturing great herds of cattle. “The land is thickly planted with multitudes of olive-trees, with crops of corn and pulse, with vines too, and there is