Saturday, February 8, 2014
Happy International Septuagint Day!
According to an ancient legend, King Ptolemy II of Egypt wanted to add the Torah to his library at Alexandria. He needed the Hebrew Scriptures translated into Greek, the common language of the day. To that end he sent to Judea and had 72 Jewish scholars brought to Alexandria. The scholars did their work individually, sequestered in 72 separate rooms for 72 days. When they were finished, the compared their work and discovered that each of them had produced precisely the same translation.
There is probably little of historical fact in this account but it does express something of the esteem in which the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures we call the Septuagint was held. In fact, the legend gives the Septuagint its name. Septuagint is Greek for "seventy." Scholarly references often abbreviate "Septuagint" with the Roman numeral LXX (70).
The Septuagint was the Bible of the early Church. When the New Testament quotes the Old Testament it is usually (if not always) from some form of the LXX text. The Septuagint remains the Old Testament of the Orthodox churches. It is the source of deuterocanonical books--the "extra" books--found in Roman Catholic editions of the Bible but missing from the Protestant canon.
Today is International Septuagint Day.
How to celebrate? I suppose you could bake a cake or send cards. Or, maybe you could read something from the Septuagint. The Book of Tobit is a charming story about a faithful Jew who is blinded by sparrow dung. Really.
If you're feeling a little less ambitious, the story of Susanna, an addition to the book of Daniel, is every bit as charming but not quite so long. It involves a beautiful, virtuous woman, a couple of corrupt civic officials, and a clever young hero.