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The Letter of Aristeas

The Letter of Aristeas


The Letter of Aristeas summarizes the events allegedly surrounding the production of the Septuagint. King Ptolemy Philadelphus II of Egypt (285-247 BC), to complete his collection of all the world's books for his royal library, needs a copy of the "laws of the Jews." To secure translators for the Hebrew scriptures, Ptolemy contacts the Jewish High Priest Eleazer, releasing all the Jewish captives in Egypt in exchange for 72 competent men - six from each tribe - to make the Greek translation. Upon their arrival in Alexandria, Ptolemy hosts a seven-day banquet, during which he poses difficult question to each translator. Their answers, which reflect Stoic moral philosophy, satisfy Ptolemy. The translation is completed in 72 days and is agreed by all to be perfect. They pronounce a curse on anyone who might alter the text.

Purpose: Debated

The account of the translation of the LXX occupies only 11 verses. Much greater attention is given to a lengthy description of Palestine and Jerusalem (about 40 verses) and to the questions and answers at the banquet (nearly 150 verses). Probably to serve as an apology for Hellenistic Judaism for those unfamiliar with Palestine


Canonical Status:

Among the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha



The probably pseudonymous author claims to be Aristeas, a Jewish official in the court of Ptolemy, writing to his brother Philocrates. The real author must have been an Alexandrian Jew. His claim of Egyptian pagan authorship is false


Date: Debated

The book claims a date in the mid-3rd century BC. Probably sometime during 1st or 2nd century BC


Original Language: Probably Greek

Notes prepared by David Arnold (Senior Religion Major)

for the Wesley Center for Applied Theology at Northwest Nazarene University

Copyright 2000 by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology

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