Aristeas

ARISTEAS ăr’ ĭs te’ əs (̓Αριστέας). The title given to a document purporting to be an eyewitness account of the circumstances which led up to the tr. of the Jewish Scriptures into Gr. (i.e. the origin of the LXX) by an officer of the court of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 b.c.).

Although commonly called “the Epistle of Aristeas” (the MSS have simply “Aristeas to Philocrates”), the literary form is that of first person narrative. The author tells the story of his mission as an emissary of the Egyp. king to Eleazar, “the High Priest of the Jews,” in Jerusalem, in order to arrange for the “Jewish laws” to be tr. into Gr. for inclusion in the library of Alexandria. Seventy-two trs. competent in Heb. and Gr., are requested and supplied for the task. Following seven nights of banqueting, during which the trs. answer seventy-two questions put to them by the king, the work of tr. is carried out in the course of seventy-two days.

Although the historical data contained in the work were once accepted at face value, it has been recognized for centuries that, whatever traditions may lie behind the narrative, it is essentially fictitious. Twice (par. 28 and 182) the author betrays the fact that he belongs to a later age, and he is guilty of a number of striking anachronisms.

“Aristeas to Philocrates” belongs to a larger group of Jewish apologies which attempted to commend Judaism and its way of life to Gentiles, by demonstrating the antiquity and moral superiority of its traditions and doctrines. The author is undoubtedly a Jew (or at least a proselyte) of Alexandria who uses a favorite device of the Jewish apologists of the Diaspora and writes under the guise of a Gr. pseudonym.

Various dates between 200 b.c. and a.d. 50 have been suggested for the origin of the “epistle.” A date toward the end of the 2nd cent. b.c. seems most probable. The work is of historical value primarily because it contains views concerning the origin of the LXX which were held at the time it was written and which were repeated, embroidered, and elaborated by subsequent Jewish and Christian authors.

Bibliography

P. Wendland, Aristeae ad Philocratem Epistula (1900); H. T. Andrews, in R. H. Charles (ed.), The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (1913), I, 83-122; H. G. Meecham, The Oldest Version of the Bible (1932); The Letter of Aristeas (1935); M. Hadas, Aristeas to Philocrates (1951); G. Zuntz, in IDB (1962), I, 219-221; A. Pelletier, Lettre d’Aristée à Philocrate (1962); S. Jellicoe, The Septuagint in Modern Study (1968), 29-58, 377-379.