Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Greek Version of the Hebrew Scriptures
By Josephus (37–100)
From the ‘Antiquities’: Translation of William Whiston

WHEN Alexander had reigned twelve years, and after him Ptolemy Soter forty years, Philadelphus then took the kingdom of Egypt, and held it forty years within one. He procured the law to be interpreted; and set free those that were come from Jerusalem into Egypt and were in slavery there, who were a hundred and twenty thousand. The occasion was this: Demetrius Phalereus, who was library keeper to the King, was now endeavoring if it were possible to gather together all the books that were in the habitable earth, and buying whatsoever was anywhere valuable or agreeable to the King’s inclination,—who was very earnestly set upon collecting of books, to which inclination of his Demetrius was zealously subservient. And when once Ptolemy asked him how many thousand of books he had collected, he replied that he had already about twenty times ten thousand, but that in a little time he should have fifty times ten thousand. But he said he had been informed that there were many books of law among the Jews worthy of inquiring after, and worthy of the King’s library, but which, being written in characters and in a dialect of their own, will cause no small pains in getting them translated into the Greek tongue; that the character in which they are written seems to be like to that which is the proper character of the Syrians, and that its sound, when pronounced, is like theirs also: and that this sound appears to be peculiar to themselves. Wherefore he said that nothing hindered why they might not get those books to be translated also; for while nothing is wanting that is necessary for that purpose, we may have their books also in this library. So the King thought that Demetrius was very zealous to procure him abundance of books, and that he suggested what was exceeding proper for him to do; and therefore he wrote to the Jewish high priest that he should act accordingly:—…  1
  “King Ptolemy to Eleazar the high priest, sendeth greeting: There were many Jews who now dwell in my kingdom, whom the Persians when they were in power carried captives. These were honored by my father: some of whom he placed in the army, and gave them greater pay than ordinary; to others of them, when they came with him into Egypt, he committed his garrisons, and the guarding of them, that they might be a terror to the Egyptians. And when I had taken the government, I treated all men with humanity, and especially those that are thy fellow-citizens, of whom I have set free above a hundred thousand that were slaves, and paid the price of their redemption to their masters out of my own revenues; and those that are of a fit age I have admitted into the number of my soldiers…. And as I am desirous to do what will be grateful to these, and to all the other Jews in the habitable earth, I have determined to procure an interpretation of your law, and to have it translated out of the Hebrew into Greek, and to be deposited in my library. Thou wilt therefore do well to choose out and send to me men of good character, who are now elders in age, and six in number out of every tribe; these, by their age, must be skillful in the laws, and of abilities to make an accurate interpretation of them. And when this shall be finished, I shall think that I have done a work glorious to myself.”…  2
  When this epistle of the King’s was brought to Eleazar, he wrote an answer to it with all the respect possible:—  3
  “Eleazar the high priest to King Ptolemy, sendeth greeting: If thou and thy queen Arsinoe, and thy children, be well, we are entirely satisfied. When we received thy epistle, we greatly rejoiced at thy intentions; and when the multitude were gathered together, we read it to them, and thereby made them sensible of the piety thou hast towards God…. We immediately therefore offered sacrifices for thee and thy sister, with thy children and friends; and the multitude made prayers that thy affairs may be to thy mind, and that thy kingdom may be preserved in peace, and that the translation of our law may come to the conclusion thou desirest, and be for thy advantage. We have also chosen six elders out of every tribe, whom we have sent, and the law with them. It will be thy part, out of thy piety and justice, to send back the law when it hath been translated, and to return those to us that bring it in safety. Farewell.”…  4
  Accordingly, when three days were over, Demetrius took them, and went over the causeway seven furlongs long; it was a bank in the sea to an island. And when they had gone over the bridge, he proceeded to the northern parts, and showed them where they should meet, which was in a house that was built near the shore, and was a quiet place, and fit for their discoursing together about their work. When he had brought them thither, he entreated them (now they had all things about them which they wanted for the interpretation of their law) that they would suffer nothing to interrupt them in their work…. Now when the law was transcribed, and the labor of interpretation was over, which came to its conclusion in seventy-two days, Demetrius gathered all the Jews together to the place where the laws were translated, and where the interpreters were, and read them over. The multitude did also approve of those elders that were the interpreters of the law. They withal commended Demetrius for his proposal, as the inventor of what was greatly for their happiness; and they desired that he would give leave to their rulers also to read the law. Moreover, they all, both the priest, and the most revered of the elders, and the principal men of their commonwealth, made it their request that since the interpretation was happily finished, it might continue in the state it now was, and might not be altered. And when they all commended that determination of theirs, they enjoined that if any one observed either anything superfluous or anything omitted, that he would take a view of it again, and have it laid before them, and corrected; which was a wise action of theirs, that when the thing was judged to have been well done, it might continue for ever.  5

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