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The LXX Myth and the Rise of Textual Fixity*

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Abstract This brief study investigates the desire for a fixed textual form as it pertains to scripture in the Judean tradition. It particularly delves into this phenomenon in three early versions of the Septuagint origin myth. This paper argues that this myth is invaluable for the study of transmission and reception of scripture, as it is one of the earliest testimonies to the desire for a scriptural text to be frozen. By highlighting the ways the author of the Letter of Aristeas, Philo, and Josephus deal with the issue of textual fixity in the origin myth, this study aims to elucidate the range of opinions held by Judeans concerning the process of transmission of their holy books.

1. FN0*) This study was prepared under the auspices of the EURYI project “The Birth and Transmission of Holy Tradition led by Juha Pakkala at the University of Helsinki. The group has provided funding and a setting for enlightening discussion.
2. FN11) The use of the term myth here should not be understood as derogatory or as a judgment about the objective truth or accuracy behind a story or belief. It should be understood, as Steven Grosby, “The Myth of Man-Loving Prometheus: Reflections on Philanthropy, Forethought, and Religion,” Conversations on Philanthropy (2010): 11-24 at 12, defines the term: “an empirically unverifiable position.”
3. FN22) Tessa Rajak, Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible of the Ancient Jewish Diaspora (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 27; Benjamin G. Wright III, Praise Israel for Wisdom and Instruction: Essays on Ben Sira, Wisdom, the Letter of Aristeas and the Septuagint ( JSJS 131; Leiden: Brill, 2008), 279; Arie van der Kooij, “The Promulgation of the Pentateuch in Greek According to the Letter of Aristeas,” in Scripture in Transition: Essays on Septuagint, Hebrew Bible, and Dead Sea Scrolls in Honour of Raija Sollamo (ed. Anssi Voitila and Jutta Jokiranta; JSJS 126; Leiden: Brill, 2008), 179-92, esp. 179.
4. FN33) We will use “Judean” throughout to refer to the socio-anthropological group often termed “Jewish,” because the latter term in modern usage seems to imply at times much more, and at others much less about identity than the historical situation allows. Judean at this time is very likely a more accurate translation of the terms employed. Cf. S. Mason, “Jews, Judeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History,” JSJ 38 (2007): 457-512.
5. FN44) V. Tcherikover, “The Ideology of the Letter of Aristeas,” HTR 51 (1958): 59-85; John R. Bartlett, Jews in the Hellenistic World: Josephus, Aristeas, The Sybilline Oracles, Eupolemus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 14; John J. Collins, Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora (New York: Crossroad, 1986), 179-82; Judith Lieu, “Impregnable Ramparts and Walls of Iron”: Boundary and Identity in Early ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity’,” NTS 48 (2002): 297-313.
6. FN55) Ian Scott, “A Jewish Canon Before 100 B.C.E.: Israel’s Law in the Book of Aristeas,” in Early Christian Literature and Intertextuality, Volume I: Thematic Studies (ed. Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias; JSNT 391; London: T&T Clark, 2009), 42-64. Martin Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of Its Canon (tr. Mark E. Biddle; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2002), 11-12, 50-51, inter al.
7. FN66) The custom is even admitted by such maximalists as Roger Beckwith, “Formation of the Hebrew Bible” in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism & Early Christianity (ed. Martin Jan Mulder and Harry Sysling; Assen: van Gorcum, 1988; repr. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2004), 39-86, esp. 43, citing the evidence of Sifrei Deut 356. He would doubtless disagree with the broader conclusions this study will draw.
8. FN77) Eugene Ulrich, “The Notion and Definition of Canon,” in The Canon Debate (ed. Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002), 21-35 at 29.
9. FN88) Harry M. Orlinsky, “The Septuagint as Holy Writ and the Philosophy of the Translators,” HUCA 46 (1975): 89-114, esp. 96-97.
10. FN99) Robert Kraft, “Finding Adequate Terminology for ‘Pre-canonical’ Literatures,” n.p. [cited 8 August, 2011]. Online:
11. FN1010) Ulrich, “Notion,” 29. The emphasis is retained from the original.
12. FN1111) Ibid., 29.
13. FN1212) E.g. at Qumran, if we can even speak of these texts as a collection and/or tie them to any one community. Both points are significantly open for debate. A less debatable position would be the literature cited by Ben Sira’s descendant in the translator’s prologue to Sirach. There are clearly demarcated “collections” in the author’s conception. He also obviously believes them to be open-ended, as he argues that he and his grandfather are both contributing to these collections.
14. FN1313) A library of this sort might be witnessed in 2 Macc 2:13-15 if the story is not completely fictional. Those who see the canon present in this text are begging the question. Cf. Armin Lange, “2 Maccabees 2:13-15: Library or Canon?” in The Books of the Maccabees: History, Theology, Ideology. Papers of the Second International Conference on the Deuterocanonical Books, Pápa, Hungary, 9-11 June, 2005 (ed. Géza Xeravits and József Zsellengér; JSJS 118; Leiden: Brill, 2007), 155-68.
15. FN1414) James A. Sanders, “The Issue of Closure in the Canonical Process,” in The Canon Debate (ed. Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002), 252-63, esp. 256, terms this verbal inspiration, which he differentiates from the looser dynamic inspiration of the message and the more strict literal inspiration of even the letters.
16. FN1515) Timo Veijola, Das 5. Buch Mose Deuteronomium (ATD 8,1; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004), 113-14.
17. FN1616) Bernard M. Levinson, “The Neo-Assyrian Origins of the Canon Formula in Deuteronomy 13:1,” in Scriptural Exegesis: The Shapes of Culture and the Religious Imagination. Essays in Honour of Michael Fishbane (ed. Deborah A. Green and Laura S. Lieber; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 25-45, esp. 35-36.
18. FN1717) Ibid., 37.
19. FN1818) Armin Lange, “ ‘Nobody Dared to Add to Them, to Take from Them or to Make Changes’ ( Josephus, AG. AP. 1.42): The Textual Standardization of Jewish Scriptures in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Flores Florentino: Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Early Jewish Studies in Honor of Florentino García Martínez (ed. Anthony Hilhorst, Émile Puech, and Eibert Tigchelaar; JSJS 122; Leiden: Brill, 2007), 105-26 at 106.
20. FN1919) Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), 261-65.
21. FN2020) Rajak, Translation, 34, notes that it is unknown whether Aristeas or Aristobulus was the first to write down an account of the LXX translation. She also speculates as to whether one drew upon the other or they were both influenced by a common oral source.
22. FN2121) The fragments are found in Eusebius, Praep. ev. 12.12.1-2.
23. FN2222) We will use Aristeas as shorthand for the author or the work itself interchangeably. If we make reference to the character it will be explicitly made known.
24. FN2323) Paul Wendland, “Zur ältesten Geschichte der Bibel in der Kirche,” ZNW 1 (1900): 267-90, esp. 269-70.
25. FN2424) Giuseppe Veltri, Libraries, Translations, and “Canonic” Texts: The Septuagint, Aquila, and Ben Sira in the Jewish and Christian Traditions ( JSJS 109; Leiden: Brill, 2006), 40.
26. FN2525) E.g. Wright, Praise, 275 n. 2, 280.
27. FN2626) There are several specific laws listed, such as dietary taboos, purity laws, and the use of various items such as mezuzot, prayer shawls, and phylacteries that could lend some clues. However, if one is thoroughly empirical, one must admit the possibility of these laws being known in a separate form or even document than their current locations.
28. FN2727) Translations of the Letter of Aristeas come from The Pseudepigrapha (English) Translated by Craig A. Evans, assisted by Danny Zacharias, Matt Walsh, and Scott Kohler. Acadia Divinity College, Wolfville, Nova Scotia CANADA. Portions also translated by Daniel Christiansen. Copyright © 2009 by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.4.
29. FN2828) Veltri, Libraries, 36.
30. FN2929) Most scholars, e.g. Rajak, Translation, 34, date the Letter to the latter half of the 2d century B.C.E., but there is relatively little to firmly date the text, so it could be anytime between the 3d century B.C.E. and the 1st century C.E., when Philo and Josephus seem to use it as a source. However, Elias Bickermann, “Zur Datierung des Pseudo-Aristeas,” ZNW 29 (1930): 280-98 sets the range much tighter on linguistic and geographical grounds: c. 145-125 B.C.E.
31. FN3030) Wright, Praise, 306. Emphasis added.
32. FN3131) Cf. D.W. Gooding, “Aristeas and Septuagint Origins: A Review of Recent Studies,” VT 13 (1963): 357-79.
33. FN3232) Sylvie Honigman, “The Narrative Function of the King in the Letter of Aristeas,” in Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (ed. Tessa Rajak et al.; Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 128-46, esp. 133, suggests that this point is made by analogy both to Judean history in the tribes and to Hellenistic culture in the selection of elders. Whether the theory is true in all its intricacies is unimportant. It is only necessary to point out that there is ample support for these representing the whole community.
34. FN3333) This might be tied to the Alexandrian schools of Homeric scholars who attempted textual criticism in order to find the true Homeric works in the myriad interpolations. Cf. Maren R. Niehoff, “Questions and Answers in Philo and Genesis Rabbah,” JSJ 39 (2008): 337-66, esp. 360. It might also be tied to the well-known stories of Ptolemy’s desire for the books of highest authority and quality for the Museum. Cf. Honigman, “Narrative,” 136-37.
35. FN3434) Wright, Praise, 283, writes that these qualities as well as the king’s show of obeisance ensure the divine nature of the Hebrew. It should be noted, however, that the king is clearly honoring the contents of the scrolls, rather than their actual form; Gooding, “Aristeas,” 360, gives a similar line of reasoning.
36. FN3535) Dries De Crom, “The Letter of Aristeas and the Authority of the Septuagint,” JSP 17 (2008): 141-60. We do not necessarily agree with all De Crom’s conclusions about how these different aspects function to confer authority upon the LXX, especially given his lack of reference to the emergent nature of authority, but we do agree with the principle that they function as proofs.
37. FN3636) Translations of Philo’s Life of Moses are provided by The Works of Philo, Completed and Unabridged. New Updated Edition.Translated by C. D. Yonge. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1993). The phrasing here, though imperfect, does a good job conveying the meaning of a tricky phrase.
38. FN3737) Yehoshua Amir, “Authority and Interpretation of Scripture in the Writings of Philo,” in Mulder and Sysling, eds., Mikra, 421-453, esp. 444.
39. FN3838) Adam Kamesar, “Philo and the Literary Quality of the Bible: A Theoretical Aspect of the Problem,” JJS 46 (1995): 55-68, esp. 58.
40. FN3939) Niehoff, “Questions,” 344, 359.
41. FN4040) Ibid., 359.
42. FN4141) Ibid., 360.
43. FN4242) Louis H. Feldman, “Use, Authority and Exegesis of Mikra in the Writings of Josephus,” in Mulder and Sysling, eds., Mikra, 455-518, esp. 457-58; Veltri, Libraries, 40.
44. FN4343) Translation by the author.
45. FN4444) Beckwith, “Formation,” 41.
46. FN4545) Sanders, “Issue,” 256; Ulrich, “Notion,” 24-25.
47. FN4646) Ulrich, “Notion,” 28, n. 26.
48. FN4747) Emanuel Tov, “The Septuagint,” in Mulder and Sysling, eds., Mikra, 161-88, esp. 167.
49. FN4848) Tcherikover, “Ideology,” 60-61.
50. FN4949) Honigman, “Narrative,” 136-37, who includes a rather illustrative story from Galen about the lengths to which Ptolemy would go to acquire authoritative copies.
51. FN5050) Tcherikover, “Ideology,” 82.
52. FN5151) Sanders, “Issues,” 258. This would correspond with Sanders’ third stage of transmission, wherein God no longer acts within history and so humanity is forced to interact with the text in new ways.

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Affiliations: 1: Lutheran Theological Seminary (Hong Kong) 50 To Fung Shan Road, Shatin Hong Kong


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