[b-hebrew] OT Translations

Brian Roberts formoria at carolina.rr.com
Sun Jun 6 09:57:15 EDT 2004

Dear Listmembers,

Thank you for your help with my previous questions. I have another, 
related line of thought to present to you for consideration and comments.

The Book of the Acts of Solomon (as well as other “lost books”) was 
translated into Greek and kept in the Alexandria Library beginning in 
the reign of Ptolemy I Philadelphus, during the translation of the LXX. 
To state unequivocally that this record was preserved requires one of 
two pieces of evidence:

a Extant physical manuscript or similar haghiographical evidence that 
fits the biblical description of “the book of the Acts of Solomon”;
b Undeniable evidence of the existence of this text, based on either the 
comments and/or actions of others in proceeding years.

The only reliable method by which these records could have been 
preserved was through the canonization of the Hebrew Bible.  That 
process was a two-fold one:
1.  Oral traditions were preserved among the Hebrews, describing events 
from their earliest history , were passed from  father to son, from 
mother to daughter, as a sign of their heritage, for centuries;
2.  While the Israelites dutifully maintained records on the activities 
of their kings, royal families, and religious leaders, there was not 
much attention given the knowledge they possessed as a people.  The 
Babylonian Captivity changed all that.  In 587 BCE, the nobility, 
priests, and wealthy among Israelite society were shuffled off in 
multitudes to Babylon for what would be 70 years of slavery.
With the realization that they could lose their identity in Babylonia 
came a new desire to prevent that loss at all costs.  The Israelite 
scholars were spurred into action.  “History was written, poetry was 
collected, and the words of the great prophets were arranged and 
preserved” (Tullock 5).
The process of canonization had begun.  Of course, it took many years 
for all of the available books and manuscripts to be collected, and it 
is obvious that the source material used, including the “Book of the 
Acts of Solomon” was being preserved during the Exilic Period.  After 
much effort and time, there was finally composed a rudimentary Hebrew 
After the Israelite citizens were allowed to return to their homeland, 
released by a sympathetic Persian monarch, they took their sacred 
writings with them.  It is actually superfluous to mention the extreme 
care that they took in preserving these manuscripts.  It is a historical 
fact that many texts survived the Exile, or else there would be no 
Hebrew Bible today. There are multitudinous references by the biblical 
redactors to other sources in addition to the “Book of the Acts of 
Solomon”, eg., “The Book of the Kings of Judah”. The offhand manner in 
which these sources are cited suggest in the strongest manner that they 
were still available to be read in some form during the 6th century.

The Septuagint in Alexandria

During the intervening years, from 515 BCE to the late third century 
BCE, there was obviously some work done at reorganizing the material in 
the Hebrew Canon, but it wasn’t until 275 BCE that the first attempt was 
made at translating the scriptures; that task was performed at the 
library in Alexandria, Egypt.  The Alexandria Library was the 
penultimate learning center on the African continent, indeed in the 
whole Greek empire. Josephus records a significant event in the process 
of the library’s expansion which took place around 275 BCE:

The occasion was this: -Demetrius Phalerius, 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...and when 
Ptolemy asked him how many ten thousands 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 laws among the Jews 
worthy of inquiring after, and worthy of the king’s library...  (Book 
XII, Chapter II, Section 1).

It was this occasion and interest that prompted the Librarian to write a 
letter to Ptolemy, which expressed his own desire to acquire the Jewish 
books (Book XII, Chapter II, section 4).  After corresponding with other 
scholars, Demetrius discovered that many of the Jewish writings were 
written in Hebrew, not Greek, and were considered by the Jews to be 
“Holy Law”; so, the librarian suggested that the king, Ptolemy, 
“...mayest write to the high priest of the Jews, to send six of the 
elders out of every tribe, and those such as are most skillful of the 
laws, that by their means we may learn the clear and agreeing sense of 
those books...”  (Book XII, Chapter II, section 4).

This series of narratives obviously describes the events which preceded 
the translation of the LXX.  The relevance here is clear:  Everything, 
as far as religious texts, was there in Alexandria - the laws and 
prophetic writings - all came, en masse and uncontested, from Israel.  
That is an historical fact, and requires no hypothesizing at all.  From 
these facts, it becomes simple and logical to conclude that the 
manuscript referred to as “the Book of the Acts of Solomon” in II Kings 
11:41 was also conveyed to Egypt.  In fact, it is to be expected, as 
Greek interest in foreign manuscripts, especially the writings from 
Israel, was not an idle one, as the king himself, Ptolemy Philadelphus, 
actively supported both this action and the library’s continued 
expansion.  The Hebrew texts remained in Egypt for a period of years, 
long enough to be copied, translated, and studied by Greek scholars; 
then, they were returned home, along with the 70 translators. That such 
a large number of unfiltered, unedited manuscripts were removed to 
Alexandria shows up clearly in  the Alexandrian canon, where we find the 
dozen-plus extra books not included in the MT. This is good evidence 
that the MT we have is a later version, prepared after additional 
canonical considerations were made.

Any input?

Brian Roberts

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