[b-hebrew] The Translation of the Seventy

Shoshanna Walker rosewalk at concentric.net
Wed Aug 17 18:55:39 EDT 2005


The OU.ORG Tevet section is adapted with permission from The Book of 
Our Heritage by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov and other sources.

The Translation of the Seventy

At the beginning of the period of the Second Beit Hamikdash, the 
Second Temple, the people of Israel lived under Persian dominion. 
After the fall of the Persian Empire, Greece inherited her place, and 
Israel was subjugated to Greece. Ptolemy, one of the Greek Kings who 
succeeded Alexander (The 'Great') of Macedonia, wanted the Jewish 
Sages to translate the Torah into Greek.

The way he went about it, however, proved his motives were highly 
questionable. He did not assemble the Jewish scholars all in one 
place so that they might consult each other on the translation. In 
the Talmud it is related:

'King Ptolemy once gathered 72 Elders. He placed them in 72 chambers, 
each of them in a separate one, without revealing to them why they 
were summoned. He entered each one's room and said: 'Write for me the 
Torah of Moshe, your teacher.' God put it in the heart of each one to 
translate identically as all the others did' (Tractate Megillah 9).

Ptolemy found that each translation was exactly the same as the 
other. Even in places where the Sages intentionally altered the 
literal translation, the results were still identical; this 
constituted an "open miracle" and public sanctification of God's Name.

If the interpretations of the Elders had varied widely, it would not 
blemish either the Torah or its interpreters in Jewish eyes, since we 
know that the Torah is open to different interpretations. To 
non-Jews, however, any dispute in interpreting the Torah would cast 
blemish on the Torah, and on the Torah Scholars who interpret it. G-d 
in His infinite mercy, allowed all 72 scholars to translate the Torah 
identically, thereby foiling (touche!) the evil plan of Ptolemy.

Examine additional aspects of this incident: A true miracle of translation.

A Troubled Day
The day on which the 72 Elders concluded their Greek translation of 
the Torah, the 8th of Tevet, was a day of sorrow for Israel, despite 
the clear hand of G-d in the events of the day. Although God's 
Providence on behalf of His people was made manifest that day, and 
though the matter evoked general wonder in non-Jewish eyes, the day 
was nevertheless a very tragic day. The sages call it as tragic a day 
for Israel as the day on which the Golden Calf was made. In Megilat 
Ta'anit, the Sages described the event as follows:

On the 8th of Tevet, the Torah was rendered into Greek during the 
days of King Ptolemy, and darkness descended upon the world for three 
days.' To what may the matter be likened? To a lion captured and 
imprisoned. Before his imprisonment, all feared him and fled from his 
presence. Then, all came to gaze at him and said, 'Where is this 
one's strength?
Likewise the Torah, as long as the Torah was in Hebrew and was 
interpreted by the Sages, it evoked reverence, and many feared to 
cast blemish upon it. Even the non-Jews who desired to study the 
Torah, had no contact with the Torah until he or she had acquired a 
knowledge of the Holy tongue and the prescribed ways for 
understanding the Torah.
Once the Torah was imprisoned in the Greek translation, it was as if 
the Torah were divested of reverence. Whoever wished to, could now 
gaze at the Torah. Anyone who wanted to find fault with its logic, 
could now do so, based on the translation. The Sages, therefore, 
likened the event of this day, to the day on which the Golden Calf 
was made. For just as the Golden Calf had no reality, and yet its 
servants regarded it as having real substance, likewise the 
translation, devoid of the true substance of Torah, allowed non-Jews 
to imagine that they already knew the Torah.
More about the Translation

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