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date: 30 March 2023

Aristeas, Letter oflocked

Aristeas, Letter oflocked

  • Sylvie Honigman


The Letter of Aristeas is a literary work composed in Greek that narrates the legendary origins of the Septuagint. Scholars date the work to between the 3rd century bce and the late 1st century bce, with most at present agreeing on the 2nd century bce. While the first-person narrator, Aristeas, introduces himself as a Greek courtier of Ptolemy II Philadelphus writing to another Greek named Philocrates, modern scholars concur that the author was in fact an Alexandrian Jew. The Letter of Aristeas offers the earliest version of the legend according to which the Septuagint was translated by seventy-two elders from Jerusalem who came to Alexandria upon the invitation of Ptolemy Philadelphus. Because the nomenclature employed to describe the work done by the elders suggests a process not of translation but of textual emendation, the letter is also an important source of evidence for the editorial techniques developed by the scholars of the Alexandrian Museum. It is only with subsequent authors that the legend of the Septuagint’s origins acquired a miraculous element, according to which each one of the seventy-two elders produced the very same translation simultaneously through prophetic inspiration.


  • Jewish Studies

Updated in this version

Article rewritten to reflect current scholarship.

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