THE LETTER OF ARISTEAS
THE LETTER OF ARISTEAS
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THE LETTER OF ARISTEAS is an apocryphal text, or a book not included in the Bible. THE LETTER OF ARISTEAS, also known as the LETTER OF PHILOCRATES, was written in the second century BC in the Hellenistic states of Greece. Josephus, the one who paraphrases two fifths of the text, attributes the text to Aristeas, who allegedly wrote it for Philocrates. The letters are the earliest texts known to man to contain a reference to the Great Library at Alexandria.
THE LETTER OF ARISTEAS tells that Demetrios of Phaleron, a librarian in the Great Library, urged Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus to obtain a Greek translation of Hebrew laws. The king agreed and allegedly sent lavish gifts to Jerusalem and granted freedom to numerous Jewish slaves and in return requests that six members of each of the twelve tribes of Israel travel to Alexandria to translate the Torah. The validity of the text is questioned by many scholars, however, there was indeed a translation of the Pentateuch during the early Ptolemaic Period.
The King wept for joy when the translators arrived in Alexandria and asked several important philosophical questions during the next seven days of the translation. The whole translation of the ancient Hebrew laws into Greek took the seventy two translators exactly seventy two days to complete. The Jewish people living within Alexandria at the time, after hearing that their sacred laws had been translated into Greek, requests copies of the translation and put a curse on anyone who would dare change the translation. After the translation was complete, Ptolemy II Philadelphus rewards the translators with lavish gifts and sends them on their way.
Excerpt from THE LETTER OF ARISTEAS
CHAPTER IV - Vivid details of the sacrifice. The unerring accuracy of the priests. A savage orgy. A description of the temple and its water-works.
I HAVE given you this description of the presents because I thought it was necessary.
2 The next point in the narrative is an account of our journey to Eleazar, but I will first of all give you a description of the whole country.
3 When we arrived in the land of the Jews we saw the city situated in the middle of the whole of Judea on the top of a mountain of considerable altitude.
4 On the summit the temple had been built in all its splendour.
5 It was surrounded by three walls more than seventy cubits high and in length and breadth corresponding to the structure of the edifice.
6 All the buildings were characterised by a magnificence and costliness quite unprecedented.
7 It was obvious that no expense had been spared on the door and the fastenings, which connected it with the door-posts, and the stability of the lintel.
8 The style of the curtain too was thoroughly in proportion to that of the entrance.
9 Its fabric owing to the draught of wind was in perpetual motion, and as this motion was communicated from the bottom and the curtain bulged out to its highest extent, it afforded a pleasant spectacle from which a man could scarcely tear himself away.
10 The construction of the altar was in keeping with the place itself and with the burnt offerings which were consumed by fire upon it, and the approach to it was on a similar scale.
11 There was a gradual slope up to it, conveniently arranged for the purpose of decency, and the ministering priests were robed in linen garments, down to their ankles.
12 The Temple faces the east and its back is toward the west.
13 The whole of the floor is paved with stones and slopes down to the appointed places, that water may be conveyed to wash away the blood from the sacrifices, for many thousand beasts are sacrificed there on the feast days.
14 And there is an inexhaustible supply of water, because an abundant natural spring gushes up from within the temple area.
15 There are moreover wonderful and indescribable cisterns underground, as they pointed out to me, at a distance of five furlongs all round the site of the temple, and each of them has countless pipes so that the different streams converge together.
16 And all these were fastened with lead at the bottom and at the sidewalls, and over them a great quantity of plaster had been spread, and every part of the work had been most carefully carried out.
17 There are many openings for water at the base of the altar which are invisible to all except to those who are engaged in the ministration, so that all the blood of the sacrifices which is collected in great quantities is washed away in the twinkling of an eye.
18 Such is my opinion with regard to the character of the reservoirs and I will now show you how it was confirmed.
19 They led me more than four furlongs outside the city and bade me peer down towards a certain spot and listen to the noise that was made by the meeting of the waters, so that the great size of the reservoirs became manifest to me, as has already been pointed out.
20 The ministration of the priests is in every way unsurpassed both for its physical endurance and for its orderly and silent service.
21 For they all work spontaneously, though it entails much painful exertion, and each one has a special task allotted to him.
22 The service is carried on without interruption--some provide the wood, others the oil, others the fine wheat flour, others the spices; others again bring the pieces of flesh for the burnt offering, exhibiting a wonderful, degree of strength.
23 For they take up with both hands the limbs of a calf, each of them weighing more than two talents, and throw them with each hand in a wonderful way on to the high place of the altar and never miss placing them on the proper spot.
24 In the same way the pieces of the sheep and also of the goats are wonderful both for their weight and their fatness.
25 For those, whose business it is, always select the beasts which are without blemish and specially fat, and thus the sacrifice which I have described, is carried out.
Table of Contents for THE LETTER OF ARISTEAS
|CHAP. I - At the time of the Jewish Captivity in Egypt, Ptolemy Philadelphus reveals himself as the first great bibliophile. He desires to have all the books in the world in his library; in order to get the Laws of Moses he offers to trade , captives for that work exclaiming,"It is a small boon indeed!"|
|CHAP. II - Showing how the most careful records were kept of affairs of state. Government Red Tape. A committee of six is appointed to go to the High Priest in Jerusalem and arrange for the exchange. Aristeas is put in charge of the delegation.|
|CHAP. III - In which is described the most exquisite and beautiful table ever produced. Also other rich gifts, Interesting in the light of recent excavations in Egypt.|
|CHAP IV - Vivid details of the sacrifice. The unerring accuracy of the priests is notable. A savage orgy. A description of the temple and its water-works.|
|CHAP. V - A description of the city and the countryside. Compare Verse with conditions of today. Verses - reveal how the ancients estimate a scholar and a gentleman.|
|CHAP. VI - Explanations of the customs of the people showing what is meant by the word, "Unclean." The essence and origin of the "God-Belief." Verses - give a picturesque description of the Divinity of physiology.|
|CHAP. VII - The arrival of the envoys with the manuscript of the precious book and gifts. Preparations for a royal banquet. The host immediately upon being seated at table entertains his guests with questions and answers. Some sage comments on sociology.|
|CHAP. VIII - More questions and answers. Note Verse with its reference to flying through the air written in 150 B. C.|
|CHAP. IX - Verse epitomizes the value of knowledge. Verse , parental affection. Note especially the question in Verse and the answer. Also note the question in Verse and the answer. This is sage advice for business men.|
|CHAP. X - The questions and answers continue. Showing how the army officers ought to be selected. What man is worthy of admiration and other problems of daily life as true today as years ago.|
|CHAP. XI - For a comment on ancient stenography, see Verse . The translation is submitted for approval and accepted as read, and (Verse ) a rising vote of approval is taken and unanimously carried.|
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