Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible and the Ancient Jewish Diaspora

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The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek was the first major translation in Western culture. Its significance was far-reaching: without a Greek Bible, European history would have been entirely different-no Western Jewish diaspora and no Christianity. This literary and social study is about the ancient creators and receivers of the translations and about their impact. For at least half a millennium, the Greek Bible served the Jewish diaspora, providing the foundations of life for a highly text-centred ethnic and religious minority as they fell under the pressures of the powerful imperial cultures of Greece and Rome and of a dominant, 'colonial' language, Greek. Those large communities of the eastern Mediterranean, with their converts and sympathizers, determined the pattern of Jewish life outside Palestine for centuries. Far from being isolated and inward-looking, they were, we now know, active members of their city environments. Yet they were not wholly assimilated. Here we discover how the translations operated as tools for the preservation of group identity and how, even in their language, they embodied the quiet subversion of norms and forms, an expression of society's cultural resistance. The Greek Bible translations ended up as the Christian Septuagint, taken over along with the entire heritage of the remarkable hybrid culture of Hellenistic Judaism, during the process of the Church's long-drawn-out parting from the Synagogue. That transference allowed the recipients to sideline Christianity's original Jewishness and history to be re-written. Here, a great cultural artefact is restored to its original owners.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199558674
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 6/15/2009
  • Pages: 420
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Tessa Rajak is Professor Emeritus of Ancient History, University of Reading, and Member of the Jewish Studies Unit, Oxford University.

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Table of Contents

Abbreviations xiv

Introduction 1

From Greek Bible to Septuagint 14

The True Text? 16

The Hebrew Hinterland: Torah and Beyond 20

1 The Letter of Aristeas between History and Myth 24

Ancient Translation Precedents 24

Interpreting the Tradition 28

The Aristeas Narrative 30

Evolution of the Story 34

Fact or Fiction? The Search for Historicity 38

The Bible in the Shrine of Serapis? 43

Reading Aristeas as Historical Myth 47

The 'Meaning' of the Story 51

Other Memories of the Early Ptolemies 55

2 Going Greek Culture and Power in Ptolemaic Alexandria 64

Imperialism and Culture 67

Describing the Jews 72

The School of Aristotle and the Jews 74

The Monarch and Judaea 79

Graeco-Egyptians and the Jewish Narrative 82

A Law Code? 84

Jewish Needs and Choices 86

Recipients of Patronage 88

3 The Jewish Diaspora in Graeco-Roman Antiquity 92

Diaspora 92

Ideology 100

Diaspora Locations and Populations 102

Jewish Identity 106

Religious Practice in the Diaspora 107

The Jewish Community 112

Interaction with Non-Jews 114

The Ruling Power 119

Conflict 120

4 Staying Jewish: Language and Identity in the Greek Bible 125

Understanding Septuagint Language 127

Translation Precedents and the 'Dragoman' 136

A Sacred Text 139

The Interlinear Theory: Knowledge of Hebrew 143

Language and Cultural Resistance 152

Vocabulary and History 162

Function and Evolution 172

5 Representing and Subverting Power 176

Talking about Kings 177

Wisdom at Court 181

The Vocabulary of Divine Rulershin 185

The King's Anger 191

Toppling Idols 193

Literature and Subversion 204

6 The Uses of Scripture in Hellenistic Judaism 210

Preliminaries: Canon and Canonicity 212

The Hellenistic-Jewish Tradition 216

The Greek Bible and Jewish Literary Production 222

Text and Users: Scripture in Action 227

7 Parallels and Models 239

The Parallel with Homer 239

A Comparative Approach to Jewish Biblical Cultures 243

Situating Hellenistic Judaism 249

Philo and Josephus 251

The Biblical Culture of Hellenistic Judaism 255

8 The Bible among Greeks and Romans 258

Ptolemy's Legacy 259

The Exodus Controversies 262

Further Echoes: Alexandria and Egypt 264

The Roman Milieu 267

The World of Magic 270

Conclusion 276

9 The Septuagint between Jews and Christians 278

The Abandonment Theory 288

Aquila of Pontus 290

Competing Texts 294

Reinterpreting the Evidence 296

Jewish Attitudes to Translation in the Second Century 303

Bibliography 314

Index 367

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