PSCO Presentation: 26 February, 2009

“Food and Food Laws in the Letter of Aristeas”
Benjamin Wright (Lehigh University)

In the Letter of Aristeas §§128–171, the high priest Eleazar, who is about to send seventy-two translators to Alexandria with a deputation form Ptolemy, gives an exposition on the Jewish law. It begins with a critique of gentile idol worship, a common theme in Second Temple Jewish literature. Afterwards, Eleazar frames an allegorical interpretation of the Jewish food laws as part of a mechanism by which Jews would not be "perverted" by these idol worshipping people. Two interesting questions come to the fore. First, in a Jewish text that displays for the most part an eirenic relationship between Jews and gentiles, why this rather harsh criticism of gentiles along with maintaining separation from them? Second, Aristeas is one of the earliest, if not the very earliest, attestation of this allegorical approach to the food laws. In a later text like the Epistle of Barnabas, clearly the author does not intend his readership to follow the food laws. But how does Aristeas view the viability of maintaining the food laws for his own community? Does Aristeas give us any insight into how the food laws were or were not observed by Alexandrian Jews who read the work?

This meeting is scheduled for Thursday, 25 February, 7:00–9:00 pm in the 2nd floor Lounge of Logan Hall at the University of Pennsylvania.


As usual, those wishing to dine together before the seminar will meet at 6:00 pm in the Logan Lounge to go next door to the food court in Houston Hall.

Suggested Reading

Letter of Aristeas §§128–171

Epistle of Barnabas 10