Continuities and Discontinuities in the Transitions
from Jewish to Christian Scribal Practices

A Public Lecture by Dr. Robert A. Kraft (University of Pennsylvania)
Monday 7:30 – 9:00 PM, 9 September 2002,
Bangor Theological Seminary Commons, lecture and time for questions.

Conference on The Septuagint in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity
September 8-11, 2002, Bangor Theological Seminary, Bangor Maine.

Abstract (slightly revised)

This presentation will look at selected phenomena in Greek copies of Jewish and early Christian scriptures and related materials up to the fifth century of the common era (= "ce") and the scribal cultures that produced them, including the move from scrolls to codices, the development of conventions for representing special names and words ("nomina sacra") and other abbreviations, formatting issues within the text blocks, etc. Color digital images will be a part of the presentation. Attention will be paid to continuities and discontinuities in the transmission of scriptural texts between Judaism and Christianity.

Conjecturing Origins

We do not know when or where the impetus to produce and/or transmit Jewish literature in the Greek language took root. Probably, in the Greek ("hellenistic") world of Alexander the Great and his successors, Jewish inhabitants in various far flung locations around the Mediterranean Sea (and further east) came to use Greek as their normal language. Some of them also must have been interested in protecting their "ancestral customs" and traditions, largely associated with the area known to Greeks and Romans alike as "Palestine." One option would have been to keep the ancestral language or languages alive (primarily Hebrew and Aramaic). Another would be to translate materials into the newly acquired Greek language.

Reverence for Moses and the traditions associated with him seems to have been a defining feature of early Judaism, and as Greek became the everyday language of new generations of Jews, the desire to have access to the books of Moses must have inspired an interest in translating them into Greek. This could have happened, in part or in whole, independently in various locations in the hellenistic world, but what has survived through the ages is traditionally identified with the important hellenistic city-state of Alexandria, located at the western edge of the Nile delta on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The tradition that an early Ptolemy, one of the Greek rulers situated in Alexandria, desired to develop a library that contained as much of the significant wisdom of that world as possible, provides background for the legendary tales of the Alexandrian translation of the Pentateuch, or "five books of Moses," being translated from Hebrew into Greek by a team of 72 imported bilingual Palestinian scholars. This tale of the translators and their "miraculous" production becomes the basis for speaking of "the Septuagint" -- i.e. the work of the LXXII translators (shortened to "LXX," we suppose for convenience of reference; "septuaginta" in Latin) -- and unfortunately comes to complicate by gross oversimplification the subsequent history of related Greek translations and compositions.

For various internal reasons of vocabulary, idiom, style, and the like, modern scholars have come to agree that Alexandria is an appropriate location for the Pentateuch translation, probably early in the "Ptolemaic" period, named after Alexander's successor who was in control of Alexandria and Egypt. And we have excellent evidence for the continuation of such translations there, through the introduction ("prologue") written by the grandson of Yeshua/Jesus son of Sira who translated his grandfather's Hebrew pedagogical opus into Greek sometime before 100 bce. The grandson knows, also, of other efforts to render Hebrew into Greek, which he depicts as a difficult task. He mentions, rather vaguely, "law, prophets/prophecies, and other books" from the instruction and wisdom of Israel that presumably were already known in Greek forms. Unfortunately, even with this helpful information, we have no precise knowledge of the grandson's occupation, traning, or linguistic and scribal abilities. In his world, translation abilities would have been important for conducting business and governmental matters, at the very least, especially in important local centers such as Jerusalem and Alexandria. He claims to have come to Egypt at a particular point in his life, and to have produced his translation there. If we assume, as seems likely, that his grandfather taught and wrote in Palestine, it may be that the grandson also came from that area. Whether he already knew, before arriving in Egypt (Alexandria?), of the various Greek translations from Hebrew to which he alludes we cannot know. Presumably he was to some degree bilingual. Large fragments of his grandfather's work in Hebrew have also been preserved, and when we look at the grandson's Greek, it is clear that he has not slavishly followed a firmly fixed translation approach that conforms to what we find in the Greek Pentateuch.

Similarly distant from the "LXX" proper (the Pentateuch) in its Greek features is the Greek of the Psalms, and further from them both is the Greek of Isaiah, not to mention other portions of the "LXX/OG" (Old Greek) anthology of translations. That they all originated in the area of Alexandria is possible, but they certainly do not all represent the same approach to translation, and it is equally possible that at least some of them originated from other locations in the hellenistic world, and at various times. That is to say, there is no translational homogeneity among the miscellany of materials that came to be gathered together under the heading "the LXX." It is a highly artificial and arbitrary collection, and that fact needs to be highlighted more than it usually is.

But what can we reconstruct from this diversity of translational efforts? At very least, we can see some contrasting approaches that suggest different levels of linguistic ability, translational philosophy, and, perhaps, awareness of (and influence from) other translational activities. To put it another way, there is no evidence for a single coherent approach to translation in the materials that have survived (a single translation "school"), and a great deal of evidence for the contrary. And as we are about to be reminded, there is not yet any simple technological mechanism such as the mega-codex that is attested several centuries later (4th century ce) for gathering these various scrolls into one cohesive and easily accessible body.

The Context for Transmission

Most of the earliest fragments of Greek Jewish scriptural writings that have survived come from the Pentateuch, and even among them there is significant diversity in format and in some aspects of presentation.

01. Qumran cave 4 LXXDeut 11 (2nd bce, parchment roll)
02. PRyl458 of Deut (2nd bce, papyrus roll),
03. Qumran cave7 Exod 28 (2nd/1st bce, papyrus roll),
04. Qumran cave4 Lev\a (2nd/1st bce, parchment roll),
06. PFouad266a [942] Gen (1st bce, papyrus roll),
07. Qumran cave4 Lev\b (1st bce, papyrus roll; tetragrammaton = IAW),
08. PFouad266b [848] Deut (1st bce, papyrus roll; Hebrew/Aramaic tetragrammaton),
09. PFouad266c [847] Deut (late 1st bce, papyrus roll),
12. Qumran cave4 Num 3-4 (turn of the era, parchment roll),

The non-pentateuchal fragments are:

05. Qumran cave7 EpJer (2nd/1st bce, papyrus roll),
05+. Qumran cave7 frgs 4, 8, 12 [Epistle of Enoch? = "1 Enoch" 103] (1st bce[?], papyrus roll) -- see also reconstruction notes and frg 8 alone
05+. Qumran cave 7 frg 5 (unidentified controversial "Mark" frg, turn of the era[?], papyrus roll),
10. Qumran cave4 paraphrase of Exod(?) (late 1st bce, papyrus roll),
11. Qumran cave4 unidentified Greek (late 1st bce, parchment roll),
13. Nahal Hever Minor Prophets (hand A), with example of paleo-Hebrew tetragrammaton and hand B (turn of the era, parchment roll),
14. POxy3522 of Job 42 (1st ce, papyrus roll; paleo-Hebrew tetragrammaton),
15. POxy4443 of Esther (1st/2nd ce, papyrus roll),
16. PFouad 203 prayer/amulet? (1st/2nd ce, papyrus roll) [no image yet]

Just as we do not know who made the translations in the first place, we are in the dark about who copied and used them, and under what conditions. We tend to envision the transmission and use of Hebrew scriptures as taking place in "religious" contexts -- the Jerusalem temple, local synagogues, sectarian communities -- involving especially priests and "scribes," community leaders and later, "rabbis." But the larger world in which all this was taking place also knew of the transmission of written materials of various sorts, from local court and tax records to sophisticated literature, involving professional copyists, with bookshops and "publication" processes as well as governmental record offices. Presumably, in the Greek world, there were also Jewish professionals of various sorts, from producers and keepers of documentary records to bookstore owners and their supporting staffs. It is not impossible that "Jewish literature" sometimes made its way into non-Jewish hands, including book sellers and copyists, nor is it unlikely that "Jewish sellers" sometimes handled non-Jewish materials. And private copies -- presumably less formally prepared -- would always be a possibility as well. The research on which I am engaged, and am reporting here, reflects an attempt to identify and trace possible indicators of characteristically Jewish scribal practices in Greek, from the earliest evidence (2nd century bce) on into the period when Christianity comes to dominate the Greco-Roman world (4th-5th century ce). The research is ongoing. Much more remains to be done!

Of course, when we speak of "books" prior to the latter part of the first century of the common era, we mean scrolls or rolls. The "codex" form, with which we are so familiar (hinged on one side, written on both sides of the page) is a technological development for which good evidence emerges with Roman booksellers around the 70s of the first century (Martial mentions this in his Epigrams), and which took rapid root in some Christian circles soon thereafter. Not that it is absolutely new at this time -- rough schoolbooks with wooden waxed "pages" and leather thong bindings were available earlier, and some formal records were also kept in an early codex format -- but its use to transmit literature seems novel in the first century. In a scroll dominated literary world, creation and control of large corpora of materials was much more difficult that it became when large-scale codices were produced under Christian auspices in the 4th century of the common era. "The Bible" as we know it (everything under one set of covers) could not easily exist, except perhaps as a cabinet with appropriate slots, or in a portable scroll pouch/box (capsa), for which the contents might be listed somewhere. Even a mini-collection such as the Pentateuch would have been difficult to maintain in its multiple scroll form. Not only in origin, but in early transmission, "the LXX," or even "the LXX/OG" is a seriously misleading designation. There were scriptural scrolls, usually of individual "books" (or sections of the longer "books") but occasionally with two or more works in a single scroll -- such as the twelve "Minor Prophets," or some "wisdom" texts (e.g. Proverbs, Qohelet), seldom more. Even after the development of the mega-codex technology in the 4th century, use of smaller codices gathered into collections persists.

The Greco-Roman world had its conventions for its literary scrolls, especially those produced professionally. Yes, there was room for some variation in some respects, just as there is today between publishing houses, but on the whole the procedures were fairly clear: spacing was not normally used to separate phrases or words (scriptio continua), accents or breathings or punctuation were rare, as were abbreviations of words or numbers. Lettering was carefully formed, with attention to keeping letters relatively uniform in size and separate from each other. We can speak of "bilinearity" (regular top and bottom horizontal lines can be imagined as enclosing the letters) and of the lack of "ligatures" (joined letters, as in script). Poetry might be formatted differently from prose, with new physical lines for new poetic lines (normally hexameter). And so on. The world of professional documents (letters, petitions, court records, etc.) operated with more flexibility, and sometimes seems to have influenced certain copyists of literature to be less rigorous about writing formats and styles.

Exploring the Earliest Jewish Greek Fragments

Thanks largely to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we now have access to a significant number of Jewish Greek literary fragments, mostly representing works that came to find a place in the developing LXX/OG collections. The earliest ones have been listed above. What do they reveal about Jewish conventions of copying, assuming that they (or at least some of them) were produced by Jewish copyists and not by their non-Jewish counterparts? A few things stand out and call for closer examination:

1. Many of the fragments display a highly sophisticated lettering style, with decorated or shaded letters, careful bilinearity (sometimes with an emphasis on the top horizontal alignment, with letters seeming to "hang" from it -- as also in many Hebrew manuscripts), apparently of quite "professional" quality. Some are less decorative, less carefully executed, but almost all seem to be "formal" rather than "amateur" productions.

2. Most of the fragments that preserve enough text to judge make use of spacing of some sort, usually by sense units but in one instance even by word division, in contrast to expected scriptio continua. Whether this is sufficiently unusual to constitute a "Jewish scribal characteristic" remains to be argued. It certainly can be viewed as consistent with what is found in many Hebrew Jewish documents from the same period (notably the Dead Sea Scrolls), where even word division is normal.

3. Some of the early Jewish fragments also use marginal markings, including letters that extend into the margin ("ekthesis"), enlarged letters on the margin, and other indicators of division, which similarly contrast with any ideal of scriptio continua. Again, whether good parallels can be found in equally early and presumably non-Jewish literary materials remains to be tested.

4. While any general tendency to use abbreviations is lacking, such as will be encountered regularly in later Christian manuscripts ("nomina sacra"), the treatment of the special four-lettered name for God, the "tetragrammaton," deserves close attention. There is little unanimity among the witnesses, which suggests that even if we can posit a "Jewish style" on the basis of other considerations, it is not so homogeneous a "style" as to control this particular feature. Similar comments can also be made about variety in dealing with the tetragrammaton in the Hebrew and Aramaic materials in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Factors other than scribal style seem to be at work here! As a point of added interest, use of the tetragrammaton, both as a term and in its various forms, became popular in the world of "magic," as can be illustrated from various gemstones.

5. As already noted, the early Jewish Greek materials are on scrolls, along with virtually everything else from that period of Greco-Roman literary activity. At what point can we speak of Jewish codices? That remains to be discussed below.

Early Christian Literary Activity

As we all doubtless acknowledge, the earliest followers of Joshua/Jesus were, as he was, Jewish. If there was a Matthew who wrote things down about Jesus, he was a Jewish writer. There will come a time -- or better, different times in different places and situations -- when (some) "Christians" will dissociate themselves from that "Jewish" past, but for present purposes, I want to emphasize the blurry period of continuities rather than the similarly blurry periods in which selfconscious distinction may have encouraged discontinuities as well.

Was our idealized Matthew, the literate (to some extent) Jewish follower of Joshua/Jesus, a "trained" person in any regard? Did he know about styles, lettering, formats, abbreviation, and the like? In what context? Documentary? Literary? We can only guess. In the first generation or two of the Jesus movement(s), did any Jewish professional scribes come on board? Any Jewish publishers and/or booksellers? Paul wrote. In Greek. He was Jewish, and seem to have received some sort of formal training. Did it include mastery of scribal techniques? He mentions writing with "large letters" in his own hand (Galatians 6.11), but it is difficult to know exactly what the significance of that statement may be for our discussion, beyond the observation that he could write legibly in Greek. And among the non-Jewish "converts" to emerging "Christianity," how many had been trained or involved in the production and distribution of books? We don't know, but such questions are relevant to the task of attempting to identify more clearly how early "Christian" scribal practices developed, and how they may relate to earlier Jewish, and non-Jewish, features. A few characteristics seem to stand out:

1. It has often been pointed out that Christians, more quickly than their contemporaries in the Greco-Roman world, adopted the codex as a format for transmitting their literature. They did not invent the codex -- that much is quite clear. Nor did they use codex exclusively -- there are clearly Christian scrolls as well, for a long while. But where did they get the codex idea in the first place, and why did it catch on among them so rapidly? Some scholars have suggested that Paul, or the Paulinist, already has codices in view in referring to "the books [scrolls?] and the parchments [inscribed pages?]" in 2 Timothy 4.13. Also in the Lukan passage about Jesus "opening" and "closing" the book of Isaish in the Nazareth synagogue (Lk 4.17-20), it has recently been suggested that an early textual variant to that passage may be envisioning a codex rather than a scroll. Rather tenuous evidence, probably from the early second century at best, but in the minds of those ancient authors and/or revisors, Jewish documents seem to be envisioned. Is it possible that early "Christian" copyists (and authors?) learned to create codices as part of their "Jewish" heritage? Of course it is possible, perhaps even probable, given the other continuities between Judaism and what became Christianity. But is there any strong evidence of such codices in use among Jews of that period?

When fragments of Jewish scriptures from the early centuries of the common era are discovered, one criterion used to identify their ancient connections is the codex criterion; if the fragment is from a codex, it must be "Christian"! This, of course, makes it impossible to identify any Jewish codices among such materials. It also limits the possible answers to the question asked above about the source of Christian knowledge of codex technology. It is certainly possible that Christians obtained the codex idea from non-Jewish sources. But is that more probable?

Here are some examples of early codex fragments of Jewish scriptures that have been classified as "Christian" solely or primarily because they are in codex form:

17. PYale1 of Gen 14, recto, and verso (2nd ce, papyrus codex; number 318 abbreviated),
18. PBodl5 of Pss 48-49 (2nd ce, parchment codex),
19. POxy656 of Gen (2nd/3rd ce, papyrus codex, problematic tetragrammaton),
20. Goettingen # 967 Ezekiel-Daniel-Esther (about 200 ce, papyrus codex); subscriptio and end of Daniel/Susanna (PKoeln Theol 37v, p.196); images of Ezekiel; images of Daniel, etc.
21. POxy4442 Exodus [first side] (early 3rd ce, papyrus codex); [other side]
24. POxy1007 of Gen with its unusual tetragrammaton representation (3rd ce, parchment codex),
26. PBerlin 17213 of Gen (3rd ce) [no image yet]
28. POxy1173+1356+2158++ Philo (3rd ce, papyrus codex) [vh696]
29. PAntin 8 Prov-Wisd-Eccl (3rd ce, papyrus codex) [#928 = vh254]
30. PAntin 9 Prov (3rd ce, papyrus codex) [#987 = vh252]
31. Freer Minor Prophets (late 3rd ce, papyrus codex) [vh284];
32. Berlin Genesis (late 3rd ce, papyrus codex) [#911 = vh004];
34. PLond Christ 5 (3-5th ce, liturgical codex) [vh921],
35. PLitLond 202 of Gen (3rd/4th ce, papyrus codex)
43. PChBeat 16 Jannes and Jambres (4th ce, papyrus codex, odd nomina sacra) [Pietersma]
44. PAntin 10 Ezek (4th ce, papyrus codex) [#988 = vh316]
45. POxy 4444 Wisdom of Solomon (4th ce, parchment codex)
45. PSorbonne 2250 Jer 17f & 46 (late 4th ce, papyrus codex; aberrent text) [#817 = vh308];
47. PBerlin 17035 Gen 36 Symmachus? (5/6th ce, parchment codex) [vh022];
48. PGiessen 13+19+22+26 [side 1] Deut 24-29 (5/6th ce; parchment codex; possibly non-Christian provenance; contracted divine names) [side 2]

Now it may be that these are all of non-Jewish Christian composition, but I am arguing that the mere use of the codex format should not be the sole evidence on which such an assessment rests. Similarly, the presence of scroll fragments with biblical and related materials from the same period (mainly 2nd through 4th centuries) does not guarantee that they are of Jewish origin. For example:

22. PVindobGr 29828+29456 Jannes and Jambres (early 3rd ce, papyrus roll [reused], nomina sacra uncontracted) [vh1068]
23. PMich 4925 Jannes and Jambres (early 3rd ce, papyrus roll [reused]) [BASP 16 (1979) 114]
25. POxy1166 of Gen 16 (3rd ce, papyrus roll column),
27. POxy1075 of Exod (3rd ce, papyrus roll; end of book),
36. PWien Rainer 18 of Pss (3rd/4th ce, parchment roll; Symmachus?) [no image yet]
37. PAlex 203 of Isa 48 (3rd/4th ce, papyrus roll?),
38. PHarris 31 of Ps 43 (3rd/4th ce, papyrus roll/amulet?),
39. POxy2745 Onomasticon of Hebrew Names (3/4th ce, papyrus roll; IAW represents Hebrew YW/YA names) [vh1158]
39a. PHeid1359 Onomasticon of Hebrew Names (3/4th ce, papyrus roll/sheet; IW and IAW represent Hebrew YW/YA names) [vh1136]
40. POxy1225 of Lev 16 (early 4th ce, papyrus roll),
41. PLitLond 211 of Dan 1 Theodotion (early 4th ce, vellum roll)
42. POxy2068 (4th ce, papyrus liturgical roll) [vh966]
46. PRanier 4.5 Psalm 9 (5th ce, papyrus amulet?) [#2086 = vh105].

2. A criterion often used to identify the "Christian origin" of an ancient manuscript is the presence of "nomina sacra" -- abbreviated words that relate to deity, or salvation, but also to other frequently occurring terms such as family relations of "father," "mother," "son" -- or even the word "human." If a fragment shows such abbreviations, it is identified as "Christian." In most instances, such an identification is clear from the content, in which Jesus (abbreviated) is depicted as "savior" (abbreviated) and the source of holy "spirit" (abbreviated), etc. But there are a few instances in which the only such abbreviations refer to God and Lord (the normal Greek representation of the tetragrammaton). Might these be "Jewish" materials, showing an extension of otherwise well attested treatments of the tetragrammaton? The question is seldom raised, but it deserves closer examination. And there are some suggestive examples, even if no "smoking gun" -- yet.

3. Some early Christian (apparently) manuscripts employ spacing and marginal markers in ways similar to what we noticed in the earlier Jewish fragments. This has often been explained, along with certain other features, as an influence from "documentary" (as opposed to "literary") practice. That is possible. There are many examples of Greek documents in which spacing is used with similar effect. But if this has also become a feature of (some) Jewish scribal practice, would that not be a more likely source for early Christian appropriation?

4. Relative to the highly refined early examples of Greek literary hands, including Jewish ones, early Christian manuscripts tend to be rather "carelessly executed," perhaps again due to "documentary" influences. After all, didn't the early Christians tend to come from the less educated classes, relatively unsophisticated by literary standards? Perhaps. But it is interesting to note that throughout the Greco-Roman world, writing tends to "degenerate" -- relative to the earlier periods -- in the early centuries of the common era. This is probably also true of Jewish examples. Thus it is not a convincing basis on which to argue for discontinuities. It can be explained as a general tendency of the times.

Later Christian and Jewish Developments

When Christianity becomes a recognized option, even a favored one, in the 4th century Roman world, we can witness certain scribal developments that seem to embrace "classical" Greek norms more clearly than was true at the earlier period. Scriptio continua is much more in fashion in the 4th-5th century codices (such as Vaticanus, Sinaiticus [more], Alexandrinus, Bezae, Washintonensis), along with a carefully executed and often extremely attractive "Biblical Uncial" style of bilinear lettering (compare some of the possibly Jewish late styles), although some use of sectional spacing and/or marginal markings also remain in vogue and explicit punctuation is often being added. Characteristically Christian features also become more fixed, such as the standard extended list of nomina sacra noted above, and the use of large-scale codices.

We have little evidence for what may be going on in the surviving Greek Jewish communities of the time. They are still reading scriptures in Greek, whether LXX/OG versions, or the "later" translations attributed to Aquila, Theodotion, Symmachus, or others. But few scraps have survived, so little can be said about style and formatting issues. And the use of these materials in the "Hexapla" created by Origen of Alexandria (early 3rd century) for Christian use complicates the issue. More evidence is available from "rabbinic" Jewish circles, which standardized the scroll for formal worship purposes ("liturgical" uses) while also gradually (?) coming to employ the codex for some elaborate "study" editions, etc. But whether the practices of Greek speaking and writing Jews can be illuminated at all from what developed in rabbinic circles is highly problematic at this stage of our knowledge.

Conclusions and Challenges

It seems to me that the continuities between early Jewish and early Christian scribal practice far outweigh any alleged discontinuities, and I hope that the evidence presented here will encourage fresh examinations of certain issues that have tended to be taken for granted (e.g. codex and nomina sacra as characteristically "Christian" features), as well as a more nuanced approach to such categories as "documentary" and "literary" in discussing scribal practices (e.g. use of spacing, abbreviations, marginal and related markings). There may also be some examples of documentary materials produced by Jewish authors and/or copyists to be found in the growing corpus of ancient Jewish papyri -- a 3rd century bce formal letter in Greek, very neatly written, from one of the Tobiad authorities in Palestine recently caught my attention, for example. The details are often daunting, but behind them are developments of relevance to our historical understanding and also forgotten people who deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments and contributions.

//end of Kraft presentation (6 September 2002)//

Addendum: Conference Information, from the web site [with descriptions revised by RAK]

The Septuagint in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity

September 8-11, 2002, Bangor Theological Seminary.

From September 8 to 11, 2002 Bangor Theological Seminary will host an international conference on the Bangor campus. Ten German and twelve US/Canadian scholars will meet to discuss latest research on the earliest Greek versions of Jewish scriptures (collectively called "Septuagint" and/or "Old Greek") that formed the text base for what became the Christian "Old Testament."

There will be a chance to attend a public lecture by Prof. Robert Kraft, University of Pennsylvania, and to sign up for a one credit course in connection with the conference.

What is the Septuagint?

The Septuagint is the traditional term, derived from the Latin word meaning seventy, for the canonical collection of Old Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures and related literature (Greek "Apocrypha"). These translations are the earliest and among the most valuable of the surviving ancient biblical versions. "The Septuagint" became the Bible for much of the early Christian Church. When Jewish scriptures are quoted in the New Testament, it is almost always from the Old Greek translations. Furthermore, even when not directly quoted in the New Testament, many of the terms used and partly crafted by the Septuagint translators became part of the language of the New Testament and early Christian literature.

The History of the Septuagint

According to an ancient legend, King Ptolemy Philadephus of Alexandria wished to make a collection of the world’s best literature. His librarian, Demetrius of Phalerum, suggested that the Hebrew "books of holy law" (presumably the five books of Moses, the "Pentateuch") should be part of the collection, "since the law which they contain … is full of wisdom and free from blemish." Ptolemy sent ambassadors with gold and jewels to the Eleazar, the high priest in Jerusalem, requesting a copy of the Hebrew law as well as a group of learned men who could translate the Hebrew books into Greek. Eleazar selected six elders from each of the twelve tribes and sent them to Alexandria with a copy of the scriptures in which the Jewish characters were written in gold letters. A version of this legend has the seventy-two translators complete their task in seventy-two days, and when they compared their efforts they discovered that each had produced an identical translation.

Scholars agree that this story was created for Jewish purposes to enhance the importance of the Hebrew Scriptures by suggesting that a pagan king realized their significance and, therefore, arranged for a translation into Greek. Scholars have conjectured that a likely motive for such a project was to meet the educational and liturgical needs of the large Jewish population in Alexandria, many of whom had forgotten their Hebrew. They spoke Greek but, as Jews, they also wanted to be conversant with the ancient scriptures. Over time this Septuagint Pentateuch became widely used by Greek-speaking Jews in antiquity outside of Palestine, and became a model and magnet for other translational efforts at various times and in various places. From among these Greek Jewish people, the early Christian movement attracted many of its followers.

When Christian collections of Jewish scriptures were united into the Christian "Old Testament," which was published together with the "New Testament" collection to form the Greek Christian Bible, those responsible used the available "Septuagint" ("Old Greek") materials as the basis for their text. It was from these Septuagint materials that the early Latin translations were made, which formed the background for the most influential translation for the western Church, the Latin Vulgate. In this way, Catholic Christianity along with the Eastern Orthodox Churches still embrace the tradition of the Greek Old Testament, which has served them well for two thousand years.

In the sixteenth century, however, Protestants turned away from the Septuagint and reverted to the Hebrew Jewish Bible as the basis for translations into modern languages. Hence, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles have more books in the Old Testament than their Protestant counterparts. Books like 1 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Jesus Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon were preserved primarily in Greek or in translations made from Greek, and some of these books were originally written in Greek. Those Jewish scholars who collected and transmitted the Hebrew Jewish Bible during the early centuries CE did not accept these "apocryphal" works into their authoritative Hebrew-Aramaic anthology, which in turn provided the base text for Protestant translations.