Monday, June 14, 2010

Gruen on the Letter of Aristeas (LXX 2)

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For general orientation to this series of posts see here (with forward links).

Erich S Gruen, 'The Letter of Aristeas and the Cultural Context of the Septuagint’ in Die Septuaginta - Texte, Kontexte, Lebenswelten: Internationale Fachtagung veranstaltet von Septuaginta Deutsch (LXX.D), Wuppertal 20.-23. Juli 2006 (ed Martin Karrer & Wolfgang Kraus; WUNT 219; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 134-156.



In this article Gruen uses the Letter of Aristeas not in order to extract historical information about the LXX, but as a window upon the mentality of the Jewish diaspora resident in Ptolemaic Alexandria.
He accepts the relatively comfortable and untroubled existence of the Jews at the time as a self-governed political entity. Jewish writings available to us betray their intellectual ability and education in Greek literary modes and conventions.
In the Letter of Aristeas, Gruen notes that the story of the translation provides only a frame for the narrative, but the author's aims are deeper. The Letter, similar to the wider literary scene in Alexandria, is subtly subversive with undertones of cynicism and oblique mockery directed towards royal pretentiousness. Gruen compares the Letter with the writings of other Jewish authors, as well as pagans who worked in Egypt, and detects a similar agenda. He concludes that Jews, like their pagan counterparts in Alexandrian literary circles, had integrated enough in the Hellenistic culture and possessed the self-assurance needed to praise the king in their writings, but also tease and mock him.
Gruen's approach is a helpful reminder of the fact that the translation of the Seventy-Two is not the central concern of the Letter of Aristeas, but simply an element which helps its wider purposes. Moreover, the social standing of Alexandrian Jews at the alleged time of the translation (mid 3rd century) may not have been identical to that of the time of the composition of the Letter (2nd century). Nevertheless, this is the closest window we have into that world and Gruen's contextual reading of the Letter adds another dimension to our understanding of Alexandrian Jewish diaspora.
Myrto Theocharous

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