Main  Contacts  
Table of contents


Ptolemy very naturally thought that a copy of these sacred books would 

be a great acquisition to his library. They constituted, in fact, the 

whole literature of a nation which was, in some respects, the most 

extraordinary that ever existed on the globe. Ptolemy conceived the 

idea, also, of not only adding to his library a copy of these writings 

in the original Hebrew, but of causing a translation of them to be made 

into Greek, so that they might easily be read by the Greek and Roman 

scholars who were drawn in great numbers to his capital by the libraries 

and the learned institutions which he had established there. The first 

thing to be effected, however, in accomplishing either of these plans, 

was to obtain the consent of the Jewish authorities. They would probably 

object to giving up any copy of their sacred writings at all. 


There was one circumstance which led Ptolemy to imagine that the Jews 

would, at that time particularly, be averse to granting any request of 

such a nature coming from an Egyptian king, and that was, that during 

certain wars which had taken place in previous reigns, a considerable 

number of prisoners had been taken by the Egyptians, and had been 

brought to Egypt as captives, where they had been sold to the 

inhabitants, and were now scattered over the land as slaves. They were 

employed as servile laborers in tilling the fields, or in turning 

enormous wheels to pump up water from the Nile. The masters of these 

hapless bondmen conceived, like other slave-holders, that they had a 

right of property in their slaves. This was in some respects true, since 

they had bought them of the government at the close of the war for a 

consideration; and though they obviously derived from this circumstance 

no valid proprietary right or claim as against the men personally, it 

certainly would seem that it gave them a just claim against the 

government of whom they bought, in case of subsequent manumission. 


Ptolemy or his minister, for it can not now be known who was the real 

actor in these transactions, determined on liberating these slaves and 

sending them back to their native land, as a means of propitiating the 

Jews and inclining them to listen favorably to the request which he was 

about to prefer for a copy of their sacred writings. He, however, paid 

to those who held the captives a very liberal sum for ransom. The 

ancient historians, who never allow the interest of their narratives to 

suffer for want of a proper amplification on their part of the scale on 

which the deeds which they record were performed, say that the number of 

slaves liberated on this occasion was a hundred and twenty thousand, and 

the sum paid for them, as compensation to the owners, was six hundred 

talents, equal to six hundred thousand dollars.[1] 


[Footnote 1: It will be sufficiently accurate for the general 

reader of history to consider the Greek talent, referred to in 

such transactions as these, as equal in English money to two 

hundred and fifty pounds, in American to a thousand dollars. 

It is curious to observe that, large as the total was that was 

paid for the liberation of these slaves, the amount paid for 

each individual was, after all, only a sum equal to about five 



And yet this was only a preliminary expense to pave the way for the 

acquisition of a single series of books, to add to the variety of the 

immense collection. 


After the liberation and return of the captives, Ptolemy sent a splendid 

embassage to Jerusalem, with very respectful letters to the high priest, 

and with very magnificent presents. The embassadors were received with 

the highest honors. The request of Ptolemy that he should be allowed to 

take a copy of the sacred books for his library was very readily 

granted. The priests caused copies to be made of all the sacred 

writings. These copies were executed in the most magnificent style, and 

were splendidly illuminated with letters of gold. The Jewish government 

also, at Ptolemy's request, designated a company of Hebrew scholars, six 

from each tribe--men learned in both the Greek and Hebrew languages--to 

proceed to Alexandria, and there, at the Museum, to make a careful 

translation of the Hebrew books into Greek. As there were twelve tribes, 

and six translators chosen from each, there were seventy-two translators 

in all. They made their translation, and it was called the _Septuagini_, 

from the Latin _septuaginta duo_, which means seventy-two. 

Page 6 from 8:  Back   1   2   3   4   5  [6]  7   8   Forward