The seventy-two elders of Aristeas: an evaluation of speculation

A. D. Macdonald

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The Letter of Aristeas recounts the translation of the Jewish Law into Greek by seventy-two Jewish elders. That number of elders (seventy-two) has been the subject of considerable discussion, and several competing explanations for the origin of the number have been proposed. Some scholars claim the number is derived from Hellenistic (specifically grammatical or arithmological) traditions, whereas others see precedent for the number seventy-two in the details of Exod 24 or Num 11. This paper evaluates several such hypotheses (most of them relatively recent), showing most to be speculative and lacking explanatory power. Rejecting such hypotheses, this paper argues that the number seventy-two emerges from a compromise between two of Pseudo-Aristeas’s interests—a hypothesis rendered all the more plausible by its appearance in Epiphanius. All this justifies an appeal for scholars to exercise both diligence and restraint regarding Jewish and Christian engagement with exodus traditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-53
Number of pages18
JournalJournal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


  • allusion
  • elders
  • Epiphanius
  • exodus
  • Letter of Aristeas
  • numbers


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