Expert Answer Forum
Alexandrian Canon QUESTION from Mr. Michael J. Molloy October 23, 1999 How did the Alexandrian Canon first receive it's authenticity? I understand that when Alexander the Great conquered Athens, the local rabies cam to him and basically told him that his conquering of Athens had been prophetically told of in different portions of their writings. Alexander was so impressed with this that he accorded them a special place in his rule where they were instructed to translate their writtings into Greek and were given very special treatment.
Could you confirm this for me and is this the reason that it is referred to as the Alexandrian canon? Thank you in advance
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin on October 27, 1999 Dear Mr. Molloy,
I'm not quite sure what you mean by authenticity. The Hebrew Scriptures were highly regarded, and their translation into Greek did not diminish the esteem in which they were held. If you are asking how the Septuagint (aka The Alexandrian Canon) came to be recognized as inspired, I feel I can only give some brief indications. A more in-depth answer would require the expertise of a Bible scholar.
The Septuagint was copied after the death of Alexander the Great, so your story about Alexander the Great is highly unlikely. The Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) was translated in Alexandria, or at any rate in Egypt, in the third century B.C.-- and even that date is based on plausibility, not on certain facts. Legend has it that King Ptolemy II (ruled (285-247 B.C.) commissioned the translation of the Scripture. His interest in foreign cultures provides some evidence that this could be true, but the main source document about the origins of the Septuagint, the Epistle of Aristeas, is legendary in character, so we can't be absolutely sure of which elements are true and which are legendary flourishes.
The Septuagint was not the first Greek translation of the Old Testament. It contains revisions of what is known as the Old Greek Bible. The whole canon was only complete long after it was started-- probably by the beginning of the second century, B.C., but certainly by the end of that same century.
The Jews prior to the coming of Christ did not have a firm concept of canonicity the way Catholics and Protestants do today. The Pentateuch was highly regarded and surely viewed as inspired because those books were ancient and contained the Law. However, the inspiration of some books, like Esther, was not ascertained until relatively late, and even after the coming of Christ, there were still some doubts. There were some books that were more revered than others. So it's highly possible that the Palestinian Jews discarded the deuterocanonicals because they were not as highly revered after Christ's Resurrection, whereas the Diaspora Jews considered them plainly inspired. As to what prompted the Jews to accept some books as inspired and not others, and when these realizations were made, these questions would best be answered by an orthodox Bible Scholar.
In the first century A.D., the canon of the Jews was firmly fixed. The Jews already had a good idea of which books were inspired-- it was a notion taken for granted, just as the Christians before the Council of Hippo took their canon for granted. Not all Christians agreed on the canon, but there were some books that were not disputed at all, like the Gospels, Acts and most of the Epistles. It was the same for the Jews-- some books they knew for sure were inspired, but others were in dispute. The Jews felt threatened by the multiplication of apocryphal books, and by the spread of Christianity, so to them it seemed imperative to regulate which books could be trusted for doctrinal purposes. Some elders of the Jewish acamedy at Jamnia met in the first century and discussed whether Ecclesiastes and Esther should be part of the canon. The Septuagint had already been discarded as Christians had already claimed it as the authentic translation of the Bible. With the inclusion of Esther and Ecclesesiastes, the canon was set and generally accepted.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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