THE TRANSLATION OF THE LAW
The most important event (as it proved) of the next four hundred years was the first translation of the Judaic scriptures (later to become known as the Old Testament) into a foreign tongue, Greek. This enabled, and still enables, "the heathen" to become partially acquainted with the Law that ordained their own enslavement and destruction and the supremacy of Judah. Save for this translation the nature of literal Judaism must have remained a matter of surmise, whereas the translation made it appear to be one of evidence and proof.
For that reason it is at first sight surprising that the translation was ever made (as tradition says, by seventy-two Jewish scholars at Alexandria between 275 and 150 BC.) Dr. Kastein explains that it was undertaken "with a definite object in view, that of making it comprehensible to the Greeks; this led to the distortion and twisting of words, changes of meaning, and the frequent substitution of general terms and ideas for those that were purely local and national".
Dr. Kastein's words in this instance are carelessly chosen if they were intended to disguise what occurred: a matter is not made "comprehensible" to others by distorting and twisting it, changing its meaning, and substituting ambiguous terms for precise ones. Moreover, so learned a Judaic scholar must have known what the Jewish Encyclopaedia records, that the later Talmud even "prohibited the teaching to a Gentile of the Torah, anyone so teaching 'deserving death'." Indeed, the Talmud saw such danger in the acquirement by the heathen of knowledge of the Law that it set up the oral Torah as the last repository of Jehovah's secrets, safe from any Gentile eye.
If the Judaic scriptures were translated into Greek, then, this was not for the benefit of the Greeks (Dr. Kastein wrote for a largely Gentile audience). The reason, almost certainly, was that the Jews themselves needed the translation. The Judahites had lost their Hebrew tongue in Babylon (thereafter it became a priestly mystery, "one of the secret spiritual bonds which held the Judaists of the Diaspora together", as Dr. Kastein says), and spoke Aramaic. However, the largest single body of Jews was in Alexandria, where Greek became their everyday language; many of them could no longer understand Hebrew and a Greek version of their Law was needed as a basis for the rabbinical interpretations of it.
Above all, the elders could not foresee that centuries later a new religion would arise in the world which would take over their scriptures as part of its own Bible, and thus bring "the Mosaic Law" before the eyes of all mankind. Had that been anticipated, the Greek translation might never have been made.
Nevertheless, the translators were evidently reminded by the priests that their work would bring "the Law", for the first time, under Gentile scrutiny; hence the distortions, twistings, changes and substitutions mentioned by Dr. Kastein. An instance of these is apparently given by Deuteronomy 32.21; the translation which
has come down to the heathen alludes vaguely to "a foolish nation", whereas the reference in the Hebrew original, according to the Jewish Encyclopaedia, is to "vile and vicious Gentiles".
What was translated? First, the five books of the Law, the Torah. After the "New Covenant" had been forcibly imposed on the Jerusalemites by Ezra and Nehemiah, the priesthood in Babylon had given the Torah yet another revision: "once again anonymous editors lent their past history, their traditions, laws and customs a meaning entirely in keeping with theocracy and applicable to that system of government…. The form which the Torah then received was the final and conclusive form which was not to be altered by one iota; no single thought, word or letter of it was to be changed."
When mortal men repeatedly "lend meaning" to something supposed already to be immutable, and force all spiritual tradition into the framework of their worldly political ambition, what remains cannot be an original revelation of God. What had happened was that the earlier, Israelite tradition had been expunged or cancelled, and in its place the Judaic racial law had assumed "final and conclusive form".
The same method was followed in the compilation of the other books, historical, prophetic or lyrical. The book of Daniel, for instance, was completed at about this time, that is to say, some four hundred years after the events related in it; small wonder that the anonymous author got all his historical facts wrong. Dr. Kastein is candid about the manner in which these books were produced:
"The editors who put the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings into their final form gathered every fragment" (of the old teachings and traditions) and "creatively interpreted them . . . It was impossible always definitely to assign particular words to particular persons, for they had so frequently worked anonymously, and, as the editors were more concerned with the subject matter than with philological exactitude, they were content with stringing the sayings of the prophets together as best they could". (This method might account for the attribution of the identical "Messianic" prophecy to two prophets, Isaiah 2, 2-4, and Micah 4, 1-4, and for the numerous repetitions to be found in other books).
The subject matter, then, was the important thing, not historical truth, or "philological exactitude", or the word of God. The subject matter was political nationalism in the most extreme form ever known to man, and conformity with this dogma was the only rule that had to be observed. The way in which these books were compiled, after Judah was cast off by Israel, and the reasons, are clear to any who study their origin.
The resultant product, the growth of five or six hundred years and the work of generations of political priests, was the book which was translated into Greek around 150 BC. After the lifetime of Jesus it, and the New Testament, was translated into Latin by Saint Jerome, when both "came to be regarded by the Church as of equal divine authority and as sections of one book" (from a typical
modern encyclopaedia), a theological dictum which was formally confirmed by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century of our era and has been adopted by nearly all Protestant churches, although in this matter they might have found valid reason to protest.
In view of the changes which were made, at the translation, (see Dr. Kastein's words, above), none but Judaist scholars could tell today how closely the Old Testament in the Hebrew-Aramaic original compares with the version which has come down, from the first translation into Greek, as one of the two sections of Christendom's Bible. Clearly substantial changes were made, and quite apart from that there is the "oral Torah", and the Talmudic continuation of the Torah, so that the Gentile world has never known the whole truth of the Judaic Law.
Nevertheless, the essence of it is all in the Old Testament as it has come down to Christendom, and that is a surprising thing. Whatever may have been expunged or modified, the vengeful, tribal deity, the savage creed and the law of destruction and enslavement remain plain for all to ponder. The fact is that no amount of twisting, distortion, changing or other subterfuge could conceal the nature of the Judaic Law, once it was translated; although glosses were made, the writing beneath remains clear, and this is the best evidence that, when the first translation was authorized, the universal audience it would ultimately reach was not foreseen.
With that translation the Old Testament, as we now call and know it, entered the West, its teaching of racial hatred and destruction only a little muted by the emendations. That was before the story of the West even had truly begun.
By the time the West, and Christianity, were nineteen and a half centuries old, the political leaders there, being much in awe of the central sect of Judaism, had begun to speak with pious awe of the Old Testament, as if it were the better half of the Book by which they professed to live. Nevertheless it was, as it always had been, the Law of their peoples' destruction and enslavement, and all their deeds, under the servitude which they accepted, led towards that end.