At the time of the Jewish Captivity in Egypt, Ptolemy Philadelphus reveals himself as the first great bibliophile. He desires to have all the books in the world in his library; in order to get the Laws of Moses he offers to trade 100,000 captives for that work exclaiming, "It is a small boon indeed!"
SINCE I have collected material for a memorable history of my visit to Eleazar the High Priest of the Jews, and because you, Philocrates, as you lose no opportunity of reminding me, have set great store upon receiving an account of the motives and object of my mission, I have attempted to draw up clear exposition of the matter for you, for I perceive that you possess a natural love of learning, a quality which is the highest possession of man--to be constantly attempting 'to add to his stock of knowledge and acquirements' whether through the study of history or by actually participating in the events themselves.
2 It is by this means, by taking up into itself the noblest elements, that the soul is established in purity, and having fixed its aim on piety, the noblest goal of all, it uses this as its infallible guide and so acquires a definite purpose.
3 It was my devotion to the pursuit of religious knowledge that led me to undertake the embassy to the man I have mentioned, who was held in the highest esteem by his own citizens and by others, both for his virtue and his majesty, and who had in his possession documents of the highest value to the Jews in his own country and in foreign lands for the interpretation of the divine law, for their laws are written on leather parchments in Jewish characters.
4 This embassy then I undertook with enthusiasm, having first of all found an opportunity of pleading with the king on behalf of the Jewish captives who had been transported from Judea to Egypt by the king's father, when he first obtained possession of this city and conquered the land of Egypt.
5 It is worth while that I should tell you this story, too, since I am convinced that you, with your disposition towards holiness and your sympathy with men who are living in accordance with the holy law, will all the
more readily listen to the account which I purpose to set forth, since you yourself have lately come to us from the island and are anxious to hear everything that tends to build up the soul.
6 On a former occasion too, I sent you a record of the facts which I thought worth relating about the Jewish race,--the record which I had obtained from the most learned high priests of the most learned land of Egypt.
7 As you are so eager to acquire the knowledge of those things which can benefit the mind, I' feel it incumbent upon me to impart to you all the information in my power.
8 I should feel the same duty towards all who possessed the same disposition but I feel it especially towards you since you have aspirations which are so noble, and since you are not only my brother in character, no less than in blood, but are one with me as well in the pursuit of goodness.
9 For neither the pleasure derived from gold nor any other of the possessions which are prized by shallow minds confers the same benefit as the pursuit of culture and the study which we expend in securing it.
10 But that I may not weary you by a too lengthy introduction, I will proceed at once to the substance of my narrative.
11 Demetrius of Phalerum, the president of the king's library, received vast sum of money, for the purpose of collecting together, as far as he possibly could, all the books in the world.
12 By means of purchase and transcription, he carried out, to the best of his ability, the purpose of the king.
13 On one occasion when I was present he was asked, How many thousand books are there in the library? and he replied, 'More than two hundred thousand, O king, and I shall make endeavour in the immediate future to gather together the remainder also, so that the total of five hundred thousand may be reached. I am told that the laws of the Jews are worth transcribing and deserve a place in your library!
14 'What is to prevent you from doing this?' replied the king. 'Everything that is necessary has been placed at your disposal!
15 'They need to be translated,' answered Demetrius 'for in the country of the Jews they use a peculiar alphabet (just as the Egyptians, too, have a special form of letters) and speak a peculiar dialect.
16 They are supposed to use the Syriac tongue, but this is not the case; their language is quite different.'
17 And the king when he understood all the facts of the case ordered a letter to be written to the Jewish High Priest that his purpose (which has already been described) might be accomplished.
18 Thinking that the time had come to press the demand, which I had often laid before Sosibius of Tarentum and Andreas, the chief of the bodyguard, for the emancipation of the Jews who had been transported from Judea by the king's father--for when by a combination of good fortune and courage he had brought his attack on the whole district of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia to a successful issue, in the process of terrorising the country into subjection, he transported some of his foes and others he reduced to captivity.
19 The number of those whom he transported from the country of the Jews to Egypt amounted to no less than a hundred thousand.
20 Of these he armed thirty thousand picked men and settled
them in garrisons in the country districts.
21 (And even before this time large numbers of Jews had come into Egypt with the Persian, and in an earlier period still others had been sent to Egypt to help Psammetichus in his campaign against the king of the Ethiopians. But these were nothing like so numerous as the captives whom Ptolemy the son of Lagus transported.)
22 As I have already said Ptolemy picked out the best of these, the men who were in the prime of life and distinguished for their courage, and armed them, but the great mass of the others, those who were too old or too young for this purpose, and the women too, he reduced to slavery, not that he wished to do this of his own free will, but he was compelled by his soldiers who claimed them as a reward for the services which they had rendered in war.
23 Having, as has already been stated, obtained an opportunity for securing their emancipation, I addressed the king with the following arguments. 'Let us not be so unreasonable as to allow our deeds to give the lie to our words.
24 Since the law which we wish not only to transcribe but also to translate belongs to the whole Jewish race, what justification shall we be able to find for our embassy while such vast numbers of them remain in a state of slavery in your kingdom?
25 In the perfection and wealth of your clemency release those who are held in such miserable bondage, since as I have been at pains to discover, the God who gave them their law is the God who maintains your kingdom.
26 They worship the same God--the Lord and Creator of the Universe, as all other men, as we ourselves, O king, though we call him by different names, such as Zeus 1 or Dis.
27 This name was very appropriately bestowed upon him by our first ancestors, in order to signify that He, through whom all things are endowed with life and come into being, is necessarily the Rider and Lord of the Universe.
28 Set all mankind an example of magnanimity by releasing those who are held in bondage.'
29 After a brief interval, while I was offering up an earnest prayer to God that He would so dispose the mind of the king that all the captives might be set at liberty--(for the human race, being the creation of God, is swayed and influenced by Him.
30 Therefore with many divers prayers I called upon Him who ruleth the heart that the king might be constrained to grant my request.
31 For I had great hopes with regard to the salvation of the men since I was assured that God would grant a fulfilment of my prayer.
32 For when men from pure motives plan some action in the interest of righteousness and the performance of noble deeds, Almighty God brings their efforts and purposes to a successful issue)--the king raised his head and looking up at me with a cheerful countenance asked, 'How many thousands do you think they will number?'
33 Andreas, who was standing near, replied, 'A little more than a hundred thousand.'
34 'It is a small boon indeed,' said the king, 'that Aristeas asks of us!'
35 Then Sosibius and some others who were present said
[paragraph continues] 'Yes, but it will be a fit tribute to your magnanimity for you to offer the enfranchisement of these men as an act of devotion to the supreme God.
36 You have been greatly honoured by Almighty God and exalted above all your forefathers in glory and it is only fitting that you should render to Him the greatest thank-offering in your power.'
37 Extremely pleased with these arguments he gave orders that an addition should be made to the wages of the soldiers by the amount of the redemption money, that twenty drachmae should be paid to the owners for every slave, that a public order should be issued and that registers of the captives should be attached to it.
38 He showed the greatest enthusiasm in the business, for it was God who had brought our purpose to fulfilment in its entirety and constrained him to redeem not only those who had come into Egypt with the army of his father but any who had come before that time or had been subsequently brought into the kingdom.
39 It was pointed out to him that the ransom money would exceed four hundred talents.
40 I think it will be useful to insert a copy of the decree, for in this way the magnanimity of the king, who was empowered by God to save such vast multitudes, will be made clearer and more manifest.
41 The decree of the king ran as follows: 'All who served in the army of our father in the campaign against Syria and Phoenicia and in the attack upon the country of the Jews and became possessed of Jewish captives and brought them back to the city of Alexandria and the land of Egypt or sold them to others--and in the same way any captives who were in our land before that time or were brought hither afterwards--all who possess such captives are required to set them at liberty at once, receiving twenty drachmae per head as ransom money.
42 The soldiers will receive this money as a gift added to their wages, the others from the king's treasury.
43 We think that it was against our father's will and against all propriety that they should have been made captives and that the devastation of their land and the transportation of the Jews to Egypt was an act of military wantonness.
44 The spoil which fell to the soldiers on the field of battle was all the booty which they should have claimed.
45 To reduce the people to slavery in addition was an act of absolute injustice.
46 Wherefore, since it is acknowledged that we are accustomed to render justice to all men and especially to those who are unfairly in a condition of servitude, and since we strive to deal fairly with all men according to the demands of justice and piety, we have decreed, in reference to the persons of the Jews who are in any condition of bondage in any part of our dominion, that those who possess them shall receive the stipulated sum of money and set them at liberty and that no man shall show any tardiness in discharging his obligations.
47 Within three days after the publication of this decree, they must make lists of slaves for the officers appointed to carry out our will, and immediately produce the persons of the captives.
48 For we consider that it will be advantageous to us and to our affairs that the matter should be brought to a conclusion.
49 Any one who likes may give information about any who disobey the decree, on condition
Click to enlarge
AHIKAR ANSWERS PHARAOH'S RIDDLE
(See page 214)
Click to enlarge
JUDAH REVEALS THE STORY OF HIS LIFE
(See page 233 et seq.)
that if the man is proved guilty he will become his slave; his property, however, will be handed over to the royal treasury.'
50 When the decree was brought to be read over to the king for his approval, it contained all the other provisions except the phrase 'any captives who were in the land before that time or were brought hither afterwards,' and in his magnanimity and the largeness of his heart the king inserted this clause and gave orders that the grant of money required for the redemption should be deposited in full with the paymasters of the forces and the royal bankers, and so the matter was decided and the decree ratified within seven days.
51 The grant for the redemption amounted to more than six hundred and sixty talents; for many infants at the breast were emancipated together with their mothers.
52 When the question was raised whether the sum of twenty talents was to be paid for these, the king ordered that it should be done, and thus he carried out his decision in the most comprehensive way.
143:1 A important comparison of God and Zeus.