Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/156

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146

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

veloping them that it lingers about them after they have been brought forth full-orbed; and, sometimes, from it are even produced secondary mythical and legendary concretions, satellites about these greater orbs of early thought. Of these secondary growths one may be mentioned as showing how rich in myth-making material was the atmosphere which enveloped our own earlier sacred literature.

In the third century before Christ there had been elaborated among the Jewish scholars of Alexandria, then the great center of human thought, a Greek translation of' the main books constituting the Old Testament. Nothing could be more natural at that place and time than such a translation; yet the growth of explanatory myth and legend around it was none the less luxuriant. There was indeed a twofold growth. Among the Jews favorable to the new version a legend rose which justified it. This legend in its first stage was to the effect that Ptolemy, then on the Egyptian throne, had, at the request of his chief librarian, sent to Jerusalem for translators; that the high priest Eleazar had sent to the king a most precious copy of the Scriptures from the temple, and six most venerable, devout, and learned scholars from each of the twelve tribes of Israel; that the number of translators thus corresponded with the mysterious seventy-two appellations of God; and that the combined efforts of these seventy-two men produced a marvelously perfect translation.

But, in that atmosphere of myth and marvel, the legend continued to grow, and soon we have it blooming forth yet more gorgeously in the statement that King Ptolemy ordered each of the seventy-two to make by himself a full translation of the entire Old Testament, and shut up each translator in a separate cell on the island of Pharos, secluding him there until the work was done; that the work of each was completed in exactly seventy-two days; and that when, at the end of the seventy-two days, the seventy-two translations were compared, each was found exactly like all the others. This showed clearly Jehovah's approval.

But out of all this myth and legend there was also evolved an account of a very different sort. The Jews who remained faithful to the traditions of their race regarded this Greek version as a profanation, and therefore there grew up the legend that on the completion of the work there was darkness over the whole earth during three days. This showed clearly Jehovah's disapproval.

These well-known legends, which arose within what—as compared with any previous time—was an exceedingly enlightened period, and which were steadfastly believed by a vast multitude of Jews and Christians for ages, are but single examples among scores which show how inevitably such traditions regarding