8

In connection with the production of the Septuagint at the request of King Ptolemy, the Talmud says:

And [in listing unclean animals], instead of writing “And the hare [אַרְנֶבֶת -- arnevet]”, [the rabbis] wrote “And the short-legged beast [צְעִירַת הָרַגְלַיִם -- tze’irat haraglayim]”, because Ptolemy’s wife was named Arnevet, and they were afraid the king would say: The Jews have mocked me and inserted my wife’s name in the Torah. [Therefore, they referred to the hare only by one of its characteristic features.] [Megillah 9b]

How would the king even know that the Torah had the word "Arnevet" in it? Wouldn't he see only the translation of the word "hare" into Greek?

But the Talmud may be read as implying that they also wrote a Torah in Hebrew. Did they produce a different scroll in Hebrew?

3
  • 1
    perhaps it was written (like the rosetta stone) with both languages, and the texts might be compared by those who were at least somewhat multilingual; alternatively, perhaps the arnevet was not a species native to Greece such that it would have its own distinct Greek name (or its name was also arnevet in Greek).
    – Loewian
    Apr 5 at 1:36
  • Perhaps they pulled an artscroll and transliterated all the animal names instead of translating them. +1 nice question.
    – user6591
    Apr 5 at 3:19
  • I believe her name meant hare in the Greek.
    – N.T.
    Apr 5 at 9:53
4

Interestingly, the Steinsaltz Gemara on this segment comments

The seventy-two Elders, in their translation of the word hare in the list of non-kosher animals, used the word δασύπους, dasupous, which literally means hairy-legged or roughfooted, instead of the standard term for hare, λαγός, lagos. They did so because the nickname of the founder of the Ptolemeian kingdom, Ptolemy I, was also named Lagos, and they sought to avoid alluding to him in that context

Wikipedia indeed mentions "Ptolemy I was the son of Arsinoe of Macedon by either her husband Lagus or Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander."

So it appears from this commentary there was a secondary reason for not using the name arnevet since its Greek translation could also be considered offensive.

7
  • 1
    Rather than a secondary reason, that seems more like they're saying that it wasn't that her name was Arnevet, but that her Greek name was the Greek word for Arnevet.
    – Alex
    Apr 5 at 3:36
  • 1
    Does Steinsaltz mention a source? Apr 5 at 3:43
  • Is this evidence that Ptolemy's wife was nicknamed lagína or lagoudína (the feminine forms of lagos according to Wikitionary) because of her father (according to WIkipedia, the Targum was made during the time of Ptolemy II, son of Ptolemy I, who also married his sister)?
    – Harel13
    Apr 5 at 6:52
  • 1
    @MauriceMizrahi to the contrary, if that was his nickname, to list him as an unclean animal was an insult !
    – mbloch
    Apr 5 at 14:22
  • 2
    Wow, good work +5 for Steinsaltz Z"L! THis clearly shows the "Telephone" game the sages played - it started with Lagos the King and dasupous and ended with צְעִירַת הָרַגְלַיִם and the wife of Ptolemy.
    – Al Berko
    Apr 5 at 15:17
2

I've been somewhat troubled over the last few weeks by Rabbi Steinsaltz's understanding, brought by @mbloch, that seems to say that the sages' tradition of what had conspired at the time of the making of the Targum was had been deeply distorted (from the name of the grandfather of Philadelphus to the name of his wife). However, I think I have a theory now about that, which may also answer the OP.

While the Letter of Aristeas, considered by academics the prime source of the story of the making of the Targum (sadly academics often are quick to write off Chazalic sources...), states that the Ptolemy of the Targum was Ptolemy II Philadelphus (in one place mentions Ptolemy son of Lagus, and when referring to the king, writes about Ptolemy, husband of Arsinoe his sister - this was Ptolemy II), the Chazalic sources never state which one it was, so per p'shat - it could either be Ptolemy I or Ptolemy II.

However, neither of the Ptolemys had any wife or consort named "lagína" or "lagoudína", the feminine forms of the Greek word for "hare" - "lagós" (per Wiktionary).

As stated by @mbloch, Ptolemy I's father was named "Lagus", which is very similar to the Greek word for hare, "lagós". His mother was named Arsinoe.

And as it turns out, there are three Tannaic sources that have slightly different versions of this tale:

Yerushalmi Megillah 12b:

"ואת הארנבת את צעירת הרגלים אמו של תלמי המלך ארנתא הוות שמה"

Translation: "and the [female] hare - and the hairy of legs the mother of King Ptolemy was named Arneta."

Vayikra Rabbah 13:5 (also appears in Yalkut Shimoni 536):

"וְאֶת הָאַרְנֶבֶת, זוֹ יָוָן, אִמּוֹ שֶׁל תַּלְמַי אַרְנֶבֶת שְׁמָהּ."

Translation: "and the [female] hare, that's Greece, the mother of Ptolemy was named Arnevet [hare]."

It's entirely possible that Arsinoe, wife of Lagus, had been nicknamed "lagína" or "lagoudína" or something similar after her husband. Per this, it seems that according to p'shat, the king of the Targum was actually Ptolemy I. However, one could also say that when Chazal say "mother of Ptolemy", they mean figuratively: "mother of the lineage of Ptolemy" or "mother of the dynasty of Ptolemy".1

Thus, as @mbloch pointed out, to call the mother of the king or of the dynasty an impure animal - and with no less than a nickname that might have had negative connotations (being that Lagus doesn't literally mean rabbit - see here, pg. 79) - would have seemed mocking on the part of the Jews, hence the need for the change. Therefore, it seems that there was only a slight distortion/scribal error in the Bavli's version (although admittedly no MS version on the Genizah's site can back me up on this...) - from mother to wife.


1 Both identifications have merit because both are descendants of Arsinoe wife of Lagus, and per calculations by Dr. Chaim Chefetz in his essay "The High Priests In The Beginning of the Second Temple Era", the High Priest during the end of Ptolemy I's reign and the beginning of Ptolemy II's reign was Rabbi Elazar ben Charsom, identified with Elazar the High Priest in the Letter (see here). Furthermore, both are known to have been involved with the Library of Alexandria, which, according to the Letter, was why the Targum was created. Ptolemy I built the library and his son promoted it and gathered many works there.

1
  • 1
    I’ve also been troubled by my answer. You add excellent points to it. Thanks
    – mbloch
    Apr 27 at 12:56

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .