The Place of Hebrew in the Biblical Theory of Epiphanius (Part 2.1)


In the last post, we saw that Epiphanius adhered to the twenty-two books of the Hebrew canon after the pattern of the twenty-two(-seven) letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In the next two posts, I intend to show in five points that the Hebrew Text factors significantly into Epiphanius’s overall biblical theory. As a reminder, there will need to be another post or two that treats other aspects of his theory, specifically, those aspects where the Hebrew appears diminished in light of the new Greek translation.

1. The Pattern Set by Moses

In his work, On Weights and Measures, Epiphanius narrates the events of the new Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures from the tractate of Aristeas but took significant departures either due to his own imagination or because he used other, additional sources. The following is one such place where Epiphanius includes additional material:

Then, having chosen the previously recorded seventy-two translators, the teachers of the Jews sent (them) according to the example (τύπος), which formerly Moses did, when he went up to the mountain by the command of the Lord, having heard (that) “Take with you seventy men, and go up to the mountain” [Exod 24:1, 12]. Now for the sake of peace with the tribes he intended rather to bring seventy-two and to add to the number, lest he take five men from some, six from others, and lest he make a faction among the tribes (Mens. 11).

Epiphanius reports that the teachers of the Jews in Jerusalem chose and sent seventy-two translators to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek on the original pattern of Moses choosing the seventy(-two) elders to go up and receive the Law from the Lord on Mt. Sinai. Epiphanius evoked the comparison with Moses to highlight the significance of the translation and also to show that something significant happened originally with Moses “by the command of the Lord.” Furthermore, to show the equality of the two events, Epiphanius believed that Moses actually took seventy-two elders up the mountain, even when Exodus 24 says only “seventy.”

Thus Epiphanius’s overall burden is to show that the activity of the seventy-two translators is equal to the activity of Moses and the seventy-two elders, who first received the Law in Hebrew.

2. The Description of the Translators

Further evidence of Epiphanius’s view of the Hebrew’s significance in his biblical theory comes from how he described the seventy-two translators themselves:

Wherefore the seventy-two translators, starting from the Hebrews and from infancy being trained accurately with respect to the language of the Hebrews, not truly, but also with respect to the language of the Greeks, not only translated the Scripture out of Hebrew into Greek…(Mens. 2).

But deem worthy to send to us translators who have been trained strictly by you from youth to manhood in the language of both the Hebrews and the Greeks (Mens. 11).

Epiphanius highlights their accurate training in Hebrew (which they knew from infancy) and their training in Greek. In Mens. 11, according to Epiphanius, Ptolemy Philadelphos requested Jewish translators trained in both languages. Theoretically, at least, these translators should be able to publish a translation that reflects the sense of the original Hebrew in good Greek style. Once again, the equality between the Hebrew and the Greek appears to be at issue in Epiphanius’s biblical theory.


In the next post, I will give three more reasons for believing that the Hebrew text was a significant factor in the biblical theory of Epiphanius, and in that post I will draw some conclusions from this datum before turning to his views of the Greek translation of the Seventy-Two.


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