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Whence the honey bee? Aristotle and the LXX

February 25, 2012

There is an odd addition to the 6th chapter of Proverbs in the Septuagint. Here is a very familiar passage – who can resist being able to cite “Go to the ant, thou sluggard!” Doesn’t it just roll off your tongue? “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep?”

And, isn’t the ant the archetypical industrious worker of the animal world? Don’t we put the ant and the grasshopper, that merry grasshopper, into contrast and remember the seriousness of the ant? (Well, some of us remember Aesop’s fables.) Here is the passage in Proverbs 6,

6Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:

7Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,

8Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

9How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?

10Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:

11So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.

This passage, however, is one of those which is significantly altered in the Greek translation. In order to show the contrast, what follows are the companion versions, the NRSV,

Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief
or officer or ruler,
it prepares its food in summer,
and gathers its sustenance in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O lazybones?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want, like an armed warrior.

And the NETS along with the Greek,

Go to the ant, O lazybones,
ιθι προς τον μυρμηκα ω οκνηρε

and zealously observe its ways, and
και ζηλωσον ιδων τας οδους αυτου και

become wiser than it;
γενου εκεινου σοφωτερος

for without having any cultivated land
εκεινω γαρ γεωργιου

nor anyone that forces it nor being under
any master,
μη υπαρχοντος μηδε τον αναγκαζοντα εχων μηδε υπο δεσποτην ων

it prepares its food in summer,
ετοιμαζεται θερους την τροφην

and it makes its provision plentiful in
harvest time.
πολλην τε εν τω αμητω ποιειται την παραθεσιν

Or go to the bee,
η πορευθητι προς την μελισσαν

and learn how industrious she is
και μαθε ως εργατις εστιν

and how seriously she performs her work
την τε εργασιαν ως σεμνην ποιειται

whose products kings and commoners use
for their health
ης τους πονους βασιλεις και ιδιωται προς υγιειαν

Yes, she is desired by all and honoured.
προσφερονται ποθεινη δε εστιν πασιν και επιδοξος

Although she is physically weak,
καιπερ ουσα τη ρωμη ασθενης

by honouring wisdom she was promoted.
την σοφιαν τιμησασα προηχθη

How long, lazybones, will you lie?
εως τινος οκνηρε κατακεισαι

And when will you be roused from your sleep?
ποτε δε εξ υπνου εγερθηση

Indeed you sleep a little, and you sit a little,
ολιγον μεν υπνοις ολιγον δε καθησαι

and you slumber a little,
μικρον δε νυσταζεις

and you fold your arms over your breast a little.
ολιγον δε εναγκαλιζη χερσιν στηθη

Then poverty will come upon you like an
evil traveler,
ειτ’ εμπαραγινεται σοι ωσπερ κακος οδοιπορος η πενια

and want like a good runner.
και η ενδεια ωσπερ αγαθος δρομευς

This passage on the bee has been inserted seemingly out of nowhere, into the text. What drove such an insertion? Already, we see that the ant was in itself a worthy model of industry and storing up food for the future. But something pushed the translator to expand this passage to include the bee.

Here is the suggested source for the bee. We do know that this author had rather a thing about bees, that ideal hierarchical, communal society, where labour was differentiated, cooperation and communication refined, and king bees were in charge of everything. (Okay, he did get the sex wrong, but who can blame him for such a minor detail?)

… the largest of all, that is called the humble-bee. Now ants never go a-hunting, but gather up what is ready to hand; the spider makes nothing, and lays up no store, but simply goes a-hunting for its food; while the bee — for we shall by and by treat of the nine varieties — does not go a-hunting, but constructs its food out of gathered material and stores it away, for honey is the bee’s food. This fact is shown by the beekeepers’ attempt to remove the combs; for the bees, when they are fumigated, and are suffering great distress from the process, then devour the honey most ravenously, whereas at other times they are never observed to be so greedy, but apparently are thrifty and disposed to lay by for their future sustenance. They have also another food which is called bee-bread; this is scarcer than honey and has a sweet figlike taste; this they carry as they do the wax on their legs. HA Book IX, 40.

There is a definite progression here in industriousness. The spider hunts, the ant gathers its food and stores it away, “while the bee…” –  that wonderful bee goes one step further and constructs its food out of gathered material and stores it up for the future. Only the bee really represents the best of the animal world, the model for human industry. Here is the introductory passage on the same theme,

Of all insects, one may also say of all living creatures, the most industrious are the ant, the bee, the hornet, the wasp, and in point of fact all creatures akin to these; of spiders some are more skilful and more resourceful than others. The way in which ants work is open to ordinary observation; how they all march one after the other when they are engaged in putting away and storing up their food; all this may be seen, for they carry on their work even during bright moonlight nights. HA, Book IX, 38.

Aristotle. Historia Animalium. Book IX. 38 and 40

If the question is whether the translator of Proverbs was familiar with Aristotle, this evidence suggests that he was. A further detail in support of this is the vocabulary item ἐργατις – “industrious.” This is a hapax legomenon in the LXX, and is found in the introductory passage 38 in Aristotle as ἐργατικώτατον – “most industrious.”


Cook, Johann. The Septuagint of Proverbs: Jewish and/or Hellenistic Proverbs? : concerning the Hellenistic colouring of LXX Proverbs

Update: I am adding the occurence of ἐργατις, found here in its plural form ἐργάτιδες. I had previously supplied a slightly different word, rather than an exact match.

The little bees, as has been said, are more industrious than the big ones; their wings are battered; their colour is black, and they have a burnt-up aspect. Gaudy and showy bees, like gaudy and showy women, are good-for-nothings.

44 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2012 7:24 pm

    The problem with this theory, as with similar theories put forward by Kurk, is in the leap from the “possibility” that Aristotle’s writings may have influenced the Septuagint to the assertion that “evidence suggests he was.”

    The bee is of course a common motif in the Hebrew Bible, (as you will remember when you think of milk and honey); and in Ancient Near Eastern literature related to the Hebrew Bible (e.g., the Telepinus myth, or the Egyptian Observations on Life and World Order.)

    One of the most famous and heroic women in the Hebrew Bible, Deborah, is named after the bee.

    Bees show up in early Greek literature as well (in Iliad, for example, in Homer’s famous simile of the Achaeans, and in Aesop as well.)

    I do not understand the claim that ἐργατις is a hapax legomenon in the LXX; consider 1 Maccabees 3:6 for example, where it shows up in a different grammatical form. Even if one limits oneself to the feminine form, it is hardly rare in Greek literature, showing up in Herodotus, Sophocles, and elsewhere. The notion of bees being always alert, of working collectively, of being “angry,” etc., seem to be fairly common and not culturally based.

    It is not even clear to me that the widely used English phrase “worker bee” is from Aristotle, as opposed to being simply a parallel independent observation.

    Were it enough to point out that coincidental phrases imply cultural influence, then one would be lead to the conclusion that Mencius influenced Aristotle; and that seems rather unlikely.

    Were it the case that Aristotle had a serious influence on the Septuagint, I would expect his fingerprints to be much more apparent and bold. These indirect connections are perhaps possible, but hardly seem likely to survive Occam’s Razor.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 25, 2012 9:24 pm

    I need to apologize and make a correction here and note that the example that I provided for ἐργάτις was not an exact match. The exact match, that is the identical lexical unit, ἐργάτις is indeed found in Historia Animalium in a slightly later passage, and I will try to get an image of that if you like.

    The form found in 1 Macc. 3:6, which you mention, is also a different lexical unit, the masculine ἐργάτης, so it is not an exact match,

    What this means is that ἐργάτις is, in fact, a hapax legomemon in the LXX, but I did not supply the correct match from Historic Animalium. I will try to edit the post now to add that. I hope this clears up some of the confusion.

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 25, 2012 9:27 pm

    It is important to note that the masculine and feminine forms are not grammatically different forms of the same word, but are different dictionary lemma – they count as separate words by which one calculates a hapax legomenon.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 25, 2012 10:36 pm

    I have added the update, along with Aristotle’s ever present and gratuitous views on women!

  5. February 26, 2012 5:28 am

    Wonderful post!

  6. February 26, 2012 8:19 am

    Thank you for this post, including your comments and updates. Aristotle also, in another different treatise, used this exact same word that you quote him using in History of Animals. Here’s from his Generation of Animals (Bekker page 760b, around line 14) with Arthur Platt’s English translation following:

    αἱ δὲ μέλιτται μέσαι [τὸ μέγεθός] εἰσιν ἀμφοῖν (χρήσιμοι γὰρ οὕτω πρὸς τὴν ἐργασίαν), καὶ ἐργάτιδες ὡς καὶ τέκνα τρέφουσαι καὶ πατέρας. ὁμολογούμενον δ’ ἐστὶ καὶ τὸ ἐπακολουθεῖν τοῖς βασιλεῦσι τῷ τὴν γένεσιν ἐκ τούτων εἶναι τὴν τῶν μελιττῶν (εἰ γὰρ μηθὲν τοιοῦτον ὑπῆρχεν, οὐκ εἶχε λόγον τὰ συμβαίνοντα περὶ τὴν ἡγεμονίαν αὐτῶν), καὶ τὸ τοὺς μὲν ἐᾶν μηθὲν ἐργαζομένους ὡς γονεῖς, τοὺς δὲ κηφῆνας κολάζειν ὡς τέκνα

    But the bees are intermediate in size between the two other kinds, for this is useful for their work, and [bees] they are workers as having to support not only their young but also their fathers. And it agrees with our views that the bees attend upon their kings because they are their offspring (for if nothing of the sort had been the case the facts about their leadership would be unreasonable), and that, while they suffer the kings to do no work as being their parents, they punish the drones as their children, for it is nobler to punish one’s children and those who have no work to perform.

    With regard to gender and sex, we might note that here again Aristotle does not get Nature right. Fathers and Kings in Aristotle’s science are predominant.

    You’ve shown us how important it is to consider Cook’s hypothesis, and offer here just a bit his evidence for a direct influence of Aristotle on some of the decisions of some the LXX translators! I’m going to read this book. (Some time ago, you got me reading Aristotle and the Indians: A Study in Race Prejudice in the Modern World by Lewis Hanke. And I find Hanke’s arguments compelling:

    Thanks for suggesting that Cook’s theory may be like some of my theorizing. I wish I could take credit, but I’m more following the lead of Sylvie Honigman, Naomi Seidman, and Albert Pietersma, who note certain qualities (and perhaps rhetorical strategies) of the LXX translators. (Already rhetoricians such as George A. Kennedy and James L. Kinneavy have, respectively, investigated how Aristotle’s rhetoric influenced the rhetoric of the Christian New Testament, which has its roots of course in the LXX, although neither Kennedy nor Kinneavy pay that much mind.) As Suzanne says in any case, there’s a question of the evidence and of Aristotelian influence, but it’s always tough to draw a direct cause and effect line. If the Hebraic themes being translated didn’t use such marked Greek forms, if it wasn’t Alexandria, if there wasn’t any possible political and/or rhetorical motivation, then I’d be less interested in how the Septuagint Greek reads against the backdrop of the apparent Greek contest over what counted as “good Greek” (which Aristotle constructed against so many others around him and before him as his “τὸ ἑλληνίζειν”).

  7. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 26, 2012 11:37 am

    In historical investigation, it is hard to speak of certainties. One is almost always dealing in the liklihood of one thing being an influence on another. There needs to be a balance between assuming too much, and shutting down tentative exploration, which may further one’s understanding of what happened. Since I read Aristotle in Greek about the same time as I studied with Pietersma, I can’t actually remember back to a time when I didn’t hold these views on the influence of Aristotle. Over and over, I have found that his influence has been underated by the present generation who are not aware of how much his works formed a basic framework of thinking.

    But my other thought as I read through Aristotle’s passage on the bees, is that his greatmess comes from his ability to have infinitite patience for the details, a love of the tiniest scrap of information, and fascination with nature, along with his need to systematize this information along the lines of his presuppositions. I found this passage on the bees to be very beautiful, and I simply noted the intrusion of his dogged belief in the king bees, in spite of the serious difficulty it presented for the generation of bees, with humour. Poor Aristotle, he did indeed have a beautiful mind with a few blind spots!

  8. February 26, 2012 3:33 pm

    In historical investigation, it is hard to speak of certainties. One is almost always dealing in the liklihood of one thing being an influence on another.

    Fair enough. And here, the evidence seems rather thin. Aristotle’s writings attracted their broad attention at a rather later date than the usual dates assigned to the Septuagintal writings. Aristotle’s writings were left to (the historical) Theophrastus, who seems to have done a poor job at disseminating them (the vast majority of Aristotle’s writings are lost; the ones that remain are the “esoteric” writings not intended for public consumption.) We simply do not have any record of widespread use of Aristotle at such an early date. Further, the “Library of Alexandria” (which might have had a record of Aristotle) post-dates the early composition of the Septuagintal writings according to most theories of the date of their composition.

    Perhaps — it is not entirely impossible — Mencius and Aristotle had some influence, one on the other. But without a theory explaining how information was translated from one to another, we consider it unlikely. If we grab at any evidence we can find, we will find some.

    An analogy here can help: as you know, it has long been a subject of speculation to “decode the Shakespearean ciphers” and find the “true author” of the works ascribed to Shakespeare. We know that Francis Bacon developed a cipher (actually a method of stenography) and since he is a popular candidate for being the “true author” of Shakespeare works, there are any number of tomes out there explaining how to find his name (or other candidates’ names) in the Shakespearean canon. However, this turns out to to be too easy to prove: the great American cryptographer William Friedman (along with his cryptography wife Elizabeth Friedman) wrote The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined showing that any author’s name can be discovered using the techniques claimed by Bacon-advocates. (In particular, the Friedmans “proved” that Edgar Allan Poe wrote Shakespeare.)

    The evidence that Cook brings here is equally speculative. From the paraphrase above, Cook does not give a credible theory for the early transmission of Aristotle’s works; similarly the evidence based on a hapax legomenon seems to depend on a technicality in the definition of hapax legomenon; similar words (I would say the “same word”) are used elsewhere in the LXX; and even Cook would need to admit that the same word was used elsewhere in Greek literature.

    Do you wish to prove that Sophocles influenced the Septuagintal writings? It is very easy. Just write a computer program to scan LSJ and look for entries with both Sophocles and LXX flagged. Voila: evidence complete.

    Cook is merely engaging in crank scholarship — akin to those who claim that they have found evidence that Bacon was the “true author” of Shakespeare’s plays.

    A further difficulty for the Aristotelian “influence” theory is that it assumes that the Septuagintal translators were willing to insert non-Jewish material in what was supposed to be a pious Jewish translation. This would assume that there was a rather universally low view of Scripture among the translators and also among the Jewish readers of the Septuagint. Of course, this could be possible, but it is hard to explain, since it directly contradicts many statements we have from surviving Hellenistic Jewish writings (such as Philo and Josephus).

    I’m more following the lead of Sylvie Honigman, Naomi Seidman, and Albert Pietersma

    Kurk, I cannot find any reference at all to Aristotle in Naomi Seidman’s discussion of the Septuagintal writings. Similarly, I cannot find any reference to Aristotle anywhere in the introductions to any of the books in the NETS translations. I have not read Sylvie Honigman, but it appears from the abstract of her book that she is concerned with the Letter of Aristeas and not the Septuagintal writings proper; and moreover, that her thesis is that that Homeric writings influenced Aristeas. (This is a much more plausible hypothesis since (a) the Homeric writings were widely disseminated at the likely time of the composition of Aristeas and since Aristeas was an original work, and not a translation.)

    I think you are being a bit clever by playing the “humility” card here — your theories appear to be your own. Your theories and observations are certainly interesting (and the observations are interesting on their own, without reference to the Aristotelian influence theory.) But I do not think you can fairly attribute them to others.

    how Aristotle’s rhetoric influenced the rhetoric of the Christian New Testament, which has its roots of course in the LXX

    I have not studied the question of the Aristotelian influence on the composition of the New Testament. However, the question is entirely different than that of the Aristotelian influence on the Septuagintal writings. (1) The New Testament is commonly dated about three centuries later than the core Septuagintal writings, which means that the question of transmission of Aristotle’s writings is much less of a problem. (2) The New Testament is clearly composed in part from gentile influence and likely had some gentile authors; whereas the Septuagintal writings are assumed to be from Jewish books and by Jewish translators. (3) The New Testament is not a translation (or if parts of it are , it is not a translation of pre-Aristotelian materials).

    Finally, even if the New Testament were influenced by multiple sources, that would hardly show that those sources influenced each other. Shakespeare was influenced, for example, by Plutarch (e.g., in Julius Caesar) and also by Norse legend (e.g., in Hamlet). One would not generalize from this to the conclusion that Plutarch influenced Norse legend or vice versa.

  9. February 26, 2012 4:01 pm

    Let me put it more simply:

    Does it seem plausible that

    (1) the idea of a “worker-bee” was so obscure that no one noticed it until Aristotle; and

    (2) once Aristotle wrote about “worker-bees”, the idea almost instantly spread throughout the Greek-speaking world; and

    (3) it was so compelling that Jewish translators decided to change the (sacred) Biblical text to add what they would consider to be a non-Jewish idea into their translation?

    That is what Cook is asking us to believe.

  10. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 26, 2012 6:20 pm

    I will respond to one particular issue at the moment, and that is the misconception of what a hapax legomenon is. You write,

    “similarly the evidence based on a hapax legomenon seems to depend on a technicality in the definition of hapax legomenon; similar words (I would say the “same word”) are used elsewhere in the LXX; and even Cook would need to admit that the same word was used elsewhere in Greek literature.”

    ἐργάτις and ἐργάτης are two distinct lexemes and cannot be counted within linguistics as “the same word.”

    1) One is not a different grammatical form from the other. Grammatical forms are productive forms, that any person produces when writing anything at all. We all generate grammatical forms. Generating a new lexeme is not usually done any old time. The difference is fundamental to the definition of a word.

    2) Typically the masculine form a word is unmarked, frequent and used for generic groupings. The feminine counterpart is typically rarer, marked and has specific meanings, some not so nice.

    In this case, ἐργάτης is commonly found in the New Testament. However, the feminine is not and one possible reason is that one of its meanings was that of “courtesan” – a working woman.

    3) The two different lexemes have a very different frequency, orders of magnitude different. I can’t find a summary number in LSJ, you can calculate it fairly easily – no duobt – from the statistical data, but the feminine occurs about 30 times and the masculine is ubiquitous, hundreds of times.

    4) Most of the time ἐργάτις is used for female human workers, and only a couple of time for a bee. This is the same use found in Proverbs.

    It is the peculiar use of this word ἐργάτις which seems partcularly persuasive to me.

    So, in response,

    (1) the idea of a “worker-bee” was so obscure that no one noticed it until Aristotle; and

    Can you give me other examples of this word ἐργάτις being used in this way. There are couple of others in Greek, but they seem even less likely than Aristotle as a source. I simply find the coincidence, the anthropomorphism, too unusual to be random.

    (2) once Aristotle wrote about “worker-bees”, the idea almost instantly spread throughout the Greek-speaking world; and

    When were Aristotle’s works disseminated among scholars? What background can you share on that?

    (3) it was so compelling that Jewish translators decided to change the (sacred) Biblical text to add what they would consider to be a non-Jewish idea into their translation?

    The bee may have been considered a better candidate than the ant for theJewish moral lesson of this passage. Something influenced the translator to insert this passage, using unusual vocabulary.

  11. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 26, 2012 7:01 pm

    There may be two different stories about how all of Theophrastus’ original library including the works of Aristotle ended up in Alexandria, but the story is that they did get there, either bought by Ptolemy from Neleus, or copies were made. Is this in doubt? If, in fact, this was one of Ptolemy’s earlier acquisitions, then the works would have been available in Alexandria at the time that the translators were translating, it seems to me. I don’t claim that anyone read straight through Aristotle, but Historia Animalium is relatively interesting.

  12. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 26, 2012 7:27 pm

    It seems that HIstoria Animalium was on the list that most scholars believe refers to Aristotle’s work as originally catalogued in the library of Alexandria.

    Of course, this must all remain speculative, but I do want to be aware of what the most common assumptions about the dissemination of Aristotle were.

  13. February 26, 2012 7:39 pm

    ἐργάτις and ἐργάτης are two distinct lexemes

    So, if I understand you correctly, you consider Aristotle’s and Septuagint Proverbs’ use of the term to be “partcularly persuasive” but you take exception when I say that ἐργάτις and ἐργάτης are “similar words.”

    You don’t find any similarity at all between ἐργάτις and ἐργάτης?

    This is why I characterized Cook’s theory as being based on “a technicality in the definition of hapax legomenon.” I do not think one can prove historical evidence based on a “technicality.”


    Unfortunately, we have no record of the “Library of Alexandria” existing before the first Septuagint translation was made. The earliest document we have recording the “Library of Alexandria” is, in fact, the Letter of Aristeas.

    The problem is that the Letter of Aristeas posdates the early Septuagint translations by at least a century, and is full of anachronisms that indicate that it is not a dependable source of history.

    Most likely, the “Library of Alexandria” post-dates the Septuagint, which leaves open the question of transmission. You will have to look very hard for Egyptian works from the mid-third century BCE that mention Aristotle — can you even name one?

  14. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 26, 2012 8:01 pm

    The definition of a word is not a technicality. As I mentioned, gramatical forms are productive, and lexemes are not. Lexemes are listed in dictionaries. They have a different range of use, and different frequency counts. There is an essential difference between “a different form of a word”, and “a different word.” Words are what is traced in the OED. The appearance of two similar but not idential words could be separated by centuries.

    I understand that the library at Alexandria was founded in 295 BC and was modeled on Aristotle’s school in Athens and every attention was made to acquire Aristotle’s works early on, and that the list of Diogenes Laertes is assumed to be that of the library of Alexandria. This seems to be the standard view on Aristotle and the library.

  15. February 26, 2012 8:28 pm

    Well, since those both of those terms (ἐργάτις and ἐργάτης) date back centuries before the Septuagint, the dates hardly matter.

    Do you have a theory for why ἐργάτις and ἐργάτης look similar and have nearly identical meanings?

    Do you imagine that while some people call Meryl Streep an “actor” and others call her an “actress,” they are talking about different things, since those are different lexemes?

    The part of this that I find most mystifying is why you think it is unusual that worker bees are called by a female term. Have you never looked closely at a bee? Worker bees are female — every last one of them. The only male bees are drones.


    It is true that Diogenese Laertes wrote his list in the mid-third century, but unfortunately, that was the mid-third century CE and not the mid-third century BCE. It’s an easy error to make with ancient dates.

    Further, I find no reference to the order of acquisitions, and I do not know how you have determined that “every attention was made to acquire Aristotle’s works early on.” Perhaps the library had a standing order with Amazon.

    The real problem with the 295 BCE date for the founding of the “Library of Alexandria” is … guess what … that date comes from the dating in the The Letter of Aristeas. You have, in fact, found a historical example of Citogenesis.

    So, let’s just sum up where we are: Cook finds the Letter of Aristeas to be historically negligible as a source of information. However, his theory requires that the Letter of Aristeas be correct in its details. Don’t you see a problem here?

  16. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 26, 2012 8:56 pm

    I didn’t say that the bees weren’t female! You are just blowing dust! I am saying that if we are discussing a hapax legomenon, then we need to do just that. The two words have different freqency counts and they usually refer to humans. Last time I looked, I assumed that the bees were female because that what I am told, but they are not human and I can figure that out myself. So the use in Proverbs is “marked.” It is both a less frequent lexeme and used in an unusual way. There is no point in pursuing this. All that matters are the frequency counts in LSJ. If you want to interpret them for me, we could talk about that.

    The list by Diogenes Laertes is considered to be that of Hermippus, the Peripatetic and librarian in Alexandria. I honestly can’t find anyone at all who throws doubt on the assumption that the library acquired works of Aristotle early on. Here is one comment which I linked to above.

    “As I have said in my paper, mentioned above (which I am now summarizing), our evidence favours the traditional opinion that the catalogue is a list of manuscripts of Aristotle’s works in the possession of the Alexandrian library. To be more precise, I would say that it is an inventory of the manuscripts acquired fairly soon after the library was established. Apart from the History of Animals and the Anatomai, the important biologic works and the Meteorology are missing, but these works are expressly mentioned and quoted by third century writers; it is inconceivable that the Alexandrian library should not have possessed copies of these works. Their absence from our catalogue is best explained, if we assume that it is an old inventory made before the collection was complete.”

    Although there are all kinds of speculation about the list, nobody calls into question that some of Aristotle’s works were not among the most important initial contents of the library.

    You will have to cite someone who undermines the majority view in order to pique my interest.

  17. February 26, 2012 9:24 pm

    There is no doubt that Aristotle’s work were eventually in the library — what stuns the imagination is the assumption that they were already familiar to Septuagint translators.

    I think you missed my point about worker bees being female. Since they are evidently female (to the naked eye) there is no surprise that both Septuagint Proverbs and Aristotle would use ἐργατις rather than ἐργάτης. But if I understand you correctly, you find the fact that both used the feminine form rather than the masculine form significant — “partcularly persuasive.”

  18. February 26, 2012 9:31 pm

    It is useful to remember that Aristotle’s prestige increased over time — but in the early years, he was not noticed outside Athens (and to a much lesser extent, Macedonia) which is why the vast majority of his works were lost.

  19. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 26, 2012 9:55 pm

    What I have read and understand is that it is exactly in Athens that Aristotle fell into disrepute, and there wasn’t much awareness of his philosophy for several centuries. But his popularity with the Ptolemies predates this and goes back to their desire to emulate Alexander and set up a rival library to the library of Aristotle in Athens. So in fact, Alexandria would have been a much better place to have access to Aristotle than Athens at that time. The story is that Theophrastus library went to Neleus who took it all to Skepsis and that is where the scrolls were acquired or copied for Prolemy. Whether this story is true or not, it must reflect the presence of an Aristotelian corpus in Alexandria at the time.

    Another strong link is that Demetrius, a student of Theophrastus, joined the court of Ptolemy I. The organization of the library is supposed to have been based on the library of Aristotle. Everything I read attributes a very strong Aristotelian influence on the library and Alexandrian scholarship at that time. More so than in Greece, where, as you note, Aristotle was not particularly well known.

    Regarding ergatis, we seem to be at cross purposes. For example, words like “directress” and “manageress” exist in English, but have a low frequency count. Masculine and feminine forms do not function in parallel ways, and cannot be analysed in that fashion.

  20. February 26, 2012 11:17 pm

    Suzanne, you likely would know better than me — is there a case in the classical Greek literature where ἐργάτις was used to refer to an exclusively female set of workers? It is quite easy to point to examples in English where director and manager are used to refer to exclusively female subject (or subjects). Lacking such an example, one would presume that ἐργάτης would be used.

    It is certainly possible that Septuagint translators had access to Aristotle; but I think it is too much to say it is probable (I find the belief that Jewish translators would rely on non-Jewish sources at such an early date even less probable — it would take 13 centuries for Maimonides to put forward an Aristotelian-based Jewish philosophy.)

    The origins of both the Septuagintal writings and the “Library of Alexandria” are shrouded in considerable mystery.

    My point is that the a theory based on a single coincidence of a not-very-obscure word is rather weakly supported. If it were the case that the Septuagint had frequent references to Aristotle, that would be substantial evidence. (A reference to wasps and spiders in this passage from Septuagint Proverbs would certainly add credibility to Cook’s speculations.)

    Of course, antiquity has many mysteries that will never be resolved. I think it is fair to say that this is one of them.

  21. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 26, 2012 11:35 pm

    The thing about ergatis, is that not all masculine terms have feminine equivalents. You have to know that the word exists in order to use it. It is relatively rare, and usually refers to women, and sometimes courtesans. It doesn’t seem like a natural word to use in this context, unless one had already seen the word applied to a bee. I just can’t see two people doing this independently. The use of the masculine term in Maccabees is an entirely common use of a common word.

    Further reading on Aristotle and the library in Alexandria shows up some interesting theories, that Ptolemy I had already acquired all of Aristotles lecture notes from Mieza. He also took Alexander’s body and buried it in Alexandria. He wanted to have the learning and the heritage of Alexander. It seems he went to extreme means to replicate the learning of Alexander. Theophrastus was asked to go to Alexandria, but he didn’t go.

    I personally have no doubt that the Jewish scholars would have read Aristotle if it his works were available. These translators had to have a high literacy to be entrusted with the job.

    I realize that this is one slim item and does not prove anything, but does open up a possibility, that one must seriously consider the influences on these translators.

  22. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 26, 2012 11:40 pm

    Okay I concede that they would have (might have) known the word ergatis anyway. But its use for a bee does not seem like one that could be generated by two people completely independently. And, why introduce the bee at all? But Aristotle demonstrates that the bee is a better example than the ant of the very point that Proverbs 6 is making. it is irresistible, I think, to add the bee after reading Aristotle’s passage. Anyway, this is how it seems. It is the best explanation I can think of.

  23. February 27, 2012 1:12 pm

    An alternative theory that I should have considered is provided by Michael Fox (Wisconsin) in his 2008 Anchor Bible volume and by Crawford Toy (Harvard) in his 1899 ICC volume.

    Both postulate that the addition was a gloss added by a later scribe, but was not in the Old Greek. This is consistent with the widespread corruption of the Septuagintal texts (which, by and large, were not maintained by Jewish scribes, but rather by Greek and Christian scribes.)

    A later scribe, of course, would have likely been familiar with Aristotle, and would have had fewer qualms about “improving” the text. They also point out that the passage uses

    Fox points out that the passage sits uneasily and is stylistically illogical:

    The epigram does not fit its present context and probably was not composed for it. Whereas Prov 6:6–8 describes the ant as an example of independent enterprise whose efforts benefit itself, the LXX addition lauds the bee for her value to others.

    The point of the praise is that the bee’s wisdom compensates for its physical weakness (Giese 1992b: 411). Whereas MT teaches the work ethic of the value of present labor, LXX asserts that the combination of work and wisdom can overcome a lack of power. Accordingly, the poor wise man can supplant the ungodly rich one (Giese 1992b: 411). Cook (CSP 168) believes that the translator composed the addition, whose purpose is to interpret a “dualism” in the contrast between rich and poor in a “religious way.” But this contrast is well in the background and cannot be the purpose of the addition), nor is there a significantly religious message here.

    Toy is much sharper in his criticism:

    Elsewhere in OT. (Isaiah 7:18, Deuteronomy 1:44, Psalms 118:12) the bee is introduced as hostile to man; the word does not occur in the Heb. text of Proverbs.

  24. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 27, 2012 4:49 pm

    “A later scribe, of course, would have likely been familiar with Aristotle, and would have had fewer qualms about “improving” the text.”

    How late? I can only identify two peak periods of interest in Aristotle – the foundation of the library at Alexandria, and the work of Andronicus of Rhodes in the first century BCE. Do you mean that this could have been added in the late first century BCE? By someone who had access to Aristotle at that time?

    And what evidence is there that this was a later addition? Are there text variants at this place?

    Fox ignores the fact that the bee is praised for its industry, surely the same as the ant, and the basis of their similarity in History of Animals. I don’t find that Fox offers a compelling alternative.

  25. February 27, 2012 6:23 pm

    Suzanne, it appears that you have failed to read the translation you have given in your post. Here is the conclusion of the passage on the bee — text that you yourself gave:

    Although she is physically weak, by honoring wisdom she was promoted.

    That is a an obvious non-sequitur, and is jarring to a sensitive reader. It appears to me that by completely dismissing any evidence — even textual evidence that you present — that challenges your dogmas, you have crossed over from being an impartial investigator to merely being an advocate, determined to put the best case forward.

    There is nothing wrong with advocacy, but it is not scholarship, since the conclusion is already decided in advance.

    I cannot account for your odd determination of “two peak periods of interest in Aristotle.” You gave no references, and certainly no contemporary references.

    You continue to make claims about the works of Aristotle being the basis of the founding of “Library of Alexandria” but give no contemporary sources at all (probably for the very good reason that there is no contemporary source — the earliest reference is the Letter of Aristeas which Cook discredits.)

    It appears you are not familiar with the tremendous amount of work done in antiquity on Aristotle. Some authors claim that Philo was commenting on Aristotle, for example (as a Jew, viewing Aristotle with considerable hostility.) There are commentaries on Aristotle by Nicolaus of Damascus, Alexander of Aegae, Adrastus, Aspasius, Alexander of Aphrodisias, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Dexippus,Themistius, Ammonius Hermiae, Olympiodorus, Simplicius of Cilicia, Boethius, John Philoponus, John of Damascus — at that brings us to the middle ages when, of course, interest in Aristotle exploded.

    Moreover, it simply seems perverse to assume that Jewish rabbis (not philosophers) in Alexandria would have an intense interest in Aristotle in the 3rd century BCE but that no scribes after that period would be interested in Aristotle.

    Now you may complain that some of these commentaries are late, but so are the manuscripts on which Cook relies. A quick glance at his book indicates that he relies on

    * Codex Alexandrinus, which began in the mid-fifth century CE, which was revised three times, and which Cook claims “cannot be used uncritically”

    * Codex Vaticanus, from the fourth century CE, with missing parts filled in the fifteenth century CE, and at least three sets of scribal correctors

    * Codex Sinaticus, from the fourth century CE, with four original scribes “and a host of later correctors”

    * Paris folios: which contain only fragments of Proverbs, and is quite late since it contains material by Ephram of Syria (about whom I just posted today)

    * Codex Venetus: which dates from the ninth century CE

    Now, I cannot speak to the question of textual variants; the Göttingen edition of Septuagint Proverbs has yet to appear.

    Giese, in his article “Strength through Wisdom in the Bee in LXX-Prov. 6,8a-c” in Biblica 73 (1992) pp. 404-411, gives the major argument for a later addition. I suggest you refer there if you are seriously interested.

  26. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 27, 2012 7:05 pm

    “I cannot account for your odd determination of “two peak periods of interest in Aristotle.” You gave no references, and certainly no contemporary references.”

    I thought that you had some general background for this topic, but now it seems that I am talking to someone who has read wikipedia and no further.

    “It appears you are not familiar with the tremendous amount of work done in antiquity on Aristotle.”

    Say something intelligent for a change and surprise me!

    There are two main periods of commentaries that we need to concern ourselves with. First, there are those who were directly connected to Aristotle in his lifetime, Theophrastus, for example and his students, one of whom went to Alexandria, or so the story goes.

    Then, later there was, as I mentioned, Andronicus of Rhodes, in the first century BCE, who produced the editions of Aristotle that all the commentators that you mention follow. So the list that you produced are from the second time period that I mentioned, after the middle of the first century BCE. I used Andronicus of Rhodes to refer to that time period because I thought that you knew that this was the sequence.

    I am not going to proceed to discuss later centuries after that, because I can ascertain from you no date at all that you mean when you say that this passage was a “later” addition.

    Do you mean that this passage was added “later,” as in after the middle of the first century BCE? Is that what you mean? Until you somehow declare what you mean by “later”, I cannot respond further.

  27. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 27, 2012 7:21 pm

    It also seems that you implying that we should doubt that the Ptolemies, who actually took Alexander’s body back to Alexandria to bury, who established the library, somehow omitted to include Aristotle in their library. Can you cite anyone at all who suggests that Aristotle’s work were not in the library of Alexandria?

  28. February 27, 2012 7:38 pm

    So, Suzanne is that the way it goes? I ask for references, and you simply insult me? I’m disappointed.

    As to the meaning of the phrase “later addition,” it means that it was added by a scribe after the original composition. Even Cook, in his book, concedes this possibility. What is the basis for this theory: it is because the addition concludes with a declaration to wisdom bringing the weak honor, which is rather unrelated to the text.

    It seems that you have no trouble understanding the phrase “later addition” when you wish — for example, when you discuss 1 Timothy 2:12 being a “later addition.”

    Much the same reasoning is used among those that say that 1 Timothy 2:12 is a later interpolation: the main logic of the text is disrupted and the text and a non-sequitur appears to be inserted. However, here, the case is much stronger since we know this text is not in the Hebrew Masoretic Text.

    How odd that you can understand the phrase when it is to your advantage as a debater, but are unfamiliar with the phrase when it challenges one of your dogmas.

    I wish I could give you the date of the later addition — but I cannot. I’m not willing to make up dates. You seem to believe that we have an accurate record of when the “Library of Alexandria” was created and when the Aristotle books were acquired, but — we do not.

    In fact, if you had read my original comments more carefully you would have realized I was mentioning an alternative theory — one that I felt was more plausible than your theory (which I conceded was possible, but improbable).

    I do recognize that absolute certainty is not determinable for many acts so distant. It seems you think otherwise: that we can know the exact contents of the “Library of Alexandria,” that we can know the exact date it was founded, that we can know the exact date that the translators read those Aristotelian works. I’m fairly skeptical of all that.

    We do not even know when Proverbs Septuagint was translated. (For example, Cook gives a super-late date for composition of Proverbs Septuagint — in part because otherwise he has a problem with his theory of Aristotelian influence. The bottom line is that theories of the date of the composition of Proverbs Septuagint vary by two centuries!)

    If you’d like to investigate the evidence, I’ve already given you a citation to Geise’s article. If you’d like to simply insult me, then go ahead and post another comment.

  29. February 27, 2012 7:49 pm

    As to the question of Aristotle’s books and the “Library of Alexandria”, we have two contradictory accounts:

    Athenaus claims that Philadelphus bought Aristotle’s library, which puts the books in Alexandria, but at too late a date for the Septuagint translators (unless one assumes a very late date for the Septuagintal works.)

    Strabo says that Aristotle and Theophrasutus’s works were passed to Neleus, and then sold to Apellicon in Athens. They were later confiscated by Sulla (86 BCE) who took them to Rome. This means that the original works never reached Alexandria, and that much later copies were aquired — most likely in the second century BCE.

    So the answer is that we simply do not know when Aristotle’s works reached Alexandria. Sure, it is possible that one can sequence events so that they arrived there (and then the translators took a decade-long break from their duties to study Aristotle) and then translated Proverbs — that is a possible sequence. It is not a probable sequence, though.

  30. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 27, 2012 8:41 pm

    I have never heard of anyone who ever suggested that 1 Tim. 2:12 was a “later addition.”

    “It seems that you have no trouble understanding the phrase “later addition” when you wish — for example, when you discuss 1 Timothy 2:12 being a “later addition.” ”

    This bears no resemblnce whatsoever to any discussion of 1 Tim. 2:12. I feel this thread has lost its usefulness.

  31. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 27, 2012 9:33 pm

    “Athenaus claims that Philadelphus bought Aristotle’s library, which puts the books in Alexandria, but at too late a date for the Septuagint translators (unless one assumes a very late date for the Septuagintal works.)”

    Philadelphus died in 246 BCE so I fail to perceive this difficulty. I am having difficulty following most of your comments so I will have to take a break.

  32. February 27, 2012 10:08 pm

    You’ve never heard a theory that Timothy 2:12 is a later addition? OK, well then, I must have misremembered what you wrote on the topic.

    Any good Bible commentary will mention the theory; see, for example, the 4th edition of the New Oxford Annotated Bible. A similar theory is made with respect to 1 Corinthian 33b-26. I thought most people were familiar with this theory because Bart Ehrman has discussed this topic at length in several of his books intended for a popular audience.

    Here is what the NOAB says about 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36:

    Many scholars regard this passage as a later non-Pauline addition, because it disrupts the flow of the argument from v. 33a to v. 37; it contradicts the assumption of 11:5 that women will pray and prophesy in the assembly.

    (emphasis added)

    We have an almost exactly an analogous situation here. The bee passage contradicts the main flow of the logic, suddenly talking about wisdom and being weak making one famous. And it contradicts other Hebrew Bible texts (Isaiah 7:18, Deuteronomy 1:44, Psalms 118:12).

    Although you say “This bears no resemblnce whatsoever to any discussion of 1 Tim. 2:12,” that is only because you “have never heard of anyone who ever suggested that 1 Tim. 2:12 was a ‘later addition.'” Now that you know that the theory is out there (and is even listed in standard academic study Bibles) I hope that you can now see that the two situations are quite analogous.

    Turning now the question of the dating of the Library of Alexandria, if one accepts Athenaus’s account (which is very much in question), then it only puts the entire library of Aristotle and Theophrastus in Alexandria around the 240s BCE. Now, as you may know, most of the Aristotelian corpus has been lost. The Princeton translation of the surviving Aristotelian corpus is about 2500 pages long. But let us take a conservative estimate and assume that we have as much as 25% of the total Aristotelian corpus. That puts the Aristotelian corpus at the equivalent of 10,000 English pages. Now, add in the books that the Academy and Aristotle owned by other authors and one easily gets to the equivalent of about 50,000 English pages. So, that’s easily about 10 – 20 years of study, putting the date of composition of the Septuagintal writings during the 220s BCE. The problem is that according to many theories, that is after the Septuagintal writings started to appear.

    Of course, it is possible that the original translators decided to abandon their duties and insert a non-Jewish passage here in their translation. I cannot exclude that possibility. But in Cook’s book, he does not go that far, merely asserting that the addition was “early.” You have taken a position in this thread more extreme than Cook.

    I hope that this comment has helped you better understand this passage, and also helped open your eyes to a significant scholarly debate over 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 as well.

  33. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 27, 2012 11:12 pm

    You still haven’t mentioned any theory that 1 Tim 2:12 is an addition to the text. if you know of this theory, I would really appreciate seeing it. Don’t keep me in suspense. If the NOAB says something to this effect I would love to see it. I don’t particularly need reminding of the theory regarding 1 Cor. 14, which I am quite familiar with.

    I don’t see a problem with the dating on Aristotle. The acquisition would have been in the first half of the 3rd century BCE and the Septuagint appeared sometime after the mid century, but no definite date that I know of – from 250 BCE as a first possible date, but perhaps later. At least we know that History of Animals was on the list which is thought to be constructed by the librarian at Alexandria. We don’t know if all of this is accurate, but it is plausible. It is very plausible given that the library was supposedly modeled on Aristotle’s.

    I am still wondering if you are suggesting that this passage in Proverbs was inserted in the early Christian era, after all the commentaries on Aristotle that you listed. And why would a Christiann copyist add something from Aristotle anyway? And wasn’t it the more philosophical works which attracted attention at that time? If you have made a suggestion as to how or why you think this passage was added, I can’t seem to remember it.

  34. February 28, 2012 12:28 am

    Ha! The NOAB says that the situation is “very similar to the contested passage 1 Cor 14:34-35 (see note there).” As you may be aware, 1 Timothy claims to be a Pauline letter, so the same arguments apply.

    The introduction to the Pastoral Epistles in the NOAB in fact explicitly gives the reasoning that 1 Timothy is not Pauline because it attempts to interpret a questionable passage.

    So, I’m a little startled — you state that you are “quite familiar” with the theory of 1 Cor 14, but are you aware of anyone who believes that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is not of Pauline origin while 1 Timothy 2:12 is?

    If you would like more arguments for the non-Pauline origin of 1 Timothy (and 1 Timothy 2:12) really pretty much any academic commentary should contain them. The entire book is called into question.

    You are right — there is a possible chronology that — if Athaneus’s history is correct and Strabo’s is wrong — would allow translators (if they devoted themselves to study of Aristotle) to have produced the Septuagintal writings. However, that assumes a start late in the 3rd century BCE (or later) which is somewhat later than many theories postulate.

    However, there are a bunch of “if”s in that statement: early acquisition of Aristotle (possible, but contested), late start to the Septuagintal writings (possible, but contested), and rabbinical study of Aristotle (seems unlikely, but not impossible).

    I am still wondering if you are suggesting that this passage in Proverbs was inserted in the early Christian era, after all the commentaries on Aristotle that you listed. And why would a Christiann copyist add something from Aristotle anyway? And wasn’t it the more philosophical works which attracted attention at that time? If you have made a suggestion as to how or why you think this passage was added, I can’t seem to remember it.

    Well, it seems you are confused. I mentioned a late modification as an alternative hypothesis.

    * I would say that the most likely theory is that the translation represents parallel development, given the common metaphors about “bees” (and simple human observation about “worker bees”). Further, the focus of the Septuagint reference is different than the Aristotelian reference. For this reason, my most likely hypothesis is that the use of common word is purely coincidental.

    * A secondary possibility is that a modification was made after the fact. I’m not sure who added it — a pagan Greek scribe, a philosophy-loving scribe, a Christian scribe — but someone added it.

    * A third possibility (that I find remote) is your theory.

    * A fourth possibility (that I consider so unlikely as to consider impossible) is that there was a Hebrew text used by the Septuagint translators that contained this passage.

    You ask why would a Christiann copyist add something from Aristotle anyway? Other than a minor typo, that is a good question. It is an even better question to ask “why would a Jewish copyist add something from Aristotle anyway?” Since the addition weakens the rhetorical power of the text, I can find no good reason to add the text.

    One possibility (that I take seriously) is that the Septuagintal writings involved non-Jews in their creation. Cook’s book (which I have owned for a while, by the way) makes a serious case that the Septuagint Proverbs ultimately has a significant amount in common with non-Jewish Hellenistic sources.

    The lesson I learn from this, ultimately, is that this is a case where the Septuagint is an inferior text from a literary standpoint, and it also weakens the general claim that the Septuagint is useful as a witness to some hypothetical vorlage. The Septuagint is, at the end of the day, a Hellenistic text.

  35. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 28, 2012 1:00 am

    You said that 1 Tim 2;12 was similar to Proverbs 6:8, an “addition” to the text. However, now you are saying that 1 Timothy is non-Pauline. Can we continue this dialogue when you wish to make sense?

    I don’t follow your four options very well, but never mind. You continue,

    “”it also weakens the general claim that the Septuagint is useful as a witness to some hypothetical vorlage. The Septuagint is, at the end of the day, a Hellenistic text.”

    Finally, yes, that is the point of all this.

  36. February 28, 2012 1:43 am

    Suzanne: Well, aren’t you grumpy old person today.

    I’ll try to spell out the point using the simplest language I can, although I do get the impression that you are deliberately trying to being quarrelsome.

    The NOAB states that some scholars believe that parts of 1 Timothy are genuine, but that 1 Timothy 2:12 is non-Pauline.

    However, let’s suppose — as you suggest in your “gotcha” — that the entire letter was non-Pauline. That would make the entire letter an “addition” to the text, wouldn’t it?

    For more details, pick up any academic commentary.

  37. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 28, 2012 1:51 am

    “The NOAB states that some scholars believe that parts of 1 Timothy are genuine, but that 1 Timothy 2:12 is non-Pauline.”

    A citation would help.

  38. February 28, 2012 2:42 am

    p. 2084, paragraph 2.

    (This is for the 4th edition with Apocrypha: ISBN 978-0195289558)

  39. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 28, 2012 2:50 am

    Are you sending me a cheque or have you already ordered this to be delivered to my address?

  40. February 28, 2012 3:06 am

    At the Central Branch — it is due back on March 6th.

  41. February 28, 2012 7:40 am

    Suzanne and Theophrastus,
    I go away for a few days, or has it been only hours, and come back to such a vigorous back and forth. Finally, now, I’ve read each comment. Maybe this is the way to do that. Let me say that I want to contribute, my fellow co-bloggers, in only positive ways, to the conversation (that’s what this is, no?). I don’t have much time today, unfortunately. May I just summarize the common ground here?

    Cook is correct in noting that the LXX Proverb does something extremely rare: it uses the exact word that Aristotle’s biology uses.

    What’s fascinating around the discussion here is that nobody is questioning the validity of Aristotle’s text. (I mean, in the blogger Theophrastus’ attempts to enumerate the theories, the possibilities, the hypotheses, to explain that the Jewish translators in Alexandria were surely absolutely certainly not influenced by Aristotle, there’s even the analogy that non-Pauline texts were, well, non-Pauline. I think the circularity in this reasoning doesn’t quite account for all of the possibilities yet.) So let me try that. Theo A.W. van der Louw in his Transformations in the Septuagint: Towards an Interaction of Septaguint Studies and Translation Studies (2007) makes the unequivocal statement on page 278, “The fact that bees are industrious was so well-known that it is in my opinion implausible to suppose that a translator must have borrowed the term εργατις ‘industrious’ from Aristotle.” On the next page, without jumping through all the necessary hoops of having to make sure that the LXX could never ever have had any access whatsoever to Aristotle’s text, van der Louw gives his theory:

    “The function of Egyptian bee symbolism in LXX-Proverbs is not unambiguous, however. It may be a complementary wink to the powers that be, but the stress on the diligence of bees and their profitable products may also be hortatory and critical of Ptolemaic kingship. It suggests a wider readership than the Jewish community and a link to the court.”

    Well, then. What is ambiguous according to this scholar is the title of the “Pharao”: “The royal title njswt bjt more than 3000 years old by the time of our translator, runs literally ‘he of the reed and the bee'” and van der Louw gives the hieroglyph to prove it visually.

    We follow all of this quite well, wondering if the Jewish translators knowing Egyptian so well and also choosing to use Aristotle’s text’s biological bee adjective so exactly were more politically motivated against the Egyptians or the Greeks. And then, strangely, van der Louw ends his section discussing this problem with the following sentence that I find just hilarious. It’s a paragraph, the ending one, all to itself:

    “The combination of εργατις and εργασια is an example of ‘couplage etymologique’.”

    We have to follow his footnote to get to the fact that he’s read David-Marc d’Hamonville’s, Les Proverbes (2000). What’s so funny, to me anyways, is that what van der Louw acknowledges finally is not the ambiguous Egyptian hieroglyph made unambiguous by the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Proverb in Egypt; but rather he comes with amazement to the uncommon and rather playful Greek of this translation. It’s a play, of course, on that word that readers find in the text of Aristotle’s biology. Bzzzzz. That’s clever. (Well, I’m sure I can’t keep up with the conversation today, but hope you won’t mind this little aside.)

  42. February 28, 2012 11:34 am

    “The fact that bees are industrious was so well-known that it is in my opinion implausible to suppose that a translator must have borrowed the term εργατις ‘industrious’ from Aristotle.” I believe I expressed a similar opinion above.

    I do not know enough Egyptian to comment on the remaining hypothesis. I do, however, conclude that the Septuagints as we have received them are not effective witnesses.

  43. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 28, 2012 11:50 am

    The combination of εργατις and εργασια is, of course, found in Aristotle.


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