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Translator of the canonical Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek. He was by birth a Gentile from Pontus, and is said by Epiphanius to have been a connection by marriage of the emperor Hadrian and to have been appointed by him about the year 128 to an office concerned with the rebuilding of Jerusalem as "Ælia Capitolina." At some unknown age he joined the Christians, but afterward left them and became a proselyte to Judaism. According to Jerome he was a disciple of Rabbi Akiba. The Talmud states that he finished his translations under the influence of R. Akiba and that his other teachers were Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and Joshua ben Hananiah. It is certain, however, that Aquila's translation had appeared before the publication of Irenæus' "Adversus Hæreses"; i.e., before 177.
The work seems to have been entirely successful as regards the purpose for which it was intended (Jerome speaks of a second edition which embodied corrections by the author), and it was read by the Greek-speaking Jews even in the time of Justinian (Novella, 146). It was used intelligently and respectfully by great Christian scholars like Origen and Jerome, while controversialists of less merit and learning, such as the author of the "Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila" (published in 1898 by F. C. Conybeare), found it worth their while to accuse Aquila of anti-Christian bias, and to remind their Jewish adversaries of the superior antiquity of the Septuagint. But no manuscript until quite recently was known to have survived, and our acquaintance with the work came from the scattered fragments of Origen's "Hexapla." The reason of this is to be found in the Mohammedan conquests; the need of a Greek version for Jews disappeared when Greek ceased to be the lingua franca of Egypt and the Levant.Fragments in the "Hexapla."
The "Hexapla"—a colossal undertaking compiled by Origen (died about 254) with the object of correcting the text of the Septuagint—consisted of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, the Hebrew text in Greek letters, the Septuagint itself as revised by Origen, and the Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, all arranged in six parallel columns. With the exception of two recently discovered fragments of the Psalms, one coming from Milan, the other from Cairo,
Contrary to expectation, the readings of Aquila derived from the "Hexapla" can now be supplemented by fragmentary manuscripts of the translation itself. These were discovered in 1897, partly by F. C. Burkitt, among the mass of loose documents brought to Cambridge from the geniza of the Old Synagogue at Cairo through the enterprise of Dr. S. Schechter and Dr. C. Taylor, master of St. John's College, Cambridge. Three of the six leaves already found came from a codex of Kings (i.e., they probably formed part of a codex of the Former Prophets), and three came from a codex of the Psalms. The portions preserved are I Kings xx 7-17; II Kings xxiii. 11-27 (edited by F. C. Burkitt, 1897); Ps. xc. 17, ciii. 17 with some breaks (edited by Taylor, 1900). The numbering is that of the Hebrew Bible, not the Greek. The fragments do not bear the name of the translator, but the style of Aquila is too peculiar to be mistaken. The handwriting is a Greek uncial of the sixth century. Dr. Schechter assigns the later Hebrew writing to the eleventh century. All six leaves are palimpsests, and in places are somewhat difficult to decipher.
The special value of the Cairo manuscripts is that they permit a more just conception of the general effect of Aquila's version, where it agrees with the Septuagint as well as where it differs. It is now possible to study the rules of syntax followed by Aquila with far greater precision than before. At the same time the general result has been to confirm what the best authorities had already reported.Character of Aquila's Version.
The main feature of Aquila's version is its excessive literalness. His chief aim was to render the Hebrew into Greek word for word, without any regard for Greek idiom. The same Greek word is regularly used for the same Hebrew, however incongruous the effect. Thus καί stands for ו in all its varied significations; and, as καίγε is used for
The general effect of this pedantry may be seen from the following specimen (II Kings xxiii. 25):
|καὶ ὅμοιος αὐτῷ οὐκ ἐγενήθη εἰς πρόσωπον αὐτοῦβασιλεὺς|
|ὃς ἐπέστρεψεν πρὸς |
|καὶ ἐν πάσῃ ψυχῇ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐν πάσῃ σφοδρότητι |
|—||κατὰ πάντα νόμον Mωσῆ|
|καὶ μετ' αὐτὸν οὐκ ἀνέστη ὅμοιος αὐτῶ|
In both the Cairo manuscripts the Tetragrammaton is not translated, but is transcribed in letters similar to those used in the Siloam inscription and on Jewish coins.
It would be a mistake to put down the harshness of Aquila's translation to ignorance of Greek. He resorted to mere transliteration less than any other ancient translator, and had command of a large Greek vocabulary. Field (introduction, xxiii. et seq.) has collected a number of expressions that show Aquila's acquaintance with Homer and Herodotus. It was no doubt from classical Greek literature that Aquila borrowed the use of the enclitic δε to express the toneless ה of locality; for instance, νότονδε for
Aquila as a Witness:
Illustrations of Aquila's dependence on Jewish tradition are to be found in the Ḳeri readings adopted by him; e.g.,
V02p035010.jpgfor V02p035011.jpg, Gen. xxx. 11, and the euphemism in Isa. xxxvi. 12. The scrupulous exactness with which Aquila translates the particles is to be explained by his having been a disciple of Akiba, whose method of exegesis was to lay great stress upon the meanings hidden in the lesser parts of speech. Instances are ὡς κατήντι αὐτου for V02p035014.jpg, Gen. ii. 18; and ἀπὸ ἐγκάτων σου for V02p035015.jpg, Deut. iv. 3. This scrupulosity may be contrasted with the Targumic freedom of Aquila's ἠπληστεύσατό μοι for V02p035016.jpgJer. li. 34, where the metaphor that Nebuchadnezzar had "eaten" Jerusalem has been turned into prose.
1. Consonantal Text.—The extreme literalness of Aquila's methods enables the reader to restore with confidence the Hebrew from which he translated. There are a few instances where he preserves old readings found also in the Septuagint; e.g.,
2. Aquila represents a period in Jewish exegesis anterior to the Masoretic vocalization. Here priority in time does not invariably mean superiority of reading: where it is a question of knowledge of Hebrew rather than of purity of transmitted text, the later scholars often do better than their predecessors. Thus Aquila can hardly have been right in connecting
It is interesting to note that Aquila does not agree with the Masoretic punctuation in pointing the names of heathen gods (e.g.,
Aquila's renderings of the Hebrew tenses are often most inadequate. It is only on grounds of imperfect knowledge that the aorists can be defended in passages like καὶ ἐπιβλυσμὸς ἀνήβη ἐκ τῆς γῆς καὺἐπότισε πᾶν τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς χθονός for
The transliterations of Hebrew words into Greek letters are of some interest as showing the pronunciation current in Palestine about the middle of the second century. The most noticeable points are the complete disappearance of all four gutturals and therepresentation of צ (in the Cairo fragment of the Psalms) by τ; e.g., τειών for
Aquila's translation occupied one of the columns of Origen's "Hexapla," and so was accessible to Christian scholars. Very considerable use of it was made by Jerome in preparing the Latin version now known as the Vulgate, though (as we might expect) the more pedantic features are dropped in borrowing. Thus in Ex. xxxii. 25 Jerome's propter ignominiam sordis comes from Aquila's εἰς ὄνομα ῥύπου (
More important for modern scholars is the use made of Aquila's version in Origen's revision of the Septuagint. The literary sources of the Latin Vulgate are merely a point of Biblical archeology, but the recovery of the original text of the Septuagint is the great practical task which now lies before the textual critic of the Old Testament. Recent investigation has made it clear that Origen's efforts to emend the Greek from the Hebrew were only too successful, and that every known text and recension of the Septuagint except the scanty fragments of the Old Latin have been influenced by the Hexaplar revision. One must learn how to detect Origen's hand and to collect and restore the original readings, before the Septuagint is in a fit state to be critically used in emending the Hebrew. The discussion of this subject belongs rather to the criticism of the "Hexapla" than to a separate article on Aquila. It will suffice here to point out that Aquila's version is one of the three sources by the aid of which the current texts of the Septuagint have been irregularly revised into conformity with a Hebrew text like that of our printed Bibles. For the association of the Targum of the Pentateuch with his name see
- Field, Origenis Hexaplorum quœ Supersunt, Oxford, 1875;
- Wellhausen and Bleek, Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 4th ed., pp. 578-582, Berlin, 1878;
- Burkitt, Fragments of the Books of Kings According to the Translation of Aquila, Cambridge, 1897;
- Taylor, Origen's Hexapla (part of Ps. xxii.), Cambridge, 1901;
- S. Krauss, in the Steinschneider-Zeitschrift, 1896, pp. 148-163.
- [See also Taylor's Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, 2d ed., pp. viii. et seq.]
"Aquila the Proselyte" (
This accords with the date which Epiphanius ("De Ponderibus et Mensuris, " chap. xiii-xvi.; ed. Migne, ii. 259-264) gives when he places the composition of Aquila's translation in the twelfth year of Hadrian (129). A certain Aquila of Pontus is mentioned in a tannaite source (Sifra, Behar I. 1 [ed. Weiss, 106b; ed. Warsaw, 102a]). And, seeing that Irenæus (l.c. iii. 21) and Epiphanius (l.c.) agree that Aquila came from that place, it is quite probable that the reference is to the celebrated Aquila, although the usual epithet, "the Proselyte," is missing. Aquila of Pontus is mentioned three times in the New Testament (Acts xviii. 2; Rom. xvi. 3; II Tim. iv. 19), which is only a mere coincidence, as the name "Aquila" was no doubt quite common among the Jews, and a haggadist bearing it is mentioned in Gen. R. i. 12. Zunz, however, identifies the latter with the Bible translator. Friedmann's suggestion that in the Sifra passage a place in the Lebanon called "Pontus" is intended has been completely refuted by Rosenthal ("Monatsschrift," xli. 93).Relation to Onkelos.
A more difficult question to answer is the relationship of Aquila to the "proselyte Onkelos," of whom the Babylonian Talmud and the Tosefta have much to relate. There is, of course, no doubt that these names have been repeatedly interchanged. The large majority of modern scholars consider the appellation "Targum of Onkelos," as applied to the Targum of the Pentateuch, as a confusion (originating among the Babylonians) of the current Aramaic version (attributed by them to Onkelos) with the Greek one of Aquila. But it will not do simply to transfer everything that is narrated of Onkelos to Aquila, seeing that in the Tosefta (see index to Zuckermandel's edition) mention is made of the relation of Onkelosto Gamaliel, who (if Gamaliel II. is meant) died shortly after the accession of Hadrian, while it is particularly with the relations between the pious proselyte and the emperor Hadrian that the Haggadah delights to deal. It is said that the emperor once asked the former to prove that the world depends, as the Jews maintain, upon spirit. In demonstration Aquila caused several camels to be brought and made them kneel and rise repeatedly before the emperor. He then had them choked, when, of course, they could not rise. "How can they rise?" the emperor asked. "They are choked." "But they only need a little air, a little spirit," was Aquila's reply, proving that life is not material (Yer. Hag. ii. V. beginning 77a; Tan., Bereshit, ed. Vienna, 3b).
Concerning Aquila's conversion to Judaism, legend has the following to say: Aquila was the son of Hadrian's sister. Always strongly inclined to Judaism, he yet feared to embrace it openly in the emperor's proximity. He, therefore, obtained permission from his uncle to undertake commercial journeys abroad, not so much for the sake of profit as in order to see men and countries, receiving from him the parting advice to invest in anything the value of which was temporarily depreciated, as in all probability it would rise again. Aquila went to Palestine, and devoted himself so strenuously to the study of the Torah that both R. Eliezer and R. Joshua noticed his worn appearance, and were surprised at the evident earnestness of the questions he put to them concerning Jewish law. On returning to Hadrian he confessed his zealous study of Israel's Torah and his adoption of the faith, surprising the emperor, however, by stating that this step had been taken upon his, the emperor's, advice. "For," said he, "I have found nothing so deeply neglected and held in such depreciation as the Law and Israel; but both, no doubt, will rise again as Isaiah has predicted" (Isa. xlix. 7, "Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship"). Upon Hadrian's inquiry why he embraced Judaism, Aquila replied that he desired very much to learn the Torah, and that he could not do this without entering the Abrahamic covenant: just as no soldier could draw his pay without bearing arms, no one could study the Torah thoroughly without obeying the Jewish laws (Tan., Mishpaṭim, V. ed. Buber, with a few variations, ii. 81, 82; Ex. R. xxx. 12). The last point of this legend is no doubt directed against Christianity, which acknowledges the Law, but refuses obedience to it, and is of all the more interest if taken in connection with Christian legends concerning Aquila. Epiphanius, for instance, relates that Aquila was by birth a Greek from Sinope in Pontus, and a relation (πενθερίδες) of Hadrian, who sent him, forty-seven years after the destruction of the Temple (that is 117, the year of Hadrian's accession) to Jerusalem to superintend the rebuilding of that city under the name of "Ælia Capitolina," where he became first a Christian and then a Jew (see Aquila).
A reflection of the alleged adoption of Christianity by Aquila, as related by Epiphanius, may be discerned in the following legend of the Babylonian Talmud in reference to the proselyte Onkelos, nephew of Titus on his sister's side. According to this, Onkelos called up the shade of his uncle, then that of the prophet Balaam, and asked their counsel as to whether he should become a Jew. The former advised against it, as the Jews had so many laws. and ceremonies; the latter, with characteristic spitefulness, replied in the words of Scripture, "Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity" (Deut. xxiii. 7 [A. V. 6]). He then conjured up the founder of the Church, who replied, "Seek theirpeace, seek not their harm; he who assails them touches the apple of God's eye." These words induced him to become a Jew (Giṭ. 56b, 57a). The founder of the Church (according to the Jewish legend) and the mother-church in Jerusalem (according to the Christian version) were the means of Aquila's becoming a Jew.
The traces of the legend concerning Flavius Clemens, current alike among Jews and Christians, seem to have exerted some influence upon this Onkelos-Aquila tradition; but Lagarde goes so far as to explain Sinope in Pontus as being "Sinuessa in Pontia," where Dimitilla, the wife of Flavius Clemens, lived in exile. Irenæus, who wrote before 177, states that Pontus was Aquila's home. It is very questionable whether the account of Aquila in the Clementine writings ("Recognitiones," vii. 32, 33)—an imperial prince who first embraced Judaism, and then, after all manner of vagaries, Christianity—was merely a Christian form of the Aquila legend, although Lagarde supports the assumption. The following Midrash deserves notice: Aquila is said to have asked R. Eliezer why, if circumcision were so important, it had not been included in the Ten Commandments (Pesiḳ. R. xxiii. 116b et seq.; Tan., Lek Leka, end; ed. Vienna, 20b, reads quite erroneously "Agrippa" in place of "Aquila"), a question frequently encountered in Christian polemic literature. That Aquila's conversion to Judaism was a gradual one appears from the question he addressed to Rabbi Eliezer: "Is the whole reward of a proselyte to consist in receiving food and raiment?" (see Deut. x. 18). The latter angrily answered that what had been sufficient for the patriarch Jacob (Gen. xxviii. 20) should be sufficient for Aquila. When Aquila put the same question to Rabbi Joshua, the latter reassured him by expounding "food and raiment" as meaning metaphorically "Torah and ṭallit." Had not Joshua been so gentle, the Midrash adds, Aquila would have forsaken Judaism (Eccl. R. to vii. 8; Gen. R. lxx. 5; Ex. R. xix. 4, abbreviated). The purport of this legend is to show that at the time Aquila had not been firmly convinced.His Work.
His work is less familiar in Rabbinical Literature than his personality; for not more than a dozen quotations from his translation are mentioned. The following are interesting evidences of its general character. He translates
The Midrash expounds the words
Aquila's theology is illustrated by his translation of
Whether Greek words found in Talmud and Midrash, other than those specifically stated to have been introduced by Aquila, really originated with him, as Krauss maintains, is more than doubtful. In Palestine there was little demand for a Greek Bible, in Babylonia absolutely none at all. Therefore all Greek expressions found in Jewish writings must have emanated from popular usage and not from literary sources. See Flavius Clemens; Clementina;
- Anger, De Onkelo Chaldaico, 1845;
- Brüll, Aquila's Bibelübersetzung, in Ben Chananja, vi. 233 et seq., 299 et seq.;
- Friedmann, Onkelos und Akylas, passim;
- S. Krauss, Akylas, in Festschrift zum 80. Geburtstage Steinschneiders, pp. 148-163;
- Azariah dei Rossi, Meör 'Enayim, ed. Benjacob, xlv. 112-121;
- Schürer, Geschichte des Jüdischen Volkes, 3d ed., iii. 317-321 (the list of literature given by Schürer may be supplemented from Friedmann's book);
- P. de Lagarde, Mittheilungen, i. 36-40.