Aquila of Sinope

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Martyrdom of Aquila of Sinope (Kosovo, Grachanica, c. 1318)

Aquila of Sinope (2nd century CE) was a native of Pontus, celebrated for a very literal and accurate translation of the Old Testament into Greek.

Only fragments of this translation have survived in what remains of fragmentary documents taken from the 1st and 2nd Book of Kings, and from the Psalms, found in the old Cairo Geniza in Fostat (Egypt), while excerpts taken from the Hexapla written in the glosses of certain manuscripts of the Septuagint were collected earlier and published by Frederick Field in his momentous work, Origenis Hexaplorum quæ Supersunt, Oxford, 1875.[1] Epiphanius (De Ponderibus et Mensuris, chap. xiii-xvi.; ed. Migne, ii. 259-264) preserves a tradition that he was a kinsman of the Emperor Hadrian, who employed him in rebuilding Jerusalem (as Aelia Capitolina), and that Aquila was converted to Christianity but, on being reproved for practicing astrology, 'apostatized' to Judaism.[2] He is said also to have been a disciple of Rabbi Akiva (d. ca. 132 CE).

In Jewish writings he is referred to as עקילס (Aquilas). Aquila's version is said to have been used in place of the Septuagint in Greek-speaking synagogues. The Christians generally disliked it, alleging that it rendered the Messianic passages incorrectly, but Jerome and Origen speak in its praise. Origen incorporated it in his Hexapla.

It was thought that this was the only copy extant, but in 1897 fragments of two codices were brought to the Cambridge University Library. These have been published: the fragments AqBurkitt containing 1 Kings xx. 7-17; 2 Kings xxiii. 12-27 by F. C. Burkitt in 1897, those containing parts of Psalms xc.-ciii. (signed as AqTaylor) by C. Taylor in 1899. See F. C. Burkitt's article in the Jewish Encyclopaedia.

The surviving fragments of this translation, and of other Greek translations forming part of Origen's Hexapla, are now being re-published (with additional materials discovered since Field's edition) by an international group of Septuagint scholars. This work is being carried out as The Hexapla Project [3] under the auspices of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies,[4] and directed by Peter J. Gentry (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Alison G. Salvesen (Oxford University), and Bas ter Haar Romeny (Leiden University).

Aramaic Targum[edit]

The leading Aramaic Targum (translation) of the Pentateuch, as appended to most printed Hebrew texts of the Five Books of Moses, is known as Targum Onkelos. The name "Onkelos" is thought to be a corruption of "Aquila", and sometimes similar legends are told about both translations (and both translators, if they were different). It is not clear how much (if any) of the Aramaic translation was based on the Greek.

Early Rabbinic reference to Aquila's conversion[edit]

The following story is related about Aquila’s conversion in the old Hebrew classic, Midrash Rabba (Exodus Rabba 30:9): “Once, Aquilas said to Hadrian the king, ‘I wish to convert and to become one of Israel.’ He answered him, ‘You are seeking [to join] that nation? How have I despised it! How have I killed it; the most downtrodden of the nations you are asking to join!? What have you seen in them that you wish to be made a proselyte?’ He replied, ‘The smallest of them knows how the Holy One, blessed be He, created the universe; what was created on the first day and what was created on the second day, and how many [years] have passed since the universe was created, and by what [things] the world is sustained. Moreover, their Divine Law is the truth.’ He said to him, ‘Go and study their Divine Law, but do not be circumcised.’ Aquilas then said to him, ‘Even the wisest man in your kingdom, and an elder who is aged one-hundred, cannot study their Divine Law if he isn’t circumcised, for thus is it written: He makes known his words unto Jacob, even his precepts and judgments unto Israel. He has not done the like of which to any other nation (Ps. 147:19-20). Unto whom, then, [has he done it]? Unto the sons of Israel!’”