The sacred task of translating the Word of God, as revealed to Israel through lawgiver, prophet, psalmist, and sage, began at an early date. According to an ancient rabbinic interpretation, Joshua had the Torah engraved upon the stones of the altar (Joshua viii. 32) not in the original Hebrew alone, but in all the languages of mankind, which were held to be seventy, in order that all men might become acquainted with the words of the Scriptures. This statement, with its universalistic tendency, is, of course, a reflex of later times, when the Hebrew Scriptures had become a subject of curiosity and perhaps also of anxiety to the pagan or semi-pagan world.
While this tradition contains an element of truth, it is certain that the primary object of translating the Bible was to minister to a need nearer home. Upon the establishment of the Second Commonwealth under Ezra and Nehemiah, it became imperative to make the Torah of God 'distinct and giving sense' through the means of interpretation (Nehemiah viii. 8 and xiii. 24), that the Word of God might be understood by all the people. The Rabbis perceived in this activity of the first generation of the Sopherim the origin of the Aramaic translation known as the Targum, first made orally and afterwards committed to writing, which was necessitated by the fact that Israel had forgotten the sacred language, and spoke the idiom current in a large part of western Asia. All this, however, is veiled in obscurity, as is the whole inner history of the Jews during the Persian rule.
The historic necessity for translation was repeated with all the great changes in Israel's career. It is enough to point to the Septuagint, or the Greek translation of the Scriptures, the product of Israel's contact with the Hellenistic civilization dominating the world at that time; to the Arabic translation by the Gaon Saadya, when the great majority of the Jewish people came under the sceptre of Mohammedan rulers; and to the German translation by Mendelssohn and his school, at the dawn of a new epoch, which brought the Jews in Europe, most of whom spoke a German dialect, into closer contact with their neigh-