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February 8, 553 Emperor Justinian I (527-565)

The Hebrew Bible in Greek (Septuagint); Prohibition of Mishnah; Synagogues

De Hebraeis (On the Hebrews)


“It was right and proper that the Hebrews, when listening to the Holy Books, should not adhere to the literal writings but look for the prophecies contained in them, through which they announce the Great God and the Savior of the human race, Jesus Christ. However, although they have erred from the right doctrine till today, given as they are to senseless interpretations, when we learnt that they dispute among themselves we could not bear to leave them with an unresolved controversy. We have learnt from their petitions, which they have addressed to us, that while some maintain the Hebrew language only and want to use it in reading the Holy Books others consider it right to admit Greek as well, and they have already been quarreling among themselves about this for a long time. Having therefore studied this matter we decided that the better case is that of those who want to use also Greek in reading the Holy Books, and generally in any language that is the more suited and the better known to the hearers in each locality.

Chapter 1

We decree, therefore, that it shall be permitted to those Hebrews who want it to read the Holy Books in their synagogues and, in general, in any place where there are Hebrews, in the Greek language before those assembled and comprehending, or possibly in our ancestral language, or simply in all the other languages, changing language and reading according to the different places; and that through this reading the matters read shall become clear to all those assembled and comprehending, and that they shall live and act according to them. We also order that there shall be no license to the commentators they have, who employ the Hebrew language to falsify it at their will, covering their own malignity by the ignorance of the many. Furthermore, those who read in Greek shall use the Septuagint tradition, which is more accurate than all the others, and is preferable to the others particularly in reason of what happened while the translation was made, that although they divided by twos, and though they translated in different places, nevertheless they presented one version. Apart from these, who will not be amazed by this thing about these men, who lived a long time before the saving revelation of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ yet carried out the translation of the Holy Books as if they saw that this revelation was to happen in future, and as if illuminated by a prophetic grace? Let all use mainly this translation; but in order that we shall not appear to prohibit them all the other translations, we give permission to use also Akilas’ translation, although he was gentile and in some readings differs not a little from the Septuagint.

WHAT THEY CALL MISHNAH, ON THE OTHER HAND, WE PROHIBIT ENTIRELY, for it is not included among the Holy Books, nor was it handed down from above by the prophets, but it is an invention of men in their chatter, exclusively of earthly origin and having in it nothing of the divine. Let them read the holy words themselves, therefore, in unfolding these Holy Books for reading, but without hiding what is said in them, on the one hand, and without accepting extraneous and unwritten nonsense they themselves had contrived to the perdition of the more simple minded, on the other hand. In consequence of this permission granted by us, those who adopt the Greek language and the other languages shall not be subjected to any penalty at all, neither shall they be hindered by any person, nor shall those who are called among them Archipherekitae [office now of uncertain authority], or possibly Presbyters [elders] or Didascaloi [teachers], have the license to hinder them from this by any deceits or excommunications, unless they would wish to be chastened for these deeds by corporal punishments as well as by loss of property, and obey us-who desire and command deeds better and more pleasing to God-against their will.

Chapter 2

And if there are some people among them who shall attempt to introduce ungodly nonsense, denying either the resurrection or the last judgment or that the angels exist as God’s work and creation, we want these people expelled from all places, and that no word of blasphemy of this kind and absolutely erring from that knowledge of God shall be spoken. We impose the harshest punishments on those attempting to utter such a nonsense, completely purifying in this way the nation of the Hebrews from the error introduced into it.

Chapter 3

We pray that they shall avoid the evil of the commentators when they hear the Holy Books in one language or another, and that they shall not turn to the naked letter but perceive the reality and grasp the more divine sense, in order that they shall study better what is more beautiful and cease at some time to err and to sin in what is vital above anything else, we speak about the hope in God. For this reason we opened before them all the languages to read the Holy Books, that when all shall acquire knowledge of them they shall become readier to learn the better matters. It is commonly agreed, that one raised up on the Holy Books is far readier to discern and to choose what is better-and but little is wanting for his amendment-than he who does not understand a thing in them but clings to only the name of religion as though held by holy anchors and believes that God’s doctrine is but the name of heresy.


Your Glory, and the service obedient to you, shall entirely observe the matters conceived by us and promulgated in this divine law, and it shall be observed by him who will be appointed in time to this office, and he shall absolutely not allow the Hebrews to act against these matters, but impose on those resisting them or attempting to prevent them altogether firstly corporal punishments and confiscation of property, and then he shall force them to live in banishment, lest they defy in this matter God and Empire. He shall also promulgate in proclamations to the governors of provinces, imposing on them our law, in order that they too shall study it and promulgate it in every city, knowing that it is necessary to observe these matters fully, and fearing our vexation.”

Source: Council of Centers on Jewish- Christian Relations

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