There were really seventy-two of these men, according to the story, although the Latin septuaginta means “seventy” only.
The story was supposed to have been told by a man of Cyprus, Aristeas by name, in a letter to his brother Philocrates, some time during the reign of Ptolemy II, 285 to 247 B.C.
It relates that the king had been requested to have a copy of the laws of the Jews translated into Greek. The king agreed, and the chief priest of the Jews was asked to appoint six learned men from each of the twelve tribes to perform the task.
These seventy-two men were lodged in a house on the island of Pharos, the letter went on to say, and there they completed their difficult task within the space of seventy-two days.
Modern scholars do not wholly accept this story. They agree, however, that the Jewish laws were translated into Greek in Alexandria and at the time stated, but do not believe that it was done at the request of Ptolemy. Nor by seventy-two men in seventy-two days.
They think it more likely that the translation was made solely for the benefit of the Greek-speaking Jews who lived in Alexandria. The remainder of the Old Testament was later translated.
Nevertheless, this earliest Greek version of the Old Testament, traditionally ascribed to seventy-two (or, in round numbers, seventy) Jewish scholars, has become known as the Septuagint, often expressed by the Roman numeral, “LXX.”