Two white dwarfs, dense remnants of stars, will spiral together and explode in about 700 million years. With a combined mass about 1.76 times that of the sun, this is the first pair of white dwarf stars known to be massive enough to generate the powerful explosion known as a type 1a supernova scientists reported in the February 9, 2015 issue of Nature.
The duo are inside a nebula, only 4,600 light-years away from us, in the constellation Aquila, named after a famous Roman convert to Judaism. When they collide, they will combine into a single star that will be too massive to support its own weight, triggering a collapse into a supernova that will light up the galaxy and destroy the star.
Who was Aquila and how did he become a famous convert?
The following story is related about Aquila’s conversion in Midrash Rabba (Exodus Rabba 30:9): “Once, Aquilas said to Emperor Hadrian, ‘I wish to convert and to become one of Israel.’ Emperor Hadrian replied, ‘You are seeking [to join] that nation that I despised and massacred; the most downtrodden of the nations you are asking to join? What do you seen in them that you wish to convert and become a Jew?’
Aquila replied, ‘Even the smallest of them knows how the One God created the universe; what was created the first day and what was created the second day, and how many [years] have passed since the universe was created, and by what [things] the world is sustained. Moreover, their Torah is the truth.’
Hadrian said to Aquila, ‘Go and study their Torah, but do not be circumcised.’” Hadrian’s remark may mean that Aquila could study the Bible as a Christian, but should not become a Jew.
Aquila was a Gentile from Pontus, said by Bishop Epiphanius to have been connected by marriage to Emperor Hadrian, who appointed him to an office concerned with the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a pagan city named “Ælia Capitolina.” Epiphanius places the composition of Aquila’s translation in the twelfth year of Hadrian (129CE). Aquila had first joined the Christians, but then left them and became a convert to Judaism.
According to Bishop Jerome, Aquila was a disciple of Rabbi Akiba. The Talmud states that Aquila’s teachers were Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, Joshua ben Hananiah and Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph the convert, who oversaw Aquila’s translations of the many books of the Hebrew Bible into Greek.
This may have been a factor in Rabbi Akiba’s arrest and execution after the failure of the second Jewish revolt against the Romans led by Simeon Bar-Kochba in 132-135 CE, who Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph the convert, had proclaimed a Messianic figure.
Aquila’s translation seems to have been very successful among Greek speaking Jews. Bishop Jerome speaks of a second edition, which was read by Greek-speaking Jews as late as the time of Justinian.
Aquilas the convert, also did a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic, called Targum Onkelos.
The Babylonian Talmud states that Onkelos the convert, was a nephew of Titus, son of Hadrian on his sister’s side. The Talmud (Gitten 56b) relates that Onkelos called up the spirit of his uncle, then that of Jesus and asked their counsel as to whether he should become a Jew.
The former advised against it, as the Jews had to many laws and ceremonies; the latter replied, “Seek their peace, seek not their harm; he who assails them touches the apple of God’s eye.” These words induced Aquilas/Onkelos to become a Jew (Giṭtin 57a).
While only fragments of Aquilas’ Greek translation have survived, his Aramaic translation is still studied as part of the many commentaries included in Mikraot Gedolot.
The reason no complete mms of his Greek translations survive might be due to the influence of the author of the “Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila”, who accused Aquila’s Greek translation of anti-Christian bias,
Convert Onkelos and Convert Aquila are the reciprocal of the two white dwarf stars. Two dwarf stars that will in 700,000,000 years merge into one; and one convert who 1,900 years ago split into two translators by later tradition still enlightens generations of Jews.