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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Ptolemies

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(ptahl' eh meess) Dynastic powers which emerged in Egypt in the aftermath of the conquests of Alexander the Great.

Ptolemy I Soter (323-383 B.C.) established the dynasty which bears his name and moved the capitol of Egypt from Memphis to Alexandria, the city Alexander founded. He and his successors ruled an empire that included at times Cyrenaica, Palestine, Phoenicia, Cyprus and some parts of western Asia Minor and the Aegean. Ptolemaic policies brought great wealth to the state through taxation and trade. The Ptolemies did not force Hellenization upon native populations, but the obvious commercial, cultural, and social benefits of Ptolemaic policies led to greater acceptance of Hellenistic ideas and customs. Land was farmed out under state control, and the reserves funneled to the central government. Payment of heavy yearly taxes, however, assured a measure of local autonomy. The Ptolemies introduced a ruler cult, but permitted native religions to continue unimpeded. In addition to Ptolemy I, the most energetic of these rulers were Ptolemy II Philadelphus (282-246 B.C.) and Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221 B.C.).

The Ptolemies made Alexandria a center of learning and commerce. In particular the early Ptolemies supported a large group of scholars at the famous Museum and developed the nucleus of the great library. The Ptolemies founded or refurbished several cities in Palestine and Transjordan giving them Greek names and often endowing them with Greek features. Examples included Acco renamed Ptolemais, Bethshan now termed Scythopolis, and ancient Rabboth-Ammon refounded as Philadelphia.

Ptolemaic rule directly impacted Jews both inside and outside of Palestine. During the campaigns to secure Palestine for Egypt, Ptolemy I transported large numbers of Jews from Palestine to Alexandria for settlement. This was the beginning of a large and influential Jewish community which prospered by maintaining good relations with the Ptolemies, frequently serving as mercenaries and merchants. Soon Alexandria became a major center of world Jewry. The Alexandrian Jews imbibed Hellenism much more deeply than their counterparts in Judea as evidenced by the need to translate the Old Testament writings into Greek. This translation, known as the Septuagint, probably was begun in the reign of Ptolomy II, but was not completed until about 100 B.C.

The Ptolemies treated Judea as a Temple state given over by the king in trust to the high priest at Jerusalem. Authority in religious and most civil matters was granted the high priest in lieu of a yearly tax.

During the reign of Ptolemy II, the first of five wars with the Seleucids over possession of Palestine broke out. Egypt successfully resisted the Seleucid challenge under the first three Ptolemaic rulers. However, Ptolemaic power began to wane under Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-204 B.C.), a notorious womanizer. In 200 B.C., Antiochus III defeated the Egyptian army at Banyas (later Caesarea Philippi) and seized control of Palestine. Subsequently, the Ptolemaic kingdom declined and increasingly came under the influence of Rome. Cleopatra VII was the last Ptolemaic ruler prior to the annexation of Egypt to Rome in 30 B.C. Tommy Brisco

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Ptolemies'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/p/ptolemies.html. 1991.

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