Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Alexandria, Jews in.
Whether the founder of Alexandria transplanted a Jewish colony into Egypt, or the first Ptolemy removed many Jewish prisoners to Egypt who received their freedom from his successor, or even a remnant of those emigrants who sought refuge in Egypt after the destruction of the first Temple had preserved themselves there, it is certain that the Jewish population was very numerous, numbering in Philo's time as many as a million (see Philo, In Flaccum, § 6; ed. Mangey, 2, 523).
I. Employment and Institutions. — The Jews had spread all over Egypt, from the Libyan desert in the north to, the borders of Ethiopia in the south. In Egypt and Cyrene the Jews enjoyed the same privileges as the Greek inhabitants, and, because both having settled there at the same time, they were even preferred to the Egyptian aborigines, who, being once vanquished, were treated as such by their rulers. The Alexandrian Jews felt very proud of this equalization (ἰσοπολιτεία ). The greatest number of Jews resided at Alexandria, which was, next to Rome, the second town for commerce and political importance, and, in the same manner, next to Athens, the second for arts and sciences. Of the five parts of Alexandria the Jews occupied almost two; especially the quarter called Delta (Josephus, War, 2, 18, 8), situated on the sea-shore, was entirely inhabited by them. As an Egyptian ruler had granted them the right of inspection over the navigation of both sea and river, they availed themselves of the opportunity thus offered to carry on a large trade by sea; and prosperity, together with a refined mode of life, was the fruit of activity. But commerce was in nowise their exclusive occupation. There were among the Alexandrian Jews tradesmen and artists; if any artists were wanted for the Temple in Jerusalem, they were always called from Alexandria (Talm. Yocma, 38 a; Erachin, 10 b), just as they were formerly obtained from Phoenicia. They acquired also the Grecian art of war and policy, as well as the melodious Greek language, and at length absorbed themselves in Grecian erudition and philosophy, so that many of them understood Homer and Plato quite as well as they did Moses and Solomon; while others, as statesmen and generals, rendered great services to the rulers of Egypt. Thus the Jewish congregation of Alexandria was admitted to be a strong pillar of Judaism. At the head of the Egyptian Jews was a chief president, who was of priestly descent, with high judicial powers, bearing the Grecian name Alabarch; he had to see to the proper payment of taxes of all the Jews, whom he was bound to protect under all circumstances. Besides him, there existed also a High Council (γερουσία ), a facsimile of the Jerusalem one, being composed of seventy members, who managed all religious affairs (Philo, In Flaccum, ed. Mangey, 2, 528).
In every part of the town houses of prayer, called προσευχαί, were erected, among which the building occupied as the chief synagogue was noted for its artistic style, elegance, and beautiful endowments. Each guild had its own place, in order that every stranger entering the synagogue might at once recognise his guild and be able to join his colleagues. In the Talmud treatise Sukkah, fol. 10, Colossians 2, we find the following graphic description of the synagogue in Alexandria: "He who has never seen the double hall of Alexandria has never beheld the majesty of Israel. It rose like a great palace (basilica); there was colonnade within colonnade; at times a throng of people filled the building twice as great as that which went out of Egypt with Moses. There were seventy golden chairs within inlaid with precious stones and pearls, according to the number of the seventy elders of the Sanhedrim. Each of these cost twenty-five millions of golden denarii. In the midst arose an alhamra of wood, on which stood the choir-leader of the synagogue. When any one rose to read in the law, the president waved a linen banner, and the people answered ‘ Amen.' At every benediction which the president spoke he waved the banner, and the people answered ‘ Amen.' They did not sit promiscuously," etc. The houses of prayer in Alexandria were also houses of instruction, for on all Sabbaths and festivals discourses were held by those well versed in Scripture, who explained in the Greek language the appointed portion of the Pentateuch which had previously been read to the congregation. During the Syrian oppressions, many prominent Jewish emigrants came from Judaea to Alexandria, and the most eminent among them was Onias, the youngest son of Onias III., the last legitimate high-priest, who, when his aged and venerable father was murdered, thought himself no longer safe in the mother country. The king of Egypt received him very favorably, and Onias rendered him, as general, many important services.
When, soon afterwards, the Temple was defiled by the Syrians, and especially when Alcimos was illegally made high-priest, Onias resolved to erect a lawful temple in Egypt in place of the one defiled in Jerusalem, and whose high-priest he himself should be. In order to obtain the consent of the Jews, he backed his proposition by referring them to the prophecy in Isaiah 19:19, which should thus become fulfilled — "One day an altar of the Lord will stand in Egypt." The then reigning king, Ptolemy Philometor, gave him for the purpose a plot of land in the neighborhood of Heliopolis, four and a half geographical miles north-east of Memphis, in the land of Goshen, wherein Jacob's descendants had dwelt till the departure from Egypt. In the small town Leontopolis, on the ruins of an Egyptian idol-temple, where once animals had been worshipped, Onias built a sanctuary for the only one God. Its exterior did not entirely correspond with the Jerusalem Temple, but was more in the form of a tower, and built of fire-bricks, while the interior contained the vessels of the temple after the model in Jerusalem, except that the standing candlestick of seven branches was replaced by a golden chandelier, fixed on a golden chain. Priests and Levites who had escaped the persecution in Judaea served in Onias's temple. For the support of the temple and the priests, the king resigned in the most generous manner, all the revenues of the Heliopolitanic country. This happened about the year 160. Although the Egyptian Jews considered the temple of Onias as their centre, whither they all went on pilgrimage during festivals and took their sacrifices, yet they never placed it on a par with the one in Jerusalem. They, on the contrary, honored Jerusalem as the most sacred capital of all Judaism and its Temple as a divine place. As soon as the latter received its former dignity after the Syrian wars, they fulfilled towards it all their religious obligations in sending yearly, their contributions by their own deputies, and also sacrificed there now and then. But the Jews of Jerusalem were, nevertheless, dissatisfied with this foreign temple; and although they did not exactly condemn it, yet they maintained that it was opposed: to the express determination of the law (Deuteronomy 12:13). The priests of the temple of Onias were not permitted to do service in Jerusalem; but they were not deprived of their priestly dignity, and received their share of contributions belonging to the priests (Menachoth, 109 a).
II. Literary Productions. — On account of many refugees coming from Judaea to Egypt, who, owing to their great attachment to the Mosaic law, gave up their fatherland, after suffering innumerable afflictions, a desire arose in the Egyptian king to become acquainted with this so much honored law, especially as Antiochus, the persecutor of the Jews, was also his enemy. He ordered, therefore, that seventy-two theologians should come from the Holy Land, to whom he gave the commission of translating for him the law of Moses into Greek. In order that they should be undisturbed in this important work, and that no communication should take place between them, he brought them to the isle of Pharos, situated a ah art distance from Alexandria, where he placed each of them in a separate apartment; yet their separate labor is said to have agreed, proving to the king the correctness of their interpretation. This translation .is therefore generally called the translation of the Seventy. (See SEPTUAGINT). In course of time, also, the remaining books of Holy Writ were translated; nay, even independently of these, some other books, facsimiles of the Biblical ones, were composed, such as the Book of Wisdom, and mostly the so-called Apocrypha, except the Book of Sirach. which was originally written in the sacred tongue. The completion of this work caused great joy among the Jews of Alexandria and Egypt. They were proud that the Greeks, boasting so much of their wisdom, at length perceived how much more sublime and ancient the wisdom of Judaism was than the doctrines of Grecian philosophers. It pleased them to be able to say, "Behold, Moses is greater than your philosophers." Therefore, in remembrance of this event, the day on which the king received the translation was kept as a jubilee on the isle of Pharos.
The Alexandrian Jews, however, were not satisfied with merely translating the books of their ancestors, but they produced a number of works of their own, the authors of which, together with fragments, are known to us from quotations preserved in Eusebius, or rather Alexander Polyhistor. The latter, who flourished between B.C. 90 and 80, is the author of a work, Hepi ‘ Iovaiwv, in which he gives extracts from Jewish Hellenistic writers. Some of these excerpts, again, have been quoted by Eusebius in his Proeparatio Evangelica (9, 17-39). These authors are in part historians, viz.:
1. Eupolemsus (Eusebius, Proepar. Evangel. 9, 17, 26, 30-34, 39), the author of nepl Περὶ Ι᾿ουδαίων τῆς Ἀσσυρίας and Περὶ τῆς ῾Ηλίου Προφητείας, and, according to Clem. Alex. (Strom. 1, 343, ed. Sylburg), also the author of Περὶ τῶν ἐν τῇ Ι᾿ουδείᾷ Βασιλέων. Josephus,who also mentions this author (Apion, 1, 23), did not regard him as a Jew; but from the preserved fragments there can be no doubt as to his Jewish origin.
2. Artapanus (Eusebius, Prcepar. Evangel. 9, 18, 23, 27) wrote Ι᾿ουδαικά, or Περὶ Ι᾿ουδαίων. The preserved fragments speaking of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, also lead us to the conclusion that he was of Jewish descent.
3. Demetlrins (Eusebius, ibid. 9, 21, 29) treats in his history (the title of which is unknown) of Jacob and Moses. That he was a Jew there can be no doubt.
4. Aristeas (Eusebins, ibid. 9, 25) wrote a historical work, Περὶ Ι᾿ουδαίων. His fragments, which indicate his Jewish origin, speak of Job. Eusebius cites also some poets, viz.:
5. The tragedian Ezekiel (Prcepar. Evangel. 9, 28, 29), who wrote a drama entitled Ε᾿ξαγωγή, which treats of the Exodus from Egypt. In the first fifty-nine lines (the Greek text is given by Delitzsch in his Geschichte der judischen Poesie, p. 211 sq.) Moses is introduced conversing with Zipporab, to whom he describes the fate of Israel in Egypt and his own history. He questions her about the seven virgins whom he sees in her company (ὁρῶ δὲ ταύτας ἑπτὰ παρθένους τινάς ),. After her reply there follows a description of the watering of the flock, of the marriage of Moses and Zipporah, and a fragment of a dialogue between the latter and Choum. In another fragment Moses relates a dream to his father-in-law. In another Moses is introduced as standing before the burning bush, and God is represented as speaking unto him. Then follow "Moses' objections, Gods' commission to Aaron, and the gift of the rod, whose wonder- working powers are described at great length. The whole concludes with a description of the drowning of Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea, as given by an escaped Egyptian. (For Ezekiel's tragedy and the following writers work, comp. Philippson, Ezekiel, des judischen ‘rauerspieldichters Auszunq aus Aegypten, und Philo, des uilteren, Jerusalem [Berlin, 1830]).
6. Philo (Ensebius, Praepar. Evangel. 9, 20, 24, 37), who wrote Περὶ τὰ ῾Ιερουσόλυμα; and
7. Theodotus (Ensebius, ibid. 9, 22), the author of an epic poem Περὶ Ι᾿ουδαίων. He seems to have been a Samaritan, since he calls Sichem "the holy city."
III. Alexandrian Philosophy of Religion. — "A philosophy of religion among the Jews appears, at first thought, an unwarranted expression. How could they, who, on the intellectual and religious side, secluded themselves so sedulously from all intercourse with neighboring peoples and were fully determined to give no admission to their sacrilegious notions concerning God and religious matters, come to feel any need of a religious philosophy or to have any inclination for it. The reason was that the attempted seclusion, especially in Alexandria, was far from complete, the spiritual blockade being inadequate to accomplish its purpose. It was inevitable that Greek ideas would follow the Greek language, and as soon as the doors were opened wide enough to admit the Sept. version some other means of defence than simple attempts to exclude and ignore the supposed hostile force were imperative. Hence began the period of compromise. Hellenism and the Hellenistic philosophy were an effort to harmonize the revelation of the Old Test. with the current and dominant teachings of Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras. Jewish scholars, like the author of the Book of Wisdom, like Aristobulus, and Philo, did not intend by any means to surrender anything essential to their faith, but, on the contrary, to win for their own prophets and wise men, even among the Greeks, a position higher than that held by their most admired philosophers. They hoped to beat the enemy on his own ground."
The main seat of this Judaeo-philosophic activity was Alexandria; but it would be erroneous to think that outside of Alexandria Jewish philosophy was not cultivated. Alexandria, however, was naturally the central place for this branch of science. Thus the oldest Jewish philosopher whom we know, Aristobulus, was an Alexandrian. He lived in the time of Ptolemy Philometor, about B.C. 160, and wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch, fragments of which have been preserved by Eusebius (Praepar. Evangel. 7, 14; 8, 10; 13, 12) and Clemens Alexandrinus (Strom. 1, 342; 5, 595; 6, 632, ed. Sylburg). His elucidations consist mainly in the endeavor to avoid anthropomorphisms. His philosophical tendency may be learned from the fact that he was known as a Peripatetic. The special object of his commentary was to prove that the true source of wisdom was the Old Test., and that this was also the source of Greek philosophy. Plato, Pythagoras, and the other philosophers have derived their wisdom only from Moses. Even the doctrines of the Greek poets, like Orpheus, Hesiod, Homer, and Linus, agree with those of Moses. He supports his assertion by quoting from these authors. These quotations, it is true, agree entirely with Jewish ideas, which make it certain that they were written by a Jew, whether falsified by Aristobulus or by some one else. While Aristobulus represented the Peripatetic school in the so-called fourth book of the Maccabees (formerly ascribed to Josephus, and found in his works under the title Εἰς Μακκαβαίους ), the influence of the Stoic philosophy is perceptible. We know nothing of its author, nor of the time of its composition. It is a philosophical treatise or a discourse on the subject "Whether pious reason is master over the inclinations" (εἰ αὐτοδέσποτός ἐστι τῶν παθῶν ὁ εὐσεβὴς λογισμος ). From history, especially from the example of Eleazer and the seven Maccabeean brothers and their mother, the author tries to show the affirmative, ὅτι περικρατεῖ τῶν παθῶν ὁ λογισμός (1, 9). So far as he makes use of philosophical suppositions and ideas, they all belong to the Stoic school, as is indicated by the theme itself. Of greater import than those already mentioned is the Wisdom of Solomon. That the author of this hymn on divine wisdom was a philosophically learned Jew, probably an Alexandrian and belonging to the age before Philo, may be seen from the contents of his work, little as we otherwise know of him. He combines in his ideas Platonic and Stoic elements with those beginnings of theosophic speculations which grew on the soil of Palestinian Judaism. It is known that already in the Book of Job (Job 28:12 sq.) and the Proverbs of Solomon (8-9), and more especially in Ecclesiasticus, the traces for a discernment between the divine wisdom and God himself are found, though the former is not yet actually hypostasized. But in the Book of Wisdom this hypostasizing of the divine wisdom is more freely carried out (comp. Wisdom of Solomon 7:22 to Wisdom of Solomon 8:5; Wisdom of Solomon 9:4; Wisdom of Solomon 9:9). The epithets given to wisdom are such as are only applied to God: thus she creates everything (Wisdom of Solomon 8:5),. governs everything (ver. 1), renews everything (7:27). He also distinctly discriminates wisdom from God, and places her in opposition to him as an independent being. She is a breath (ἀτμίς ) of the power of God,. a pure effluence (ἀπόῤῥοια ) from the glory of the Almighty, a reflection (ἀπαύγασμα ) of the everlasting: light (7:25-26); she liveth together with God (συμβίωσιν Θεοῦ ἔχουσα ). is initiated into the mysteries of the knowledge of God (μύστις τῆς τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐπιστήμης ), and is chooser of his works (αἰρέτις τῶν ἔργων αὐτοῦ ), i. . wisdom chooses among God's works what shall be carried into execution (8:3-4); she sitteth on God's throne (9, 4, ἡ τῶν σῶν θρόνων πάρεδρος ); she knoweth God's works, and was present when he created the world, and knoweth what is acceptable in his sight, and right according to his commandments (ver. 9). All this shows a strong inclination to hypostasizing, although, it cannot be said, considering the poetical and rhetorical, character of the book, that the author presents the doctrine of hypostasizing the divine wisdom as a fixed formulated dogma. The expressions which he uses in order to designate the work of wisdom in the world (7, 24, διήκει, χωρεῖ; 8. 1, διοικεῖ, etc.) remind us of the analogous formulas of the Stoical school. More distinctly we perceive the influence of the Stoical doctrine in the mentioning of four cardinal virtues (ver. 7, σωφροσύνη, φρόνησις, δικαιοσύνη, ἀνδρεία ). On the other hand, however, the doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul (ver. 19-20), and that of the body as being the prison of the soul (9, 15), show the Platonic influence. The real classical representative of Jewish Hellenistic philosophy is Philo, for whom and his system see the arts. (See PHILO); (See PHILOSOPHY, GREEK).
We need not resume the thread of history. The Jews of Alexandria had to undergo the same fate as their brethren in Jerusalem. Like the Temple in Jerusalem, so the famous Alexandrian synagogue was destroyed (between A.D. 115 and 117), and the glory of the Alexandrian Jews disappeared, never to be seen again. See Gratz, Gesch. d. Juden, 3, 27,180, 258-264, 271, 349, 411 sq.; Jost, Gesch. d. Judenth. u. s. Sekten, 1, 344 sq.; Schurer, Lehrbuch der Neutestanentlichen Zeitgeschichte. p. 349,622 sq., 631 sq., 642 sq., and especially 648 sq., where the literature on Jewish philosophy is given. (B. P.)
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Alexandria, Jews in.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/a/alexandria-jews-in.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.