Alexander the Great CoinAlexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt opened the floodgates of a new Jewish immigration to Egypt. According to Josephus, and to older accounts he ascribes to Hecataeus of Abdera, Jewish and Samaritan soldiers served in the ranks of Alexander’s armies, in Babylon as well as Egypt. In the Third Century BCE, there were no barriers at all between Egypt and Judah; the latter was an integral part of the Ptolemaic Empire from 302 to 198 B.C.E., thus greatly facilitating Jewish immigration to Alexandria and towns of the chora, the “countryside.”

Josephus’s (The Jewish War, 2, 285) estimated the entire population of Roman Egypt at 7.5 million inhabitants, a number that took into account only the chora, (e.g. the countryside) and not the city of Alexandria. Adding half a million more for the capital, we get a grand total of approximately 8 million people, 6.5 million of whom were native Egyptians and 1.5 million were Greek-speaking immigrants. The Jews could have represented about 4 percent of the total, somewhat more than 300,000 persons, over half of whom lived in Alexandria.

Toward the turn of the fourth/third century, in an Egypt that Alexander had just conquered, a Jewish merchant, ‘Abihi, and his partner Jonathon were running a flourishing business. An Aramaic papyrus containing one of ‘Abihi’s memorandums has come down to us; goods and payments appear alternately, and not in parallel columns, as they would in modern accounting.

A mixture of Jewish, Greek and Egyptian Jewish names predominate:

‘Abdi, the hypocoristic (diminutive) form of ‘Abadiah (“Servant of the Lord”); ‘Abih(a)I (“My Father lives”); Haggai (“Born on a holiday”); Natan, Netina, and Natnai, short forms of Yehonatan (“God-given”); Nadbai, short form for Nadabiah (“Devoted to the Lord”); Shabbetai and Shabbetit (“Born on a Sabbath day”); Shim’on, hypocoristic form of Shama’iah (“The Lord has heard”); Yashib (“May God bring back!”); Yehudah (“Praise to the Lord”), or Judah, the name of the fourth son of Jacob; Yohanan (“The Lord has favored”), John in English; Yonaia (“The Ionian” or “The Greek”), an ethnic appellation employed as a proper name in Aramaic; Shelamzion (“Peace of Zion,” Selampsious or Selampsione in its Greek variants); Zebadiah (“The Lord has gratified”).

Another inscription cited (CIJ II, No. 1424; Horbury-Noy, No. 3) in Aramaic; it bears the name of “Akabiah son of Elioenai, literally “Toward the Lord my eyes do turn,” is a name that often occurs in the Bible and other Jewish texts. Akabiah son of Elioenai, perhaps a man of priestly descent, must have been a brand-new immigrant, still faithful to the onomastic customs of his ancestors.

The adoption by the Jews of the Greek language and culture was a symptom of their absorption into the society of the conquerors. The Jews in Egypt belonged to the community of the dominant group of Greek-speaking immigrants, the “Hellenes.” This sense of unity was not a Hellenistic invention. Scattered as they were over vast expanses of territory divided into many regions with innumerable cities, the Greeks from their very beginnings, considered themselves members of one ethnic, cultural and religious whole. And the great intermixing that took place in Alexander’s armies strengthened these ties. A new closeness became manifest with the emergence of a “common language” (koine dialexis, or simply koine) derived from Attic Ionian. Henceforth, throughout the monarchies born of Alexander’s conquests, from the cataracts of the Nile to Macedonia and from Syria to Libya, whatever the origin of the speaker, he spoke the same language.

As early as the third century B.C.E. (Hibeh Papyrus I 96; CPJud. I 18; 260 B.C.E.), Jewish soldiers had obtained grants of land on the outskirts of several towns and villages in the Faiyum: Krokodilopolis, the capital, Kerkeosiris, Samaria-Kerkesephis, Apias, Trikomia, Hephaistias. Yet others obtained similar plots closer to the Nile, in the Herakleopolite Nome.

Source: Modrzejewski, Joseph M. The Jews of Egypt

Alexander the Great in Jerusalem in 332 B.C.E.

Alexander laid siege to Tyre in southern Lebanon from January to August 332. According to Josephus, it was during this period that he first came into contact with the Jews.

Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book 11, 317-19

Alexander… became master of Sidon and besieged Tyre; from there he dispatched a letter to the High Priest of the Jews (e.g. Jaddus), requesting him to send him assistance and supply his army with provisions and give him the gifts they had formerly sent as tribute to the Persian King, Darius III, thus choosing the friendship of the Macedonians, for, he said, they would not regret this course. But the high priest replied to the bearers of the letter that he had given his oath to Darius (e.g. III, King of Persia) not to take up arms against him, and said that he would never violate this oath so long as Darius remained alive. When Alexander (e.g. the Great) heard this, he was roused to anger, and while deciding not to leave Tyre, which was on the point of being taken, threatened that when he had brought it to terms he would march against the High Priest of the Jews and through him teach all men what people it was to whom they must keep their oaths.

Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book 11, 326-28

Alexander, after taking Gaza, was in haste to go up to the city of Jerusalem. When the high priest Jaddus heard this, he was in an agony of fear, not knowing how he could meet the Macedonians, whose king was angered by his former disobedience. He therefore ordered the people to make supplication, and, offering sacrifice to God together with them, besought Him to shield the nation and deliver them from the dangers that were hanging over them. But, when he had gone to sleep after the sacrifice, God spoke oracularly to him in his sleep, telling him to take courage and adorn the city with wreaths and open the gates and go out to meet them (e.g. Alexander and the Greeks), and that the people should be in white garments, and he himself with the priests in the robes prescribed by law, and that they should not look to suffer any harm, for God was watching over them.

Jaddus, reassured, obeyed the orders he had received. He did what he had been instructed to do and confidently awaited the victor’s arrival in Jerusalem.

Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book 11, 329-32

When he learned that Alexander was not far from the city, he went out with the priests and the body of citizens, and, making the reception sacred in character and different from that of other nations, met him at a certain place called Saphein. This name, translated into the Greek tongue, means “Lookout.” For, as it happened, Jerusalem and the Temple could be seen from there [Mount Scopus, Heb. Har ha-tzofim]. Now the Phoenicians and the Chaldeans who followed along privately believed that the king in his anger would naturally permit them to plunder the city and put the high priest to a shameful death, but the reverse of this happened.

For when Alexander while still far off saw the the multitude in white garments, the priests at their head clothed in linen, and the high priest in a robe of hyacinth-blue and gold, wearing on his head the mitre with the golden plate on it on which was inscribed the Name of God, he approached alone and prostrated himself before the Name and first greeted the High Priest. Then all the Jews together greeted Alexander with one voice and surrounded him.

Were the splendid trappings of the priests and the Divine Name, which Alexander would in any case hardly have been able to decipher, enough to bring about this sudden and beneficent metamorphosis? Alexander’s friends did not understand what was happening; they thought that their commander had lost his wits. But he himself then provided the explanation for his actions.

Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book 11, 331-9

… with Jews running beside him, (Alexander) entered the city (of Jerusalem). Then he went up to the Temple, where he sacrificed to God under the direction of the high priest. And when the book of Daniel was shown to him, in which he declared that one of the Greeks would destroy the empire of the Persians (Dan 8:21), he believed himself to be the one indicated.

Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book 11, 334-36

It was he whom I (e.g. Alexander the Great) saw in my sleep dressed as he is now, when I was at Dion, in Macedonia, and, as I was considering with myself how I might become master of Asia, he urged me not to hesitate but to cross over confidently, for he himself would lead my army and give over to me the empire of the Persians. Since, therefore, I have beheld no one else in such robes, and on seeing him now I am reminded of the vision and the exhortation, I believe that I have made this expedition under divine guidance and that I shall defeat Darius and destroy the power of the Persians and succeed in carrying out all the things which I have in mind.

Thus, thanks to two premonitory dreams, Jerusalem was spared. Darius III was still alive, but the High Priest was no longer bound by his oath. Alexander went up to the Temple and, following the High Priest’s instructions, offered a sacrifice to the God of the Jews. The Book of Daniel was brought before him, with its prediction that a Greek would come to destroy the Persian Empire. The next day, before the people and at the High Priest’s demand, Alexander granted the Jews the freedom to live according to their ancestral laws and exempted them from paying the customary tribute every seventh year. The privilege of living according to their ancestral laws was also extended to the Babylonian Jews and those of Persia. Many Jews accepted Alexander’s proposal to enlist in his army. A Jewish legend would have it that the male children born during the year following his visit were named Alexander, as a token of gratitude. Hereditary transmission from grandfather to grandson finally transformed it into a “Jewish” name, as it remains today.

Source: Modrzejewski, Joseph M. The Jews of Egypt (p. 50-52, 54)

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