11 March 2013

Hebrews in ancient Egypt

Hebrews = Judeans (Jews) and Samaritans

There was no Exodus of Israelites escaping from slavery in Egypt in 1450 BCE led by a prophet named Moses, or in any other year or century.  This is clear from the utter lack of evidence in contemporary records, archaeological studies, and infrared satellite photography.

The Exodus  is fiction, as is Moses.  The name Moses, in fact, is a Greek rendering of the name Mazas, Aramaic for Mazas, which in Old Persian becomes Mazda.  Mazda was the deity of the Iranian religion of Zartosht (modern Farsi), or as he was known in Avestan, Zarathustra, whom the Greeks called Zoroaster.

The Israelites were not wandering Arameans from Mesopotamia, they were Kana’anites whose culture developed in situ in the southern Levant.  The ancient Hebrew language is virtually identical to ancient Canaanite, and Hebrew is, in fact, classified as a Canaanite language along with Edomite, Moabite, Ammonite, Phoenician, Punic, and, of course, Canaanite itself.

The Hebrews were never slaves in Egypt and they certainly did not build the pyramids, which preceded their existence as a people by several centuries and were built by free laborers.

The Phoenicians’ name for themselves was Kananayim, or Canaanites in English.  The Punic version of the name used by the Carthaginians was Chanani.  The Levant is a name for the geographic area that takes in the modern nation-states of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan.  It’s a politically neutral term for the region I prefer, but I also like Kana’an when talking about its past because that was what the people who originated there called their land.

And in case you’re wondering what the proper name for the territory south of Lebanon, east of the Mediterranean Sea, west of the Jordan River, and north of the Sinai Peninsula, there is only one choice according to history: Palestine.  The Greeks knew it by the name Palestina as far back as Herodotus (5th century BCE) and under the Romans, Arabs, and Turks that was the name by which the area was called.

In the latter part of the Levant’s Middle Bronze Age (1800-1550 BCE), the Hyksos ruled Egypt as its 15th, 16th, and 17th dynasties from 1620-1530 BCE.   By various archaeological means, these people have been identified as Kana'anite, many of whom may have been ancestors of the Ishiriar, or Israelites.  The Levant at this time was dominated by two coalitions of city-states: one in in the north led by the city of Qatna and another in the central region by the city of Hazor.

The years 1530-1200 BCE were the Late Bronze Age in the Levant.  Kana’an was now dominated by two different coalitions, Qdesh in the north, led by Kadesh (in southern Syria), and Djahy in the Central Levant, led by Megiddo.  Hazor was also prominent in Djahy.  The Southern Levant during this period lay completely under the suzerainty of Egypt, much less prominent and greatly reduced but still inhabited.  It was dominated by the cities of Urusalim (Jerusalem) and Shachmu (Shechem).  The Egyptian administration center was in Gaza, which had a temple to Amun, and the authorities in Gaza worked mostly through local kings.

The heyday of the independent collection of city-states known to history as Phoenicia began during the Early Iron Age, lasting around 1200 BCE to its conquest by Cyrus the Great of Iran in 539 BCE.  These city-states stretched from modern Lebanon down to the coasts of Israel and the Gaza Strip.  One of the colonies of the city of Tyre, Carthage, founded around 800 BCE ultimately became one of the three greatest cities of the Mediterranean region. 

In about 1175 BCE, a group of what is known in ancient Egyptian chronicles as the Sea Peoples invaded and conquered the Mediterranean coast from the Sinai peninsula to Ashkelon, settling down to assimilate in both language and culture, their lands becoming known as Philisitia, or Palestina to the Greeks.  The rest of southern region became virtually deserted, probably since the Philistine cities included Gath, not far from the modern city of Jerusalem.

After the death of Ramses IX in 1078 BCE, Egypt disintegrated into several rival states until the Kushite Empire was thrown out by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon in 671 BCE.  Never intending to establish direct control, the Assyrians left Egypt to several vassals.

Though it may been the end for a long while of Egyptian domination of the region, various Pharaohs did interfere and even campaign in Kana’an, Phoenicia, and Syria.  In 925 BCE,
Pharoah Sheshonq I campaigned in these areas, concluding with an egangement referred to as the Battle of Bitter Lakes.  Inscriptions on the side of the Great Temple of Karnak referring to the campaign include among his vanquished foes Gaza, Megiddo, Aijalon, Gibeon, Gathpadalla, Byblos, Damascus, and many others, but no mention of Jerusalem, Shechem, Jericho, Israel, or Judah.  Corresponding archaeological evidence (statues and inscriptions) has been found at Megiddo, Byblos, and Damascus.

At the turn of the era (BCE/CE), colonies of Hebrews had been in Egypt for over six centuries, since the mid-7th century BCE. 

After the native Egyptians kicked out their Nubian overlords from the 25th Dynasty, they imported warriors from Kana’an, both from the independent land known in Aramaic as Yehud (Judea) and that conquered in 722 BCE by Assyria known in Aramaic as Samerina (Samaria), many of whose surviving warriors had relocated southward. One of these colonies was at the capital, Memphis, and there were others in the northeastern border towns of Tahpanhes-Daphnae and Migdol, to the south in Pathros, and last, but not least, on the island of Yeb, better known as Elephantine.

While some provision for worship and maybe sacrifice must have been made in the first four colonies, the one at Elephantine is the only one known to have its own fully functioning temple, immediately adjacent to an Egyptian temple to Khnum.  Called “Beth Yahweh” (House of Yahweh) in official correspondence, it functioned continuously 650-407 BCE, the faithful worshipping not only Yahweh and his consort Anath along with El, Bethel, Harambethel, and Asambethel, as we know from various Elephantine papyri.

It is the only temple known to have been called Beth Yahweh found to date outside of the one in the sanctuary of the citadel at Tel Arad in southern Palestine/Israel, and apparently there Yahweh was worshipped alongside Asherah.  At the time, there were also cult centers in central Palestine at Mizpah, Gibeon, Shechem, and Bethel (the most significant), and in southern Palestine at Lachish, Ta'anek, Beersheba, Deir 'Alla, and other places. 

Yehud rose in revolt against Babylonian domination in around 588 BCE with the support of Pharoah Apries of Egypt’s 26th Dynasty.  The Egyptian forces were easily routed by Nebuchadnezzar II, who took Yehud after an 18-month long campaign.  Carrying off a substantial portion of its population, he brought in colonists and appended it to the province of Samerina as a sub-province.

But the military service of the Hebrews from Kana’an in Egypt continued uninterrupted.  In 407 BCE, the temple at Elephantine was burned down in a riot, and temple officials wrote letters to both Dalaiah and Shelemiah, the sons of Sinballidh (aka Sanballat the Horonite), the joint governors of Samerina, and Bagayavahu, Iranian governor of Yehud, asking permission for and help with the rebuilding.  Both forms of assistance were granted by both governors.  It is unknown how long the temple at Elephantine continued to function after that time.

After Alexander’s conquest of Egypt in 331 BCE, he founded the city of Alexandria on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.  His Ptolemaic successors established their seat in the city and it eventually became the second-largest city in the Mediterranean world.  Ptolemy had his king and general’s body brought to the city after his death, and his tomb was a major site of pilgrimage during ancient times.  Two of its five districts were allotted to Hebrews from Palestine, who had been instrumental in the conquests of both Egypt and of Phoenicia.

Alexandria rapidly became the center of Hebrew culture and philosophy, if not necessarily of traditional religion.  In a fairly short time, its synagogue became the largest in the world.  The Hebrew Torah was first collated into its five-book form, the Pentateuch in Alexandria for the Great Library attached to its Museum, in the late 3rd/early 2nd century BCE.  The rest of the sacred texts, divided by the Jews into Prophets and Writings, were gathered and translated during the 2nd century BCE and finished around 132 BCE.

Oxyrhynchus (Behnehseh) in upper Egypt, its third largest city after Alexandria and Memphis, was another major center for Judean and Samaritan settlement.

Hebrews, both Judean and Samaritan, spread throughout Egypt and over to the west into neighboring Cyrenaica (eastern Libya), a former tribal area colonized by Greeks from the island of Thera in 631 BCE, conquered by Cambyses and Alexander in turn, and absorbed into Egypt by the Ptolemies.  The Romans divided it off again.

As previously stated, in 198 BCE Palestine passed from the Ptolemies to the Seleucids, based in Antioch.  The Seleucid king Antiochus IV invaded the Egyptian heartland of the Ptolemies in 168, but was forced to withdraw by the legions of the Roman Republic.  Returning to Antioch through Palestine, he stopped in Jerusalem to return to the throne of high priest Menelaus, who had been temporarily deposed by his brother Jason.

Onias IV, son of Menelaus and final claimant to the high priesthood from the Oniad dynasty, fled from the Seleucid realm to Ptolemaic Egypt after his father was assassinated, probably by Hasmoneans, in 161 BCE.  With the permission of his hosts, he built a temple at Leontopolis in Egypt around 154 BCE.  Leontopolis and its region became known as the Land of Onias.

The Roman Republic conquered Egypt in 30 BCE. 

In 38 CE, there was a pogrom against the Jews in Alexandria, at least according to preeminent Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Flavius Philo Judaeaus.

The procurator of the province of Iudaea during the uprising in 46-48 CE by Jacob and Simon, the sons of previous rebellion leader Judas the Galilean, was an Alexandrian Jew named Tiberius Julius Alexander.

The Hebrews in Egypt took no part in the Great Jewish War of 66-73 CE, but the Temple of Onias at Leontopolis was still destroyed in 73 CE lest it become a center of dissent.

There was another pogrom against the Hebrews in Egypt in 68 CE.

In the Kitos War of 115-117 CE, a Jewish would-be messiah in Cyrenaica named Lukuas began an uprising against the Gentiles in the region, attacking their pagan temples and slaughtering thousands.  Lukuas and his followers swept across Egypt, burning, pillaging, and killing, with some of the Egyptian Jews joining in but few of thosee in Alexandria, which the rebels burned. 

When a new Roman general appeared on the scene, Lukuas moved to Iudaea.  Fighting in Egypt did not end until 117 CE.  Cyrenaica was almost completely depopulated and Alexandria destroyed.  The former was repopulated and the latter rebuilt, including its Jewish Quarter, which actually took up two of five districts.

Around 134 CE, the emperor Hadrian Augustus wrote a letter of advice to his consul which shines an interesting light on Alexandria and insight into the early days of Christianity.

From Hadrian Augustus to Servianus the consul, greeting.

The land of Egypt, the praises of which you have been recounting to me, my dear Servianus, I have found to be wholly light-minded, unstable, and blown about by every breath of rumor.

There those who worship Serapis are, in fact, Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are, in fact, devotees of Serapis. There is no chief of the Jewish synagogue, no Samaritan, no Christian presbyter, who is not an astrologer, a soothsayer, or an anointer. Even the Patriarch himself, when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ. 

They are a folk most seditious, most deceitful, most given to injury; but their city is prosperous, rich, and fruitful, and in it no one is idle. Some are blowers of glass, others makers of paper, all are at least weavers of linen or seem to belong to one craft or another; the lame have their occupations, the eunuchs have theirs, the blind have theirs, and not even those whose hands are crippled are idle. 

Their only god is money, and this the Christians, the Jews, and, in fact, all nations adore.  And would that this city had a better character, for indeed it is worthy by reason of its richness and by reason of its size to hold the chief place in the whole of Egypt. 

Though their rights were suppressed to varying degrees, depending on prevailing winds of opinion and local rulers, both Judeans and Samaritans remained numerous throughout Egypt as long as it remained in the Roman Empire, until Egypt was conquered by the armies of the Rashidun Caliphs in 639 CE.  Afterwards, the treatment of both improved dramatically.

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