Monday, September 19, 2016

Part IV Egypt and It's History With the Jewish People

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                  

Egypt, called Mitzrayim in Hebrew, is a country in NE Africa that existed way back in the 20th Century BCE.  Our first Hebrew patriarchs visited Egypt and the beginnings of Hebrew history are connected with their bondage in Egypt and the Exodus with Moses, who was born in Egypt, and who bears an Egyptian name.
"Immigration by Canaanite populations preceded the Hyksos.  Canaanites first appeared in Egypt towards the end of the 12th Dynasty c. 1800 BC, and either around that time or c. 1720 BC, established an independent realm in the eastern Nile Delta".  The 1st Hebrew immigration into Egypt happened during the period of the domination  of the Semitic Hyksos dynasty(1720-1580 BCE  in Egypt of the 18th to 16th centuries BCE. It was during this period that the Israelites entered  the country and were favorably treated.  The Israelites were held in bondage after the expulsion of the Hyksos for a period of 400 years from entering to leaving.  .  Hyksos is an Egyptian word meaning "rulers of the foreign lands."
Tel el-Amarna Letters

 During that period, Egypt was closely involved in Canaanite affairs, shown in the Tel el-Amarna letters which  give us the background and allude to the 1st Israelite incursions there.  A.S. Yahuda, scholar, has shown the influence of Egyptian civilization on the Torah.
During the period of the Monarchy, there were constant Judea-Egyptian relations.  King Solomon (961-920 BCE)  married an Egyptian Princess and brought about a peace treaty this way. That's why he had 1,000 wives.  
 After King Solomon died, Pharaoh Shishak attacked Jerusalem in about 920 BCE in order to help the newly-established northern kingdom which had broken off from the southern newly formed Judah.
Judah's King Josiah (637-608, crowned king at age 8 after his father, Amon, was murdered) was killed in 608 BCE by the Egyptians when in the act of checking the march of Pharaoh Necho through Judean territory. (Necho imprisoned Jehoahaz, son of Josiah and killed Josiah in battle.)   Josiah's successor, King Jehoahaz, son of King Josiah  (608 for 3 months only because he belonged to the pro-Babylonian party and he was deported and died in  captivity in Egypt)  and his brother, King Jehoiakim/Eliakim(608-598) was installed in his place by the Egyptians, and for 3 years was a subject to Egypt, but when Necho was defeated at the battle of Carchemish in 605 BCE, Jehoiakim became a Babylonian vassal.  He died when Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians in 598 BCE.
There was a Jewish colony in Egypt before Solomon's Temple was built.  The prophet  Jeremiah was taken to it shortly afterwards.  Jewish military colonies existed in Egypt in pharaonic days.  In the town on Yeb, a great deal of papyri had been found showing local life and showing  the existence of a Jewish Temple under the Persians in the 5th century BCE.
 Alexander the Great (333 BCE) took Egypt and so Jews were a large proportion of the new immigrants who came into the country, some on their own and some being deportees.
Alexandria, Egypt's Synagogue-Eliyahu Hanavi
Synagogues were found to be in existence in Egypt from the 3rd century BCE.  Their community was hellenized in speech and culture.
Bat Mitzva of 12 year old Egyptian Jewish girls in Alexandria, Egypt before 1948. 
Alexandria was the center of Jewish life then and of course it was the center of the great hellenistic Jewish civilization with The Alexandrian Jew,Philo (20 BCE-40+BCE) , the philosopher telling us about it.  It's figured that there were about 1,000,000 Egyptian Jews then
. He had participated in the deputation of Alexandrian Jews to Roman  Emperor Caligula b: August 31, 12; died January 24, 41) ( emperor from 37-41) during the anti-Jewish outbreaks in 40. (Caligula insisted on being worshipped as a god and because the Jews refused to do this, it caused the riots when Agrippa came to visit in 38.  Philo led the Jewish delegation sent to intercede with Caligula.  Luckily, Caligula was assassinated and this put an end to serious consequences then in the Jewish world.)   Philo's  family was one of the wealthiest in Egypt.  He had a hellenistic education, and was most familiar with Greek literature, philosophy.  He knew Plato.  His Jewish education was scant, probably didn't know Hebrew, and his knowledge of the Torah was from the Septuagint and from hellenistic commentaries of the day that were allegorical.  He was quite the writer.  Among much of his writings was an account about Flaccus, governor of Egypt and how he persecuted Jews during the anti-Jewish disturbances, and a great description of the deputation to Caligula. Christians were impressed by his philosophy.
The Ptolemies of Egypt were  in control of Israel and Judah then which lasted for a long time as they were popular.  A dark period existed.  Onias, a high priest (Cohen) , lived during the 2nd Temple period in 230 BCE and refused to pay the 20 talents of silver that had to be given annually to Ptolemy III of Egypt.  By not paying, he put into danger the safety of Judea.  His nephew, Joseph, son of Tobias, succeeded in pacifying the king. The priest's grandson The son of Simon II was deposed by Antiochus Epiphanaes in 174 BCE.  Many Jews had fled to Egypt from the religious persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes.   Before the Maccabean revolt.  the refugee high priest, Onias, founded a Temple in either Leontopolis or Heliopolis, where he lived after being given permission by Ptolemy IV (Philopator-221-203 BCE, a Macedonian king of Egypt) to do so.  This was when the completion of the 1st Greek translation of the bible took place in Alexandria which had enormous influence.  There had existed a lot of anti-Jewish feeling among the Greek population which burst out into anti-Jewish riots and caused the periodic intervention of the Roman authorities.
The Romans burned down Jerusalem along with the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, so in 71 CE after the destruction, zealot refugees stirred up a Jewish revolt. The Jewish Aluf (General) Bar Kokba fought the Romans from 132 to 135, but while he was killed in battle, had held Jerusalem for 3 years.   In Egypt, another uprising had occurred from  115 to 117 CE.

It's thought that Hellenism's (end of 4th century BCE which was the Greek civilization diffused over the Mediterranean and the Middle East) ,  affect of the Greek religion and culture to be  the cause of weakening the resistance of Egyptian Jewry to Christianity as there were many Alexandrian-Jewish elements in the early Christian literature and thought.  Egyptian Jewish life suffered with the Christianization of the Roman Empire, and riots broke out in Alexandria that were instigated by the bishop Cyril in 415 which drove masses of Jews to be baptized.
At the time of the Arab invasion of 640, the Egyptian Jewish community was unimportant, and under Moslem rule, the former traditions of  hellenistic Egypt were not continued.  The Jewish community now centered in the new city of Cairo which was wholly Arab in character and culture.  Jewish life is told about in the mass of documents of the Cairo Genizah (where sacred books were deposited.  It held many lost Hebrew works including extracts from Aquila's Greek translation of the bible, the Zadokite document, ancient liturgies, and synagogue poetry from Israel, Babylonia and Spain; documents and letters of important persons.  It gave information about the history of the gaonate, the Jews of Egypt and Israel/Judah and then when they were called Palestine between 640 to 1100;
Karaites and Samaritans during Passover An important Karaite community flourished and has survived to modern times.
Today they live in Israel.  
Karaites at prayer
and the Karaites, a Jewish sect that rejected the Oral Law that the Jews also followed.   It originated in the 8th century in and around Persia where the Jewish community was not long established.  They were people who didn't accept the discipline of the Babylonian gaonate.  Arabs had taken Persia in 640 and caused an affect on their interpreting their religion.  .

Mesopotamian Jewry were now organized  under an exilarch/nagid and this was imitated in Egypt.  Many academies of learning were created.  Saadyah Gaon (928 was appointed as head of a famous academy-died in 942) was a native of the Fayyum.  "The Fayum in the Ptolemaic and Roman Period" was explained as follows:
"During the periods preceding the arrival of Alexander the Great in 332 BC, the Fayum was most prominent in the Middle Kingdom (2025-1700 BC). In the Ptolemaic Period, the Fayum was one of the main regions where Greeks settled."
 Generally, the conditions were quite favorable under the Moslems, though "normally the traditional Moslem anti-Jewish code was enforced.  Under Caliph Hakim (996-1021)  there was a period of almost ferocious persecution of Jews.
Moses Maimonides/Maimonides/Rambam (1135-1204) arrived in Egypt in the 2nd half of the 12th century after leaving his home in Cordova, Spain at age 13 with his family to escape the Almohade persecutions.  and found a comfortable Jewish community.  His descendants served as nagids of the Egyptian Jews.  The Turks occupied Egypt in 1517 and conditions improved.  By the 19th century, western influences penetrated the country and made a fast Western affect on the upper classes in Egypt.  The Cattauri and Mosseri families played a part in public life.  The anti-European reaction of the mid 20th century involved the Jews of which many held European citizenship.  This was then linked with an anti-Zionist policy since Zionism had before been looked at favorably.  1948 came when Israel announced it was again created and war was announced 5 minutes later by the Egyptians and her neighbors.  The result of this was that many Egyptian Jews were placed in concentration camps and attacks were made on Jewish homes.   A great emigration of Egyptian Jews started to head for Israel and their number dropped from 90,000 in 1947 to about 30,000 by 1955.  
1967 IDF get to see the Wall in Jerusalem After the Six Days of War
In 1954, there were still 11 active Jewish day schools with 1,750 pupils.  The Sinai Operation took place and Nasser of Egypt dispossessed and expelled many Jews from Egypt.  Most of the others left in the following years.  By 1966, only 2,500 Jews lived in Egypt;  1,800 living in Cairo and the rest in Alexandria.  Most of the remaining males of Egyptian nationality were arrested at the time of the SIX DAY WAR in 1967 when  many Arab countries attacked Israel.  The remaining Jews emigrated to Israel.  By 1990, the Jewish population of Egypt had shrunk to 240. This would be elderly Jews most likely alone.  By 2012, only a few older ladies remained to care for the synagogue and graveyard.

Update: 9/19, 9/20/16
Resource: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
Movie:  Exodus:  Gods & Kings on Moses, Rameses
Movie: Ten Commandments, 1956 , with Charleston Heston
book: Messages from a Syrian Jew Trapped in Egypt

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