During their reign Egyptian Jewry enjoyed both tolerance and prosperity.
They became significant in culture and literature, and by the first century C. The majority of the Jews of Egypt lived, as the Greeks , in Alexandria , but there were also very many in the ehora, the provincial districts outside Alexandria. Ptolemy I Soter — took a large number of Jewish prisoners of war in Palestine and forcibly settled them as mercenaries in Egypt to hold down the native Egyptians ibid.
He was remembered by the Jews of Egypt as having instigated the translation of the Septuagint see Letter of Aristeas ; Bible : Greek translation.
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Ptolemy III Euergetes — was said to have been favorably disposed toward the Jews and to have respected their religion. Two facts confirm this. One is the number of Jews who settled in the nome of Arsinoe Faiyum in his reign, and the other is the synagogue inscription dedicated to him, declaring that he granted the rights of asylum to the synagogues Frey, Corpus 2 pp. There is also a synagogue inscription from Schedia, which was also probably dedicated to him Reinach in REJ, 14 , —4.
During the reign of Ptolemy VI Philometor — a marked change took place. Ptolemy VI won Jewish favor by opening up the whole of Egypt to the Jews, on whom he relied, as well as by receiving Jewish exiles from Palestine such as Onias IV, to whom he granted land to build a temple at Leontopolis c. The Jewish philosopher Aristobulus of Paneas was said to have advised him on Jewish affairs, and he appointed two Jews, Onias and Dositheos, to high military posts Jos. She appointed two Jewish brothers, Ananias and Helkias, as commanders of her army. Most of the Jews who settled in the chora were either farmers or artisans.
The Ptolemies did not generally trust the native Egyptians and encouraged the Jews to enter three professions:. Others were managers in the royal banks or administrators ibid. In Alexandria there was a greater diversity of occupations and some Jews prospered in trade and commerce. Early in the third century B. They are known to have existed at Alexandria, Schedia third century B. At first the Jewish immigrants spoke only Aramaic, and documents from the third century and the first half of the second century B.
Frey, Corpus 2, pp. But from the second century on there was a rapid Hellenization. Documents were written in Greek, the Pentateuch was read in the synagogue with the Septuagint translation, and even such a writer as Philo probably knew no or little Hebrew. At first the Egyptian Jews transliterated their names into Greek, or adopted Greek names that sounded like Hebrew ones e.
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In the chora the Hellenization was not so strong, but there the Jews were influenced by the native Egyptians. Documents testify to Egyptian names among the Jews, and sometimes to an ignorance of Greek presumably these Jews spoke Egyptian. However, the chora Jews were more observant of the Sabbath and dietary laws than those of Alexandria. The relations between Greek and Jew was on the whole good under the Ptolemies. The Jews often sought to explain Judaism to the Greeks cf.
Aristobulus of Paneas, Philo, and others. They tried to enter the Greek gymnasium which was a sign of the cultured Greek. Cases of actual apostasy were rare; that of Dositheos, son of Drimylos, who renounced Judaism to enter court, was exceptional III Macc. It used to be thought that the Jews were given equal rights with the Greeks by Alexander the Great, and that they called themselves Macedonians Wars, — Since the population registered its name and racial origin, each nationality in Egypt formed a separate group through the Ptolemid period.
The Jews, unlike the Greeks, were not granted a politeia rights of free citizenship , but received a politeuma a constitution by which they had the right to observe their ancestral laws. Individual Jews were granted citizenship occasionally by the polis or the king, or by managing to register in a gymnasium.
These, however, were exceptions. From the papyri of Faiyum and Oxyrhynchus it seems that the majority of Jews did not use the right of recourse to Jewish courts, but attended Greek ones even in cases of marriage or divorce. The head of the Jewish community in Alexandria was the ethnarch , while in the chora elders held sway. Toward the end of the Ptolemid period Jewish-Greek relations steadily worsened. Papyri of 58 B. Josephus records that Julius Caesar was aided by Jewish clerics in Egypt when Antipater brought reinforcements from Palestine. In return for this Caesar is said to have reaffirmed the citizenship of the Alexandrian Jews in 47 B.
The new administration under Augustus at first was grateful to the Jews for their support cf. Augustus disbanded the Ptolemaic army and abolished the tax-collection system about 30 B.
Both of these acts caused great economic hardships for the Jews. Few of them joined or were permitted to join the Roman army in Egypt an exception being a centurion of C. Jewish tax collectors were mostly replaced by Greek government officials. The cursus honorum was closed to Jews unless they renounced their religion, which most refused to do an exception being Tiberius Julius Alexander, prefect of Egypt. Three classes were created:. Augustus placed the Jew in the lowest class, forced to pay the tax.
This was a blow to Jewish pride, for besides those few individual Jewish families who had received the distinction of Greek citizenship, the vast majority of Jews could no longer register in the gymnasia and had to pay the poll tax. From that time began a long struggle by the Alexandrian Jews to confirm their rights.
The Greeks in turn approached Augustus suggesting that they would keep all non-Greeks out of the gymnasia, if he, in turn, would abolish the privileges of the Jews. Augustus refused and confirmed the Jewish ancestral rights, to the intense anger of the Greeks. Augustus abolished the post of ethnarch of Alexandria in 10—12 C. The following year they stormed the synagogues, polluted them, and set up statues of the emperor within. The prefect, Valerius Flaccus , was embarrassed and dared not remove the images of Caesar.
The Jews were shut up in a ghetto and their houses plundered. Philo, who wrote In Flaccum and De Legatione on the affair, headed a Jewish delegation to Caligula to complain, but was dismissed with derision. On the assassination of Caligula in 41 C. The new emperor, Claudius , issued an edict in favor of the Jews in 41 C. Much antisemitic material was written at this period in Egypt, e. Consequently the Jews closed their ranks and became more self-conscious of their Jewish heritage.
The Jews also tended to live closer together, though no ghettos were imposed. In 66 C. Three were caught and burnt alive.
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The Jews rose in revolt and tried to burn the Greeks in their amphitheater, and Tiberius Julius Alexander, the prefect, crushed them mercilessly, killing more than were slain in the pogrom of 38 C. After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C. However, the Egyptian Jews had to pay more than other Jews, because the Egyptian calendar provided that they pay in the first year of the fiscus 71 C.
It is estimated that they paid that year 27 million Egyptian drachmae in taxes.