Post-Exilic Diaspora Judaism in Upper Egypt

Edwin Yamauchi (Persia and the Bible, 244-245) reports some interesting information about post-exilic Diaspora Judaism from evidence in the Elephantine papyri. These papyri, written in Aramaic were discovered (along with ostraca or pottery shards) in 1898 on Elephantine Island (in the picture at the right) near Aswan in Upper Egypt. Apparently there was a large Jewish population in Egypt in the 5th Cent. B.C. (In fact, 40 of the 95 names found in the Elephantine papyri have some form of “Yahweh” in them.)
Here are some interesting facts about their lives as reported by Yamauchi:
  • This group of Diaspora Jews apparently kept holy days since the papyri and ostraca (pottery shards) mention such dates as Sabbath, Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the last from a famous letter called the “Passover letter” dated 419 B.C.).
  • There is no evidence of a syncretistic cult (a religious group that mixed the worship of two different religions) as some scholars think (such a conclusion is reported in the Wikipedia article cited above) but there is evidence that individuals were syncretistic in their practices. For example, there is one document with a salutation from Yaho (Yahweh) and Khnub (an Egyptian deity). There is also evidence of mixed marriages, which probably led to or contributed to the syncretism.
  • The Jews built a temple to Yaho (Yahweh) which was destroyed in 411 B.C. by “fanatical Egyptians” probably because the sacrifice of sheep and goats was offensive to the Egyptian god Khnub (Khnum) who was a ram-god.

About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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