Monday, April 12, 2004


An exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center gives interesting insight into the religious life of non-Palestinian Jews:
“Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt: A Family Archive From the Nile Valley,” revolves around 2,500-year-old papyrus scrolls from a cache of hundreds unearthed on Elephantine Island — the oldest extra-biblical evidence of Jews in Mitzrayim....

“Jewish Life” comes alive through the remarkable, Aramaic-language scrolls, which describe a Jewish community on lush Elephantine 800 years after the biblical exodus. Apparently there were no hard feelings, because these people were descendants of Jews who had voluntarily returned to Egypt after the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. While elite Jews were forced into exile in Babylonia, many soldiers and common folk relocated to Egypt, which proved to be a multicultural mecca, not an anti-Semitic hellhole, according to the exhibit....

Like his fellow Egyptians, Jewish Ananiah probably continued the traditional form of Israelite worship that had been practiced in pre-exilic Judah. He likely burned incense to Yahweh, performed animal sacrifice and worshipped deities such as the queen of the heavens, who in the Elephantine area had a temple across the river from Yahou’s. This kind of “monotheism-lite” apparently enraged the prophet Jeremiah, who rebuked Egyptian Jews for “making sacrificial smoke to other gods” in the Hebrew Bible.

According to the Elephantine papyri, local Jews swore oaths to regional deities. Sharing religious and cultural traditions was de rigueur, as evidenced by the exhibit’s papyri and accompanying artifacts.

Sounds like Jeremiah was onto something.

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