300 - 200 BCE

The Hellenistic Period,
 332-63 BCE

During the Ptolemaic era that lasted approximately from 300 - 200 BCE, Judea was ruled from Egypt. Jews enjoyed relative autonomy evident by the building of synagogues across Egypt during that time. Being the main vernacular, Jews spoke Greek which also expanded into their prayer liturgy. This, together with the Greeks’ curiosity in the Jewish adherence to the Torah and a monotheistic belief in one G-d vastly differing from their own polytheistic belief in a pantheon of gods championed by Zeus, led to the famous translation of the Five Books of Moses into Greek, called the Septuagint.

19th Century Etching of the Library of Alexandria by​ O. Von Corven

Synagogues In Ptolemaic Egypt

The Jews of Egypt built several synagogues there.  The construction of these synagogues has been documented by several "proseuche" dedication inscriptions discovered by archaeologists.  From the Greek word meaning “prayer,” a proseuche is a synagogue or a place for Jews to pray. 

Ancient Synagogue Inscription from Crocodilopolis, Egypt, 240 BCE
"On behalf of King Ptolemy (III Euergetes), son of Ptolemy and Queen Bernice his wife and sister and their children, the Jews in Crocodilopolis (dedicated) the proseuche (synagogue.)”

Inscription from Synagogue at Athribis (Tell Atrib)​, Egypt, 194 BCE
"On behalf of King Ptolemy and Queen Cleopatra, Ptolemaios son of Epikydes, chief of police, and the Jews in Athribis [dedicated] the proseuche (synagogue) to G-d the Most High."

Synagogues In Ptolemaic Egypt

The Jews of Egypt built several synagogues. The construction of these synagogues has been documented by several "proseuche" dedication inscriptions discovered by archaeologists in Crocodilopolis, Schedia, Athribis, Xenophrys, Nitriai and Alexandria. From the Greek word meaning “prayer,” a proseuche is a synagogue or a place for Jews to pray.

Another inscription from the ancient synagogue in Crocodilopolis, 240 BCE reads:
"On behalf of King Ptolemy (III Euergetes), son of Ptolemy and Queen Bernice his wife and sister and their children, the Jews in Crocodilopolis (dedicated) the proseuche.

The Inscription from Synagogue at Athribis, Egypt, 194 BCE reads:
"On behalf of King Ptolemy and Queen Cleopatra, Ptolemaios son of Epikydes, chief of police, and the Jews in Athribis [dedicated] the proseuche to G-d the Most High."

Additional inscriptions were found documenting synagogues across Egypt.
The word synagogue is derived from the Greek word sunagōgḗ which means assembly or gathering. After the restoration of the Second Temple in 515 BCE, Ezra and the Men of the Great Assembly standardized a compulsory communal service for individuals to participate in, especially for those in the diaspora including Babylon and Egypt. This developed into dedicated places of worship that were already well established in the time of Ptolemy II. 

Proseuche inscriptions have been found in Crocodilopolis (240 BCE), Schedia (240 BCE), Athribis (194 BCE), Xenophrys (120 BCE), Nitriai (120 BCE) and Alexandria (120 and 40 BCE)  

לְאַחַר שֶׁשָּׁאוּל הַמֶּלֶךְ וּבְנוֹ יְהוֹנָתָן מֵתִים בַּקְּרָב, פּוֹנִים רָאשֵׁי הַשְּׁבָטִים לְדָוִד, שֶׁמָּלַךְ כְּבָר שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וָחֵצִי בְּחֶבְרוֹן. הֵם מְמַנִּים אוֹתוֹ לְמֶלֶךְ עַל הַקּוֹנְפֵדֵרַצְיָה הַשִּׁבְטִית הַמְּאֻחֶדֶת שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל.     

דָּוִד הַמֶּלֶךְ פּוֹנֶה מִיָּד לְכִוּוּן יְרוּשָׁלַיִם, אַחַת הֶעָרִים הָאַחֲרוֹנוֹת שֶׁטֶּרֶם נִכְבְּשָׁה בְּמַהֲלַךְ כִּבּוּשׁ הָאָרֶץ בִּידֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.   דָּוִד בּוֹחֵר בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם מֵאַרְבַּע סִבּוֹת עִקָּרִיּוֹת: מַיִם, בִּטָּחוֹן, אִחוּד וְשִׁלְטוֹן קַרְקָעִי נֵיטְרָלִי, אַךְ חָשׁוּב מֵהַכֹּל, בִּגְלַל הַקְּדוֹשָׁה שֶׁל יְרוּשָׁלַיִם הַטְּבוּעָה בַּמָּקוֹם הַנִּבְחָר, שֶׁבּוֹ יִבָּנֶה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ הָעֲתִידִי.     

לְפָנֶיךָ סִרְטוֹן הַמְּסַפֵּר אֶת הַסִּבּוֹת שֶׁל דָּוִד בְּכִבּוּשׁ הָעִיר.