The Jews of Egypt
From Rameses II to Emperor Hadrian
Joseph Mélèze Modrzejewski
Translated by Robert Cornman
Preface by Shaye J. D. Cohen


Hellenistic Egypt was the setting for perhaps the first Jewish Golden Age, a time "golden" in Jewish memory as an era of vibrant cultural interaction between the Jews and their gentile hosts. This is the story of the adventures and misadventures of the people of Israel in the land of Egypt the years shrouded in the mists of biblical history under the Pharaohs; the strange intermezzo of the Jewish mercenary detachment on the island of Elephantine on the upper Nile; the apogee of Jewish culture under Ptolemies; and finally, the Jewish community's rapid decline and catastrophic disappearance under Roman rule. Joseph Mélèze Modrzejewski uses scientific analysis to illuminate the reality underlying our image of the past. The biblical accounts and Jewish and pagan literary texts are juxtaposed with discoveries of a century of archaeological and papyrological research that has unearthed the edicts of emperors as well as the humble correspondence of common people. In a tantalizing epilogue, Modrzejewski probes a turning point in Western civilization: the brief but crucial episode when budding Christianity and the Alexandrian Jews parted company.

Joseph Mélèze Modrzejewski is Professor of Ancient History at the Sorbonne as well as Professor of Papyrology and Ancient Legal History at the Ecole practiques des Hautes Etudes, Sciences historiques et philologiques and director of the program in Judaic Studies at the University of Paris.