Were There Ever Jewish Priests and Priesthood in Hellenistic Egypt?

Discussion about the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, Talmud, Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeology, etc.
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Secret Alias
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Were There Ever Jewish Priests and Priesthood in Hellenistic Egypt?

Post by Secret Alias »

Philo seems to open the priesthood to anyone that followed Levitical laws. Was this because there were no priests in Jewish Egypt? Does he ever mention historical priests or a high priest? No If the Pentateuch was wholly made up in Alexandria why couldn't they also make up a priesthood?
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Secret Alias
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Re: Were There Ever Jewish Priests and Priesthood in Hellenistic Egypt?

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It is difficult for me to accept Gmirkin's proposition for the simple reason that in my latest investigation of Philo posting.php?mode=quote&f=6&p=147582 he imagines a universe where the entire concept of "priesthood" or "priest" is allegorized. Why is this? Why if Alexandria was the "home" of the Pentateuch would the Jews there have imagined a system where - as I have demonstrated - every Jew was his own priest? The answer must have something to do with the fact that there were no priests in Egypt. The Jewish community in Egypt had some other conception(s) at work which effectively bypassed the need for a priesthood. There were likely no sacrifices in the community. No slaughter of animals. Everything seems to be allegorized. There was a mystical process where by the "divine Word" was put into the hearts of converts so they were their own priesthood/priest. Hard to accept the idea that Jews and Samaritans went to Alexandria to write "a Law" which could be fulfilled at either site (Gerizim or Jerusalem) but not in Egypt. If someone cites the bullshit that Josephus says about a Leontopolis temple, I don't believe it. Egyptian Jews like Philo lived without priests, sacrifices, temples or anything else. They must have argued that the 10 commandments were enough and - like Philo - allegorized the significance of the rest of the laws in order to get around them.
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Re: Were There Ever Jewish Priests and Priesthood in Hellenistic Egypt?

Post by StephenGoranson »

I, so far, do not think that Philo was an active priest.

But, in case anyone is interested, among the helpful resources on study of Philo are
Philo of Alexandria : an annotated bibliography, 1937-1986
Philo of Alexandria : an annotated bibliography, 1987-1996 : with addenda for 1937-1986
Philo of Alexandria : an annotated bibliography 1997-2006 with addenda for 1987-1996
by David T. Runia and others (Brill)

For example:
"D. R. Schwartz, ‘Philo’s Priestly Descent,’ in F. E. Greenspahn, E. Hilgert and B. L. Mack (edd.), Nourished with Peace: Studies in Hellenistic Judaism in Memory of Samuel Sandmel, Scholars Press Homage Series 9 (Chico, California 1984) 155-171.
Jerome's testimony, according to which Philo descended de genere sacerdotum, has hitherto been regarded with scepticism. The author, by adducing further indirect evidence (cf. 170), makes a case for accepting it and thus accepting that Philo 'was of a priestly family', possibly belonging to the Sadducees. This conclusion 'should encourage us to compare his writings specifically with other remnants of the literature of the priestly tradition' (171). (RR)"
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Secret Alias
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Re: Were There Ever Jewish Priests and Priesthood in Hellenistic Egypt?

Post by Secret Alias »

I, so far, do not think that Philo was an active priest.
But Josephus was and he was a leader of the community. Could someone have been a leader of a Jewish community in that period without being at once a priest? What is the evidence for that?
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billd89
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Re: Were There Ever? Probably YES.

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Secret Alias wrote: Mon Dec 26, 2022 10:10 pmPhilo seems to open the priesthood to anyone that followed Levitical laws.
On the contrary this would presuppose there were different priests (factions) accommodated, not that a) there were NO priests or b) there was only ONE priesthood in any sense of the term, ergo in Jerusalem.

The controversial 'Jewish' Therapeutae were a class of religious specialists we would call priests -- their soul-healing functions were unfortunately not enumerated. Whether several castes of Jewish mantic specialists aka 'priests' in Egypt -- which I assume from the Seth-Baal Semites mentioned by Manetho and Moses' rivals dispatched in Exodus -- still operated in Egypt c.25 AD is unclear. Philo definitely describes the A. A. as a high priest, however.
Was this because there were no priests in Jewish Egypt?
Who controlled the synagogues of the One Million Jews that Philo alleged, in his day? IF Elephantine and Leontopolis WERE "Temples" who do you suppose managed those sites?
Does he ever mention historical priests or a high priest? No.
Laporte, J., “The High Priest in Philo of Alexandria,” SPhiloA 3 (1991) 71–82.

Wasn't 'Jesus a high priest after Melchizedek' for some Alexandrian group of believers who had only recently accepted Jesus as the Son of God (EpHeb)? I cannot imagine any reason that non-Semite pagans worshipped Melchizedek c.50 AD: that congregation was Judaic, obviously. Who was their High Priest? And so on and so on.
If the Pentateuch was wholly made up in Alexandria why couldn't they also make up a priesthood?
Or multiple priesthoods? Who managed the various synagogues? IF Elephantine and Leontopolis were "Temples" who operated those sites? (Why doesn't Philo ever discuss Leontopolis? Why doesn't Philo mention lots of other things?) "If the Pentateuch was wholly made up in Alexandria" is unnecessary. The Serapis cult was fabricated deliberately in short order, plus Egyptian temples had priests with differing ranks and functions. Why assume it was totally different w/ Egyptian Jews?

In fact, it wasn't in Israel. I think the term 'priest' should be broadened to include the Semite Asaphim and Casdim, defeated factions in whatever struggles to consolidate the Jewish religion c.400-150 BC. And why also imagine Sethians had no priests? Etc., etc.

Winner writes history -- and destroys inconvenient evidence to the contrary, hijacking whatever pertains to the Losers' claims. (Judaism was more diverse, c.35 AD.) That was and remains controversial, hence the erroneous 'one&only' thinking behind your premises.

The assumption (orthodox pretense) there was -- and could only have been -- 'one priesthood, at Jerusalem' is ludicrous on the face of it. Judaisms: deal with it!
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Re: Were There Ever Jewish Priests and Priesthood in Hellenistic Egypt?

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Secret Alias wrote: Tue Dec 27, 2022 12:38 pm It is difficult for me to accept Gmirkin's proposition for the simple reason that in my latest investigation of Philo posting.php?mode=quote&f=6&p=147582 he imagines a universe where the entire concept of "priesthood" or "priest" is allegorized. Why is this? Why if Alexandria was the "home" of the Pentateuch would the Jews there have imagined a system where - as I have demonstrated - every Jew was his own priest? The answer must have something to do with the fact that there were no priests in Egypt.
The Elephantine evidence proves there were priests in Egypt in the Persian era.

Philo, writing a philosophical treatise, cannot be used as evidence for practices centuries before his time unless he can demonstrate that his knowledge of those earlier times is based on sources contemporary with those times. That's just basic historical research 101 that every historian knows. (Except, as I have also said, too many -- not all but way too many -- biblical scholars ignore.)

Gmirkin's principle argument does not even depend on the "scribes at Alexandria" model. That Alexandria was the site of the composition of the Pentateuch is introduced by Gmirkin as an explanation for the main demonstration of his work: that the Pentateuch is heavily indebted to Hellenistic literary and philosophical influence. I find Gmirkin's thesis of that Hellenistic influence compelling but am not so strongly behind the Alexandrian model he proposes as the necessarily best explanation. It may be. It may be correct. But there are other possibilities, too, that might explain the Hellenistic foundations of the Pentateuch. I have less confidence in the report of Aristeas containing some "historical core" than Gmirkin does -- though at the end of the day I may well conclude that explanation the best one. Right now, I'm still studying the whole question.

Here's a most valuable piece of advice that I read in another work:

"After all these observations, which have seemed necessary, it is time to leave the liberty of examining the essay that I propose. But I beg those who will take the trouble to suspend their judgement until after the reading ... I would even like to ask them not to pass final judgment on a first reading. When it is necessary to get rid of a prejudice in which one has been nurtured, one must accustom oneself little by little to the contrary view and give time to act on the reasons one has for embracing it, because prejudice never yields except with difficulty and counterbalances the strongest evidence for a long time" (translation of Jean Astruc, the eighteenth century "father" of the Documentary Hypothesis)

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Re: Were There Ever Jewish Priests and Priesthood in Hellenistic Egypt?

Post by rgprice »

The proposition that the works were composed in Alexandria doesn't mean that the priests who composed them were from Alexandria. Palestine was a backwater in the 4th-3rd century BCE. Jews were not in control of society in Egypt, but they were in Palestine after the fall of the Persians. Why would there be any desire to have a priesthood based out of a region not under your control, when you have other places that are under your control? An Egyptian priesthood could too easily have been dominated by the Ptolemies, whereas Palestinian priesthoods had more prospects for autonomy.

Having a single temple makes sense. There was only one god. The temple was the house of the god. The house of the Lord, according to the Deuteronomist writers, housed the presence of the Lord, while the Lord God remained in heaven. But the presence of the Lord was envisioned like an incarnation and could only be in one place at a time. It could not exist in two places at the same time. Thus, there was only a single house for the presence of the Lord.
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Secret Alias
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Re: Were There Ever Jewish Priests and Priesthood in Hellenistic Egypt?

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Well yes and no. Gmirkin's proposition is X. That's true. But clearly there is a tradition that the Oniads moved to Egypt. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/ ... 58-021/pdf Does this tradition require the existence of a temple? Not really. The Samaritans have a priesthood without a temple for the last 2000 years. Indeed the Pentateuch only sets up the manufacture of a flimsy tabernacle.
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Secret Alias
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Re: Were There Ever Jewish Priests and Priesthood in Hellenistic Egypt?

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Here is the pertinent section of Jewish War:
Now Lupus did then govern Alexandria, who presently sent Caesar word of this commotion; who having in suspicion the restless temper of the Jews for innovation, and being afraid lest they should get together again, and persuade some others to join with them, gave orders to Lupus to demolish that Jewish temple which was in the region called Onion, 1 and was in Egypt, which was built and had its denomination from the occasion following: Onias, the son of Simon, one of the Jewish high priests fled from Antiochus the king of Syria, when he made war with the Jews, and came to Alexandria; and as Ptolemy received him very kindly, on account of hatred to Antiochus, he assured him, that if he would comply with his proposal, he would bring all the Jews to his assistance; and when the king agreed to do it so far as he was able, he desired him to give him leave to build a temple some where in Egypt, and to worship God according to the customs of his own country; for that the Jews would then be so much readier to fight against Antiochus who had laid waste the temple at Jerusalem, and that they would then come to him with greater good-will; and that, by granting them liberty of conscience, very many of them would come over to him.

So Ptolemy complied with his proposals, and gave him a place one hundred and eighty furlongs distant from Memphis. That Nomos was called the Nomos of Hellopolls, where Onias built a fortress and a temple, not like to that at Jerusalem, but such as resembled a tower. He built it of large stones to the height of sixty cubits; he made the structure of the altar in imitation of that in our own country, and in like manner adorned with gifts, excepting the make of the candlestick, for he did not make a candlestick, but had a [single] lamp hammered out of a piece of gold, which illuminated the place with its rays, and which he hung by a chain of gold; but the entire temple was encompassed with a wall of burnt brick, though it had gates of stone. The king also gave him a large country for a revenue in money, that both the priests might have a plentiful provision made for them, and that God might have great abundance of what things were necessary for his worship. Yet did not Onias do this out of a sober disposition, but he had a mind to contend with the Jews at Jerusalem, and could not forget the indignation he had for being banished thence. Accordingly, he thought that by building this temple he should draw away a great number from them to himself. There had been also a certain ancient prediction made by [a prophet] whose name was Isaiah, about six hundred years before, that this temple should be built by a man that was a Jew in Egypt. And this is the history of the building of that temple.

And now Lupus, the governor of Alexandria, upon the receipt of Caesar's letter, came to the temple, and carried out of it some of the donations dedicated thereto, and shut up the temple itself. And as Lupus died a little afterward, Paulinns succeeded him. This man left none of those donations there, and threatened the priests severely if they did not bring them all out; nor did he permit any who were desirous of worshipping God there so much as to come near the whole sacred place; but when he had shut up the gates, he made it entirely inaccessible, insomuch that there remained no longer the least footsteps of any Divine worship that had been in that place. Now the duration of the time from the building of this temple till it was shut up again was three hundred and forty-three years.

343 - 72 = 271 BCE. Now the reference to Antiochus Epiphanes is second century BCE.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Were There Ever Jewish Priests and Priesthood in Hellenistic Egypt?

Post by neilgodfrey »

Secret Alias wrote: Mon Jan 02, 2023 2:15 pm Well yes and no. Gmirkin's proposition is X. That's true. But clearly there is a tradition that the Oniads moved to Egypt. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/ ... 58-021/pdf Does this tradition require the existence of a temple? Not really.
Curiously, the page you link to is the first page of the concluding chapter of a 500+ page book discussing the TEMPLE of the Oniad priesthood IN EGYPT.
Secret Alias wrote: Mon Jan 02, 2023 4:10 pm Here is the pertinent section of Jewish War:
The same book opens with an 80+ page chapter addressing the evidence of Josephus to the question you raised.
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