Historic Jesus
The Jews of Alexandria

As early as three hundred years before Jesus, there was a thriving Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt, which had been founded by Alexander the Great. Under the Ptolemies and the Romans, the city became a major commercial, governmental, and cultural center that attracted businessmen and scholars from throughout the Mediterranean world. By the time of the Romans, two of the five sections of the city were primarily Jewish. Every section of the city had a synagogue. The central synagogue was world- famous for its size and splendor. Some of the Jews were wealthy merchants or bankers; most were craftsmen and artisans.

Members of the Jewish community regularly traveled between Alexandria and Jerusalem, which was three hundred fifty miles to the east. The Alexandrian Jewish community maintained a large and prosperous synagogue in Jerusalem for use by Alexandrian Jews while there. Wealthy Alexandrian Jews contributed heavily to the Jerusalem temple and synagogues. These benefactors are remembered in inscriptions that survive to this day.

Alexandria was a major world center for Hellenization. Greek culture was deeply admired and energetically propagated. The Jews of Alexandria had to come to terms with this alien culture. In the third and second centuries before Christ, learned Jews in Alexandria translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek. This translation, the Septuagint, was made to share the Jewish Scriptures with the rest of the world. The writers of the New Testament often quoted from the Septuagint.

Philo, a Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, claimed that Greek philosophy could be traced to Hebrew sources. He also translated the Jewish concepts of God into Greek philosophical terminology. God's relationship with the world was described by Philo and his followers in allegorical language, which later influenced the speculations of medieval Jewish and Christian philosophers.

Joseph and Mary, with Jesus, fled from Herod. They probably went to Alexandria where they would have been lost in the anonymity of the large Jewish community. The couple may have had relatives in Alexandria to assist them, and Joseph might have worked as a carpenter, too. Although no one is certain about the length of their stay, Joseph and his family might have lived there from two to ten years.