Jewish pilgrimage and Jewish identity in Hellenistic and early Roman Egypt

Allen Kerkeslager, University of Pennsylvania


Much remains to be done in clarifying the nuances of Jewish identity in the Greco-Roman period. This dissertation advances the understanding of ancient constructions of Jewish identity through a study of the ways in which Jewish identity was expressed in pilgrimage traditions in Egypt in the Hellenistic and early Roman periods. This study includes a discussion of Jewish identity at Elephantine during the Persian period, but the emphasis is on the period from ca. 332 BCE to 117 CE. Literary, papyrological, epigraphic, and archaeological sources are used. Issues addressed include pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem; pilgrimage traditions at Elephantine; pilgrimage to Jewish temples and synagogues in Egypt; the cult of the dead; pilgrimage to the tombs of Jewish martyrs, heroes, and ancestors; Jewish festivals unique to Egypt (e.g., the festivals in 3 Maccabees and the Septuagint festival on Pharos Island in Alexandria); and Jewish participation in non-Jewish cults (e.g., at El-Kanais and in Apollonopolis Magna (Edful)). The longest chapter discusses pilgrimage to Mt. Sinai and/or Mt. Horeb. Early post-biblical sources such as the Septuagint, Demetrius, Philo, Jubilees, Paul (in Galatians), Josephus, Eusebius, and others suggest that Jews in the Greco-Roman period believed that Mt. Sinai was located in northwestern Arabia east of the Red Sea near the city of Madyan (modern Al-Bad'). One possible mountain with which Jews in the Greco-Roman period may have identified Mt. Sinai is Jebel al-Lawz. This study concludes that a number of factors may have played a role in the diverse expressions of Jewish identity in Egypt. These include a geographical connection to Palestine; interest in Hellenistic culture more than Egyptian culture; continuities and discontinuities with older Israelite traditions of identity and later Jewish and Christian pilgrimage traditions; and ambiguities in the central focus of Jewish identity.

Subject Area

Religious history|Ancient civilizations|Bible

Recommended Citation

Kerkeslager, Allen, "Jewish pilgrimage and Jewish identity in Hellenistic and early Roman Egypt" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9814870.