We know that Islamists in the Middle East have sought to destroy any vestiges ancient civilizations that pre-dated the grand Jihad of Mohammed and his companions. The Western world has been appalled by the Islamic State’s destruction of ancient Assyrian artifacts in Mosul, ancient Churches on the plains of Nineveh, Roman temples in Palmyra, Syria and other UNESCO designated sites. They were striped of artifacts and statuary from these preserved sites to sell on the antiquities black market. Then there is the latest example from Egypt reported by The Jerusalem Post. The discovery of Jewish Stars of David symbols engraved in an ancient temple on Elephantine Island in Aswan, Egypt, “Star of David engraved into ancient Temple causes bustle in Egypt:”
Egypt has recently been witnessing a great commotion following the archaeological discovery of two Star of David engravings in an ancient Temple in the southern city of Aswan.
The Roman Temple, which dates back to the 3rd century B.C, is located in the Elephantine Island in Aswan.
Dr. Mahmoud Afifi, the head of the Egyptian Antiquities branch in the Antiquities Ministry, said that he noticed a stone with two Star of David engravings in the Roman temple.
Afifi accused the delegation of German archaeologists that has been working on the site’s reconstruction of engraving the Stars of David into the Shrine’s stone.
Afifi ordered the archaeologists to immediately remove the stone with the Star of David’s engraving from the temple, threatening to take all legal measures against them if they would ever repeat such a move.
An Egyptian news site, Suezbalady, went even further, claiming that the two Star of David engravings that were found were drawn by a Jewish member of the German delegation, who wanted to vandalize Egyptian culture and provoke Egyptians.
The newly-appointed Egyptian Antiquities Minister, Khaled Anani, released a press statement Saturday following his visit to the Aswan shrine.
Anani stated that he had instructed the joint Egyptian-German group to submit him a scientific report about the two engravings found on one of the temple’s walls. “The report will include a picture of the stone under discussion from the time it was discovered, to explore its archaeological repercussions without the two Star of David engravings, “Anani said.
“We will be aided by an expert of Islamic antiquities to understand whether the Sign of David was common in that early period”, Anani announced.
This led to an exchange Dr. Stephen Bryen who has read in translation many of the ancient Elephantine Papyri and this writer.
I read this and sardonically chortled about this. The Egyptians, whether Coptics or Muslims, are paranoid about the ancient Hebrew military colony at Elephantine Island in Aswan where refugees from the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC brought my first name shearer in Hebrew, Yirmeyahu, the prophet Jeremiah, the unloved one, to his ultimate fateful end. They even built a small version of the First Temple to worship Ha’ Shem there. The modern day Egyptians must have erased from their archaeological memories the Elephantine Papyri. Serves them right to be embarrassed by the truth but typical of their paranoia about pre Islamic history. I wonder if those Hebrew refugees brought the Holy Ark of the Covenant with them to Elephantine from whence the legend arose about its removal to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church holy site in Axum , among other rumored locations. Then again it may have been perhaps buried as booty in some Pharaoh’s tomb to be ‘ discovered’ by the fictional figure of intrepid archaeologist and anti Nazi hero Indiana Jones portrayed by Harrison Ford in the Spielberg thriller, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Dr. Stephen Bryen:
I read all the known papyri (translated) and found them absolutely fascinating. Most of them are about “local” matters such as a dispute over an overhang in an alley between two homes. But a few deal with the Elephantine temple which was sacked by local Egyptians when the Jews set up a sacrifice for Passover (Pesach), animal sacrifices being absolutely verboten in Egypt. The Jews then appealed to Jerusalem and then to one Bagoas (“Petition to Bagoas”) in a letter written in 407 BCE to Bagoas, the Persian governor of Judea. Not sure he ever replied.
Now the Egyptians are at it again.
Dr. Bryen provided us with the translation of the Petition to Bagoas.
The papyrus image I shared is in fact the letter to Bagoas from Elephantine’s priests, written in Aramaic. Here is the letter translated. Note the month is Tammuz when the temple was destroyed, some months after Passover (roughly 3 months). Also note that they seem to have killed the perpetrators. (Bagoas is the modern spelling of Bagohi.)
To our lord, Bagohi, governor of Yehud, (from) your servants: Yedaniah and his associates, the priests who are in the fortress of Yeb. May the God of the Heavens perpetually pursue the welfare of our lord greatly and grant you favors before Darius the king and the “sons of the palace” a thousand times more than now. May you be joyful and healthy at all times.
Now your servant Yedaniah and his associates testify as follows:
In the month of Tammuz, in the fourteenth year of King Darius, when Arsames departed and went to the king, the priests of the god Khnub, who is in the fortress of Yeb, conspired with Vidranga, who was administrator here, to destroy the temple of Yahu in the fortress of Yeb. So that villian Vidranga sent this order to his son Nefayan, who was in command of the garrison of the fortress at Sawn: “The temple of the god Yahu in the fortress of Yeb shall be destroyed.” Nefayan consequently led the Egyptians with other troops. Arriving with their weapons at the fortress of Yeb, they entered the temple and burned it to the ground. They smashed the stone pillars that were there. They demolished five great gateways constructed of hewn blocks of stone which were in the temple; but their doors (are still standing), and the hinges of those doors are made of bronze. And the roof of cedar in its entirety, with the . . . and whatever else was there, were all burned with fire. As for the basins of gold and silver and other articles that were in the temple, they carried all of them off and took them as personal possessions.
Now, our ancestors built this temple in the fortress of Yeb in the days of the kingdom of Egypt; and when Cambyses came to Egypt he found it (already) constructed. They (the Persians) knocked down all the temples of the Egyptian gods; but no one damaged this temple. But when this happened, we and our wives and our children wore sackcloth, and fasted, and prayed to Yahu, the Lord of Heaven, who has let us “see to” Vidranga. The axes removed the anklet from his feet (?) and any property he had acquired was lost. And all those who have sought to do evil to this temple—all of them—have all been killed, and we have “seen to” them.
We have (previously) sent letters to our lord when this catastrophe happened to us;
and to the high priest Yehochannan and his associates, the priests in Jerusalem; and to Ostan, the kinsman of Anani; and the Judahite elites. They have never sent us a letter. Furthermore, from the month of Tammuz, the fourteenth year of Darius the king, until today, we have been wearing sackcloth and fasting, making our wives as widows, not anointing ourselves with oil or drinking wine. Furthermore, from then until now, in the seventeenth year of Darius the king, no grain-offering, incense, or burnt-offering has been sacrificed in this temple.
Now your servants Yedaniah, and his associates, and the Judahites, all inhabitants of Yeb, state: If it seems good to our lord, remember this temple to reconstruct it, since they do not let us reconstruct it. Look to your clients and friends here in Egypt. Let a letter be sent from you to them concerning the temple of the god Yahu to construct it in the fortress of Yeb as it was before. And the grain-offering, incense, and burnt-offering will be offered in your name, and we will pray for you continuously—we, our wives, and our children, and the Judahites who are here, all of them—if you do this so that this temple is reconstructed. And you shall have honor before Yahu, the God of the Heavens, more than a man who offers him burnt-offerings and sacrifices worth a thousand talents of silver and gold. Because of this, we have written to inform you. We have also set forth the whole matter in a letter in our name to Delaiah and Shelemiah, the sons of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria. Furthermore, Arsames (the Persian satrap) knew nothing of all that was perpetrated on us.
On the twentieth of Marcheshwan, the seventeenth year of King Darius.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.