Becoming Diaspora Jews: Behind the Story of Elephantine
Author: Karel van der Toorn
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Becoming Diaspora Jews tells the story of the earliest Jewish diaspora in Egypt in a way it has never been told before. In the fifth century BCE, there was a Jewish community on Elephantine Island. Why they spoke Aramaic, venerated Aramean gods besides Yaho, and identified as Arameans is a mystery, but a previously little-explored papyrus from Egypt sheds new light on their history.
The papyrus shows that the ancestors of the Elephantine Jews came originally from Samaria. Due to political circumstances, they left Israel and lived for a century in an Aramean environment. Around 600 BCE, they moved to Egypt. These migrants to Egypt did not claim a Jewish identity when they arrived, but after the destruction of their temple on the island, they chose to deploy their Jewish identity to raise sympathy for their cause. Their story—a typical diaspora tale—is not about remaining Jews in the diaspora, but rather about becoming Jews through the diaspora.
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