The Egyptian Government is planning to open later this year the new Alexandria Library to be named Bibliotheca Alexandrina. This is an ambitious project reviving the famous Library of Antiquity which was destroyed 16 centuries ago. The new library is being financed by donations from various Arab and International countries and is planned to contain 2.5 million books and manuscripts for the benefit of scholars from all over the world.
When, during a recent visit to London, Suzanne Mubarak wife of the President, was asked whether the new library will be subjected to censorship or freedom of expression, she said "I hope so".
We must recall at this stage that Alexandria was the great centre of the Jewish diaspora in classical times. According to Josephus, the famous Jewish historian of the 1st century CE, Jews settled in Alexandria from its establishment in honour of Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BCE. In the Roman period, they constituted a considerable proportion of the population; of the five districts two were inhabited by Jews, totalling nearly a million. The Great Synagogue of Alexandria was so vast, that the Shamash had to wave a flag every time the congregation had to say Amen.
The Jews of Alexandria played an important economic role. The community was autonomous, but its legal position deteriorated under Roman rule. The Jews aspired to civic rights while the pagan Alexandrians, strongly anti-Jewish, objected; against this background, grave riots broke out in 38 CE against the Jews. In 66, under the influence of the rebellion in Judea, disturbances broke out among the Jews, but were suppressed with cruelty by the Roman governor, the convert Tiberius Julius Alexander. In 115-7, at the time of the general Jewish revolt, the Alexandrian Jews were heavily attacked and punished, their Great Synagogue being burnt down. As a result of these risings, the Jewish population diminished. Their condition deteriorated further with the establishment of Christian predominance. In 414, owing to the inflammatory preaching of the Patriarch Cyril, they were expelled from the city, but many evidently returned; as at the Arab conquest (642) their number was again considerable. but by then leadership has passed from Alexandria to Cairo.
In 1937, the Jewish population numbered over 24,000, but after the advent of Nasser only 2,760 remained; very few remained by the 1970's.
Septuagint (from Latin), mentioned above, refers to the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, based on legend according to which 72 elders of Israel translated Pentateuch into Greek in Alexandria in 3rd century BCE, for the benefit of the large Greek-speaking Jewish population of Alexandria. Designation extended to the entire Bible as translated into Greek during the following two centuries.
The United Nations must make sure that the Egyptian Government does not gloss over or diminish the outstanding role of the Jews in the history of Alexandria.
Visiting Alexandria and wanting to keep up with your e-mail? Take coffee in the Cyber Access Cafe in the Smouha Shopping Mall, in Laurent (Louran) on Abdelsalam Aref Street (Tram Street).
Smouha Mall is named after Baghdad-born Joseph Smouha who came to Egypt in the 1920's and established there the modern Smouha City which was appropriated by Nasser after the Suez war.
Abdulsalam Aref was one of the leaders of the 1958 Revolution in Iraq. He was a pro-Nasserite and once boasted to him regarding one of Nasser's enemies, "You want me to kill him? A bullet costs only 20 fils!"
If you would like to make any comments or contribute to the scribe please contact us.