||On the Jewish military outpost and community in Elephantine, Egypt by Dr. of Philosophy Anton Jirku. The text is comprised of eight of chapters and a conclusion. Elephantine “the city of ivories,” is situated at the southern end of a small island in the Nile, several kilometers north of the First Cataract and opposite the city of Sun (the Syene of Ezek. 29:10 and the modern Aswan), which was located on the east bank of the river.
The Greek name Elephantine is a rendering of the original Egyptian one, preserved in the Aramaic name Yev. Elephantine was important both religiously as the city of the god Khnub and militarily as a frontier fortress defending Egypt's southern gateways against the neighboring Nubians, who frequently plundered the rich land of the Nile. Under the Persian rule of Egypt (from 525 B.C.E.), Elephantine was the site of a large military camp of mercenaries, which included companies or regiments (degalim, “banners”) of Jewish mercenaries. It was also the site of the Persian military command, the civil capital being at Syene. With the ebb of paganism and the rise of Christianity, Elephantine's final decline set in. The inhabitants left and the ruins of the town served as an almost inexhaustible source of building material for the city of Aswan. There are no external sources on the history of the Elephantine community during the whole of its existence. When the southern frontier was exposed to Nubian raids, Jewish soldiers were sent to defend it, perhaps as early as under the Assyrian regime. Its temple may have been built in the second half of the seventh century or at the beginning of the sixth, in any event before the Persian conquest of Egypt, as mentioned in the letter of the Elephantine Jews themselves, undoubtedly on the basis of a faithful tradition which they possessed (Cowley 30). There may be a connection between the building of the temple at Elephantine and Isaiah's prophecy (19:19) concerning the “altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt” and the “pillar at the border thereof,” and it may have been built under the influence of this prophecy. The Jewish soldiers who arrived at the border of Egypt with the armies of Ashurbanipal may have viewed this circumstance as a fulfillment of the prophecy and accordingly built an “altar” and a “pillar at the border.” This early dating of the temple at Elephantine is supported by the heterogeneous nature of the Elephantine Jews' religion. The description contained in the Elephantine Jews' letter to. Bigvai, the governor of Yahud (Cowley 30:9–12), attests to the great magnificence of the building, which was undoubtedly very costly to construct, and apparently “the Jewish force” could not by itself afford to erect such a splendid structure. Since there were also Jewish civilians living at Elephantine, the temple was probably not built until civilians came to settle there. Together with the soldiers it was then possible to carry out the great undertaking. Hence the temple was presumably not built in the early days of the Jewish settlement at Elephantine, but later when the community had attained a certain wealth. In general, apparently, relations with their Egyptian neighbors were strained, although there were also instances of marriage between Jews and Egyptian non-Jews, in which case it would seem that the Egyptian partner had to become converted to Judaism. This is inferred by several scholars from the fact that the Egyptian Ashor's sons had Jewish names (Yedonyah and Mahseiah: Cowley 20).
In 411 B.C.E. the temple of the Elephantine Jews was destroyed by the priests of Khnub with the help of the Persian commander Waidrang. The position of the Jews probably deteriorated with the Egyptians' accession to power. While they were soldiers in the service of the Persian king the Jews were under his protection, but with the expulsion of the Persians from Egypt at the end of the fifth century B.C.E. and the rise of the Egyptian kingdom, the position of the Elephantine Jews undoubtedly worsened (cf. the fragmentary document Cowley 37, which refers to a dispute between the Elephantine Jews, who were wronged and “fear robbery because they are few,” and the Egyptians). Yet it cannot definitely be asserted that the end of Persian rule in Egypt also marked the end of “the Jewish force” at Elephantine. Military requirements doubtless made it necessary to keep an army on the frontier even after the expulsion of the Persians, and it was presumably impossible easily to dispense with the Jewish soldiers, who for several generations had been trained and experienced in guarding Egypt's southern frontier. Nor presumably were the Jews excluded, after the Macedonian conquest of Egypt, from military service on the southern frontier, although there was undoubtedly a fundamental change in organization.
Anton Jirku (b.1885) was a German Bible scholar. Born in Birnbaum, Moravia, Jirku was a pupil of Ernst Sellin. From 1914 he taught at Kiel University and then held professorships at Breslau (1922), Greifswald (1934), and Bonn (1935–45). The basic trend in his work, prolific and often forced in its scholarly presentation (see his collected works Von Jerusalem nach Ugarit, 1966), is the attempt to understand biblical phenomena by comparing them with their ancient oriental environment. His early works are mainly concerned with the popular religion of ancient Israel, in particular with its miraculous and magical elements (Die Daemonen und ihre Abwehr im Alten Testament, 1912; Mantik in Altisrael, 1913; Materialien zur Volksreligion Israels, 1914). He collected ancient oriental parallels to the separate books of the Bible in his Altorientalischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament (1923). Numerous single studies led up to his Geschichte des Volkes Israel (1931), and Geschichte Palaestina-Syriens im orientalischen Altertum (1963). The point of departure in his later works was mainly Ugaritic texts, a selection of which he translated (Kanaanaeische Mythen und Epen aus Ras Schamra-Ugarit, 1962).