The New Testament was written in Greek, so I must be even more cautious when dealing with the meanings of English or Latin terms derived from the Greek biblical texts. At the time of the New Testament writings, Alexandria had a larger Jewish population than Jerusalem. Greek was spoken by more Jews than Hebrew. How did the early followers of Jesus Christ understand themselves and their symbolic activities? Why did all these early Jewish followers of Jesus write in Greek, instead of Hebrew?
The 2nd century apostolic writers had a loose connection to the original apostles. Some of these early 2nd century writings were occasionally considered part of the canonical biblical writings. This post-apostolic group lived after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. These authors included Clement of Rome (40-101 CE) and his writings, as well as the so-called Second Letter of Clement, a 2nd century sermon, but not from Clement. There also was Ignatius of Antioch (50-117 CE) with his letters, and the 2nd century Pseudo-Barnabas letter. From the late 1st century, the Didache, the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, has intrigued scholars. The 2nd century Shepherd of Hermas, has an apocalyptic document that included visions, commands, mandates, and parables or similitudes. Theophilus of Antioch (115-180 CE) and Melito of Sardis (+190 CE), an important bishop of Asia Minor, were writing apologists for Christianity. Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE) and his pupil Origen (185-254 CE) played an important role in the developing Christian theology in Alexandria. Justin the martyr (100-165 CE) gave a great description of the Christian activities. Irenaeus (140-202 CE), a disciple of the martyr Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna, wrote against various early Christian heretics.
“Then the king of the south
Shall be strong.
But one of his officers
Shall grow stronger
He shall rule
A realm greater
Than his own realm.”
The king of the south was Ptolemy I (305-283 BCE), a general who had served with Alexander the Great. He took over Egypt and Hellenized it with the important Greek speaking city of Alexandria. Seleucus I Nicator (305-281 BCE) was his officer who grew stronger than Ptolemy. He then became known as the king of the north.
“On that day,
There will be five cities
In the land of Egypt
That speak the language of Canaan.
They swear allegiance
To Yahweh of hosts.
One of these will be called
The City of the Sun.”
This section seems to imply that Israelites had settled in 5 Egyptian cities. We know that they were in Alexandria after the 4th century BCE. Perhaps there were some settlements in the 6th century BCE during the time of the Exile. On other hand, some of these may have been Israelites who never left Egypt when Moses led the Exodus. 5 of these cities in Egypt were speaking Canaanite or a Semitic language, not the Egyptian language. They all swore allegiance to Yahweh. One of these cities was the City of Sun, probably a reference to Heliopolis, which is near present day Cairo.
“My grandfather Jesus
Devoted himself especially
To the reading of the Law,
To the reading of the Prophets,
To the reading of the other books of our ancestors.
After acquiring considerable proficiency in them,
He was himself also led to write something
Pertaining to instruction,
Pertaining to wisdom.
By becoming familiar with this book,
Those who love learning
Should make even greater progress
In living according to the law.”
Who is Grandpa Jesus? Obviously, he is the grandfather of this writer/translator. This ‘Jesus’ is the Anglicized form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς or the Aramaic Yeshua. He was the son of Sirach, a Jewish scribe who had been living in Jerusalem. He then authored this work in Alexandria, Egypt, around 180–175 BCE, where he is thought to have established a school. He is sometimes referred to as Ben Sira, son of Sir, or as it has been rendered in Greek, ‘Sirach’. There are all kinds of Jewish stories about his background. This ‘Jesus’ or ‘Sirach’ was a devoted scholar of the Hebrew Law, Prophets, and the other books of the Hebrew Bible. He wanted to share some of the instruction and wisdom that he had received from these books. Thus this author, his grandson, wants those who loved learning to become familiar with this work. With that, they would be better able to follow the Law itself.
We are about to celebrate the purification,
We write to you.
Will you therefore please keep the days?
It is God who has saved all his people.
He has returned the inheritance to all,
And the consecration.
He had promised this through the law.
For we have hope in God
That he will soon have mercy on us.
He will gather us from everywhere
Under heaven into his holy place.
He has rescued us from great evils.
He has purified the place.”
Finally, this long letter ends with its purpose, an invitation to the Egyptian Jews at Alexandria to keep the 8 days of worship celebrating the renewal of the Temple in Jerusalem under Judas Maccabeus. God has saved his people. He has returned that inheritance which is kingship, priesthood, and consecration through the law. They hoped that God would have mercy on them, so that they all could gather everyone together in this holy place. God had already rescued them from many great evils and purified this place. The ideal would be to have all Jews returning to Jerusalem.
“The same things are reported in the records
And in the memoirs of Nehemiah.
He also founded a library.
He collected the books about the kings and prophets,
And the writings of David.
He collected the letters of kings about votive offerings.
In the same way Judas also collected all the books
That had been lost on account of the war
That had come upon us.
Now they are in our possession.
So if you have need of them,
Send people to get them for you.”
We do have the book of Nehemiah. Whether there were other records or memoires that is mentioned in a library, we are not sure. Nowhere else is there a mention of a library, but Nehemiah and Ezra were 5th century BCE scholars who worked with the law. They may have been the first to have what might be called an unofficial canon of the Bible. He may have been the one who collected the works of the prophets and the books about the kings together with the Pentateuch to create the Hebrew Bible. Judas Maccabeus may have done the same thing. He may have gathered all the biblical books into a library since that is what the Bible means, a library of books. The other biblical moment would have been under King Josiah in the 7th century BCE, when they discovered the book of the law. These Jewish people were willing to lend them out. Alexandria was a major world library at this time. It was there in the 2nd and 3rd century BCE that the translation of the Hebrew Bible into the Greek Septuagint Bible took place. This is one of the few biblical occasions where someone is vaguely talking about the makeup of the Bible itself.