The Divergence of Judaism and Islam. Interdependence, Modernity, and Political Turmoil

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240 · Rachel Maissy-Noy

during the Persian period, as well as the history of the Leontopolis com-
munity that settled there during the period of Ptolemaic rule about three
hundred years later. ̔Abd al ̔Aalim and Abd al-Muḥsin describes the
atmosphere of tolerance created by Egyptian rulers, whether under a
Persian, Hellenist, or Roman regime, who granted the Jews economic,
cultural, and religious freedom to integrate into most of the economic,
military, and administrative branches of the government. Their histories
mention the names of Jewish personalities who rose to high positions
under Ptolemaic rule, such as Dositheus, son of Dromilus, and Tiberius
Julius Alexander, nephew of Philo of Alexandria, who even became pre-
fect of Egypt. But most of all, these two historians emphasize Onias IV,
the head of the Jewish community during the Hellenistic period, who
was named a county governor and who built for his community a small
temple in Leontopolis modeled on the temple in Jerusalem.
Other researchers who describe Jewish history in antiquity deal with
the three main areas of Jewish concentration: Egypt, Mesopotamia, and
the Arabian Peninsula. They, too, describe the idyllic way of life of the
Jews in their environments and indicate that the rulers were not hostile
toward them. In order to demonstrate this claim, they present a list of
Jewish personalities of high administrative and financial rank who had
served as counselors in the palaces of the rulers.^27 Among other promi-
nent examples of Jewish success, they mention Joseph’s high position in
the court of Pharaoh and Onias in the court of Cleopatra. Other names
are those of Pekah and Nedebiah in Sennacherib’s court, but above all the
story of Esther and Mordechai in the court of Xerxes, king of Persia.
Moreover, the story of the aforementioned independent Jewish king-
doms, Ḥidyab, Ḥimyar, and Khazaria, occupies an important place in the
Egyptian narrative and serves as a typical example of the religious and
political influence of the Jews in the antiquity and early Middle Ages.^28
Apart from these political achievements, monumental spiritual suc-
cesses are also mentioned, such as the Bible translation into Greek in the
third century bc as proof of the cultural integration of the Jews in the
Hellenic world.^29 Also extensively mentioned is the story of the prosper-
ous Babylonian talmudic schools (yeshivas) of Sura, Pumbeditha, and
Neharde ̔a as proof of the tolerant atmosphere that enabled the Jews to
develop their spiritual and creative lives.^30 Part of this list of achieve-
ments includes the editing and distribution of the Babylonian and Jerusa-

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