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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]


The city of Alexandria almost realized Alexander the Great’s dream of ‘a city surpassing anything previously existing’ (Plutarch, Alex . xxvi.). Planned by Dinocrates under the king’s supervision, and built on a neck of land two miles wide interposed between the Mediterranean Sea and Lake Mareotis ( Mariut ), about 14 miles from the Canopic mouth of the Nile, it became successively the capital of Hellenic, Roman, and Christian Egypt, ‘the greatest mart in the world’ (μέγιστον ἐμπόριον τῆς οἰκουμένης, Strabo, xvii. i. 13), and next to Rome the most splendid city in the Empire. About 4 miles long from E. to W., nearly a mile wide, and about 15 miles in circumference, it was quartered-like so many of the Hellenic cities of the period-by two colonnaded thoroughfares crossing each other at a great central square, terminating in the four principal gates, and determining the line of the other streets, so that the whole city was laid out in parallelograms. The three regions into which it was divided-the Regio Judœorum, Brucheium , and Rhacôtis -corresponded generally with the three classes of the population-Jews, Greeks, and Egyptians-while representatives of nearly all other nations commingled in its streets (Dio Chrys. Orat . 32). Diodorus Siculus, who visited it about 58 b.c., estimates (xvii. 52) its free citizens at 300,000, and it probably had at least an equal number of slaves.

‘Its fine air,’ says Strabo, ‘is worthy of remark: this results from the city being on two sides surrounded by water, and from the favourable effects of the rise of the Nile,’ one canal joining the great river to the lake, and another the lake to the sea. ‘The Nile, being full, fills the lake also, and leaves no marshy matter which is likely to cause exhalations’ (xvii. i. 7).

The name of the city does not occur in the NT, but ‘Alexandrian,’ as noun and adj. (Ἀλεξανδρεύς, Ἀλεξανδρινός), is found 4 times in Acts. There was a synagogue of Alexandrians in Jerusalem ( Acts 6:9), fanatical defenders of the Mosaic faith, roused to indignation by the heresies of Stephen. Apollos was ‘an Alexandrian by race, a learned man (ἀνὴρ λόγιος; Authorized Versionand Revised Version margin, ‘eloquent’), mighty in the scriptures’ ( Acts 18:24). In one Alexandrian ship St. Paul was wrecked at Melita ( Acts 27:6), and in another he continued his voyage to Puteoli ( Acts 28:11). Here are references to the three most striking aspects of the life of Alexandria-her religion, culture, and commerce. We invert the order.

1. Commerce. -Alexandria was built on a site uniquely adapted for maritime trade. Served on her northern side by the Great Harbour and the Haven of Happy Return*[Note: Its inner basin, Kibotos, greatly enlarged, forms the modern harbour.](εὔνοστος), which were, formed by a mole seven stadia in length-the Hepta-stadium -flung across to the island of Pharos,†[Note: On the eastern point of the island was the famous Light-house, one of the ‘Seven Wonders’ of the world.]and on her southern side by the wharves of Mareotis, Alexandria entered into the heritage of both Tyre and Carthage, and drew to herself the commerce of three continents. Under the Ptolemys Egypt largely took the place of the lands around the Euxine as a grain-producing country, and ‘corn in Egypt’ became as proverbial as it had been in the days of the Pharaohs.

‘The corn which was sent from thence to Italy was conveyed in ships of very great size. From the dimensions given of one of them by Lucian, they appear to have been quite as large as the largest class of merchant ships of modern times’ (Smith, Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul 4, 1880, p. 71f.).

The cruisers and coasters of Alexandria traded with every part of the Mediterranean, and it was an ordinary occurrence to find vessels bound for Italy in the harbours of Myra and Malta ( Acts 27:6;  Acts 28:11). Seneca gives a vivid picture of the arrival of the Alexandrian fleet of merchantmen at Puteoli ( Ep . 77). The trade which came to Lake Mareotis from the Nile and the Red Sea was equally important.

‘Large fleets,’ says Strabo (xvii. i. 13), ‘are dispatched as far as India and the extremities of Ethiopia, from which places the most valuable freights are brought to Egypt, and are thence exported to other places, so that a doable amount of custom is collected, arising from imports on the one hand, and from exports on the other.’

2. Culture. -It was the great ambition of the Ptolemys to make their capital not only the commercial but the intellectual centre of the world. Alexandria really succeeded in winning for herself the crown of science, and was for centuries the foster-mother of an international Hellenic culture. The proofs of her devotion to letters were seen in the Brucheium , or central quarter of the city, which contained not only the mausoleum*[Note: Near the centre of the city, perhaps represented by the present mosque Nebi Daniel.]of Alexander, the palaces of the Egyptian kings, the Temple of Poseidon, and, at a later date, the Caesarium†[Note: Near it were ‘Cleopatra’s Needles,’ one of which in now in London, and the other in New York.]in which divine honours were paid to the Roman emperors, but the Museum, which in many ways resembled a modern university, with lecture halls and State-paid professors, and the Library, in which were accumulated the books of Greece, Rome, Egypt, and India, to the number (according to Josephus, Ant . xii. ii. 1) of more than half a million. In this home of endowed research the exact sciences flourished; Alexandria had on her roll of fame the names of Euclid in geometry, Hipparchus in astronomy, Eratosthenes in geography; and her physicians were the most celebrated in the world. For literature her savants did a noble work in collecting, revising, and classifying the records of the past. On the whole, however, her literary school was imitative rather than creative; her poets trusted more to learning than to imagination, and the muses rarely visited the Museum. The artificial atmosphere of literary criticism, which was the breath of life to grammarians, philologists, and dialecticians, chilled rather than fostered original genius. Alexandria’s most brilliant scholars, detached from the realities of life, immured in academic cloisters, were, connoisseurs, not writers, of classics.

In the Roman period ‘numerous and respectable labours of erudition, particularly philological and physical, proceeded from the circle of the savants “of the Museum,” as they entitled themselves, like the Parisians “of the Institute”; but … it was here very clearly apparent that the main matter was not pensions and rewards, but the contact … of great political and great scientific work’ (Mommsen, Provinces 2, ii. 271f.).

3. Religion. -While the eclecticism of Alexandrian religion was represented in its pagan aspect by the cultus of the Serapeum, the most famous of the city’s temples, in which the attempt was made to blend the creeds of Greece and Egypt, the grafting of Judaism on Hellenism flowered into a system which had far more influence upon the permanent thought of the world. The migration of the Jews to Egypt, which began at the time of the downfall of Jerusalem ( Jeremiah 42:14), increased rapidly under the Ptolemys, who welcomed them as colonists, giving them equal civic rights with the Macedonians and Greeks-rights which both Julius Caesar and Augustus contirmed to them. Occupying their own quarter of the city-the north-eastern-and forming, under their ethnarch or ‘alabarch,’ a community within a community, they were yet profoundly influenced by their environment, and developed not only a genius for trade but a passion for learning. In the beginning of our era they amounted to an eighth part of the population, and nowhere else was the scattered race so wealthy, so cultured, or so influential. Alexandria became the greatest of Jewish cities, the centre of Semitism as well as of Hellenism ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ). Naturalized in a foreign city and inevitably breathing its spirit, the Jews showed themselves at once pliant and stubborn. Glorying in the retention of their monotheistic faith, they yet dropped their sacred Hebrew language. Their Scriptures, translated into Greek‡[Note: The legend of the composition of the Septuagint, contained in the Letter of Aristeas, is probably based on facts. The initiative seems to have been taken by Ptolemy Philadelphus, who doubtless to promote the use of Greek among the Jewish population of the city. The Law was translated in the 3rd cent. b.c., the Prophets (probably) in the 2nd, and most of the ‘Writings’ in the 1st, while Ecclesiastes and Daniel were not translated till the 2nd cent. a.d.]for their own use, came into the hands of their Hellenic neighbours, who gave them in exchange the classics of Athens. Alexandria thus became the meeting-place of Eastern and Western ideals. Both races were sensitive to impressions: while the Jews felt the subtle influence of a rich civilization and a lofty philosophy, the Greeks were attracted by a strange note of assurance regarding God. In an eclectic age and city, the endeavour was consequently made to harmonize the religion of Moses with that of Plato. Mommsen remarks, that they were the clearest heads and the most gifted thinkers who sought admission either as Hellenes into the Jewish, or as Jews into the Hellenic, system ( Provinces 2, ii. 167). With perfect sincerity, if by faulty exegesis, the Jewish men of culture made their Scriptures yield up the doctrines of the Academy and the Stoa. The literary exponent of this spiritual rapprochement is Philo ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ), who probably did little more than give expression to the current opinions of his countrymen in the time of our Lord. While not a little of his Neo-Judaism must, on account of his persistent allegorizing, be regarded as pseudo-Judaism, he had the supreme merit of combining the highest Eastern with the highest Western view of the universe; of identifying the Hebrew ‘wisdom’ with the Greek ‘reason’; of developing Plato’s conception of the World as the θεῖον γεννητόν, the εἰκὼν τοῦ ποιητοῦ, the μονογενής (the Divine Child, the Image of its Maker, the Only-begotten) into that of the κόσμος νοητός or λόγος, which is the Invisible God’s πρωτόγονος or πρωτότοκος, His ἀπαύγασμα or χαρακτήρ; and of thus facilitating that fusion of Hellenism and Hebraism out of which so much Christian theology has sprung. Alexandrian thought provided the categories-in themselves cold and speculative-into which Christianity, as represented by the writers of Colossians, Hebrews, and the Fourth Gospel, poured the warm life-blood of a historic and humane faith. And if the Alexandrian exegetical method was often unscientific-as when it made Moses identify Abraham with understanding, Sarah with virtue, Noah with righteousness, the four streams of Paradise with the four cardinal virtues-yet the writer of Hebrews could scarcely have built a bridge between Judaism and Christianity unless he had been trained in a school which taught its disciples to pass from symbols to ultimate realities. Apollos ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ), the learned and eloquent (λόγιος, δυνατὸς ἐν ταῖς γραφαῖς), was a true Alexandrian, not impossibly ‘of the Museum’; and Luther was happily inspired in suggesting that he may have been the writer who used the Hebrew-Hellenic theology of Egypt to interpret the manger of Bethlehem. See also the following article.

Literature.-Article‘Alexandria’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible , Encyclopaedia Biblica , and in Pauly-Wissowa[Note: auly-Wissowa Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyklopädie.]; H. Kiepert, Zur Topog. des alten Alexandria , Berlin, 1872; J. P. Mahaffy, Alexander’s Empire , London, 1888, and The Silver Age of the Greek World , do. 1906; T. Mommsen, Prov. of Rom . Emp .2, 2 vols., do. 1909; J. Drummond, Philo-Judaeus , 2 vols., do. 1888; cf. also W. M. Ramsay’s article‘Roads and Travel (in NT)’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , v. 375ff.

James Strahan.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

ALEXANDRIA was founded (b.c. 332) by Alexander the Great after his conquest of Egypt. Recognizing the inconvenience caused by the want of a harbour for 600 miles along the shore, he selected as the site of a new port the village of Rhacotis, lying on a strip of land between Lake Mareotis and the sea. This he united to the little island of Pharos by a huge mole about a mile long, and thus he formed two splendid havens, which speedily became the commercial meeting-place of Africa, Asia, and Europe. The city was laid out in shape like the outspread cloak of a Macedonian soldier; in circumference about 15 miles: and it was divided into quarters by a magnificent street nearly 5 miles long, and 100 feet wide, running from E. to W., and crossed by another of somewhat lesser dimensions from N. to S. One of these quarters ( Soma , ‘the body’) received the corpse of Alexander, and preserved it embalmed in the Royal Mausoleum. The Ptolemys, who succeeded to the Egyptian portion of Alexander’s divided empire, made Alexandria their capital, and by their extensive building operations rendered the city famous for the magnificence and beauty of its public edifices. Besides the Royal Palace, the Royal Mausoleum, the Temple of Neptune, the Great Theatre, the Gymnasium, and the vast Necropolis, Alexandria possessed three other structures for which it was celebrated. (1) The Museum , which was not a place where collections were laid out for instruction, but a spot where the fine arts, science, and literature were studied. The Museum of Alexandria became in course of time practically the centre of the intellectual life of the world. It answered very largely to what we associate with the idea of a great modern university. It had its staff of State-paid professors, its professorial dining-hall, its shaded cloisters, where eager students from all parts of the world walked to and fro, listening to lectures from men like Euclid, Eratosthenes, and Hipparchus. (2) The Library , which was the greatest treasure of the city, was founded by the first Ptolemy. His successors increased the number of volumes till the collection embraced upwards of 700,000 MSS, in which were inscribed the intellectual efforts of Greece, Rome, Asia Minor, Palestine, and even India. The value of this unrivalled collection was immense. The Library was in two portions; and, in the siege of Alexandria by Julius Cæsar, the part stored in the Museum was burned; a loss, however, which was largely made up by the presentation to Cleopatra, by Mark Antony, of the Royal Library of Pergamum. The other portion was stored in the Serapeum, which in 1895 was discovered to have been situated where ‘Pompey’s Pillar’ now stands. History is undecided as to whether this celebrated Library was destroyed in a.d. 391 by Bishop Theophilus or by the Caliph Omar in a.d. 641. (3) The third structure which attracted the attention of the world to Alexandria was the Pharos (Lighthouse), erected by Ptol. II. Philadelphus, on the island which had been joined to the mainland by Alexander. Rising in storeys of decreasing dimensions to a height of 450 490 ft., adorned with white marble columns, balustrades, and statues, it was justly reckoned one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World.’ Though it was destroyed by an earthquake in a.d. 1303, it has nevertheless exercised a permanent influence on mankind. The idea of humanity to the mariner which it embodied was accepted by almost every civilized nation, and the thousands of lighthouses throughout the world to-day can all be traced to the gracious thoughtfulness which was displayed in the costly erection of this first Pharos.

In its times of greatest prosperity, Alexandria had a population of between 800,000 and 1,000,000. Trade, amusement, and learning attracted to it inhabitants from every quarter. It was an amalgam of East and West. The alertness and versatility of the Greek were here united with the gravity, conservativeness, and dreaminess of the Oriental. Alexandria became, next to Rome, the largest and most splendid city in the world. Amongst its polyglot community, the Jews formed no inconsiderable portion. Jewish colonists had settled in Egypt in large numbers after the destruction of Jerusalem ( Jeremiah 42:14 ), and during the Persian period their numbers greatly increased. The Ptolemys, with one exception, favoured them, and assigned a special quarter of the city to them. More than an eighth of the population of Egypt was Jewish. Their business instincts brought to them the bulk of the trade of the country. They practically controlled the vast export of wheat. Some had great ships with which they traded over all the Mediterranean. St. Paul twice sailed in a ship of Alexandria (  Acts 27:6;   Acts 28:11 ). The Jews were under their own governor or ‘Alabarch,’ and observed their own domestic and religious customs. Their great central synagogue was an immense and most imposing structure, where all the trade guilds sat together, and the 70 elders were accommodated in 70 splendidly bejewelled chairs of state.

It was in Alexandria that one of the most important events in the history of religion took place, when the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into the Greek tongue. The legendary tales narrated by Josephus regarding the accomplishment of this task may be dismissed as baseless. But it is undisputed that during the reigns of the earlier Lagidæ (somewhere between b.c. 250 and 132) the ‘Septuagint’ made its appearance. It is certainly not the product of a syndicate of translators working harmoniously, as Jewish tradition asserted. The work is of very unequal merit, the Pentateuch being the best done, while some of the later books are wretchedly translated. The translation was regarded by the Jews with mingled feelings, execrated by one section as the grossest desecration of the holy oracles, extolled by another section as the means by which the beauties of the Law and the Prophets could be appreciated for the first time by the Greek-speaking Gentile world. The LXX [Note: Septuagint.] became, under God’s providence, a most valuable preparation for the truths of Christianity. It familiarized the heathen nations with the God of righteousness as He had been revealed to the Jewish race. It paved the way for the gospel. It formed the Bible of the early Church. In the Eastern Church to-day it is the only orthodox text of the OT.

The wars of the Ptolemys with the Seleucidæ at Antioch are described in  Daniel 11:1-45 . Ptolemy II. Philadelphus left his mark on Palestine in the cities of Philadelphia (= Rabbath-ammon,   Deuteronomy 3:11 ), Ptolemais (  Acts 21:7 = Acco,   Judges 1:31 ), Philoteria, etc. Under Ptolemy III. Euergetes I. (b.c. 247 222) the famous ‘stele of Canopus’ was inscribed. With Ptolemy IV. Philopator the dynasty began to decline, and his oppressions of the Jews (largely mythical) are narrated in 3 Maccabees. Under Ptolemy V. Epiphanes the Alexandrian supremacy over Palestine was exchanged for that of Antiochus III. the Great (  Daniel 11:14-17 ). In his reign the celebrated ‘Rosetta stone’ was erected. The ten succeeding Ptolemys were distinguished for almost nothing but their effeminacy, folly, luxury, and cruelty. The city increased in wealth, but sank more and more in political power. Julius Cæsar stormed Alexandria in b.c. 47, and after a brief spell of false splendour under Cleopatra, it fell after the battle of Actium into the hands of the Romans, and its fortunes were henceforth merged with those of the Empire.

But while its political power was thus passing away, it was developing an intellectual greatness destined to exercise a profound influence through succeeding centuries. Among its Jewish population there had arisen a new school which sought to amalgamate Hebrew tradition and Greek philosophy, and to make the OT yield up Platonic and Stoic doctrines. This attempted fusion of Hebraism and Hellenism was begun by Aristobulus, and reached its climax in Philo, a contemporary of Jesus Christ. The Jews found in the Gentile writings many beautiful and excellent thoughts. They could logically defend their own proud claim to be the sole depositaries and custodians of Divine truth only by asserting that every rich and luminous Greek expression was borrowed from their Scriptures. Plato and Pythagoras, they declared, were deeply in debt to Moses. The Greeks were merely reproducers of Hebrew ethics, and Hebrew religious and moral conceptions. The next step was to re-write their own Scriptures in terms of Greek philosophy, and the most simple way of doing this was by an elaborate system of allegory. Philo carried the allegorizing of the OT to such an extent that he was able to deduce all the spurious philosophy he required from the most matter-of-fact narratives of the patriarchs and their wives. But it was a false issue. It was based on a logical figment, and Philo’s voluminous works, gifted and learned though he was, merely reveal that there was no hope either for Greek philosophy or for Hebrew religious development along these lines. The results of the allegorical method of interpretation, however, were seen in Christian Church history. We read of a ‘synagogue of the Alexandrians’ in Jerusalem, furiously hostile to St. Stephen with his plain declaration of facts ( Acts 6:9 ). Apollos of Alexandria (  Acts 18:24-28 ) needed to be ‘more accurately instructed’ in Christian doctrine, though we have no direct evidence that he was a disciple of Philo. The Ep. to the Hebrews shows traces of Alexandrian influence, and there are evidences that St. Paul was not unfamiliar with Alexandrian hermeneutics and terminology (cf.   Galatians 4:24-31 ). But there is no proof that St. Paul ever visited Alexandria. He seems to have refrained from going thither because the gospel had already reached the city (cf.   Romans 15:20 ). Eusebius credits St. Mark with the introduction of Christianity into Egypt. In the 2nd and 3rd cents. Alexandria was the intellectual capital of Christendom. The Alexandrian school of theology was made lustrous by the names of Pantænus, Clement, and especially Origen, who, while continuing the allegorical tradition, strove to show that Christian doctrine enshrined and realized the dreams and yearnings of Greek philosophy. The evil tendencies of the method found expression in the teachings of the Alexandrian heretics, Basilides and Valentinian. Alexandria became more and more the stronghold of the Christian faith. Here Athanasius defended contra mundum the true Divinity of Christ in the Nicene controversy, and the city’s influence on Christian theology has been profound. In a.d. 641, Alexandria fell before Amrou; in the 7th cent. it began to decline. The creation of Cairo was another blow, and the discovery in 1497 of the new route to the East via the Cape of Good Hope almost destroyed its trade. At the beginning of the 19th cent. Alexandria was a mere village. To-day it is again a large and flourishing city, with a rapidly increasing population of over 200,000, and its port is one of the busiest on the Mediterranean shore.

G. A. Frank Knight.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [3]

a famous city of Egypt, and, during the reign of the Ptolemies, the regal capital of that kingdom. It was founded by Alexander the Great: who being struck with the advantageous situation of the spot where the city afterward stood, ordered its immediate erection; drew the plan of the city himself, and peopled it with colonies of Greeks and Jews: to which latter people, in particular, he gave great encouragement. They were, in fact, made free citizens, and had all the privileges of Macedonians granted to them; which liberal policy contributed much to the rise and prosperity of the new city; for this enterprising and commercial people knew much better than either the Greeks or the Egyptians how to turn the happy situation of Alexandria to the best account. The fall of Tyre happening about the same time, the trade of that city was soon drawn to Alexandria, which became the centre of commercial intercourse between the east and the west; and in process of time grew to such an extent, in magnitude and wealth, as to be second in point of population and magnificence to none but Rome itself.

Alexandria owed much of its celebrity as well as its population to the Ptolemies. Ptolemy Soter, one of Alexander's captains, who, after the death of this monarch, was first governor of Egypt, and afterward assumed the title of king, made this city the place of his residence, about B.C. 304. This prince founded an academy, called the Museum, in which a society of learned men devoted themselves to philosophical studies, and the improvement of all the other sciences; and he also gave them a library, which was prodigiously increased by his successors. He likewise induced the merchants of Syria and Greece to reside in this city, and to make it a principal mart of their commerce. His son and successor, Ptolemy Philadelphus, pursued the designs of his father.

In the hands of the Romans, the successors of the Macedonians in the government of Egypt, the trade of Alexandria continued to flourish, until luxury and licentiousness paved the way, as in every similar instance, for its overthrow.

Alexandria, together with the rest of Egypt, passed from the dominion of the Romans to that of the Saracens. With this event, the sun of Alexandria may be said to have set: the blighting hand of Islamism was laid on it; and although the genius and the resources of such a city could not be immediately destroyed, it continued to languish until the passage by the Cape of Good Hope, in the fifteenth century, gave a new channel to the trade which for so many centuries had been its support; and at this day, Alexandria, like most eastern cities, presents a mixed spectacle of ruins and wretchedness,—of fallen greatness and enslaved human beings.

Some idea may be formed of the extent and grandeur of Alexandria, by the boast made by Amrou: "I have taken," said he, "the great city of the west. It is impossible for me to enumerate the variety of its riches and beauty. I shall content myself with observing, that it contains four thousand palaces, four thousand baths, four hundred theatres or places of amusement, twelve thousand shops for the sale of vegetable foods, and forty thousand tributary Jews."

It was in Alexandria chiefly that the Grecian philosophy was engrafted upon the stock of ancient oriental wisdom. The Egyptian method of teaching by allegory was peculiarly favourable to such a union: and we may well suppose that when Alexander, in order to preserve by the arts of peace that extensive empire which he had obtained by the force of arms, endeavoured to incorporate the customs of the Greeks with those of the Persian, Indian, and other eastern nations, the opinions as well as the manners of this feeble and obsequious race would, in a great measure, be accommodated to those of their conquerors. This influence of the Grecian upon the oriental philosophy continued long after the time of Alexander, and was one principal occasion of the confusion of opinions which occurs in the history of the Alexandrian and Christian schools. Alexander, when he built the city of Alexandria, with a determination to make it the seat of his empire, and peopled it with emigrants from various countries, opened a new mart of philosophy, which emulated the fame of Athens itself. A general indulgence was granted to the promiscuous crowd assembled in this rising city, whether Egyptians, Grecians, Jews, or others, to profess their respective systems of philosophy without molestation. The consequence was, that Egypt was soon filled with religious and philosophical sectaries of every kind; and particularly, that almost every Grecian sect found an advocate and professor in Alexandria. The family of the Ptolemies, as we have seen, who after Alexander obtained the government of Egypt, from motives of policy encouraged this new establishment. Ptolemy Lagus, who had obtained the crown of Egypt by usurpation, was particularly careful to secure the interest of the Greeks in his favour, and with this view invited people from every part of Greece to settle in Egypt, and removed the schools of Athens to Alexandria. This enlightened prince spared no pains to raise the literary, as well as the civil, military, and commercial credit of his country. Under the patronage first of the Egyptian princes, and afterward of the Roman emperors, Alexandria long continued to enjoy great celebrity as the seat of learning, and to send forth eminent philosophers of every sect to distant countries. It remained a school of learning, as well as a commercial emporium, till it was taken, and plundered of its literary treasures by the Saracens. Philosophy, during this period, suffered a grievous corruption from the attempt which was made by philosophers of different sects and countries, Grecian, Egyptian, and oriental, who were assembled in Alexandria, to frame, from their different tenets, one general system of opinions. The respect which had long been universally paid to the schools of Greece, and the honours with which they were now adorned by the Egyptian princes, induced other wise men, and even the Egyptian priests and philosophers themselves, to submit to this innovation. Hence arose a heterogeneous mass of opinions, under the name of the Eclectic philosophy, and which was the foundation of endless confusion, error, and absurdity, not only in the Alexandrian school, but among Jews and Christians; producing among the former that specious kind of philosophy, which they called their Cabala, and among the latter innumerable corruptions of the Christian faith.

At Alexandria there was, in a very early period of the Christian aera, a Christian school of considerable eminence. St. Jerome says, the school at Alexandria had been in being from the time of St. Mark. Pantaenus, placed by Lardner at the year 192, presided in it. St. Clement of Alexandria succeeded Pantaenus in this school about the year 190; and he was succeeded by Origen. The extensive commerce of Alexandria, and its proximity to Palestine, gave an easy entrance to the new religion, and when Adrian visited Egypt, he found a church composed of Jews and Greeks, sufficiently important to attract the notice of that inquisitive prince. The theological system of Plato was introduced into both the philosophical and Christian schools of Alexandria; and of course many of his sentiments and expressions were blended with the opinions and language of the professors and teachers of Christianity.

Alexandria was the source, and for some time the principal stronghold, of Arianism; which had its name from its founder, Arius, a presbyter of the church of this city, about the year 315. His doctrines were condemned by a council held here in the year 320; and afterward by a general council of three hundred and eighty fathers, held at Nice, by order of Constantine, in 325. These doctrines, however, which suited the reigning taste for disputative theology, and the pride and self-sufficiency of nominal Christians, better than the unsophisticated simplicity of the Gospel, spread widely and rapidly notwithstanding. Arius was steadfastly opposed by the celebrated Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, the intrepid champion of the catholic faith, who was raised to the archiepiscopal throne of Alexandria in 326.

This city was, in 415, distinguished by a fierce persecution of the Jews by the patriarch Cyril. They who had enjoyed the rights of citizens, and the freedom of religious worship, for seven hundred years, ever since the foundation of the city, incurred the hatred of this ecclesiastic; who, in his zeal for the extermination of heretics of every kind, pulled down their synagogues, plundered their property, and expelled them, to the number of forty thousand, from the city.

It was in a ship belonging to the port of Alexandria, that St. Paul sailed from Myra, a city of Lycia, on his way to Rome,  Acts 27:5-6 . Alexandria was also the native place of Apollos.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [4]

Alexandria ( Ăl-Egz-Ăn'Dri-A ). The Grecian capital of Egypt, founded by and named after Alexander the Great, b.c. 332. It was a noted seaport of Lower Egypt, and was situated on a low, narrow tract of land which divides Lake Mareotis from the Mediterranean, and near the western mouth of the Nile, about 120 miles from the present city of Cairo. Soon after its foundation by Alexander, it became the capital of the Ptolemies and the Grecian kings reigning in Egypt, and one of the most populous and prosperous cities of the East. Its harbor could accommodate vast navies, fitting it to become the commercial metropolis of the entire Eastern world. In front of the city, on the island of Pharos, stood a famous lighthouse, named after the island and noted as one of the seven wonders of the world. Alexandria numbered, in the days of its ancient prosperity, 800,000 inhabitants, half of them slaves, and ranked next to Athens in literature. It had the greatest library of ancient times, which contained upward of 700,000 rolls or volumes. The portion in the museum, consisting of 400,000 volumes, was burnt in b.c. 47. The additional or "new library" in the Serapeum, afterward increased to about 500,000 volumes, including the original 300,000 volumes, was destroyed by the fanatical vandalism of the Saracens in a.d. 640. At Alexandria the Old Testament was translated into the Greek by 70 learned Jews—hence called the "Septuagint"—in the third century before the Christian era. The Alexandrian Greek dialect, known as Hellenistic Greek, was the language used by the early Christian fathers, and is still the study of the biblical scholar In the pages of the New Testament. Alexandria was the birthplace of Apollos,  Acts 18:24, and in the apostle Paul's time it carried on an extensive commerce with the countries on the Mediterranean.  Acts 6:9;  Acts 27:6;  Acts 28:11. In Alexandria originated the Arian heresy denying that Jesus Christ was divine, and there Athanasius, the "father of orthodoxy," firmly opposed the false and defended the true doctrine of the deity of our Lord. From a.d. 300 to 600 the city was second only to Rome in size and importance, and was the chief seat of Christian theology. It was conquered by the Saracens under Caliph Omar about a.d. 640, when it began to decline. The rising importance of Constantinople, and the discovery of an ocean passage to India by way of Cape Good Hope, contributed to its further ruin, until it was reduced from a prosperous city of 500,000 to a poor village of only 5000 to 6000 inhabitants. It is now an important city of 240,000 inhabitants—including 50,000 Franks—and is connected with Cairo by a railway, and also with Suez, on the Red Sea. Among the ancient monuments to be seen are the Catacombs, the Column of Diocletian, 94 feet high and named "Pompey's Pillar"—not from the famous Pompey, but from a Roman prefect who erected the column in honor of the emperor Diocletian—and one of the two obelisks or "Needles of Cleopatra," which, however, belong to the time of the Pharaohs and were brought from Heliopolis. The obelisk on the embankment of the Thames, London, and the one in Central Park, New York, once stood at Alexandria.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [5]

A celebrated city in Lower Egypt, situated between the Mediterranean Sea and the lake Mareotis, not far from the most westerly mouth of the Nile. It was founded by Alexander the Great, B. C. 332, and peopled by colonies of Greeks and Jews. Alexandria rose rapidly to a state of prosperity, becoming the center of commercial intercourse between the East and the West, and in process of time was, in point both magnitude and wealth, second only to Rome itself. The ancient city was about fifteen miles in circuit, peopled by 300,000 free citizens and as many slaves. From the gate of the sea ran one magnificent street, 2,000 feet broad, through the entire length of the city, to the gate of Canopus, affording a view of the shipping in the port, whether north in the Mediterranean, or south in the noble basin of the Mareotic lake. Another street of equal width intersected this at right angles, in a square half a league in circumference.

Upon the death of Alexander, whose body was deposited in this new city, Alexandria became the regal capital of Egypt, under the Ptolemies, and rose to its highest splendor. During the reign of the first three princes of this name, its glory was at the highest. The most celebrated philosophers from the East, as well as from Greece and Rome, resorted thither for instruction; and eminent men, in every department of knowledge, were found within its walls. Ptolemy Soter, the first of that line of kings, formed the museum, the library of 700,000 volumes, and several other splendid works. At the death of Cleopatra, B. C. 26, Alexandria passed into the hands of the Romans; and after having enjoyed the highest fame for upwards of a thousand years, it submitted to the arms of the caliph Pmar, A. D. 646.

The present Alexandria, or according to the pronunciation of the inhabitants, Skanderia, occupies only about the eighth part of the site of the ancient city. The splendid temples have been exchanged for wretched mosques and miserable churches, and the magnificent palaces for mean and ill-built dwellings. The city, which was of old so celebrated for its commerce and navigation, is now merely part of Cairo, a place where ships may touch, and where wares may be exchanged. The modern city is built with the ruins of the ancient. The streets are so narrow, that the inhabitants can lay mats of reeds from one roof to the opposite, to protect them from the scorching sun. The population consists of Turks, Arabs, Copts, Jews, and Armenians. Many Europeans have counting houses here, where the factors exchange European for oriental merchandise.

The Greek or Alexandrine version of the Scriptures was made here by learned Jews, seventy-two in number, and hence it is called the Septuagint, or version of the Seventy. The Jews established themselves in great numbers in this city very soon after it was founded. Josephus says that Alexander himself assigned to them a particular quarter of the city, and allowed them equal rights and privileges with the Greeks. Philo, who himself lived there in the time of Christ, affirms that, of five parts of the city, the Jews inhabit two. According to his statements, also, there dwelt in his time, in Alexandria and the other Egyptian cities, not less than a million Jews; but this would seem exaggerated.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [6]

Founded by Alexander the Great, 332 B.C., successively the Greek, Roman, and Christian capital of Lower Egypt. Its harbors, formed by the island Pharos and the headland Lochias, were suitable alike for commerce and war. It was a chief grain port of Rome, and the grain vessels were large and handsome; usually sailing direct to Puteoli, but from severity of weather at times, as the vessel that carried Paul, sailing under the coast of Asia Minor (Acts 27). At Myra in Lycia ( Acts 27:5) the centurion found this Alexandrian. ship bound for Italy; in  Acts 27:10 Paul speaks of the "lading," without stating what it was; but in  Acts 27:38 it comes out casually. The tackling had been thrown out long before, but the cargo was kept until it could be kept no longer, and then first we learn it was wheat, the very freight which an Alexandrian vessel usually (as we know from secular authors) carried to Rome: an undesigned propriety, and so a mark of truth.

The population of Alexandria had three prominent elements, Jews, Greeks, Egyptians. The Jews enjoyed equal privileges with the Macedonians, so that they became fixed there, and while regarding Jerusalem as "the holy city," the metropolis of the Jews throughout the world, and having a synagogue there ( Acts 6:9), they had their own Greek version of the Old Testament. the Septuagint, and their own temple at Leontopolis. At Alexandia the Hebrew divine Old Testament revelation was brought into contact with Grecian philosophy. Philo's doctrine of the word prepared men for receiving the teaching of John 1 as to the Word, the Son of God, distinct in one sense yet one with God; and his allegorizing prepared the way for appreciating similar teachings in the inspired writings (e.g.  Galatians 4:22-31; Hebrew 7).

Hence Apollos, born at Alexandia, eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures, being instructed in the way of the Lord and fervent in the spirit, taught diligently (Greek accurately) the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John ( Acts 18:25); i.e., his Alexandrine education would familiarize him with Philo's idea of the word as the mediating instrument of creation and providence; and John the Baptist's inspired announcement of the personal Messiah would enable him to "teach accurately the things of the Lord" up to that point, when Aquila's and Priscilla's teaching more perfectly informed him of the whole accomplished Christian way of salvation. Mark is said to have been the first who preached and founded a Christian church in Alexandia. Various forms of Gnostic and Arian error subsequently arose there. (See Allegory .)

Smith's Bible Dictionary [7]

Alexan'dria or Alexandri'a. (from Alexander),  3 Maccabees 3:1;  Acts 18:24;  Acts 6:9. The Hellenic, Roman and Christian capital of Egypt.

Situation. - (Alexandria was situated on the Mediterranean Sea directly opposite the island of Pharos, 12 miles west of the Canopic branch of the Nile and 120 miles from the present city of Cairo). It was founded by Alexander the Great, B.C. 332, who himself traced the ground plan of the city. The work thus begun was continued after the death of Alexander by the Ptolemies.

Description. - Under the despotism of the later Ptolemies, the trade of Alexandria declined, but its population and wealth were enormous. Its importance as one of the chief corn-ports of Rome secured for it the general favor of the first emperors. Its population was mixed from the first. According to Josephus, Alexander himself assigned to the Jews a place in his new city. Philo estimated the number of the Alexandrine Jews in his time at a little less than 1,000,000 and adds that two of the five districts of Alexandria were called "Jewish districts," and that many Jews lived scattered in the remaining three.

"For a long period Alexandria was the greatest of known cities." After Rome became the chief city of the world, Alexandria ranked second to Rome in wealth and importance, and second to Athens only in literature and science. Its collection of books grew to be the greatest library of ancient times, and contained at one time 700,000 rolls or volumes.

Here was made the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Old Testament into Greek, begun about B.C. 285, especially in grain, was very great. According to the common legend, St. Mark first "preached the gospel in Egypt, and founded the first church in Alexandria." At the beginning of the second century, the number of Christians at Alexandria must have been very large, and the great leaders of Gnosticism who arose there (Basilides, Valentinus) exhibit an exaggeration of the tendency of the Church.

Present Condition. The city still bears the same name and is a thriving metropolis, with inhabitants from nearly every European and Oriental nation. Cleopatra's needle, set up by Thotmes in 1500 B.C., was found in Alexandria.

Holman Bible Dictionary [8]

Alexandria bears the name of its founder, Alexander the Great, who planted the city about 332 B.C. When Ptolemy inherited Alexander's Egyptian empire, he made Alexandria its capital. The historian Strabo purports that Alexander was later buried here.

Alexandria was designed to act as the principal port of Egypt located on the western edge of the Nile delta. Built on a peninsula, it separated the Mediterranean Sea and Lake Mareotis. A causeway (Heptastadion, or “seven stadia”) connected the peninsula with Pharos Island and divided the harbor. The Pharos lighthouse was visible for miles at a height of over 400 feet and is remembered today as one of the seven wonders of the world.

The city was divided into sections with a substantial Jewish quarter, the Royal area, the Neapolis, and a necropolis to the far west. The city was known for its cultural and academic pursuits. The finest library in the ancient world with over 500,000 volumes attracted many scholars. The Mouseion (Museum) complimented the library as the center of worship for the Muses, goddesses of “music,” dancing, and letters. It became the most important center of Judaism outside of Jerusalem. Jewish rabbis gathered in Alexandria to produce the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Greek philosophers and mathematicians such as Euclid, Aristarchus, and Eratosthenes worked here. Octavian incorporated it into the Roman empire about 30 B.C. It quickly became second in importance to Rome. Its importance declined about 100 A.D.

The educated Jews of Alexandria contended with Stephen ( Acts 6:9 ). Apollos, the great Christian orator, came from Alexandria ( Acts 18:24 ), and Paul rode the ships of that port ( Acts 27:6;  Acts 28:11 ). Although the Christians suffered persecution there, they produced a school with such notables as Clement and Origen in leadership. The school was noted for its allegorical approach to Scripture.

Gary C. Huckabay

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [9]

After his conquest in 333 BC, Alexander the Great of Greece built the city of Alexandria as a Mediterranean sea port for Egypt and named it after himself. It soon became the greatest Greek city of the time, and was famed for its architectural magnificence. It was the capital of Egypt during the Greek and Roman Empires, and was a busy centre of commercial and manufacturing activity. From here the famous grain ships of Alexandria carried Egypt’s corn to Greece and Rome ( Acts 27:6;  Acts 28:11).

The population of the city was a mixture of Greek, Egyptian, Jewish and Roman people ( Acts 6:9;  Acts 18:24). The city became a centre of learning, famous for its Greek philosophers and its Jewish Bible scholars. Some non-canonical Jewish books of pre-Christian times were written in Alexandria (see Canon ). More importantly, Alexandria was the place where seventy Jewish scholars prepared the first Greek translation of the Old Testament. This is known as the Septuagint (referred to in writing as LXX) and was widely used in New Testament times along with the Hebrew Old Testament (see Septuagint ).

A feature of the Alexandrian school of Jewish Old Testament scholars was that their interpretations were detailed, earnest, philosophical and often extravagant. They gained the reputation of being learned and eloquent speakers. In the New Testament there is a record of one of them, Apollos, whose knowledge of Old Testament references to the Messiah was extraordinary. His knowledge of certain Christian teachings was lacking, but he was willing to learn. He soon became a powerful Christian preacher ( Acts 18:24-28; see Apollos ).

Morrish Bible Dictionary [10]

The city which Alexander the Great built with the object of its being the capital of the western empire. It was founded in B.C. 332, and was completed by the Ptolemies, who added to its wealth and splendour. It became very populous and a place of great commerce. Learning was cultivated and a famous library was collected. It was there that the translation of the LXX was made which supplied the many Jews who resided there with the O.T. in Greek, a language with which most of them were familiar. The city is identified with the modern well-known city of the same name, on the Mediterranean. It is only alluded to in the N.T. as being the birthplace of Apollos, who became companion of Paul,  Acts 18:24; and as the city to which certain ships belonged or from whence they sailed.  Acts 27:6;  Acts 28:11 . Tradition relates that the apostle Mark was the first to introduce Christianity into Alexandria. The church there occupied an important position in after years, but not always to its credit.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [11]

 Acts 18:24 Acts 6:9Version

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [12]

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [13]

Alexandria ( Acts 6:9;  Acts 18:24;  Acts 27:6), the chief maritime city and long the metropolis of Lower Egypt. It is situated on the Mediterranean, twelve miles west of the Canopic mouth of the Nile, in 31° 13´ N. lat. and 25° 53´ E. long. It owes its origin to the comprehensive policy of Alexander, who perceived that the usual channels of commerce might be advantageously altered; and that a city occupying this site could not fail to become the common emporium for the traffic of the eastern and western worlds, by means of the river Nile, and the two adjacent seas, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean: and the high prosperity which, as such, Alexandria very rapidly attained, proved the soundness of his judgment, and exceeded any expectations which even he could have entertained. For a long period Alexandria was the greatest of known cities; for Nineveh and Babylon had fallen, and Rome had not yet risen to pre-eminence: and even when Rome became the mistress of the world, and Alexandria only the metropolis of a province, the latter was second only to the former in wealth, extent, and importance; and was honored with the magnificent titles of the second metropolis of the world, the city of cities, the queen of the East, a second Rome.

The city was founded in B.C. 332, and was built under the superintendence of the same architect (Dinocrates) who had rebuilt the Temple of Diana at Ephesus. The ancient city appears to have been of seven times the extent of the modern. If we may judge from the length of the two main streets (crossing each other at right angles) by which it was intersected, the city was about four miles long by one and a half wide: and in the time of Diodorus it contained a free population of 300,000 persons, or probably 600,000, if we double the former number as Mannert suggests, in order to include the slaves. The port of Alexandria was secure, but difficult of access; in consequence of which, a magnificent pharos, or lighthouse, was erected upon an islet at the entrance, which was connected with the mainland by a dyke. This pharos was accounted one of the 'seven' wonders of the world. It was begun by Ptolemy Soter, and completed under Ptolemy Philadelphus, by Sostratus of Cnidus, B.C. 283. It was a square structure of white marble, on the top of which fires were kept constantly burning for the direction of mariners. It was erected at a cost of 800 talents, which, if Attic, would amount to 165,000l, if Alexandrian, to twice that sum. It was a wonder in those times, when such erections were almost unknown; but, in itself, the Eddy Stone lighthouse is, in all probability, ten times more wonderful.

The business of working out the great design of Alexander could not have devolved on a more fitting person than Ptolemy Soter. From his first arrival in Egypt, he made Alexandria his residence: and no sooner had he some respite from war, then he bent all the resources of his mind to draw to his kingdom the whole trade of the East, which the Tyrians had, up to his time, carried on by sea to Elath, and from thence, by the way of Rhinocorura, to Tyre. He built a city on the west side of the Red Sea, whence he sent out fleets to all those countries to which the Phoenicians traded from Elath. But, observing that the Red Sea, by reason of rocks and shoals, was very dangerous towards its northern extremity, he transferred the trade to another city, which he founded at the greatest practicable distance southward. This port, which was almost on the borders of Ethiopia, he called, from his mother, Berenice; but the harbor being found inconvenient, the neighboring city of Myos Hormos was preferred. Thither the products of the East and South were conveyed by sea: and were from thence taken on camels to Coptus, on the Nile, where they were again shipped for Alexandria, and from that city were dispersed to all the nations of the west, in exchange for merchandise which was afterwards exported to the East. By these means, the whole trade was fixed at Alexandria, which thus became the chief mart of all the traffic between the East and West, and which continued to be the greatest emporium in the world for above seventeen centuries, until the discovery of the passage by the Cape of Good Hope opened another channel for the commerce of the East.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [14]

al - eg - zan´dri - a ( ἡ Ἀλεξάνδρεια , hē Alexándreia ).

1. History

In 331 bc, Alexander the Great, on his way to visit the Oracle of Amon seeking divine honors, stopped at the West extremity of the Delta at the isle of Pharos the landing-place of Odysseus ( Od. iv.35) His keen eye noted the strategic possibilities of the site occupied by the little Egyptian village of Rhacotis, and his decision was immediate to erect here, where it would command the gateway to the richest domain of his empire, a glorious city to be called by his own name. Deinocrates, greatest living architect, already famous as builder of the Temple of Diana, was given free hand and like a dream the most beautiful city of the ancient or modern world (with the single exception of Rome) arose with straight, parallel streets - one at least 200 feet wide - with fortresses, monuments, palaces, government buildings and parks all erected according to a perfect artistic plan. The city was about fifteen miles in circumference (Pliny), and when looked at from above represented a Macedonian cloak, such as was worn by Alexander's heroic ancestors. A colossal mole joined the island to the main land and made a double harbor, the best in all Egypt. Before Alexander died (323 bc) the future of the city as the commercial metropolis of the world was assured and here the golden casket of the conqueror was placed in a fitting mausoleum. Under the protection of the first two Ptolemies and Euergetes Alexandria reached its highest prosperity, receiving through Lake Mareotis the products of Upper Egypt, reaching by the Great Sea all the wealth of the West, while through the Red Sea its merchant vessels brought all the treasures of India and Arabia into the Alexandria docks without once being unladen. The manufactories of Alexandria were extensive, the greatest industry however being shipbuilding, the largest merchant ships of the world and battleships capable of carrying 1,000 men, which could hurl fire with fearful effect, being constructed here. This position of supremacy was maintained during the Roman domination up to the 5th century during which Alexandria began to decline. Yet even when Alexandria was captured by the Arabs (641) under the caliph Omar, the general could report: "I have taken a city containing 4,000 palaces and 4,000 baths and 400 theaters." They called it a "city of marble" and believed the colossal obelisks, standing on crabs of crystal, and the Pharos, that white stone tower 400 ft. high, "wonder of the world," to be the creation of jinn , not of men. With oriental exaggeration they declared that one amphitheater could easily hold a million spectators and that it was positively painful to go upon the streets at night because of the glare of light reflected from the white palaces. But with the coming of the Arabs Alexandria began to decline. It sank lower when Cairo became the capital (circa 1000 ad), and received its death blow when a sea route to India was discovered by way of the Cape of Good Hope (circa 1500). Today the ancient Alexandria lies entirely under the sea or beneath some later construction. Only one important relic remains visible, the so-called Pompey's Pillar which dates from the reign of Diocletian. Excavations by the English (1895) and Germans (1898-99) have yielded few results, though Dr. G. Botti discovered the Serapeum and some immense catacombs, and only recently (1907) some fine sphinxes. In its most flourishing period the population numbered from 600,000 to 800,000, half of whom were perhaps slaves. At the close of the 18th century. it numbered no more than 7,000. Under the khedives it has recently gained something of its old importance and numbers now 320,000, of whom 46,000 are Europeans, chiefly Greeks (Baedeker, Handbook , 1902; Murray, Handbook , 1907).

2. The Jews in Alexandria

Among the private papers of Alexander it is said a sketch was found outlining his vast plan of making a Greek empire which should include all races as harmonious units. In accordance with this, Europeans, Asiatics and Africans found in Alexandria a common citizenship. Indeed in several cities, under the Ptolemies, who accepted this policy, foreigners were even given superiority to natives. Egyptians and Greeks were conciliated by the introduction of a syncretic religion in which the greatest Greek god was worshipped as Osiris, Egyptian god of the underworld, whose soul appeared visibly in the form of the Apis bull. This was the most popular and human form of the Egyptian worship. This new religion obtained phenomenal success. It was in furtherance of this general policy that the Jews in Alexandria were given special privileges, and though probably not possessing full civic rights, yet they "occupied in Alexandria a more Influential position than anywhere else in the ancient world" ( Jewish Encyclopedia ). To avoid unnecessary friction a separate district was given to the Jews, another to the Greeks and another to the native Egyptians. In the Greek section were situated the palaces of the Ptolemies, the Library and Museum. In the Egyptian district was the temple dedicated to Serapis (Osiris-Apis) which was only excelled in grandeur by the capitol at Rome. The Jews possessed many synagogues in their own district and in Philo's day these were not confined to any one section of the city. Some synagogues seem to have exercised the right of asylum, the same as heathen temples. One of these was so large that the hazan signaled by a flag when the congregation should give the Amen! Each district had a practically independent political government. The Jews were at first ruled by a Hebrew ethnarch. By the days of Augustus a Council of Elders ( gerusia ) had control, presided over by 71 archons. Because of their wealth, education and social position they reached high public office. Under Ptol. Vi and Cleopatra the two generals-in-chief of the royal army were Jews. Ptol. I had 30,000 Jewish soldiers, in his army, whose barracks have only recently been discovered. It may have been a good thing that the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (2nd century bc) checked Jewish Hellenization. During the Roman supremacy the rights of the Jews were maintained, except during their persecution for a brief period by the insane Caligula, and the control of the most important industries, including the corn trade, came into their hands. When Christianity became the state religion of Egypt the Jews at once began to be persecuted. The victory of Heraclius over the Persians (629 ad) was followed by such a massacre of the Jews that the Coptics of Egypt still denominate the first week in Lent as the "Fast of Heraclius." Wisdom and many other influential writings of the Jews originated in Alexandria. Doubtless numbers of the recently discovered documents from the Cairo genı̄zāh came originally from Alexandria. But the epochal importance of Alexandria is found in the teaching which prepared the Hebrew people for the reception of a gospel for the whole world, which was soon to be preached by Hebrews from Hellenized Galilee.

3. Alexandria's Influence on the Bible

(1) In Dan 11 the Ptolomies of Alexandria and their wives are made a theme of prophecy. Apollos, the "orator," was born in Alexandria ( Acts 18:24 ). Luke twice speaks of himself and Paul sailing in "a ship of Alexandria" ( Acts 27:6;  Acts 28:11 ). Stephen 'disputed' in Jerusalem in the synagogue of the Alexandrians ( Acts 6:9 ). These direct references are few, but the influence of Alexandria on the Bible was inestimable.

(2) The Septuagint, translated in Alexandria (3rd to 2nd centuries bc), preserves a Hebrew text 1,000 years older than any now known. This translation if not used by Jesus was certainly used by Paul and other New Testament writers, as shown by their quotations. It is Egyptian even in trifles. This Greek Bible not only opened for the first time the "Divine Oracles" to the Gentiles and thus gave to the Old Testament an international influence, but it affected most vitally the Hebrew and Christian development.

(3) The Alexandrinus Codex (4th to 5th centuries) was the first of all the great uncials to come into the hands of modern scholars. It was obtained in Alexandria and sent as a present to the king of England (1628) by Cyrellus Lucaris, the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Sinaiticus and Vaticanus uncials with many other most important Bible manuscripts - H ebrew, Greek, Coptic and Syriac - came from Alexandria.

(4) John and several other New Testament writings have justly been regarded as showing the influence of this philosophic city. Neither the phraseology nor conceptions of the Fourth Gospel could have been grasped in a world which Alexandria had not taught. Pfleiderer's statement that He "may be termed the most finished treatise of the Alexandria philosophy" may be doubted, but no one can doubt the fact of Alexandrian influence on the New Testament.

4. Influence of Alexandria on Culture

With the founding of the University of Alexandria began the "third great epoch in the history of civilization" (Max Müller). It was modeled after the great school of Athens, but excelled, being preëminently the "university of progress" (Mahaffy). Here for the first time is seen a school of science and literature, adequately endowed and offering large facilities for definite original research. The famous library which at different eras was reported as possessing from 400,000 to 900,000 books and rolls - the rolls being as precious as the books - was a magnificent edifice connected by marble colonnades with the Museum, the "Temple of the Muses." An observatory, an anatomical laboratory and large botanical and Zoological gardens were available. Celebrated scholars, members of the various faculties, were domiciled within the halls of the Museum and received stipends or salaries from the government. The study of mathematics, astronomy, poetry and medicine was especially favored (even vivisection upon criminals being common); Alexandrian architects were sought the world over; Alexandrian inventors were almost equally famous; the influence of Alexandrian art can still be marked in Pompeii and an Alexandrian painter was a hated rival of Apelles. Here Euclid wrote his Elements of Geometry  ; here Archimedes, "that greatest mathematical and inventive genius of antiquity," made his spectacular discoveries in hydrostatics and hydraulics; here Eratosthenes calculated the size of the earth and made his other memorable discoveries; while Ptolemy studied here for 40 years and published an explanation of the stellar universe which was accepted by scientists for 14 centuries, and established mathematical theories which are yet the basis of trigonometry. "Ever since this epoch the conceptions of the sphericity of the earth, its poles, axis, the equator, the arctic and antarctic circles, the equinoctial points, the solstices, the inequality of climate on the earth's surface, have been current notions among scientists. The mechanism of the lunar phases was perfectly understood, and careful though not wholly successful calculations were made of inter-sidereal distances. On the other hand literature and art flourished under the careful protection of the court. Literature and its history, philology and criticism became sciences" (Alexandria Weber). It may be claimed that in literature no special originality was displayed though the earliest "love storms" and pastoral poetry date from this period (Mahaffy); yet the literature of the Augustan Age cannot be understood "without due appreciation of the character of the Alexandrian school" ( EB , 11th ed.), while in editing texts and in copying and translating manuscripts inconceivable patience and erudition were displayed. Our authorized texts of Homer and other classic writers come from Alexandria not from Athens. All famous books brought into Egypt were sent to the library to be copied. The statement of Josephus that Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247) requested the Jews to translate the Old Testament into Greek is not incredible. It was in accordance with the custom of that era. Ptol. Euergetes is said to have sent to Athens for the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, etc., and when these were transcribed, sent back beautiful copies to Greece and kept the originals! No library in the world except the prophetic library in Jerusalem was ever as valuable as the two Alexandrian libraries. The story that the Arabs burned it in the 7th century is discredited and seemingly disproved (Butler). At any rate, after this period we hear of great private libraries in Alexandria, but the greatest literary wonder of the world has disappeared.

5. Influence on Philosophy

Though no department of philosophy was established in the Museum, nevertheless from the 3rd century bc to the 6th century ad it was the center of gravity in the philosophic world. Here Neo-Pythagoreanism arose. Here Neo-Platonism, that contemplative and mystical reaction against the materialism of the Stoics, reached its full flower. It is difficult to overestimate the influence of the latter upon religious thought. In it the profoundest Aryan speculations were blended with the sublimest Semitic concepts. Plato was numbered among the prophets. Greece here acknowledged the Divine Unity to which the Old Testament was pledged. Here the Jew acknowledged that Athens as truly as Jerusalem had taught a vision of God. This was the first attempt to form a universal religion. The Alexandrian philosophy was the Elijah to prepare the way for a Saviour of the world. The thought of both Sadducee and Pharisee was affected by it and much late pre-Christian Jewish literature is saturated with it. Neo-Platonism drew attention to the true relation between matter and spirit, good and evil, finite and infinite; it showed the depth of antagonism between the natural and spiritual, the real and ideal; it proclaimed the necessity of some mystic union between the human and the Divine. It stated but could not solve the problem. Its last word was escape, not reconciliation (Ed. Caird). Neo-Platonism was the "germ out of which Christian theology sprang" (Caird) though later it became an adverse force. Notwithstanding its dangerous teaching concerning evil, it was on the whole favorable to piety, being the forerunner of mysticism and sympathetic with the deepest, purest elements Of a spiritual religion.

6. Christian Church in Alexandria

According to all tradition, Mark the evangelist, carried the gospel to Alexandria, and his body rested here until removed to Venice, 828 ad. From this city Christianity reached all Egypt and entered Nubia, Ethiopia and Abyssinia. During the 4th century, ten councils were held in Alexandria, it being theological and ecclesiastical center of Christendom. The first serious persecution of Christians by heathen occurred here under Decius (251) and was followed by many others, the one under Diocletian (303-11) being so savage that the native Coptic church still dates its era from it. When the Christians reached political power they used the same methods of controversy, wrecking the Caesarion in 366 and the Serapeum twenty-five years later. Serapis (Osiris-Apis) was the best beloved of all the native deities. His temple was built of most precious marbles and filled with priceless sculptures, while in its cloisters was a library second only to the Great Library of the Museum. When Christianity became the state religion of Egypt the native philosophers, moved by patriotism, rallied to the support of Serapis. But Theodosius (391) prohibited idolatry, and led by the bishop, the Serapeum was seized, and smitten by a soldier's battle-axe, the image - which probably represented the old heathen religion at its best - was broken to pieces, and dragged through the streets. That day, as Steindorff well puts it, "Egyp paganism received its death blow; the Egyptian religion fell to pieces" ( History of Egypt ). Thereafter heathen worship hid itself in the dens and caves of the earth. Even secret allegiance to Serapis brought persecution and sometimes death. The most appalling tragedy of this kind occurred in 415 when Hypatia, the virgin philosopher, celebrated equally for beauty, virtue and learning, was dragged by a mob to the cathedral, stripped, and torn to pieces before the altar. Some of the greatest Christian leaders used all their influence against such atrocities, but the Egyptian Christians were always noted for their excitability. They killed heretics easily, but they would themselves be killed rather than renounce the very slightest and most intangible theological tenet. It only needed the change of a word e.g. in the customary version to raise a riot (Expos, VII, 75). Some curious relics of the early Egyptian church have very recently come to light. The oldest autographic Christian letter known (3rd century) proves that at that time the church was used as a bank, and its ecclesiastics (who, whether priests or bishops, were called "popes") were expected to help the country merchants in their dealings with the Roman markets. Some sixty letters of the 4th century written to a Christian cavalry officer in the Egyptian army are also preserved, while papyri and ostraca from circa 600 ad show that at this time no deacon could be ordained without having first learned by heart as much as an entire Gospel or 25 Psalms and two epistles of Paul, while a letter from a bishop of this period is filled with Scripture, as he anathematizes the "oppressor of the poor," who is likened unto him who spat in the face of our Lord on the cross and smote Him on the head (Adolph Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East , etc., 1910). Oppression of Jews and heretics was not, however, forbidden and during the 5th and 6th centuries. Egypt was a battle-field in which each sect persecuted every other. Even when the Arabs under the caliph Omar captured the city on Good Friday (641), Easter Day was spent by the orthodox in torturing supposed heretics! The next morning the city was evacuated and Jews and Coptics received better treatment from the Arabs than they had from the Roman or Greek ecclesiastics. After the Arab conquest the Coptic church, being released from persecution, prospered and gained many converts even from the Mohammedans. But the Saracenic civilization and religion steadily displaced the old, and the native learning and native religion soon disappeared into the desert. By the 8th century, Arabic had taken the place of Greek and Coptic, not only in public documents but in common speech. Then for 1,000 years the Egyptian church remained without perceptible influence on culture or theology. But its early influence was immeasurable and can still be marked in Christian art, architecture and ritual as well as in philosophy and theology. Perhaps its most visible influence was in the encouragement of image-reverence and asceticism. It is suggestive that the first hermit (Anthony) was a native Egyptian, and the first founder of a convent (Pachomius) was a converted Egyptian (heathen) monk. Today Alexandria has again become a Christian metropolis containing Coptics, Romans, Greeks, Armenians, Maronites, Syrians, Chaldeans and Protestants. The Protestants are represented by the Anglican church, the Scotch Free church, the evangelical church of Germany and the United Presbyterian church of the U.S. (For minute divisions see Catholic Encyclopedia)

7. Catechetical School in Alexandria

The first theological school of Christendom was founded in Alexandria. It was probably modeled after earlier Gnostic schools established for the study of religious philosophy. It offered a three years' course. There were no fees, the lecturers being supported by gifts from rich students. Pantaenus, a converted Stoic philosopher, was its first head (180). He was followed by Clement (202) and by Origen (232) under whom the school reached its zenith. It always stood for the philosophical vindication of Christianity. Among its greatest writers were Julius Africanus (215), Dionysius (265), Gregory (270), Eusebius (315), Athanasius (373) and Didymus (347), but Origen (185-254) was its chief glory; to him belongs the honor of defeating paganism and Gnosticism with their own weapons; he gave to the church a "scientific consciousness," his threefold interpretation of Scripture affected Biblical exegesis clear down to the last century. Arius was a catechist in this institution, and Athanasius, the "father of orthodoxy" and "theological center of the Nicene age" (Schaff), though not officially connected with the catechetical school was greatly affected by it, having been bred and trained in Alexandria. The school was closed toward the end of the 4th century because of theological disturbances in Egypt, but its work was continued from Caesarea and other centers, affecting profoundly Western teachers like Jerome and Ambrose, and completely dominating Eastern thought. From the first there was a mystical and Docetic tendency visible, while its views of inspiration and methods of interpretation, including its constant assumption of a secret doctrine for the qualified initiate, came legitimately from Neo-Platonism. For several centuries after the school disbanded its tenets were combated by the "school of Antioch," but by the 8th century the Alexandrian theology was accepted by the whole Christian world, east and west.


Besides works mentioned in the text see especially: Petrie, History of Egypt (1899), V, VI, Mahaffy, Empire of the Ptolemies (1895), Progress of Hellenism (1905); Butler, Arab Conquest of Egypt (1902); Ernst Sieglin, Ausgrabungen in Alexandrien (1908); Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte (1895-1900), and in New Sch-Herz (1910); Inge, Alexandrian Theology in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (1908); Ed. Caird, Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers (1904); Pfleiderer, Philosophy and Development of Religion (1894); Schaff, History of Christian Church (1884-1910); Zogheb, Etudes sur l'ancienne Alexandrie (1909).

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [15]

A town on the Potomac, 7 m. S. of Washington, accessible to vessels of the largest size; also a thriving town on the river Leven, 3 m. N. of Dumbarton.