The Temple at Aswan

This led Hancock to Aswan (or Assuan), on the Nile in southern Egypt. In Old Testament times it was called Syene, and it is referred to twice in Ezekiel as representing the extreme south of Egypt, ". . . from Migdol to Syene" (29:10; 30:6, RV mg.), Migdol being in the extreme north. Here, on an island in the Nile called Elephantine, because it was the place where traders from the south sold ivory to the Egyptians, there once existed a Jewish temple. Evidence for this comes from Aramaic papyri discovered at Aswan at the turn of the century. These papyri provide a picture of Jewish life there in the period 500-400 B.C., when the Persian Empire was supreme and the restoration of the Jews from Babylon was taking place. These papyri refer to the existence of a temple for the worship of Yahweh, modeled on Solomon's temple.

The original Jewish settlers at Elephantine are thought to have been Jewish mercenaries in the pay of Egypt, who manned a garrison at this key trading site. However, he cites one authority as saying: "Manasseh's reign was accompanied by much bloodshed and it may be surmised that priests as well as prophets opposed his paganization. Some of the priests fled to Egypt, joined the Jewish garrison at Elephantine, and there . . . erected the Temple".7 Jewish soldiers at Elephantine would clearly not have built a temple there; it would certainly have required priests to have done so. The actual evidence of these priests going to Egypt in Manasseh's reign is not, however, given, and one wonders why it could not have happened at the fall of Jerusalem.

Hancock argues that the priests who went to Elephantine must have had the ark with them, and they built a temple to house it. As stated above, on the basis of 2 Chronicles 35:3 we do not believe that the ark could have been taken from Jerusalem in the days of Manasseh. It is of course possible that, when Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem in 587 B.C., about sixty years later, the ark was rescued by some priests who fled to Elephantine with it, but Hancock does not refer to this possibility.

Next section: From Egypt to Ethiopia