Among the active opponents of St. Stephen were ‘certain of them that were of the synagogue called the synagogue … of the Alexandrians’ (Ἀλεξανδρέων, Ac 6:9).
Grammatically the sentence is not in good form, and admits of a variety of interpretations. Some exegetes (Calvin, Bengel, O. Holtzmann, Rendall) assume that the Libertines, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, Cilicians, and Asiatics residing in Jerusalem all worshipped in one synagogue. Others (Wendt, Zöckler, Sanday, Knowling, Winer-Moulton) think that the first three classes or Jews had one synagogue and the last two another—an idea favoured by the τῶν … τῶν after τινες. T. E. Page groups the Libertines in one place of worship, the men of Alexandria and Cyrene in a second, and those of Cilicia and Asia in a third. Finally, some scholars (Schürer, Meyer, Weiss, Hackett) believe that each of the five classes had its own distinctive synagogue in the holy city. A synagogue of the Alexandrians in Jerusalem is mentioned in Jerus. Megilla, 73d, where it is also said that there were in all no fewer than 425 synagogues in the city—a statement which Schürer (HJP n. ii. 73) dismisses as an Insipid Talmudic legend, but which Renan (The Apostles, Eng. tr., 113) is disposed to accept as ‘by no means improbable,’
The Jews of Alexandria (q.v.) were in a very different position from the people of any modern Ghetto. They were amongst the most opulent and influential citizens. They formed a distinct municipal community, and possessed extensive political privileges. At the foundation of the city Alexander gave them equal rights with the Greeks (ἔδωκε τὸ μετοικεῖν κατὰ τὴν πόλιν ἐξ ἰσοτιμίας πρὸς Ἔλληνας), and the Diadochoi permitted them to style themselves Macedonians (Jos, BJ ii. xviii. 7).
Of the five quarters (μοῖραι) of the city, named after the first five letters of the alphabet, two were called ‘Jewish’ (Ἰουδαϊκαὶ λέγονται [Philo, in Flac. § 8]). While one quarter, known as Delta, was entirely peopled by Jews (BJ ii. xviii. 8), many more of the race were scattered over all the other parts (ἐν ταῖς ἄλλαις οὐκ ὀλίγοι σποράδες [Philo, loc. cit.]), and none of them were without their house of prayer (Philo, Leg. ad Gaium, § 20). The special Regio Judœorum lay in the N.E. of the city, beyond the promontory of Lochias, in the neighbourhood of the royal palace.
Till the time of Augustus the Jews were presided over by an ethnarch, who, according to Strabo (quoted by Josephus, Ant. xiv. vii. 2), ‘governs the people and administers justice among them, and sees that they fulfil their obligations and obey orders, just like the archon of an independent city.’ Augustus instituted a council or senate (γερουσία), which was entrusted with the management of Jewish affairs, and over which a certain number of ἄρχοντες presided.
The reign of Caligula was marked by the first rude interruption of the policy of toleration. The governor Flaccus issued an edict in which he termed the Jews of Alexandria ‘strangers,’ thus depriving them of the rights of citizenship which they had enjoyed for centuries. He ordered 38 archons to be scourged in the theatre, and turned the Jewish quarters into scenes of daily carnage (Philo, in Flac. §§ 6–10). But one of the first acts of Claudius was to re-affirm the earlier edicts, and Josephus states that in his own day (c. a.d. 90) one could still see standing in Alexandria ‘the pillar containing the privileges which the great Cæsar (Julius) bestowed upon the Jews’ (τὴν στήλην … τὰ δικαιώματα περιέχουσαν ἃ Καῖσαρ ὁ μέγας τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις ἔδωκεν [c. Apion. ii. 4; cf. Ant. xiv. x. 1]). Some Alexandrian Jews held responsible positions as ministers of the Ptolemys, and others were in the service of the Roman Emperors (c. Apion. ii. 5). Philo’s brother Alexander and others filled the office of ‘alabarch’ (see Schürer, HJP ii. ii. 280).
For a time the ‘Alexandrians’ were doubtless bilingual, but ultimately they forgot their Hebrew or Aramaic, and adopted Greek as the language of the home and the synagogue as well as of the market. Living in a great university town, many of them became highly educated; the school of Philo in particular assimilated many elements of Greek philosophy; and the Judaism of Egypt was gradually differentiated from that of Palestine.
Even before becoming a Christian, the Alexandrian Apollos had doubtless a breadth of sympathy, as well as a richness of culture, which could not have been attained among the Rabbis of Jerusalem. Yet in the great mass of the ‘Alexandrians,’ as throughout the Dispersion generally, the Jewish element predominated, and it need occasion no surprise that those of them who chose to reside in the Holy City were as zealous for the Mosaic traditions, and as strenuously opposed to innovations, as any Hebrew of the Hebrews.
Literature.—See list appended to preceding article.
HJP History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).
- translated, translation.
BJ Bellum Judaicum (Josephus).