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Saturday, February 11, 2017
Ptolemy of Mendes
Ptolemaic-era Egypt was a vibrant land of diversity; peopled with Jews, Greeks, and Copts. I'm here offering a (slightly belated) platform to the Copts under the later Ptolemies.
The Copts were (are) the native population of Egypt, and up the Nile they dominated the food-supply. The Ptolemies now ruling Egypt were inbred Macedonians, basically to true Greeks what Ugarit was to Canaan. But they didn't trust Greeks, hence the inbreeding. They ruled with all the trappings of the Pharaohs, to the point of committing inscriptions in old hieroglyphic - like the Rosetta Stone, and maybe even the Throne of Adulis. Part of the "Cleopatra was African!!" controversy is because the latest Ptolemies might have quit inbreeding long enough to marry some influential Copts.
The Jews were the next nation over, and had a long history with Egypt. As of the Hasmonaean Rebellion, the Jews already had their Torah, available in Greek as well as in Hebrew and in Aramaic paraphrase called Targum. Furthermore (these are Jews after all) they were producing plays, in the Greek style in the Greek language. These are preserved in other Greek-speaking authors, usually Christian like Eusebius. Some of these plays - produced in Egypt! - dealt with Moses and the Exodus.
Also preserved in other sources is a Greek-language history of Egypt, or at least the tradition of one. This tradition claims the authorship of a certain priest Aramaicised and Hellenised as Manetho(n). In it, the Jews were a bunch of lepers and thieves righteously expelled from their land. From some admittedly cursory research, the name Ptolemy of Mendes keeps coming up. So it looks like this Ptolemy actually wrote the Greek text. Mendes had been Djedet, the capital of the 29th Dynasty; but was declining since then. It would be a tel (ruin) by the first century AD. Under the Ptolemaic Dynasty no self-respecting Greek would live there; it would have been Coptic.
Ptolemy of Mendes, based on his name and home town, represents the faction supporting the monarchy as the best deal on offer for the Copts. As I read his "History By Manetho", his subtext was: Rameses II and Merneptah are some fine examples of how a good king of Egypt may deal with uppity foreigners. More: the Jews are just the target named. Its Greek audience, imagining themselves cosmopolitan heirs to a legacy of power, would surely recall the legend of Busiris. Maybe a Heracles would protect them, perhaps a hero from Seleucia (depending on when "Manetho" was writing). But maybe not.
Our author's namesake Ptolemy VIII, the New Euergetes, acted on this example. "Manetho" belongs to this reign: either the book suggested the expulsion, or else Copts like its author suggested it verbally and then defended it in print after the fact.
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