PTOLEMY

PTOLEMY, the common name of monarchs of the Macedonian (or Thirty-First) Dynasty who ruled in Egypt from 323 to 30 B.C.E. It is unclear precisely how many such sovereigns there actually were; some scholars give a total of 14 and some 16. Most important for Jewish history were: PTOLEMY I (called Soter), reputed son of Lagus, founder of the dynasty. Ruler of Egypt as satrap from 323 B.C.E., he assumed the title of king in 305 and remained in power until his death in 283. Josephus states (Apion, 1:209ff., and cf. Ant. 12:2ff.) on the authority   of Agatharchides of Cnidus that Ptolemy, after gaining admittance to Jerusalem on the pretext of wishing to make a sacrifice, captured the city on the Sabbath day when the Jews did not fight (320 B.C.E.). Agatharchides comments derisively that the Jews "persevering in their folly" of not defending their city on this day, were given over to a "harsh master." The second part of his statement is of especial interest, for scholars differ over whether Ptolemy was indeed a "harsh" master or whether his attitude toward the Jews was essentially benevolent. Whether the Jews in Egypt during his reign were indeed granted equal rights with Macedonian clerouchoi ("settlers") must remain an open question. PTOLEMY II (called Philadelphus) reigned from 283 to 245 B.C.E. According to the letter of aristeas he was responsible for two important actions, the one of immediate and the other of lasting consequence: he freed numerous Jewish slaves (themselves evidence of his father's military actions in Palestine) and initiated the Greek translation of the Bible – the septuagint . Both the foregoing statements may well have a historical basis. Philadelphus' literary interests are attested from other sources, and the Bible project may conceivably have been begun during his reign. The construction of several cities in Ereẓ Israel must also be attributed to his reign, including Philoteria (near Lake Kinneret) and Ptolemais, near present-day Acre (Arist. 115) as well as Philadelphia in Transjordan. He gained important victories in the first Syrian war against the Seleucid sovereign, antiochus I, and gave his daughter Berenice's hand in marriage to Antiochus II upon completion of the second Syrian campaign (c. 253 B.C.E.). PTOLEMY III (called Euergetes) reigned from 246 to 221 B.C.E. Some scholars identify this Ptolemy with the king of that name mentioned by Josephus with regard to Joseph the Tobiad (Ant. 12: 154ff.), while others are of the opinion that it was Ptolemy V (Epiphanes). If the king was Euergetes, then he must be credited with a favorable attitude toward his Jewish subjects. Josephus goes so far as to claim that after Euergetes' great victory over the Seleucids during the third Syrian war (246–241 B.C.E.) he offered incense at the Temple in Jerusalem. A possible reference to some of the king's actions during and after his campaigns in the Seleucid realm may be found in Daniel 11:7–9 where it is related that the Egyptian king removed idols from the conquered territories and restored them in his own country. PTOLEMY IV (called Philopator) reigned from 221–203 B.C.E. A "wretched debauchee" according to E. Bevan, this monarch has fared less well than his predecessors in Jewish annals. Philopator is often associated with the following events described in III Maccabees: On the conclusion of the (fourth Syrian) war and his victory over Antiochus at Raphia (present-day Rafa) in 217 B.C.E., Philopator paid a visit to Jerusalem with the intention of entering the Temple. God intervened and he was felled to the ground. As revenge, when he returned to Egypt he ordered the Jews to be massacred in the Alexandrian arena by a horde of elephants, but the beasts turned on the royal troops instead. The day of deliverance was commemorated by the Jews as an annual feast day, which seems to be the only historically verifiable aspect of the story, though Josephus places it in a later context. PTOLEMY V (called Epiphanes) reigned from 203 to 181 B.C.E. This monarch irretrievably lost the whole of Palestine to Antiochus III at the battle of Paneas (present-day Banias) c. 200 B.C.E. PTOLEMY VI (or VII; called Philometor) reigned from 181 to 145 B.C.E. (from then on until the death of the last of the Ptolemies in 30 B.C.E., dates of birth and regnal years become increasingly uncertain). Philometor appears to have been generally well disposed toward the Jews, though he invaded Palestine to intervene in the disputes over the succession to the Syrian throne. His relations with jonathan the Hasmonean were cordial. II Maccabees 1–10 states that Philometor's mentor was a Jewish philosopher and biblical exegete, Aristobulus by name. Under this same ruler the high priest onias IV, having fled from Jerusalem, built a temple at Leontopolis (c. 161 B.C.E.), while Philometor's military garrisons were commanded by two Jews, Onias and Dositheus. PTOLEMY VII (or IX; called Euergetes II) reigned from 145 to 116 B.C.E. According to Josephus the Jews were persecuted during his rule, yet a synagogue was dedicated to him by the Egyptian Jewish community. It was in the 38th year of Euergetes' reign that the grandson of ben sira went to Egypt where he translated his grandfather's work into Greek. PTOLEMY VIII (or X; called Lathyrus and Soter II) reigned intermittently from 116 to 80 B.C.E. He launched an attack on the Hasmonean alexander yannai shortly after the latter had come to the throne, only to be driven back by his mother, cleopatra III, who, with his brother Ptolemy IX (or XI; called Alexander I), later planned their own assault on Yannai. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Bouché-Leclercq, Histoire des Lagides, 4 vols. (1903–07), passim; Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 24–52; E.R. Bevan, A History of Egypt… (1927), passim; Schalit, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 1 (1954), 64–77; J. Gutman, Ha-Sifrut ha-Yehudit-ha-Hellenistit, 1 (1958), 115ff.; V. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959), index; M. Stern, Ha-Te'udot le-Mered ha-Ḥashmona'im (1965), 11–27; W.W. Tarn and G.T. Griffith, Hellenistic Civilization (19663), passim. (David Solomon)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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