Published: February 24, 2004
“Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt: A Family Archive From The Nile Valley,” on view at the Norton Museum of Art through April 4, has been organized entirely from the vast collection of antiquities at The Brooklyn Museum of Art. The centerpiece is a group of eight papyri or scrolls, written in Aramaic, which was then the common tongue of the multi-cultural ancient world. They constitute the archive of a single family, telling the story of a man named Ana-niah, a Jewish temple official on Elephantine Island in the Nile River, his wife Tamut, an Egyptian slave; and their children, Palti and Yehoishema.
To illuminate and provide a rich context for the story told by these documents, the exhibition assembles a remarkable array of artworks and artifacts. Included are statues and reliefs carved from marble and granite, bronze statuettes, silver vessels, gold jewelry and funerary objects in other media made in Egypt and elsewhere over a period of a thousand years, from the time of the Pharaoh Akhenaten and his queen, Nefertiti (mid-Fourteenth Century BC), to the Macedonian conquest of the Fourth Century BC.
A wealth of texts, maps, timelines, photographs and Nineteenth Century paintings will educate visitors about this virtually unknown episode in both Egyptian and Jewish history.
This exhibition provides unique, tangible and fascinating confirmation of the Biblical narrative, in II Kings and Jeremiah, of the first Diaspora of the Jewish people following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon in 586 BC. It is well known that most of the aristocracy of the Kingdom of Judah were taken in captivity to Babylon, where some of them (such as Daniel and Esther) continued to lead lives of great distinction.
What is not well documented is the fact that the majority of those scattered beyond the Jewish homeland went elsewhere and in other directions – some to the great cities of what are now Syria and Turkey. A large contingent returned to the Nile Valley of Egypt, the land from which Moses had led the Exodus some 800 years earlier. There they became well integrated into Egyptian society and led productive lives in peace amid the native Egyptians, the Persians who had recently conquered the ancient kingdom and even a colony of Greeks whose power and influence throughout the Mediterranean world was at this time on the rise.
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