Book review: Karel van der Toorn Becoming Diaspora Jews: Behind the Story of Elephantine

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This book tells the story of the earliest Jewish diaspora in Egypt in a way it has never been told before. The colony that lived at Elephantine Island in the fifth century BCE is an icon of the Jewish diaspora, but there is something unusual about it. These people had abandoned Hebrew for Aramaic and venerated several Aramean gods beside the ancestral Jewish god. Karel van der Toorn studies an unexplored papyrus to shed new light on their history. The papyrus shows that the ancestors of the Elephantine Jews came originally from Samaria. Due to political circumstances, they left Israel and lived for a century in an Aramean environment. Around 600 BCE, they moved to Egypt. These migrants to Egypt did not claim a Jewish identity when they arrived, but after the destruction of their temple on the island they chose to deploy their Jewish identity to raise sympathy for their cause. Their story—a typical diaspora tale—is not about remaining Jews in the diaspora, but rather about becoming Jews through the diaspora.
Original languageEnglish
JournalReview of Biblical Literature
StatePublished - 2023


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