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ALEXANDRIA

Alexandria was an ancient metropolis in Lower Egypt, named after its founder Macedonian king, Alexander the Great in B.C. 333. Alexandria was situated on the Mediterranean Sea facing the island of Pharos, west of the Nile River and around 120 miles from the modern city of Cairo. Alexander himself traced the ground plan of the city and the work was continued even after his death. Deinocrates, greatest living architect of that time, already famous as builder of the Temple of Diana, was given free hand to mould out this most beautiful dream city of antiquity. Wide streets with fortresses, monuments, palaces, government buildings and parks all erected according to a perfect artistic plan. An observatory, an anatomical laboratory and large botanical and Zoological gardens were available. The city was about fifteen miles in circumference, and when looked at from above represented a Macedonian cloak. This city existed for a long period after the destroyal of Nineveh and Babylon and before the upraise of Rome. The city was Hellenic, Roman and Christian capital of Egypt and hosted the residence of the kings of Egypt for more than 200 years. The population of the city was huge and wealth was enormous to be the corn-ports of Rome during the reign of its early emperors. After Rome became the chief city of the ancient world, Alexandria ranked second to Rome in wealth and importance, and second to Athens only in literature and science. Ancient Alexandria is considered to stretch over for a period of about 1,000 years.

There are only very few references of the city of Alexandria in the Bible. Though there is no direct mention of this city in the Old Testament, by many reasoning, it is believed that Ptolomies of Alexandria and their wives are made a theme of prophecy of Daniel in Chapter 11. The angel Gabriel fulfills his promise made to Daniel to show what should happen to his people at a later time. Very specifically Daniel foretell here the succession of the kings of Persia and Grecia, setting up of the Grecian monarchy upon the ruins of the Persian emperors, Alexanderís conquests and the partition of his kingdom. The kingdom of Egypt, which was made considerable by Ptolemaeus Lagus, one of Alexanderís captains, whose successors were, from him, called the Lagidae. He is called the king of the south, that is, Egypt, named here.

Appollos, eloquent and mighty in the scriptures whom St.Paul met at Ephesus referred in the Acts of Apostles, was a native of Alexandria. Appollos was a Jew born in Alexandria to Jewish parents. There was abundance of Jews in that city that time. He was a man of excellence, orator with great command of language and with great knowledge in Old Testament. He had spoken boldly in synagogue. He came to Ephesus for the honour of God and the good of many as an excellent faculty of expounding scripture. He was acquainted with doctrine of Christ and firmly believed that a prophet should come into the world and about the way of salvation through him. However he heard only the baptism of John and did not have any chance to converse with any Apostle about the Christís death, resurrection and the baptism with the Holy Ghost. Aquila and Priscilla, who were in Ephesus even before Paul reached there, received Appollos and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. And when he was disposed for the ministry in Achaia, Aquila and Priscilla exhorted the disciples to receive him. Thereafter he mightily convinced the Jews publicly proving through the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.

Many Alexandrian Jews were settled in Jerusalem, where they had a synagogue at the time of Stephen's martyrdom. When the number of the disciples was multiplied in the Church of Jerusalem, the Apostles ordained seven deacons with full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom and appointed them over the business of daily ministration. Word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests was obedient to the faith. Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. Many Alexandrians joined with Libertines, Cyrenians, Cilicians and Asians started disputing with Stephen in the synagogue.

Also Luke twice speaks of himself and Paul sailing in ships of Alexandria which had sign of Castor and Pollux.. Even though these direct references are few, the influence of Alexandria on the Bible was inestimable. The Septuagint version Hebrew Bible translated to Greek in Alexandria was certainly referred by Paul and other New Testament writers, as shown by their quotations. This Greek Version of Old Testament had an international influence, which affected most vitally the Hebrew and Christian development. Alexandrian Codex was the first documents, which came to the hands of modern scholars.

According to the common legend St. Mark introduced Christian faith into Alexandria during the early rule of the Romans in Egypt and he founded the first church in Alexandria. It is believed that St.Mark was martyred at Alexandria in AD 62 as he protested against the worship of Serapis and his body was removed to Venice in 828 AD. During the second century the number of Christians at Alexandria must have been very large and Gnosticism was erupted from here. Alexandrian Catechetical School for the study of religious philosophy was among the first of their kind in the world. Pantaenus, a converted Stoic philosopher, was its first head. He was followed by Clement and then by Origen, under whom, the school reached its zenith. It is being believed that Athanasius who is known as the father of orthodoxy was trained in Alexandria. During the reign of Roman Emperors Decius, Severus, and Diocletian the Alexandrian Christians had to undergo severe persecution. Coptic Church history estimates around 144,000 martyred including St. Menas, Ste. Catherine, and St. Peter of Alexandria.

ANCIENT ALEXANDRIA:

During earlier few centuries Alexandria was perhaps the leading cultural center of the world, housing people of different religions, and of different philosophical orientations. Alexander had the view of outlining his vast plan of making a Greek empire, which should include all races as harmonious units. In accordance with this, Europeans, Asians and Africans found in Alexandria a common citizenship. In several cities, foreigners were given superiority to natives. To avoid unnecessary friction a separate district was given to the Jews, another to the Greeks and another to the native Egyptians. During the reign of Alexander himself he assigned to the Jews a place in the new city and these regions were known as Jews Districts. Jews in Alexandria were given special privileges.

There were a huge collection of around 700,000 rolls or volumes in the famous extensive main library of this city which was burned by the Saracens in A.D. 642. It included an old translation of Septuagint version of Hebrew Bible to Greek, believed to be written by seventy scholars spanned over a period of around 100 years from B.C. 280. Also it was a center of research, with laboratories and observatories. The city was a cradle for the formation of the cult of Serapis which is an amalgamation of Greek and Egyptian mythology. Scholars like Euclid who wrote Elements of Geometry and Erasthosthenes who calculated the size of the earth and made his other memorable discoveries, emerged out from this old city.

Geographically it acted as an important trading post between Europe and Asia as it was an overland connection between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Alexander had founded the city out of his political and commercial interests as the geographical location offered strategic possibilities and a natural harbour as a gateway to the richest domain of his empire. The harbour facilities were enhanced by the construction of a colossal mole of 1.6 km stretched out to the island of Pharos and made a double harbor, the best in all Egypt. A lighthouse was erected at Pharos, which is considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world. Big vessels were coming out to the open sea from this island Pharos.

Alexander the Great was buried in Alexandria in 323 B.C. During around 116 CE., a revolt among the local Jews led to the annihilation of the Jewish community and heavy damage to the city. Roman emperor Caracalla declared a decree for the massacre of the male population, during 284 CE. Towards the end of the third century heavy persecution of the Christians were done. During the fourth century Alexandria was weakened by insurrection, civil war, famine and disease. In 638 the city was besieged and destroyed by Muslim troops under the caliph Omar. Today the ancient Alexandria lies entirely under the sea or beneath some later construction.

MODERN CITY OF ALEXANDRIA:

When Napoleon Bonaparte and the French army entered Alexandria on July 1st 1789, one of the largest cities of ancient world had shrunk to a small town with 8000 people. Napoleon's army of 5000 men captured the city with little or no resistance. During the course of the events, a new political figure Mohamed Ali appointed by the Ottoman Sultan gradually gained the power. Mohamed Ali is one of the most controversial figures in Egyptian history. During his rule he cut the new Mahmoudeya Canal and connected it to the Nile, which is considered as an achievement to boost Egyptís and in particular Alexandria's economy. When Mohamed Ali died, Alexandria's population had grown from a meager 8,000 to a prosperous 60,000. When the Suez Canal was inaugurated in 1867, Alexandria's exports increased drastically.

From the 19th century Alexandria took a new role, as a focus for Egypt's commercial and maritime expansion. During the 20th century, Alexandria became Egypt's summer Capital. The Royal summer Palaces and the official government headquarters were based in Berkeley. In 1944, Arab delegates signed the birth document of the Arab League in Alexandria. During 1956 President Nasser who was a native from Alexandria announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Today, the city looks different from the city antiquity. Alexandria is now considered the most diverse culturally of all Egyptian cities with ethnic minorities including Armenians, Greeks, Italians, Lebanese, Maltese, Syrians and others. Alexandria is also a very important tourist resort, with a 20 km long waterfront, serving the rich and the middle class of Cairo while the summer heat makes living in the capital unsupportable.

(Excerpts from 'Light of Life - The Bible : A Family Companion' to be launched)

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