81. THE "ALTAR TO JEHOVAH IN THE LAND OF EGYPT" (Isa. 19:19).
The fulfillment of this prophecy took place in 1 B.C., and is recorded by Josephus (Ant. xiii. 3. 1-3; 6; Wars 7. 10, 3; and Against Apion, 2. 5) :--
In consequence of wars between the Jews and Syrians, ONIAS IV, the High Priest, fled to Alexandria; where, on account of his active sympathy with the cause of Egypt against Syria, he was welcomed by PTOLEMY PHILOMETOR, and rewarded by being made prince over the Jews in Egypt, (*1) with the title of Ethnarch and Alabarch. Josephus says :--
"Onias asked permission from Ptolemy and Cleopatra to build a temple in Egypt like that at Jerusalem, and to appoint for it priests and Levites of his own Nation. This he devised, relying chiefly on the prophet Isaiah, who, 600 years before predicted that a temple must be builded in Egypt by a Jew to the supreme God. He therefore wrote to Ptolemy and Cleopatra the following epistle :--
'Having come with the Jews to Leontopolis of the Heliopolite district, and other abodes of my Nation, and finding that many had sacred rites, not as was due, and were thus hostile to each other, which has befallen the Egyptians also through the vanity of their religions, and disagreeing in their services, I found a most convenient place in the fore-mentioned stronghold, abounding with wood and sacred animals. I ask leave, then, clearing away an idol temple, that has fallen down, to build a temple to the supreme God, that the Jews dwelling in Egypt, harmoniously coming together, may minister to thy benefit. For Isaiah the prophet has predicted thus : "There shall be an altar in Egypt to the LORD God"; and he prophesied many other such things concerning the place.'
"The King and Queen replied : 'We have read thy request asking leave to clear away the fallen temple in Leontopolis of the Heliopolite nome. We are surprised that a temple should be pleasing to God, settled in an impure place, and one full of sacred animals. But since thou sayest that Isaiah the prophet so long ago foretold it, we grant thee leave, if, according to the Law we may not seen to have offended against God.'" (Ant. xiii. 6.)
The place of this temple was the identical spot where many centuries before, Israel had light in their dwellings while the rest of Egypt was suffering from a plague of darkness. Here again was light in the darkness, which continued for more that 200 years (about 160 B.C. to A.D. 71), when it was closed by Vespasian.
The Jerusalem Jews were opposed to, and jealous of, this rival temple; and, by changing two letters almost identical in form (j = H (or CH) to h = H) turned "the city of the sun" (cheres) into "the city of destruction (heres). But the former reading is found in many codices, two early printed editions, and some ancient versions, as well as in the margins of the A.V. and R.V. The Septuagine reading shows that the Hebrew MSS. from which that version was made, read 'ir-ha-zedek = "the city of righteousness."
The "five cities" of Isa. 19:18 were probably Heliopolis (the city of the sun, where this temple was built), Leontopolis, Daphne, Migdol, and Memphis.