The Aramaic letter was intended to be sent, together with rich gifts, to influence the powerful Persian governor of Judah, Bagohi, to issue an order permitting the Jews to rebuild their temple. From this letter we learn that the temple of the God Yahu was built of hewn stone with pillars of stone in front, probably similar to those in the Egyptian temples, and had seven great gates built of hewn stone and provided with doors and bronze hinges. Its roof was wholly of cedar wood, probably brought from the distant Lebanon, and its walls appear to have been ceiled or adorned with stucco, as were those of Solomon’s temple. It was also equipped with bowls of gold and silver and the other paraphernalia of sacrifice. Here were regularly offered cereal-offerings, burnt-offerings, and frankincense. The petitioners also promised that, if the Persian officials would grant their request, “we will also offer cereal-offerings and frankincense and burnt-offerings on the altar in your name, and we will pray to God in your name, we and our wives and all the Jews who are here, if you do thus until the temple is built. And you shall have a portion before the God Yahu, the God of Heaven, from every one who offers to him burnt-offerings and sacrifices.”
Historical students have long been familiar with the fact that late in the Greek period the Jews of Egypt built a temple to Jehovah at Leontopolis, in the Delta (cf. Section CXV:iii); but these recent discoveries open an entirely new chapter in Jewish history. They indicate that probably within a generation after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, in 586 B.C., the Jewish colonists in Egypt built for themselves far up the Nile, and possibly at other points in this land of their exile, a temple or temples to Jehovah; that they remained loyal to God and the institutions of their race; and that in the midst of cosmopolitan Egypt they preserved intact their racial unity. In the light of these discoveries it is also clear that because of their character and numbers and nearness to Palestine the Jews of Egypt, even at this early period, were a far more important factor in the life and development of Judaism than they have hitherto been considered. These discoveries also afford definite grounds for the hope that from this unexpected quarter much more valuable material will come to illumine this otherwise dark period of post-exilic Jewish history.
Section XCII. EZEKIEL’S MESSAGE TO HIS SCATTERED COUNTRYMEN
[Sidenote: Ezek. 37:1-6] The hand of Jehovah was upon me, and he brought me by the spirit and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. And he caused me to pass by them round about; and, behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord Jehovah, thou knowest. Again he said to me, Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah. ’Thus saith Jehovah to these bones: “Behold I am about to put breath into you, that ye may live. And I will put sinews on you, and will clothe you with flesh, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, that ye may live; and know that I am Jehovah."’