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Day Two in Egypt

The wall mosaics of Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria portray how Mark had success preaching the gospel among the Jewish community in Alexandria, and the first Jewish believer was a shoemaker. But Mark was later martyred by Roman pagans who dragged his body through the cobblestone streets on Easter Sunday 68 AD, and some of his relics are on display in the crypt. Sadly, on Palm Sunday (April 9, 2017) twin suicide bombings took place here and at St. George’s in nearby Tanta, Egypt—with a total of 45 killed and 126 injured. ISIS claimed responsibility. There is now a strong military presence outside most churches throughout Egypt.

Similarly, there is tight security at the historic synagogues of Egypt (historic because Jews were expelled in the 1950s and their property was sequestered). Only about 50 Jews remain in all of Egypt today, and nearly all are women over 55 years of age. Nevertheless, there are some special holiday services held in Alexandria’s Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue for various Jewish communities throughout North Africa. It was also in Alexandria that the famous translation of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint or LXX was translated into Greek by seventy Jewish scholars during the third and second centuries B.C. All of this made for an especially nostalgic experience to stand at the bema of Alexandria’s synagogue and recite the Shema.

Later in the day, I visited the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina which opened in 2002. Alexandria was a center for culture and erudition in the Mediterranean world. And this new library is the recreation of the famed Ancient Library of Alexandria founded by Ptolemy I Soter in the 300s BC. Its interior is modeled after the historic Daughter Library which had niches for storing papyrus scrolls. The exterior resembles a tilted hieroglyphic sun disk with the rising side dressed in Aswan granite that is inscribed with words from 120 different scripts representing the ascent of cultural illumination like the rising of the sun. I burst out with laughter when I finally found the Hebrew inscription—it looked like they chose the word for toothpaste! But maybe it’s some obscure word in Aramaic . . . I’m still researching this one. For those who want to offer a guess, the consonants from right to left are ayin, fey, tzadi, shin, hey. For a bibliophile, all of this was quite fascinating!

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