Historical Account of Alexandria

 •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 15
This celebrated city, in some respects the connecting link between the two Testaments, was founded by Alexander the Great, 332 B.C. Its situation was skillfully planned, being on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, and contiguous to the Red Sea and the Nile, and thus commanding the trade of the eastern and western worlds. Alexandria soon became a city of very great commercial importance, and attracted the trade which had made Tire so famous; while during the dynasty of the Ptolemies it attained not only a degree of splendor rivaling most of the cities of antiquity, but became the center of the intellectual power of these centuries.
The pride of Assyria had been humbled in the total destruction of her powerful city Nineveh, so that her very site remained a matter of conjecture to the historians of the ancient world. Babylon in turn shared the fate of her rival, and bowed her neck beneath the iron heel of the conquering Persian. Tire, that famous stronghold on the eastern side of the Great Sea, and emporium of the world's wealth, after defying the combined sea and land forces of Alexander for seven months, had just fallen before the superior strategy and perseverance of the great Grecian commander, and her immense wealth taken to swell the already heavy and accumulated treasures of the conqueror. Then arose Alexandria, bearing the name of her founder, and soon towered above all her compeers in point of commercial importance, and as a center from whence emanated the intellectual and religious life of the world. Its population in the day of its greatness numbered about 600,000 souls. Its present population is estimated at about 40,000.
"Alexandria was a league and a half long, by one third in breadth, which made the circumference of its walls about four leagues. Lake Marcotis bathed its walls on the south, and the Mediterranean on the north. It was intersected lengthwise by straight parallel streets. This direction left a free passage to the northern wind, which alone conveys coolness and salubrity into Egypt. A street of 2000 feet wide, began at the gate of the sea and terminated at the gate of Canopus. It was decorated with magnificent houses, temples, and public buildings. In this extensive range, the eye never tired with admiring the marble, the porphyry, and obelisks, which were destined at some future day to embellish Rome and Constantinople. This street, the handsomest in the universe, was intersected by another of the same breadth, which formed a square at their junction of half a league in circumference. From the middle of this great place, the two gates were to be seen at once; and vessels arriving under full sail from the north and from the south."
Even in a later age, when Rome became the mistress of the world, Alexandria maintained her high reputation as a seat of learning, for here flourished Origen, Clement, and other distinguished men during the first six Christian centuries, and if the description furnished by the Arabian conqueror of Alexandria in the seventh century be correct, it could not have been much behind Rome itself for size and splendor. Amrou wrote to his master the caliph in these words:-"I have taken the city of the west. It is of an immense extent. I cannot describe to you how many wonders it contains There are 4,000 palaces, 4,000 baths, 12,000 dealers in fresh oil, 12,000 gardeners, 40,000 Jews who pay tribute, 400 theaters and places of amusement." It was then that the splendid and famous library of 700,000 volumes was delivered to the flames. For six months they continued to fire the numerous baths with which the city abounded; thus perished the library of the ancient world, and that by the express order of the ignorant Saracen Omar, who regarded the Koran as sufficient for the intellectual and religious life of mankind.
But what makes Alexandria so very interesting to the Bible student is not its former grandeur or greatness, nor even its New Testament references, important as these are. Here the eloquent Apollos was born (Acts 18:2424And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. (Acts 18:24)), and its famous shipping supplied Paul and his companions with a vessel to carry them to Rome (Acts 27:66And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein. (Acts 27:6)). But in our judgment Alexandria is justly celebrated as being the birthplace of the Septuagint, or Greek version of the Old Testament, and which gave, not only to the many thousands of Jews who found a home and a refuge in Egypt from the cruelty and tyranny of the Syrian kings, the Sacred Scriptures in the Greek tongue, then almost universally spoken, but supplied for nearly three centuries before Christ, and for a considerable time after, the Old Testament complete as presently possessed by us, and that, too, in the tongue of the learned and ignorant. It was this version of the Scriptures which was in constant use during the time of our Lord, and from which He made numerous quotations, and which the Bereans searched to verify the statements of Paul (Acts 176And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; (Acts 17:6)). Not only did Alexandria, under the Ptolemies for nearly 300 years, rise in wealth, grandeur, and learning, hut under their auspices the Septuagint, or Alexandrian version of the Old Testament, was commenced 284 B.C., and afterward finished; so that after the completion of the Old Testament, and the ceasing of the prophetic ministry, God caused His Word to be translated, circulated, and known far beyond the bounds of Judaism. It is not, too, without its importance that Philo, a learned Jewish author and philosopher, and who, according to many, improved upon the philosophy of Plato, flourished in Alexandria in the early part of the first Christian century, and whose corroborative testimony to the truth of Holy Scripture from such a source, is not without value. Singular that Josephus, a Palestinean Jew and historian, and Philo, an Alexandrian Jew and philosopher, both contemporary, and both unbelievers, living about 400 miles apart, yet held the Septuagint to be of Divine authority, besides furnishing other testimonies to the historical veracity of the facts of Scripture history. And certainly these men, from their position and capabilities of knowing and testing the truth for themselves, were in a position to do so vastly superior to the unbelieving critics of our day, who dare to impugn the living and inspired oracles of our God.