In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Alexandria

  • Introduction
  • Archaeology
  • Epigraphy
  • The Jewish Community of Alexandria
  • Religious Cults of Alexandria
  • Alexandrian Intellectual Life

Biblical Studies Alexandria
Joan Taylor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0188


Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE, Alexandria under the Ptolemaic dynasty soon became a unique cultural center that led the Hellenistic world. Cultural interchange created a milieu in which some of the most important Jewish and Christian thinkers would thrive. The Septuagint (LXX) was produced here, largely in the 3rd century BCE. With the vibrant intellectual hubs of the Alexandrian museon and library, a distinctive Alexandrian school of philosophy, science, and medicine developed that included such figures as Eratosthenes and Ptolemy. It is likely that many works of Jewish literature written in Greek were composed here, though their provenance cannot be established with certainty. There was a Jewish school of allegorical exegesis, evidenced in the work of Aristobulus and Philo. Paul’s influential associate Apollos came from this city (Acts 18: 24–8). After the uprising of 115–17 CE, when the Alexandrian Jewish community was decimated, allegorical exegesis was continued in the Christian catechetical school, headed by Pantaenus, Clement, and then Origen. Christian teachers such as Basilides, Valentinus, and Isidore were also active in the city. Traditionally the evangelist Mark was said to have died in Alexandria (see, for example, Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 2: 16, 24), where his tomb was venerated for centuries before his remains were brought to Venice in 828 CE. A useful bibliographical Internet resource for the site may be found online. A remarkable 3-D tour of ancient Alexandria is also provided online.


The most important contexts for biblical literature are the Hellenistic or Ptolemaic periods (from the foundation by Alexander in 321 to 30 BCE), the subsequent Roman period, and also the era of late Antiquity when Alexandria was a leading Christian city in which biblical texts were conserved and interpreted. General overviews are found in Bell 1948 and Pollard and Reid 2006. Hirst and Silk 2004, Harris and Ruffini 2004, and Steen 1993 collect conference papers on a wide range of topics. An early exploration of issues of ethnicity is Davis 1951. Of key concern in numerous studies are the relationships between different ethnic groupings. Guide books can contain valuable information about the city’s past. Forster 2004, first published in 1922, is a good example. General illustrated introductions are provided in Haag 2004.

  • Bell, Harold I. Egypt, from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest. Oxford: Clarendon, 1948.

    Concise and insightful examination of a wide period of history, with a focus on the fate of Hellenism in Egypt as a whole.

  • Davis, Simon. Race-Relations in Ancient Egypt: Greek, Egyptian, Hebrew, Roman. London: Methuen, 1951.

    A slightly dated but valuable discussion of the question of relationships between ethnic groups.

  • Forster, E. M. Alexandria: A History and a Guide. London: Andre Deutsch, 2004.

    Beautifully written, well-illustrated and thoroughly researched historical introduction to the city, first published in 1922, this edition includes guides to the Pharos and Pharillon. The first section provides a history from the city’s foundation to the modern period; the second is a guide to walks from the main square, with forays west and east.

  • Haag, Michael. Alexandria Illustrated. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2004.

    Overview of Alexandria’s history with good illustrations.

  • Harris, W. V., and G. Ruffini, eds. Ancient Alexandria between Egypt and Greece. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2004.

    A collection of thirteen papers from a conference at Columbia University, New York, in 2002, focusing on integrating new archeological and papyrological discoveries into understanding the history and character of Alexandria. The subjects are diverse, and there are good indices of subjects and papyri, with maps and illustrations.

  • Hirst, Anthony, and Michael Silk, eds. Alexandria, Real and Imagined. Centre for Hellenic Studies, King’s College London, Publications 5. Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004.

    This volume springs from a conference at King’s College London in 1997. It is wide in scope, but there are some important papers for the period of concern here on art, especially tomb art, and the Acta Alexandrinorum and the Jewish community.

  • Pollard, J., and H. Reid. The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind. London: Viking, 2006.

    A general review of events and people that acts as a good introductory work.

  • Steen, Gareth L., ed. Alexandria, the Site and the History. New York: New York University Press, 1993.

    The expertise of local Egyptian archaeologists and historians is drawn on to present Alexandria’s whole history, with numerous photographs, with good introductions to the ancient period.

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