Onias, City or Region of
Onias, City Or Region Of the city in which stood the temple built by Onias, and the region of the Jewish settlements in Egypt. Ptolemy mentions the city as the capital of the Heliopolitic Nome: ῾Ηλιοπολίτης νομός καὶ μητρόπολις Ο᾿νίου (4:5, § 53); where the reading Ηλίου is not admissible, since Heliopolis is afterwards mentioned, and its different position distinctly laid down (§ 54). Josephus speaks of "the region of Onias," Ο᾿νίου χώρα (Ant. 14:8, 1; War, 1:9, 4; comp. 7:10, 2), and mentions a place there situate called "the Camp of the Jews," Ι᾿ουδαίων στρατόπεδον,(Ant. 14:8, 2; War, l, c.). In the spurious letters given by him in the account of the foundation of the temple of Onias, it is made to have been at Leontopolis in the Heliopolitic Nome, and called a strong place of Bubastis (Ant. 13:3, and 1, 2); and when speaking of its closing by the Romans, he says that it was in a region 180 stadia from Memphis, in the Heliopolitic Nome, where Onias had founded a castle (lit. watch-post, φρούριον War, 7:10, 2-4). Leontopolis was not in the Heliopolitic Nome, but in Ptolemy's time was the capital of the Leontopolitie (4:5, § 51), and the mention of it is altogether a blunder. There is probably also a confusion as to the city Bubastis; unless, indeed, the temple which Onias adopted and restored was one of the Egyptian goddess of that name.
The site of the city of Onias is to be looked for in some one of those to the northward of Heliopolis which are called Tell. el-Yehud, "the Mound of the Jews," or Tell el-Yehuldiyeh, "the Jewish Mound." Sir Gardner Wilkinson thinks that there is little doubt that it is one which stands in the cultivated land near Shibin, to the northward of Heliopolis, in a direction a little to the east, at a distance of twelve miles. "Its mounds are of very great height." He remarks that the distance from Memphis (29 miles) is greater than that given by Josephus; but the inaccuracy is not extreme. Another mound of the same name, standing on the edge of the desert, a short distance to the south of Belbeis, and 24 miles from Heliopolis, wouldl, he thinks, correspond to the Vicus Judaeorum of the Itinerary of Antoninus (see Modern Egypt and Thebes, 1:297-300). During the years 1842-1849 excavations were made in. the mound supposed by Sir Gardner Wilkinson to mark the site of the city of Onias. No result. however, was obtained but the discovery of portions of pavement very much resembling the Assyrian pavements now in the British Museum.
From the account of Josephus, and the name given to one of them, "the Camp of the Jews," these settlements appear to have been of a half military nature. The chief of them seems to have been a strong place; and the same is apparently the case with another, that just mentioned, from the circumstances of the history even more than from its name. This name, though recalling the "Camp" where Psammetichus I established his Greek mercenaries (Magdolus), does not prove it was a military settlement, as the "Camp of the Tyrians" in Memphis (Herod. 2:112) was perhaps in its name a reminiscence of the Shepherd occupation, for there stood there a temple of "the Foreign Venus," of which the age seems to be shown by a tablet of Amenoph II (B.C. cir. 1400) in the quarries opposite the city in which Ashtoreth is worshipped, or else it may have been a merchant settlement. We may also compare the Coptic name of El-Gizeh, opposite Cairo, Persioi, which has been ingeniously conjectured to record the position of a Persian camp. The easternmost part of Lower Egypt, be it remembered, was always chosen for great military settlements, in order to protect the country from the incursions of her enemies beyond that frontier. Here the first-Shepherd king Salatis placed an enormous garrison in the stronghold Avaris, the Zoan of the Bible (Manetho, ap. Josephus, c. Ap. 1:14). Here foreign mercenaries of the Saitic kings of the 26th dynasty were settled;
here also the greatest body of the Egyptian soldiers had the lands allotted to them, all being established in the Delta (Herod. 2:164-166). Probably the Jewish settlements were established for the same purpose, more especially as the hatred of their inhabitants towards the kings of Syria would promise their opposing the strongest resistance in case of an invasion. The history of the Jewish cities of Egypt is a very obscure portion of that of the Hebrew nation. We know little more than the story of the foundation and overthrow of one of them, though we may infer that they were populous and politically important. It seems at first sight remarkable that we have no trace of any literature of these settlements; but as it would have been preserved to us by either the Jews of Palestine or those of Alexandria, both of whom must have looked upon the worshippers at the temple of Onias as schismatics, it could scarcely have been expected to have come down to us. See Frankel, "Zur Forschung ther den Oniastempel," in the Monatsschr. fur Wiss. d. Judenth. 1:273 sq. SEE EGYPT.