ACI Prensa Staff, Jan 6, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).
St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and the child Jesus traveled more than 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) from the time they fled to Egypt to escape the massacre of boys 2 years old and younger ordered by Herod, to their arrival in Nazareth, according to an expert.
The Gospel according to St. Matthew narrates how after the Magi had left Bethlehem, “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt.’”
There they had to remain until further notice because “Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Mt 2:13).
Cayetana H. Johnson, professor of Aramaic and Hebrew Language at the San Dámaso Ecclesiastical University in Madrid, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, that the Holy Family stayed in Egypt for about four years, according to tradition, and that in their journey there and back “they traveled more than 2,000 kilometers.”
“Although the route followed by the Holy Family is not recorded in the Bible, Coptic Christians have identified some 25 places where they believe Mary, Joseph, and Jesus stayed during their sojourn in Egypt,” the expert said.
It is believed that “the ruins of an ancient church in Farma (Pelusium) and four monasteries in Wadi Natrun mark stages in their journey through the Nile Delta,” she said.
This has been reflected in some artistic works, she said: “In Deir al-Suriani (The Monastery of the Syrians, in Wadi Natrun) a fresco from the sixth century shows Mary nursing the child Jesus.”
When Herod the Great died, an angel again appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead” (Mt 2:20).
Thus, “the Holy Family took the road back to the Dronka Mountain” where a monastery was later built in honor of the Virgin.
From there, “they arrived in Old Cairo after Matarieh, then traveled to Al Mahatma, Sinai, and finally entered the Holy Land to settle in the town of Nazareth in Galilee,” Johnson related.
A large Jewish community in Egypt
At that time in Egypt “there was a large Jewish community” because, according to the expert, “relations between Israel and the country of the pharaohs were historically more positive than negative.”
Egypt was already part of the Roman Empire for some 30 years prior, after the defeat of Marc Antony and Cleopatra by Octavian Cesar Augustus.
The significant presence of Jews in Egypt dates back to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 B.C.
Johnson explained that “six months after the appointment of Gedeliah as governor of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar (king of Babylon), Ishmael (a descendant of the king of Judah) murdered Gedeliah in Mizpah (cf. 2 Kings 25:22–26).”
Fearing reprisals, all the Israelites from Mizpah fled to Egypt, “taking the prophet Jeremiah with them.” These Jewish communities settled in “Migdol, Tahpanhes, and Memphis, in the Nile Delta region of Lower Egypt.”
There, after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C., “the Jewish community prospered under the Ptolemaic pharaohs and adopted Greek as their mother tongue,” even translating the Hebrew scriptures into this language.
The importance of this Jewish community was such that after the looting of Jerusalem in 167 B.C., a Jewish temple was built near Memphis, “which would have been the center of a large Jewish community when Mary and Joseph arrived in Egypt.”
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.