30°17′N, 31°31′E. The earliest known Hyksos site and the type-site for a group of small black ceramic juglets, variously polished and decorated, with incised lines and comb-made punctate zigzags filled with a white paste. Manufactured in both the Levant and Egypt during the late first and the second quarters of the second millennium BCE, the juglets' range and significance have generated much literature. If the site's rampart is of the type common to Syria-Palestine during the Middle Bronze IIA–B periods, it is the only example of such a fortification in Egypt; the Hyksos capital of Avaris has no such fortifications. Tell el-Yahudiyya is also the site of a mid-second century BCE expatriate Jewish temple.
First investigated by Heinrich Brugsch in the nineteenth century, the site and nearby tombs and burials were superficially excavated by Edouard Naville and F. Llewellyn Griffith in 1886–1887, prior to their 1890 publication of the ceramic chronology. Griffith's notes contain archaeologically useful information on virtually all periods of the site's occupation, from the Hyksos to the Roman. In 1905 and 1906, W. M. Flinders Petrie conducted what has proven to be the premier excavation at the site, aided by his already developed Egyptian and Palestinian ceramic chronology (1906). A short field season by Shehata Adam in the 1950s produced useful new materials but did not substantively alter understanding of the site. Adam (1958) did, however, witness its ruinous state of preservation.
During the Second Intermediate Period (Middle Bronze IIB), the site was occupied by non–Egyptian settlers, identified in 1906 by Flinders Petrie as the Hyksos. It was surrounded by a great rampart, some 460 meters (1470 feet) square, similar to slightly earlier ones in Syria (e.g., Tell Mardikh) and in Palestine (e.g., Hazor, Tel Dan). Anomalously, entry seems to have been via a long ramp stretching into the desert. Occupational layers inside the enclosure were either impossible to excavate with available techniques or deemed insignificant in an intellectual climate long centered on cemetery excavation. As a result, Petrie focused on data from graves and tombs within the enclosure and from the small cemetery east of “The Town of Onias,” which had first been investigated by Naville and Griffith. A good summation of data from these contexts, concerning pottery and small finds—particularly scarabs—was published by Petrie. The materials were both excavated and purchased from locals, but local soil conditions precluded the excavation of human remains.
Even in Naville's day, these materials could be compared to those from his 1885 excavations and purchases at Kataana-Qantir. With present-day excavations at Tell ed-Dabʿa and Pithom, more can be said. In general, the burials at Tell el-Yahudiyya paralleled those of the late Hyksos phases at both Pithom and Tell ed-Dabʿa. Although it may be accidental, there appear to have been no donkey burials, even though daggers and a Near Eastern battle-axe were recovered; this would also correlate with late phases at Tell ed-Dabʿa and Pithom. Based on the pottery (probably closer to c.1650–1550 BCE than earlier), the occupation at Tell el-Yahudiyya now can be shown to be roughly contemporary to that of Pithom.
From the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, ceramic, epigraphic, architectural, and small-object evidence indicates a flourishing settlement, probably lasting through both New Kingdom dynasties, with, at one time, a temple or palace of Ramesses II. By Brugsch's time at the site, only portions of a small “chamber” or “pavilion” of Ramesses III remained, decorated—as were the palace floors at Kataana-Qantir—with glazed tiles, otherwise extremely rare in pharaonic Egypt. The discovery of these tiles, now in several museums, caused yet more destruction even before Petrie's excavations. Although a large block of Ramessid occupation material still remained in the western part of the tell, Petrie's investigations were limited to the cemetery materials, organized under the “period” headings of pre- Thutmose III, Thutmose III, Amenophis II, and the eighteenth dynasty.
For the evidence from the twentieth dynasty to the Roman period, Petrie continued to publish on his work in the cemetery, along with other material (the partial statue of Admiral Hor-Psamtek, found in the temple of Onias). His publication was, for the time, splendidly done—even some, mostly undated, utilitarian stone tools are published—and, given Petrie's instincts for seriation and intelligent utilization of scarab data, the datings appear close to the broad temporal spans under which they are grouped. As would be expected, his classifications are weak in those periods where there is now more detailed and accurate information, such as in the Saite through Ptolemaic periods, and this probably pertains to the other materials as well.
Apart from the as-yet undiscovered earlier Jewish temple at Elephantine, Tell el-Yahudiyya has the only Jewish temple from the Second Temple Period outside Jerusalem. While not positively identified—only architectural scraps and some foundational elements survived—the literary evidence from the first-century CE historian Flavius Josephus and the evidence of a nearby late Jewish cemetery make the location nearly certain. The temple was built on an artificial mound, roughly 20 meters (65 feet) high, with second-century BCE potsherds found throughout the fills. North of the temple foundations “heaps of potsherds” remained from the depredations of the local cotton farmers digging for phosphate-rich agricultural soil. Petrie reasonably interpreted this as the remains of the ancient town, presumably the homes of the elite, since he also assumed that a Jewish townsite underlay a modern village to the east of the mound. What remains of the temple and its courts are the foundations and a great staircase, its walls lime plastered, rising from east to west. “A great quantity of pieces of stucco lay round about here; it is hard, white, and smoothly faced, with a black dado and a line of red as a border for the white” (Petrie 1906, 24). The site was destroyed following an assault, probably that of 146 BCE, when Onias served as general for Cleopatra II. Roman-style tombs and materials were also in evidence (Naville and Griffith 1890).
- Adam, Shehata. “Recent Discoveries in the Eastern Delta.” Annales du Service des Antiquités de l'Égypte 55 (1958), 301–324.
- Bietak, Manfred. “Egypt and Canaan During the Middle Bronze Age.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 281 (1991), 27–72.
- Holladay, John S., Jr. “The Eastern Nile Delta During the Hyksos and Pre-Hyksos Periods: Toward a Systemic/Socioeconomic Understanding.” In The Hyksos: New Historical and Archaeological Perspectives, edited by E. D. Oren, pp. 183–252. Philadelphia, 1997.
- Holladay, John S., Jr. “Syro-Palestinian Ramparts and the ‘Camp’ at Tell-el Yahudiya.” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities (n.d.).
- Josephus, Flavius. Josephus, with an English Translation by Ralph Marcus, Ph.D., in Nine Volumes. Loeb Classical Library. London and Cambridge.
- Kaplan, Maureen K. The Origin and Distribution of Tell el-Yahudiyeh Ware. Studies in Mediterranean Archeology, 42. Götebörg, 1980.
- Lapp, Paul W. Palestinian Ceramic Chronology: 200 B.C.–A.D. 70. New Haven, 1961.
- Merrilees, R. S. “El-Lisht and Tell el-Yahudiya Ware in the Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut.” Levant 10 (1978), 75–98.
- Naville, Edouard, and F. Ll. Griffith. The Mound of the Jew and the City of Onias (by Naville 1890) and The Antiquities of Tell el Yahû-dîyeh (by Griffith 1887). Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Fund, 7. London.
- Oren, Eliezer D., ed. The Hyksos: New Historical and Archaeological Perspectives. Philadelphia, 1997.
- Petrie, W. M. Flinders. Hyksos and Israelite Cities. Publications of the Egyptian Research Account, 12. London, 1906.
- Seger, Joe D. The MB II Fortifications at Shechem and Gezer: A Hyksos Retrospective. Eretz-Israel 12 (1975), 34–45.
- Yadin, Yigael. Hazor: The Head of All Those Kingdoms. The Schweich Lectures of the British Academy 1970. London, The British Academy, 1972.
John S. Holladay, Jr.