Egypt and the people of Israel have tangled together throughout the biblical, medieval, and modern periods. As one of the great civilizations of the ancient world, relatively free from foreign invasions until the arrival of the Assyrians (7th cent. BCE), and enjoying a good climate and a prosperous economy, Egypt was at various times a haven for Israelite refugees (1 Kgs. 11: 17; 12: 3), a dominant military power, and a cultural influence on Israel—though never a directly religious influence, even if Moses (an Egyptian name) was instructed in Egyptian wisdom (Acts 7: 22).

Abraham went to Egypt for survival. Joseph was forcibly taken there but rose to eminence. The Exodus from Egypt was ever afterwards branded on the national memory. Settled in Palestine, the countries of Israel and Judah were always liable to be squeezed by the warring powers in the NE and Egypt in the SW; captives seized by Egyptian raiding parties during the Israelite monarchy remained there; Ishmael and his fellow conspirators fled there, dragging Jeremiah with them after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. Joseph and Mary are recorded (Matt. 2: 13) as taking the infant Jesus to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod.

A military colony of Jews was established in the 5th cent. BCE at Elephantine on the Egyptian border, and for about two centuries until 73 CE there was a Jewish temple at Leontopolis. There was a considerable Jewish population in Alexandria; and the historian Eusebius records the tradition that the Church was founded there by Mark the evangelist. Little of the Church in Egypt is known before the great persecution of the 3rd cent., but a Christian community eventually became the predominant religious group in the country until the Islamic conquest in the 7th cent. CE. Christianity still survives as the small Coptic Church.