site lying about 32 km (20 mi.) northeast of Cairo in Egypt's eastern Delta (30°17′ N, 31°20′ E), in pharaonic times Tell el-Yahudiyeh was in the thirteenth Lower Egyptian nome. Its Arabic name means “mound of the Jews”; this term alludes to the town and temple established at the site in the Ptolemaic period by the Jewish priest Onias. Its ancient Egyptian name was Nay-ta-hut or Nathō, and its Greek name was Leontopolis. Tell el-Yahudiyeh has been investigated half a dozen times over more than a century: the most important excavations were those conducted by Edouard Naville and Francis Llewellyn Griffith in 1887, and by W. M. Flinders Petrie in 1906. The site's archaeological fame derives from the discovery here of important Levantine remains of the Hyksos period (Manetho's fifteenth dynasty, 1648–1540 BCE).

Little is known about the early history of Tell el-Yahudiyeh. As with many Delta sites, most of the ancient settlement today lies beneath the high water table and therefore cannot be excavated, and the surface remains have been extensively looted and destroyed over the centuries. Human activity at the site in the third millennium BCE is indicated by some stone vessels, and scattered, unstratified objects (e.g., scarabs) and possibly some graves suggest occupation during the early second millennium.

The largest surviving structure at Tell el-Yahudiyeh—a roughly square earthwork rampart about 460 m (1,500 ft.) long on each outer face and having an external plastered glacis and rounded corners—may relate to the Hyksos period. Many archaeologists believe that this structure was a fortification erected by the Asiatic Hyksos rulers who controlled part of northern Egypt. Petrie specifically identified the enclosure as a “Hyksos camp,” primarily because of its similarity to a number of Middle Bronze II–III enclosures in the Levant. He discovered a similar enclosure (undated and now destroyed) at Heliopolis. The interpretation of the Tell el-Yahudiyeh rampart as a defensive system is not assured, however, nor is its dating. Petrie reports that a building complex of Rameses III (c. 1184–1153) cut into it; if true, that would make the enclosure earlier than the reign of the twentieth-dynasty king.) Some scholars view the enclosure as the temenos wall of a temple complex, citing as a parallel a wall of the twenty-sixth dynasty at the Delta site of Mendes.

Yahudiyeh, Tell el-

YAHUDIYEH, TELL EL-. Figure 1. Tell el-Yahudiyeh ware pottery fragment. Found at the Nubian site of Buhen, New Kingdom period. (Courtesy University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia)

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A series of generally poor, secondary burials inside and outside the enclosure probably belonged to Levantine pastoralists of the late thirteenth and fifteenth dynasties. Pottery, scarabs, and other finds from the graves link this material to Asiatic burials from such contemporaneous eastern Delta sites as Tell ed- Dab῾a and Tell el-Maskhuta. [See Dab῾a, Tell ed-; Maskhuta, Tell el-.] The ceramics include a distinctive type of pottery now known as Tell el-Yahudiyeh ware (see figure 1). This pottery, which occurs most commonly in the form of juglets decorated with incised and punctate geometric patterns containing a white chalky filling, appeared in Nubia, Egypt, Syria- Palestine, and Cyprus during the Second Intermediate period. Its initial region of production probably was northern Palestine; it later was manufactured in several areas around the eastern Mediterranean. The widespread distribution of this pottery reflects extensive commercial relations.

Knowledge of the site's history during the New Kingdom is uneven. Little is known about the place in the early New Kingdom: eighteenth dynasty (1550–1295) excavated remains include little more than some burials. More plentiful are finds of the nineteenth dynasty (1295–1186). These include the quartzite base of a unique temple gateway model inscribed with the name of Seti I, some large statues of Rameses II from a destroyed temple of that king, and a granite column inscribed with the name of Merneptah. The twentieth dynasty (1186–1069) has left the remains of a temple and associated palace complex of Rameses III as well as some graves. Probably deriving from the temple palace are a large number of polychrome, glazed faience tiles showing foreigners, plant and animal motifs, and the king's name; these tiles are now scattered around a number of museums.

The history of Tell el-Yahudiyeh is again poorly documented for the first half of the first millennium BCE. Several inscribed fragmentary stone monuments as well as some burials attest to activity of indeterminate extent during the Third Intermediate period (1069–656). The site is mentioned (as Nathū) in the Annals of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (668–627).

About 160 the Ptolemaic ruler Ptolemy VI Philometor granted permission to the Jewish priest Onias to build a temple and town at the site. The precise location of the temple, which is mentioned by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in his work Jewish Antiquities, is uncertain: it was Petrie's opinion that the temple lay outside the northeast wall of the so-called Hyksos camp. From the period of the temple come a series of tombs containing burial stelae inscribed with Greek and Semitic names. The temple apparently stood for slightly more than two centuries, eventually being closed by the Roman prefect, Lupus, in 71 CE.

[See also Delta; Hyksos; and the biography of Petrie.]


  • Adam, Shehata. “Recent Discoveries in the Eastern Delta, December 1950–May 1955.” Annales du Service des Antiquités de l'Égypte 55 (1958): 301–324.
    Includes a brief report on the author's excavations at the site in 1951 and 1952, and claims (though without supporting data) that among his discoveries were tombs of the Middle Kingdom
  • Badawy, Alexander. “A Monumental Gateway for a Temple of King Sety I: An Ancient Model Restored.” Miscellanea Wilbouriana 1 (1972): 1–20.
    Provides full publication and a reconstruction of the nineteenth-dynasty model sanctuary gateway found at Tell el-Yahûdîyeh and now in the Brooklyn Museum. An appendix (pp. 20–23) by Elizabeth Riefstahl discusses the modern history of this monument and provides a full bibliography
  • Gardiner, Alan H. Ancient Egyptian Onomastica. 3 vols. London, 1947. Contains a detailed discussion of the various ancient names associated with Tell el-Yahûdîyeh (see vol. 2, pp. 146–149).
  • Helck, Wolfgang. “Natho.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, vol. 4, cols. 354–355. Wiesbaden, 1982.
    Provides up-to-date discussion of the two Egyptian Delta sites named Natho (the other being Tell el-Muqdam)
  • Kaplan, Maureen F. The Origin and Distribution of Tell el Yahûdîyeh Ware. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology, vol. 62. Göteborg, 1980.
    Provides a comprehensive study of the geographical distribution, origin, typology, and chronology of this pottery
  • Naville, Édouard. The Mound of the Jew and the City of Onias: Belheis, Samanood, Abusir, Tukh el Karmus, 1887. Francis Llewellyn Griffith. The Antiquities of Tell el Yahûdîyeh. Egypt Exploration Fund, Memoir 7. London, 1890.
    Early excavation report on the site, still a basic source for the archaeological history of Tell el- Yahûdîyeh
  • Petrie, W. M. Flinders. Hyksos and Israelite Cities. Publications of the British School of Archaeology in Egypt and Egyptian Research Account, 12. London, 1906.
    Describes the excavation of the great enclosure and a series of New Kingdom and later graves, as well as the structures outside the enclosure which the excavator identified as the remains of the Onias temple and town
  • Tufnell, Olga. “Graves at Tell el-Yehūdiyeh: Reviewed after a Lifetime.” In Archaeology in the Levant: Essays for Kathleen Kenyon, edited by P. R. S. Moorey and Peter J. Parr, pp. 76–101. Warminster, 1978.
    Detailed republication of a dozen Asiatic graves of the Second Intermediate period
  • Wright, G. R. H. “Tell el- Yehūdiyah and the Glacis.” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 84 (1968): 1–17.
    Offers a vigorous argument against the identification of the Tell el-Yahûdîyeh enclosure as a fortification wall

James M. Weinstein