The Jewish presence in Crete dates back to the 4thcentury BCE following the conquest and Hellenization of the Near East by Alexander the Great. Members of these early Jewish communities came from Egypt, some perhaps as part of Egyptian military campaigns or from Palestine during the Maccabean Revolt.

These early communities were Hellenized, that is, culturally Greek. It was for these and other communities which no longer spoke Hebrew that the Bible was translated into Greek, the so-called Septuagint.

Jewish communities on Crete are first mentioned in 4th century BCE epitaph inscriptions from Kassanoi and Kissamos. In Kissamos, a “Sophia of Gortyna, an elder and leader of the synagogue”, is mentioned and attests to the leading role of women in diaspora communities. A community in Gortyna is described in the First Book of Maccabees (15:23) dating to around 142 BCE. Gortyna was the most prosperous city on Crete during Hellenistic times.

Although only fragmentary inscriptions remain in Crete, inscriptions dating to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE from an ancient synagogue on the island of Delos honor two citizens of Heraklion and Knossos. This indicates the prevalence of a Samaritan community in Crete and also makes the existence of a Jewish community there quite likely.

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The so-called “Moses Seat” – remnants of a 2nd century BCE synagogue on the island of Delos

Roman theatre at Gortyna, 1st century CE

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