In the sands six miles north of Cairo, Egypt Hebrew inscriptions can be found among the ruins of an ancient city. Jewish burial catacombs snake under the dunes. This is Tell al-Yahudiyya, “The Mound of the Jews”.
It is very easy to imagine Joseph, Mary, and Jesus making their journey into a foreign land and wonder how a young Jewish family could have possibly survived in the land of the pyramids and pharaohs. I even saw one artist’s painting which depicted the Christ Child cradled in the arms of the Sphinx! In truth, the diaspora had gone before them and prepared the way.
At the time of Christ, Tell al-Yahudiyya was known by its Greek name, Leontopolis, “city of lions” and it was a thriving Jewish community. Under the protection of the Ptolomies, a Jewish priest, Onais, built a temple there. It was the only Jewish sanctuary outside of Jerusalem where sacrifices were offered. The temple of Onias was in use by the Jews for more than 200 years, up until it was shut down by the Romans in 73 AD.
The priesthood in Jerusalem had become corrupt under Roman rule, but in Leontopolis, among the diaspora, were descendents of the true Zadokite priestly line serving in the temple of Onais. In sending Joseph, Mary, and Jesus into Egypt, God was not sending them into a hostile cesspool of foreign idolatry but into a waiting, welcoming community of observant Jews. The families of the true priestly line would shelter the infant Redeemer until the threat of Herod the Great was lifted and He could return to Palestine to fulfill his purpose.