Tcherikover, Victor

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TCHERIKOVER, VICTOR (Avigdor ; 1894–1958), historian. Tcherikover was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, into a family of maskilim. Graduating from the humanistic high school in Moscow, he studied philosophy and later ancient history at the University of Moscow, then left for Germany in 1921 and studied ancient history at Berlin University. Emigrating to Palestine in 1925, Tcherikover became one of the first teachers at the Hebrew University, and the first professor of ancient history. During the 1950s he headed the departments of general history and classical studies.

A general historian by training, Tcherikover first wrote in the field of Hellenistic history; his Die Hellenistischen Staedtegruendungen von Alexander dem Grossen bis auf die Roemerzeit (1927) became the basic work in this field. Later he devoted himself entirely to the study of Jewish history during the Graeco-Roman period and became one of the most distinguished scholars in the field. His two special interests were the history of Palestine from the Macedonian conquest until the establishment of the Hasmonean state and the history of the Jewish Diaspora in Egypt during the Hellenistic-Roman period. Tcherikover's fundamental research in the first field was Palestine under the Ptolemies (1937). In this study papyri relating to Palestine were fully utilized and analyzed for the first time, giving a new insight into the administration of Ptolemaic Palestine, methods of trade, the non-Jewish population, and the Greek towns. In addition, in his Ha-Yehudim va-ha-Yevanim ba-Tekufah ha-Helenistit (1931; Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews, 1959; second revised and enlarged Hebrew ed., 1963) Tcherikover gave a general picture of the Jewish history of the Hellenistic period – including the period of the Seleucid rule, the revolt of the Maccabees, and the rule of the Hasmonean dynasty. The second edition of this work contains a general synthesis of Tcherikover's views on the relationship between the Jews and the Greeks.

The other important field of Tcherikover's work on the history of the Diaspora in Egypt was based on his research of papyri. Among the tens of thousands of Greek papyri found in Egypt from the end of the 19th century onward, papyri which mentioned Jews or matters connected with Jews were also discovered. Tcherikover initiated systematic research of the Jewish papyri, publishing many studies and a comprehensive research work, Ha-Yehudim be-Miẓrayim ba-Tekufah ha-Helenistit-ha-Romit le-Or ha-Papirologyah ("The Jews in Egypt in the Hellenistic-Roman Age in the Light of the Papyri," 1945, 19632, with Eng. summary). At the outset of his work on papyrology, Tcherikover realized that without a complete collection of the documents concerning the Jews there would be no solid basis to research on Jewish papyri. Consequently, starting in 1935, the preparation of his Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum held a central place in Tcherikover's work. The first volume of the work was published in 1957, while volumes two and three were published posthumously in 1960 and 1964. Nearly 600 documents pertaining to Egyptian Jewry during the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods are reproduced in the Greek original, accompanied by a translation and a scholarly commentary. Tcherikover's general introduction is a book in itself, reconstructing the millennium of the Egyptian Diaspora's existence with much historiographic expertise. Tcherikover's scholarly work is outstanding for construction, clarity of thought, lucidity of presentation, precision of detail, and general historic perception.

[Alexander Fuks]