For the Jews, then, the donkey was their holy animal. Tacitus confirms this in the legend

Nineveh, ancient relief
Nineveh, ancient relief

of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, in which donkeys also play a role. Why the donkey?

The solution to the riddle is an economic one. Long before camels became the typical beast of burden in the caravans, the donkey was the animal that transported goods over long distances for trade purposes. So the donkey’s status as the Jews’ holy animal indicates its economic use for long-distance trade.



From pre-Hellenistic times, Jews were active as long-distance traders and established commercial settlements in Egypt and Mesopotamia. These resulted in a widely-scattered Jewish diaspora long before

Cheops pyramid, ancient entrance
Cheops pyramid, ancient entrance

the Babylonian captivity, that only affected a few families. The cultural conflict between the Jewish trading nation and local populations sometimes led to social conflicts that had little to do with religion.

The rise of political Judaism began in the 2nd century BC with the Maccabees, who founded a Hellenistic Jewish state and Hellenistic Jewish culture before Roman influence made itself felt a century later.