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The Hyksos and the Biblical Exodus
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2005 4:23 am    Post subject: The Hyksos and the Biblical Exodus Reply with quote

We touched on this briefly in our discussion about the 10 plagues in the Miscellaneous forum, and I thought I'd create a thread just for this topic. It's a favorite of mine for the sake of discussion, and I'm curious to see what some of you folks have to say about it.

The word "Hyksos" is a Greek corruption of the Egyptian term hk3 kh3swt, which translates literally as "foreign rulers" though you'll often see the more flowery version, "foreign princes." As far back as the Middle Kingdom groups of Canaanites had been migrating to Egypt, and most particularly to Lower Egypt (the Delta region). Later Egyptian texts tell us that these Canaanites invaded en masse and eventually overtook Egypt brutally, but that is almost certainly not the case. It's just the spin put on this migration by the Egyptians, who wanted no one of the future to think that they were so weak as to allow a bunch of foreigners to rule them. And rule them the Hyksos did, beginning in the turbulent 15th Dynasty of the Second Intermediate Period. By this point Egypt had weakened internally and could no longer support a cohesive, nationwide government. It was simple opportunity and expedience that allowed these Canaanites to gain power, and their capital was founded in the Delta city of Avaris (modern Tell el-Dab'a).

Though this marked the first time in the history of the Two Lands that a foreign power gained control in Egypt, the Hyksos never ruled all of Egypt. Consecutively in the Theban region, native Egyptians maintained control of most of Upper Egypt, south of Memphis (which was in Hyksos' hands). Fortunes changed late in the Second Intermediate Period, however. The Theban rulers increasingly built up their militias and began assaulting the Hyksos in their northern strongholds. It took a long time but after numerous violent battles, the Hyksos were finally driven from Egypt under the leadership of Kamose and his son Ahmose, the latter of whom became the first pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty and the New Kingdom, the period of Egypt's greatest wealth and power.

Now, on to the Exodus of Biblical fame. It should be remembered that outside the Bible itself there is no conclusive evidence whatsoever of the Exodus or, for that matter, the existence of Moses. When you have but one source on which to base an event of such scale, you're certainly standing on shaking ground. This is why many modern biblical scholars and historians feel the Exodus as presented in the Bible simply never occurred. But for those who try to put the Exodus in some historical perspective, there is no choice but to turn to the Bible and study it to try to extract some kind of way to date the Exodus. In such pursuits historians for the longest time placed the Exodus in the time of Ramesses II (1279-1212 BCE), in the 19th Dynasty of the New Kingdom. More recent and sophisticated studies have revealed that the reign of the son and successor of Ramesses, Merenptah, is the more likely period.

In fact, it wasn't even until the time of Merenptah (1212-1202 BCE) that the Israelites were first mentioned in an Egyptian text. They appear as one of many conquered Western Asiatics on a victory stela erected by Merenptah. Interestingly, the determinative hieroglyph used in the name isrri3 (the Egyptian version of "Israel") depicts the ancient Jews not even as a city state but simply as a people--proving that the Hebrews existed at this time but probably as no more than semi-nomadic herdsmen with no existing kingdom or government.

In short, trying to use the Bible as the only available tool to date the Exodus is at best a disputable undertaking. If anything like the Exodus ever took place, it could have been much earlier than Ramesses II, though we have seen that the ancient Jews were but a small tribe shortly after the time of Ramesses. The book of Exodus intimates that there must have been hundreds of thousands of Jewish people fleeing Egypt, when the entire Egyptian population at any one time up to and including the New Kingdom was certainly fewer than two million people--that's a lot of slaves per capita!

Perhaps the only "alternative theory" in which I find credence myself is one that's been around quite awhile: that the Exodus is actually a heavily edited version of the Hyksos occupation and expulsion. It's the only way I can assign any logic or historical perspective to the Exodus. We know the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, including the Exodus) was not even written and completed until around the 7th or 6th Century BCE. This was when the Hebraic kingdom of Judah was rising in strength, and the Judaic kings called on their scribes to record the ancient myths, fables, and laws of the Hebrews to legitimize their growing theocratic state.

Certainly none of the Canaanites who migrated to Egypt and later gained control in the Second Intermediate Period were Hebrews, but in being violently expelled from Egypt and brutally harrassed all the way back deep into Canaan, the peoples of Western Asia would have incorporated this memory and tale into their collective cultures. Later, as Judah rose to strength in Canaan and the Hebrews became a force, I believe they drew the tale of the Hyksos into their own heritage in an extensively altered form. On its most basic level, the fable of the Exodus was simply a way for the Hebrews to express that they were the chosen people of Yahweh, and that those who messed with the Hebrews would encounter the wrath of Yahweh. It's much the same as the fable of Noah and the flood, which is almost certainly a retelling of the much-older Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh: take something that occurred deep in the past, change the details, and remake it into something with which your own people can identify and from which they can learn.

In conclusion, in writing this overly lengthy diatribe I mean to offend no one. I know many people put a lot of heart into the Bible and what it teaches, and certainly no greater literary work has ever been composed. I simply wish to present the Exodus in a secular and historical context. As a docent I have discussed this topic numerous times at our museum, even with very religious folks (including Jewish people, to whom the Exodus is an intregal part of their teachings), and I have always been met with open-minded discourse. That doesn't mean everyone agrees with me, nor would I ever be so pompous as to assume everyone should. I value the opinions of others in matters historical.

Anyone have something to add? Very Happy
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2005 1:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

well, kmt sesh, that argument seems extremely convincing. But, I find it somewhat irrelevant to the Exodus. Firstly, thats a huge time gap where the Jews haven't yet come to Egypt as slaves. Secondly, that would be a HUGE exaggerration in telling the story, if that when the Hyksos were kciked out, 7 plagues happened. In addition to that, they weren't harrassed that much at all when they were kicked out. For, as I can recall, the Hyksos really tried to blend in and tried to copy Egyptian Pharoahs in the way they rule. I find it highly doubtful that a people would find a great story in the kicking out of their people and would later have pride in re-telling it in the shape of the Exodus.

That said, I think that the consensus or almost consensus theory about the Exodus in Egypt is true. Although it does lack major gaps, but its the most percievable to be right. I personally do not believe that Ramesses II was the Pharoah of the Exodus. And, for many reasons. First, Ramesses II lived for quite a long time, and it mentions that in the Exodus that Pharoah and his accomplishers die when the sea closes. Secondly, and as kmt sesh mentioned, there are no clear evidence of the seven plagues, or a Moses. Although, I've heard a theory that Akhenaten was Moses, but I don't think that quite fits as a piece in the puzzle.
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2005 2:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

oops, i meant to say 10 plagues, 7 seemed like the number that stuck in my head for some reason Embarassed
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2005 12:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
well, kmt sesh, that argument seems extremely convincing. But, I find it somewhat irrelevant to the Exodus. Firstly, thats a huge time gap where the Jews haven't yet come to Egypt as slaves. Secondly, that would be a HUGE exaggerration in telling the story, if that when the Hyksos were kciked out, 7 plagues happened. In addition to that, they weren't harrassed that much at all when they were kicked out. For, as I can recall, the Hyksos really tried to blend in and tried to copy Egyptian Pharoahs in the way they rule. I find it highly doubtful that a people would find a great story in the kicking out of their people and would later have pride in re-telling it in the shape of the Exodus.


Actually there's no evidence of a huge population of Jewish slaves. At most they may have been lumped in with depictions of other captured Asiatics. What there is evidence of, however, is of ancient Jews living in Egypt as villagers and merchants, but certainly not as a population of slaves. The Jews were even known to erect their own temples to their god Yahu (Yahweh), much as other Asiatics did who lived and worked in Egypt. But almost certainly it never occurred that nearly the whole population of Hebrews was enslaved by the Egyptians.

Regarding your mention of the Biblical plagues, you should glance through our discussion of the 10 plagues of Egypt. In summary, in around 1650 BCE the Santorini eruption occurred that wiped out much of the Minoan civilization and spread volcanic ash throughout much of the Mediterranean region. This happened to take place solidly within the Third Intermediate Period, at the time when the Hyksos rose to power. And the first nine of the plagues are easily explained as natural events, a cascade of disasters that could result from a volcanic eruption. This might well be the origin of the Biblical plagues and ties in very neatly with the Hyksos theory. The two are related only by coincidence, mind you, but it's enlightening in so far as the theory I'm presenting goes.

You're right that the Hyksos rulers seemed to adopt Egyptian manners when it came to government and culture. We see that at least a couple of their rulers even took on nomens and prenomens, like traditional Egyptian pharaohs. Interestingly, not a single body of a Hyksos ruler has ever been found, so we don't know if they practiced mummification. That would be fascinating to know, but it seems unlikely at this point.

The Theban ruler who was finally successful in expelling the Hyksos was Ahmose I, founder of the 18th Dynasty and the New Kingdom. Accounts from these events of his own time tell how the Egyptian forces continued their brutal assualts deep into Canaan, slaughtering Hyksos people all the way. It did not matter whatsoever to the native Egyptians that the Hyksos rulers had tried to adopt Egyptian customs; all they cared about was that the Hyksos were a bunch of foreigners that, as far as they were concerned, were not worthy to claim control of a single grain of sand in the Two Lands. By all accounts the Egyptians truly loathed the Hyksos.

I can make no claim that the theory of the Hyksos as the origin of the Exodus is perfect. Like I said, it's an old theory which I simply find to be credible. There is simply no evidence at any point in Egypt of a mass of slaves fleeing Egypt. Indeed, many slaves brought to Egypt lived out their lives there and became fully Egyptian. They owned land, owned their own businesses, and even intermarried with native Egyptians--this is eventually how the Libyans gained control of Egypt much later, in the Third Intermediate Period (over 800 years after the time of the Hyksos).

The Exodus as portrayed in the Bible is almost certainly fiction. Can I say that with 100% conviction? Of course not. No one can. But I side with the majority of modern historians and biblical scholars who feel it never occurred.

As far as retelling the story, I would have to admit the revisions were extensive. But the early Hebraic scribes of Judah were know to claim numerous fables and legends from other cultures and rewrite them to suit the agenda of Judah. It's not at all a stretch to imagine them reworking the distant events of the Hyksos--a time when the Hebrews were at best little more than a small tribe of semi-nomadic herdsmen--for the purpose of the Pentateuch. Ancient cultures borrowed from the traditions of other cultures all the time. It's well attested. As a further example, the Akkadian ruler Sargon I (2340-2125 BCE, equivalent to the turn of the 5th/6ht dynasties in Old Kingdom Egypt) relates how his mother cast him adrift in a reed basket, after which he was found and raised as the king's ring bearer, only later to become king himself. A hotly debated topic, but very interesting in the way much-later Judaic clerics borrowed from the stories of other peoples--in this case for the sake of Moses, for whom no evidence exists outside the Bible.

So when you study the cultural-religious structures of ancient civilizations, you see how easy it is to take one event and extensively rewrite it to form an entirely new fable.
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PostPosted: Mon May 19, 2008 2:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

kmt_sesh wrote:
The word "Hyksos" is a Greek corruption of the Egyptian term hk3 kh3swt, which translates literally as "foreign rulers" though you'll often see the more flowery version, "foreign princes."
The use of Hq3 in the singular and X3swt in the plural shows that the title means "(Egyptian) ruler over foreign countries" [David LORTON 1974 The juridical terminology of international relations in egyptian texts, Johns Hopkins University p.28]

kmt_sesh wrote:
Later Egyptian texts tell us that these Canaanites invaded en masse
Which ones do you have in mind ?
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PostPosted: Mon May 19, 2008 7:22 pm    Post subject: Yeh I have heard the same... Reply with quote

I love my ffriend who studies biblical archaeology... He is sooooo interesting even i can sit there and listen for hours, but he says there is no evidence for larger numbers of slaves.... He thinks the whole thing is impossible, for that reason.... I kinda agree, but then, my education is half baked but if he says there is no evidence there is no evidence. This guy is OCD about his facts.... He is very particular about everything especially this subject. He said the earlier one definately happened. But the actual exodus is crap.... No evidence, so therefore even if it did happen, we must nbot believe it. But i saw a creepy tv show about this once too... Good old Syncha Jakabovitch Rolling Eyes Seriously, someone needs to take away that guy's shovel he isn't even an archaeologist and he has such an agenda i watch for laughs when nothin else is on tv.... But he did a whole thing on it... I am sure mixed into the vast quantities of bs is some small grains of maybe not truth but atleast accurtacy....
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PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2008 12:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gerard wrote:
Quote:
Which ones do you have in mind ?


I honestly can't cite my source, Gerard, so I am at fault in this regard. This discussion I started took place three years ago so I can't remember which book I was reading at the time, which may have motivated me to start the discussion in the first place. I should've mentioned the source and I apologize for neglecting to do so.

But in numerous books the writers have written that later Egyptian accounts set up the Hyksos period as an invasion, rather than to admit that the Egyptians allowed it to happen, as appears to be the actual case. This rings very true to the Egyptian frame of mind.

Mandi wrote:
Quote:
...but he says there is no evidence for larger numbers of slaves.... He thinks the whole thing is impossible, for that reason....


You've mentioned your friend the biblical archaeologist before, and he sounds like a smart cookie. It must be great fun to discuss these things with him--I know I'd enjoy it!

I would agree with him in this statement. I can't remember the precise figures off the top of my head, but from studying Exodus scholars can arrive at a reliable approximation of how many Jews would've had to be involved. If I'm not mistaken (and I may be) the number of young Jewish men alone would've totaled around 200,000; when one tacks on all of the women, children, and elderly, the total number of Jews in the Exodus is astounding. It is a completely unrealistic number, given the population of native Egyptians at that time: many scholars estimate the population of Egyptians living in any one year during the New Kingdom was at least four to five million. So according to Exodus the population of Jewish slaves would've been around a million, I believe. Again, unrealistic.

Quote:
This guy is OCD about his facts...


That would make him very good at his job. Wink

Quote:
But i saw a creepy tv show about this once too... Good old Syncha Jakabovitch Rolling Eyes Seriously, someone needs to take away that guy's shovel he isn't even an archaeologist...


You're referring to Simcha Jacobovici (the guy who produced that History Channel special The Exodus Decoded)? Oh, man, did you hit the nail on the head! Was that supposed to be a documentary or a comedy? Razz It was a lot of eye candy and splashy special effects, but contained little substance.

I admit I liked how he at least tried to tie in real historical events and sources, like the Hyksos expulsion and Ahmose's Tempest Stele, but all in all it was embarrassing. I laughed out loud at his theory to explain the death of the first born: the oldest child in the family was allowed to sleep on the low-style, comfortable Egyptian bed while his younger siblings had to sleep on higher carts or rooftops, but because he slept so low to the ground he was infected by the deadly carbon monoxide gas released from the Nile River.

Very bad! Laughing Laughing Laughing That one should've been left on the cutting-room floor.

I rather enjoyed his special on the tomb of Jesus but didn't find it terribly convincing, either. And as with The Exodus Decoded, The Lost Tomb of Jesus was shredded by real scholars.
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PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2008 1:29 am    Post subject: Thaty is the guy!!!! Reply with quote

Yes! That is him!!!

He is a journalist, who has his own tv show.... It is titled The Naked Archaeologist. (Ofcourse his journalistic self is the star) And he goes around fully clothed, (Thank the goddess) mind you, proving the bible every episode.... cutting up interviews with experts or just outright declaring them wrong... Besides the false advertising.... It can be fun to watch for the amusement value of it's idiocy.... Twisted Evil

He needs to re-title that show... The Naked Agendeologist sounds atleast a bit less.... innacurate.

What i don't like is that it leads people who don't know better to think he is actually a voice of recognized authority. And he never really does much of anything to in any way reflect that he is just a guy with a degree in journalism with a strong opinion which he is trying to promote as fact. I find it disturbing actually.... Because he presents it in such a way as to show history AND the bible support his 'finding.' Which ofcourse they do once he is done twisting many of them past recognition.

Then his big thing about Jesus and the burial... You gotta be kidding me!!! Come on, how stupid does he think the populace is?! Seriously... I wouldn't believe in all the Jesus business if someone excavated the actual necronomicon used for his miraculous resurrection.

But i love that clothed agendeologist.... I just can't figure out if he is having fun at the expense of the religiously brain dead or if he really is that brain dead himself.... Either way it is fun once in a while to watch and debate the issue with myself.
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PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2008 7:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

kmt_sesh wrote:
But in numerous books the writers have written that later Egyptian accounts set up the Hyksos period as an invasion

Most egyptologists are philologists and archeologists, they are not trained historians. I asked because the only text I know is Manetho quoted by Josephus. Manetho was writting after Egypt had been invaded by Assyrians, Persians and Macedonians, this may have influenced his perception of the past.
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PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2008 7:23 am    Post subject: Sorry.... Reply with quote

Manetho?
I have heard he is about as credible a source on things as OJ Simpson is on the death of his wife....
But then what do i know? I am just a student starting out, Though my text book does reference Manetho regularly it also points out the lack of credibility.... So i am left confused why any book or anyone at all would use this as a source of information..... dontknow
How come he is always referenced if he is lacking so much credibility??? Please pardon my ignorance.... But wouldn't finding some other source be more prudent?
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PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2008 7:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If we do no take Manetho, Herodote, Diodore, etc., into account then nobody is left. Even kingly documentation is biased (eg. Ramses II at Qadesh). The job of an historian is to put all the texts in relation with the objective and the time of the writer. Regarding the Hyskos A. Mariette* wrote to E.de Rougé "l’histoire a mal jugé les Hycsos" (Litt : The history badly judged Hycsos).

* Auguste MARIETTE , 1862 Revue Archéologique 3ème année, vol 5 Les fouilles de Tanis

Do not be impressed, this month my article on this subject will be published in France. Smile
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PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2008 9:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That thing about the Nile river releasing poison gas has to be one of the most WTF theories I've ever heard! It reminds me of that lake in Cameroon which was a volcanic crater and full of CO2, and when it erupted last time, all the gas fizzed out and killed all the animals and people. This is of course a true story but the Nile is not a volcanic crater like that lake, and if it released poisonous gas, I don't think people would be so willing to cruise it, or even build a whole civilisation on it's banks!

That said, I do think the plagues, if they did happen (I myself am not fully convinced by the whole thing), would have been caused by the Santorini eruption, or at least inspired by them. I don't think mere sandstorms or too much Nile sediment would have scared the Egyptians into thinking something unnatural was happening (as other documentaries claim) as they were used to those events. I was watching a programme on tsunamis, and the presenter said that the 'parting of the Red Sea' (which he identified as the Reed sea, a shallower marsh) was caused by a tsunami from that eruption, with the parting being the withdrawing of the waters before the actual wave.

And of course I do not believe the Egyptians enslaved every single Hebrew like the Bible says. It goes against the whole Egyptian concept of slavery as we know it, but of course there were Asiatic (and probably hyksos) slaves who were prisoners of war, so maybe some of the ideas for the Exodus story came from that? I think a recent post here (or was it an article I was reading) mentioned later Jews living in Egypt keeping Egyptian slaves as well...

A little off topic, but I thought I'd ask here since we're talking about Hebrews in Egypt and all that, but a friend said to me that at the British Museum, there are some of the clay tablets which Amenhotep III sent to foreign rulers, and according to her, one of them mentions the word 'hapiru' which she translates as Hebrew. Is this correct? I thought the name Hebrew (or is it Israel?) only came along much later in history?
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PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2008 3:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

isisinacrisis wrote:
at the British Museum, there are some of the clay tablets which Amenhotep III sent to foreign rulers, and according to her, one of them mentions the word 'hapiru' which she translates as Hebrew. Is this correct? I thought the name Hebrew (or is it Israel?) only came along much later in history?
Several Amarna Letters sent by vassals mention the Hapiru, mainly those of Rib-Hadda ruler of Byblos. The word Hapirou is akkadian, it describes groups of outcasts, outlaws, etc. who were hired as mercenaries by Canaanite rulers. Abdi-Asratu, an Hapirou leader, became ruler of Amurru. Just like your friend I read several time that Hebrew may come from Hapiru.
AFIAK, Israel is only mentionned, as a wandering tribe, on Merenptah stele.
I do not recall Josephus explaining the origin of the name Hebrew.

[off topic] France got his name from german tribes who invaded the North of the country after the fall of the roman empire. Then in school, we used to learn 'our ancestors the Gaul. Gaul was the name given by Romans to the people living in what is to-day France. What I want to say is a minority could give his name/nickname to the majority. It's all a matter of the policy of the moment.
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PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2008 6:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

isisinacrisis wrote:
Quote:
... there are some of the clay tablets which Amenhotep III sent to foreign rulers, and according to her, one of them mentions the word 'hapiru' which she translates as Hebrew. Is this correct?


In addition to Gerard's answer to your question, I can add that for a long time many people were convinced the Hapiru and the Hebrews were the same people. I don't believe it's a popular theory anymore, however. As Gerard said, Hapiru is a Semitic word but from Akkadian, not ancient Hebrew. I've read that one reason to doubt the connection between the Hapiru and the Hebrews is that the Hapiru, as marauders and raiders, were spread across a much wider area than that ever occupied by the Hebrews.

Just curious, Gerard, maybe you can answer this question for me: do the Hapiru have any connection to the Bedouin of that period, or are they two different peoples?

And also, Gerard, you mentioned a couple posts back an article you're going to be publishing in France. Will there be any way to share it with us or some way we can access it when it's published? Smile
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PostPosted: Wed May 21, 2008 12:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mandi wrote:
Quote:
Yes! That is him!!!

He is a journalist, who has his own tv show.... It is titled The Naked Archaeologist.


LOL When I first read that I had thought you were talking about your biblical archaeologist friend. It took me a moment to realize you were referring to Jacobovici. Laughing

I think I've heard of The Naked Archaeologist but I've never seen an episode of it. Do you know what channel it's on (Discovery Channel, History Channel, A&E, Nickalodean, The Cartoon Network)? I might want to catch an episode or two. We all need a laugh, after all. Razz
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