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Monday, June 20, 2011

Israel in Egypt – Historical Fact or Later Fiction? Part 2

Israel in Egypt – Historical Fact or Later Fiction?
Part 2

I will here be continuing the argumentation that Israel in Egypt and the Exodus cycle was not a late priestly invention but was a historical reality. You can find part 1 of this article in the link directly above. 

1.      The intentional lack of a proper name for the Pharaoh during the Moses cycle reveals an earlier Egyptian form of polemics, rather than a later Babylonian or Assyrian one.
a.       It has been long debated whether or not the omission of Pharaoh’s name in the Moses cycle was accidental (due to ignorance) or intentional. Considering the evidence listed above, IF the Moses cycle was a product of a returning scribe in the middle of the First Millennium he would have been unlike any writer before or after until the modern era in the light of his massive and complex knowledge of socio-rhetorical devices, linguistical structures, centuries past etymologies, and various historical and cultural nuances. Should we really expect that a writer literally 2000 years ahead of his time (who knew methods of historical analysis that we didn’t even invent until the 20th century) would simply forget a main character’s name?
b.      In light of this, many scholars have come to think that the omission of the Pharaoh’s name in the exodus tradition to be an intentional polemical device. It is no accident that in the same narrative that the reader learns the personal name of the Hebrew God (YHWH) and how powerful he is, that his arch rival in the story is left anonymous and shown to be totally impotent in the events.
c.       This was a very common (almost universal) polemical device used during the New Kingdom and found in many inscriptions. (We find good examples of this in the annuls of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, and Seti I during the Ramisside period).
                                                              i.      It was used to show the total domination of one’s enemies. They were shown to be dominated by being omitted by name from history (a funny modern illustration can be seen in Harry Potter’s “he who is not to be named”).
d.      If the narratives were written later during the First Millennium after Israel returned to the land and its scribes had all been educated in Babylonian or Assyrian courts, then we should expect the narrative to reflect their practice later titled by historians as “damnatio memoriae” – literally, damnation of memory. In this practice the conquered enemies names would be meticulously kept on record and would often be written on pots and dashed to the ground – symbolically demolishing them.
                                                              i.      This practice was almost universal in all Assyrian, Babylonian and Aramean texts and only developed very late in Egyptian history.
                                                            ii.      In fact we find in later Biblical traditions (such as Kings and Chronicles) that were written contemporaneous with Babylon and Assyria that we find the scrupulous record keeping of the defeated kings of Israel. So we find the two traditions (that of the exodus and that of the monarchy) actually using the polemical devices that were common during their time of composition.
2.      The details of the opposition of the Hebrews dovetails well with the traditional dating and of its political climate.
a.       We know that during early to middle Second Millennium (ca 2000-1400BCE), large numbers of Semites were present in Egypt not only due to famine and drought in the land but also as a result of military captivity. Egypt was literally teeming with Semitic immigrants. These conditions simply did not exist to such a degree after the expulsion of the Hyksos. For The children of Abraham to migrate to Egypt to escape famine in Canaan would have been common faire during that time period but would have been out of place during the later post-exile period.
b.      There is a strange comment in Exodus 12:38 that says a “mixed multitude” went up with Israel. This is most likely a reference to the large number of other Semites who joined with Israel and likely converted to Judaism in response to the mighty works of YHWH. This would also explain why Israel went from being quite small to a powerhouse so rapidly. We sometimes are fooled by the later legal pronouncements of God to not comingle with other Semitic tribes and assume that this was always the case. But we have to remember that the Exodus event and the giving of the law following WERE the nationalizing events and would have included this “mixed multitude” who came up out of Egypt with the children of Abraham. It may not be too far off to say that proto-Israel was actual a melting pot of many different Semitic people. (This may also explain the some of the obscure dietary and custom laws that would need to be put in place to conform outsiders to their new tribe.)
c.       Moses request for the Israelites to have time off to worship their God was actually common practice during this period. He was actually quite right to reasonably expect Pharaoh to give his people a furlough to go and worship. It would have been actually quite culturally shocking that the request was not initially granted.
d.      I do not identify the Hyksos with the Hebrews (nor the Apiru – lit. habiru) but we do know that after the Hyksos expulsion, Semites were commonly viewed as possible subversives. We now have evidence of massive building projects during the 18th dynasty following the expulsion of the Hyksos in their previous territory of Avaris/Pi-Ramesses. It is unquestioned that Semites were the primary labor force for these building projects.
3.      Many words in Exodus cycle are clearly Egyptian in their etymology, something that we would not expect if the texts were written centuries later by authors trained in Babylonian and Assyrian culture.
English                                    Hebrew                                   Egyptian
a.       “Basket”                                  tebat                                        db3t
b.      “papyrus”                                gome                                      km3
c.       “pitch”                                    zapet                                        dft/sft
d.      “reeds”                                   sup                                           twfy
e.       “river”                                     haye’or                                    itrw
                                                              i.      What is so interesting about this one is that the normal Hebrew word for river (nahar) is not used but rather haye’or is used which is a transliteration of the Egyptian word itrw. In fact the absence of the t from the Hebrew transliteration poses even further proof for an early composition because the omission of the t would match perfectly with the 18th Dynasty vocalization that was no longer used in the middle of the First Millennium. So how would a post-exile Jewish scribe know how to transliterate into Hebrew a specific Egyptian vocalization from 1000 years before?
f.       River’s “brink”                        sapah                                       spt
                                                              i.      This one is also interesting because again the Hebrew is not one of the the normal words for a river bank or edge (yad, peh/panim, gadah or qaseh) but is a transliteration of one commonly used in Second Millennium Egyptian specifically for the edge of the Nile. (This same oddity also occurs in the Joseph cycle at Genesis 41:3 and 17)

There will be much more to follow.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tyler
    "It has been long debated whether or not the omission of Pharaoh’s name in the Moses cycle was accidental (due to ignorance) or intentional."
    Is it not possible that the Pharoah's name was omitted out of prudence? Some people have argued for anonymity in some ancient texts in order to protect themselves or others.