Egyptian Myth and Legend


Joseph and the Exodus

Biblical References to Hyksos Period--Joseph as Grand Vizier--His Sagacity--Reorganizing the Kingdom--Israelites in Goshen--A Jacob King--Period of the Exodus--Egyptian References to Hebrews--A Striking Folktale--Cause of Theban Revolt--A National Hero--A Famous Queen Mother--A Warrior King--"Battles Long Ago"--Expulsion of Foreigners--Unrest in Syria--New Methods of Warfare.

IN the familiar Bible story of Joseph, the young Hebrew slave who became grand vizier in the land of the Nile, there is a significant reference to the nationality of his master Potiphar. Although that dignitary was "an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard", he was not of alien origin; we are pointedly informed that he was "an Egyptian". We also gather that Hyksos jurisdiction extended beyond the Delta region. During the dry cycle, when the great famine prevailed, Joseph "gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan" for the corn which the people purchased. Then he proceeded to acquire for the Crown all the privately owned estates in the Nile Valley and Delta region, with purpose, it would appear, to abolish the feudal system. An exception was made, however, of the lands attached to the temples. Apparently Pharaoh desired to conciliate the priests, whose political influence was very great, because we find that he allowed them free supplies of corn; indeed he had previously selected for Joseph's wife, "Asenath, the

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daughter of Potiphera, priest of On"; an indication that he specially favoured the influential sun cult of Heliopolis. Queen Hatshepsut's assertion that the foreign kings ruled in ignorance of Ra was manifestly neither strictly accurate nor unbiased.

The inference drawn from the Biblical narrative that the Hyksos Pharaohs adopted a policy of conciliation is confirmed by the evidence gleaned amidst the scanty records of the period. We find that some of these rulers assumed Ra titles, although they were also "beloved of Set" (Sutekh), and that one of them actually restored the tomb of Queen Apuit of the Sixth Dynasty. The Egyptians apparently indulged in pious exaggerations. That the Hyksos influence was not averse to culture is evidenced by the fact that the name of King Apepa Ra-aa-user is associated with a mathematical treatise which is preserved in the British Museum.

If learning was fostered, the arts and industries could not have been neglected. The Egyptian iconoclasts systematically destroyed practically all the monuments of the period, so that we have no direct evidence to support the assumption that it was characterized by a spirit of decadence due to the influence of uncultured desert dwellers. The skill displayed at the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty was too great to be of sudden growth, and certainly does not suggest that for about two centuries there had existed no appreciation of, or demand for, works of art. Although sculpture had grown mechanical, there had been, apparently, progressive development in other directions. We find, for instance, a marked and increased appreciation of colour, suggesting influence from a district where Nature presents more variety and distinguishing beauty than the somewhat monotonous valley of the Nile; ware was

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being highly glazed and tinted with taste and skill unknown in the Twelfth Dynasty, and painting had become more popular.

But, perhaps, it was in the work of administration that the Egyptians learned most from their Hyksos rulers. Joseph, who was undoubtedly a great statesman, must have impressed them greatly with his sound doctrines of political economy. That sagacious young vizier displayed an acute and far-sighted appreciation of the real needs of Egypt, a country which cannot be made prosperous under divided rule. No doubt he was guided by the experienced councillors at Court, but had he not been gifted with singular intelligence and strong force of character, he could never have performed his onerous duties with so much distinction and success. He fostered the agricultural industry during the years of plenty, and "gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number".

Then came the seven years of famine. "And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. . . . And Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold unto the Egyptians." Much wealth poured into the Imperial Exchequer. "All countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn." The dry cycle prevailed apparently over a considerable area, and it must have propelled the migrations of pastoral peoples which subsequently effected so great a change in the political conditions of Asia.

It is interesting to note that at this period the horse was known in Egypt. On the occasion of Joseph's elevation to the post of grand vizier, Pharaoh "made him to ride in the second chariot which he had". Then when the Egyptians, who found it necessary to continue purchasing corn, cried out "the money falleth", the

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young Hebrew "gave them bread in exchange for horses", &c.

The wholesale purchase of estates followed. "Buy us and our land for bread," said the Egyptians, "and we and our land will be servants unto Pharaoh. . . . So the land became Pharaoh's. . . . And as for the people, he (Joseph) removed them to cities from one end of the borders of Egypt even to the other end thereof."

The work of reorganization proceeded apace. Joseph in due season distributed seed, and made it conditional that a fifth part of the produce of all farms should be paid in taxation. A strong central government was thus established upon a sound economic basis, and it may have flourished until some change occurred of which we have no knowledge. Perhaps the decline of the Hyksos power was not wholly due to a revolt in the south; it may have been contributed to as well by interference from without.

Meanwhile the children of Israel "dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions therein and multiplied exceedingly". Josephus's statement that they were identical with the Hyksos hardly accords with the evidence of the Bible. It is possible, however, that other Semites besides Joseph attained high positions during the period of foreign control. In fact, one of the Pharaohs was named Jacob-her, or possibly, as Breasted suggests, "Jacob-El". Such a choice of ruler would not be inconsistent with the policy of the Hittites, who allowed subject peoples to control their own affairs so long as they adhered to the treaty of alliance and recognized the suzerainty of the supreme Power.

It is impossible to fix with any certainty the time at which the Israelites settled in Egypt. They came, not

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as conquerors, but after the Hyksos had seized the crown. Apparently, too, they had no intention of effecting permanent settlement, because the bodies of Jacob and Joseph, having been embalmed, were carried to the family cave tomb "in the land of Canaan", which Abraham had purchased from "Ephron the Hittite".

No inscription regarding Joseph or the great famine has survived. But the Egyptians were not likely to preserve any record of a grand vizier who starved them into submission. A tablet which makes reference to a seven years famine during the Third Dynasty has been proved to be a pious fraud of the Roman period. It was based, in all probability, on the Joseph story. The alleged record sets forth that King Zoser, who was greatly distressed regarding the condition of the country, sent a message to the Governor of Nubia, asking for information regarding the rise of the Nile. Statistics were duly supplied according to his desire. Then Pharaoh "dreamed a dream", and saw the god Khnumu, who informed him that Egypt was being afflicted because no temples had been erected to the gods. As soon as he woke up, His Majesty made gifts of land to the priests of Khnumu, and arranged that they should receive a certain proportion of all the fish and game caught in the vicinity of the first cataract.

There is no agreement as to when the Exodus of the Israelites took place. Some authorities are of opinion that it coincided with the expulsion of the Hyksos. Such a view, however, conflicts with the Biblical reference to a period of bondage. The Pharaoh of the Oppression was a "new king" and he "knew not Joseph". He enslaved and oppressed the Israelites, who had been so singularly favoured by the foreign rulers. According to tradition, he was Rameses II, during whose reign Moses

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acquired "all the wisdom of the Egyptians" and became "mighty in words and deeds". The next king was Mene-ptah, but he cannot be regarded as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. He reigned little over ten years, and one of his inscriptions makes reference to the Israelites as a people resident in Canaan, where they were attacked by the Egyptian army during a Syrian campaign. It is probable that the Hebrews were the Khabri mentioned in the Tell el Amarna letters, two centuries before Mene-ptah's time. They were then waging war against Canaanitish allies of Egypt, and the Prince of Gezer sent an urgent but ineffectual appeal to the Pharaoh Akenaton for assistance. The Exodus must have taken place in the early part of the Eighteenth Dynasty, and possibly during the reign of Thothmes I-about a generation after Ahmes expelled the Asiatics from Avaris.

During the latter part of the Hyksos period the Theban princes, whom Manetho gives as the kings of the Seventeenth Dynasty, were tributary rulers over a goodly part of Upper Egypt. Reinforced from Nubia, and aided by the princes of certain of the nomes, they suddenly rose against their oppressors, and began to wage the War of Independence, which lasted for about a quarter of a century.

An interesting papyrus, preserved in the British Museum, contains a fragmentary folktale, which indicates that the immediate cause of the rising was an attempt on the part of the Hyksos overlord to compel the Egyptians to worship the god Sutekh.

"It came to pass", we read, "that Egypt was possessed by the Impure, and there was no lord and king."

This may mean that either the Hyksos rule had limited power in Upper Egypt or was subject to a higher authority in Asia. The folktale proceeds:

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"Now King Sekenenra was lord of the south. . . . Impure Asiatics were in the cities (? as garrisons), and Apepa was lord in Avaris. They worked their will in the land, and enjoyed all the good things of Egypt. The god Sutekh was Apepa's master, for he worshipped Sutekh alone, and erected for him an enduring temple. . . . He sacrificed and gave offerings every day unto Sutekh. . . ."

The tale then goes on to relate that Apepa sent a messenger to Sekenenra, the lord of Thebes, "the city of the south", with an important document which had been prepared after lengthy consultation with a number of learned scribes.

Sekenenra appears to have received the messenger with undisguised alarm. He asked: "What order do you bring? Why have you made this journey?"

The document was read, and, so far as can be gathered from the blurred and mutilated papyrus, it was something to the following effect:--

The King Ra Apepa sends to you to say: Let the hippopotami, be put out of the pool in the city of Thebes. I cannot get sleep, either by day or by night, because their roaring is in my ear.

No wonder that "the lord of the south" was astounded. The sacred animals at Thebes could not possibly be disturbing the slumbers of a monarch residing on the Delta frontier. Apepa was evidently anxious to pick a quarrel with the Thebans, for his hypocritical complaint was, in effect, an express order to accomplish the suppression of a popular form of worship. Well he knew that he could not adopt more direct means to stir up a spirit of rebellion among his Egyptian subjects. Possibly the growing power of the Theban ruler may have caused him to feel somewhat alarmed, and he desired to shatter it before it became too strong for him.

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Sekenenra was unable for a time to decide what reply he should make. At length, having entertained the messenger, he bade him to convey the following brief but pointed answer to Apepa: "I intend to do as is your wish".

Apparently he desired to gain time, for there could remain no doubt that a serious crisis was approaching. No sooner did the messenger take his departure than the Theban ruler summoned before him all the great lords in the district, and to them he related "what had come to pass". These men were likewise "astounded"; they heard what Sekenenra had to tell them "with feelings of sorrow, but were silent, for none knew what to say".

The fragmentary tale then ends abruptly with the words: "The King Ra Apepa sent to -----"

We can infer, however, that his second message roused a storm of opposition, and that whatever demand it contained was met with a blank refusal. King Ra Apepa must have then sent southward a strong army to enforce his decree and subdue the subject princes who dared to have minds of their own.

If we identify Sekenenra with the Theban king of that name, whose mummy was found at Der el Bahari, and is now in the Cairo museum, we can conclude that the ancient folktale contained a popular account of the brief but glorious career and tragic death of a national hero, who, like the Scottish Sir William Wallace, inspired his countrymen with the desire for freedom and independence.

Sekenenra died on the battlefield. We can see him pressing forward at the head of the Egyptian army, fighting with indomitable courage and accomplishing mighty deeds. Accompanied by his most valiant followers, he hews his way through the Hyksos force. But "one by

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one they fall around him". . . . Now he is alone. He is surrounded. . . . The warriors in front of him are mowed down, for none can withstand his blows. But an Asiatic creeps up on his left side, swings his battleaxe, and smites a glancing blow. Sekenenra totters; his cheek bone and teeth have been laid bare. Another Asiatic on his right leaps up and stabs him on the forehead. Ere he falls, his first successful assailant strikes again, and the battleaxe crashes through the left side of the hero's skull. The Hyksos shout triumphantly, but the Egyptians are not dismayed; clamouring in battle fury, they rush on to avenge the death of Sekenenra. . . . That hero has not died in vain.

The mummy of the great prince bears the evidence of the terrible wounds he received. In his agony he had bitten his tongue between his teeth. But it is apparent that before he fell he turned the tide of battle. and that the Hyksos were compelled to retreat, for his body was recovered and carried back to Thebes, where it was embalmed after putrefaction had set in.

Sekenenra appears to have been a handsome and dashing soldier. He was tall, slim, and active, with a strong, refined face of dark Mediterranean type. Probably he was a descendant of one of the ancient families which had taken refuge in the south after the Hyksos invaders had accomplished the fall of the native monarchy.

His queen, Ah-hotep, who was a hereditary princess in her own right, lived until she was a hundred years old. Her three sons reigned in succession, and continued the war against the Hyksos. The youngest of these was Ahmes I, and he was the first Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Ah-hotep must have followed his career with pride, for he drove the Asiatics across the frontier. She survived him, and then lived through the reign of

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Amenhotep I also, for she did not pass away until Thotmes I ruled in splendour over united Egypt, and caused its name to be dreaded in western Asia.

Ahmes I, like the heroic Sekenenra, received the support of the El Kab family, which was descended from one of the old feudal lords. His successes are recorded in the tomb of his namesake, the son of Ebana, a princess, and of Baba, the lord of El Kab, who had served under Sekenenra. This El Kab Ahmes was quite a youth--he tells us that he was "too young to have a wife"--when he fought on foot behind the chariot of the Pharaoh. He was afterwards promoted to the rank of admiral) and won a naval victory on a canal. So greatly did the young nobleman distinguish himself that he received a decoration--a golden collar, the equivalent of our "Victoria Cross". Indeed he was similarly honoured for performing feats of valour on four subsequent occasions, and he also received gifts of land and of male and female slaves who had been taken captive.

The progress northward of Ahmes I, with army and river fleet, was accompanied by much hard fighting. But at length he compelled the Hyksos force, which had suffered heavily, to take refuge in the fortified town of Avaris. After a prolonged siege the enemy took flight, and he pursued them across the frontier.

We have followed, so far, the narrative of Ahmes, son of Ebana. According to Manetho's account of the expulsion, as quoted by Josephus, who, perhaps, tampered with it, King Ahmes was unable to do more than shut up the Asiatics in Avaris. Then Thummosis (Thothmes), successor of Ahmes, endeavoured to carry the town by assault, but failed in the attempt. Just when he was beginning to despair of accomplishing his purpose, the enemy offered to capitulate if they would be allowed to

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depart in peace. This condition was accepted, whereupon 240,000 men, women, and children evacuated Avaris and crossed the frontier into Syria. Manetho adds that they migrated to the district afterwards known as Judea, and built Jerusalem, because "they were in dread of the Assyrians". But, as we have seen, the Assyrians were not at this period the predominating power in the East. Manetho (or Josephus) was plainly wrong. A new and hostile enemy, however, had appeared at Mitanni--the dreaded Aryans, who worshipped the strange gods Indra, Mithra, and Varuna.

After clearing the Delta of Asiatic soldiers, Ahmes I turned his attention to Nubia. He did not meet with much opposition, and succeeded in extending the southern frontier to the second cataract, thus recovering the area which had been controlled by the great Pharaohs of the Twelfth Dynasty. He had afterwards to suppress two abortive risings in the heart of the kingdom, which may have been engineered by Hyksos sympathizers. Then he devoted himself to the work of restoring the monuments of his ancestors and the temples of the gods. After a strenuous reign of over twenty years he died in the prime of life, lamented, no doubt, by the people whom he had set free, and especially by the queen mother, Ah-hotep, that wife of a mighty leader and nurse of valiant heroes-one of the first great women in history.

The military successes of the Egyptians were largely contributed to by their use of the horse, which the Aryans had introduced into the West.

New methods of fighting had also been adopted by the Egyptians. When the Eighteenth-Dynasty soldiers were depicted on the monuments and in the tombs the artists had for their models highly disciplined and well-organized bodies of men who had undergone a rigorous

EGYPTIAN CHARIOT (Florence Museum)


From the bas-relief on the great temple of Karnak

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From the bas-relief in the temple at Der-el Bahari

training. The infantry were marshalled in regular lines, and on battlefields made vigorous and orderly charges. Charioteers gathered into action with the dash and combination of modern-day cavalry. Had this new military system evolved in Upper Egypt as a result of the example shown by the Hyksos? Or had the trade in horses brought into the Nile valley Aryan warriors who became the drill sergeants and adjutants of the army which drove the Hyksos from the land of the Pharaohs?

Egyptian Myth and Legend

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