EGYPT, ISRAEL, MOSES AND HISTORY
Egyptian dynasties and the Bible Neither Moses or the Exodus is described in ancient Egyptian records, which are fairly extensive. There are references to “Asiatic” slaves in Egypt that may have been a reference to the Israelites. An Egyptian stele found in 1990 and dated to 1207 B.C., recounting the military victory of Pharaoh Merneptah, says, "Israel is laid waste." But other than that there is little evidence of even the Israelites existing in Moses’s time. No evidence comes from the Israelites themselves because they were a nomadic people with no material culture for archaeologists to dig up In any case the exodus from Egypt was a central event of the Bible. It is referred to not only in the Pentateuch but also in Prophets and the Psalms. Many historians feel that it marked the consolidation of the Hebrew tribes into a single nation and people.
The Exodus — if it happened — is believed to have occurred around 1290 B.C., which roughly corresponds with the era of the Trojan War and the rule of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II. The Exodus was written along with many other parts of the Old Testament in the 7th century B.C. during the reign of King Josiah of Judah.
Some scholars believe the concept of monotheism dates to Moses time rather than Abraham’s time. Monotheism appeared in Egypt under the pharaoh Akhenaten (1388 B.C. to 1336 B.C.), who lived rough 50 years before the time that Moses is thought to have been alive. Akhenaten attempted to introduce a form of monotheism to ancient Egypt. After his death there was a period of chaos and instability and for a while Egypt was ruled by high priests.
According to the Bible, Joseph and the Israelites were welcomed into Egypt by a pharaoh around the 16th century B.C. after their homeland in Canaan was stricken by drought and famine. Between 1630 and 1521 B.C., Egypt was ruled by the Hyksos, a Semitic people from western Asia. Some scholars have suggested the Hyksos may have included Israelites. Egyptian chronicles later refer to a people called the “Apiru,” which some scholars believe may have included the Hebrews and Israelites.
In Egypt, the Israelites were enslaved, a fate which they endured more than 300 years. The Egyptians "made life bitter for them with harsh labor at mortar and bricks." When the pharaoh viewed the Israelites as a threat he ordered that all male children be killed at birth by throwing them in the Nile. Cuneiform tablets refer ancient nomads for the Near Eat that were put to work building places and temples. Archaeologists believe that the Israelites were include in these nomadic groups.
The 19th Egyptian dynasty was founded in 1335 B.C. at a time when the Egyptian empire was breaking up as result of pressure from the Hittite Empire to the north. Some scholars have suggested that the Israelites may have been enslaved during this period by the Egyptians because they may have presented a threat.
Many scholars believe Ramses the Great (Ramses II, ruled 1279 to 1213 B.C.) was one of the pharaohs described in the story of Moses — either the Pharaoh of the Oppression, who enslaved the Israelites, or the Pharaoh of the Exodus, who pursued them into the sea after the Ten Plagues. Many scholars believe the pharaoh mentioned in Exodus was Ramses II (ruled 1279 to 1213). In the historical record there is no mention of Israel until the reign of Ramses son and successor Mernetah. By then Israel was a nation, not a group of displaced people.
Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk
Jews in Egypt
Grace Glueck wrote in the New York Times, “Led by Moses, the Jews fled en masse from Egypt around 1250 B.C., after centuries of bondage. So says the Bible's book of Exodus. But later books — II Kings and Jeremiah — report that 800 years later, during the fifth century B.C., Jews were once again living and worshiping there. The later biblical account was confirmed by the 1893 discovery of hundreds of papyrus scrolls from a settlement on Elephantine Island in the Nile. These scrolls were the centerpiece of a show held at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2002 called ''Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt: A Family Archive From the Nile Valley.'' [Source: Grace Glueck, New York Times, March 15, 2002]
The scrolls, written in Aramaic, the daily language of Egyptian Jews and Persians, include a marriage contract, a deed of release from slavery, real estate transactions and a loan agreement, but no other objects associated with the family exist. The documents are important in that not only do they confirm the return of Jews to Egypt but also because it points up the good relationships among the various ethnic groups who inhabited the small island. Under the religiously tolerant Persians who ruled Egypt at the time, members of these groups were serving on Elephantine as mercenary forces guarding the country's southern frontier.
Not Ananiah, the scrolls' original owner, however. For 47 years (from 449 to 402 B.C.) he was a member of the Jewish priesthood attached to the Temple of Yahou (Jehovah), where animal sacrifices took place. And what were Jews doing back in Egypt? They were descendants of those who had fled from the Babylonians, who had conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and consigned the Jewish elite to exile in Babylonia. Those who made it to Egypt were the soldiers and common people, who practiced a more rudimentary form of Judaism that still involved the worship of more than one god.
Joseph interpreting Pharaoh's dream Ananiah first comes to notice in a marriage document dated Aug. 9, 449 by the Aramaic calendar, that legalized his union with Tamut, an Egyptian woman whose father had sold her to Meshullam, a not uncommon practice in payment of debts. By the time they got around to wedlock, the couple already had a 6-year-old son, not an unusual circumstance for that time and place. The contract freed their son, Palti, from slavery, but not Tamut.
Written by Aramaic scribes in proper legalese, all the contracts were signed by witnesses, who seemed to have some literacy. Ananiah's wedding contract provided a small dowry from Tamut, including a wool garment worth seven shekels, a mirror, a pair of sandals and six handfuls of castor oil. This civilized document also declared that if Ananiah wanted a divorce, he had to pay Tamut, or vice versa, and that on the death of one, the other inherited their joint property.
Another important scroll, 427 B.C. and signed by Meshullam, releases Tamut and the couple's daughter, Yehoishema, from their bondage to him. ''You are freed to God,'' says the declaration, on the condition that Tamut and her daughter look to the welfare of Meshullam and his son Zakkur for life. In 437 B.C., 12 years after his marriage, Ananiah bought a house from Bagazust, a Persian soldier, and his wife. The rather decrepit property was in a town called Khnum, named for an Egyptian god, right across the street from the temple. The sale is recorded in a third papyrus scroll, assuring clear title to the house, which is described as having a court, standing walls and windows, but no beams.
Four more scrolls are concerned with gifts of various parts of the house to Tamut and Yehoishema by Ananiah, and then the sale of the house, in 402 B.C., to Yehoishema's husband, also named Ananiah. (By this time the house had beams and two doors.) The last of the scrolls, dated 402 B.C., is a receipt for the borrowing of two months' rations of grain by the son-in-law — at no interest, but with a penalty for failure to repay on time — from Pakhnum, an Aramaean. Despite the expulsion of the Persians two years earlier, good business relations apparently continued between Jews and other ethnic groups.
Art with a Jewish connection from ancient Egypt include a quirky sarcophagus lid (664-332 B.C.) topped by an expressive relief face said to be from a Jewish cemetery at Tura, Egypt.
Moses's Early Life
Pharaoh's Daughter Receives the Mother of Moses According to the Bible and the Torah, Moses was born in Egypt to immigrant parents of the servant: Abraham and Jochebed from the Hebrew Levi tribe. After being hidden for three months, Moses was placed by his mother and sister in "an ark of bulrushes, and dabbed it with slime and pitch" and set afloat on the Nile after the Pharaoh issued an edict declaring all male infants born to Israeli slaves had to be killed.”
Christians and Jews believe Moses was discovered in the bulrushes by the Pharaoh's daughter. Muslims say he was found by the Pharaoh wife. According to the Judeo-Christian story, after being rescued Moses was adopted by the Pharaoh's daughter and was brought up as a prince in the Egyptian royal court where most likely, if the story is based in fact, he would have learned to read hieroglyphics and ride a chariot just as Ramses the Great at King Tutankhamun had. The Bible provides few details. When Moses was a young man he was informed of his true identity by his sister Miriam.
The tale of Moses’ youth resembles old folk stories from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Middle East. According to an ancient Assyrian narrative about the Mesopotamian king Akkad, who lived a thousand years before Moses, "My priestly mother conceived me, in secret she bore me. She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen sealed my lid." In the Egyptian tale of the God Horas his mother Isis hid him from his wicked uncle Seth.
When Moses was three, one episode of his story goes, he snatched the crown off the Pharaoh's head. Dumbfounded, the Pharaoh decided to devise a test to see if Moses realized what he had done. Two plates were placed before the child: one with gold and one with red-hot coals. If he chose the gold one he was to be put to death. If he chose the one with coals he would be spared as "one without knowledge of his acts." Fortunately for him he grabbed the hot one, but unfortunately he stuck it in his mouth and seared his tongue, leaving him with halting speech.”
Moses is Forced to Flee Egypt
Menephthah, the Pharaoh of the Exodus Moses was forced to flee from Egypt to the Sinai when he murdered an Egyptian man who was abusing a Jewish slave. According to the Torah, "And he spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, when he saw there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand." If he hadn't committed this crime it seems plausible that he would have had a distinguished career in the Pharaoh's court.
Moses fled to a land called Midian, in northwest Arabia, east of the Gulf of Aqaba. While in the desert he met his wife Zipporah, daughter of the Midianite priest Jethro, while she was drawing water from a well. Moses stood up for Jethro when other shepherds tried to shoo him away from the well. For this Jethro offered Moses his daughter. She soon bore Moses a son.
This episode has similarities to a story that circulated in the time of Ramses about a courtier named Sunuhe who fled to the desert and lived with some Bedouins after being blamed for the assassination of a Pharaoh.
Moses returned to Egypt and confronted the Pharaoh: "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go." When Moses first asked the Pharaoh to let his people go the Pharaoh responded by increasing the Israelites work load. Then, not only were they required to make and carry bricks, they also had to raise and harvest straw as binder for the bricks.”
Plagues of Egypt
Death of the Pharaoh's first-born son When the Pharaoh refused again the Ten Plagues of Egypt were unleashed on the land one after another. In the First the Nile turned to blood, a phenomena some scholars say might have been caused by red mud pouring down the river from Ethiopia. The plagues of frogs, lice, flies, cattle disease and bolis that followed, they say, are conditions usually associated with seasonal floods. The seventh plague, hail and fire, may have been a hailstorm with lightning or a volcanic eruption in the Mediterranean. The eight plague, locusts, still swarm from time to time. The three days of darkness that followed may have been a sandstorm.
In the tenth plague the firstborn of every Egyptian family was killed, even the pharaoh's oldest son. Exodus 12:29 in the Bible reads: "at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn of the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon." Historians have yet to find any evidence of this event.
Finally after the tenth plague the Pharaoh at last let Moses and the Israelites go. Before the plague struck Israelites were told to sacrifice a lamb and paint their doorways with its blood. Their homes were passed over by the plague, which is the origin of the Passover holiday. During Passover, Jews eat unleavened bread or matzo. The explanation for this tradition is that the Jews were forced to pack up and leave Egypt so quickly they didn't have time to leaven their bread.”
Moses and the Exodus
After the 10th plague and the observation of the first Passover, Moses and the Israelites embarked on their Exodus from the Land of Goshen in the Nile Delta in Egypt to the Promised Land. The Israelites at first were reluctant to have Moses lead them. There is little evidence of the Exodus. There are accounts of Egyptian raids into Palestine that brought back captives in the 12th century B.C. but there was no record of huge masses of people escaping and crossing the Sinai.
According to the Bible, the Israelites numbered some 600,000 adult males and their families: perhaps two million people. That is an awful lot of people to wandering around a desert with barely enough food to feed goats and Bedouins. Some scholar believe the 600,000 figures was actually taken from a census in Israel centuries later. Other scholars say the Hebrew word eleph which translate to thousand, may in fact mean "family." Some 600 families, with about a total of 1,500 people, seems like a more reasonable number.”
The route between Goshen in the Nile Delta in Egypt and the Promised Land in Canaan (Israel) crossed the Sinai Peninsula. Some scholars believe that Moses followed a northern route across the Sinai. Other say he took a southern route. Both point to the miracles of manna and quails to back up their argument.
Most of the geographic location described on the Books of Exodus through Deuteronomy are impossible to locate on a map. The journey began on the Nile Delta and ended on Mount Nebo in Jordan, a distance roughly equivalent to the distance between New York and Washington D.C.”
Pharaoh pursues the Israelites
Most scholars believe that if the Exodus indeed took place the Israelites left the Nile Delta and entered the Sinai where the Suez Canal is today, which completely bypasses the Red Sea. Kadesh-barnes, where the Israelites stopped for 38 years before entering the Promised Land, is thought to be the oasis of Ayn al Qudayrat, near the Israeli city of Beersheba.
There are four major routes between Goshen and Kadesh-barnes. The Northern routes passes through a Sea of Reeds in the Mediterranean. The other three pass through a Sea of Reeds near the present-day Suez Canal. Of these, one route reaches southern Sinai while the other two pass through the center of the Sinai. From Kadesh-Barnea to Mt. Nebo the are two major routes
Proponents of the southern route theory say after skirting the Red Sea, the Israelites headed southeast to Great Bitter Lake and Little Bitter Lake, which are full of reeds and equated with the "Reed Sea." Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments, is believed to be a 7,497-foot purple granite peak long called Gebel in the southern Sinai.
Moses and the Parting of the Red Sea
After the Israelites left Egypt the Pharaoh changed his mind about letting the Israelites go and sent an army in pursuit of them and cornered them at the Red Sea. To allow the Israelites to escape Moses parted the Red Sea. According to the Torah, "And the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on the right and on their left." When the Egyptian chariots pursued them the waters of the Red Sea collapsed and drowned them.
To explain the parting of the Red Sea some scientists suggest that Moses passed through the swampy region near where the Suez Canal is today. They speculate that if Moses arrived at a time when a strong low tide coincided with strong winds the Red Sea might "part" enough to be crossed on foot. When the Egyptians crossed the tides ebbed and winds died, swamping the pursuers.
Drowning of the Pharaohs Host in the Red Sea
Adding further credence to this theory is the fact that the Hebrew phrase, Yam Suph , traditionally translated to "Red Sea," should actually be read as "Reed Sea." The Bitter Lakes, Lake Sirbonis (a Mediterranean lagoon now called Sabkhet el Bardowil) and Lake Manzala, where the water is shallow enough to be crossed on foot, both have lots of reeds.”
The victory song sung after a defeat of the Egyptian cavalry resembled Canaanite poems from the 14th century B.C.
Lack of Evidence of Exodus
For nearly a century, historians have argued about whether or not the events in Exodus actually took place. There is little evidence that it. This then begs the question: Why does the Hebrew Bible make such as big deal about the oppression of the Israelites by Egypt when there is so little evidence for their enslavement there?
The Ipuwer Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian hieratic papyrus made during the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt, whose original composition is dated no earlier than the late Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt (c.1991-1803 B.C.). In a poem, Ipuwer – a name typical of the period 1850-1450 B.C. – complains that the world has been turned upside-down. For a time this poem was offered as evidence of The Exodus from the Old Testament, most notably because of its statement that "the river is blood" and its frequent references to servants running away. The archeological evidence however does not support the story of the Exodus, and most histories of ancient Israel no longer consider it relevant. Many texts in the Ipuwer Papyrus contradicts Exodus story, such as the fact that its Asiatics are arriving in Egypt rather than leaving, and the likelihood that the "river is blood" phrase may refer to the red sediment colouring the Nile during disastrous floods, or may simply be a poetic image of turmoil. [Source: Wikipedia]
Candida Moss of the University of Birmingham wrote in The Daily Beast, “Scholars have been skeptical about the historicity of the Exodus for over 70 years. In the first place the Egyptians, who were fairly remarkable record keepers, never refer to a mass exodus of slaves or even a large group of runaway slaves. To this we might add the lack of evidence for either a slaughter of Hebrew infant boys or the 10 plagues that befell the Egyptian people (during which the eldest son of every Egyptian family dies overnight). There’s also no mention of Moses, even though his name is Egyptian in origin. Finally there’s no archaeological evidence to support the idea of a mass exodus of people. When large groups of people traveled in the pre-eco-friendly age they left behind trash, and a lot of it. But there’s no archaeological evidence for mass migration from Egypt to Israel: no pottery shards or Hebrew carvings. [Source: Candida Moss, The Daily Beast, July 31, 2016 \~]
“All of which is to say that if there was a historical enslavement in and subsequent exodus from Egypt it is highly unlikely that it was on the scale of the Biblical account. Perhaps small groups escaped slavery and came to the land that would become Israel, but certainly not 600,000 men (plus wives and children). Modern scholars like David Wolpe have been strongly attacked for making this argument, but, as Wolpe himself notes, this evidence doesn’t negate the claims of modern Jews to the land of Israel.” \~\
Egyptians, the Great Biblical Villains?
Candida Moss of the University of Birmingham wrote in The Daily Beast, “When it comes to the prototypical villains of ancient literature, the Egyptians are right up there. Nobody, it seemed, really liked the ancient superpower. Ancient Greek romance novels routinely portray them as cunning and duplicitous. The Romans found Cleopatra to be equal parts captivating and conniving and, in the Bible, the Israelites were enslaved by the Pharaohs for centuries. [Source: Candida Moss, The Daily Beast, July 31, 2016 \~]
“The story, as told in the book of Exodus and Prince of Egypt, is that the Israelites came to Egypt because of famine. They initially prospered (think Joseph and his technicolor dreamcoat) only to be enslaved by later generations of Egyptians. There they remained until the birth of Moses, the 10 plagues, and the eventual emancipation of the Hebrews. \~\
“But it does raise an interesting historical question: If the Exodus didn’t take place on an epic Charlton Heston scale, how does Egyptian oppression come to feature so prominently in the biblical narrative? When the story of the exodus was written down in the first millennium, the Israelites wouldn’t have had any direct experience of Egyptian power for hundreds of years; in the meantime, the great empires of Assyria and Babylonia had come to power, drastically overshadowing any threat from Egypt. Why make the Egyptians the villains of the piece? \~\
“Perhaps the biblical description of dominance by Egyptians actually has very little to do with enslavement and more to do with the cultural memory of the more distant Amarna period in Canaan. The Israelites were never subject to national enslavement in Egypt; but, as this new discovery reminds us, the land of Canaan was under the foot of Pharaonic authority. The long shadows of that experience might help explain why—in the absence of a historical Exodus—the biblical authors made the Egyptians the villains of their national epic.” \~\
Evidence of Egyptian Villainy in Canaan?
A new find in Israel reported in 2016 may shed some light on the relationship between the ancient Egyptians and ancient Hebrews. Candida Moss wrote in The Daily Beast, “A new discovery at Tel Hazor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest Biblical-era archaeological sites in Israel, may change how we think about the Egyptians. During excavations, archeologists discovered a 4,000-year-old fragment of a large limestone statue of an Egyptian official. Only the lower section of the statue survives, but it includes the official’s foot and a few lines in Egyptian hieroglyphic script. [Source: Candida Moss, The Daily Beast, July 31, 2016 \~]
“The preliminary study of the artifact has not yet been completed, so archaeologists do not even know the official’s name. Professor Amnon Ben-Tor of Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, who has worked at the site for over 27 years, told the Jerusalem Post that it is likely that the statue was originally placed at the official’s tomb or in a temple. \~\
“So far Tel Hazor is the only archaeological site in the Levant to have yielded any large Egyptian statues from the second millennium B.C.. The only other is a sphinx fragment of the Egyptian Pharaoh Menkaure (known to the Greeks as Mycerinus) that dates to the 25th century B.C.. In the Amarna period—a period of Egyptian history when the royal residence shifted to Akhetaten and Egyptian religion temporarily shifted towards monotheistic worship of the sun god Aten—most of Canaan (what would later be Israel) was under Egyptian control. The latest finds are especially interesting because historians were unaware that Hazor was one of the Egyptian strongholds in this period or that there was ever an Egyptian official there.”\~\
History of Egypt and Palestine
Susan Cohen of Montana State University wrote: “Egyptian interactions and contact with Palestine began as early as the fourth millennium BCE, and continued, in varying forms and at times far more intensively than others, until the conquest of the ancient world by Alexander the Great. Numerous data—textual, material, archaeological—found in both Egyptian and southern Levantine contexts illustrate the diverse spectrum of interaction and contact between the two regions, which ranged from colonialism, to imperial expansion, to diplomatic relations, to commerce. By virtue of geographic proximity, economic interests, and occasionally political necessity, the respective histories of the two regions remained irreducibly interconnected. In all periods, situations and events in Egypt influenced growth and development in the southern Levant, while at times different societies and political considerations in Palestine also affected Egyptian culture. [Source: Susan Cohen, Montana State University, 2016, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“Egyptian texts thus often remains uncertain; this imprecision has ramifications for understanding the relationship between Egypt and Palestine, a problem which is then further compounded by difficulties in establishing clear chronological synchronisms between the two regions, particularly in the earlier eras. In general, synchronisms between the Egyptian Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods and the Palestinian Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age I are fairly well established. However, recent 14C analyses have resulted in significant changes in the chronological synchronisms between Old Kingdom Egypt and the Palestinian Early Bronze Age. These new data clearly indicate that, rather than being coterminous with the Palestinian Early Bronze Age III, much of the Old Kingdom was contemporary with the relatively deurbanized period of the Intermediate Bronze Age, which clearly has significant repercussions for under-standing Egyptian-Palest inian interactions in the third millennium.
“Likewise, the chronological synchronisms for the first half of the second millennium are in flux. Recent studies suggest that the earliest rulers of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom were contemporary with the Palesti nian Intermediate Bronze Age, whereas the Middle Bronze Age proper corresponds to the mature Middle Kingdom (starting with the reign of Amenemhat II) and later. Finally, recent C14 analyses also indicate that the absolute dates for the transition to the Palestinian Late Bronze Age must be raised by almost a century from those in conventional usage, thereby affecting understandings of the relationship betw een New Kingdom Egypt and the southern Levant in the Late Bronze Age.
“Fortunately, relationships and chronologies become more straightforward in the latter centuries of the second millennium, and continuing into the first millennium through the beginning of the Hellenistic Period. While questions remain regarding precise dates and individual events, the general correlations between the later periods in Egypt and the Iron Age I-II and Persian periods in Palestine are relatively well established.
“Egypt Palestine Approximate Dates: Predynastic Badarian Naqada I Naqada II (early) Chalcolithic – Early Bronze Age IA 4500 – 3300 BCE Predynastic Naqada II (late), III Early Dynastic Dynasty 0 Early Bronze Age IB 3300 – 3200/2900 BCE Early Dynastic Dynasty I Dynasty II Early Bronze Age II – Early Bronze Age III 3200/2900 – 2650/2500 BCE Old Kingdom Dynasty III Dynasty IV Dynasty V Dynasty VI Intermediate Bronze Age 2650/2500 – 2160 BCE First Intermediate Period Dynasties VII – XI Intermediate Bronze Age 2160 – 2055 BCE Middle Kingdom Dynasty XI Dynasty XII Dynasty XIII Dynasty IV Intermediate Bronze Age – Middle Bronze Age I – Middle Bronze Age II (early) 2055 – 1773/1650 BCE Second Intermediate Period Dynasties XV-XVII Middle Bronze Age II (late) 1650 – 1550 BCE New Kingdom Dynasty XVIII Dynasty XIX Dynasty XX Late Bronze Age I – Iron Age IB 1550 – 1069 BCE Third Intermediate Period Dynasties XXI – XXV Iron Age IB – Iron Age IIB 1069 – 664 BCE Late Period – Persian Period Dynasties XXVI – XXX Iron Age IIC – Babylonian destruction – Persian Period 664 – 332 BCE Table 1. Basic chronological correlations between ancient Egypt and Palestine.”
Egypt, Palestine, Trade, Migration, Control and Conquest
Susan Cohen of Montana State University wrote: “In all periods, peoples moved between the regions of Egypt and the southern Levant, transpor ting goods and resources (which included people as well). From Palestine, Egypt imported oil, wine, bitumen, and other materials, and from Sinai, copper and turquoise; in turn, Egyptian goods such as gold, glass, beads and other jewelry, palettes, and alab aster vessels, among other items, were exported in varying quantities and with varying frequencies to Palestine. While the intensity and nature of Egyptian contact with the southern Levant varied over time, there was rarely a period in which there was not some interaction between the regions, and this close connection had a significant effect on both.
“In the southern Levant, whether through intensive or sporadic commercial activities, imperial control, settlement, or other means, development remained linked to the presence, absence, and actions of Egypt, even during the eras in which Egypt itself experienced decentralization and/or decline in organization and power. In addition to the more visible manifestations of influence present in the ceramics, other ma terial culture, and architecture found at sites throughout the southern Levant in different periods, Egypt also affected the nature and direction of Palestinian social, economic, and political organization, and significantly, in the late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period, Egypt also influenced the development of the Canaanite alphabetic script. For Palestine, Egypt loomed as a presence neither to be discounted nor ignored, and any interpretation of Palestinian development in the eras preceding the conquest by Alexander the Great must take this into account.
“From the Egyptian perspective, however, Palestine played different roles at different times. While stereotypical language and conventional image ry portrayed the southern Levant as a region inhabited by “wretched” Asiatics, destined to be crushed and subjugated as part of Pharaonic might and right, Egyptian-Palestinian contact was both far more variable and considerably more realistic. In some eras, such as the Early Dynastic Period and the bulk of the New Kingdom, the southern Levant clearly formed part of a greater Egyptian hegemony and was viewed by Egypt as such. By contrast, in the Late Period, Palestine served as a buffer zone between Egypt and other great powers of the ancient world. At yet other times, such as during the Old and Middle Kingdoms, it is clear that the southern Levant was not the primary target of Egyptian focus and interest, leaving Palestine to develop and function at the margin of Egyptian concerns. Accordingly, the Egyptian views, descriptions, and presentations of Palestine and its inhabitants differ significantly over time, as does the nature of evidence that illustrates these interactions. Yet, just as Palestinian history wa s swayed by Egyptian actions, the southern Levant too contributed to the policies, fortunes, and history of Egypt—as region of settlement, trading partner, real and idealized enemy, buffer zone, and subject territory.”
History of Ancient Egypt-Palestine Scholarship and the Unreliability of the Bible
Susan Cohen of Montana State University wrote: “Egyptology and ancient Near Eastern archaeology —in the nineteenth century, scholarship of the relationship between Egypt and the southern Levant relied heavily on the history of, and relationships between , the regions as presented in the biblical text. Likewise, early scholarship in both Egyptology and southern Levantine archaeology placed considerable emphasis on Egyptian historical sources, stemming partly from a disciplinary bias toward written text but also, and in large part, due to the relative dearth of archaeological data to support, supplement, or refute these written data. This rather uncritical approach to issues of historicity in both biblical and Egyptological tex ts strongly influenced views of Egyptian-Palestinian interactions well into the middle of the twentieth century, and in some cases, even later. [Source: Susan Cohen, Montana State University , 2016, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“Only in the latter part of the twentieth century, with the separation of Syro-Palestinian archaeology from “biblical archaeology” and the increasing amount of field excavation in both regions, was emphasis on biblical material and written source tempered by and/or augmented with more archaeological data and critical perspectives, which enabled Palestinian-Egyptian relations to be viewed through something othe r than either biblical lens or pharaonic hubris. The development of increasingly sophisticated archaeological methodologies and theoretical approaches, ceramic typologies, and other technological advancements al lowed for the historical and biblical material to be examined in conjunction with evidence provided by excavation and accompanying analysis of material remains.
“Thus, as excavation at the important sites of, for example, Tell el-Dabaa, Jericho, Samaria, and Gezer increasingly revealed the unreliability of biblical material regarding such key Egyptian-Palestinian events as the sojourn of Israel in Egypt, the Exodus, and the international relationships of the Israelite kingdoms, it simultaneously demonstrated the complexity, nuance, and richness of the relationships between inhabitants of the southern Levant and Egypt and the myriad ways in which these individuals and regions interacted.”
Egypt and Palestine in the Predynastic and Early Dynastic Periods
Susan Cohen of Montana State University wrote: “Egypt’s contact with Palestine began during the fourth millennium BCE, during the Badarian and Naqada I phases, corresponding to the Palestinian Chalcolithic Period and Early Bronze Age IA. This contact — most probably of a commercial nature —is illustrated by Palestinian ceramics found in Egypt at such sites as Maadi and Minshat Abu Omar, amo ng others. Likewise, a limited amount of Egyptian material is found in the southern Levant. [Source: Susan Cohen, Montana State University , 2016, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“Egyptian-Palestinian interaction intensified during Egypt’s Naqada II-III, corresponding to the Early Bronze Age IB in the southern Levant, and reached its apex in Dynasty I. During this time, large quantities of Egyptian and Egyptianizing material are attested throughout southern Palestine , at sites such as En Besor, Tel Erani, Nahal Tillah, and Tell el-Sakan. In addition to the extremely large volume of ceramics, much of which is of a rather prosaic nature, mud sealings at En Besor and serekhs (early representations o f the king’s name in hieroglyphs enclosed within a diagram of the palace gateway and usually surmounted by an image of the Horus falcon) of various Early Dynastic pharaohs excavated at the sites of Arad, Tel Erani, Tel Halif, and Tell el-Sakan, among others, attest to an active Egyptian presence in the southwestern southern Levant. In addition, evidence for an Egyptian flint industry in Palestine has been no ted at En Besor and Tel Erani.
“The vast quantities of Egyptian material found at sites throughout southern Palestine point to an active and flourishing interaction between regions. The utilitarian aspect of the Egyptian ceramics —used for cooking, baking, etc., rather than as containers for “luxury” goods —suggests the existence of a resident Egyptian population in southern Palestine during this period. This phenomenon has been interpreted by some scholars as illustrative of an Egyptian colonial presence, and by others as representative of a more commercial relationship. Regardless of precise interpretation, all evidence indicates that southern Palestine was strongly influenced by Egypt during this period, p erhaps stemming from Egyptian policies of, and efforts toward, resource acquisition and control.”
Egypt and Palestine in the Old Kingdom (2649–2150 B.C.)
Susan Cohen of Montana State University wrote: “Following the intensive Egyptian presence in the Predynastic Period, Egyptian interests in Palestine steadily declined, starting in mid-Dynasty II and continuing through the Old Kingdom, corresponding to Palestinian Early Bronze Age II through Early Bronze Age III, into the Intermediate Bronze Age. This change is marked by a corresponding decrease in the amount of Egyptian materials found in the southern Levant. [Source: Susan Cohen, Montana State University , 2016, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“Such materials as do exist, such as palettes and other small items, are indicative of small-scale exchange and movement of smaller luxury goods. Old Kingdom activities instead focused primarily on exploitation of copper and other resources in Sinai. Overall, the Egyptian commercial and military presence in Palestine remained minimal during the Old Kingdom; the former is illustrated by the decrease in qu antity, quality, and distribution of materials, and the only evidence for the latter derives from the isolated campaign mentioned in the Egyptian Tale of Weni .
“The minimal Egyptian interest and activities in the southern Levant d uring the Old Kingdom continued into the First Intermediate Period, contemporary with the latter part of the Intermediate Bronze Age. There is little evidence for Egyptian activity in Palestine proper, and Egyptian direct control over mining in Sinai—which flourished under Old Kingdom rule —also declined. This may have allowed for increased Palestinian participation in the copper and turquoise mining and transport previously monopolized by Egypt; the increase in settlement in Sinai and the northern Negev may be linked to this phenomenon in the later part of the Intermediate Bronze Age, although establishing precise dates or phases for the sites remains difficult.”
Egypt and Palestine in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.)
Susan Cohen of Montana State University wrote: “Following the reestablishment of centralized rule at the end of the 11 th Dynasty, Egyptian activity in the southern Levant increased during the Middle Kingdom, although the means and intensity of contact remained variable. Evidence for Egyptian interaction with Palestine derives from multiple sources, some of which are difficult to contextualize. The Egyptian textual data include the Execration Texts, which list a series of locations and individuals to be magically subdued; while these imply an Egyptian knowledge of both Palestinian geography and current events, they are of uncertain use in determining the scope and type of Egyptian activity in the region. Likewise, Khu-sobek’s account of Senusret III’s campaign to a location traditionally identifie d as Shechem in northern Palestine, while indicative of bellicose relations, appears to represent an isolated campaign. [Source: Susan Cohen, Montana State University , 2016, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“The limited volume of Egyptian ceramics found at Ashkelon and Tel If shar, as well as a collection of approximately 40 mud sealings found at the former site, however, suggests economic ties between the two regions. Taken together , this evidence presents a picture of variable and sporadic Egyptian contact with Palestine, consisting of minor military actions combined with small-scale commercial contact. Overall, regardless of type, Egyptian contact with Palestine remained both minimal and sporadic during the Middle Kingdom.
“As Egypt entered a second phase of decentralization in the Second Intermediate Period, its relationship with the southern Levant again changed accordingly. Egyptian activit ies in Palestine —already sporadic and variable in the preceding Middle Kingdom — decreased still further. Likewise, as the urban centers in Palestine gained in strength and power, southern Levantine cultural influence extended further into Egypt. Excavation at Egyptian sites such as Tell el-Dabaa (ancient Avaris) clearly illustrates influence from the southern Levant in ceramics and other material culture, as well as in local cult and ritual, while it also demonstrates the development of a hybridized cultural corpus. In turn, Egyptian-Hyksos scarabs are found at sites throughout the southern Levant, although, to date, there is a dearth of Egyptian and/or Hyksos ceramics found in Palestine at this time.”
Egypt and Palestine in the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.) and Afterwards
Susan Cohen of Montana State University wrote: “The rise of the New Kingdom in the latter part of the second millennium BCE saw the establishment of an Egyptian Levantine empire that included not only the southern Levant but extended throughout the eastern Mediter-ranean world into the northern Levant. Contemporary with the Palestinian Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I, Egyptian imperial power steadily increased during the first several reigns of the New Kingdom. Egyptian political control of Palestine, and the accompanying influence on social and c ultural development, are clearly reflected in Egyptian-style architecture, including temples and forts, found at sites s uch as Beth Shean, Deir el-Balah, and Tel Mor. Sizable corpora of ceramics and other material cul ture found throughout Palestine clearly reflect either Egyptian origin or Egyptian influence and make up a large percentage of the material culture remains . In addition, anthropoid coffins found at Deir el-Balah and Tell el-Farah (South) also help to illustrate the Egyptian influence in the southern Levant. [Source: Susan Cohen, Montana State University , 2016, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“The textual data and historical records from New Kingdom Egypt also reveal the strong scope of Egyptian activities in Palestine, as well as in surrounding reg ions in the eastern Mediterranean. For example, among the myriad Egyptian texts from this period, Thutmose III’s account of his Megiddo campaign and the Amarna Letters from the reigns of Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten illustrate the imperial nature of Egyptian activity in the southern Levant from the early New Kingdom through the Amarna Period; the latter texts also provide a wealth of information regarding settlement and political organization in the southern Levant, as well as details regarding Palestinian interaction with Egypt.
“During the later New Kingdom, beginning in the 20th Dynasty, Egypt experienced the slow decline of its Levantine empire —part of the upheaval noted throughout the Mediterranean world at this time. The disruption of Egyptian hegemony in Palestine may perhaps be traced to the arrival of the Sea People s, and Egypt’s encounters with them, during the reigns of Merenptah and Ramesses III. The decline in the Egyptian empire in the southern Levant attested by historical sources is matched by a slow but measureable decline in the extent and number of Egyptian artifacts found in Palestinian contexts post-Dynasty XX.
“Little data exist for Egyptian activity in Palestine during the Third Intermediate Period, corresponding to late Iron Age I through Iron IIA-B. Other than a campaign by Shoshenq I of the 22 nd Dynasty, c. 925 BCE, which appears to have been a singular event, there is little evidence for Egyptian presence or activity in the southern Levant. In addition, with some exceptions, the number of Egyptian and Egyptian-style objects found at sites in the southern Levant is also small, perhaps as a result of the rise of the Assyrian Empire as the dominant power over the southern Levant. During the Third Intermediate Period, Palestine fell increasingly into the Assyrian, then Babylonian, political sphere of influence, and the number of Egyptian-style objects found in the southern Levant continued to decline.
“Egyptian activity in the southern Levant remained minimal into the Late Period (712–332 B.C.), contemporary with Palestinian Iron Age IIC and the Persian Period. Whi le Egyptian artifacts are found at Palestinian sites during this era, they represent just one type of foreign import among many, rather than a dominant cultural or political orientation. Egyptian presence and activity in the southern Lev ant was mitigated by Persian control, and in this period the phenomenon of independent Egyptian activity in Palestine came to an end.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018