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Egypt and the Jewish Patriarchs – palpable nonsense!

Egypt and the Jewish Patriarchs

– palpable nonsense!

 The two primary books of the Old Testament – Genesis and Exodus – refer to 'Pharaoh' 155 times. Curiously, not once in either book is Pharaoh identified by name – and yet, in fact, the references are to many different pharaohs, across many centuries. The anomaly is all the more telling in that the holy books are not lacking in naming numerous sundry and incidental characters. For example, the grandmother, of the grandmother, of King Asa of Judah was Abishalom, should you be interested! (1 Kings 15.10). But this style of literature should be familiar to us all: "Once upon a time, in a land far away, was a bad king. And in the forest, David played ... "

It's called a Fairy Tale.


Out of Egypt

Let's remind ourselves of Israel's supposed early encounters with the diverse kings of EgyptIn the sacred history of the Jews, the ‘father of the races’ Abraham is placed in Babylonia, anachronistically re-labelled Chaldea, a term more appropriate to the empire of Nebuchadnezzar in the 600s BC. The character of Abraham alternates between bedouin pastoralist and landed grandee. Neither has the slightest claim to historical veracity.


Pimping Patriarch!


Abraham's wife Sarah – an irresistible beauty at 70

An unnamed (possibly blind) pharaoh whisked this babe from the Levant into his harem – and rewarded Abraham with "sheep, oxen, asses, menservants, maidservants, she asses and camels."
(Genesis 12.14,15)


The nonsense begins

Abraham – and Unnamed Pharaoh No. 1

To identify this pharaoh choose any date between 2300 BC - 1400 BC. Abraham's supposed existence hinges exclusively on biblical sources and working backwards from the supposed existence of Solomon, several centuries later.

The Good Book informs us that there is a 10-year age gap between Abraham and his wife/half-sister Sarah (Genesis 17.17). Thus when the Patriarch gets God's call to leave Haran, Sarah is already a pensioner (he is 75, so she is 65) (Genesis 12.4.) After wandering in Canaan, a spate of altar building and camping in the mountains, famine drives the old fellow and his missus down into Egypt (Genesis 12.12).

Abraham fears his wife's "great beauty" will get him killed so they concoct the ruse that "she's my sister." Sure enough, Sarah gets fast-tracked into the harem of 'Pharaoh' – but the duped king gets a nasty case of plague. Though the trick is unmasked, Abraham is allowed to leave – with Sarah and, it seems, with all his ill-gotten gains.


The Patriarch, his Wives, his Egyptian Slave, and King Abimelech

Tired of waiting for her god-promised pregnancy (she's now 75), Sarah encourages Abraham to impregnate his compliant slave Hagar (Gen. 16). The result is Ishmael (he who will father 12 'Arab' princes).

13 years pass in the town of Hebron, during which time Abraham heads up a military force to rescue his nephew Lot, captured by 4 raiding kings (Gen. 14). The invaders are "utterly routed" near Damascus (and Abraham gets blessed by the mysterious priest/king Melchizedek).

In contrast, when Abraham takes a "sojourn" in Gerar, the remarkable warrior/sage again fears Sarah's "great beauty" will get him killed. For a second time they employ the "she's my sister" ruse. King Abimelech takes Sarah into his harem and Abraham collects another bounty (Gen.20.1,18). Luckily the Philistine king gets a private message from God and sends the happy couple on their way.

The 90-year-old Sarah now gives birth to Isaac, gets Hagar and Ishmael thrown out the tent, and lives to the ripe old age of 127 (Genesis 23.2).

Abraham, 137 at the time of Sarah's death, is still in the prime of life and takes Keturahas his new wife. She produces for him not one but six more children. The old goat does not himself check out until he is 175 years old.* Hmm.


Isaac doesn't get to meet a pharaoh. Perhaps the trauma of ritual abuse when he was a boy made him a bit of a stay at home. His dad sends a servant out to get him a wife and when Isaac gets to the 'famine strikes Canaan' bit his fidelity to Yahweh causes him NOT to go down into Egypt – the exact opposite of his dad's behaviour. Believe it or not, Isaac and his wife Rebekah use the "she's my sister" trick on the hapless King Abimelech – in Genesis 26.1,14!


Jacob, trickster son of Isaac, is the guy who fathers the ancestors of all 12 tribes. Amazingly, he also gets to wrestle with God himself! (Genesis 32.24) – hence his new name'Isra'EL' ('El has conquered'). Jacob gets to Egypt as an old man. He meets a pharaoh – after his favourite son Joseph has made the big time. It seems unnamed Pharaoh No. 2 asks Jacob his age (a sprightly 130 – and he lives a further 17 years in 'Goshen'!) and receives a blessing in return.


Joseph and Unnamed Pharaoh No. 2: the "Sojourn"

Choose any date between 1900 BC - 1500 BC for this pharaoh – there's no evidence that Joseph ever existed either.

Abraham got to meet the great king of Egypt by having a real babe as a wife; Joseph (his great grandson) got to meet Pharaoh by being a real babe himself.

It seems that the wife of Potiphar, captain of the imperial guard (who had bought Joseph), got the hots for the young man – but he was having none of it. Thrown into prison on a false charge (Genesis 39) he made a name for himself by "dream interpretation." This, it seems, is enough to get him catapulted before the god/king himself.

Once again, an Egyptian monarch is shown to be amazingly credulous. On the strength of a 14-year forecast of 'good' and 'bad' harvests the inexperienced, foreign pastoralist is made Grand Vizier and given command of the world's most important agricultural economy. Fat chance.

But this – would you believe – is the foundation stone of the Hebrew presence in Egypt.Joseph's reorganised agronomy saves Egypt and a grateful Pharaoh sends carts to bring Joseph's clan to Egypt:

"all the souls of the house of Jacob, which came into Egypt, were three score and ten." – Genesis 45.27.

A handful of Hebrews take up residence in Egypt, multiply prodigiously, and – in the familiar story – are first enslaved then set free. 70 persons arrive and multiply with a phenomenal, rabbit-like, fecundity to reach 3 million in 215 years – an average of 66 children per female! (430 years is often quoted but in the original version of the story – as reiterated in the Septuagint and by Josephus – half of that time was spent in Canaan.)

Whoa! Philistine king can't resist 90 year old babe from Hebron

Sarah – still a cracker in her 90s

Abraham repeats his"she's my sister" scam on King Abimelech.

This time he collects"sheep, cattle, men-servants, maidservants ... a thousand pieces of silver." 
(Genesis 20.1,18)




Isaac – childhood trauma?




A rare photograph ofJacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32.24).

He names the site 'Peni 'El' (face to face with God!)



Hollywood keeps the fantasy current


As nomads, the migratory pattern of the Hebrews might take them into the Nile Delta. Egyptian forces repeatedly passed through Palestine to fight wars further north. Any culture the Jews did not copy from the Babylonians they took instead from the Egyptians. Tellingly, the huge corpus of Egyptian records contains no reference at all to Israelites, the Oppression, the Exodus or Moses.

The hapiru were, after all, merely bandits on the Canaanite frontier.

The closest we get to ‘Israelites in bondage’ is some evidence for Canaanite cities in the Nile Delta. These almost certainly were established by that alliance of tribes known as the ‘Sea People’ that attempted an invasion of Egypt in the 13th and 12th century BC. In effect, the Jews, bit-players in a history over many centuries, ‘talked up’ their own ancestral origins by associating themselves with the major empires and events around them. Probably their fanciful tale of the fall of Jericho and other Canaanite cities is a recasting of the invasion of the coastal plain from the north by the Philistines (unlike themselves, users of iron weapons).


Image of 'Moses' (yes, with horns!)
Horned god – ubiquitous in Egypt
Horned cap – mark of an Assyrian king's divinity




Real Ramesses II (no horns)

"There had been a need, on the part of 19th century scholars, to 'find' the Bible in Egypt. They identified Ramesses II as Pharaoh of the Oppression simply because they assumed an historical link between Pi-Ramesse (Ramesses' delta residence) and the store-city of Raamses (mentioned in the book of Exodus) ...

The link between Ramesses II and the Israelite Bondage was an illusion without any real archaeological foundation." 

– Rohl (A Test of Time, p138)



Golden Calf?


No – Apis Bullfrom the cult centre of Memphis-Saqqara. The cult reached its zenith towards the end of pharaonic history.


Egypt and "Moses" – Fantasy on steroids

The hero of the Exodus has an Egyptian not a Hebrew name (as in Thut’mosesAh’moses, etc). No contemporary non-biblical source mentions Moses and the lack of any external reference in the biblical story makes it impossible to connect the life of the superhero with the known history of other cultures.


Baby Moses and Unnamed Pharaoh No. 3: the "Ethnic Cleanser"

Choose any date between 1500 BC - 1200 BC for this pharaoh. We are not told the name of the pharaoh – but the Hebrew midwives are 'Shiphrah' and 'Puah'!

In this unlikely episode, a pharaoh who "does not know" Joseph is alarmed by the explosive growth of the Hebrews and decides "hard labour" will keep them in check (Exodus 1.8,14). Frustrated that this does not work (we are talking Hebrew virility here)he issues an order that all the new born male infants of the Hebrews should be drowned. One is saved in an ark made of bulrushes daubed with slime. Amazingly, none other than the daughter of Pharaoh himself finds the infant mariner and adopts him as her own. But in true pantomime fashion his own mother is hired to nurse him.

The idea of "threatened child becomes great figure" is commonplace: it was told of Sargon the Great, Heracles, Romulus & Remus, etc. It is, of course, reworked in the story of Jesus.



Call me Mother!


Isis-Thermuthis, a goddess of fertility and the harvest.(Alexandria, 1st century BC)

In the Moses story, we have a foretaste of the Jesus fantasy itself.

According to Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews - II.9) pharaoh's daughter is named 'Thermuthis' – a name which she happens to share with a manifestation of Isis – which would make Moses the Horus figure.

Irenaeus (but not the Christian Bible) reiterates Josephus' other startling claim: that God gave the polytheistic Egyptians counsel to make Moses Generalissimo.

Our youthful hero "cheerfully" accepted, rallied the Egyptians and defeated the Ethiopians who had overrun the entire country. His victory included vanquishing a "multitude of serpents" with the "Ibes" bird.

What a coincidence! In Egyptian mythology, the evil Seth, in the guise of a snake had bitten the infant Horus. He had been saved by Thoth – the Ibis headed god!

In true fairy tale manner, the Ethiopian princess saw Moses from the city wall, fell immediately in love, and brokered peace for marriage. And they all lived happily ever after.

Well, not quite ...


Prince Moses and Unnamed Pharaoh No. 4: the "Oppression"

The youthful Moses becomes a murderer and fugitive from justice (Exodus 2.11,15).

Moses flees to Arabia where he marries the daughter of a Midianite priest and lives as a shepherd. His father-in-law is 'Reuel' (Exodus 2.18) or 'Jethro' (Exodus 3.1, 4.18) or 'Hobab' (Judges 4.11) – take your pick.

After 40 years in Midian, Moses returns to Egypt to make his famous demand of pharaoh to "let go" (Exodus 5.1) the people he has lived without for 80 years (Exodus 7.7).


Patriarch Moses and Unnamed Pharaoh No. 5: the "Exodus"

This pharaoh is the hard-man opponent of Moses (well, he can't help it – God himself hardened his heart – Exodus 4.21;7.3 etc.). The whole pageant would collapse if he had been a softy like pharaohs 1 and 2! Ten plagues later and Egypt had lost its labour force and its army (Exodus 14.28). Moses, an octogenarian, now begins 40 years of wandering.

Salt crystals in the mummy of Merenptah favoured him as the drowned 'Pharaoh of the Exodus' – until it was realised all mummies showed evidence of these embalming salts!

Oddly enough, Egypt reached new heights of imperial splendour and prosperity during the New Kingdom (18th - 19th dynasties). Tutmosis III campaigned beyond the Euphrates and reached the Fourth Cataract on the Nile; Rameses II halted the advance of the Hittites in Syria and built more temples and monuments than anyone.

Perhaps those Hebrews hadn't pulled their weight after all!



Though the colourful story of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt is known to everyone the legend itself is a complete fantasy, a re-write of a story learned in Babylon. In Exodus, Yahweh creates a people, not the cosmos:

"Instead of splitting the carcass of a sea-monster to create the world, as Marduk did, Yahweh divided the Sea of Reeds to let his people escape from Pharaoh and the pursuing army. Instead of slaying the demonic hordes, like Marduk, Yahweh drowned the Egyptians."

– K. Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem, p31.

In the fantasy 'history' (chapter 1 of the Book of Numbers603,550 'males of military age' fled Egypt at the time of the Exodus, which implies a refugee army of at least two million – more than the total population of Egypt itself! And this multitude supposedly wandered the wilderness for forty years, contriving to leave not a trace of their passing for posterity.

Records one historian:

"Despite the mass of contemporary records that have been unearthed in Egypt, not one historical reference to the presence of the Israelites has yet been found there. Not a single mention of Joseph, the Pharaoh's 'Grand Vizier'. Not a word about Moses, or the spectacular flight from Egypt and the destruction of the pursuing Egyptian army."

– Magnus Magnusson, The Archaeology of the Bible Lands - BC, p43.


Not that Egypt had no impact on the people who were to emerge as Jews in the sixth century. Jewish theology is permeated with ideas which had prevailed in Egypt for millennia. For example, that most hallowed of Jewish festivals, the Passover, was borrowed from an Egyptian celebration of the Spring Equinox, of the passing of the sun from south to north of the equator. Passover, the most important feast of the Jewish calendar, is celebrated at the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, typically occurring on March 21, though it can fall a day earlier or later.

Many scholars have seen a link between the sun-worshipping monotheism of Akhenaten and the Yahweh-worshipping monotheism of the Jews. Conceivably, expelled priests of the Aten started the whole thing off. A nomadic people required a portable god. Though they contrived to make a virtue of their technical inability to make idols, none the less, their sacred texts anthropomorphised the deity – a human representation of the pharaoh's sun.

So humanoid was their god that initially they provided him with a mobile home, the so-called ‘Ark of the Covenant.' This itself was originally an Egyptian idea. Paraded about as a lethal protector of the tribe and a throne for their god, it somewhat lost its importance when Philistines sacked the settlement of Shiloh and carried away the Ark as a trophy. It was not replaced. Though nominally ‘invisible’ (and now homeless!),Yahweh acquired a most man-like countenance.




Shishak? Hophra?


Biblical 'Pharaohs' – Unknown to the Egyptians!

Despite the omission of pharaonic names in Genesis, Exodus and most other biblical books, in a few places pharaohs are indeed named. This should have made it possible to synchronize the real history of Egypt with some part of the purported "history" of the Jews recorded in the Bible.

Unfortunately there is a small problem: the Bible's 'Pharaohs' are unknown in all of the vast corpus of Egyptian history.

Thus, 1 Kings (11.40) introduces the character "Shishak"; 2 Kings (17.4) brings on "So" ; and Jeremiah (44.30) gives us "Hophra." The anomaly has given rise to 200 years of "name that pharaoh." With many centuries, 30-odd dynasties, and dozens of monarchs to choose from the possibilities are endless.


Jeroboam's "refuge" in Egypt:
Pharaoh 'Shishak' delivers God's punishment on Judah (1000 - 800 BC)

In the last days of Solomon, a labourer, promoted to overseer, called Jeroboam "lifts up his hand" against the monarch and has to flee to Egypt and the protection of Shishak (who of course has an open-house for renegade Jewish labourers) (1 Kings 11). Solomon dies, Jeroboam becomes king of 10 northern tribes (what a star!) and Solomon's legitimate heir Rehoboam is left with just 2 tribes in the south. Jeroboam's accommodating monarch Shishak plunders the Temple in Jerusalem, controlled by his rival, and conquers the whole of Judah. We never hear of Shishak again.

Nothing is known in Egypt of 'Shishak' but inscriptions of Pharaoh Shoshenk I (22nd dynasty) record his attack upon Jerusalem – so Shoshenk has traditionally been identified as the biblical 'Shishak.'


Hoshea of Samaria challenges the King of Assyria:
"Pharaoh So" to the rescue (800 -700 BC)

"And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea: for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and brought no present to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year: therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison." – 2 Kings 17.4.

An obvious candidate for So is Shoshenk – but he's already identified with Shishak! Thutmose III has a temple relief showing conquered cities of Judaea – perhaps we should make Thutmose 'Shishak' so that 'So' can be Shoshenk?!


Egyptian civil war written into the story:
Pharaoh 'Hophra' gets on the wrong side of the Lord

"Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies, and into the hand of them that seek his life; as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, his enemy, and that sought his life." – Jeremiah 44.30.

With the 'clue' of Nebuchadnezzar (605 - 561 BC) and an obvious fate, chief suspect is the grandson of Pharaoh Neckau who reigned from 589 to 570 BC. This pharaoh died in a rebellion led by his general and son-in-law Ahmose. Unfortunately, this pharaoh is actually called Apries (Herodotus ii.169) and on his monuments as Uah`ab`ra (Wahibre). Perhaps the Pharaoh used the name 'Hophra' when he sent letters to the Jews ...?!

The biblical author was using the literary device of a royal murder to put an instructive 'prophecy' into the mouth of 'Jeremiah.' His oracle of woe was directed at recalcitrant Jews, many of whom lived in Egypt and were susceptible to Egyptian religious practices.



Postscript –

Akenaten anticipates the Psalms, 1350 BC!

Hymn to the Aten

Hymn to the Atencarved relief, Tomb of Ay, Armana


Hymn to the Aten
" Lord of All, Lord of heaven, Lord of Earth
Thy rays embrace the lands
Thou layest the foundations of the earth
How manifold are thy works!
The ships go down and up the stream..."
Psalm 104
"O Lord thou art very Great
Who coverest thyself with light as a garment
Who laid the foundations of the earth
O Lord how manifold are thy works!
How ships sail to and fro..."


Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (Phoenix Grant, 1987)
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Crucified Jew (Harper Collins,1992)
Henry Hart Milman, The History of the Jews (Everyman, 1939)
Josephus, The Jewish War (Penguin, 1959)
Leslie Houlden (Ed.), Judaism & Christianity (Routledge, 1988)
John Romer, Testament (Viking, 1999)
V. Davies, R. Friedman, Egypt (British Museum, 1998)
Herodotus, The Histories, (Penguin, 1972)
Ahmed Osman, Moses Pharaoh of Egypt (Grafton, 1990)
M. Grant, The History of Ancient Israel (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1996)
Aidan Dodson, Monarchs of the Nile (Rubicon, 1995)

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