Part of The Israel Stele located in the Cairo museum.
The princes are prostrate saying: "Shalom!" Not one of the Nine Bows lifts his head: Tjehenu is vanquished, Khatti at peace, Canaan is captive with all woe. Ashkelon is conquered, Gezer seized, Yanoam made nonexistent; Israel is wasted, bare of seed, Khor is become a widow for Egypt. All who roamed have been subdued. By the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Banere-meramun, Son of Re, Merneptah, Content with Maat, Given life like Re every day.
The Holy Bible tells us the nation of Israel was held captive in Egypt over a span of 430 years however the record for this historical event---found in the Book of Exodus---does not go into much detail, which has fueled debate for centuries. What is there about the ancient Hebrew’s Sojourn in the land of Egypt and their subsequent Exodus that arouses so much curiosity? One question, which comes immediately to mind is: Who was the Pharaoh of the Sojourn? Another is: Why were the Hebrew’s enslaved? Still another: What is the date of the Exodus? And finally: Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus? These are important questions for serious study and wherever the subject is discussed our questions ignite debate. The problem then becomes how to resolve this debate. One way to attempt resolution is to survey the evidence ourselves. But how should we begin? There are three authorities available that should prove invaluable to any such inquiry: the Holy Bible; Archaeology; and Expert Opinion. Which allows us to narrow our search down to three areas: what the Bible teaches; what archaeology reveals; and what the experts suggest. So let’s begin with the most reliable record available, the Holy Bible.
“And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month… (Solomon) began to build the house of the Lord.” (Exodus 12:40)
Because there is general agreement plus or minus six years on the date Solomon ascended the throne in Israel we can assign the date 967bc to the fourth year of his reign with some degree of confidence. Which gives us the year 1447bc, 480 years earlier, for the Exodus. Hence, with these dates in mind, let us once again return to the Bible.
“Now, the sojourning of the children of Israel who dwelt in Egypt, was 430 years.” Exodus 12:40
This gives us the year 1877bc, during the reign of Sesostris III over Egypt, for the beginning of the Sojourn. So there, we’ve already answered two of those thorny questions we proposed. Or, have we? Some experts date the Exodus toward the reign of Ramses II (1297bc) and that is some 150 years after our date. Why this vast difference? And even more important: What occurred during that 910 year period from 1877bc to 967bc? Scripture goes into detail only on events that transpired toward the end of the Sojourn, so what do we do? It’s clear… if we want to learn more about this period we must turn to other sources. Maybe the archaeological record will aid us in our inquiry? The logical place to begin is at the beginning with the patriarch Joseph and his entry into Egypt. If we adopt the perspective of an Historian we immediately are faced with another difficult question. Why did the Egyptians so readily accept Joseph and his brethren into their midst? Those of us familiar with scripture know the answer, but what does the record reveal that will satisfy the secular mind? Turning to archaeology, we learn from the experts that the admission of nomads from outlying desert areas onto, and within, the borders of agricultural countries in the region was a common practice at all times, these periodic migrations serving a practical purpose for host and nomad alike. Now it is obvious how the nomads were served by this custom but what about the host? They benefited by a natural tendency on the part of the newcomers to defend their pastures thereby serving the host country as a sort of first line of defense against foreign invasion and affording the Egyptians greatly heightened security along their borders.
All well and good, however… what about the specific case of Egypt? The historical record reveals that migrations were frequent across the Egyptian border because the nomad lands to the east of the Nile valley were subject to periodic drought. The Egyptians themselves managed to avoid drought by controlling the Nile through the use of extensive irrigation canals. Famine, therefore, was the driving force. It was famine that brought nomads into the rich fertile lands of the Nile basin. As in a specific case illustrated by a famous wall painting found in an Egyptian tomb at Beni Hassan (a small Egyptian village situated near limestone cliffs that are the site of numerous royal tombs) which depicts a desert chieftain bringing his people into Egypt around the year 1900bc. The immigrants shown in the Beni Hassan fresco were entering into an Egypt that had---since the end of the reign of the great Pharaoh Anenemhet I, around 1984bc---been rife with internal dissension. Which brings up another important factor we should examine in order to understand why Joseph and his brethren were so readily accepted in the land of Egypt, the political situation.
Already when Joseph entered Egypt around the year 1877bc, during the reign of Sesostris, the Egyptian political situation had been in turmoil for nearly a century. Indeed, there may even have been two competing Pharaohs at the time: Sesostris ruling in the North---where Joseph and his brethren settled---and a second Pharaoh ruling in the South. Accordingly, as it was not a common practice for Egyptian rulers to elevate foreigners to positions of authority within their state we may deduce from the case of Joseph that Sesostris, possibly insecure in his rule, harried from the south, and as scripture informs us facing drought and famine, turned to the ablest administrator he could find which of course was Joseph
Thereafter finding a safe haven in Egypt, the Hebrew people survived the lean years through the efforts of Joseph on behalf of Sesostris and they prospered.
"And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen: and they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly." (Genesis 47:27)
So what happened? Here we have the Hebrews safe and secure in Egypt and prospering…
Toward the end of Joseph’s life an event took place that proved disastrous for the Hebrew nation in their adopted land. The Hykos Invasion. The Hykos, translated literally as “rulers of foreign countries” began filtering down into the center of the Fertile Crescent from the northeast around 1900bc. These warrior nomads swept through Philistia, crossed over into Africa and began a conquest of most of Egypt a century later. Whereupon they established their capital at the city of Avaris in the area of Goshen---precisely where the Hebrews had settled---and initiated the Hykos Dynasties that would last until the Egyptians under Pharaoh Ahmose reemerged nearly two centuries later and expelled them from the country.
Because the Hykos, like the Hebrews, were Semitic nomads from the area around Syria and Canaan it has been suggested the two peoples were allies. Indeed, some experts have even made the assumption that the Pharaoh who welcomed Joseph into Egypt was one of the first Hykos rulers. However, this hypothesis does not withstand the spotlight of contradiction. Consider the fact that when the Egyptians finally rose up and expelled the Hykos from the country the Hebrews were not expelled from the country along with them. Why not? One explanation could be that the Hebrews remained loyal to the Egyptians and were enslaved by the Hykos.
“And he said unto his people. Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.”
Obviously the Hebrew’s were not as numerous as the Egyptians surrounding them, but quite possibly their numbers did overshadow those of the occupation forces of the Hykos. The Pharaoh who is quoted here is one of the first Hykos rulers of northern Egypt.
As for the Pharaoh who welcomed Joseph consider this from the Book of Genesis:
“… because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians.” (Genesis 43:32)
We know the Hykos retained a power base in the Semitic lands to the east all during their days of hegemony over Egypt. Therefore it hardly seems likely they would harbor such attitudes toward other Semitic visitors onto their lands. On the other hand would we be surprised to learn that prejudice was characteristic of the highly cosmopolitan, thoroughly sophisticated Egyptians? Furthermore, we know that the Egyptians harbored a definite abhorrence for shepherds. For example, cattle are often depicted on their monuments but sheep never are. Again quoting from Genesis…
“… for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.” (Genesis 46:34)
Clearly this could not refer to the Hykos who were known to future generations as “Shepherd Kings” therefore the Pharaoh who welcomed Joseph into Egypt was an Egyptian not one of the Hykos conquerors. It was nearly a century after Joseph and his family entered into Egypt that the Hykos began their conquest. When the invaders came into the land the Hebrews true to the memory of Sesostris and their patriarchs sided with the Egyptians and as a result were oppressed by the victorious Hykos.
“Thereafter they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.”
This reference in the scripture to Pithom and Raamses is often relied upon as evidence that the Exodus occurred toward the end of the reign of Ramses II (1292bc to 1225bc). And indeed he did initiate extensive building projects in the area of Goshen during his reign. Be that as it may however, Ramses was not the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The name Ramses translates as “begotten of Ra” a sun god revered by the Hykos as well as the Egyptians. Indeed, there is a very good possibility the name was of Hykos origin and was a common name during their rule. Beyond which the ancestors of Ramses II were very likely these same foreign rulers. Did the Hykos build in Goshen using the pool of Hebrew slave labor they had established? Did they name at least one of their projects Raamses? The evidence suggests they did.
For nearly two centuries the Hykos were supreme while the Egyptian Pharaohs made their capital in the South and were relegated to ruling over a portion of their own country from there. Not before Sekenenre became Pharaoh at Thebes did events unfold that would eventually lead to the downfall of the Hykos. Sekenenre’s son, Kamose, began a revolt that was later taken over and completed by his son, Ahmose I, with the capture of the Hykos capital sometime around the year 1580bc. The capture dutifully recorded on the walls of a tomb of one of his officers, a ship’s captain also named Ahmose, at El Kab (80 miles south of Luxor).
“When the King besieged the town of Avaris…” The officer records. “I fought gallantly on foot in the presence of his majesty. I was thereafter promoted to the ship ‘Appearing in Memphi’”
Thus ended Hykos rule in Egypt.
Avoiding and suppressing most references to the “Great Humiliation”, the archaeological record for the period is scant, the Pharaohs entered upon a new era. But what did all this mean to the Hebrews who had been in bondage throughout the centuries? Did the Egyptians set them free? No, they did not. Their condition did not change. The Egyptians, free of their Semitic overlords, opted to maintain the status quo. No doubt loyalties of the past had dimmed from memory and the burden on Israel far from being lifted became greater.
“And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour.” (Exodus 1:13)
Therefore, since we now have a good idea of what happened, what led up to the enslavement, let us turn out attention to the Exodus.