Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Joseph the Infiltrator, Jacob the Conqueror? Reexamining the Hyksos-Hebrew Correlation

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Joseph the Infiltrator, Jacob the Conqueror? Reexamining the Hyksos-Hebrew Correlation

Article excerpt

In the context of the ongoing debate surrounding the historicity of the exodus, there are a number of potentially relevant ethnic groups and historical figures that go unmentioned in the Bible. Whether their absence is due to a lack of awareness or to a dismissal of their relevance on the part of the biblical authors, we cannot be entirely sure. I will argue, however, that they cannot simply be overlooked in a discussion that should first and foremost be concerned with the memories preserved in the Bible of Israel's interaction with Egypt (as well as all things deemed Egyptian) that lie behind the crystallization of the written accounts of the same.

Proponents of the historicity of the transition between Genesis and Exodus- the Joseph story-often see the so-called Hyksos rulers of the Egyptian Fifteenth Dynasty (ca. 1640-15501) as ethnically analogous to the earliest "Israelites." This view places the "sons of Israel" (or "Hebrews") in Egypt in preparation for the exodus and views their subsequent migration from Egypt as a memory of the Egyptian expulsion of the Hyksos recorded in ancient texts.2

I.MANETHO VIA Josephus

The "Hyksos-Hebrew" correlation entered discussion on the origins of Israel as early as the first century CE and possibly earlier.3 Flavius Josephus dealt with these "shepherd kings" rather comfortably. In his view, their alignment with his ancestors (C. Ap. 1.74) upheld his claims of antiquity for the Jews.4 Despite "quoting" Manetho's understanding of the word Hycsos (where Hyc meant "king" and Sos meant "shepherd"; C. Ap. 1.82), Josephus favors his own interpretation, "captive shepherds" (with Hyc now meaning "shepherds"), for the sake of accommodating the biblical narrative or "ancient history" (C. Ap. 1.83), the context within which Manetho's account is assessed.5 The term Hyksos, however, is best understood as "foreign ruler" or "ruler of foreign lands" and was in use as early as the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2040-1650 BCE) to designate "foreign princes," primarily Amorites or Canaanites.6 As such, it was not a term associated with a specific ethnic group that descended into Egypt from Syria-Palestine; rather, it was a common designation that came to be used to describe this new regime-and not the people-so that their status as outsiders was maintained.7 The term Asiatics appears to have been used for people who had descended into Egypt and either took control after a long period of gradual settlement or in the wake of a sudden invasion, but "Asiatics," "foreign rulers," and "princes of Retenu" are terms that maintain a sense of cultural disconnection and are contrary to a theory of integration or acculturation over a long period of time. The evidence shows that these people, although "Egyptianized" in their behavior, did not see themselves as Egyptian.8 In this light, Manetho's (or Josephus's) claim that the Hyksos dominated Egypt for 511 years (C. Ap. 1.84) is drawn either from a misunderstanding of Manetho's schematic king list or from a need to accommodate biblical chronology.9 It would appear, rather, that little more than a century passed between the ascension of the first Hyksos king (of which there were six) and the expulsion of their dynasty.10

There were Asiatics in Egypt before the Hyksos came to power (the archaeological record has preserved architecture at Tell ed-Dab'a/Avaris similar to that in Syria-Palestine); the people living there from the late Twelfth Dynasty onward were likely "subordinate to Egyptian officials."11 The Thirteenth Dynasty palace constructed above the earlier Canaanite settlement at Tell ed-Dab'a appears to have accommodated officials favoring Asian burial customs.12 Yet, despite another Canaanite settlement atop the abandoned palace, Bietak argues against seeing the officials at Tell ed-Dab'a at this time as the predecessors of the Hyksos.13 This settlement ended abruptly with an epidemic of what appears to have been bubonic plague (Egyptian texts refer to it as the "Asian disease"), and the Fourteenth Dynasty seems to have begun following this, with Nehesy taking control. …

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