PHARAOH'S HEART IN EXODUS 4:1–15:21 -
SEEN NEGATIVELY IN THE BIBLE BUT FAVORABLY
IN EGYPTIAN SOURCES
Recently there has been vigorous debate among scholars surrounding the origins of the people of Israel. Some of the questions that have arisen in this regard are the following: Did all the Israelites originate in Canaan or did at least some of them come from Egypt? Or did they perhaps originate among the nomadic tribes of the Shasu or the Ḫabiru? Finally, does the appearance of the name “Israel” on the Merneptah stela attest to the existence of the people of Israel in Canaan at the end of the 13th century BCE?
At the heart of the debate are archaeological findings, both material and epigraphic, that were discovered especially in Canaan and in ancient Egypt. However, some details, namely the Egyptian elements recurring throughout the Oppression and Exodus narratives (Exod 4: 1–15:21), which can also serve as tools in resolving the problem, have been neglected and have not received the attention they deserve.1
1 The following is a selective list of studies published in recent years on the Egyptian
background of the Book of Exodus: D. B. Redford, “An Egyptological Perspective on
the Exodus Narrative,” Egypt, Israel, Sinai: Archeological and Historical Relationships in the
Biblical Period (ed. A. F. Rainey; Tel Aviv, 1987) 137–61, who emphasizes the paucity
of the Egyptian coloring in the Exodus narratives, and argues that the account of
the Oppression and the Exodus may be a remembrance of the Hyksos occupation
of Egypt. A different approach is taken by K. A. Kitchen, “Exodus,” ABD 2 (ed.
D. N. Freedman; New York, 1992) 700–708; idem, “Egyptians and Hebrews, from
Ra'amses to Jericho,” The Origin of Early Israel—Current Debate, Biblical, Historical, and
Archeological Perspectives (ed. S. Ahituv and E. Oren; Beer Sheva 12; Beer Sheva, 1998)
65–131; and J. K. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt (New York, 1996). Both these authors
assume the existence of authentic Egyptian elements in the narratives and suggest
that one should not lightly dismiss the authenticity of the Biblical tradition regard-
ing the origin of Israel as a nation in Egypt. J. K. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old
Testament (Grand Rapids, 1997); idem, “Why Did God Harden Pharaoh's Heart?”
BR 9/6 (1993) 46–51; idem, “The Egyptian Setting of the Serpent,” BZ 39 (1995)
203–24, goes too far in assuming that the biblical author was well versed in Egyptian
culture and tradition. His thesis is accepted by S. B. Noegel, “Moses and Magic:
Notes on the Book of Exodus,” JANES 24 (1996) 45–59.