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Egyptologists, Biblical Scholars, and The Exodus

Egyptologists and Biblical scholars treat the Exodus differently. They approach the idea of an historical Exodus from different assumptions and perspectives and they respond differently to new information about the Exodus. In this blog, I present a speculative case study on how the two disciplines will react differently to the same information drawing on my own book, The Exodus, An Egyptian Story.

The information for this comparison derives from the life of Moses as an Egyptian before he fled from Ramses into the wilderness (in the book) and encountered the Kenites (not in the book). Specifically,

1. Moses helped plan and organize Seti’s campaigns against the Shasu and the Canaanites.
2. Moses was popular with the Egyptian military.
3. Moses was probably 10 to 15 years older than Ramses (not mentioned in the book).

Based on this information derived from Egyptian sources, how would Egyptologists and Biblical scholars react?

EGYPTOLOGISTS

As previously stated, Egyptologists avoid the Exodus like plague. No Egyptologist wants to jeopardize their academic careers by delving into the historicity of the Exodus. They can accept based on Manetho and Donald Redford, that it has something to do with the Hyksos, but beyond that tidbit, they do not wish to get involved.

In the previous blog (Passover and Pharaoh Smites the Enemy), I presented information from Kara Cooney in her new book The Good Kings: Absolute Power in Ancient Egypt and the Modern World. She expresses the normally academically taboo of having changed her mind about a fundamental truth in her discipline. She refers to herself as a recovering Egyptologist from an abusive relationship. In Egyptology, she is referring to the traditional acceptance of the concept of maat in a positive sense while overlooking or being blind to the violence it legitimizes by Pharaoh in the real world.

Ramses and the Exodus figure in her study. She asserts that Ramses tried to convince the populace that he was truly what he said he was. At the Battle of Kadesh, we are to understand that if it had not been for the heroics of Ramses combined with the blessings of Amun [whom Ramses beseeched], that Egypt would have lost. Cooney claims that Ramses compared himself to Seth, the god of violence who the Egyptians believed could vanish Apophis, the force of chaos, every night in the seventh hour [when as it turns out, the historical Passover occurred]. Cooney adds that we can be sure that some of the military knew the complicated truth, particularly the ones who were there at the battle. [In my book, I cite other Egyptologists making that same claim and would have included her if her book had been published earlier. The military people who knew the truth were the ones who either participated in the Exodus or who allowed it to occur without interfering.]

According to Cooney, Ramses portrayed himself in innovative ways not previously seen before in a Pharaoh. He appeared in the company of his men, driving his horses into the maelstrom of battle, even getting off his chariot and fighting hand-to-hand with his sword. Strategically, this Ramses positioned himself as the direct patron of Egypt’s mercenaries. This depiction is part of new development within Egyptology where the Delta in general and the military in particular are described as “diverse,” an equivalent of “mixed multitude.”

Finally Cooney daringly states that “This zeitgeist is an origination point for the Exodus story in the Hebrew Bible….I am not saying that Ramses II was the pharaoh of the Exodus or that such a series of events actually happened in reality, supernaturally aided or not. But I am saying that the biblical narrative holds kernels of truth” (243-244). To the best of my knowledge Cooney is neither an evangelical Christian nor an Orthodox Jew and she still is in good standing as an Egyptologist despite situating a possible historical Exodus in a real-world Egyptian context.

Now Cooney has the opportunity to take the next step as an Egyptologist and incorporate new information/interpretations. She writes of Ramses excelling in the art of spin and hyperbole (211). Her Ramses seeks to be like Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator (239). She asks “What kinds of insecurities was this king hiding?” (212). Now she has the answer. As suggested in the three points above, Moses was Maximus while the younger Ramses was Commodus. The Sun God lived in the shadow of the man Moses his entire life. Ramses acted exactly the way Cooney describes and had the exact insecurities she asked about and the Exodus did occur precisely in the zeitgeist she portrays at the hour she mentions without realizing it. The missing ingredient that pulls the pieces together into a coherent narrative is Moses. With Moses, she can build on her presentation to tell a fuller story about Ramses than she does without him. The existence of Moses does not threaten her paradigms or standing as an Egyptologist; it enables her to be a better one by applying this new information/interpretation from a book she has read and for which she has written a recommendation.

BIBLICAL SCHOLARS     

The situation is quite different for biblical scholars. Consider the following interpretations which are legitimate in scholarship today:

1. The Israelites were Shasu.
2. The Israelites were nomads.
3. The Israelites were revolting Canaanites.
4. The Israelites were Canaanites of long duration filling a void.
5. Israel did not leave Egypt, Egypt left Canaan.
6. There was not one Exodus but multiple teeny-weeny exodii.
7. A teeny-weeny “Pilgrim” exodus group spread its experience to all Canaan.
8. The Exodus story was (piously) concocted in Exilic times.
9. The Exodus story was (piously) concocted in Post-Exilic times.
10. The Exodus story was (piously) concocted in Hellenistic times.

Has anyone suggested Roman or Byzantine times yet?

All these legitimate interpretations within biblical scholarship share one trait in common – they reject the very notion of “Yahweh led thee out of the land of Egypt.” It’s as if any explanation for the American Revolution is acceptable as long as it does not include the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” except as something concocted centuries later.

Now consider the opportunity available to biblical scholarship following the same information available to Cooney. When Moses flees to the wilderness he does so as one who previously had organized, planned, and participated in a campaign against the Shasu. He is no Sinuhe. He already knows the name “Yahweh” but “led thee out of the land of Egypt” is his new hope, vision, and political goal.

Moses does not encounter the Kenites by chance. These smiths are the one neutral or protected people among the various Shasu tribes. They offer him a sanctuary or safe haven. Moses marries into/is inducted into the Kenite tribe. He now has the mark of Cain which renders him safe from those he had fought as a Hyksos Egyptian under Seti. At this point Moses does not expect to be wandering in the wilderness when he leads people out of Egypt against the will of Ramses.  Some of the Shasu decide to assist Moses in his effort against Egypt. Later they will become Calebites and be included in the Exodus narrative alongside those who did depart from Egypt. The kingdom of Judah under David thus will be an odd combination of Canaanite Jebusites (Elyon) who had been allies of Egypt, Amorite Benjaminites (Shaddai) who had been part of the Exodus from Egypt and had a Mesopotamian orientation, and Shasu Calebites (Yahweh) who became allies of Israel during the Exodus.

This scenario was not in my book. That study was limited to Egyptian sources. This reconstruction partakes of biblical exegesis which would have added a whole new dimension to the book and made it much longer. However it does reveal the opportunity available to a biblical scholar if one should abandon one of the accepted Exodus paradigms listed above.

A recent article “Was King David a Nomad. New Theory Sparks Storm Among Israeli Archaeologists” by Ariel David (Haaretz), highlights the challenge. He writes: “Most scholars agree that the preceding stories [to David] in the Bible, such as the Patriarchs cycle and the Exodus are not historical events and are essentially foundation myths.” Exactly. That is the paradigm from which one must not deviate if one is to be taken seriously within biblical scholarship.

An example of this restriction may be seen in the current issue of Biblical Archaeological Review. Daniel Master, Wheaton College, has an article “Piece by Piece: Exploring the Origins of the Philistines. The article is not about the Exodus but is reflective of biblical scholarship towards the Exodus. Master makes three claims in the article.

1. based on the archaeology, the Philistines came from Crete.
2. based on archaeology, the Philistines remembered their Cretan origin centuries later even after they had assimilated with the 12th century BCE population.
3. based on textual information, Israel also remembered the Philistine origin in Crete.

The unstated implication of the analysis is that is that if both the Philistines and the Israelites could remember the Philistine migration from Crete, why couldn’t Israel similarly remember its departure from Egypt? Of course, Israel could and did. So while Egyptologist Cooney can directly posit an historical Exodus in the zeitgeist of Ramses II, Master only implies that one occurred.

THE ANOMALY

An anomalous situation may develop. Theoretically, Egyptologists can accept as legitimate an historical reconstruction of a Moses-led Exodus against the will of Ramses based on Egyptian evidence that is not trying to prove the Bible true because it does not threaten any deeply held Egyptological attitudes towards the event. By contrast, biblical scholars cannot accept as legitimate an historical reconstruction of a Moses-led Exodus against the will of Ramses based on Egyptian evidence that is not trying to prove the Bible true because it does threaten deeply held biblical scholar attitudes towards the event as listed above.

As long as Egyptologists continue to avoid the Exodus like the plague, there is no problem for biblical scholars. The more Egyptologists are willing to accept as legitimate an Egyptian based historical reconstruction of the Exodus, the more the onus shifts to biblical scholars as to why they cannot. Obviously the disruption to the timeline of Israelite history and writing of the Hebrew Bible would be significantly affected if an historical reconstruction of the Exodus in the time of Ramses is accepted as legitimate. The revised “Kenite Hypothesis” described above is just the tip of the iceberg of the potential changes which would follow. So the question becomes not whether this historical construction is correct, but if it is even legitimate based on the Egyptian, not biblical, evidence.

Passover and Pharaoh Smites the Enemy

Narmer's Palette

To understand historical Passover it must be placed in the context of Egyptian violence. Egyptologists who avoid the Exodus like the plague do not do this. Biblical scholars who know that there was no historical Passover do not do this either. They confine themselves to literary and/or ritual studies. However to understand historical Yahweh smites the Pharaoh’s men, one must understand the ideology and action of Pharaoh smites the enemy which Passover turns topsy turvy.

THE VIOLENCE OF A MA’AT-BASED WORLD

In her new book The Good Kings: Absolute Power in Ancient Egypt and the Modern World (Washington D.C., National Geographic, 2021), Egyptologist Kara Cooney refers to herself as a recovering Egyptologist from an abusive relationship. She does so in her opening chapter entitled “We Are all Pharaoh’s Groupies.” She states, “I work in a field of apologists who believe in an Egypt of truth, beauty, and power—and in many ways, I am still an adherent to my chosen faith.”

Now her eyes have been opened to the truth of ancient Egypt… or so she claims. One example she cites is the treatment of ma’at. Generally, Egyptologists understand this term positively. By this perception, Cooney is referring to the traditional view that posits ma’at as an expression of the best of Egyptian culture. It reflects understanding of the harmonious and ordered universe in contrast to the ever-present chaos which threatens it. After all, who wouldn’t favor the ordered sense of well-being of a society governed by the rules of ma’at to the disorganized world of chaos?

Cooney’s concern is for the always-overlooked flip side of ma’at in the real world. For Pharaoh, ma’at a tool of control. It is an authoritarian political ideology that justifies the power to oppress. In other words, it provides the ruler with carte blanche to act against those who disrupt ma’at as the forces of chaos. Specifically, smiting the enemy is “a necessary cruelty against those who harm the king’s people.” She sees Narmer’s Palette as celebrating the horrific subject matter while the moment of carnage itself is not displayed by the artisans. Cooney concludes that “ancient Egypt seemed better at hiding how cruel they could be, masking the viciousness with a morality that communicated a necessity for pain in search of what was right.”

Cooney focuses on the practical application of the doctrine of ma’at by a ruling king. She observes that in “ancient Egypt the most violent rhetoric occurred in textual form and not in visual imagery.” She refers to the laudatory hymns and dramatic reenactments of battles. In my book, The Exodus: An Egyptian Story, I present the skull of Seqenenre as a striking example of the physical reality of “Pharaoh strikes the enemy.” The (racist) failure to recognize the skull as such derives from the refusal of Egyptologists to accept the kings of the 15th Dynasty as real Pharaohs.

Pharaoh himself does not of course do the smiting in Egypt. He has people to do the dirty deed. Cooney claims “the elites were the ones actually tasked with creating the blood and gore.” Without intending to, Cooney has identified the people who died in the historical Passover. The very people tasked by Pharaoh with the responsibility for smiting Moses and his supporters were the ones who were smited first instead.

Cooney concludes, “I, myself, have been co-opted, unable to recognize the propaganda that the ancient Egyptians were creating.” And all this is just chapter one. The rest of the book describes the violence perpetrated by leading royal figures—Khufu, Senwosret III, Akhnaton, Ramses II, and Piankhy. Her observations about Ramses II are particularly relevant to understanding the historical Exodus but outside the scope of this blog.

After this review of the savage brutal, and violent reigns of these kings, Cooney closes with some devastating comments about her field and her complicity in it.

           We Egyptologists are members of the ancient Egyptian law-and-order party.

            We Egyptologists often become apologists for a return to good kingship as the only thing that can save people from themselves.

            In effect, the ancient Egyptians have hoodwinked us into believing that those periods of monarchical centralization were exactly the times when most ancient Egyptians themselves would have preferred to live … [because] the ideology of authoritarianism is seductive.

            The Book of Gates incantation connects the patriarch’s [Pharaoh] use of violence to maintain a cosmic purpose.

She tells her grad students that Egyptology is dead. She herself is a “recovering Egyptologist. She acknowledges how the clever ideology of Egyptian Pharaohs worked on her mind and now recognizes how Egyptologists acquiesce to these ancient spin doctors. “[A]lmost all our scholarship is uncritically supportive of authoritarian policies. Unfortunately her book was published the same month as mine and I was unable to incorporate her comments especially on Ramses and the use of the term “Intermediate” by Egyptologists into it. Fortunately she was willing to write an endorsement of the book (see below).

STOCKHOLM SYNDROME

The very question of the existence of sanctioned murder in ancient Egyptian is a contentious one. Egyptologists who have studied this aspect of Egyptian life have expressed obstacles against this recognition that Egyptians ceremonially killed other Egyptians in public. The very idea touches a raw nerve – the sacrifice of humans is abhorrent so how could the civilized ancient Egyptians have done it?

… the more a topic touches on the scholars’ religious and political viewpoints, the less they are able or willing to evaluate the evidence as objectively as possible. The same is true of topics that touch on subjects to which we have strong emotional reactions (Kerry Muhlestein, Violence in the service of order: The religious framework for sanctioned killing in ancient Egypt, British Archaeological Reports International Series 2299, Oxford: Archaeopress, 2011).

Muhlestein is referring here not to the Exodus but to the perception among scholars that they, the cultured educated intellectuals of Western Civilization view themselves as the “cultural inheritors of Egypt.” They therefore put on “intellectual blinders” so as not to see their cultural ancestors engaged in such repellent behavior. The challenge then, according to Muhlestein, is to confront the historical reality that ancient Egypt engaged in public human sacrifice and to understand it in the Egyptian context. Laurel Bestock cautions that one should resist the temptation to interpret Egyptian imagery of violence as a direct report of actual events. The imagery is part of a larger ideologically driven narrative and not true to history (Violence and Power in Ancient Egypt: Images and Ideology before the New Kingdom (Routledge: New York, 2018).

However, even as Bestock cautions us she lays the groundwork for royal violence. The king is the figure of power. She declares that everyone else is, at least potentially, violently subject to him. The Egyptian values of kingship require a king to be violently physically dominant. The very right to smash heads was an exclusive power of the king. She wonders if smiting scenes were part of a royal ceremony, a drama that included named characters with set roles. Still, this definition of kingship certainly is suggestive that such violence occurred in the physical world and not just metaphorically or theatrically.

The smiting scenes demand careful scrutiny. Related to these scenes of sanctioned murder are the scenes of brutality and pain preceding the act. Mark Janzen refers to these scenes as the “iconography of humiliation.” The king communicated his dominance over foreign captives often through degrading imagery. The victims are shown in tortuous poses of humiliating helplessness (The Iconography of Humiliation: The Depiction and Treatment of Bound Foreigners in New Kingdom Egypt, The University of Memphis, PhD Thesis, 2013). Janzen has collected examples of these bound foreigners. We know that horror movies still draw today. The famous smiting scene from “Psycho” has become part of American mythology. But for the ancient Egyptian such images of cruel pain and horrible death were sanctioned … and by the king!

Instruction to Merikare (Middle Kingdom)

The hothead is an inciter of citizens,
He creates factions among the young;
If you find that citizens adhere to him,

Denounce him before the councilors,
Suppress [him], he is a rebel,
The talker is a troublemaker for the city,
Curb the multitude, suppress its heat,
… (Miriam Lichtheim, Egyptian Literature, Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1975).

These instructions to a king warn of the danger of the hotheaded rebel who can rouse the multitude. One presumes the warning to the king was offered because such situations had arisen in Egypt. Those occurrences are not likely to have been part of the official records of the king.

The focus then shifts to the punishment of disrupters of ma’at. After the text specifies what the king must do maintain ma’at, the Instructions states:

Thus will the land be well-ordered;
Except for the rebel whose plans are found out,
For god knows the treason plotters,
God smites the rebels in blood.
 He who is silent toward violence diminishes the offerings.
God will attack the rebel for the sake of the temple,
He will be overcome for what he has done

One hardly needs to be an Egyptologist to recognize that in this world it is the king who is called upon in these Instructions to the king to be the one to implement the punishment against the rebels. To rebel against the king is to pay for it with your life.

I speculate that within the Egyptian context, Moses was the heated man. He was the hothead. He was the rebel. He was an inciter of citizens. He created factions. He violated ma’at. Therefore, one should expect Pharaoh to seek to respond to this heated man in accordance with Egyptian rules.

I speculate that Ramses correctly regarded Moses as an Apophis, a disrupter of ma’at. Therefore he decided to treat the hot headed rebel in accordance with Egyptian customs.

I speculate that Ramses intended to act at dawn of New Year against Moses and his followers when Sekhmet/Mut, the goddess of plagues and disease, acted as the destroyer of humanity. Moses knew this and did not wait to die before the face of Pharaoh (sunrise) would appear again.

Historical Passover where Yahweh smites Pharaoh’s tasked killers should be understood within this context of Pharaoh smites the enemy who disrupts ma’at.

Ramses II and the Coronavirus: Lessons from the Pharaoh of the Exodus

Pharaoh Smites the Coronavirus Plague (Art of Daniela Rutica https://www.facebook.com)

A stunning archaeological discovery sheds new light on the life and times of the great ancient Egyptian builder and his modern counterpart. This unexpected and vividly-colored treasure shows Ramses II smiting the coronavirus. He is depicted in the traditional Egyptian pose for defeating the forces of chaos that threatened the stability and order of the country. This plague is no match for the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Like a miracle it will just disappear. Soon.

In case there was any doubt about the identity of the triumphant Pharaoh, a second discovery confirms it.

1974 passport so Ramses could be flown to France for repair (https://www.ancient-origins.net)

With proof positive that the king in question really is Ramses II, there is no doubt that he is the wartime leader who was victorious against the coronavirus…plus it proves he can vote in the Georgia elections.

Astute readers may suspect that Ramses II really did not fight the coronavirus. True enough. But he did have a moment of truth that called into question his fitness to be Pharaoh. The incident in question was the Battle of Qadesh. It was fought around 1275 BCE in what today is Syria. The foe was the Hittites from Anatolia now Turkey. For its time, it was a superpower showdown, a rare direct confrontation on land between the two major powers of the region.

At the time, Year 5 of his 67 year reign, Ramses was comparatively new to the throne. He followed a successful father who was a strong military figure. Although Ramses did not have bonespurs, he did have a strong need to prove himself as an alpha male.

So off he went with 20,000 soldiers marching across Sinai and Canaan into Syria. This army was an impressive force on a scale rarely seen. Along the way, some spies from the other side were captured. They provided intel on the movements of the Hittites. It was bogus intel and part of a ruse. As a result, Ramses charged full steam into a trap. He barely escaped with his life thanks in part to the first time in human history when the “cavalry” arrived in the nick of time.

Ramses, who was the most modest person in human history until now, described his escape as follows:

My shield bearer saw the vast number of enemy chariots hemming me in, he blanched and fear gripped him. He cried out to My Majesty, “…we stand alone amidst the foe…” Then said His Majesty, “Stand firm, steady yourself my shield bearer. I shall go for them like the pounce of a falcon, killing, slaughtering, and felling them to the ground. I Alone Can Fix It”

Ramses then strode forward looking like one of Patton’s tanks lumbering across the countryside until victory was his. The Syrian Square belonged to him. He dominated it.

My army came to praise me, [amazed] at seeing what I had done. ‘I like this stuff. I really get it. ‘People are surprised that I understand it. ‘Every one of these generals said: “How do you know so much about this fighting?” Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have gone into the military instead of running for president.’ I took on millions of foreign lands, I …alone fighting the foreign armies.

So great was his victory that Ramses displayed it throughout the land in living color. Giant billboards of Egypt’s action hero appeared everywhere so the people could bask in the brilliance of their wartime king who had vanquished the forces of chaos.

Not exactly. There was a battle. The consensus among Egyptologists that at best for Egypt, the battle was a draw. Ramses failed to make any headway against the Hittites. However that did not prevent him from rating his performance a “10” and declaring he would not do anything differently. And that is the message his Fox propaganda network communicated to the Egyptian people throughout the land on its billboards.

What are the lessons for today?

INTERNATIONAL ARENA

Part of the reason Egyptologists don’t accept the government propaganda version of the battle is because an alternate version survives. Not only did the Hittites remain in Syria, not dislodged by the Egyptian king, they knew the message of the Egyptian propaganda. Later the Hittite king Muwatallis objected to the Egyptian portrayal of the battle: You fought alone? Really? Why should I trust you now in our treaty negotiations when you can’t even tell the truth about the battle? But Ramses wouldn’t budge. He insisted his version was the truth.

Credibility is an important part of international diplomacy. So is competence. Ramses could say whatever he wanted in the domestic arena. But outside the area he controlled, the view of him was quite different.

When people in the lands of Canaan, Russia, and China, realized that the king and superpower had failed they reacted as you would expect them to have reacted. They saw an opportunity to free themselves from Egyptian rule and they took it.

Here’s what I wrote over one year ago:

The rest of the world is already ahead of the Trumpicans. They learned that THE DONALD is merely a character in the professional wrestling arena and not a real person. They know when Bonespur Boy is forced to go into the arena in the real world that he will back down.

“If we were to believe everything Trump has said for the past three years, there would have been war with China, North Korea and Mexico,” said Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic. “The guy’s a joke, he’s not serious. We don’t know if these threats are something to believe in, or just another of his many stunts.” (Iran Does Not Watch Fox: The Real World and the 2020 Elections, June 19, 2019)

Even before the coronavirus, he was a laughing stock. People laughed at him to his face at the General Assembly; they told jokes about him behind his back at international gatherings; they flew baby Trump blimps of him. Now Little Donnee Disinfectant has provided on indelible image of how much of a simple-minded ignorant immature child he really is. He is a buffoon everywhere even on Russian television. The proof that the world no longer takes him seriously can be seen in the actions of Russia and China. They know he is a weakling, a loser, and have no fear of him. Finally the European Union has called his bluff on coronavirus “happy talk”: Americans are not welcome here unless they quarantine first.

THE BELTWAY

Regarding Ramses false propaganda in the Battle of Qadesh, Egyptologist Mark Janzen wrote:

Yet there must have been numerous individuals ⸺ soldiers, officials, etc., ⸺ who knew the truth of the situation, namely that the campaign was unsuccessful…and word of this must have spread.

The same here. Inside the White House and the Beltway, how stupid a human being would you have to be not know that the President of the United States was a simple-minded ignorant immature child? Think of the books which have been published. Think of the recent disclosure by Carl Bernstein about the transcripts of the phone calls with international leaders. Did Anonymous leak those transcripts? Are the adult professionals in the White House tired of having this seventh-grade-smart-aleck-dumb-aleck constantly berate and belittle people for doing their jobs? Have they had it with the transfer/firing of people who placed loyalty to the Constitution and the security of the country above loyalty to a person solely focused on his reelection, who defers to alpha males, and who conducts himself like a narcissistic infant?

There is a limit to how long you can live a lie. There comes a time when all the “happy talk,” miracles, and embers just doesn’t cut it. Trumpican governors in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Texas have reached that point. They no longer have the option of being good vassals to the crown. His imaginary world doesn’t cut it in the real world. They can’t go along with the government propaganda anymore. They can’t pretend the battle was won … especially if anyone in their state wants to travel to Europe for business or pleasure. Who knows what parts of the world will quarantine them next. So much time lost. So much time wasted. So many people dead. All because they went along with the hype that the very stable genius had things under control.

THE TRUMPICANS  

That leaves just the people to catch on to the truth. Ramses disseminated his message of victory throughout the land using stone. Now the failed leader uses Twitter and Fox. Trumpicans like the ancient Egyptians and mainland Chinese receive their news only from one source – the government propaganda machine. The ancient Egyptian people never caught on to Ramses’s shortcomings. The American people who voted for him in 2016 are starting to catch on. They are recognizing that the country they love is now a world laughingstock. They are recognizing that the hospitals in their communities are being overwhelmed. They are slowly learning that real men do wear masks and real Americans can become infected and die. They know they can’t go to Europe. And if the Democrats aren’t buying commercials on Fox to connect Trumpicans to the real world, then their intelligence can be questioned, too. The coronavirus keeps spreading in the real world. We are not Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Uganda or Europe. We are a loser and all the world knows it. Even Trumpicans are learning it too: our leader failed us and he still hasn’t learned it.

 

P.S. There is one other alternate source of information about the reign of Ramses II, Pharaoh of the Exodus. Unfortunately Cecil B. DeMille didn’t include the Battle of Kadesh or the Canaanite uprisings in his version. That’s another movie.

400 Years a Slave

400 Hundred Year Stele Line Drawing (Wikipedia)

400 years is in the news. The time period has been the topic of some tweets and interviews by Kanye West in relation to slavery in the United States. Putting aside the Emancipation Proclamation, the 400 year time period of Middle-Passage blacks in America calls to mind other 400 year periods in American history.

  • In 1893, America celebrated the Columbus quadricentennial one year late in a famous exposition in Chicago
  • In 2007, Jamestown celebrated its quadricentennial including a royal visit from England
  • In 2009, New York, Vermont, and Canada celebrated the quadricentennial of Henry Hudson and Samuel Champlain including a royal visit from the Netherlands
  • In 2011, Protestants especially in the United States and the United Kingdom celebrated the quadricentennial of the publication off the King James Version of the Bible.

 

400 year anniversaries are a big deal. They involve long memories and cultural continuity.

In biblical terms, the 400 year time period is well known and for its connection to slavery:

Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years (Genesis 15:13).

But is not the only 400-year period known from ancient times. As it turns out there is another memory of a 400-year period and from Pharaoh Ramses II, the traditional pharaoh of the Exodus. Ramses II honored the legacy of the Hyksos in Egypt commemorating their sojourn in the land in year 400, month 4, season 3, day 4 on an artifact appropriately called the Four Hundred Year Stele. The idea that there is a connection between these two 400-year traditions from the 17th to 13th centuries BCE involving West Semites in the Delta in the time of Ramses is not new. The connection between the two cultural memories was the subject of my paper last November at the annual conference of the American Schools of Oriental Research (to be published as “The Hyksos and the Exodus: Two 400-Year Stories,” in Richard Beal and Joann Scurlock, ed., What Difference Does Time Make? [Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns]).

Let’s examine the significance of the number and then turn to the issue of connections. To begin with there is the number four. Assyriologist Piotr Michalowski observes:

Not to be content to be kings of Sumer and Akkad, these [Akkadian] rulers added still another forceful epithet, “king of the four corners of the universe,” or, in Sumerian, “kings of the heaven’s four corners,” in a sense driving home the notion of “everything.”1

This sense of “everything” through the use of “four” continued across the millennia in Mesopotamian times from Akkadians to Assyrians.

Four certainly is known in the biblical tradition and in the same cosmic sense. There are the four rivers of the garden encompassing the world (Gen. 2:10). There are the four cities Nimrod rules encompassing the empires from in the beginning to the present of the author if one dismisses Egypt (Gen. 10:8-10). There are the four kingdoms of chaos who are defeated by the warrior-shepherd(/king) of Hebron in this version of the cosmos and chaos tradition (Gen. 14). And there are the four kingdoms in the Daniel tradition (Daniel 7:2-7) thereby raising the perennial question of who would be the fifth kingdom. These examples all attest to the cosmic dimension of the number 4 and its sense of completeness.

Raising the number four by a factor of ten continues the metaphorical not literal dimension of numbers. Forty also is number well-known from the biblical tradition in a variety of examples and settings. It rains for forty nights and forty days (Gen. 7:4, 12, and 17; 8:6). Israel wanders in the wilderness for forty years (Ex. 16:35; Num. 14:33-34; 32:13; Deut. 2:7; 8:2, 4; 29:5; Josh. 5:6; Neh. 9:21; Ps. 95;10; Amos 5:25; Acts 13:18; Heb. 3:9, 17). Moses and Elijah were on the mountain for forty days and forty nights (Ex. 24:18; 34:28; Deut. 9:9, 11, 18; 10:10; I Kings 19:8). There are additional examples of the use of forty as well.

The extensive use of the number 40 across a wide range of times, people, and circumstances suggests some intrinsic value was associated with the number 40 beyond a literal meaning. My sense of the usage is that 4 x 10 also implies a totality, the completion or fulfillment of a measure of time, a way of marking periods or cycles, and is not to be taken literally. It signifies the right amount in time or for an action. God forbid Hazael should have brought 41 camel loads (II Kings 8:9) or Moses and Elijah should have remained on the mountain top for only 39 days and nights. Those actions would have disrupted the cosmic order. The audience expected 40.

The number 40 also is attested outside the biblical narrative. In the Mesha Stele, Mesha, the king of Moab, declares that Israel had ruled over the land of Moab for forty years.

Omri had taken possession of the land of Medeba, and dwelled there his days and much of his son’s days, forty years.

The more challenging question is to determine how it came to be that Mesha used the same number used so frequently in biblical accounts. In this regard, the task is similar to that between the two usages of 400 by Ramses and the story of oppression in Egypt ending with Ramses. The idea that there is no connection between the biblical 40 and 400 and the non-biblical usages by Mesha and Ramses would be considered farfetched in any discipline other than biblical studies.

Ramses didn’t only use 400 years in the appropriately named “Four Hundred Year Stele.” He also used 4 for the day and the month. He probably would have used four for the season too except Egypt only had three. Egyptologist James Hoffmeier characterizes this dating as “odd, raising the possibility of some sort of symbolism.”2 The stele commemorates the action of his father Seti I infusing the Baal-Seth identity in the new Egyptian capital at Avaris at the birth of the new dynasty. In a sense, the action officially demarcated the cessation of the Amarna Era (chaos) and the primacy of the Baal-Seth deity at Avaris (order) over the Amun-Re deity at Thebes in the 18th Dynasty. All these machinations automatically have political overtones. While the politics of the birth of the 19th Dynasty are beyond the scope of this post, one should remain cognizant that those developments form the backdrop to the Four Hundred Year Stele.

Again my sense is this higher factor of 4 and 102 signifies a unit of completion or perfection. In this case, Ramses is referring to a period of time or cycle that presumably has now concluded. I propose that in the Four Hundred Stele, Ramses sought to merge the two traditions as his father had. The time of the onset of the new Egyptian dynasty was the time of the completion of a period in history. He integrated the Hyksos timeline into the Egyptian one. Instead of the Hyksos ruling during an “intermediate period” as in Egyptology today, the Hyksos were the beginning of a cycle which concluded with the post-Amarna restoration. What had been separate now became one. Baal began both periods in history. From this point forward, the two peoples were chronologically merged into a single timeline in Egyptian history. It was morning in Egypt. Here comes the sun on a new day in Egyptian history. Ramses had delivered a political message in his present through the metaphorical values of the numbers he chose to publicly proclaim in the organization of temporal epochs.

Egyptologist Hans Goedicke dates the Four Hundred Year stele to shortly after year 34 in the reign of Ramses. He asks:

Why should Ramses in the second half of his reign suddenly have an urge to foster the legitimacy of his rule and that of his family, after they had occupied the throne for more than fifty years?3

I propose that the origins of the stele are to be found in the aftermath of the Battle of Kadesh during the reign of Ramses II.

This famous battle between Egypt and the Hittites in Year 5 of the reign of Ramses II is famous for important reasons:

  1. the size of the armed forces in a Bronze Age battle was huge and rare
  2. the numerous descriptions of the battle in image and text by Ramses II
  3. the existence of an alternate vision of the battle by the Hittites
  4. the ineptitude of the new Pharaoh in falling into a trap
  5. the rescue of Ramses by a Semitic military contingent
  6. the motifs used by Egypt which could be appropriated by others for their own purposes.

 

Just as Waterloo and D-Day live on in the cultural memory of western civilization so too Egypt’s two main battles in the Levant, Thutmose III at Megiddo and Ramses II at Kadesh lived on in the cultural memory of the Canaanites.

There were geopolitical consequences to the battle. Egyptologist Donald Redford claims that after the battle of Kadesh:

Headmen of Canaanite towns, vassals of Egypt, were impressed by what they divined as inherent weaknesses in Pharaoh’s forces: poor intelligence and a tendency to panic. Rebellion was possible; Egypt could be beaten….In the wake of the retreating Egyptians, all Canaan flared into open revolt….It was Ramesses’s darkest hour.4

Redford limits this awareness to Canaanites in the land of Canaan. Redford is correct about Canaanites revolting in the land of Canaan following Ramses’s poor performance as commander in chief.  The destruction in Hazor is simply the most prominent example of the “Canaanite spring,” the unrest Ramses now had to face in land of Canaan.

Meanwhile, all was not quiet on the home front either. As Thomas Thompson astutely comments on the significance of the battle of Kadesh beyond the battle itself.

After this defeat, Ramses II’s army was racked with revolts. It had borne the brunt of the cost of his expensive misadventure….Civil unrest and religious opposition at home was doubly encouraged….A series of plots and intrigues by court factions bitter over the military failure at Kadesh effectively paralyzed royal authority and its control of import groups within the army.5

One might take issue to the extent to which unrest and intrigue occurred, but the basic thrust of the observation appears valid. Kadesh exposed the shortcomings the leader of the country and people responded to that weakness. Thompson has honed in on the precise time when the potential for disruption of ma’at in the political arena had occurred.

I propose that that it was this very disruption which led to the two 400-year traditions in Egypt and Israel. Baruch Halpern suggests that if the Israelites scribes knew the 400 Year stele, that such knowledge is evidence of the portrayal of Israel as Hyksos and the identification of Ramses as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. He asserts the Israelites linked themselves to the memory of the Hyksos in Egypt probably during the time of Solomon when relationships between the two countries were good and monuments were being relocated from Goshen/Avaris to Tanis where the 400-year stele ultimately was found.6 He does not appear to consider the possibility that the some Hyksos actually led the people who left Egypt in the time of Ramses II and that therefore these linkages were always part of the Israelite cultural heritage right from the start. After his failure at Kadesh and the departure of Hyksos Levites and others to liberate the land of Canaan from Egyptian hegemony, Ramses sought to shore up his support with the Hyksos who had remained in the land with the Four Hundred Year Stele. The Hyksos Levites who had left Egypt after the Battle of Kadesh and then became Israelite later incorporated that event into their own cultural memory. After all, they too had been in the land of Egypt for 400 years before they left. Once you realize that the Levites were Hyksos all the pieces fall into place.

 

Notes

  1. Piotr Michalowski, “Masters of the Four Corners of the Heavens: Views of the Universe in Early Mesopotamian Writings,” in Kurt A. Raaflaub and Richard J.A. Talbert., ed., Geography and Ethnography: Perceptions of the World in Pre-modern Societies (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 147-168, here 153.
  2. James K. Hoffmeier, “What Is the Biblical Date for the Exodus? A Response to Bryant Wood,” JETS 50 2007:225-247, here 238n.74.
  3. Hans Goedicke, “Some Remarks on the 400-Year Stela,” CdE 41 1966:23-37, here 24.
  4. Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 185.
  5. Thomas L. Thompson, The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 153.
  6. Baruch Halpern, The Exodus from Egypt: Myth or Reality,” in Hershel Shanks, William G. Dever, Baruch Halpern, P. Kyle McCarter, The Rise of Ancient Israel: Symposium at the Smithsonian Institution, October 26, 1991 (Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeological Society, 1992), 86-117, here 98-101; and Baruch Halpern, “Fracturing the Exodus, as Told by Edward Everett Horton,” in Thomas E. Levy, Thomas Schneider, and William H. C. Propp, ed. Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective: Text, Archaeology, Culture, and Geoscience (New York: Springer, 2015), 293-304,  here 299.