Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Hashkafa, History, and the Hyksos

Over the past three weeks we been reading the Torah portions that cover the story of Joseph and his brothers. An interesting aspect of these events that is often overlooked is their context in Egyptian history. First, some background.

For a period of some hundred-plus years, ancient Egypt was ruled by a foreign group known as the Hyksos, also called the shepherd-kings. The Hyksos were a Semitic people, as opposed to the native Egyptians who descended from Ham (Gen 10:6). The Hyksosian Pharoahs had names that were Cannanite in origin; in fact one of them is even believed have taken his name from the Hebraic "Jacob". The Hyksos period in Egyptian history ended when native Egyptian rule was fully restored with the 18th Dynasty, beginning around 1580 BCE, give or take a decade or so.

Several modern Jewish sources suggest that the pharaoh who promoted Joseph and showed hospitality towards the Hebrew people was a Hyksos. Conversely, the "new king" who enslaved the Jews after Joseph's generation had died out (Exod 1) was a native Egyptian, who was eager to repudiate not only his Semitic predecessors but their favored, distantly related Hebrew kin.

This theory sounds convincing, but is it consistent with the dates presented in the Torah?

My answer is yes, with the following caveat. It is generally accepted by Modern Orthodox scholars - and even "frummer" sources like the Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's Living Torah chumash - that the current Jewish calendar is understated by about 165 years. This is because our calendar is based on the Midrash that the 2nd Temple stood for only 420 years, where we know historically that its construction began in 516 BCE and it was destroyed in 70 CE, a span of 585 years. Thus, the current year should really be 5931 (5766 + 165) from Creation (CR) and the year 1 CE corresponds to 3926 CR.

Now, it can be directly calculated from the dates given in Genesis that Jacob and family came down to Egypt in the year 2238 CR. The slavery didn't start until the last of Joseph's brothers died (Exod 1:6); this is generally understood to be Levi. Levi was around 44-45 years old when he entered Egypt, since Joseph was 39 then and had been the last of 11 brothers to be born in a seven-year period (see Gen 29-30), where Levi was the third such. We are also told (Exod 6:16) that Levi died at the age of 137. Thus, the slavery began no earlier than the year 2330 CR (2238 + 137 - 45), which corresponds to 1596 BCE.

There is also a midrash that the slavery started when, or somewhat before, Miriam was born. According to the Talmudic chronology, this was in the year 2361 CR (seven years before Moses' birth), or 1565 BCE.

Thus, the time that the slavery began according to the chronology given in the Torah and Talmud, exactly corresponds to the period when the 18th Egyptian dynasty began. In fact, the estimated date of 1580 BCE for that dynasty's rise, falls precisely in the middle of the lower (1596) and upper (1565) limits of the traditional dates for slavery's start!

With all the difficulty that Modern Orthodox scholars have harmonizing the earlier chapters of Genesis with current scientific belief (see here e.g. and many other brilliant, disconcerting posts on the same site), it's nice to see that in one regard, history and hashkafa coincide perfectly - thanks to the Hyksos!

Addendum: The idea that Joseph's Pharaoh was a Hyksos also helps explain an seeming contradiction in yesterday's parsha. Joseph tells his brothers that all shepherds are an abomination to the Egyptians (Gen 46:34), yet just a few verses later (47:6), Pharaoh himself apparently has flocks and offers the brothers the job of shepherding them! But based on the above, this makes perfect sense, as Pharaoh in fact was not an "Egyptian", but a foreign Hyksos "Shepherd-King"!


At 1/9/06, 8:01 AM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der ┼íteg) said...

Very interesting!

I had the same idea about Yoseif's Pharoah's flocks myself.

At 2/7/06, 2:42 AM, Anonymous Georg said...

When visiting the Cairo museum, I saw there the sculpture of a Hyksos pharaoh.
His face with his high cheek bones and slitted eyes really looked like a mongolian.

On the contrary, everywhere you read - as in this blog - that the Hyksos were people from not so far away. May be but what about this mongolian looks??

Do you know something about this??


At 7/8/09, 2:28 PM, Blogger arabisraelites said...


Is there
a) a list that shows all of the Egyptian Pharoahs that were in Egypt the same time as the Hyksos

b) a list of all the Hyksos rulers from first to last

c) What scriptures do you have that indicate those in the context may have been Hyksos?

d) Where is the statue in Egypt identified as a Hyksos?

Thanks Sam


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