|Biblical Egypt||by R. David Pogge|
Most of what Americans know about Passover and the Exodus is based on the 1956 movie, “The Ten Commandments.” Therefore, most of what people know about Passover and the Exodus is wrong.
According to the movie, Moses was raised by the daughter of Ramesses I. He was a prince who became a great general in the Egyptian army. The truth is, Moses was not an Egyptian prince, and he never commanded the Egyptian army.
When Moses was 40 years old, he killed an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew slave, and fled to Midian. That’s one of the few things in the movie that is true.
According to the movie, when Moses returned 40 years later, Ramesses I had died and Moses’ “brother,” Ramesses II was on the throne. Since Ramesses II was the son of Ramesses I, he would have been Moses’ uncle, not his brother—if the movie were true; but the movie isn’t true. The sibling rivalry between Moses and Ramesses II is pure fiction.
There are other oral traditions about the Hebrews’ time in Egypt, with little or no evidence to back them up. These fictional accounts are not consistent with what is known from archeology. The true story can be found by correlating biblical history with the history modern Egyptologists have pieced together from tomb paintings and ancient papyri.
Biblical chronology puts the Exodus at roughly 1446 BC. There are several respected Egyptian chronologies, which differ slightly from each other; but they all say Ramesses I started the 19th Dynasty approximately 1290 BC, about 156 years after the Exodus. Comparing biblical and Egyptian chronologies tells us that the Exodus happened near the beginning of the 18th Dynasty.
Although the published dates aren’t precise enough for us to tell which pharaoh was in power when the Exodus happened, scholars now know enough about the 18th Dynasty pharaohs, their wives and their children, that we can figure it out.
Here’s the whole story of how the Hebrews came to live in Egypt, were enslaved, then freed from bondage, and how Passover commemorates their Exodus:
Egyptians are descendants of Noah’s son, Ham—but during the Second Intermediate Period (the 13th through 17th Dynasties) Egypt was ruled for 212 years by foreigners. For the last 90 years of this period, they were ruled by the Hyksos. The Hyksos were descendants of Noah’s son, Shem. (The descendants of Shem are called, “Semites.”)
The Second Intermediate Period is a part of their history the Egyptians wanted to forget. They tried to pretend that it never even happened. They destroyed everything they could that reminded them of the Second Intermediate Period as soon as it ended. That’s why not much is known from Egyptian sources about the names of the Hyksos pharaohs and what they did.
The Bible tells us that Joseph was one of twelve sons of a Hebrew (a Semite) named Israel. Joseph was a slave in Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period. God gave the pharaoh a dream which nobody but Joseph could interpret. Joseph told the pharaoh that the dream predicted seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. This allowed the pharaoh to use the seven years of plenty to prepare for the seven years of famine.
The unknown foreign pharaoh grew wealthy at the expense of all the surrounding nations (and the native Egyptians, too) by selling them the grain he had stored. He rewarded his fellow Semite, Joseph, by promoting him to be his second-in-command, and gave him the land of Goshen where Israel, and all his descendants, lived and prospered.
Twenty-four years after Joseph died, the Egyptians drove the Hyksos out of Egypt, ending the Second Intermediate Period, and put an Egyptian on the throne. This period of Egyptian history is called the “New Kingdom,” which began with the 18th Dynasty.
Tuthmosis III was the fifth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. During the 137 years between Joseph and Tuthmosis, the Hebrew population in Egypt had grown significantly. Because the Egyptians had done everything they could to eliminate the memory of the Second Intermediate Period, Tuthmosis “knew not Joseph.” Tuthmosis no longer appreciated what Joseph had done for Egypt, and was worried about the number of Hebrews living in Egypt. Fearing another period of foreign domination, he enslaved the Hebrews and ordered all Hebrew male babies to be killed at birth.
The Bible says that shortly after Moses was born, his mother put him in a basket and set him adrift in the Nile river, while Moses’ sister watched over him, hoping an Egyptian would take pity, rescue, and adopt him, to keep him from being killed. One of Tuthmosis’ daughters did just that. But which one?
Tuthmosis III was married to Meryetre, who was the daughter of his father, Tuthmosis II. (Brother/sister incest was common in Egypt in New Kingdom times.) Their son, Amenhotep II, had royal bloodlines back to Thutmose II through both his mother and father, so he was next in line for the throne.
Tuthmosis III had six other wives besides Meryetre (who had the title, “Great King’s Wife”). Three of his minor wives, Menwi, Merti, and Menhet, were probably Syrian (and therefore, Semitic). Perhaps these were diplomatic marriages to assure peace with Syria. Since they weren’t Egyptians, and had no Egyptian royal blood, they weren’t as important as Meryetre. Little is known about them. Nothing is known about their children, if they had any. One of these three Syrian wives of Tuthmosis III could have had a daughter who might have been inclined to adopt a Hebrew baby boy because of their Semitic kinship. The Bible doesn’t specify which of Tuthmosis’ daughters rescued Moses. The Bible just says he was rescued by one of pharaoh’s daughters. Moses was raised as an Egyptian in the household of the pharaoh; but as an adopted son (probably of a Syrian wife) he had no chance of becoming the next pharaoh. He wasn’t a prince or a military hero. When Tuthmosis III died, and Amenhotep II became pharaoh, two-year-old Moses was not a serious contender for the throne.
Amenhotep II reigned for about 30 years, so Moses was about 32 when Amenhotep died and Tuthmosis IV came to power. Tuthmosis had eight brothers born to the same royal wife (Tiaa A) who had far more claim to the throne than Moses had. Moses was just the adopted son of the daughter of one of the minor wives of Tuthmosis’ grandfather. Moses was certainly not the rival for the throne that Hollywood movies suggest.
About eight years later, when Moses was 40 years old, he killed an Egyptian and fled to the desert (Midian) for 40 years. Amenhotep III was 11 years old at the time.
Tuthmosis died two years after Moses fled to Midian. He was succeeded by Amenhotep III, who reigned for 38 years before Moses returned to set God’s people free.
Amenhotep III was about 50 years old, and had been pharaoh for about 38 years, when an 80-year-old man (a dubiously royal cousin, who had left Egypt in disgrace 40 years before, when Amenhotep was 11 years old) came to set his people free. It is easy to understand why Amenhotep would not take Moses’ request to “Let my people Go!” seriously. Even after Moses announced nine plagues on Egypt, which God sent just as Moses predicted, Amenhotep would still not let them go.
Then God told Moses to instruct the Hebrews how to sacrifice a lamb, and put its blood on the doorposts. That evening, the tenth plague fell upon Egypt. The destroying angel entered every household and killed the firstborn son—except he PASSED OVER the Hebrew homes that had a lamb’s blood on the doorposts.
Jews celebrate Passover to commemorate the deliverance of their Hebrew ancestors. Christians associate the blood of the sacrificed lamb on the door with Jesus’ blood on the cross, the doorway to salvation.
Amenhotep had two sons. His firstborn son, Thutmose B, died that Passover night. According to the Egyptian custom, Amenhotep spent 70 days mourning his son as his body was being mummified. After 70 days, Amenhotep took the whole Egyptian army out to chase down the Hebrews. When he caught up with them, the sea was miraculously parted by the God of Abraham, allowing them to escape. Amenhotep and his army charged after them, only to be drowned when God let the water flow back where it belonged.
Because Amenhotep III and his eldest son Thutmose B died unexpectedly within days of each other, Amenhotep’s younger son, Amenhotep IV, suddenly became the new pharaoh. Most Egyptian scholars think that Amenhotep IV was ill-prepared to take the reins of government. This makes sense because Thutmose B, the firstborn son, was being groomed for the position when he died suddenly on Passover. Since Amenhotep IV did not expect to become pharaoh, he simply was not prepared for the job.
Egypt had a strong military influence during the reign of Amenhotep III, but its foreign policy was nearly nonexistent during the reign of Amenhotep IV. Some historians think that it was because Amenhotep IV was weak and unprepared for the job—and that may be part of the reason. Some think he was too preoccupied building a new capital city to care about foreign affairs, which is also plausible. Since nearly all of Egypt’s army was drowned, and it takes time to build chariots and weapons, that certainly would have weakened Egypt’s military capability. Since Amenhotep IV did not have experienced military leaders and didn't have many weapons, he was not anxious to make war against neighboring nations. Perhaps the real reason Egypt was militarily weak during his reign is “all of the above.”
Amenhotep IV is better known as “Akhenaten, The Heretic Pharaoh.” About three or four years into his reign, Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaten, which means, “Servant of the Aten.” He declared Aten to be the One True God. He closed all the temples of the other traditional Egyptian gods. He started building a new capital city (Akhetaten, “The Horizon of the Aten,” at modern-day Amarna) where no city had previously existed (and therefore had not been polluted by temples to gods other than Aten.)
Secular historians, who don’t believe the Exodus really happened (or believe it happened much later during the 19th Dynasty) have a difficult time trying to explain this radical shift in religious belief; but it makes perfect sense to those who know the Biblical account is true.
Akhenaten saw the God of Abraham send ten terrible plagues on Egypt, including one that killed his older brother. The Hebrew god miraculously parted the sea, allowing the Hebrews to cross safely, then caused the water to return to normal, drowning the entire Egyptian army, and his father. He naturally would have believed that the God of Abraham is mightier than all the Egyptian gods combined! It makes perfect sense that he would worship that one god. But since secular Egyptologists don’t believe the biblical account is true, they just can’t figure out why Amenhotep changed his name and worshipped only Aten, the Egyptian god nearly identical to the God of Abraham.
Aten was not the same as Amun (or Amun-Ra), who was the Egyptian god of the Sun. Unlike all other Egyptian gods, Aten did not have a hybrid human/animal form. He was depicted as rays of light ending with hands or ankhs (the Egyptian symbol for life). He was the creator god who made everything with his own hands, and gave life to every living thing. He was light. He was remarkably like the Hebrew god—except for his name.
Akhenaten ruled for only 16 or 17 years. About one year after his death (during which one or two other pharaohs briefly ruled) the boy king, Tutankhaten, came to the throne. Since the plagues and the Exodus happened about 9 years before Tutankhaten was born, he clearly couldn’t have remembered them. Like the Second Intermediate Period, the stunning defeat of the Egyptian army at the hands of a foreign god was something the Egyptians tried (successfully) to forget, so he probably wasn’t told about them.
The priests of Amun, the traditional Egyptian Sun god, took advantage of his youth and ignorance, and were able to regain their power and bring back Amun and the other traditional Egyptian gods. In his second year, Tutankhaten (which means, “Living image of the Aten”) changed his name to Tutankhamun (“Living image of Amun”). He is better known today to most people as “King Tut.”
Secular Egyptologists, who believe the Exodus was just a myth, wonder where Akhenaten got the idea that there is just one almighty god, who wants to be the only god worshipped, who is the light of the world, creator of everything animate and inanimate, and the giver of life. Akhenaten’s conversion makes perfect sense to us Christians. The Passover explains what secular Egyptologists find hard to understand.
Some people say the plagues never happened because there are no coffin texts or tomb paintings that mention them. This is not only an argument from silence, which is one of the weakest forms of logical arguments, it also betrays colossal ignorance about Egyptian tombs.
Egyptians built tombs as resurrection machines. Many of the coffin texts and tomb paintings were magic spells designed to help the deceased to transition from the land of the living to the realm of the dead. The rest of the paintings were magic spells, showing marvelous prosperity and happiness. The Egyptians believed that whatever was painted would happen in the afterlife. No Egyptian wanted his tomb wall painted with pictures that would make him suffer ten terrible plagues for eternity.
Furthermore, if we believed all commemorative stelas and diplomatic correspondence in the Egyptian records, we would think no pharaoh ever lost a battle. For example, Ramesses claimed victory at the battle of Kadesh. Hittite records from Hattusa, say Ramesses was forced to depart from Kadesh in defeat.
The terrible plagues and total destruction of the Egyptian army would be ignored, and certainly not mentioned in any Egyptian records or memorialized on the walls of a tomb.
Some secular scholars believe that the first five books of the Bible are fiction, written by someone claiming to be Moses around 1000 BC, to create a backstory for the new religion he invented out of thin air. Other scholars date the books of Moses even later, to the Babylonian captivity, around 600 BC. Depending upon when they date the books of Moses, they claim Moses got the idea of monotheism from Akhenaten, 400 or 800 years after Akhenaten’s death. They cite the similarity of Psalm 104 to The Great Hymn to Aten as proof.
The obvious problem with this theory is that the Egyptians did everything they could to erase the memory of Akhenaten just two or three years after he died. The talatat blocks Akhenaten used to build the temples to Aten, and his capital city, Akhetaten, were taken apart almost immediately and used as fill material inside the pylons for a new temple to Amun-Ra. The blocks were hidden from view until the 1840’s when they were discovered when the temple was being restored. Modern Egyptologists didn’t know about Akhenaten until they read the hieroglyphics on the talatat blocks hidden inside the pylons.
How would the secular scholars’ mythical Moses know about Akhenaten’s brief failed experiment with monotheism 400 to 800 years earlier? Why would he model his new religion on one that didn’t work?
Akhenaten’s conversion makes sense only if the Passover and Exodus really happened.
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