Hyksos and Lepers
“This is Manetho’s account [of the Hyksos]; and evident it is from the number of years by him set down to belong to this interval, if they be summed up together, that these shepherds, as they are here called, who were no other than our forefathers, were delivered out of Egypt, and came thence, and inhabited this country...”
Josephus, Against Apion (1.16/1.103)
“…it must be apparent that the Hebrews were never in Egypt, and that the story in the Book of Exodus had its foundation in the exploits of the Hyksos.”
Judge Parrish B. Ladd, “The Hebrews, Egypt, Moses and the Exodus,” The Humanitarian Review (5.159)
“...The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus saw the ancestors of Israel in these foreign rulers of Egypt. But there was certainly no religious conflict between the Hyksos and the Egyptians. The Hyksos were neither monotheists nor iconoclasts. On the contrary, their remaining monuments show them in conformity with the religious obligations of traditional Egyptian pharaohs, whose role they assumed in the same way as did later foreign rulers of Egypt such as the Persians, the Macedonians, and the Romans. They adhered to the cult of Baal, who was a familiar figure for the Egyptians, and they did not try to convert the Egyptians to the cult of their god. The whole concept of conversion seems absurd in the context of a polytheistic religion.”
Dr. Jan Assmann, Moses the Egyptian (24)
ALTHOUGH THE NOTION contradicts many details in the Bible, it has been surmised since antiquity that a “historical” germ of the Exodus tale may revolve around the expulsion from Egypt in the 16th century BCE of the Semitic group called the Hyksos. In this scenario, it is proposed that much material was added to the Hyksos story in the seventh century BCE, with other layers in subsequent centuries as well, to create the fictionalized Exodus tale.
Scholars such as William F. Albright, Stephen Meyer, Redford, David M. Rohl, Finkelstein and Silberman, among others, support a Hyksos historical framework for the biblical tale. The Hyksos were an Asiatic people or peoples who purportedly conquered Lower Egypt from the east during the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1700 or 1650–c. 1550 or 1441 BCE). The name has been thought since ancient times to mean “shepherd kings,” as proffered by Manetho in the third century BCE, according to Josephus, who believed the Hyksos to be his Jewish forebears. However, modern Egyptologists prefer the reading “rulers of foreign lands” or “chiefs of foreign lands” for the meaning of “Hyksos,” or heqa khoswe in the Egyptian. Israeli psychohistorian Dr. Avner Falk submits that the name “Hyksos” derives from the phrase hiq shasu or shosu, which would provide an interesting clue as to their identity.
According to Josephus (Against Apion 1.14), Manetho recounted that this barbarous and violent people from the east invaded Egypt, burned Egyptian cities, destroyed temples and slaughtered the natives. Constructing a capital in the Nile Delta at Avaris, a city dedicated to the god Set/Apophis/Typhon, these barbarians terrorized the locals, until they were expelled by the pharaoh, Ahmose I (fl. c. 1550–1525 BCE). These Hyksos occupying Lower Egypt were identified by the Jewish historian (Ap. 1.14.74ff) as the “children of Jacob who joined his son Joseph in Egypt to escape the famine in the land of Canaan.”
The Hyksos included the spectrum of society, from politicians to religious leaders to lawyers, doctors, merchants and skilled laborers, as well as riffraff with whom the bulk were identified by Manetho, who called the Hyksos “men of ignoble birth out of the eastern parts.” Or so complained Josephus, who likewise cited the Egyptian priest as associating these Hyksos with the people who settled Jerusalem.
Hence, according to the Jewish historian, Manetho’s Hyksos were the Israelites of the Exodus, although the Egyptian writer never uses the terms “Hebrews,” “Israelites” or “Jews” to describe these Asiatics. In this regard, Gmirkin remarks, “Despite a superficial resemblance to the Jewish Exodus story, it can be demonstrated that Manetho relied entirely on native Egyptian records and literature.” In other words, Manetho’s account was not based on the Old Testament and did not identify the Hyksos with the Israelites/Jews.
Conquerors or Captives?
In another book, Josephus claims, the Egyptian priest remarked that “this nation, thus called shepherds, were also called captives, in their sacred books.” After naming various Hyksos kings, Manetho comments:
And these six were the first rulers among them, who were all along making war with the Egyptians, and were very desirous gradually to destroy them to the very roots. This whole nation was styled Hycsos, that is, Shepherd-kings...
Josephus relates that “in another copy it is said that this word does not denote kings, but, on the contrary, denotes captive shepherds...” Thus, the Jewish historian equates these slaughtering invaders and supposed conquerors with the pitiful and oppressed “slaves” of the Exodus. The fact that these Hyksos were an autonomous nation led by a king would negate this equation, however.
In describing the Hyksos’ “sacred books” in which this “captive” claim allegedly appeared, it would seem at first glance that Manetho is talking about the Jewish texts, although, again, he does not name them as such. As concerns purported literature, the Hebrew language was not distinct and had no alphabet by this time; hence, the Hyksos could not have possessed any part of the Pentateuch, which would not have been written down until possibly a millennium after their expulsion. Thus, these texts, if Manetho’s account is factual, could not have been the Torah, as also believed by many since antiquity.
If these Hyksos books existed, they may have been akin to the Ugaritic/Canaanite or Sumero-Babylonian texts, with religious stories such as the Baal cycle, Enûma Eliš or Enuma Elish (18th–12th cents. BCE) and Epic of Gilgamesh. If these sacred books had any relevance to the later Israelites, it would be as sources for the core myths in the Old Testament. Moreover, the Hyksos were not adverse to absorbing Egyptian religious ideas, which also may have been incorporated into their sacred writings. Indeed, this mix would constitute a near-perfect combination to produce elements of the later biblical texts.
Not Wandering Slaves
Relevant Egyptian texts from the traditional time of the Hyksos do not equate these Semites with the Israelites or match the Exodus either chronologically or in detail, as the Hyksos in fact were not “captives.”
The differences between the accounts, including that the Hyksos were not slaves and did not spend 40 years wandering around in the desert, demonstrate that the story was not used as the core of the Exodus tale, although elements of the era—perhaps bitter memories of eviction and defeat —may have been woven later into extant myths.
Invaders or Infiltrators?
Moreover, the archaeological record, as revealed by archaeologist Dr. Janine Bourriau’s excavation at Memphis, proves the ingress of Canaanites/SyroPalestinians into Egypt as gradual, rather than as a massive invasion force, since there exists no evidence of the sudden introduction of Hyksos pottery or other artifacts. As we can see, Manetho’s account of the Hyksos as a massive force of invaders could not be true; nor would it be applicable to the Israelites, either way.
Although they may have had proto-Yahwist tribalists among them, the Hyksos were not followers of the Israelite god Yahweh, as depicted in the Exodus story. Indeed, the Hyksos were never actually at odds with the Egyptians religionwise and did not leave Egypt because of religious persecution. According to the Egyptian accounts that preceded Manetho by many centuries, these foreigners were Canaanites who adopted the host’s religious customs, as noted. The Hyksos themselves had Canaanite names that included Semitic gods and goddesses, such as Baal and his virgin lover Anath/Anat. While Baal was equivalent to the Egyptian god Seth, Set, Apophis or Typhon, Anath was associated in turn with “a number of sexually oriented Egyptian deities, Min, Hathor and Set.”
The Hyksos were known to revere the “Mistress of the Two Trees,” a type of Hathor, the Egyptianized goddess of Byblos, indicating their origin near Phoenicia. It is noteworthy that, at the beginning of the second millennium BCE, the Amorites ruled Byblos, a desired status evidently reflected in their most famous literary work, the Epic of Gilgamesh. After this era, the Late Bronze Age collapse occurred, along with the invasion in the south of the sea peoples; yet, the Phoenician cities were not decimated during this period of destruction.
Another Canaanite deity adopted into the Egyptian pantheon was the goddess Astarte, who during the New Kingdom was “made a consort of Set and a daughter of Re” or Ra, the sun god.
Yet another important deity possibly brought to Egypt by the Hyksos was Reshef, “a Canaanite god of war and thunder” and “king of the netherworld.” Reshef was “thought to bring plague and war upon humanity,” strongly resembling the role of Yahweh in the Exodus tale. Rashap/Reshef is a very old god, as he was also the Eblaite deity of “desert drought and destruction, a warrior associated with death,”405 found in texts dating to the middle to latter half of the third millennium BCE.
Servants of Horus
Manetho also claimed the Hyksos were “servants of Horus,” which would represent a strange appellation for Hebrews, unless they were followers of the “Golden Calf,” although this idol is associated biblically not with Horus but with the northern kingdom of Samaria, as a Canaanite god (Hos 8:4–6). Yet, the Bible also says the Golden Calf worship came with the Israelites out of Egypt (Exod 32:4).
As evidence of biblical knowledge of Horus, Egyptologist Dr. Raymond Faulkner notes that the “Waterway of Horus” is the “Biblical Shihor.” Written שיחור Shiychowr in Hebrew, Shihor or Sihor is the name of a stream or river—some guess the Nile—that also serves as the border between Israel and Egypt. According to The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, the “Hor” is a reference to Horus, Shihor denoting also the “Waters of Horus” or “Pool of Horus.” Thus, we know that ancient Hebrews were aware of Horus, as they would have to be, since the major thoroughfare from Israel to Egypt was called the “Horus Road.”
In any event, we can see how tolerant and inclusive was the polytheism of both the Semites and Egyptians, welcoming with relative ease the deities of other cultures, and increasing the peace and understanding between peoples. In contrast, the Egyptians were at enmity with the Israelites on several occasions and do not seem to have accepted the Jewish tribal god Yahweh into their pantheon. The fact remains that, religiously, the Hyksos did not resemble the later intolerant Yahwists, and the rift between the Hyksos and Egypt was not based on religion, as is the focus of the Pentateuchal tales.
History or Fiction?
The disentangling of the accounts of Manetho and the Pentateuch, as well as the problem of the Egyptian priest himself not associating the Hyksos with the Jews, as if he had not heard of the latter, might be solved by a reworking of the chronology of when the Torah clearly emerges in the historical record. Pushing the Pentateuch’s final redaction into the third century BCE, Gmirkin proposes the solution lies in Manetho’s account predating the composition of the Exodus tale and serving as a source thereof:
…the Exodus story was based on Manetho’s account of the expulsion of foreigners from Egypt into Judea. The traditions in Manetho can be demonstrated to have drawn exclusively on native Egyptian sources and display no awareness of the biblical account. The Exodus story, meanwhile, shows considerable knowledge of Manetho’s accounts regarding Hyksos and expelled Egyptians, showing systematic agreement with Manetho in all details favorable or neutral to the Jews but containing polemics against precisely those points in Manetho that reflected unfavorably on the Jews. The Exodus story thus appears to have originated in reaction to Manetho’s Aegyptiaca written in ca. 285 BCE.
Whether or not the biblical Exodus account drew in any way from Manetho, rather than the other way around, the Egyptian’s writing does not serve as an independent identification of the Hyksos with the Israelites. Indeed, it appears that Josephus intertwined biblical stories into Manetho’s historical core, the latter’s work devoid of mention of Israel or Jews.
Were it not for the fact that Josephus was answering the charge that the Jews were a young and insubstantial nation, it would be difficult to understand why anyone would wish to claim heritage of the Hyksos legacy as described by Manetho. Yet, the Hyksos portrayed by Manetho as rampaging throughout Egypt and destroying sacred sites exhibit the same sort of violent religious intolerance as found throughout the Bible, especially in the Conquest tale. In this regard, if we read Numbers and Deuteronomy, the terrible description of the Hyksos indeed would reflect that of Yahweh and his Israelites engaging in one aggressive act after another, at times for the most petty of reasons. Again, however, evidence shows the Hyksos were not invaders, conquerors, captives or at odds religiously, accounting for their expulsion.
The Hyksos or Amorites/Jebusites of Jerusalem were pre-Israelite Western Semites or Canaanites who worshipped Semitic, Sumero-Babylonian and Egyptian deities, such as Baal-Seth. Among the Hyksos may have been ancestors of various peoples who came together to create the nation of Israel centuries later:
A number of theories have been put forward to account for the origins of the Israelites, and despite differing details they agree on Israel’s Canaanite origins. The culture of the earliest Israelite settlements is Canaanite, their cult-objects are those of the Canaanite god El, the pottery remains in the local Canaanite tradition, and the alphabet used is early Canaanite, and almost the sole marker distinguishing the “Israelite” villages from Canaanite sites is an absence of pig bones, although whether even this is an ethnic marker or is due to other factors remains a matter of dispute. There is archeological evidence of the Canaanite Hyksos people moving into and out of northern Egypt, though the relation of their dates to the biblical account is debated by scholars.
The morphing from Hyksos to Israelites did not happen as depicted either in the Torah or in the writings of ancient historians such as Manetho. There was no burning bush, no divine lawgiver with a magical rod, no miraculous and supernatural contests or plagues, no pillars of cloud and fire, no parting of the Red Sea, no manna or marvelous water, no divine voice speaking from a mountain or finger carving commandments into tablets of stone, no 40-year old desert sojourn, no conquest of a promised land and so on.
By the time of the Amarna letters (c. 1350–1330 BCE), the Hebrews were not a significant presence, if they even existed as a tribe or ethnicity. It is obvious that the later Israelites were likewise nothing like the hyperbole by which they are described in the Old Testament. The same can be said of the Jewish tribe of Judah, which even by Herodotus’s time (fifth cent. BCE) was so insignificant as to merit no notice from the Greek historian. The closest he comes is describing “Syrians” and those who circumcise in emulation of Egypt. The Exodus epic represents an elaboration of a mythical event with historical or quasi-historical details added to it, not the other way around. Could the storytellers have incorporated some historical journeys, such as the expulsion of the Hyksos? In fact, the Exodus composers did set the story in real places, such as Egypt, the Red Sea, the Sinai and Canaan/Israel. So too had the mythographers of other myths in a wide variety of locations, including Saturn/Seth-Typhon’s flight from Egypt and Crete. Are we to accept these similar myths as “history?”
Such a development in reality would be called “historical fiction” and would constitute mythmaking little different from that of other cultures, such as the Greeks with the Homeric epics, or the Indians with the Ramayana and Mahabharata, or the Scandinavian Eddas and so on. Rather than accepting a typical mythical foundation story as “history,” in the next chapter we will peer more closely at the real origin of the Israelites.
Fig. 37. Migrations of Semitic peoples out of Africa int