BIBLE AND SPADE - BY STEPHEN L CAIGER D B - first published at the University Press, Oxford 1936. This Edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Contents | Introduction | The Oppression in Egypt | The Pharaoh of the Oppression

ARCHAEOLOGY has little additional light to throw on the Biblical narrative of the 'affliction' in Egypt.'
[C. A. F. Knight, Nile and Jordan (1921), very thoroughly covers the whole Egyptian field of Biblical history, and contains the fullest possible references. T. E. Peet, Egypt and the Old Testament (1922) supplies a corrective to Knight's exhaustive but somewhat uncritical treatment of the material.]

Yet 'with regard to the main fact that at some time or other certain of the people who subsequently came to be known as the Hebrews dwelt in Egypt for a period, and afterwards entered or re-entered Canaan, there is hardly a dissentient voice.
The fact that the Egyptian records contain no reference to the Sojourn does not in the least affect the problem,
for in the first place our Egyptian records are far from complete:
in the second, the Sojourn may well have been on so small a scale that the Egyptians never thought it worth recording:
and in the third place, the Delta, which was the scene of the events, is still almost a closed book to us in early times.'
[T. E. Peet, op. cit., p.21.]

The Bible gives us very little help in fixing the dates of this Egyptian period.
Many Pharaohs, for instance, are mentioned, but none of them actually named:
nor is reference made to any outside datable event.
The time-notes given in our text are mostly late insertions (D or P),
and though there is a tendency in modern scholarship to pay them more attention than formerly,
they can bear little weight as historical evidence. 

With regard to the Sojourn, the oldest documents state that it lasted four hundred years (Gen.xv.13 J)
[A late gloss is more precise, i.e. '430 years' (Ex..40), thus making Jacob's descent into Egypt 1877 BC exactly.]
and that it ended with the Exodus in the four hundred and eightieth year before the foundation of Solomon's Temple
[Even this '480 years' is suspected by many scholars as an editorial insertion.]
The latter date is scientifically fixed as 967 BC,
so that we get the following table of Biblical dates:

Abraham leaves Haran

2092 BC

Jacob goes to Egypt

1847 BC

The Exodus from Egypt

1447 BC

The first of these dates we found little reason to discredit.
How far does archaeology confirm the others?

Now a date in the nineteenth century BC brings us, as we have already explained [See above, p.41.], once more into contact with the Hyksos, the most likely hosts, if not of Abraham, certainly of Joseph and Jacob.
[Yahuda, however, puts the descent into Egypt much earlier than the Hyksos.
'Every touch in the Joseph story emphasizes the alien character of the Hebrews to the Egyptians, which can only be understood under a purely Egyptian ruler' (Accuracy of the Bible, 1934).]

'On every ground this seems the best, if not the only period, to which we can assign the entry of Israel into Egypt, for the hostility to the Asiatics roused by the Hyksos dominion was so great that it is almost inconceivable that any king of the XVIIIth Dynasty (the Dynasty which succeeded the Hyksos) should have welcomed a Semitic tribe for any reason whatever.'
[T. H. Robinson, History of Israel, vol.i (1932).]

A medieval tradition of unknown origin repeated by George the Syncellos [i.e. the steward of a Byzantine monastery.] names Joseph's Pharaoh as Apapus. Modern research has discovered this Apapus (Aa-kenen-Ra Apepi III) among the Pharaohs of the XVIth (Hyksos) Dynasty.
Thus a fresh mite of confirmation is added to our conjecture. 

If Apepi III were really the Pharaoh in question,
two recently discovered relics of this monarch have a certain interest.
The first, a bronze silver-handled dagger, found at Sakkara in 1898, bearing his cartouche
[Cartouche: the equivalent of the royal signature in enclosed hieroglyphics.]
which it is conceivable that Joseph may have handled and admired.
The second, a somewhat humorous note in the Sallier Papyri [Sallier Pap. I, Brugsch, i.238.],
in which Apepi complains that a noisy hippopotamus under his window is disturbing his sleep.
One is tempted to suggest that here we may have the reason for his uneasy dreams (Gen.lxi)! 

No figure of Biblical history has been more frequently the target of guesswork, ingenious and otherwise, than that of Joseph.
Many writers on Biblical archaeology seem quite unable to resist the temptation to 'identify' him on the monuments, or to trace the details of his picturesque life-story to their 'source'.
In the opinion of most authorities, however, Joseph the man, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, has left us no archaeological relic of his existence.
Like all the great Jews even up to David and Solomon, and most of the great Jews to the end of Biblical history [This applies even to Christ.], he hit what we may call the 'blind spot' in the vision of contemporary historians and remained unnoticed in the records.
The solitary germ of truth in the guesses and parallels noted below is this, that the story of his life, being almost certainly written down in its present form many centuries later than the events described, may have been embellished or modified in minor details by the reminiscences of a later age. 

Thus, in speaking of Joseph, reference is usually made to the Tale of the Two Brothers (p.113),
the Osarsiph Legend  (p.72),
Yankhamu and Dudu of the Tell el Amarna tablets (pp.103, 104), and Arisu (p.114), which we shall notice briefly in their chronological order. 

Very interesting in this connexion is the memorial Stele of Sebek-khu, discovered by Garstang at Abydos in 1901,
and described by Peet [T. E.Peet, The Stela of Sebek-khu (1914).]
as 'one of the most important historical documents ever found in Egypt'.
Self-dated in the reign of Sesostris III (Breasted, 1887-1849 BC),
it is the earliest record we have of an Egyptian campaign in Palestine,
describing how the Pharaoh overthrew the Bedouins (Mentiu) of Sinai,
penetrated the 'vile land of Southern Palestine' (Rete-nu),
and did battle with the Canaanites (Aamu) before the walls of Sekmem -
a city usually identified with the Biblical Shechem
[e.g. by Meyer and Max Miiller. Peet, however, regards this identification as 'purely arbitrary', see Egypt and the Old Testament, pp. 39, 62.]

The personality of Sebek-khu himself, however, is what has been most seized upon by a certain type of Biblical archaeologist.
Thus, Toffteen boldly identifies him with the Biblical Joseph on the following grounds:

  1. Sebek-khu was born in 1917 BC, like Joseph.

  2. 'After a period of obscurity, he won promotion at the Egyptian Court in 1887 BC.'

  3. His 'beautiful name' was ZAA, the beginning (obviously) of Zaphenath-Paneah (Gen.lxi.45).

  4. His wife's name was IS-NT, i.e. Asenath.

  5. His father's name was JCB, i.e. Jacob.

  6. He captured Shechem, as did Joseph (Gen.lxviii.22, RV margin, where we must understand that Joseph was given a 'portion in Shechem'). [O. A. Toffteen, The Historic Exodus (1909).]

All this looks impressive on the face of it, but on further scrutiny we discover that the facts are:

  1. By Breasted's reckoning, Sebek-khu was born in 1911 BC; Joseph, by the Biblical dating, in 1916.
    Still, the coincidence in dates is striking.

  2. The stele says nothing of 'obscurity' (still less of a foreign origin or slavery) save that of youth.
    Sebek-khu was promoted by Sesostris III at the age of twenty-three.

  3. 'The name Zaa (Da) means "the bald", and has nothing to do with the name Zaphenath-Paneah.'

  4. Neither Sebek-khu's wife nor the name IS-NT appears on the stele at all.

  5. His father does not appear on the stele, either: but his mother's name is given as Ita.
    Toffteen has taken Ita (It3) as the name of his father, has misread it I p k, has conjectured it ought to be I K P, and so arrives at JCB for Jacob.

  6. Sekmem on the stele may or may not be Shechem, and the R.V. marginal reading of Gen.lxviii.22 may or may not be correct.

Thus, like so many of these 'brilliant conjectures',
the Sebek-khu identification collapses at the first touch of exact scholarship.
[For the comments on this stele I am indebted mainly to Prof. A. M. Blackman (privately).] 

The genuine Egyptian atmosphere of the Joseph story is admitted by all,
and has been examined in great detail by many writers.
[e.g. Knight, op. cit., and most elaborately in A. S. Yahuda, Language of the Pentateuch in its Relation to Egyptian (1934); Accuracy of the Bible (1933), &c.]

The selling of Joseph in slavery to Potiphar is paralleled by many records of Kan'amu (Canaanite) slaves.
The names Potiphar, Zaphenath-Paneah, Asenath, and so on, are of genuine Egyptian formation,
though their precise meaning is still in doubt.
Ankle-length examples of the 'coat of many colours'
['Coat of many colours' is really a mistranslation of the Hebrew Chetoneth passim = 'a long garment with sleeves' (RV marg.) Gen.xxxvii.3. But 'many-coloured' was a true description of such garments, nevertheless.]

are found in pictures of Semitic visitors to Egypt.
The magicians of the story are frequently mentioned on the monuments?
on the Rosetta Stone, for instance.
The signet ring, the vesture of fine linen, the gold chain about Joseph's neck are all in accordance with custom.
When reading of the privilege accorded to Joseph of riding in Pharaoh's second chariot,
we are reminded of the fact that the Hyksos introduced chariots and horses into Egypt.
The office of merper or major-domo to the Pharaoh, held by Joseph,
is often honourably mentioned on the inscriptions.
And so on. 

Doubt was once cast on the possibility of a mere Canaanite slave's promotion to high honours in Egypt,
but archaeology has discovered many striking parallels.
Thus Meri-Ra, a Canaanite, became armour-bearer to the Pharaoh;
Ben-Mat-Ana, also a Canaanite, was raised to the important office of interpreter;
Yankhamu, a Semite, actually became deputy to Amenhotep III,
with charge over the granaries of the Delta,
and there are many other examples. 

References to disastrous famines and to the feeding of hungry suppliants there are many.
The Ameni Inscription written for Ameni, an official of Sesostris I (c. 1980 BC), on his tomb at Beni Hassan, runs as follows:

Then came years of famine.
Then I ploughed all the acres of the province.
I nourished the Pharaoh's subjects.
I looked after their food,
so that there was none hungry among them.

Another, even more to the point, if we believe that Apepi III was the Pharaoh of Joseph, is the Bebi Inscription at El Kab, written on the tomb of Bebi, an official of that monarch:

I collected corn as a friend of the harvest god. I was watchful at the time of sowing. And now, when a famine arose lasting many years, I distributed corn to the city each year of famine. 

Of this inscription Kittel writes:

'We do not hesitate to admit that the coincidence of the time of this famine with j the conjectural date of Joseph, together with the extraordinary infrequency of great famines in Egypt, seems to us to be of real weight in favour of the identification of the two famines, and consequently in support of the history of Joseph generally.'
[R. Kittel, History of the Hebrews, i.190 (1899).] 

Readers of the Joseph story are frequently confused to find that in it Egypt is sometimes called the 'Land of Rameses' (e.g. Gen.lxvii.11 P), seeing that the name Rameses was unknown to fame [Ahmosis, however, had a son named Rameses, c. 1600 BC; see P.B.A.S. 1890, 157 (Bunsen).] until the XIXth Dynasty (c. 1300 BC) many centuries after the date we have claimed for Joseph.
This, however, proves nothing save the lateness of the 'gloss':
it is as though we said, with a natural inadvertence, 'Caesar landed in England', instead of 'in Britain'.
In the course of the centuries the names of even the best-known places and countries have continually changed, and are sometimes of little help in identifying the locality intended.
Thus the precise sites of most of the Egyptian places named in the Bible are still in question. 

The 'Land of Goshen', however, is generally located [It certainly was so by the translators of the LXX.] in the modern Wady Tumulat, that is, in the well-watered district between the lower reaches of the Nile and the modern Suez Canal.
Farther than this we cannot go.
Brugsch thought he had identified the site of a city of Goshen under the present village of Saft-el-Henneh, where a hieroglyphic inscription seemed to read GSM or Gesem.
But Gardiner, a reliable authority on Egyptian, denies the accuracy of the transliteration, which he says should be ShSM, so that archaeological evidence for the usual location of the Hebrew 'reservation' is still lacking. 

The inscriptions supply many parallels for the invitation extended to the Israelites to settle in Goshen.
Thus a monument of Harmhab (1400 BC) records, as we shall see [See below, p.106.], how a community of shepherds from Asia [Asia and Asiatic are Egyptian generic terms including Syrians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Canaanites, &c.] begged the Pharaoh to grant them pasturage 'as was the custom of the father of their fathers from the beginning'.
In contrast with the deserts of Asia, Egypt must have seemed a most desirable spot.
On the tomb of Tehuti-hetep at El-Bersheh there is a picture of Syrian cattle imported into Egypt, in which the promise is made:

Once ye trod the Syrian sands:
now here in Egypt ye shall feed in green pastures.



In the course of time Joseph died, and was embalmed in the Egyptian manner,
but his people continued for many years to enjoy the hospitality of the Pharaohs.
Eventually, however, there arose a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph (Ex.i.8 J),
and everything was changed for the worse:
the long years of the Oppression begin.

Who was this new Pharaoh?
Here again the Bible gives neither name nor date,
yet strangely enough it is just at this point that archaeologically speaking the dates begin to be fairly certain.
It is generally agreed that the Biblical phrase quoted above implies a complete change of dynasty and of political circumstance.
If it was the Hyksos who welcomed the Israelites,
it must almost certainly have been the expulsion of the Hyksos which caused their oppression.

The Hyksos were expelled from Egypt at last by the Pharaoh Ahmosis (Aahmes, Amasis
[These Egyptian names have a great variety of spelling, according as they are taken from the Greek historians, or transliterated direct from the hieroglyphs.
Even in the latter case, it must be remembered that in Egyptian the vowels have to be inserted by conjecture.]
in 1580 BC.
They fled northwards to Canaan, where legend (repeated by Josephus) attributes to them the foundation of Jerusalem, and after a last stand at Sharuhen disappear from history.
In Egypt all traces of their hated occupation were as far as possible obliterated, and, one may well surmise, their erstwhile friends the Hebrews were henceforward grievously afflicted.

The new XVIIIth Dynasty immediately began to build up the temples and other edifices ruined by the Hyksos.
In these building-operations the inscriptions record the employment of many Fenkhu (Phoenicians, Asiatics), among whom may have been the Israelites, who, as the Bible tells us, built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Raamses (Ex.i.11 J).

A storm of controversy has raged around these two names.
At one time it was claimed that both sites had been identified as cities founded by Rameses the Great (1292-1225 BC), and that therefore the Oppression must have taken place chiefly under the XIXth Dynasty, and not, as we now believe, under the XVIIIth Dynasty.
[The reader should here refer to the Tables in the Appendix.]

Thus Pithom was located at Tell el Mashkuta, and thoroughly excavated by Naville in 1883
[E. Naville, The Store-city of Pithom (1885).]
He believed he had found actual 'store-chambers' for grain in some curious deep cellars of strong masonry without doors or windows.
The identification was supported by hieroglyphic inscriptions referring to Pi-tum, House of the god Tum, but it is now seriously questioned.
The so-called store-chambers were really fortress emplacements.
Amongst the quantities of pottery there was 'no type of vessel which could be described as Hebrew' (Duncan).
Though there were traces of Rameses II, the city had clearly been founded centuries earlier.
The name most frequently found on the site is not Pi-tum but Theku, identified by some with Succoth;
while as to the name Pi-tum, it might be used of any temple where Turn was worshipped.
'The kind of reasoning by which the discoverer of Pithom sought to show that the place was a store-city is typical of the way in which the facts of archaeology are twisted and distorted in the service, so called, of Biblical study.'
[T. E. Peet, Egypt and the Old Testament (1932).]

Similarly Raamses was located by Flinders Petrie at Tell el Retabeh.
Here also were inscriptions referring to Turn, and to Rameses II.
'The identification with the Biblical Raamses, however, is uncorroborated by any inscriptional testimony whatsoever' (Gardiner), and in any case the city so discovered was not founded by Rameses, but had been in existence since the remote VIth Dynasty.
Gardiner, for his own part, preferred to identify the Biblical Raamses, not with Tell el Retabeh, but with Pi-Ramessu (Avaris), the Delta capital of the XIXth Dynasty near Pelusium, 'an identification which makes the narrative much more understandable' (Peet).

Mention must here be made of a curious misunderstanding to the effect that Fisher discovered an inscription at Bethshan in 1923 referring to the employment of Hebrews by Rameses II on building operations at his city of Rameses in Egypt.
'This is not so', states Rowe's official account of the Pennsylvania excavations,
'The text contains no mention whatever of any such building operations, nor of the Israelites'.
(A. Rowe: Bethshan (1930), pp.33 ff.)

Assuming, then, that the Oppression began with the expulsion of the Hyksos in 1580, and continued for many generations, there were many 'Pharaohs of the Oppression', the first three being Ahmosis (1580-1557), [The Egyptian dates are henceforth fairly certain: we follow J. H. Breasted, History of Egypt (1906).] Amenhotep I (1557-1539), and Thothmes I (Thuth-mosis) (1539-1501).
The last initiated the policy of imperial expansion so characteristic of the XVIIIth Dynasty, leading his victorious forces along the old North Road through the maritime plain of Palestine as far as Kadesh on the Orontes and far-flung Carchemish of the Hittites, where the newly formed kingdom of the Mitanni put a check to his progress.

More interesting, however, than his warlike exploits is the picture which the monuments give us of his favourite daughter Hatshepsut, for if our theory of the chronology is correct, she may well have been the Princess who found Moses 'in the bulrushes' (Ex.ii.5f. E).
The tradition in Josephus that the name of this Princess was Thermuthis seems to connect her with the House of Thothmes, and the impression of her character gained from the Bible is not unlike that of Hatshepsut.
In naming the baby as she did, she conferred upon him a name common in her family, as in the compound Thoth-mesu, mesu (or moses) being the Egyptian for son, or rather child.

Makere-Hatshepsut, on the death of her father, became de facto Queen of Egypt during the early years of the reign of her brother Thothmes III [Thothmes II ruled only for a brief interval of usurpation within the reign of Thothmes III.].
From the first she announced her intention of reigning as a man, and many representations of her are in male attire.
Known as the 'Divine Consort', her reign being marked by great prosperity, she erected many temples and obelisks, some of which survive to this day, such as the giant obelisk (100 feet) at Karnak.
The shrine she built in memory of her father is said to be 'the most lovely creation in stone which the Nile can show'.

One of her most famous expeditions was a visit to Punt in Arabia, whence she brought back a quantity of myrrh, ebony, ivory, and gold for her temples, as well as monkeys, leopards, and slaves.
Very amusing to modern eyes is the relief depicting the excessively corpulent wife of the king of Punt offering presents to Hatshepsut.

Unfortunately her strong-minded ways excited such jealousy in the heart of her overshadowed brother Thothmes III, that no sooner was she dead than he obliterated or destroyed nearly all her monuments.
If the plaster with which he covered them had not fallen away, we should know even less of her than we do.

The story of how the Princess found Moses in the ark of papyrus ('bulrushes') among the flags of the riverside has many parallels in ancient lore.
To the classical instances of Romulus and Remus, Bacchus, and Perseus we may now add a cuneiform legend of the ninth century BCconcerning Sargon I of Akkad (who flourished c. 2500 BC):

My vestal mother conceived me, and I was born in secret. She laid me in a chest of reeds, closed my door with pitch, and laid me in the River.
The River bore me down to Akki the water bearer. Akki the water-bearer drawing water drew me out, and reared me as his child.

There is no need to postulate a common origin for such simple and natural romances, but if one must do so, the episode of Moses (sixteenth century BC) may have been the inspiration of them all.


Thothmes III.

Possibly it was the death of Hatshepsut that inaugurated the last and worst phase of the oppression of Israel under her successor Thothmes III.
The most important historical monument we have yet encountered is undoubtedly his famous Karnak Inscription on a pylon of the Temple at Thebes [Thebes, Luxor, Karnak: W.O.P.191.], self-dated 1479 BC.

Here we find the earliest reference to Canaan in the Egyptian royal inscriptions.
Describing the conquests of Thothmes in Syria and Palestine, the inscription gives a list of Canaanite princes 'whom His Majesty shut up in Megiddo', and mentions many places whose names are familiar to us from the Bible story, such as:

Kadesh, Megiddo, Dothan, Merom, Damascus, Hamath, Laish, Hazor, Chinneroth, Adamah, Taanach, Ibleam, Acco, Carmel, Beth-Shemesh, Joppa, Gath, Lydda, Socoh, Migdol, Gerar, Ekron, Adoraim, Gezer, Beeroth, Bethel, Gibeah.

The spelling of these names shows that already the towns of Palestine were known by the names that appear in the Biblical narrative of the Hebrew Conquest under Joshua.
And the list of booty gives an indication of the great prosperity and wealth of the country in the sixteenth century:

2,041 mares, 1,949 oxen, 2,000 goats, 296 bulls, 20,500 sheep, 200 suits of armour, 892 chariots, 32 gold-plated chariots, 7 silver-plated tent-poles, 1,784 pounds of golden rings, 966 pounds of silver rings, ivory and ebony ornaments, a golden plough, cedar-wood tables inlaid with gold and precious stones, golden sceptres, embroidered robes, 208,000 bushels of corn.

Among the place-names recorded on the monument are two that have a special interest for us, Joseph-El, or -Er, and Jacob-Er. Modern scholarship, however, is uneasy at the suggestion that these names have anything to do with the Biblical Joseph or Jacob.
As the transliteration seems to be in doubt in the first case (Yashup-el), and the interpretation questioned in the other (Ya'qob-Er may mean simply 'God watches over'), no historical argument can be based upon them.
The same must be said of Sayce's identification of 'Jerusalem' on the inscription, in the form of Har-Er, the 'Mount of God'.

Supremely important for archaeological research is the reference in this record of Thothmes to the Hittites.
Previous to the decipherment of this inscription nothing whatever was known of the Hittites {Haiti, 'Children of Heth') except what was related in the Bible: their very existence in fact was doubted.
But since then one discovery after another has enabled us to reconstruct the history of this long-forgotten people of whom we shall have more to say later on.

This Karnak inscription signals the beginning of Egyptian rule over Syria and Palestine.
Henceforward for several centuries Canaan is a province of the Egyptian empire.
That the Pharaohs were masters of the country at the time of Joshua and the early Judges is a fact which would not have been suspected by readers of the Biblical narrative alone, but it is one of the assured results of archaeology, testified again and again in the inscriptions and by the many marks of Egyptian occupation and influence discovered by recent excavation in Palestine.

Little must it have occurred to Thothmes, breaking down the ramparts of the Amorite and despoiling the riches of Canaan, that he was preparing the way for a far more enduring conquest of the country by the humble Hebrew slaves who were even then toiling under the lash of his task-masters by the Nile.

The inscriptions show that forced labour and painful building-operations were characteristic of the reign of Thothmes III.
Wall-paintings in a tomb at Abd-el-Gurnah, for instance, portray the building of the Temple of Amen at Karnak, with the slave-gangs (apparently Semitic) hard at work.
Over them stands the slave-driver, an inscription running: 'The task-master saith to his labourers, the rod is in my hand: be not idle.'

With regard to bricks without straw, the older commentaries used to tell us that 'even sun-burnt bricks, stamped with the cartouche of Thothmes III, have been discovered made without straw, whereas in ordinary circumstances straw was used'.
The fact, however, seems to be that the practice of binding the clay with straw was anything but invariable.
In any case, the Bible does not say that the Hebrews were expected to use bricks made without straw, but only that they were compelled to supply the straw themselves?

Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick...
let them go and gather straw for themselves
(Ex.v.7 J).

To this there exists an interesting illustration in an Egyptian papyrus, in which a building contractor complains:

I am not provided with anything.
There are no men for making bricks,
and there is no straw in the district.

If our reckoning is correct, it is the death of Thothmes III, chief Pharaoh of the Oppression, which is recorded in that key-passage:

And it came to pass in the course of those many days, that the king of Egypt died (Ex.ii.23 J).

Thothmes had indeed reigned 'many days' - fifty-three years to be exact (1501-1448).
There is an uncanny interest in the fact that his mummified body survives to this day to give us some impression of the man he was.
From a study of this mummy, Maspero remarks that he was a 'fellah of the old stock, squat, thickset, vulgar in character and expression, but not lacking in firmness and vigour' [Maspero, Struggle of the Nations (1896).].
But Hall more kindly says that a statue of him in his younger days shows a youth possessed of a remarkably fine and intelligent face, with a Roman nose'. [H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Near East (1913).]