When it comes to the prototypical villains of ancient literature, the Egyptians are right up there. Nobody, it seemed, really liked the ancient superpower. Ancient Greek romance novels routinely portray them as cunning and duplicitous. The Romans found Cleopatra to be equal parts captivating and conniving and, in the Bible, the Israelites were enslaved by the Pharaohs for centuries.
A new discovery at Tel Hazor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest Biblical-era archaeological sites in Israel, may change how we think about the Egyptians. During excavations last week, archeologists discovered a 4,000-year-old fragment of a large limestone statue of an Egyptian official. Only the lower section of the statue survives, but it includes the official’s foot and a few lines in Egyptian hieroglyphic script.
The preliminary study of the artifact has not yet been completed, so archaeologists do not even know the official’s name. Professor Amnon Ben-Tor of Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, who has worked at the site for over 27 years, told the Jerusalem Post that it is likely that the statue was originally placed at the official’s tomb or in a temple.
So far Tel Hazor is the only archaeological site in the Levant to have yielded any large Egyptian statues from the second millennium BCE. The only other is a sphinx fragment of the Egyptian Pharaoh Menkaure (known to the Greeks as Mycerinus) that dates to the 25th century BCE. In the Amarna period—a period of Egyptian history when the royal residence shifted to Akhetaten and Egyptian religion temporarily shifted towards monotheistic worship of the sun god Aten—most of Canaan (what would later be Israel) was under Egyptian control. The latest finds are especially interesting because historians were unaware that Hazor was one of the Egyptian strongholds in this period or that there was ever an Egyptian official there.
What’s interesting about the Egyptian presence in Canaan in the second millennium is that it may make sense of one of the biggest mysteries of the Bible: Why does the Hebrew Bible highlight the oppression of the Israelites by Egypt when there is so little evidence for their enslavement there?
The story, as told in the book of Exodus and Prince of Egypt, is that the Israelites came to Egypt because of famine. They initially prospered (think Joseph and his technicolor dreamcoat) only to be enslaved by later generations of Egyptians. There they remained until the birth of Moses, the 10 plagues, and the eventual emancipation of the Hebrews.
Scholars have been skeptical about the historicity of the Exodus for over 70 years. In the first place the Egyptians, who were fairly remarkable record keepers, never refer to a mass exodus of slaves or even a large group of runaway slaves. To this we might add the lack of evidence for either a slaughter of Hebrew infant boys or the 10 plagues that befell the Egyptian people (during which the eldest son of every Egyptian family dies overnight). There’s also no mention of Moses, even though his name is Egyptian in origin. Finally there’s no archaeological evidence to support the idea of a mass exodus of people. When large groups of people traveled in the pre-eco-friendly age they left behind trash, and a lot of it. But there’s no archaeological evidence for mass migration from Egypt to Israel: no pottery shards or Hebrew carvings.
All of which is to say that if there was a historical enslavement in and subsequent exodus from Egypt it is highly unlikely that it was on the scale of the Biblical account. Perhaps small groups escaped slavery and came to the land that would become Israel, but certainly not 600,000 men (plus wives and children). Modern scholars like David Wolpe have been strongly attacked for making this argument, but, as Wolpe himself notes, this evidence doesn’t negate the claims of modern Jews to the land of Israel.
But it does raise an interesting historical question: If the Exodus didn’t take place on an epic Charlton Heston scale, how does Egyptian oppression come to feature so prominently in the biblical narrative? When the story of the exodus was written down in the first millennium, the Israelites wouldn’t have had any direct experience of Egyptian power for hundreds of years; in the meantime, the great empires of Assyria and Babylonia had come to power, drastically overshadowing any threat from Egypt. Why make the Egyptians the villains of the piece?
Perhaps the biblical description of dominance by Egyptians actually has very little to do with enslavement and more to do with the cultural memory of the more distant Amarna period in Canaan. The Israelites were never subject to national enslavement in Egypt; but, as this new discovery reminds us, the land of Canaan was under the foot of Pharaonic authority. The long shadows of that experience might help explain why—in the absence of a historical Exodus—the biblical authors made the Egyptians the villains of their national epic.
Kabbalists know that the Exodus did not exist. The Torah was written in code, words that have the same numerical value can be inter changed with others of the same value, according to the Science of Gematria, since all the Hebrew and Aramaic letters have a numerical value and they know that the land of Egypt is not what they mean in that story telling, it happens to have the same numerical value as the word Materialism, and what was slaving the Israeli was their desire to receive for themselves alone, in other words, their materialism.
The Egyptians never enslaved the Israeli to build the pyramids, since they were built eons before the story of the Exodus, and the only thing that was happening is that they had become like the Egyptians of that time, very much enslaved by their physicality.
The story of Joseph, also is a completely different story, and Joseph whom was sold into slavery by his brothers, to an Egyptian, overcame his desire to receive for himself alone and also applied restriction when the wife of his employer wanted to have an affair with him. In other words he used one of the major Kabbalistic tools: restriction.
His brothers came to Egypt looking to buy food, because Egypt that was then a very powerful nation at the time and had food due to the ingenuity of Joseph and his ability to read dreams and supposedly Joseph had helped the Pharaoh to accumulate wealth and he was the Prime Minister and also the Treasurer of the land.
His brothers did not recognize him, but he did and tricked them into bringing his father and his only brother on his mother side and they all established themselves to live very well in the land of Egypt. However, with the passage of time, they became, together with the Egyptians, very materialistic and were not very spiritual.
Moses was charged by Higher forces, to turn them away from their materialistic life, and submitted them to a lot of trials, and only those that passed the trials or what is mentioned as the plagues, were considered to be Israelite, a word formed with the initials of the Patriarchs, or those that had been very spiritual in the past (Isaac and Jacob (both spelled with Jud), Sarah, Rivka and Rachel (also both spelled with R), Abraham, Esau and Leah).
Therefore it means those that could help and direct others in the spiritual life.
But since they were still not all that spiritual, although they had passed the tests of the ten plagues, they were taken out into the desert to live a natural life without the wealth to which they had become accustomed to.
The rest, the ones that did not overcome the tests, were all considered Egyptians, regardless of where they had originally come from.
And then the teachings brought them from one place to another, back and forth, because they were learning the meaning of the 42 letters with which the World was created, and obviously they would not have been in the desert for such a long period of time if they were only crossing from the land of Egypt to the land of Canaan, which was to become Israel.
However, how many years it took them, is also not known, since that forty means something other than years, as well.
It is all symbolic, the entire Torah, and Shimon bar Yohai, the author of the Zohar, claims in that book that anyone that thinks those stories are true, has to be of a very simple mind.
And here we are the simpletons, trying to discover the reality of the Torah, following it literally!
Historians and all, are on the wrong track of things, as are the scientists of today.