The Hyksos and the Exodus (Exodus 8)

The Hyksos, foreign rulers in Egypt from approximately 1637 to 1529 B.C., were of Semitic origin and thus related to the Isarelites. For this reason some Biblical historians have tried to establish a connection between the Hyksos and the Israelites. Three different theories seek to tie the history of the Hyksos directly to the Biblical record of Israel in Egypt.

Theory One: A Hyksos pharaoh promoted Joseph

Proponents of this view assert that the Hyksos ruled Egypt at the time Joseph was sold into slavery. The Hyksos, they surmise, being ethically and linguistically related to Joseph, woul have been inclined to empathize with him and promote hin to power. This theory impacts the proposed date structure for the lives of the patriarchs, who are conventionally reckoned to have lived during the late third and early second millennium B.C.. It requires adherents to espouse the “late date” for the exodus (Late Bronze III Age, ca. 1250 B.C.) in order to build in sufficient time for Israel’s sojourn in Egypt.

Apart fro m this date in terms of the exodus, this theory seems incompatible with the Biblical narrative. The Bible records only that pharaoh promoted Joseph because of the young man’s exceptional ability; his ethnicity is never mentioned as a factor. The Bible also presents the ruling class as Egyptians who instinctively reacted with scorn toward foreign shepherds (see Genesis 46:28-34).

Theory Two: Hyksos was the pharaoh of the oppression

Adherents to this view propose that a Hyksos pharaoh enslaved the Israelites. Although advocated by some scholars who see this as a good chronological match with the Biblical account, this conjecture makes little sense. The Hyksos as Semitic foreigners were no doubt keenly aware of their tenuous control over a large, native Egyptian population. Why would they have persecuted a group they would have viewed as natural allies? Exodus 1:8-10 in fact shows that the pharaoh of the oppression shared the Egytian hatred toward Semites in general.

Theory Three: The expulsion of the Hyksos and the Israelite exodus are a single event

The Egyptians ultimately drove out the Hyksos after a protracted campaign during the latter sixteenth century B.C. The theory of the exodus is based on the reality asserts that the story of the Hyksos’ expulsion is simply the Egyptian version of the Israelite exodus account (i.e. the two narratives relate the same events fro diametrically opposed perspectives – each presenting Israel’s departure from  Egypt as a victory for its side). This view, which necessitates a very early date for the exodus, does work well with the chronology of Jericho, in that this city is widely regarded to have suffered major destruction at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, not long after the expulsion of the Hyksos.

Nevertheless, this position is open to serious challenge. The stories of the Hyksos’ expulsion and that of the Israelites’ exodus have nothing in common, except that in both cases a large group of foreigners departed from Egypt. The Egyptians drove out the Hyksos during a lengthy military campaign, while the Biblical exodus took place during a period of weeks, involving no military action whatsoever until the very end, after the Israelites had already left Egypt.

Any attempt to tie the Hyksos directly to the Biblical narrative ultimately falters. In all probability Hyksos rule relates to Israel’s history only indirectly in that it gave the Egyptians a seemingly good reason to hate and distrust all Semites.

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