The Hyksos and the Old Testament (Exodus 18)

The Hyksos, whose name means “ruler of foreign countries”, filtered into Egypt during the Middle Bronze Age when Egyptian authority was weak and decentralizing. They entered Egypt during the latter part of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom period (ca. 1800-1650 B.C.) and settled in the eastern delta region. Nothing is known about their origin, but their racial identity was mixed (mostly Semitic).

During the eighteenth century B.C. the Hyksos captured the Egyptian administrative capital at Memphis and soon established their own capital at Avaris (identified as modern Tell ed-Dab’a. In Upper (southern) Egypt, however, Hyksos power remained limited because Egyptian princes retained control of Thebes.

According to the Egyptian priest-historian Manetho (third century B.C), the Hyksos established  the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Dynasties. Hyksos rulers, who controlled most of Lower (northern) Egypt for about one hundred years, used Egyptian titles, and their culture reflected a blending of Egyptian and Semitic cultures. The Hyksos introduced military innovations to Egypt, perhaps including the compound bow as well as new types of daggers, swords and battle-axes. They used horses and chariots and also may have introduced the war chariot to Egypt.

Pharaoh Seqenenra of the Seventeenth Egyptian Dynasty (whose capital was Thebes in Upper – southern – Egypt) attempted to eliminate Hyksos rule but was mortally wounded in combat (his mummy shows that his face was struck with a battle-ax). His successor, Kamose, led a campaign into the eastern delta and attacked the Hyksos capital, Avaris, apparently failing, however, to capture it. Three years later Ahmose, the younger brother of Kamose, ascended to the throne and successfully expelled the Hyksos from Avaris. (A temple at Abydos depicted on its walls painted scenes of Ahmose’s victory over the Hyksos.) Ahmose established the powerful Eighteenth Dynasty and reunited Upper and Lower Egypt.

Interestingly, the Hyksos are not mentioned in the Bible, nor is there any known connection between this people group and the Biblical patriarchs. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that the Israelites lived in the eastern delts (i.e. Goshen) during the period of Hyksos domination. The hatred the Egyptians held for the Semites after the Hyksos expulsion would have served as an appropriate context for Egyptian enslavement of the Semitic Israelites and the resulting harsh labour forced upon them.

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