[b-hebrew] Ramases

MarianneLuban at aol.com MarianneLuban at aol.com
Fri Jul 30 12:27:23 EDT 2004

I take the point about the names in the Tanakh.  But, addressing some other 
points, the Book of Exodus is a story.  It, by itself, has all the hallmarks of 
a typical ancient Egyptian novel.  Again, I repeat that pure fiction was 
almost an unknown concept back then and most tales were tied to some actual 
history.  The stories were more on the order of apocryphy.  To give an example, 
there is the "Tale of Sinuhe".  This man is a harem servant under Amenemhat I.  He 
overhears a plot to assassinate the pharaoh and, fearing he might be 
implicated, decides to flee Egypt.  He takes what is considered the "southern route" 
(as opposed to the easier northern route near the Mediterrean seacoast).  Bedu 
came and went from that route but others avoided it because water was scarce.  
The route was in the area of the Bitter Lakes at the northern tip of the Red 
Sea.  The exhausted Sinuhe is dying of thirst, but then he meets some Bedu who 
had just left Egypt, too, the chief of which recognizes him!
For me, this is quite a significant thing.  This is the 12th Dynasty, ca 1980 
BCE.  The Fall of Ur of the Chaldees had taken place not long before.  And 
what great Bedu chieftain went to Egypt and had his wife temporarily taken into 
the harem of the pharaoh?  Abraham, of course.  Anyway, the Bedu give Sinuhe 
the Egyptian some milk and take him with him into Asia.  He lives among them 
for many years, marries and his children--like Moses.  He even has a showdown 
with an Asiatic champion, reminiscent of the story of David and Goliath.  Sinuhe 
wins.  When he is an old man he decides he wants to be buried in Egypt.  
Amenemhat I was, indeed, murdered and his son, Senusret I, is now the king.  
Sinuhe goes to ask the latter if he might remain in Egypt, explaining why he left 
in the first place.  The pharaoh is clement because he is influenced by the 
pleas of his chief wife, the queen, and her children.  The queen of Egypt, the 
daughter of the late ruler, recalls very well her former servant and retains 
much affection for him.  She has told her children all about him and they want 
Sinuhe around, too.  So the pharaoh decides to make Sinuhe one of his 
"companions" (presumably being interested in hearing the adventures of the man in the 
"wilds" of Asia) and rewards him with a house and nice things.  So it ends.

The ingredients of a typical Egyptian novel are the following:ro

1.  A hero
2.  A pharaoh (sometimes unnamed)
3.  Magical occurences--on occasion the hero, himself, performing the feats 
of magic.  Some stories feature a renowned magician who may or may not be the 
hero of the story.

The Book of Exodus contains them all.  My own impression is that it was 
written by someone who knew all the older Egyptian stories, which were ever-popular 
and copied by many people.  After all, if a story contains dialogue and is 
written much after the fact of a certain true event, the dialogue, itself, is 
going to contain a certain license because there were no tape-recorders in 
ancient times.  In the main, nobody got to talk to the king of Egypt except his 
retainers, his main officials and priests, and his family.  Except on one day in 
the month of Khoiak, when the king held open court and any Egyptian might come 
to him to plead his cause.  Sinuhe was able to talk to the pharaoh because he 
had cared for the queen as a child and doubtless had sent her a message.  
Moses was able to get into the presence of the pharaoh because he had grown up 
with him.  Everyone in the court of Senusret I had assumed Sinuhe was dead and 
were shocked at his wild appearance.  The same can be assumed about Moses.  
Both had lived in a place where men did not shave their beards as the Egyptian 
men did and were dressed in woolen clothes that looked strange to the Egyptians, 
who dressed in linen.  The waters of the Nile used to be full of crocodiles 
and hippos.   It was no place for a Hebrew mother to put her baby if she wanted 
him to be saved.  Yes, it is true Moses was supposed to be put in a safe 
place where the women came to bathe, but I doubt an Egyptian royal lady came to 
bathe in the Nile.  Women did not swim in ancient Egypt and royal ladies took 
their baths in much more private places.  Othewise, who is to say that some men 
in a boat passing on the river wouldn't be watching?    The Book of Exodus 
stresses slavery of the Hebrews--but many people of foreign extraction held high 
positions in Egypt.  And, yes, even worked in the pharaoh's court.  Some of 
the kings of Egypt even had foreign mothers--like the Siptah I mentioned in 
another post.  If Moses was really adopted by a pharaoh's daughter, it was because 
she already knew him or his parents.  But, since such a circumstance would 
serve to point out the assimilation of some of the Hebrews into Egyptian 
society--as of course would have been the case--it was better to place Moses in a 
reed basket on the river--and have the royal lady there to find him.  

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