Lipovsky-Early Israelites

A pet theory of mine has been that the story of the Exodus conflates a series of events where Semitic people left Egypt, beginning with the Hyksos around 1550 BCE and ending with a small group who left around 1200 BCE. This was the Moses-exodus.  They took part in the explosion of village settlements in the highlands between Jerusalem and Shechem at about that time.

This theory is based on some considerations.  First, I see a parallel with Manetho, the anti-Jewish Egyptian historian quoted by Josephus,  who also seems to conflate more than one exodus event.  Second, the Bible itself has other leaving-Egypt events (e.g. Genesis 13:1 and 50:7-11). Also the hegemony over the Levant that Egypt exercised until shortly after 1200 makes theories of an earlier Moses-exodus difficult.

This has led me to toy with the peculiar theory that the Pharaoh Setnakhte (there are various spellings),who came just before Ramses III, was the pharaoh of the Moses-exodus.

Recently it came to my attention that Igor Lipovsky also sees Setnakhte as the pharaoh of the Exodus.  Lipovsky is a scholar who was educated in the USSR as a specialist in Asian and African studies, got into trouble with the authorities in around 1987, then immigrated to Israel.  He returned to Russia for a while after the Soviet downfall.  He came to the US in 1995 and is now an American citizen.

I read that his book Early Israelites: Two Peoples, One History was like the old Canadian scholar Theophile Meek’s Hebrew Origins (1936).  Meek  has been proved wrong on some things.  But his idea that Judah and Israel developed separately turns up again in some contemporary scholars.

So I have started reading Lipovsky’s Early Israelites.

I found his first chapter stimulating.  He argues that the ancient migrations of Semitic peoples were compelled by pressure from the north by Indo-Europeans.  These people had once lived in an area that is now covered by the Black Sea.

You may know about some recent books that equate the inundation of the Black Sea area by water from the Mediterranean with Noah’s flood.  But Lipovsky points out that this ecological disaster took place slowly, over a century or so.  So no one was suddenly drowned.  It did, however, cause migrations in several directions.

Northern Mesopotamia, home of the Semitic peoples, had been protected on all sides except the south by mountain ranges.  But the Black Sea disaster forced some of the Indo-Europeans south anyway, and so put pressure on the Semites around Haran.

At this point I do not know how much historical credibility Lipovsky gives the stories of the patriarchs. (He gives some credibility to Genesis 14 but never engages with the historical difficulties.) He may be using Abraham to represent the movement of a tribe. He says that “Abraham”, contrary to some biblical statements, probably did not embrace monotheism until after the migration to Canaan.

Lipovsky accepts the identification of Hebrew with Habiru.  I have never been convinced of this myself.  But he thinks that in the Abrahamic period all Western Semitic nomads were designated Habiru.

“The Habiru were warriors; dignitaries among the local rulers; artisans; and hired hands.  Most, however, lived a pastoral life, wandering nomadically with their herds over the entire territory of the Fertile Crescent”

The Sutu or Shasu, as the Egyptians called them, were a transjordanian version of the Habiru.  The separation of Abraham and Lot points to the origin of the Sutu.  This separation may also have been the occasion for the adoption of a new religion by the Canaanite Habiru.   Whatever the Abrahamic religion actually was has likely been lost, says Lipovsky, since the much later editors of the Pentateuch wanted to align the religion of Abraham with that of Moses.

But perhaps in the confession of faith before the King of Sodom in Genesis 14:22 we have an inkling of a “spontaneous monotheism” upon which Moses later built.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Israel, Bible, Exodus, Genesis and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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