The least persuasive part of Igor Lipovsky’s book, Early Israelites, so far has been his suggestion that the northern tribes had a hidden, separate history from that of the Jacob tribes in the south. There is a reason for this. The compilers of Genesis had to suppress most of the story of the Israel tribes in order to mesh their history with the Jacob tribes.
According to Lipovsky this meant that the history of the northern tribes as part of the Hyksos who ruled Egypt in the 16th and 17th centuries BCE had to drop out of the Bible story.
He has a long discussion of the Hyksos. He is on board with the growing consensus of Egyptologists that they came from Canaan. Lipovsky says they were Amorites and that the northern Israelites were Amorites too.
The name, Hyksos, comes from Manetho and means “foreign Asiatic rulers”. This name only refers to the elite–the rulers–among these people. The Egyptians refered to this population as a’amu. The a’amu included the common people as well as the rulers. A’amu is an Egyptian form of Amurru or Amorites.
Manetho was trying to describe events that occurred 1500 years before his own time. His view is skewed and confused. But some of it must have been based on chronicles from earlier times. He was mistaken about the Hyksos having rather suddenly invaded Egypt.
Egyptologists today envision a process of Asiatic infiltration and settlement that went on for centuries before some seized power and ruled Lower Egypt from Avaris. By this time they had assimilated Egyptian culture and saw themselves as Egyptian. The Hyksos pharaohs ruled as Egyptian kings.
The “Egyptians” encountered by the patriarchs such as Abraham’s wife, Hagar, were probably actually of Amorite descent.
Lipovsky points out that one of the effects of Hyksos rule in Egypt would have been relative peace in Canaan. He envisions political alliances, good trade relations and the use of Egypt as a refuge from the intermittent dry spells that occurred in Canaan. Thus, this period provides the background for the Joseph stories.
“The ‘house of Joseph’ was possibly one of those Amorite rulers who were invited to take power by the pharaohs at the time when the pharaohs were still of Egyptian origin. The other northern tribes who came slightly later reinforced the position of the ‘house of Joseph’ and helped it secure a privileged position in the Hyksos hierarchy. Thus we may say that the northern (Israelite) tribes were a constituent part of the Hyksos, while their tribal elite were probably part of the entourage of the Hyksos pharaohs.”
Further, he says the Ephraim and Manasseh must have been tribal warriors who fought against the pharaohs from Thebes when those pharaohs ousted the Hyksos from Lower Egypt. The house of Joseph, being an influential Hyksos family, were in a position to be benefactors of other tribes.
So the southern Jacob tribes probably did at some point seek relief from famine by going to Egypt and did come into some relationship with the Israel tribes. However, while in Egypt the southern tribes had no wealth or position like the Joseph tribes. Their social position was entirely different.
The end of Hyksos power came after pharaoh of Upper Egypt, Ahmose, laid siege to the Hyksos capitol at Avaris. He could not capture the city. So he blockaded it and eventually, according to Manetho, negotiated a treaty that allowed the Hyksos inhabitants to leave safely. Archeological evidence that shows no sign of a battle in the city backs this up. The people from Avaris went to southern Canaan and eventually fought another battle with Ahmose, who advanced upon their city of Sharuhen in Gaza. He defeated them there and brought an end to all Hyksos power.
But many a’amu remained in Egypt. Their position was no longer so favored. Some of them probably escaped in several little exoduses. Some of them settled in Egypt in the “land of Goshen.” However, after the Hyksos interlude the Egyptians were afraid of the a’amu and their policy became increasingly negative toward them. This is behind the statement in Exodus 1:8-10 about the new king who did not know Joseph.
Lipovsky knows his stuff and is not adopting weird theories about Egypt or its chronology, as many who attempt to reconcile the Bible and Egyptian history do. But the best you can say of his scenario about the house of Joseph is that it could have happened that way. Oh–and you can say that his theory is very stimulating to the imagination. I like that.
I particularly question his take on the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. So before I do another post summarizing Lipovsky, I will do one where I present some of my questions and speculations about that topic.