Lipovsky-Hyksos, Habiru, Israel

The people who compiled the Hebrew Bible deliberately omitted any history of the northern tribes before they united with the southern tribes.  So says Igor Lipovsky in his Early Israelites.  If they had told this story they would have contradicted the version where the tribes all left Egypt at the same time under Moses.  That was the official history.

So, since there is a hidden history of the northern tribes, Lipovsky tries to recover it.  He bases his history of the northern tribes on his understanding of ethnicity and migration in the 16th through the 12th centuries BCE. His exposition of this period radiates out from the mid 14th century, because the Amarna letters (about 20 years worth of diplomatic correspondence between the pharaohs and the rulers of small kingdoms in Canaan and Syria) give us our best data.  So his discussion does not move forward from century to century in a timeline.

But I will attempt to summarize his conclusions in a more linear fashion.

This period begins with the defeat and expulsion of (some) Hyksos from Egypt. Among them were the tribes that became northern Israel.  Archeologists have uncovered several city destruction layers in the cities of Canaan that date to the 16th century.  Once it was common to say the Egyptians devastated Canaan as they followed up on their victory.  The studies of  Egyptologist Donald Redford have undermined that idea.

Lipovsky shows that in the Amarna letters many of the small-time kings in Canaan have Hurrian names.  In the Merneptah stele and other documents, the Egyptians call Canaan Haru, which is what the Mitanni Hurrians called their own territories.  In the 16th century Mitanni was strong and Egypt was weak.  So Lipovsky thinks that the real reason for the Hyksos defeat was that they were squeezed between an opportunistic attack from the Thebian Egyptians  and a major invasion from the north by the Mitanni army that destroyed cities and left a Hurrian ruling class throughout Canaan.

This left the Hyksos survivors displaced.  They became the Habiru of the Amarna letters.

I have questioned this.  Habiru and Hebrew, although they sound something alike, are not the same word as Liposky acknowleges.  My suggestion for a free translation of Habiru is our word “gang”.  However, Lipovsky argues that a powerful people like the Hyksos, who ruled the Nile Delta for over a hundred years, cannot have disappeared from history. So it is unreasonable to think that they do not appear at all in the Amarna letters.

I have read the Amarna letters and know a little about this era.  The letters do talk about Habiru or Apiru.  Labaya, petty king at Shechem, denied in his letters to pharaoh that he had allied himself with the Habiru to attack Megido.  He was almost certainly lying through his teeth.  The king of Jerusalem, Abdi-heba,  was under attack by Habiru, whom he repeatedly called the enemy of pharaoh.  He also was under attack by “Kashites” whoever they were (Kassites? Kushites?)

There were also Habiru far to the north in Syrian areas.

Were these Habiru mercenaries, surrogates for the Hittite Empire, or independent tribes? Lipovsky does not claim that all Habiru were ancestors of the Israelites.  But he says that when the Amarna letters mention Habiru in central or southern Canaan these must be the house of Joseph.

Lipovsky catches something in one of the Amarna letters that is new to me.  He points to a letter by an Ammorite king who says his rival is like a Habiru, “a runaway dog”.  Lipovsky says that a runaway dog is different from a stray dog (a more common image of the Habiru as nomadic wanderers).  Lipovsky takes this as speaking to the circumstances by which the Habiru arrived in Canaan as people who fled from Egypt. Or. . .it could just be a generic insult,

He rejects the idea that the Sutu, also mentioned in the Amarna letters, were the ancestors of the Hebrews.  These were tribes east of the Jordan who did not encroach to the west, probably the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites and Midianites.  They never were the subject of complaints by the writers of the Amarna letters.  It was only the Habiru who appear as enemies of Egypt and a threat in Canaan.  The Sutu may have raided Egyptian caravans.  But that was more of a nuisance than a real threat to Egypt.

So from the 16th through the 14th centuries the house of Joseph, former Hyksos rulers in Egypt, were a people in the countryside of Canaan.  Much of the time they were oppressed by Egypt and Egypt’s vassals in Canaan. In the 15th century they may have been targets in the campaigns of Thutmose III.

According to Lipovsky, the Amarna letters show the growing power of the Habiru in the 14th century. Then at the end of the 13th century they appear as Israel, a people rather than a city state, attacked by pharaoh Merneptah.

His best argument is that the Hyksos could not have vanished.  So if they were not the Amarna era Habiru, where did they go?

Maybe they intermarried and disappeared.  They were Canaanites or Ammorites  by race. So once they lost power and gave up their Egyptian culture, were they not identical to the people of Canaan?  Or maybe they went across the Jordan and up to Bashan.

The Hyksos were not necessarily the Habiru.  But even if they were not, there is a case you can make that some Hyksos eventually became Israel.  In the 13th century somebody who hated Egypt burned the powerful city of Hazor and then perhaps allied themselves with Yanoam to fight the troops of Merneptah.  All this, of course, is mostly guess-work.

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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 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Lipovsky-Hyksos, Habiru, Israel

  1. Joe says:

    “Maybe they intermarried and disappeared. They were Canaanites or Ammorites by race. ” Proof?

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