The rise of Israel-Halpern

Baruch Halpern contributes a chapter to The Rise of Ancient Israel.  He, however, does not see the Israelites as Dever’s migrants from Canaanite areas.   He tries to fit an Egyptian background into his theory.

The chronology you would assume from the Bible is that Israel spent 400 years in Egypt.  Then, toward the end of that time, were put to forced labor building mud brick structures for the Pharaoh in the Nile Delta.  After that came the exodus and a generation later came the entrance into Canaan.

Halpern sees something historical behind the Biblical story, but it is like the something behind the stories of Homer about Greek origins.  The stories, in both cases, are not meant to be historical.  They are meant to foster nationalist and religious feelings. One major function of the tales is that they are children’s stories.  They are stories that were told within the family on significant dates on the national calendar to pass on a heritage to children.

The settings of the exodus stories within Egyptian history fit with a lot of what we know about Egyptian history.  There are two focal points for this.  First there is the Hyksos period when Semitic people held power in Egypt, as Joseph is said to have done.  One of the Pharaohs or Viceroys in this period was even named Jacob.  Then about 400 years later came the Ramaside period.  Rameses II built new cities in the Delta and impressed Asiatics into forced labor.

A very significant thing here is that both of these periods were unusual in that the capital of Egypt was in the Delta.  This is what the Bible depicts in both the Joseph and Moses stories.  The capital was usually way to the south in Thebes.

Behind the Joseph stories, Halpern sees a defense of the Hyksos against the charge made in more than one Egyptian document that the Hyksos imposed heavy taxes and took grain at the expense of the Egyptian population.  The story of how Joseph did, indeed, impose harsh measures in Genesis 47:18-26 interprets these measures as needed to prevent a worse disaster.  So the Joseph saga is an interpretation of the Hyksos period from the Israelite point of view.

Several biblical claims for the Moses or exodus story match real details of the 18th dynasty.  Ramses II did build new cities in the delta.  The Egyptians at this time did use mud brick mixed with straw, something not done in Palestine.  The Midianite, Edomite, and Moabite kingdoms which played a part on the story all first appear in history just at the this time.

So Halpern believes that, although the narrative of the exodus has come about for a different purpose, it does show a memory of Egypt at two historically actual times.

Now scholars have often correlated an exodus in the 18th dynasty, say under Merneptah, with the entry of Israel into the land in the 12th centure BCE.  Halpern has a theory, which he has developed in his The Emergence of Israel in Canaan, that the 12th century settlers were part of a displaced Aramean people who came down into the Transjordan in the late 13th century.  A few of these crossed the Jordan and were the people Merneptah refers to in his famous stele.  Halpern’s desire here is to relate these people to an exodus from Egypt, which he thinks contains a real memory.

He thinks the exodus has to be scaled down from the event involving hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of people according to the Bible or Manetho.

What he thinks we can imagine are small groups of pastoralists migrating legally or illegally out of the Wadi Tumalat (the dried up branch of the Nile that afforded the best pasture land in Egypt and is probably what the Bible calls the land of Goshen) to evade taxation and forced labor.

It is tempting to think that they brought with them the idea that they were linked to the old Hyksos figure, Jacob.  At any rate, they felt they had been touched by the desert God, YHWH. There may have been a series of incidents that are invisible to us archeologically.  Older Egyptian topographical lists had mentioned the land of the Shasu of YHWH.  So Yahwism must have already existed on the southern steppes of  Jordan.

So a group of exiles from Egypt who must have existed as a religious cult came into contact with the Aramaens who were exiles from the north.  They somehow found them a compatable group and imprinted their Egyptian experience upon them.

I find much that comes close to my own views in Halpern.  The Egyptian background cannot be proven, but meshes with Egyptian history in many ways.

However, I am an agnostic about his theory of Aramean refugees recently arrived from Mesopotamia. It is a better theory about Merneptah’s Israel than some.  But it seems unlikely to me that the group the Pharaoh bragged about defeating amounted to only a handful of newly arrived refugees in the mountains.  Maybe I will get to read Halpern’s book about it someday.

It seems possible to me that even people from Syrian regions could have traced their lineage back to the Hyksos.  It seems possible that people could have identified as a nation that had come out of Egypt even if they had not experienced the exodus under Moses.

For my own most recent article supporting the idea there there were several exodus-like event, see here.


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 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The rise of Israel-Halpern

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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