Israelites with Egyptian names

At this juncture of 2018/19 I think back over the books I have been reading.

I think that three books I have read recently converge on the reality that several names of Levites in the Bible appear to be Egyptian.

James Hoffmeier in Ancient Israel in Sinai went through a long list of names that might be Egyptian. Moses, of course, is an Egyptian name. But Aaron is also probably Egyptian and might mean “the keeper of the tent.”

Richard Elliott Friedman in The Exodus argued that the Egyptian names strongly indicate that the Levites and only the Levites participated in the Exodus. He claimed that they had a violent reputation and the other Israelites, who were already in the land, gave them access to land and resources partly out of fear.

Mark Leuchter in The Levites and the Boundaries of Israelite Identity disagreed with Friedman about the Levites coming out of Egypt. He thought they were probably Egyptians who were already administrators or soldiers in Edom and went rogue to become leaders among the Israelites. Possibly the descendants of Aaron through Phinehas established a shrine at Bethel. Possibly the descendants of Moses through Gershom established the shrine at Shiloh. These may have been warrior priests who used the Ark of the Covenant as a battle palladium.

The significant thing is that all three authors find that under the layers of tradition about the Exodus there is some bedrock data connecting the Israelites to Egypt. And it is not just the names. More and more it is acknowledged that the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle have Egyptian roots.

Leuchter is the most minimalist, calling into question an exodus from Egypt.

Friedman is less so, acknowledging a Moses-led exodus of just the Levites.

Hoffmeier is the most maximilist. He holds to the notion of an exodus much closer to the text of the Torah with Moses leading twelve tribes out of Egypt.

Hoffmeier also has a suggestion, which he knows is quite speculative, that the revolt of Korah in Numbers 16 relates to tension between two ranks of Egyptian priests.

Hoffmeier and Friedman thought the Levites already existed in an Egyptian setting as a tribe or caste.  Leuchter thought that the institution of the Levites developed in early Israel, perhaps under the influence of Egyptians.

But it is significant that these authors all find the Egyptian element in the oldest traditions something that they have to explain and build their scenarios around.

About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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