Hebrews in Egypt – Slaves and Plagues – Extra-Biblical Proof!

Joan S. Reed

The story of the Hebrew people in Egypt is told in the Old Testament and the Passover Haggadah, primarily as regards miracles being performed to achieve their escape from slavery – miracles of the “Ten Plagues” and of Moses splitting the Red Sea during the Exodus. The saga of Hebrew-Israelites in Egypt begins with Joseph – sold by his ten older brothers, angry at his arrogance – to itinerant Ishmaelites, who resell him into slavery in Egypt. Through his abilities at dream-interpretation and subsequently at executive administration, Joseph eventually is appointed vizier (second in authority) to Pharaoh, and through enforced hoarding of grain through seven bountiful years (building storage cities), saves Egypt, the entire Mid-East and the Hebrews from famine. (Extra-biblical source, “It was during the reign of Djoser that Egypt became a great power .. great riches .. accumulated .. grain sold .. years of famine .. “.) Joseph then brings his brothers and father plus their families (totaling seventy) to Egypt, where the sojourn of Hebrews in Egypt begins. Centuries later, a Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph”, concerned that their high birth rate could become a threat, enslaves them, then institutes drownings of male-babies – and the chapter of Moses begins.

There are many extra-biblical Egyptian references giving credence to the above story:

  1. Slaves building monuments in Egypt – Papyrus, Leiden #348, “Distribute grain to the Habirus (or Apiru – Hebrews) who carry stones to the great pylon of Rameses,” Mural paintings indicate starving men with prominent spavined ribs.)
  2. An Austrian dig of dwellings and tombs at Tel-ed-Daba, Egypt, in 1989, discovered ancient cities near Goshen. Data from 800 drill cores gave evidence of a large number of Asian, non-Egyptian slaves; eleven levels at the site indicate many generations during the 12th and 13th Egyptian dynasties compatible in duration and time period to the Biblical history of the Hebrew sojourn as slaves in Egypt:
  3. The Brooklyn Papyrus 35.1446, tells of the reign of Pharaoh Sobekhotep, containing over 95 names of slaves, more than half are Semitic, seven being Biblical names including the name of one of the two midwives named in the Bible, “Shiphrah”,
  4. In direct conformity with the Bible the killing of male Hebrew babies – infant Moses is saved by Egyptian princess was the discovery of unusual demographic burial data at Tel-ed-Daba – 65% of the graves were of babies less than 18 months old, compared to a normal percentage of 20-30%. In addition there were far more graves of adult females than of males (conforming to male infants being killed at birth.);
  5. Historians of the 300 BC era, Eusebies and Artapanus, with ancient records from the library at Alexandria, tell of Mouses Moses, an Egyptian prince who led a military campaign against Ethiopia. The Roman historian, Josephus and a stela fragment in the British Museum, indicate such an event occurred during the reign of Pharaoh Khenepres-Sobekhotep. Also supporting the story of the military campaign by Moses was a statue of Sobekhotep Moses’ stepfather found on the island of Argo, proving that Egyptian conquest and authority extended to 200 kilometers from Egypt. Egyptian historians wrote that Mouses’ fame caused Sobekhotep to target him causing him to flee from Egypt to Midian – as in the Bible story, however, the Bible and the Jewish Haggadah say the cause was Moses killing an Egyptian slave-driver who was beating a Hebrew;
  6. The Pharaoh of the Exodus is identified as King Dudimose, 36th ruler of the 13th Dynasty. The Bible describes him as, “Pharaoh who knew not Joseph”.
  7. M. Bietek, in his dig at Tel ed-Baba, which he dated to the middle of the 14th Dynasty, found shallow mass graves all over the city of Avaris – clear evidence of some type of sudden major and widespread catastrophe not unlike what would result from a biblical “Tenth Plague”, death of all first-born. In addition, site-archaeology suggests that the remaining population had abandoned their homes quickly and en masse;
  8. Information from the extra-biblical source of Josephus, a Roman historian born a Jew – who aided Titus in his conquest of Jerusalem in 67 AD, and was then, as a reward, given the Temple Scrolls – quotes Monetho, an Egyptian priest, circa 300 BC, regarding the “easy” conquest of mighty Egypt by the Hyksos. Bible – Egypt’s loss of its entire army of 600 chariots and charioteers at the Red Sea seems a reasonable explanation.
  9. A highly important extra-biblical source of corroborative detail to many of the narratives of the ten-plagues and the Exodus events of both Bible and Hebrew-Passover-Haggadah, is the Ipuwer Papyrus Scroll – Leiden 344. Found in Egypt in the early 19th century, it was taken to the Leiden Museum in Holland where it remains. Described in many books about ancient Egypt, it is a papyrus scroll over twelve feet in length, called “Admonitions of Ipuwer”. It was written during the 19th dynasty (the Middle Kingdom period) by a scribe/historian named Ipuwer, and interpreted in 1909 by A. H. Gardiner. The scroll describes violent events in Egypt which seem to parallel the Biblical ten plagues and the Exodus story – it seems a description of a society in total crisis, providing, in essence, an eyewitness account of extreme and unusual occurrences:
    • “What the ancestors had foretold has happened”, (Imhotep/Joseph, approximately 260 years earlier, had foretold the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt.) Gen. 50:24-26
    • “We don’t know what has happened in the land.”
    • “The river is blood .. there is blood everywhere, no shortage of death .. many dead are buried in the river .. lacking are grain, charcoal .. trees are felled .. food is lacking .. great hunger and suffering”. The first plague;
    • “destruction of grain” The plague of hail or locusts;
    • “animals moaning and roaming freely”;
    • “darkness” The ninth plague;
    • Deaths of the “children of princes, prisoners, brothers” The tenth plague, deaths of all the first-born;
    • “Gone is what yesterday has seen. See now, the land is deprived of kingship. See, all the ranks, they are not in their place .. like a herd that roams without a herdsman.”
    • “Poor .. have become .. of wealth .. Gold and lapis lazuli, silver and malachite, carnelian and bronze are strung on to the necks of female slaves.” “…and they requested from the Egyptians, silver and gold articles. And God made the Egyptians favor them and they granted their request.” Ex. 12:35-36;
    • “See, he who slept wifeless found a noblewoman .. “are no more”.” (This, written long afterwards, obviously describes conditions after the loss of the Egyptian army and the upper-class male officers. Note: This also supports the request of the “royal” widow of Pharaoh, lost in the Red Sea, in a remarkable Amarna letter to the King of the neighboring Hittites, asking for one of his sons to become her new husband.

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