In order to get some idea of the comparative chronology of
Egypt and Israel, we must first
consider what data we have for Egyptian chronology. Israel’s surviving records
date from a time many centuries later than Israel's contact with Egypt. On the
other hand, Egypt's records in monuments, inscriptions, tombs, etc., are rich
absolutely reliable as far as they go.
Of the surviving civilizations, Egypt and China go back
furthest in time with historical material. Egypt has more interest for us,
because geographically it was centrally situated, and it influenced and was
influenced by almost every important cultural movement in Asia, Europe, and
Africa, nothing happened in Mediterranean history that had not some points of
contact with Egypt.
The first broad division in Egyptian chronology is between
the pre-Dynastic and the Dynastic periods. The pre-Dynastic period is all
prehistory. But recent researches have shown a great deal of light on the
culture of that period, and we know many more details about the arts and tools
of that period in Egypt
than we do for the corresponding periods of prehistory in other countries.
With the first Egyptian Dynasty of rulers begins the
What were the Egyptian Dynasties, and why is so much
prominence given to them in Egyptian chronology?
The reason is that though we can form a graphic idea of the
sequence of events and in many cases of the details of events, arts, and crafts,
manners and customs, cults and ceremonies, and social and economic conditions in
the dynastic period, we are not yet able, except for occasional and isolated
glimpses, to give any accurate figures of early dates to connect them with our
On the other hand, we have abundant materials to justify us
in placing certain events or personages or ideas in some division of the
Dynastic scheme. We can say that such and such ideas held sway under the 18th
Dynasty or that such and such invasion, outwards or inwards, took place at the
close of the 14th Dynasty.
The Dynastic scheme rests mainly on the lists and fragments
preserved from the writings of one Manetho, on Egyptian priest and annalist, who
lived under Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II (B.C. 313-246), the inheritors of the
Egyptian portion of Alexander’s Empire. For his Egyptian history in Greek he had
access to Egyptian records. His scheme of Dynasties therefore supplies a rough
chronological framework into which can be fitted our ever-increasing detailed
knowledge derived from Egyptian monuments, tombs, and excavations. His first
Dynasty begins with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, but its actual date
B.C. has been placed at between such wide margins as 5500 B.C. and 3300 B.C.
The two Egypts may be considered
distinct ethnical and perhaps geographical divisions, which tend to assimilate
when they are united politically, but whose physical characteristics are
different, as also their outlook when there is political division. Lower Egypt
looks to the Mediterranean, and its population is mixed, containing almost all
the Mediterranean and Arab elements, while Upper Egypt looks to interior Africa
(Nubia, Sudan, Abyssinia, etc.), and its population tends to have more and more
The whole of Egypt has had a
ribbon development, the population and cultivation being confined to the banks
of the Nile. Without the Nile Egypt would be just a desert forming a link in the
long chain of tropical and subtropical deserts stretching from the Sahara, the
Libyan desert, the Arabian deserts, through the Persian, Baluchistan, Sindh, and
Rajputana deserts, to the Turki and Gobi deserts in central Asia.
But Upper Egypt
is purely a long irregular line along the banks of the Nile, while lower Egypt has the broad fan-link delta in which
the many mouths of the Nile run into a very irregular coastline extending over about
200 miles. Lower Egypt
had (and has) much marshland, and its low-lying configuration was subject to
many physical changes, in the same way as invasions and foreign immigrations
gave its population a less stable character. Its cities as Sais
and Tanis (Zoan), were also less stable in character, and Memphis
(near the site of modern Cairo) has to be just above the Delta.
On the other hand the
Capitals in Upper Egypt, such as Thebes (or N0), with their magnificent temples
and tombs were safe above Nile waters in the highest inundations until the
modern dam of Aswan was built many miles above them.
Even after the union of the
two Egypts, the king wore a double crown. The boundary between Upper and Lower
Egypt was never clearly defined, because in spite of frequent interruptions in
the unity of the country, the identification of Egypt with the Nile made the
unity of Egypt a political and economic necessity, the present boundary of Lower
Egypt is just south of Cairo, making Lower Egypt include just the Delta. The
tract between Cairo and Assyut is sometimes called Middle Egypt and is
distinguished from the rest of Upper Egypt, which is higher up the river.
There being such wide variations in the estimate of ancient
dates by component authorities, the only practicable course is to refer ancient
events to Dynasties according to Manetho’s scheme. In the later dates it is
sometimes possible to express a date in approximate figures B.C., but such
figures are uncertain, whereas the sequence of Dynasties may be taken to be a
stable fact in Egyptian history. Although some of Manetho’s material, when it
can be tested, has proved to be inaccurate. But we have only Manetho secondhand.
The inaccuracies may be due not to Manetho but to his transmitters. Thirty-nine
such Dynasties are reckoned, and they may be grouped into Periods as follows:
The Old Kingdom, Dynasties
I to VII, including a. the first three Dynasties, with a new orientation in
Egyptian Art, and b. Dynasties IV VI, the Pyramid Period, during which the
Great Pyramid and the second and third Pyramids of Ghizeh were built. The
capital now came to Lower Egypt, to the site of Memphis, near modern Cairo.
The Middle Kingdom,
Dynasties IX to XVII. In Dynasties IX and X the centre of gravity moved from
in Lower Egypt to Middle Egypt. In the XIIth
Dynasty many of the great monuments of and near Thebes (Karnak, Luxor, etc.),
were constructed. Perhaps the movement higher up the river was necessitated by
foreign invasions in Lower Egypt. Dynasties XV to XVII are called the Hyksos
Period, when a Syrian Dynasty was established in Lower Egypt, with a sort of
lordship over the native Dynasties of Upper Egypt, and international
connections in other Mediterranean countries. We shall presently speak of the
Hyksos Pharaohs, who have been placed in the 17th, 18th,
and even 26th century B.C.
The New Empire, Dynasties
XVIII to XX, crowded with events. The dates now begin to be more definite: the
period may be placed about 1580 B.C. and about 1200 B.C. the foreign Hyksos
were driven out; the empire was extended to Syria and Nubia; perhaps even the
Euphrates was reached. Some of the most wonderful works of Egyptian art date
from this period.
The Dynasties of the Delta.
Dynasties XXI to XXXI, including a Dynasty at Sais (on one of the western
branches of the Deltaic Nile). But Assyrian and Persian invasions were now
weakening the power of Egypt.
The dates now became more certain. The XXIst
Dynasty was roughly about 1100 B.C. the XXVIIth
Dynasty was ended by the invasion of the Persian under Cambyses in 525 B.C.
the Persians held sway (with Egyptian local dynasties under them) until the
XXXIst Dynasty, when the last Pharaoh fled to Ethiopia about 340 B.C.
The Egyptian Dynasties have
now ended, we are in firm history: the Macedonian Period after Alexander’s
conquest, 332 B.C., and the Dynasty of the Ptolemies 323 B.C. to 30 B.C.; and
the Roman Period 30 B.C. to 639 A.C. after which the Arab and Turkish
conquests evolved modern Egypt and Muslim Egyptian civilization.
Having cleared the chronological background, we are now in
a position to examine the data about Israel’s stay in Egypt in
order to see if we can get some idea of the time in Egyptian history when the
contact took place. We saw that Dynasties XV to XVII were concerned with the
Hyksos (or Shepherd) kings. They were foreigners from Asia, but it is not quite clear exactly what race they belonged
to. Josephus supposed that they were Israelites, but that theory is untenable.
It has been conjectured that they were Phoenicians, or
Amalekites, or Hittites. In any case they were Semites. They founded a
city called Zoan (Tanis)
on one of the eastern branches of the Deltaic Nile, and were in close
communication with the Hittite city of Hebron in the south of Palestine. That
would be their own city, but their capital would probably by the same as the old
Egyptian capital at Memphis when they were well-established.
They were credited with
having invented the Semitic alphabet of 22 letters, which (through the
Phoenicians) is the the parent of all modern alphabets. Their invention probably
helped in the process of converting old Egyptian Hieroglyphics from
picture-writing to phonetic writing. As the Hyksos had close relations with
in Palestine, and Abraham and Israel had settled in the Palestine country, a
nexus would be established, by which the first Israelites would be attracted to
Zoan in Egypt.
It must also be remembered
that southern Palestine was a poor country and subject to frequent famines, while
Deltaic Egypt was well-watered by the Nile, and suffered famines only on the rare occasions
when the Nile failed
to inundate. The attraction of Egypt
for the famine-stricken lands of the neighborhood would therefore be strong. And
this is proved in the story of Joseph and his brethren.
Can we form even a rough idea of the dates of the Hyksos
At the latest the Hyksos period ended about 1600 B.C. Renan
is therefore probably not far wrong when he places the Hyksos occupation about
2000 B.C. Possibly a date between 2000 B.C. and 1600 B.C. may be nearer the
mark. If we suppose Joseph to have been the Wazir of one of the Hyksos Pharaohs
in the Delta, there is no great violence of probabilities in the suggestion, as
Joseph and the Hyksos would be of kindred races. In that case Joseph’s date
would fall somewhere between the 19th and 17th century
No reference to Joseph or Moses has been found in Egyptian
records. The solitary reference to Israel (Ysraer, r-I) in stele
of Mer-en-Ptah or Mineptah (about 1225 B.C.) seems to refer to Israel in
Palestine rather than to Israel in Egypt. At this we need not wonder, as the
Pharaoh who honored Joseph was, strictly speaking, only a foreigner. When the
reaction against the Hyksos took place and the Hyksos were overthrown, the
Egyptian would not probably be anxious to remember the interrupted period or to
preserve its memory. The Pharaoh who “knew not Joseph” looked upon Israelites as
contemptible slaves, nor worthy of a thought except when they revolted, and then
only as a despised race fit to be punished and kept in its place. It may be
noticed, however, that the land of Goshen in which Israel dwelt and multiplied
between the time of Joseph and the time of the Exodus, was a frontier tract of
Egypt in the neighborhood of the Hyksos city of Zoan in the Delta.
In seeking the approximate date of Moses, we must again
look to the probabilities of Egyptian history. It was formerly the received
opinion that Rameses II (say about 1250 B.C.) was the Pharaoh who oppressed
Israel in Egypt, and
that the exodus may have taken place under his immediate successor Mineptah (say
about 1225 B.C.). the vigorous policy of Rameses II and the spirit of his time
would be consistent with this view.
But this date is almost
certainly too late. There are indications pointing to the Israelites having
already been settled in Cannan by this time. The Hyksos were turned out by the
Dynasty, which established the New Empire in the 16th century B.C.
Thothmes I (Tethmosis I, about 1540 B.C.) is more likely, in the first flush of
his nationalist campaign, to have oppressed the Israelites and led to the
exodus. His date fits in better. And his character also accords with the
description in sacred history,. He centralized the monarchy and made it a
military autocracy. Militarism went with the lust of war and foreign conquest.
He carried his arms as far as the Euphrates. Slaves, plunder, and foreign
tribute made Egypt opulent and arrogant, and he added many monuments to Thebes.
We can imagine him in his splendid Court, scarcely paying any attention to
Mosses, and viewing all his complaints with an amusement mingled with contempt
and impatience. But retribution was to come in Allah's good time. The men who
followed Allah's message- Israel
in the time of Solomon (a little after 1000 B.C.), and more completely, the
Muslim in the time of ‘Umar and his successors-became lords of the East and the
West (Quran 7:137), and ancient
Egypt's were eventually buried in the sands.
It was this same Pharaoh, Thothmes I, who took for his
partner on the Throne his daughter Hatshepshut. If Thothmes was the Pharaoh in
Moses’ story, we may suppose that it was this same celebrated strong-minded lady,
pharaoh's daughter, who found the child Moses (Exod, 2:10), and brought him to
her mother to be adopted into the family (Quran 28:9).
Like her father, she was
a great supporter of the national cults. Moses was nurtured in the palace, and
learned all the wisdom of the Egyptians, then reputed to be the wisest of
nations. With their own wisdom he foiled them. Thus in Allah's Plan the enemies
of Allah and the enemies of Israel (Quran 20:39) were the
very ones who were used as instruments for the purpose of Allah and the
salvation of Israel.
E.B., Egypt: D.A. Mackenzie,
Egyptian myth and legend; Renan, History of the people of Israel, 3 vols;
Joseph Cattanie Pasha, coup d’oeil sur la chronolgie de kla
nation egyptianne, Paris
W.M. Filinders Petrie, History of Egypt, 3 vols,;
Cambridge Ancient History, vol 1,
Chapter iv (iii).