Truth, Justice, and the Ancient Egyptian Way

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 3)

Ma’at. Image courtesy of the National Archaeological Museum, Florence

So! After the last two fairly involved posts, I wanted to leave you with one more important factor in the Egyptian religious landscape, but I wanted to keep it short and sweet. So, let’s have a brief overview on what is probably the most important ideal in Ancient Egyptian beliefs, and then call it a day.

It’s known as ma’at.

Perhaps in part due to the highly regular and seasonal rise and fall of the Nile (the predictability of which was a luxury that no other river-civilization had) the Ancient Egyptians placed a high value on natural order, harmony, and balance. This translated to a strong cultural emphasis on truth and justice.

These concepts came to be consolidated into a single word, ma’at, which came to be personified as a goddess, also called Ma’at. She was often seen as the daughter of Ra and the wife of Thoth (the Egyptian god of wisdom) but remember, Egyptian mythology was the Wild West of storytelling and your mileage may vary. Choose your own adventure, that sort of thing. Different sources have different explanations of her place in the mythology.

The Pharaoh and the Vizier (which was Joseph’s eventual position) were both seen as being the guardians of the characteristics of Ma’at – this put me in a very interesting position as someone trying to display Joseph’s devotion to the one God. That said, I don’t want to spoil too much about my story! Given that this discussion could reveal several plot points, I’ll leave it at that for now and move forward.

Ma’at’s role as a goddess was an interesting one. She was almost a concept rather than a personage in many cases. She had no cult centers and no real ranks of priests or priestesses. In the mythology, she had only one real role in direct relation to humanity, playing a key part in the judgment of the dead before the throne of Osiris by weighing their hearts with her feather of truth (you can see it on her head in the image above).

Yet the influence of her concepts permeated every part of Egyptian society and she was held responsible for crucial events such as the changing of seasons, the movement of the stars, and maintaining the natural order of the universe itself.

On that note, I’ll conclude here! I told you I’d keep this post short! 😉 Join me next week as we take a look at the Pharaoh’s critical role in Ancient Egyptian Religion.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Great Ennead, the Memphis Triad, and That One Guy (Episode 2)

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 3)

Horus is often represented by a falcon

So – we’re back! Let’s continue with our exploration of some key points of Egyptian Mythology that are important to my book.

Memphis: The Triad of Memphis

Okay, so rule one. Forget everything you read last week about the Great Ennead in Heliopolis. You’re in Memphis now, so different rules apply.

Ptah: Ptah was the first god. I know, I know, you read last week that Atum was the first god. I don’t know what to tell you. We’re not in Heliopolis anymore, Toto. This is the way Ancient Egyptian Religion works. Ptah was seen as the creator god in Memphis and was the god of craftsmanship and architecture. Like Osiris, he was depicted with green skin.

Sekhmet: Sekhmet was Ptah’s wife and sometimes said to be the daughter of Ra. She is another Egyptian goddess portrayed with the head of a lion – she was the goddess of war, so no surprise there. But, she was also seen as the protector of Pharaohs and the goddess of healing.

Nefertem: Nefertem was the son of Ptah and Sekhmet and was associated with the first sunlight, the sun, and the lotus flower.

Abydos: Just That One Guy, Osiris

During the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (the time in which my story is set) the worship of Osiris by both royalty and the masses grew. This cult center was in Abydos, which was far from Heliopolis and Memphis. Osiris was seen to be the ruler of the afterlife, and perhaps because of this, the Egyptian people began to place more importance on him. It is logical to assume that since the Middle Kingdom arose out of the chaos of the First Intermediate Period, people began to think more about the afterlife.

People would travel from all over Egypt to celebrate Osiris and reenact important elements of the Osiris myth in Abydos (in my story, I extend the celebrations to also take place in the Egyptian capital, something I thought would be logical).


As I mentioned before, there are not that many fully-drawn-out myths in Egyptian religion. The Osiris Myth is one of the few and the most influential. The very brief (and sanitized, yikes) version is this:

Osiris is the ancient king of Egypt, and his younger brother, Set, is jealous of his rule and power. Set murders Osiris and assumes the throne.

Osiris’ wife, Isis, searches far and wide for his body, and eventually finds him. She is able to return him to a form of life for a short time and she becomes pregnant with a son, Horus.

Osiris, with a legitimate heir now in place, descends into underworld to rule since he is not truly alive. Horus must take his rightful place once he is grown, and dethrone Set.

Horus is faced with many dangers growing up, sometimes sent after him by Set. Isis, with her magic and cunning, defends or heals him from each.

The Eye of Horus

Once Horus is grown, he and Set face off in a series of battles. One of the most famous episodes, in which Set takes one of Horus’ eyes, results in the famous “Eye of Horus” symbol, commonly associated with ancient Egypt and used as a symbol of protection. Horus eventually triumphs (in many versions anyway – remember, Egyptian mythology is nothing if not inconsistent) and order is restored. Horus rules in Egypt and Osiris rules the dead.

This concept of order and balance is a critical point of Egyptian mythology. Called ma’at, it will be the focus of my post next week.

I want to leave you with a note that basically every single thing I have told you about in the last two posts has a different version (or many different versions) somewhere else. For instance, we have many different retellings of the Osiris Myth as well as different recordings of its celebrations, both from Egyptian sources and from famous non-Egyptian personages such as Plutarch and Herodotus. Sometimes a specific element may only be found in one version.

What I’ve attempted to do here is give you a baseline familiarity with a standard, not-too-esoteric version of these parts of the mythology. If you have questions or want more information, comment below!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Great Ennead, the Memphis Triad, and That One Guy (Episode 1)

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 2)

Set and Horus surround the Pharaoh in this carving

Okay, so like I said last time, trying to sort through Ancient Egyptian Religion is like trying to sort through the most bonkers rabbit hole you have ever encountered.

With that in mind, I have also known that this post would have to come down the pipeline eventually. And I have been worrying about it since – basically since I started blogging. So, September.

As I write this, it is December 31st. So, a good four months.

So, here I am, buckling down, going to get it done. It’s now or never, and now, for the first time, I actually have a plan.

I have decided that there’s no way I’m going to be able to properly cover everything we know about every Egyptian deity. That’s what an encyclopedia is for. Further, I have finally convinced myself that no one is expecting me to be an encyclopedia, and that neither should I aspire to be one.

So, instead of attempting to imitate an encyclopedia (which I would fail at spectacularly), what I am going to do is give you a brief overview of the religious landscape in Egypt during the time during which my story is set (Twelfth Dynasty), specifically focusing on the deities and/or cult centers mentioned in my book. That way, I do not have to cover an entire pantheon with four thousand plus years of history (you can probably see why I have been stressing about this).

So, let’s break it down by those cult centers. You may remember I mentioned these in my last post. Basically, these are centers of worship that subscribe to a very specific understanding of the Egyptian religion and specifically venerate a deity or group of deities. They do not necessarily ignore the others, but priests or priestesses at a cult center certainly viewed their deity/deities as the most important. (There were also a lot of politics and power plays that fed into this, but that’s a whole other can of worms.)

The cult centers we will be discussing are:

Heliopolis

Memphis

Abydos  

Some of these names may be familiar to you, particularly Memphis. That is because these cult centers were also cities. Not everyone in the city were religious personnel, but there would have been large areas of the city dedicated to worship.

Each of these cities focused on a very different aspect of the Egyptian pantheon.

Heliopolis: The Great Ennead (Egyptian name Pesedjet)

This is the biggie. The Great Ennead is a group of nine (sometimes ten) deities, worshiped in Heliopolis as the preeminent gods and goddesses. It was thought that together they created the great council of the gods. There were also little Enneads that I won’t talk about here.

In the Ennead were:

Atum-Ra: Atum was the first god. Note that this did not make him the head honcho. At some points, and in Heliopolis, he was combined with Ra (the king of the gods, god of the sun and creator of life) to become Atum-Ra, thus making him both the first and king of the gods.

Shu: Atum’s son. He was a chill guy with power over the air and wind, and associated with peace.

Tefnut: Atum’s daughter. Also Shu’s wife (bleh, I know). One of the goddesses who gets to be drawn with a lion’s head sometimes, which means she has anger issues. She was associated with rain and moisture.

Geb: The son of Shu and Tefnut and the god of the earth. He was also associated with snakes.

Nut: The daughter of Shu and Tefnut and the goddess of the sky and cosmos. Wife of Geb.

Osiris: Yay for the first name since Ra that probably sounds familiar to you! Osiris was the son of Geb and Nut and was the god of death and rebirth. He was the judge of the dead and often was drawn with green skin – green symbolized rebirth. There was a whole cult dedicated to him (in Abydos), centered around the Osiris Myth, that we’ll talk about coming up here.

Isis: And another one you may have heard of! Isis was the daughter of Geb and Nut and the wife of Osiris. She had many traits both associated with her role in the Osiris Myth and the fact that the Pharaoh was connected thematically to her son, Horus. Overall, she was associated with birth, destiny, and magic, and portrayed as clever and cunning.

Set: The son of Geb and Nut, drawn with an animal head that we still can’t quite identify – though it has similarities to an aardvark or jackal. He plays a large part in the Osiris Myth as the antagonist and was the god of the desert, chaos, fire, and storms.

Nephthys: The daughter of Geb and Nut and wife of Set. She was, in many ways, his antithesis, seen as a goddess of nurturing and protection in life and death.

Horus: The tenth and optional member of the Ennead, son of Osiris and Isis. He also played a part in the Osiris Myth. He was portrayed with the head of a falcon and was seen as the protector and king of Egypt. For that reason, the Pharaoh was seen as an aspect of Horus. We’ll talk more about this in another post.

It is important to note that this particular mythology was only completely accepted by the followers of the Great Ennead in Heliopolis. Other cult centers might agree in part with this mythology, or not at all. As an example, we’ll move to nearby Memphis.

… In the next post.

I am mapping out this post and it, like Egyptian Mythology, is a bear. I can see your eyes starting to cross right now. So, I will leave you here, and we will pick up in Memphis next time!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Ra, Atum-Ra, and Amun-Ra, Oh My!

A Series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 1)

Okay, so way back when this blog first started, I made a poll on my Facebook page and asked if people wanted me to talk about Ancient Egyptian History or Ancient Egyptian Religion first. History won by a nose, and to be frank, I was grateful.

This is because Ancient Egyptian Religion is a BEAR.

Not literally a bear. What I mean is – sorting through it all is really tough going.

So, after finishing my series on Ancient Egyptian History, I stayed away from writing about the religion portion. To be fair, I also wanted to mix things up and not focus on Egypt, Egypt, Egypt, 24/7 if I could help it. Hence my posts on the beginnings of the Jewish faith and Ancient Canaan that have recently been mixed in with my posts on Ancient Egypt.

But, I figured that the time has come now, and as I sorted though some of the (multitude of) topics that fall under this heading, I realized that this series on religion could go on for something near to eternity.

However, I am here to promise you that I will not go on and on for anything near to eternity. That said – fair warning – this is the beginning of another series!

Are you ready?

Let’s dive in.


When I started researching Ancient Egyptian Religion, I have to say that I expected to find a setup similar to the Greco-Roman mythos we learn about in Western Civ classes here in the US. As in, a pantheon that has been pretty well synchronized into a (often) non-contradictory, logically ordered, set of tales, exploits, and characters.

As it turns out, Ancient Egyptian Religion is basically the antithesis of this.

As in, their gods and goddesses literally become each other (while not erasing the other form) at various points and/or specific places of worship in Egyptian History.

Ever heard of Ra, the sun god? Well great. Okay, meet Ra, Atum-Ra, and Amun-Ra. Over here, we also have Atum and Amun.

All were considered gods at one point or another. Depending on the place or time period, Ra and Atum might have been seen as aspects of a single idea, or, in another time, Ra and Amun. Or, in another time period, they might have all been seen as completely different entities.

Further, their mythical narratives are just not set up nicely. As in, I have D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths sitting on the shelf behind me, right this second. It is chock-full of stories and characters that the Ancient Greeks would use to explain their world, history, and heroes.

We have no such thing for Egyptian mythology. I mean, there are some narrative stories that tell how the Egyptians believed the world worked (these could be either complete or, for example, an ongoing story-cycle of a deity who completes the same task over and over to keep the days running), but a lot of the gods and goddesses don’t even appear in them. Further, they contradict each other at times and even the character and personality of the deities is inconsistent from myth to myth.

Further, the function and nature of certain deities changed from region to region. This is an effect of something called a cult center, which we’ll discuss in more detail another post. Basically, the priesthood in a certain city would have a specific version of the Egyptian mythos, but the mythos may have been different in another city (another cult center).

Scholars disagree about whether the fact that we have large gaps in the mythology is a result of the myths being a mostly oral tradition that is now lost, or if this was in fact just the way it was. But no matter the reason, it makes the study of Ancient Egyptian Religion pretty hairy for us.

So, what I plan to do in this series is cover some various aspects of their religion that we have solid knowledge on. For my post next week, we’ll cover some key players in the Egyptian pantheon during the time my story is set (Middle Kingdom). I hope you’ll check it out!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Canaan, 1800 BC

Let’s get ready for some culture shock

Looking back on my blog posts so far, I’ve realized that I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Ancient Egypt and not a lot of time contextualizing it. Meaning, if you’ve read everything so far, you probably know quite a bit about what Ancient Egypt was like, and not as much about what made it different from the rest of the surrounding world.

On that note, I thought it would be good to talk a little bit about what nearby Canaan was like during the time period. This will give you a pretty good idea of why Egypt was considered a pretty marvelous place.

Please note that Egypt was not the only “marvelous” place in the world at the time. Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and environs), which  I’ve mentioned before, was another large power center. Further afield, the Indus Valley Civilization in what is now Pakistan and India was going strong. Closer to the modern Middle East, the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete is now considered the first advanced civilization in Europe and was an important player during this time.

But, I mean, that’s kind of it. At this time, Ancient China is still in a quasi-mythical state of which we’re not even sure of the historicity, and even the Mesoamerican Olmecs won’t be around for another couple hundred years.

So, you can imagine that anyone living even vaguely near one of the few advanced centers of civilization would have heard all sorts of fabulous tales of all the wonders to be found therein.

You can also imagine that anyone who actually traveled to one of those advanced centers of civilization would be very much blown away.

So, given the fact that the story of Joseph definitely has a character going from a rather unadvanced area to one of the most advanced areas in the world at the time, you can imagine that I had a lot of fun playing with the idea of culture shock as I wrote my story.

Back to Canaan, then. What was it actually like in 1800 BC?

Canaan was culturally under the influence of Mesopotamia more than Egypt. The languages belong to the same wider family and, while we don’t have evidence of a script native to Canaan until centuries later, we do know that the Mesopotamian cuneiform script was used throughout the Near East (excluding Egypt) for record-keeping.

But, unlike Mesopotamia, Canaan had no giant population centers. There were cities, here and there, but they were not the sprawling, comparative metropolises of places like Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Canaan does have a claim to fame in that one of its cities, Jericho, has the distinction of being one of the oldest (if not the oldest) continuously inhabited settlements in the world, starting possibly as far back as 9,000 BC. Canaan may not have been as well-developed, but it had street cred.

Canaan’s religious systems (aside from being the incubation area for the Jewish faith) were also influenced far more by Mesopotamian religion than that of Egypt, though this would change in the following centuries. A quick survey of the religious practices of Canaan turns up Mesopotamian deity names like Astarte (the goddess of fertility and war) and Dumuzid (Astarte’s dead husband that she killed – long story). Both are mentioned in the Bible under the alternate names Ashteroth and Tammuz.

In regards to cultural homogeneity, Egypt had the world pretty well beat, as I have discussed before. Mesopotamia had multiple cultures that would fall under varying leadership depending on which people group was in power at the time.

Canaan, on the other hand, was fractured into city states while at the same time incubating the beginnings of several distinct cultures. Cities had a “king” (the Pharaoh in Egypt would have laughed), who ruled over an individual city and the surrounding lands or villages. Plenty of land beyond that, we can assume, was little more than no-man’s-land.

This lasted for a while, but we have record that before 2000 BC, many cities were abandoned and the area returned to a very nomadic and agrarian lifestyle, with people living as they had in centuries prior. It took some time before people began moving back into cities again. This speaks to the instability of the region – it didn’t have the trade and social supports to maintain a constant urban civilization.

You can imagine, then, the sheer culture shock that would ensue if someone living in Canaan (i.e., Joseph) encountered the cultural monolith that was Egypt. The sprawling Egyptian city of Memphis, for example, had been a cultural epicenter for 500 years and more by 1800 BC. Egypt had police, Nile River merchants, courts of law, and a complex governmental, military, and religious hierarchy. Canaan was a true backwater in comparison.

The story is made all the more interesting (from a writing perspective, at least!) by the fact that the majority of Canaan’s outside influence was from Mesopotamia at the time, not Egypt. Therefore, the language, religion, and writing systems of Egypt would have been much more foreign than anything a traveler from Canaan would have found in Mesopotamia.

I hope you can see the sheer fun this gave me as a writer (and I hope I don’t sound like a sadist, hah!). Confusion and conflict breed a good story, after all.

I hope to be able to share it with you in the future!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Case of the Nonexistent Egyptian Wedding Ceremony

Yeah, that’s a thing

One of the things you start to learn when researching Ancient Egypt is that there is quite a bit that we actually just don’t know.

I’m not talking about the damnatio memoriae situations I have mentioned prior to this post, either. These situations notwithstanding, we honestly just seem to have quite a few odd gaps in our knowledge, simply because we haven’t dug up any artifacts or uncovered any documentation that speak to these things. These are gaps that I personally think we will uncover a lot of the answers to in the future, with time, research, digging, and patience. But, in the meantime, they made writing and researching certain aspects of my story fairly … interesting.

I developed a mantra to deal with this while writing. In a nutshell, it was:

Just don’t contradict anything that is known, and you’ll be fine.

For me, a very Type A individual, this was pretty rough going. I want facts, I want answers, and I want them nice and organized, thank you very much.

But that just wasn’t going to happen with certain parts of my research, and I had to learn to deal with it.

I’ll give you one example:

One of the strangest gaps in our knowledge is regarding Ancient Egyptian wedding practices.

We have absolutely zero evidence that there was any sort of acknowledgement of a wedding. People are recorded as married, but there’s no evidence that they got to be that way by any other means that agreeing to and writing up a pre-nuptial agreement (i.e., My family will get some gold for you and I’ll get some camels. Good? Good.).

This whole thing is pretty bonkers when you consider the copious amounts of Ancient Egyptian love poetry we have found. Despite the fact that many marriages were arranged, true love between the husband and wife was held as the ideal throughout the culture.

I can hear you now:

Do you really mean to tell me that they were writing love poetry until the cows came home and then not celebrating any weddings?

As far as we know?

Yes.

Now, like I said above, there’s always a chance (maybe even a good chance) that we will uncover some evidence to the contrary in the future. But, for the time being, we have exactly zero evidence for a wedding ceremony.

So, I was left up the proverbial creek without a paddle, because I 100% had a couple getting married in Egypt in my story, and there was no way I was going to let them get away with not having a party. First off, it would have read as downright odd to a modern audience, and secondly, after slogging through hundreds of pages of emotional trauma (Joseph did not have an easy life) I wanted to write about a party, dangit.

At this point, my mantra becomes relevant.

Just don’t contradict anything that is known, and you’ll be fine.

Okay, no wedding, check.

But.

Trying to avoid spoilers for one of my subplots, I will just say that I have a very politically-oriented arranged marriage that happens about midway through my book. Its orchestrator is the Pharaoh, who wants to do everything in his power to ensure that everything seems legitimate and respectable.

And what’s the best way to legitimize?

Exposure – in a highly controlled, official setting.

Oh, we are getting a party. We are getting a big freaking party. Just not on the day of the marriage.

Because – we know that the Ancient Egyptians were great at throwing parties. As much time as they spent preparing for death, they were also bent on enjoying life. We have records of copious amounts of food and drink at celebrations (there’s rumors of them throwing up to make room for more fare), music, dancers, acrobats, the works. We have records of wrestling as a popular sport during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, so I added wrestlers performing. I added gifts, because why not? (I even managed to make one an important plot point later.)

And, through all of that, I had to keep reminding myself:

Just don’t contradict anything that is known, and you’ll be fine.

Whew. This Type A girl is still reeling!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Women’s Rights in Ancient Egypt

A for effort … But for implementation? You decide

Given that the bulk of my story is set in Ancient Egypt and I have two pretty prominent Egyptian, female characters, I did a fair amount of research on women’s rights and roles in Egypt during that time period before I began writing.

And it turns out that when you boil it down, the issue of women’s rights in Ancient Egypt is one of those things that looks pretty darn good on paper, but can get rather lame when put into practice. That said, most things are like that, and it’s a sight better than the situation in most ancient societies. So, it’s worth a look.

Let’s dig in to some specifics.

Firstly, Ancient Egyptian women were equal under the law to men. This means that (drumroll) female ownership of personal property, including the right and ability to buy and sell, was a thing. Further, women could sue and be sued, initiate divorce, travel on their own, and serve as a witness in a court case or for a legal document.

This. Is. Huge in the ancient world.

Now, before you start your standing ovation, remember that I said this all looks good on paper. There’s a second aspect to all of this that we need to discuss.

Social standing.

And social standing, in Ancient Egypt, came from your job.

I think you may see now where this is heading.

We have plenty of evidence that women in Ancient Egypt held jobs. Women could be manufacturers of goods or service providers, such as makeup artists or cooks. A few women, who had families willing and able to educate them (many men were not literate, either), held careers as doctors or scribes. Many became priestesses.

But.

Not many (read: hardly any) worked in any sort of administration, and that, my friends, is where the “really big fish” were, socially and legally speaking.

Most women, in actuality, despite the fact that many of their peers worked outside the home (and nothing was seen to be wrong with that), held the title of “mistress of the house” in legal documents and textual records – a much more typical status for a woman when the ancient world is viewed as a whole.

And being the “mistress of the house” makes you a very small fish with not much legal clout, even if your rights are technically the same as men, particularly men with the same sort of “job status level”.

Now, this means that there were plenty of men in Ancient Egypt who would have experienced the same or similar skewing of legal clout based on their social standing. I will also say that women in Ancient Egypt, if they really wanted or needed to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and carve their own path, could probably have pulled it off, limited from certain professions only perhaps by lack of literacy. But again, this was a ceiling many men would encounter as well.

In conclusion, the mere fact that men and women technically held the same rights under the law and even the fact that both men and women felt the same sort of pressure and restriction from their social standing are pretty unusual concepts in the ancient world.

So, as the heading suggests, I’m giving Ancient Egypt an A for effort. It’s a pretty noteworthy accomplishment. In regards to actual grading … you decide! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Dating the Joseph Story (Part 2)

Herein lies the craziest chain reaction of historical coincidences (?) ever

So, in my last post, I told you that we would go over some of the interesting “funny things” that occur in history if you place Joseph’s life during the 12th Dynasty of Egypt. Let’s take a trip down some of the highlights of that list (yes, there are far more than what I’m going to mention!).


Funny Thing 1: Senusret III, a pharaoh Joseph could have served under using this dating scheme, is famous for taking the land and power from the Egyptian nomarchs (you may remember them from my blog series on Ancient Egyptian history; they’re like regional governors) and centralizing the government. This is exactly the sort of thing that happened in Genesis 40, when the Egyptian people had to sell all their land to the government in exchange for food during the famine.

Funny Thing 2: During the time of Senusret III, a canal was built in the area of the capital, Itjtawy (one of many built during his reign). This is one of the things that would have happened in Egypt under Joseph’s leadership, to prepare for the prophesied famine. It still exists today. Guess what its name is. Bahr-Yussef.

Funny Thing 3: Okay, going forward quite a bit in time. At the beginning of the Exodus story, we are told that there came a line of Pharaohs who did not remember Joseph and all he did for Egypt. If we go forward in the historical timeline using this 12th-Dynasty-based chronology, we see that the Second Intermediate Period eventually occurs – mentioned in an earlier blog post. It is a time wherein Egypt was conquered by an Asiatic people called the Hyksos. They ruled for about 100 years before the native Egyptians overthrew them.

Theoretically, this would also be about the time that the Egyptians also began oppressing the Hebrew people. And why wouldn’t they? The Egyptians had been completely overthrown by an ethnic group very similar in appearance and language to the Asiatic Hebrews. After such years of turmoil, they would have no memory of Joseph and no desire to treat anyone even remotely like the Hyksos kindly.

Funny Thing 4: You may remember Hatshepsut, the woman-pharaoh I talked about in a previous post, of whom we lost all record for centuries because her successors tried to obliterate her name from history. Looking at the Moses story, we see that he was saved and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter during a time when the Egyptians had ordered a form of genocide on the Hebrews. Using these dates, guess who the Pharaoh’s daughter would have been at the time Moses was born? Moses whose “let my people go” routine really messed up Egypt.

Yes, it was Hatshepsut. The one whose memory the Egyptians tried to erase.

Guess when they tried to erase it? Not until decades her death. Exactly when the Exodus would have taken place.

Funny Thing 5: You know those Ten Plagues of Egypt? You know the last one, the one from which Judaism derives the Passover? This was the plague of the death of the firstborn son. I’m not about to get in an argument over God’s decisions, but I’ll say this. The firstborn son of Thutmose III, who would have been the pharaoh at the time using this dating scheme, died.

Funny Thing 6: One of the weirdest events in Egyptian history is “that one time Pharaoh Akhenaten decided to make Egypt monotheist”. If we use our 12th-Dynasty-chronology, Akhenaten lived about a century after the Exodus, which would be the time that the Hebrews were slowly setting up in the land that would eventually become Israel. Did Akhenaten (and his wife, the famous Nefertiti) see the Hebrews “magically” become a successful and conquering people after “magically” leaving Egypt after the Ten Plagues and then decide that emulating their monotheism might not be such a bad idea? It’s an interesting proposition. By the way – Akhenaten’s monotheism, which was the worship of the solar disc, called the Aten, didn’t stick. His son, Tutankhaten, brought the old religion back and changed his name to Tutankhamun. Yes, that Tutankhamun.

Funny Thing 7: There are a series of letters written to the Pharaoh of Egypt during the time period mentioned above called the Amarna Letters. (Most would therefore have been written to Akhenaten). Many are written by rulers in Canaan, telling the Egyptian Pharaoh that these darn people called the ‘Apiru/Habiru (both translations have been used) are taking over completely everything. What would the Biblical Hebrews have been doing at this time, according to the timeline we’re using? Taking over completely everything.

One more thing. The etymology of the word “Hebrew” in the Hebrew language itself relates to the idea of wandering. The word “‘Apiru/Habiru” was a word historically used to apply to a wandering social class. What were the ancestors of the Jewish people doing before they showed up in Canaan and started taking over completely everything? Wandering in the desert.


Honestly, I could go on for pages and pages about how the history seems to line up so nicely, but I think I have written enough for now! I hope you have enjoyed these examples of why my placement of Joseph during the 12th Dynasty of Egypt seems logical to me. If you have any questions or want more information, please comment below!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Dating the Joseph Story (Part 1)

Putting the puzzle pieces together

Okay, so before we go any further, I guess now is the time to address the elephant in the room.

If you’ve been reading my blog posts with a critical eye, you’ve probably started to wonder:

Wait. Is she treating the Bible as a historically-accurate document?

I am aware that doing so is something that is near-sacrilege in the academic community, and, to be frank, it is not popular in certain parts of the religious community, either. I am also aware that how I answer this question will determine for some people whether or not they continue reading this blog.

Here is my answer.

Yes.

I am treating the Bible as a historically-accurate document, and not just as “a book of wisdom and parables”.

Why?

Because I don’t think God is a liar.

Why would God give us a book of wisdom and parables that treats every fake story in it as historical fact? How is that anything near wise? And if it were parables, I’m pretty sure it would say so, since every time Jesus uses a parable in the Bible, the text is very clear that this is a parable.

Now, I am not saying that the Bible is not a literary document. It employs metaphor; anyone who reads it can see that. But I am saying that one can tell the difference between the figurative language and the text meant to be historical documentation. Whether or not you go with the idea of historicity is up to you, but God gave us that book with no fine print about “feigning historicity for effect” attached.

I could go on this tangent for a long while and drag in archaeological and historical research, and if anyone wants me to, let me know in the comments. Just don’t be mean about it. I love discussion and discourse. I’m simply not into internet trolls masquerading as academics, or academics moonlighting as internet trolls.

In the meantime, if you’re still with me here (either because you’re down with treating the Bible as a historical document or chill with me doing it, kudos for either) I wanted to talk about when I decided to set the Joseph story historically, and why.

Please note that I am not trying to date our earliest-known writings of the story, since that is its own can of worms and the earliest text we have is not necessarily the earliest text that ever existed. Wars over dating lexical structure and literary style are never any fun anyway.

What I am trying to do here is to show you the strategy I used to get a ballpark estimate for the time the story took place. Note that there are multiple ways to do this based on your interpretation of Biblical dates and what they refer to. This is strictly my thought process, though others have arrived at similar conclusions (and many have arrived at different ones). Not also that I said ballpark. Because that’s all we have here, folks, when push comes to shove.

Important Date 1:

The reign of King Solomon. Scholars ballpark his reign as beginning in the mid-900s BC based on Babylonian records and Biblical chronology. The Bible gives a further dating point for his reign because he was the King who built the First Temple (for reference, the famous Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is the only remnant of the Second Temple). In 1 Kings 6:1, the Bible says that this building project began 480 years after Moses did the whole “Let my people go” thing.

Important Date 2:

Exodus 12:40 also says that the Hebrew people were living in Egypt for 430 years, until Moses did his thing.

Why were they in Egypt?

Joseph.

This places Joseph in Egypt (again, ballpark, mind you) around 1880 BC. Otherwise known as the 12th Dynasty, Middle Kingdom.

This is a relatively unknown time to us in certain respects, since the 12th Dynasty capital, Itjtawy, has never been discovered, though archaeologists have a pretty good idea where it is and preliminary exploration and satellite imagery seem to agree they’re on the right track.

When I explored the idea of placing Joseph here (there’s other schools of thought that would place him elsewhere in time due to different interpretations of the dates above), there were some fun results.

Again, this is all ballparking, but some funny things happened in Egypt that I thought could feasibly be natural consequences of placing Joseph during this time. At first I thought I could list them all in this post, but the chain reaction of “funny things” is actually rather long. SO, join me next time if you want to watch me get super nerdy about archaeology and ancient history.

I hope you do!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)