Beni Hasan Close Up

Beni Hasan

Whatever doubts scholars may entertain about the historicity of the Exodus, memories of an Israelite sojourn in Egypt seem too sharply etched to dismiss out of hand. The Biblical account simply contains too many accurate details and bears too many correspondences with Egyptian records to ignore. And although in our current state of knowledge we cannot say whether or how ancient Israelites labored for the pharaohs, we do know the conditions under which Egypt’s own laborers worked. Indeed, archaeologists at Deir el-Medina, Egypt, have uncovered the well-preserved village—including the homes, tombs, statuary, personal letters and legal documents—of the Egyptian craftsmen who built the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Readers can decide for themselves whether the Israelites worked in similar circumstances before the onset of a great oppression.

We know from extra-Biblical sources that immigrants regularly entered and settled in Egypt. Some of them are depicted in the tomb of Khnumhotep at Beni Hasan, which dates to about 1850 B.C.E. The best-known large-scale immigration involves a group of Asiatics we know as the Hyksos (Rulers of Foreign Lands), who actually ruled, at least over the northeast Delta, as Dynasties XV and XVI (1650–1550 B.C.E.). Their position did not differ much from that of Joseph as it is described in the Bible.

Read the rest of Pharaoh’s Workers- How the Israelites Lived in Egypt in the online Biblical Archaeology Society Library.