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Jacob in History, Aharon Kempinski, BAR 14:01, Jan-Feb 1988.

Jacob scarab 4 sealsThis is a story about Jacob, but it must be told the long way around. The reader must trust me to get there eventually. And I think the reader will find the route itself interesting.

In the third century B.C. there lived a famous Egyptian historian named Manetho. Unfortunately, none of Manetho’s works has survived; they exist only as quotes by other authors.

By vocation Manetho was an Egyptian priest associated with the cult of Serapis. He was not only well versed in the high Greek culture of his day, but he was also thoroughly familiar with Egyptian lore and could read hieroglyphics. He was the first Egyptian to write a history of his country in Greek.

Manetho was also, like so many of the well-educated Hellenistic Egyptians, anti-Jewish. Indeed, he figured prominently in the Egyptian emergence of anti-Jewish polemical literature in the third century B.C., especially in Alexandria. Ironically, a Jewish historian was responsible for preserving most of the fragments of Manetho’s writing. Josephus, the famous Jewish historian of the first century A.D., quotes extensively from Manetho, and it is primarily in this way that Manetho’s work has come down to us. Aside from what Josephus quotes, only a mere scrap or two of Manetho’s works are quoted in other ancient writings.

Another irony- Josephus liberally quotes Manetho because of another anti-Semite, named Apion. Apion played a leading role in spreading anti-Jewish propaganda in first-century Alexandria. He wrote a polemic referred to as “Against the Jews,” in which he relies heavily on Manetho, suggesting, among other things, that the Jews were expelled from Egypt as lepers. According to Apion the Jews worship a golden ass that is enshrined in the holy of holies of their Jerusalem temple.

In response to Apion and others of his ilk, Josephus wrote his powerful defense of Judaism, Against Apion, or Contra Apionem. It is here that he quotes a lengthy series of extracts from Manetho. He argues that even an anti-Semite like Manetho concedes the antiquity of the Jews and that they once ruled Egypt.

From Manetho we first learn of the Hyksos, an Asiatic people who came from the area of Palestine and ruled Egypt until they were expelled by the Egyptians. According to Manetho, the Hyksos initially swooped down from the north and achieved a quick victory, in which they burned cities, destroyed temples and massacred the population of Egypt. The Hyksos then set up their capital in conquered Memphis and made Salitis, or Saiµtis, their ruler.

Later they founded Avaris in the Saiµte nome, or district, and Salitis ruled from there. Ultimately, the Hyksos were driven out of Avaris—and out of all Egypt—with their possessions and households. They then journeyed over the desert. According to Manetho, the Hyksos feared the rulers of Canaan, whom Manetho identifies as the Assyrians. The Hyksos built a fortified city in the land Manetho says is now called Judea, large enough to hold all their thousands of people. They named their city Jerusalem. Manetho was thus the first one to connect the origins of Israel with the Hyksos.

What is the historical value of this third-hand account of Manetho? Josephus himself apparently did not even have a copy of Manetho, but instead drew on extracts from Manetho quoted by Hellenistic historians. More important, Manetho himself was writing about events that occurred about 1,400 years before he wrote, and, in addition, he was writing from a polemical rather than an objective viewpoint.

Yet there is no doubt that an Asiatic people existed, often referred to by scholars as the “Hyksos,” and that they exercised political control over Egypt from approximately 1670 B.C. to 1570 B.C. Their relationship to the Israelites is another question. However, the existence of Semites in Egypt who once controlled the country cannot be doubted.

During the past 15 years, our knowledge of the Hyksos, and of the Second Intermediate period—between the Middle Kingdom and the New Empire of Egypt—has increased enormously. We now know a great deal more about the settlement of West Semitic people in the eastern Delta during the Second Intermediate period, thanks to intensive archaeological explorations and excavations, especially at Tell ed-Dab’a and Tell Maskhuta. Tell ed-Dab’a has now been identified positively as Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos rulers in Egypt. This settles a long historical-geographical debate and clarifies the process of the settlement of West Semitic elements in the eastern Delta. The results of these excavations also point to the origins and homeland of these Semitic people in the Syro-Palestinian region.

These results concur very well with the idea that the XVth Egyptian Dynasty originated in the Syro-Palestinian area, since its population base came from the same region.

Establishing the existence of the Hyksos and their dominance of Egypt for about a century does not of course mean that all the details in Manetho’s account are accurate. Yet even here there are surprises.

Manetho lists five Hyksos kings who ruled after Salitis in Avaris- Bnon, Apachnan, Apophis, Iannas and Assis—altogether six Hyksos kings of the XVth Dynasty. During the past 80 years, scholars have tried to establish the sequences of kings during the XVth and the contemporaneous XVIth Dynasty, the Hyksos dynasties in Egypt. Scholars’ efforts were grounded in Manetho’s list as well as in the king-list of the Turin Papyrus (column X, line 20).1 Interestingly enough, the Turin Papyrus lists six Hyksos kings, the same number as does Manetho. Moreover, the total number of years of the Hyksos reign in the Turin Papyrus and in Manetho’s list are quite close. In The Turin Papyrus, the total number of years seems to be 108. In Manetho, it is 103.a On this basis, the beginning of the XVth (Hyksos) Dynasty in Egypt has been fixed at 1670 B.C. Additional inscriptions have now identified four of the six Hyksos kings mentioned by Manetho; this evidence indicates that Manetho mixed up the order of their rule. When one considers how Manetho’s history has come down to us, it is really rather amazing that his work does contains some accurate detail.

The two kings in Manetho’s list that scholars have not been able to corroborate from names on monuments or other objects are the first two, Salitis and Bnon. Some scholars have suggested that Manetho’s Bnon may be a ruler of the contemporaneous XVIth Dynasty whom Manetho incorrectly placed in the XVth Dynasty.

Who really were the first rulers of the XVth Dynasty? A great number of scarabs found in Egypt and Sudan, as well as in Palestine, contain the name of an early Hyksos king named Y‘qb-HR in its Egyptian transliteration, which should probably be reconstructed as Y‘aqub-Haddub in its Semitic form. Readers will immediately recognize the Semitic name Yaakov or Jacob in this Hyksos king’s name.

The archaeological context of these scarabs is of utmost importance. They were found with pottery and other artifacts dating to the middle to late 17th century B.C.

Other evidence suggests that the first Hyksos ruler was the king Manetho listed last and called Assis, and that Assis is to be identified with a ruler recorded on scarabs under the Egyptian name Sðsûy (Sheshai). The archaeological evidence with respect to Sðsûy is abundant and quite clear; he can safely be placed at the beginning of the XVth Dynasty, about 1670/1650 B.C.

It seems likely, therefore, that Y‘aqub-Haddu/Y‘qb-HR/Jacob was the second Hyksos ruler in the XVth Egyptian Dynasty. He probably ruled about 1650 B.C.

But there is additional evidence that we must consider. In 1969 a scarab containing the hieroglyphic name Y‘qb-HR was found in a Middle Bronze II tomb at Shiqmona, a suburb of Haifa, Israel.2 This welcome find nevertheless created a problem, as often happens. Even after all the finds in the tomb, including the pottery, were carefully analyzed, it was clear that this scarab had to be dated to about 1730 B.C. This is nearly a hundred years earlier than we have dated the Hyksos king Y‘qb-HR (about 1650 B.C.). Moreover, 1730 B.C. is clearly before the Hyksos period in Egypt—in short, before the XVth Dynasty.

At first I thought that perhaps it might be necessary to redate all Y‘qb-HR scarabs to about 1730 B.C. and that instead of being a Hyksos ruler, Y‘qb-HR was a local prince ruling in Canaan under the hegemony of an Egyptian Pharaoh of the XIIIth Dynasty. I finally rejected this conclusion, in part because of the strong affinities between Y’qb-HR’s prenomenc Mr.wsr.R‘ and the prenomen of other Hyksos rulers.

Now I am convinced that another solution is the correct one. The Shiqmona scarab of Y‘qb-HR (which, incidentally, does not contain a prenomen) probably represents another, even earlier, Jacob.

In 1930 a scarab almost identical to the Shiqmona scarab was published by a German scholar named Martin Pieper. It so closely resembles the Shiqmona scarab in all details that I believe it was probably produced by the same artisan. The only difference between them is that in the scarab published in 1930 the name Y‘qb-HR is framed by a cartouche, an oval indicating royalty. These two scarabs, however, are totally different stylistically from the Egyptian and Nubian “Jacob” scarabs I referred to earlier. It is also significant that the scarab published in 1930 was purchased in Jerusalem. Of course, we have no idea where it was found. But there does seem to be a close association between the Shiqmona scarab and the scarab published in 1930.

What is the answer to the puzzle? I believe that the two Israeli “Jacob” scarabs—the one found in 1969 in Shiqmona, and the one purchased in Jerusalem and published in 1930—represent a different and earlier Jacob from the Jacob of the other scarabs. The Jacob of the other scarabs represents the name of a Hyksos king—probably the second one—of the XVth Egyptian Dynasty. The two Israeli scarabs from about 100 years earlier represent an earlier Canaanite ruler named Jacob-HR.

This Canaanite Jacob was, no doubt, an ancestor of the later Hyksos Pharaohs of the XVth Dynasty. The ancestors of the XVth Dynasty Pharaohs were, without question, local rulers on the fringes of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom’s sphere of influence. The Middle Kingdom ended just before the XVth Dynasty and the period of Hyksos rule in Egypt. The original home of the kings of the XVth Egyptian Dynasty was Canaan. The slow disintegration of the Middle Kingdom in the 1700s B.C. gave ruling houses, such as that of Y’qb-HR/Jacob, new opportunities in a country with which they had been in contact for ages. They immigrated into the Delta, which was already partly inhabited by Semitic populations, and made their center there. At a later period, when that dynasty took control of all Egypt (after 1670), initiating the XVth Dynasty, the name of one of its Canaanite forefathers was reused, this time as the name of a Hyksos ruler in the XVth Dynasty. This phenomenon of the reuse of older names has been observed in several other West Semitic dynasties.

The Semitic-Canaanite character and origin of the XVth Egyptian Dynasty now appears unquestionable. Older theories that sought a Hurrian origin3 have little evidence, if any, to support them.

Is there any connection between Y‘qb-HR and the Biblical Y‘aqob, or Jacob? More than 65 years ago Raymond Weill4 argued for a connection between the pre-Biblical Canaanite rulers and Hyksos princes, on the one hand, and the Biblical stories of Jacob, on the other. In his reconstruction, the Israelite tribes, after entering Canaan and during the period of their settlement in the 13th and 12th centuries B.C., assimilated the legends of Jacob from the local Canaanites.5 In the land of Canaan, Y‘qb-HR (Jacob) had already been transformed from a historical figure into a local hero about whom a cycle of legends was told. Jacob also gave his name to a cult place named Y‘qob-El.6 Some time during the eighth century B.C. or thereabouts, the editor of the Biblical text of the Jacob stories connected the local Canaanite legend, by then already Israelite, with the cycle of legends about the sojourn of the Israelite tribes in Egypt. Having knowledge of a Hyksos king named Y‘qb-HR/Jacob, he composed one personality out of both figures; thus, the Biblical Jacob.

In a brilliantly intuitive way, Weill reconstructed the Biblical literary process. Now we can add some new material. The scarab of the local Egyptianized Canaanite king found in Shiqmona, which can safely be dated to the middle of the 18th century B.C., points to the origin of the later XVth Egyptian Dynasty, the Hyksos Dynasty, in a local Canaanite royal house of central Canaan.7 The emigration of this house to Egypt, its sojourn there and the later reuse of the dynastic name in the Hyksos Dynasty, of course, have numerous parallels with the stories of Jacob in Genesis 28–49.

The stories about Jacob and his sons, their sojourn in Egypt and their later departure from the land of Goshen were first compared with Hyksos rule in Egypt, however, by Manetho. Now, 20th-century archaeology has added to the story.

Undoubtedly, additional elements of this history will emerge from the ground in the future. But we will probably never know the entire story. What does seem clear is that there was a West Semitic ruler named Jacob-HR who lived in Canaan about 1750 B.C. His people immigrated to the eastern Delta and ultimately became the Hyksos rulers of Egypt—the XVth Dynasty. One of these rulers reused Jacob’s name about 1650 B.C. Then, about 1570, this Semitic dynasty was expelled from Egypt, recrossed the desert and took refuge in the city of Sharuhen in southern Canaan, where for three years it withstood the advancing Egyptian armies. Hyksos rule ended when Sharuhen was captured and destroyed about 1565 B.C.

It is interesting that the personal name Jacob does not appear at all in the land of Israel in any archaeological remains after the Hyksos period—until the third century B.C. The name Jacob is not found either in the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–1200—the Canaanite and settlement periods) or in the Iron Age (1200–586 B.C.—the period of the Judges and the Monarchy).8

Finally, let us return for a moment to the last Hyksos king in Manetho’s list, Assis, who I earlier suggested was really the first Hyksos ruler in Egypt and whose name under the form Sheshai is found in numerous scarabs of the period. The name Assis/Sheshai has been preserved in the so-called Hebronite king-list found in Numbers 13-22.

When Moses sent Joshua and Caleb to scout out the land of Canaan, just before they came to the Valley of Eschol where the grapes were so large that a single branch had to be carried on a frame between the two men, they arrived at Hebron. Living in Hebron they found Anakites, ruled by Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai. Then comes the notice that “Hebron was founded seven years before Zoan of Egypt” (Numbers 13-22). Zoan, Tanis in Greek, was identified in Hellenistic tradition with Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos. The mention of Zoan clearly connects the Biblical passage in Numbers with the Hyksos. It seems likely that the ruler referred to in the Bible as Sheshai is the Hyksos king referred to as Assis in Manetho’s list of Hyksos kings.9

Assis/Sheshai, when he ruled Egypt in the Hyksos period, also ruled Hebron. The tradition that Assis/Sheshai ruled Hebron was preserved there, and this tradition was later incorporated into Scripture by the Biblical writer. We can even speculate when this occurred. King David ruled Hebron during the first seven years of his reign, and it was probably at this time that this local Hebron tradition concerning an ancient Hyksos king was incorporated into Israelite tradition.
This Hebronite tradition actually stemmed from the Hyksos period (c. 1650–1600 B.C.), but the Biblical writer placed Sheshai/Assis in the settlement period (c. 1250 B.C.), about 500 years after he actually ruled.

This same Hebronite king-list is used in two other places in the Bible. In both Joshua 15-14 and Judges 1-10, we are told that Caleb defeated and destroyed “Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai,” the three Anakites from Hebron, as if the three had lived in Caleb’s time rather than in the Hyksos period. We have here an excellent illustration of the way the Biblical writer uses traditional materials.d

a. This figure is preserved in quotations from Manetho in an Armenian version of Eusebius’s history and by a Greek priest, Georgius Syncellus (792 A.D.), rather than in Josephus.

b. We know Y‘qb-HR scarabs were those of a Hyksos king because the name is Semitic, not Egyptian; it dates from the Hyksos period and the name is almost always enclosed in an oval known as a cartouche, the indication that the name is a royal one.

c. Egyptian kings had five names, the last called a nomen and the fourth called a prenomen. (Alan H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 3rd edition, [London- Oxford Univ. Press, 1964], p. 71.) Normally, Egyptians referred to their kings by only these last two names.

d. A scholarly version of this paper was published in Pharaonic Egypt, ed. Sarah Israelit-Groll (Jerusalem, 1985), pp. 129–137.

1. See Alan H. Gardiner, The Royal Canon of Turin (Oxford- Oxford Univ. Press, 1959).

2. J. Elgavish, “Shigmona,” Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (Jerusalem- Israel Exploration Society and Massada Press, 1975), vol. III, p. 1101. Aharon Kempinski, Canaan (Syria-Palestine) During the Last State of the MB IIb Period (1650–1550), (Jerusalem, 1974), pp. 95–96 (in Hebrew); Syrien und Palästina (Kanaan) in der Letzten Phase der Mittelbronze II B-Zeit (1650–1570 v chr.), AAT 4, (Wiesbaden, 1983), pp. 74–75. R. Giveon, “Y‘qobhar,” Göttingen Miscellen 44 (1981), pp. 17–19.

3. W. Helck, Die Beziehungen Aegyptens zu Vorderasien im 3. und 2. Jahrt. v Chr. (Wiesbaden, 1962), pp. 103–104.

4. Raymond Weill La Fin du Moyen Empire Égyptien, (Paris, 1918), vol. 1, pp. 188–191.

5. Since this process of settlement seems today to be a long one (over approximately 100 years), such contacts in the religious sphere are most probable.

6. And see Thutmosis III list in Karnak, No. 102, H.W. Helck, Untertsuchungen zu Manetho, (Berlin, 1956), p. 132. Weill, La Fin du Moyen Empire. p. 189, would like to add here also a place name from the list of Ramses II Y-[‘]-ku-b-r(w), which seems likely. Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible, A Historical Geography (Philadelphia- Westminster Press, 1979), p. 163, places the name in Upper Galilee, but to my mind it belongs to the following group- the “Land of Gezer.”

7. The origins of this Royal House could have been in the city of Shechem; cf., the strong connections of Jacob to this area in the fragment of the Shechem stories of Jacob, Genesis 33–34.

8. See David Cassuto, “Ya-‘a-kov,” Encyclopedia Biblica (in Hebrew), (Jerusalem- Bialik Institute, 1958), vol. III, pp. 716–722.

9. Of the other two rulers of the Anakites, one (Ahiman) bears a Semitic name (meaning who is like my brother), and the other (Talmai), a Hurrian name.

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