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Papyrus Anastasi I, c. 1200 BCE

Papyrus_Anastasi_IDiscovered in the 1820s, Papyrus Anastasi I, a letter by an Egyptian scribe, gives insight into the geography of the Levant in the 2nd millennium.

Palestine was so well known to the inhabitants of the Nile country that anyone who was lacking in detailed knowledge of it was reckoned to be lacking in proper education. Aman-Appa, a “commissioned scribe of the army” under Ramesses II, was even ridiculed for his ignorance about Palestine. Hori, an officer of the royal stables, replies to a letter from him in an extremely satirical vein and puts his geographical knowledge to the test- “Your letter is overloaded with big words. You have asked for it and you shall have it — and more than you bargained for. What we say is- If what you say is true, come and let us test you.

We shall harness a horse for you which will bring you as fast as any jackal can run. Let us see what you can do. Have you not seen the country of Upe near Damascus? Don’t you know its peculiarities, or those of its river? Have you not been to Kadesh? Have you never found your way to the Lebanon where the sky is dark in broad daylight? It is overgrown with cypresses, oaks and cedars which rise sky-high.

I shall also mention a mysterious city, Byblos by name. What does it look like? Tell me too about Sidon and Sarepta. They talk about another city that lies in the sea, the port of Tyre is its name. Water is carried to it by ship. If you go to Jaffa you will find that the fields are green. Go… and look for the pretty girl who is in charge of the vineyards. She will accept you as her mate and grant you her favours…. You will be drowsy and indolent. They will steal… your bow, your knife, your quiver. Your reins will be slashed in the darkness… your chariot will be smashed to pieces. But you will say- Bring me food and drink, I am happy here! They will pretend they are deaf and pay no attention. Come with me south to the region of Akka. Where is the hill of Shechem? Can this clever scribe tell me how to get to Hazor? What is special about its river? Now let me ask you about some other towns.

Tell me what Kjn near Megiddo looks like, describe Rehob to me, give me a picture of Bethshan and Kiriath-El. Let me know how to get past Megiddo. How does one cross the Jordan? You see,” concludes Hori, officer of the royal stables, “I have taken you through the whole of Palestine… have a good look at it, so that in future you will be able to describe it properly, and… you will… be made a councillor.” Government officials, soldiers, merchants had at least some clear notion of Palestine.

Werner Keller. The Bible as History. Bantam Books. New York. 1982. p.140.

Posted in: Exodus

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