The Role of the Hyksos in Egyptian History
ANCIENT historians, like those today, committed to writing only such information as they deemed important or necessary for their purpose. Often the accounts were colored by the prejudices and personal views of the historians. Not infrequently did they resort to outright falsehoods to glorify their particular nation. These are some of the factors that make it very difficult to give an accurate picture of ancient happenings. This should, therefore, impress us with the need for caution in trying to understand Biblical narratives in the light of ancient history as presented by modern historians.
A case in point involves what has commonly been designated as the “Hyksos Period.” It is generally believed that the Hyksos were a foreign people that gained control of Egypt. As to the account in the Bible book of Genesis, numerous scholars place Joseph’s entry into Egypt, and later that of his father Jacob and his family, in the time of the Hyksos rulers. They do so primarily on the premise that it would have been more likely for a foreign ruler to have raised the non-Egyptian Joseph to the position of second ruler in the realm than for a native Egyptian ruler to have done so. (Gen. 41:40) This gives rise to the question, Is the view of these scholars in agreement with the Bible record?
If Joseph had been elevated to his position while Egypt was under foreign domination, reasonably the court of Pharaoh would have consisted largely of foreigners. But the Scriptures provide no evidence to this effect. Instead we find that the court official Potiphar was an Egyptian (Gen. 39:1) and that Joseph himself was surrounded by native Egyptians whose prejudices were scrupulously respected. (Gen. 43:32) So there really is no valid basis for trying to fit the account of Joseph into a period of foreign rule. Accordingly we must investigate other sources to determine what role the Hyksos may have played in Egyptian history.
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus is the source for the name “Hyksos.” In the section of his work entitled “Against Apion,” Josephus claims to quote verbatim from the account of the Egyptian historian Manetho (third century B.C.E.). This account, if Josephus is to be believed, directly links the Hyksos with the Israelites!
While accepting the connection between the Hyksos and the Israelites, Josephus argues against many of the details found in the account. He prefers the rendering of “Hyksos” as “Captive Shepherds” rather than “Shepherd Kings.” According to Josephus, Manetho presents the Hyksos as gaining control of Egypt without a battle and afterward destroying cities and temples. Many years later the Egyptians are said to have risen up and fought a long and terrible war against them. Finally, an Egyptian force of 480,000 men besieged the Hyksos at their chief city, Avaris. Then, strangely, an agreement was reached that allowed the Hyksos to leave the country unharmed with their families and possessions, whereupon ‘they went to Judea and built Jerusalem.’—Against Apion, Book I, par. 14.
In a further reference, Manetho supposedly adds to the account. He presents what Josephus labels as a fictitious story of a large group of 80,000 leprous and diseased persons being allowed to settle in Avaris after the departure of the shepherds. These persons later revolted, called back the “shepherds” (Hyksos?), destroyed cities and villages and committed sacrilege against the Egyptian gods. Ultimately they were defeated and driven out of the country.—Against Apion, Book I, pars. 26, 28.
Modern historians believe that Josephus’ quotations are inaccurate in associating the Hyksos with the Israelites. But they hold onto the idea of a “Hyksos” conquest. This is primarily due to the fact that they can find little or no information from ancient Egyptian sources to fill in the records of the period supposedly covering the “Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Dynasties.” For this reason scholars have assumed that a disintegration of power occurred in the “Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dynasties.” Based on random bits of information, Egyptian folk tales and much conjecture, they conclude that during the “Fifteenth and Sixteenth Dynasties” Egypt was under the domination of the Hyksos.
As to their ‘conquest,’ some archaeologists depict the Hyksos as “northern hordes . . . sweeping through Palestine and Egypt in swift chariots.” Others refer to a ‘creeping conquest,’ that is, a gradual infiltration of migrating nomads or seminomads who either slowly took over control of the country piecemeal or by a swift coup d’etat put themselves at the head of the existing government. In a recent work (The World of the Past, 1963, p. 444) archaeologist Jaquetta Hawkes states: “It is no longer thought that the Hyksos rulers . . . represent the invasion of a conquering horde of Asiatics. The name seems to mean Rulers of the Uplands, and they were wandering groups of Semites who had long come to Egypt for trade and other peaceful purposes.” This view, however, makes it difficult to explain how such “wandering groups” could have gained control of Egypt, especially since the “Twelfth Dynasty,” prior to this period, is considered to have brought the country to a peak of power.
The foregoing illustrates that there is considerable confusion, not only in ancient Egyptian history, but also among its modern interpreters. Consequently no concrete conclusion about the validity of the “Hyksos Period” can be reached.
However, it may be that Manetho’s account, as quoted by Josephus, is simply a garbled Egyptian tradition. It should never be forgotten that the recording of history in Egypt, as in many Near Eastern lands, was inseparably linked with the priesthood, under whose tutelage the scribes were trained. So it would be most unusual if some propagandistic explanation had not been invented to account for the utter failure of the Egyptian gods to prevent the disaster that Jehovah God brought upon Egypt and its people. In the pages of history, even recent history, there are many examples of gross misrepresentation. The oppressed have been depicted as the oppressors, and innocent victims as dangerous and cruel aggressors.—Ex. 12:12, 29-32; 14:15-31.
Therefore, if preserved with some accuracy by Josephus, Manetho’s account (written over one thousand years after Israel’s exodus from Egypt) perhaps represented the distorted traditions handed down by succeeding generations of Egyptians to explain away the truth about Israel’s residence in their land. Should this be the case, the Hyksos would be none other than the Israelites, though portrayed in a distorted manner.