Egypt: Update on Egypt Tourism at October 18, 2001

The Biblical Connection with Egypt

by Mathew Winston

It is not an easy matter to reconcile the Christian Bible (Old Testament) with archaeological and written documentation evidence in Egypt. While local tradition certainly supports events of the Holy Family's travels in Egypt, only from about the Third Intermediate Period (1069-747 BC) do we really find Biblical passages that are matched by hard references from ancient Egypt. During this period we find references mostly involving conflicts with the Assyrians and Persians. But the major events concerning Egypt described in the Bible have virtually no supporting reference points from Egypt's archaeological records. This is regrettable because the Bible itself is rather vague from the standpoint of time frames.

Another problem is that important events concerning the people of Israel may not have had significance to the Egyptians, and therefore many aspects of the Bible may have never been documented by the Egyptians, even when they involved Egypt. And even if some of these events were documented, one must remember that only a small fraction of Egyptian texts have been preserved.

Some schools of thought suggest that many of the Old Testament stories represent folklore traditions and certainly the events recorded in the Bible took place many centuries before they were actually written down. Some Jewish scholars, for example, have even argued that the Exodus of the Israeli people from Egypt never took place, claiming the lack of any archaeological evidence found either in Egypt or Israel. Indeed, if some of the plagues and other events mentioned in the story of Exodus took place, it might be assumed that those events would have been prominently recorded by the Egyptians. Traditional thought has Rameses II, or perhaps his successor, as the Pharaoh during the time of the Exodus. But there are no text at all that mention Moses or the children of Israel, though the term "Israel" does appear for the first time on a stele from the reign of Rameses II's successor (Merenptah).

Nevertheless, there is very little question that the people of Egypt and Israel came in contact with each other on a fairly frequent bases. Biblical stories of Joseph and Moses contain many historical references that show the writers had good knowledge of ancient Egypt, and there are also a number of similarities between Egyptian literature and Biblical passages. For example the story of Joseph's attempted seduction of Patiphar's wife is very similar to the Egyptian Story known as the Tale of the Two Brothers.

Also, Akhenaten's Hymn to the Aten is very similar to Psalm 104, but it is likely that a regional literary history is to blame for this. The Late Period wisdom text called the "Instruction of Amenemipet son of Kanakht is also very similar to the book of Proverbs in the bible, but scholars have suggested that this Egyptian text may have influenced the writers of Proverbs rather than the other way around.

There are writers and scholars who will point to a great deal of biblical archaeological evidence in Egypt. For example, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest by David M. Rohl delves into the topic in detail. Unfortunately, more than half of the book seems to be justifying his renovated time frame of Egyptian history. Nevertheless, he makes some good points though his evidence is hardly clear-cut and very often very circumstantial.

Last Updated: June 22nd, 2011