Here’s an interesting passage I came across in doing some research today. In Against Apion 1.26, Flavius Josephus provides the following (very) lengthy quotation from the Egyptian priest Manetho, who writes of an incident that some of suggested reflects the Egyptian version of the Exodus story. I hadn’t read this before, and it’s an interesting tale.
Since the Weebly block quote function puts everything in italics, I’m going to present it as a chunk of text so it’s easier to read. I pick up the story from William Whiston’s translation right after the pharaoh Amenophis orders all of the lepers of Egypt to work in the quarries.
The text as given presents several possible interpretations, all of which have their supporters. Because the pharaoh’s name is a Amenophis (i.e. Amenhotep), which was what Akhenaten was called before he introduced worship of the Aten, some have argued that this is a jumbled account of the Amarna period, as filtered through the damnatio memoriae that followed his chaotic reign. (Josephus considered Amenophis to be fictional.) The references to Avaris, the Hyksos capital, suggest a relationship to that period. But the story overall reads as a highly negative take on the Jewish Exodus narrative, particularly the final reference (sometimes thought to be an interpolation) to the name of Moses. Many have therefore suggested that the tale was originally written as anti-Jewish propaganda.
According to Egyptologist Jan Assmann, the story is not a specific recollection of any one historical incident but rather a conflation of many. Writing in Moses the Egyptian (1998), Assmann argued that Manetho had to have written before the Egyptians had contact with the Hebrew Bible and was therefore recording an oral tradition current among the Egyptians. Assmann believes that the oral tradition combined elements of Akhenaten, the Hysksos period, and oral accounts of Jewish Exodus beliefs. Assmann, however, believes that the idea of Moses and monotheism originate in Akhenaten’s reforms—and is publishing this year a new book called From Akhenaten to Moses to outline his evolving view of the origins of monotheism.
This is beyond my scope for this piece, but it’s interesting to look at this strange passage from Josephus and the fragments of memory embedded in it. And then we can remember that Frank Joseph, the former head of the American Nazi Party, used this material in Opening the Ark of the Covenant (2007) as evidence that the Jews were really “leprous Asiatics” who stole their culture—and treasure—from Egypt.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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