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Does the Brooklyn Papyrus help confirm the Exodus story?


Giza Pyramids, Egypt
Credit: Ricardo Liberato/Wikipedia/Creative Commons 2.0

There is growing evidence that Israel’s exodus out of Egypt did not take place under Pharaoh Ramesses who ruled Egypt between 1279 -1213 BC as many traditionally believed, but actually took place a couple of hundred years earlier.

It coincided with the time when the Egyptians were finally able to drive the Hyksos out of Egypt around 1550 BC. The Hyksos, a Semitic tribe, had invaded the northern half of the Nile Delta around 1800 BC, driving the Egyptian government south.

And there is convincing evidence that Joseph and his family had settled in Egypt during the Hyksos rule after Joseph rose to power (Genesis 41:41).

Of course, being Semitic, Joseph had a similar language and culture to the Hyksos which partially explains why he so quickly rose to second in command in Egypt after God anointed him.

But that changed when Egyptian Pharaoh Ahmose I was able to drive the Hyksos out of Northern Egypt in 1550. The Bible describes him as the new king who ominously did not know Joseph (Exodus 1:8).

Pharaoh Ahmose immediately recognized that the Hebrews had a linguistic and cultural connection with the Hyksos. Fearing, that they would join with the Hyksos if they ever went to war against Egypt again, Ahmose ordered the Hebrews to be put into slavery (Exodus 1:9-10).

Over the years, some have disputed the Exodus story by stating that the Hebrews were never in Egypt at all.

But the Brooklyn Papyrus 35.1446 dated to the 13th Egyptian Dynasty (1809 to 1743 BC) was written during the Hyksos reign.

We need to remember how Joseph first ended up in Egypt. The youngest son of Jacob had so annoyed his older brothers that they had sold him into slavery to a band of passing Ishmaelites. They in turn ended up selling Joseph at a slave market in Egypt, where he was purchased by Potiphar, the Pharaoh’s head of security.

Joseph started off as a Hebrew slave in Egypt, before rising to power.

Located in the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, the Brooklyn Papyrus provides a breakdown of the slaves owned by a noblewoman named Senebtisi. She was the wife of Resseneb, a vizier in Ancient Egypt. Senebtisis provided this document as part of her claim of ownership of these slaves after her husband’s death.

A vizier was essentially the country’s Prime Minister and second in command. He basically oversaw the day-to-day affairs of the country under the Pharaoh.

This was ultimately the role that Joseph held in Egypt:

41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:41-43 NIV)

This list of Senebtisis’ 95 servants included 40 who were Semitic, but more importantly, several had Hebrew names that we find used in the Bible.

Now, these are obviously not the same people, because they lived years earlier, but nevertheless, these names confirm that Hebrews were in Egypt in the 18th century BC.

The list of these Hebrew Biblical names included:

  • Shiphrah, that was also one of the names of the Hebrew midwives who refused to obey when Pharaoh Ahmose ordered the Hebrew baby boys to be killed at birth (Exodus 1:15);
  • Aqoba, which is the feminized version of Jacob, (Genesis 25:26)
  • Ashera, the feminine version of the name of one of Jacob’s sons, Asher (Genesis 30:13);
  • Menahema, the feminine form of Menahem found in 2 Kings 15:14;
  • Sekera, a feminized version of Issachar, one of Jacob’s sons (Genesis 30:18);
  • Sebtw which is a derivative of the Hebrew word for herb (Deuteronomy 32:2); and
  • Hy’b’rw which appears to be an Egyptian rendering of Hebrews.

The Brooklyn Papyrus 35.1446 was purchased by American Egyptologist Charles Wilbour between 1881 and 1896. It is believed that the document originated in Thebes.

The Brooklyn Papyrus had the list of Senebtisi’s slaves on one side, and ironically a list of 80 people who had escaped from Egyptian prisons or slave camps on the other.

This list included the name of the escapee, the institution they had escaped from, and whether they had been recaptured. Apparently, the authorities had only tracked down two of those who had escaped.

But it is ironic because Joseph’s imprisonment, perhaps in one of the jails found on this list, played a pivotal role in his eventual rise to power.

READ: Top Ten Discoveries Related to Moses and the Exodus AND Brooklyn Papyrus AND Hebrews in Egypt before the Exodus? Evidence from Papyrus Brooklyn

If you would like to find out more about the Hyksos connection to the Exodus:

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13 | What is so mysterious about an Egyptian guard?

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