The Pharaohs of Jewish history according to the historians of antiquity

Part 2 – The age of the Avot (Patriarchs):

In part 1 we looked at the Pharaohs associated with the era of Avraham’s ancestors. Now we examine the Pharaohs at the time of Avraham, Yiztchak, Yaacov and of course Yosef.

We are firmly in the time modern historians refer to as the Second Intermediate Period. Egypt was fragmented and rival dynasties ruled different divisions. The Hyksos (“Asiatic” Egyptians) ruled the north and were gradually gaining control. Thebes held out against the Hyksos:

Dedumose II (c. 1588 c. 1582 BCE): He seems to have been the last Theban Pharaoh of significance before the Hyksos took over completely. The Syriac writers had a vague memory of him as Pharnados/Parandos (i.e. “Pharaoh Dos”) the Theban whom they place at the time of Avraham before he visited Egypt after the previously mentioned Hermios (Djehuti) in the days of Terach. Josephus quoting Manetho possibly mentions him under the name “Timaios”, but some think the words to be corrupted and that no such name was originally present. In the Sefer Zichronot (a collection of legends compiled by Eleazar ben Asher Ha-Levi in the 14th century based mainly on the works of Yerachmiel ben Shlomo [c. 1150] which used works going by to the tanna Eliezer ben Horknus), he appears as Tibei (Theban), assumed to be the first Pharaoh, said to have begun his reign on the same day that Avraham was born.

Up to this point correspondences between Pharaohs and Biblical events were based on comparing the reign lengths reported in Egyptian writings (which were not infallible nor consistent) with the ages recorded in Bereshit (whose unusual lengths are not understood and might not be literal). So for example, when the Syriac writers say Pharnados ruled in the days of Avraham before visiting Egypt this means that if you lay out the version of the timeline of Egyptian Pharaohs that they knew, next to the timeline reported in Bereshit taken literally, Pharnados’ rule falls in the range between Avraham’s birth and visit to Egypt – nothing more nothing less. But now we come to actual interaction between Jews and the Pharoahs – Avraham visited a Pharaoh, Yosef served under a Pharaoh. The correspondences now come to be based on ancient accounts and ancillary tales regarding these events.

Besides the Theban’s the Egyptians of Abydos had remained independent of the Hyksos, but eventually fell. Of significance here is:

Woseribre Senebkay c. 1650 BCE: Seemingly the last Abydos Pharaoah. The element Woser- (literally power) in his throne name is the name of the god Osiris. A vague memory of him seems to have been preserved in the Sefer Ha-Yashar (a renaissance era account of early Jewish history said to be adapted from a Ptolemaic era work) which speaks of a Pharoah Ashverosh (or Oswiris) the son of Anom (i.e. of the assumed ancestor of the native Egyptian people called the Anamim in Bereshit 10) who was usurped by the Pharaoh of Avraham who was Asiatic. (More on this below.)

Asiatics entering Egypt during the time of Khnumhotep II who ruled between the time of Senusret I (Sonos) and Senusret II (Pheron). These would have been ancestors of the Hyksos. It was also such people who played a role in the invention of the early Hebrew alphabet. The man bending in the middle has the title Heka-chasut (ruler of outlands) to the upper right and is named on the below right as “Abisha” (or as we would pronounce it today “Avishai”).

The Hyksos came to rule Egypt but were later overthrown. Manetho regarded the Israelites as Egyptians who were kin of the ousted Hyksos. Josephus understood the Hyksos period to correspond to the period of Israelite origins and subsequent prosperity in Egypt. He quotes Manetho and lists six Hyksos Pharaohs whom Manetho had grouped as the 15th Dynasty. Their names and order have become garbled and corrupted in the ancient texts due to misunderstanding of reading direction, discussions out of order and the usual scribal problems. We present them according to their names and order in the archaeological record. Two of the Pharaohs in Manetho’s list correspond to those explicitly identified as the Pharaohs of Avraham and Yosef by other writers. (Note also that their reigns overlap the times of the previously mentioned native Pharaohs.)

Sheshi c. 1745 – c. 1705 BCE: Josephus’ extract of Manetho considers him the first Hyksos ruler. His name is identical to the Canaanite name Sheshai mentioned in Shoftim corroborating identification as a Hyksos. Manetho would have written it as “Sases” in Greek but this only survives in corrupted forms Saites/Salitis/Silites (confused with the word for a person from the district of Sais). It is said that he ruled from Memphis and fortified Avaris against possible Assyrian invasion. The Syriac writers knew him via Eusebius as Setis placed in the era of the Jewish patriarchs as the first “shepherd king” a term based on Manetho’s misunderstanding of the ancient word Hyksos meaning “outland king”.

Bebnum c. 1690 – c. 1649 BCE: His name means the “Babylonian” in Egyptian confirming that he was a Hyksos. In extracts of Manetho his name is corrupted to Bnon/Beon in Greek. In Syriac it has been corrupted to the almost unrecognizable Sysynos/Sosonos (Syriac b becoming Syriac s) also placed in the era of the patriarchs and identifiable by his stated reign of 44 years matching Bnon/Beon in Josephus and Africanus.

Aperanat c. 1650 BCE: His name means servant of the Canaanite goddess Anat which alone shows he was a Hyksos, but additionally he went by the title Heka-chasut (king of outlands) the original form of “Hyksos”. In extracts of Manetho his name is corrupted in Greek as Apachnas/Pachnan. The Syriac writers knew him as Hysqos/Isokos (corruptions of “Hyksos”) also placed at the time of the patriachs.

Seuserenre Khyan c. 1610 – c. 1580 BCE: His name Khyan is an Egyptian spelling of the Amorite name Hayanu confirming he was a Hyksos and additionally he too bore the title Heka-chasut. Manetho would have written his name in Greek as Siaan, but in Africanus it is corrupted to Staan further corrupted to Sethos in Syncellus. In Josephus it has been badly corrupted to Jannas/Janias not only losing the initial s but also being conflated with the first two syllables of the subsequently listed name of his son. Nevertheless this is the Pharaoh that the renaissance era bishop and scholar James Ussher identified as the Pharaoh that Avraham visited, who took Sarah. In his Annals of the Old Testament, Ussher aligns Abraham’s visit with this Pharaoh but does not give his source (and quotes Josephus’ out of order list) so we need corroboration. We find this in the Arab historians who record that the Pharaoh of Avraham was of Asiatic origin related to the people of Canaan (i.e. a Hyksos) and call him Sinaan recognizable as a corruption of Siaan (in one case corrupted further to Silwaan). Further corroboration is found in three independent sources: Josephus calls him Necao which is recognized as a shortening (due to confusion with the name of a much later Pharaoh) of the name Narracho given independently by Malalus for Avraham’s Pharaoh. This too is recognized as related to but independent of the name for him Rikayon used in the Sefer Ha-Yashar. Rikayon is recognized to resemble Khyan – in fact it appears to include the the last syllable of his throne name [Seuseren]re-Khyan. Narracho appears to be based on the same [Seusere]nre-khya[n]. Additionally the Sefer Ha-Yashar records that Rikayon was from the land of Shinar – a region at the time controlled by Amorites according with Khyan being a Hyksos with Amorite name. Josephus also calls him Pharaothes, his idiosyncratic Greek for “Pharaoh”, but in Eusebius it is corrupted to Pharethothes. The Arab historians mistaking this as a name with only the first part meaning Pharaoh also call him Pharaoh Tutis/Totis, the name found in the Sefer Yuchasin. This is further corrupted as Tulis, Lotis/Loutas and Utis. Pharethothes also turned into Parethones/Paretones (also Pharetho) similarly giving the name Pharaoh Thones and via t becoming f also Pharaoh Fanus/Phanos/Panos used by the Syriac writers for Avraham’s Pharaoh. Yet even here if we match the Syriac list of Pharaohs of the patriarchal age with Josephus’ list, their Pharaoh Phanos must correspond to Janias (Khyan) providing further corroboration.

The lion statue carries the name of Khyan said to be the Pharaoh that Abraham visited. 

(A certain amount of confusion was caused by Syncellus who presents a list of Pharaohs including an annotation next to a name “Ramessameno” stating that this was the Pharaoh of Avraham. However this part of the list has been misplaced and names Pharaoahs called Ramesses from a much later period additionally including a wrong order for the Hyksos making it useless for identifying the real Pharaoh and unclear where the annotation originally appeared. Abu Al-Makarim also mentions that some say “Utis” was “Sadiq” but this is a confusion between the Pharaoh and Melchitzedek.)

Yanassi c. 1580 BCE: This was Khyan’s son and designated successor. Due to the first part of his name being conflated with that of his father in extracts of Manetho it survives in Greek only as its last syllables Assis in Josephus also corrupted to Archles in Eusebius and Africanus [also Aseth], and in Bar Hebraeus further corrupted to Tarkos/Tarakos (due to confusion with a much later Pharaoh’s name) placed in the patriarchal age. In Michael the Syrian’s chronicle he is placed in Yitzchak’s old age but with Assis corrupted to Apis (confused with the sacred bulls) and thus wrongly said to have been called Serapis by some. The Sefer Zichronot similarly places him at the time of Yaacov’s youth under the name Apis and thus wrongly said to have initiated the worship of the idol Serapis. (Due to Eusebius discussing Avraham’s Pharaoh first and then four Shepherd Kings starting with Sheshi, Bar Hebraeus wrongly placed the latter at the time of Yitzchak.)

Apepi c. 1575 – c. 1540 BCE: The last Hyksos Pharaoh mentioned by Manetho. His name survives as Aphophis/Aphobis in Greek, anglicized as Apophis. Ussher mentions that the palace that Sarah had been taken to (by Janias/Khyan) was the one of Apophis i.e. Avaris a name meaning great palace in Egyptian. The Syriac writers knew him as Apapos the last “shepherd king”. (As Eusebius had only mentioned four Pharaohs as being called “shepherd kings”, treating Avraham’s Pharaoh separately, the Syriac writers thought that the name only applied to four Pharaohs, naming Setis (Sheshi) as first, Apapos as last but being unsure which of the others to include as there are four more not two.) They name him as the Pharaoh that Yosef served! This same identification is made by Syncellus who records a tradition that he was the first Pharaoh to be called “Pharaoh” (the use of the term for previous Pharaohs being retrospective). The Arab historians similarly knew Yosef’s Pharaoh to be the first (Arabic: “raisiun”, Hebrew: “rishon”) “Pharaoh” but due to subsequent corruption he gets called the Pharaoh “Riyaan”. They record that he was an Asiatic whose father (called al-Walid = the boy, meaning his real name was unknown) had invaded Egypt after it had been left under the control of two women Charuba (or Chazuba/Juriak/Horia which all look similar in Arabic!) and Mamum, the daughter and cousin respectively of Sinaan/Tutis (i.e. Khyan).

Although Manetho did not list any further Hyksos in his 15th Dynasty, we know of one further historically important ruler:

Khamudi c. 1541 or c. 1534 – c. 1522 BCE: The last Pharaoh of the Second Intermediate Period. He was defeated by native Egyptian Pharaohs and the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt. The Arab historians record that the last ruler descended from the expelled Asiatics ruled Syria and was named Sameida which is possibly a vague memory of his name in Coptic form. However he also has counterparts in tradition as the last Pharaoh friendly to the Jews, said to be the son of the Pharaoh of Yosef whom Yosef served after his father died – called Magron [emigrant] in the Sefer Ha-Yashar and Darim [from Greek for runner] by the Arab historians, names which preserve a glimmer of his expulsion.

The seal has the name Yaqub-Har the first part of which is identical to Jacob making him at least someone with a similar name but possibly Jacob himself.

Besides the Hyksos rulers remembered by the historians of old, archaeological finds have revealed others whose dates and rank are uncertain. One interesting figure is Yaqub-Har who might have been a vassal of the Hyksos rather than a Pharaoh and the first part of whose name is identical to that of Yaacov. Given that we know so little about him he might even have been Yaacov himself! While some propose that the element -Har in the name Yaqub-Har might be the Semitic word har meaning mountain and thus refer to a mountain god, no such god is known. It possible that it is instead a title identical to the Aramaic word har (surviving for example in the Mandaic dialect) meaning a nobleman. This would mean his name is actually identical to Yaacov. Other Hyksos rulers found are Semqen and Sakir-Har (to name just two), whose names are possibly Egyptian spellings of the names of Yaacov’s sons Shim`on and Yisachar (with title har), and indeed as so little is known about them, possibly Shim`on and Yisachar themselves!

A key figure in the rebellion against the Hyksos was:

Kamose c. 1554 – c. 1549 BCE The last Pharaoh of the Theban 17th Dynasty that had been subservient to the Hyksos but rebelled. He is vaguely remembered by the Arab historians as Kames (also corrupted to Kasham) called the son of Madan, a rival of the house of Riyaan (Apepi) that Yosef served, whom they list following Darim, although historically Apepi seems to have outlived him. In the next part we will look at the Pharoahs of the oppression and exodus.

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