Exodus: Who’s Running this Place? A battle of the gods

Statute of Amenemhat I

Statute of Amenemhat I

Now living in the Sinai and Midian, Moses’ life has become that of a lowly hired shepherd; a career move that his Egyptian royal brothers would have considered with utter contempt. (Gen 46:34) — the flocks aren’t even his, they belong to his father-in-law. From a prince to pauper. He is living a quiet life with his wife, Zipporah, and his sons. But another life transforming event, on a sacred and secretive mountainside, is about to happen. He meets the living God on holy ground and learns that he is to be the instrument of THE LORD’s fulfillment of the covenant given to Abraham of the promised land. THE LORD asks Moses, an exile in hiding from the law, to return to the Pharaoh and order him to let Moses lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Yahweh will use Moses to challenge the “living god-king, Pharoah”, along with the rest of the Egyptian pantheon of gods, goddesses and demons. Yahweh’s judgement will make fools of Pharaoh, his armies and his gods. He is asking Moses to deliver the judgement that will hurl the most powerful nation in the world into chaos and disorder. Understandably, Moses is skeptical.

IN THIS CORNER:  Who is Pharaoh?

We know from Genesis that when Moses’ murder of the Egyptian overseer became known, Moses received the death penalty in absentia from the Pharaoh. He goes on the lam.  While Moses is in exile, another Pharaoh comes to power.

Who are these Pharaohs? Thutmose III is believed to have been in power during Moses’ time in Egypt. He was a powerful general with a reputation so great that later Alexander the Great will link his own legacy to his. He lead 17 major campaigns and conquered 350 cities. The Bible timeframe, 967/966 + 480 years before Solomon’s temple are reliable.

His son Amenhotep II, a second born son, will assume a powerful kingdom until his father’s death. If Thutmose is the pharaoh who dies with his armies in the Red Sea then the complaint from Amenhotep II that he is unable to launch any invasions makes sense as his father’s army is decimated.exodus timeline scenarios

But we are getting ahead. Yahweh seeks out Moses, introduces himself and sends Moses before Thutmose to order that he let valuable economic assets simply walk out of the country, no questions asked and no reparations paid. Of course Pharaoh says “no”. We know the rest of the story; of the plagues that Yahweh inflicts Egypt with to prove his dominance over the Pharaoh and his gods; these plagues were designed to show the Israelites the impotence of the Egyptian gods before Yahweh.  In anticipation of their journey to the promised land, they have some faith building to do before they are ready to receive the promise.

Pharaoh himself is considered a living god in Egypt.  It is no small question when Moses asks God, “who shall I say has sent me?” Pharaoh is the embodiment of Maat — the concept of universal order, balance and justice.  When the gods are pleased, the world is balanced; when the gods are angry, the cosmos is in chaos and earth suffers for it.  Authority and power embedded in a name or its invocation lies at the heart of this ancient practice.  While living in a region or a realm controlled by a certain god rendered the force of his or her essence a reality. To speak the name itself was a power display or omen that no human could take lightly.

 It will continue even into Christianity as we pray or ask in the holy name of “Jesus Christ” when we make our petitions. Names then and now have great power and Moses is keenly aware that to face the pharaoh in his realm can mean certain death.  Each time the Pharaoh says “no” – Yahweh sends a plague.

AND IN THAT CORNER:  the Egyptian deities  An article on the Bible Archaeology’s website:  “Exodus in the Bible and the Egyptian Plagues” explains:

“The ten plagues may also be interpreted as a series of attacks against the Egyptian pantheon. This suggestion finds support in Numbers 33:4 where we are told that the Egyptians buried those who had died by the tenth plague, by which plague “the Lord executed judgments against their gods.”

According to this suggestion, the plague of blood (No. 1) was directed against the god Khnum, creator of water and life; or against Hapi, the Nile god; or against Osiris, whose bloodstream was the Nile. Frogs (No.2) was directed against Heket, a goddess of childbirth who was represented as a frog. The pestilence against cattle (No. 5) might have been directed against Hathor, the mother and sky goddess, represented in the form of a cow; or against Apis, symbol of fertility represented as a bull. Hail (No. 7) and locusts (No. 8 ) were, according to this explanation, directed against Seth, who manifests himself in wind and storms; and/or against Isis, goddess of life, who grinds, spins flax and weaves cloth; or against Min, who was worshiped as a god of fertility and vegetation and as a protector of crops. Min is an especially likely candidate for these two plagues because the notations in Exodus 9:31 indicate that the first plague came as the flax and barley were about to be harvested, but before the wheat and spelt had matured. A widely celebrated “Coming out of Min” was celebrated in Egypt at the beginning of the harvest.10 These plagues, in effect, devastated Min’s coming-out party.

Darkness (No. 9), pursuing this line of interpretation, could have been directed against various deities associated with the sun—Amon-Re, Aten, Atum or Horus.

Finally, the death of the firstborn (No. 10) was directed against the patron deity of Pharaoh, and the judge of the dead, Osiris.

Additional data from Egyptian religious texts clarifies the terrifying tenth plague. The famous “Cannibal Hymn,” carved in the Old Kingdom pyramid of Unas at Saqqara, about 2300 B.C.E., states: “It is the king who will be judged with Him-whose-name-is-hidden on that day of slaying the first born.” Variations of this verse appear in a few Coffin Texts, magic texts derived from royal pyramid inscriptions of the Old Kingdom and written on the coffins of nobility of the Middle Kingdom, about 2000 B.C.E. For example, “I am he who will be judged with Him-whose-name-is-hidden on that night of slaying the first born.”11 Although the first-born referred to in the Coffin Text and probably also in the “Cannibal Hymn” are the first-born of gods, these texts indicate that an ancient tradition in Egypt recalled the slaying of all or some of the first-born of gods on a particular night.12

 The plagues were designed to both deliver Yahweh’s judgment against the Egyptians, and to move his people on the next step in their journey towards the fulfillment of his covenant to Abraham and the promised land of milk and honey.  By separating out the Hebrews and protecting them from the plagues, he was making a deliberate statement that they were his and they were special.  After hundreds of years of living in Egypt, Yahweh needed to demonstrate conclusively that Egypt’s gods were impotent before him and that their worship must be with him if they are to move forward.  He is not the small deity that they may have believed that he was but he is supreme.  This is a lesson that the Hebrews will have to learn again and again and again.  But there is evidence that at least one Egyptian pharaoh took it to heart after the Hebrews left.  

Amenhotep IV becomes a monotheist and will completely abandon all international concerns during his religious reformation and new capital construction at Armana as Joshua wreaks havoc in the region as some believe. (Amenhotep IV lives 60 years after Moses & the Exodus; could he have been influenced by the catastrophic events of Moses during Exodus?)

But that comes later.  Soon, Yahweh’s people will be on the move under the leadership of a hand-picked man uniquely qualified to lead them.

egyptexodus4

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