Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

The Language of Genesis

Moses wrote the Book of Genesis in a fully matured Hebrew language that was at that time (during the captivity and exodus) intensely under the influence of the Egyptian language -- the Hebrew language having been brought to its pitch of literary perfection by the Egyptian. The distinctly Egyptian tone in language, concept and custom pervades the entire book.

by Damien F. Mackey

The key to the structure of the Book of Genesis, as we learned in The Toledoth in the Book of Genesis, following the most illuminating research of P. J. Wiseman, is to be found in the repetitious phrase, "These are the generations ['Toledoth'] of..." This valuable discovery left us with no doubt that the Book of Genesis was compiled from a series of ancient documents (histories) -- recorded on writing tablets -- each one signed by one or other well-known biblical character from the Patriarchal era (e.g. Noah, Shem, Terah, Isaac, etc.), who must have owned and/or written his own set of histories.

The main point that was to be concluded from all of this was that the Book of Genesis is a most ancient document, the bulk of its material having been written before the time of Moses.

Moses is traditionally regarded as being the editor or compiler of the Book of Genesis. I am going to produce some compelling evidence to show that this tradition is a reliable one. To this end, I expect to gain assistance from linguistics; specifically from the ancient Egyptian language. One Professor A. S. Yahuda made the enormously important discovery that Egyptian exerted a profound influence upon the language of Genesis. [1]

Here I shall be pre-supposing the following data pertaining to the historical Moses:

1). That Moses lived in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom; the time of those Asiatics of Stratum G/1 at Tell el-Daba (ancient Avaris), whom have been identified as the Israelites;

2). That Moses was, culturally speaking, "Egyptianized". For, since the aforementioned Asiatics, who were slaves, show every indication of having been "Egyptianized", how much more should we expect "Egyptianization" in the case of Moses, whom, we are told, had been brought up since childhood in the household of pharaoh (cf. Exodus 2:8, 10)! In fact, when Moses fled Egypt and arrived in Midian, he was straightaway identified there as being "an Egyptian" (Exodus 2:19).

3). Moses had been highly educated in all the culture of Egypt (Acts 7:22). Thus we would expect that he, in his speech and writing -- even after the Exodus -- would continue to reflect that sophisticated Egyptian influence in regard to idiom, polished phraseology, metaphors, etc.

Now, what we are going to discover in this article is that there does in fact exist a profound Egyptian influence of this latter kind throughout the language of Genesis.

Effects of the "Documentary Hypothesis"

As was explained in The Toledoth in the Book of Genesis, the Graf-Wellhausen system has dominated the field of Biblical research for more than a century. Consequently, the entire Pentateuch is considered by scholars to be a late product -- even those parts that deal with the Egyptian Epoch of Israelite history (i.e., from Joseph to the Exodus).

Scholars in the study of antiquity have tackled the many challenging aspects of Genesis with greater or lesser success. "The Assyro-Babylonian school" for instance, according to Yahuda, "has undoubtedly been very successful in shedding new light on many parts of the Bible and also on some chapters of Genesis. But far from solving the problems of composition and antiquity of the Pentateuch, it rather complicated them." [2]

Similarly Yahuda found that Egyptology, despite its useful contributions, has been too hamstrung by the "Documentary Hypothesis" to have been able to shed sufficient light:

"Egyptology, too, failed, to furnish a solution only because after the rise of the Graf-Wellhausen School some of the leading Egyptologists accepted its theories without having sufficient knowledge of Hebrew and the Bible to enable them to take any initiative in these questions. As they could not find more than any occasional connexions between Hebrew and Egyptian, they simply took it for granted that Egyptology had very little to yield for the study of the Bible, and as to the Bible itself, Professor Adolf Erman went so far as to affirm that all 'that the Old Testament had to say about Egypt could not be regarded with enough suspicion.'" [3]

Not surprisingly this sort of attitude posed an obstacle for enterprising students:

"Such a statement and others of like purport, coming as they did from Egyptologists of established authority, brought it about that students who might have perhaps undertaken to penetrate more deeply into a study of Hebrew-Egyptian relationships, were intimidated and deterred from approaching the matter; and on the other hand, Biblical critics could always refer to such statements as highly authoritative in support of their views on the late origin of the Pentateuch and the unreliable character of those parts which deal with Egypt." [3]

As for the small number of scholars who were courageous enough to challenge the entrenched system, these were severely penalized for so doing:

"The endeavors of those few scholars who dared to go beyond the limits prescribed by the 'official' view of representative Egyptologists were either ignored altogether or only condescendingly considered, the results of their research being contemptuously rejected as unscientific and even fantastic." [3]

Yahuda wrote, in his own field of expertise, with the conviction and determination of one of those who had in fact been daring enough to swim against the tide of academic opinion; or (to change the metaphor) of one who has "seen the light" according to Plato's Cave analogy [4] and has generously sought to share his discoveries with others, in order to help them. Consequently he writes without bitterness.

Other able researchers have not been so fortunate. Did I not dwell at some length, in The Pharaoh Who Looted Solomon's Temple, [5] upon the sad fate of Harold H. Nelson, Professor Breasted's talented pupil, who was "intimidated" (according to the context of the previous quote) into persevering with a doctoral thesis whose predetermined conclusions the young researcher had come to realize could not be squared with the facts? Nelson, unfortunately, was "deterred from" (see same quote) attempting a fresh approach to the subject, since his Rockefeller-funded master, Professor Breasted, was expecting his student to prove the latter's own conclusions in relation to the first military campaign of pharaoh Thutmose III.

The consequences for anyone who, in Nelson's situation, might have been daring enough to have practiced scrupulous academic honesty, according to the evidence at hand, would almost certainly have been seen to have had one's doctoral thesis "contemptuously rejected as unscientific and even fantastic" (see same quote).

Had Nelson been allowed free intellectual rein to pursue the path along which the archaeological and geographical facts, pertaining to the first campaign of Thutmose III, were inevitably leading him -- or had he had the courage to break free from the bonds of conventional academic expectation, and start afresh -- then it may have fallen to him to have advanced the preparation of the ground for the brilliant conclusions in regard to Thutmose III (e.g. his biblical identity) that the revisionist scholars have since been able to reach.[6]

But for Nelson such a happy fate was not to be. The outcome for him, as no doubt it has been for many another enterprising student, was an utter dissatisfaction with the final product. Sure, the young researcher went on to complete his doctoral thesis according to Breasted's rulings, and was awarded the inevitable pass; but Nelson later completely dissociated himself from its conclusions.

It is appropriate here to repeat that for a long time now the conventional study of antiquities, including early biblical history, has been held captive bound by a tyrannical scheme that is quite artificial; a scheme that shows every indication of the mischievous genius of Procrustes at work. [7]

For, just as the legendary Procrustes used to stretch out upon his rack, or chop and cut down to size, any traveler who had the misfortune to stray into his inn, so as to make him fit his bed, so have the "Sothic" chronologists of the Berlin School of Egyptology radically over-stretched secular history, and so have the Graf-Wellhausen inclined documentists hacked and fragmented the Scriptures, in order to make these conform to their pre-conceived notions of how things ought to be.

Underlying this oppressive system, from whose stranglehold it is now extremely difficult to break away (as witness the tragic case of Harold H. Nelson) there must be a definite philosophy. If I were asked to identify that philosophy, or better still, that epistemology, I would unhesitatingly point to that idiosyncratic system developed by Immanuel Kant (d.1804), because of its similar Procrustean tendency to apriorise. Kant, whilst not actually denying the existence of extra-mental reality (as some have done), did in fact distrust the human mind's ability to make contact with such reality per se; believing rather that the mind imposes its own unique constructs upon the real world out there. [8] Is not this the ancient Procrustes in action in our very own times?

The legacy of so artificial an approach to reality -- an approach that seems to be rather widely practiced in the academic world today -- is that our universities and colleges now present schemes of biblical criticism and ancient history that, whilst being in themselves ingenious inventions, have not a great deal of bearing upon concrete fact.

In this series we have already seen the frustrated Procrustes in action, straining to make biblical history conform to the over-stretched bed of the "Sothic" chronology. We have again seen him at work when striving, in butcher-like fashion, to hack and chop the Genesis texts into neat, marketable slices, to fit the idiosyncratic demands of the "Documentary Hypothesis" (e.g. in The Toledoth in the Book  of Genesis). Now we are going to glimpse the menacing figure of Procrustes lurking behind the study of Biblical language.

My consistent purpose in writing this article has been to get back to historical and scientific reality. And so it will be now as I analyze the language of Genesis according to what it really is, not according to what Procrustean "experts" might say it ought to be.

Though factually-minded scholars, of whatever discipline, who have the courage to challenge the many artificialities to be found in entrenched academia might be made to suffer for this initially, the cumulative force of their evidence, building and maturing over a period of time, will eventually reach such a crescendo, like a tidal wave, that the old dyke walls of academia will no longer be able to hold fast, but will be swept away. This is already what has slowly but surely begun to happen with the revised chronology of ancient Near Eastern history (a study that has so much bearing upon biblical history).

Development of the Hebrew Language

We find that modern Biblical scholars unconditionally link together the Hebrew and Canaanite languages (Canaan being the land of the sojournings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) as if these were "sister" languages of the Western Semitic group; though they are unsure as to how they conceive the mode of development of Hebrew and the conditions under which it completed its growth into the literary language that we find in Genesis.

However, according to the testimony of the Book of Genesis, written -- as we now know (see The Toledoth of the Book  of Genesis) -- by people who were eyewitnesses and/or contemporaries of the events that they describe, the Canaanites were not a SEM-itic people at all. They were of HAM-itic stock (cf. Genesis 10:6, 15-19). Israel, on the other hand, was a Semite, "a wandering Aramaean" (cf. Genesis 10:22; 11:12-27; Deuteronomy 26:5). [9]

Moreover, the less apparent fact that the language of Genesis had been vastly influenced by Egyptian, having even been brought to its pitch of literary perfection by the latter -- as Yahuda had so painstakingly demonstrated -- has completely escaped virtually all scholars of biblical language.

Of course the very thought that anything like a literary language and literary activity even existed before the complete conquest of Canaan by Joshua and his forces (after the death of Moses) is scoffed at by modern Biblical critics. They cannot accept any viewpoint that does not accord with their notions about the religious evolution in Israel. The system that these critics have inherited seems invariably to lead them to conclusions diametrically opposed to every Biblical statement about the composition of the Pentateuch, and to rank it on linguistic and literary-historical grounds as being quite a late product.

To critics of this sort, Professor Yahuda threw down the gauntlet. If by comparison with the Egyptian, he said, it could be proved that the Egyptian influence upon Hebrew was so extensive that the literary perfection of this language can only be accounted for and explained by that influence, would it not then be quite clear that it can have happened only in "a common Hebrew-Egyptian environment"? [10]

Now from a BIBLICAL point of view, as we have suggested, the Egyptian Epoch of Israelite history that culminated in the Exodus (c.1450 BC) was the only period when there existed the sort of close intimacy with Egypt necessary for "so extensive" an influence of Egyptian upon the Hebrew language.

From an ARCHAEOLOGICAL point of view, of course, we have been able confidently to identify that culminating moment of the Egyptian Epoch as the time of the collapse of the Middle Kingdom, when Egypt was reduced to a state of chaos of long duration.

Yahuda believed that it was during this Egyptian Epoch that Hebrew would have fully matured as a literary language, thereby reaching "the perfection which we encounter in the Pentateuch." [11]

Let us, then, turn our thoughts towards Egypt.

As we are told in the Joseph narrative (Genesis) and Exodus stories, the Israelites spent a long time in Egypt (Exodus 12:40) -- in excess of 200 years by any view -- as a tribe apart (Exodus 1:8); with their own manners and specific customs (Genesis 43:32); with their own worship (Exodus 5:17); living in a separate area assigned to them in the Delta near the Asiatic border (Genesis 47:6); with their own organization (Exodus 4:29); as a self-contained entity in the midst of an Egyptian environment. During this substantial period of time the Israelites, as Yahuda has rightly noted, "cannot possibly have escaped the influence of Egyptian culture and Egyptian life." [12] On the contrary, in spite of their segregation, they would have adapted themselves from the start to Egyptian conditions, conceptions and customs.

Now regarding the nature of the all-important evidence for the Egyptian influence upon the Hebrew language, Professor Yahuda wanted early to emphasize the fact that the comparisons to be drawn between these two languages are not simply superficial ones. They are not just to be confined, for instance, to the level of mere phonetic similarity (although that, too, often applies). They go in fact much deeper, right through to the psychological core of the contributing language. Thus Yahuda explained:

"In order fully to appreciate the inner relationship between the linguistic usages of Hebrew and Egyptian, it is not sufficient to make a mere comparison of words or to prove the common origin of certain words in both languages. We have to penetrate very deeply into the psychology of the Egyptian language, and into the very fibers of its structure, if we wish to discern the true degree to which Hebrew was influenced." [13]

Not only, he added, must this influence be extensive and distinctly traceable in all matters dealt with in Genesis, so that there can be no question of mere accident or of a faint influence reminiscent of a dim past, but in a more special sense the dependence of one language upon another would be revealed chiefly in the following phenomena [14]:

(a) In the adoption of loan-words.

(b) In the coinage of new words and expressions, technical terms, turns of speech, metaphors, and phrases quite in the spirit of, and even in literal accordance with, the other language, "in which case the characteristic of such new formations is that they are alien to the spirit of the adopting language and to the conceptions and institutions of the people speaking it -- but reflecting throughout the spirit of the other language and the conditions of the alien environment".

(c) In the adoption of grammatical elements and adaption to some syntactical rules of the alien language, so that even in structure and style there is a close assimilation in many respects.

I shall not necessarily be adhering to the order (a-c) cited above whilst providing linguistic examples throughout the following pages. However, all three sections will be represented amongst the examples selected. In an article of greater scope it would be possible to demonstrate a relationship between Hebrew and Egyptian in the widest measure, but here the reader will need to be content with a relatively brief demonstration of it.

It should be kept in mind, too, that we are presently dealing only with the Book of Genesis and not with the entire Pentateuch. Nevertheless, the Egyptian elements listed above are traceable to the same extent and with the same frequency throughout the entire Pentateuch as they are in Genesis [15].

What of the Akkadian Influence?

Before we discuss our Egyptian examples, we need to pause briefly to consider the degree of Akkadian influence throughout the Book of Genesis, because one of the main reasons why modern Biblical scholars cling to the theory that Genesis, in the main, was written around the period of the Babylonian Exile -- hundreds of years after Moses' death -- [16] is that parts of the book contain clear Assyro-Babylonian elements. Assyriologists have rightly concluded that some parts of the Book of Genesis must have originated in a period when the Israelites were connected more or less closely with Mesopotamia (including here Syrian Mesopotamia). According to the Bible there were two such periods:

1). the first was in the time of the Patriarchs (approximately from Noah to Jacob), prior to c.1750 BC, and prior, of course, to Moses;

2). the second, and far more intense, was during the Babylonian Exile of the 6th-century BC, when the Jews as a captive people were resident in Babylonia.

As the reader can easily calculate, these two Babylonian-influenced epochs were separated the one from the other by in excess of a millennium.

Yahuda drew the following, highly significant distinction between the respective influences that Babylonian exerted upon the Scriptures during these two eras:

"Whereas those books of Sacred Scripture which were admittedly written during and after the Babylonian Exile reveal in language and style such an unmistakable Babylonian influence that these newly-entered foreign elements leap to the eye, by contrast in the first part of the Book of Genesis, which describes the earlier Babylonian period, the Babylonian influence in the language is so minute as to be almost non-existent." [17]

It is an amazing fact, for example, that where there are similar details in the Genesis accounts of Creation and the Flood and in those of the Akkadian myths, almost without exception the Akkadian uses words and expressions different from the Hebrew. Professor Yahuda had noted that whilst some Akkadian words and expressions are in fact used in the Hebrew, they do not occur in the Genesis stories. [18] Therefore, any attempt to argue for a so-called strong literary or linguistic "dependence" of the Genesis stories upon the Akkadian myths can have no convincing proof to support it. If such a close dependence did actually exist, Yahuda argued, one would expect such Akkadian words that are frequent in all Akkadian Creation and Flood stories "to be preferentially and in a much higher degree represented in the Genesis stories." [19]

When, on the other hand, we come to consider the degree of linguistic dependence of the Genesis narratives upon Egyptian, we are all of a sudden confronted by an abundance of relevant evidence.

Whilst an informed Biblical scholar might indeed have anticipated that there would be a strong Egyptian influence in that part of the Book of Genesis that deals with Joseph and the "Egyptian Epoch" of Israelite history (i.e., Genesis chapters 39-50), what one actually finds is that the entire book is saturated with Egyptian elements. The Egyptian influence is to be found even in the pre-Egyptian Epoch (i.e., Genesis chapters 1-38), though it builds up to a crescendo in the Joseph narrative. In the pre-Egyptian part of Genesis, Egyptian loanwords occur, as do idioms and phrases considered by Biblical scholars as being typical of this portion of Genesis, but that can only be explained from Egyptian.

In addition to these, Yahuda has found so many "other highly significant Egyptian influences on the composition, style and mode of narration...," that he could only conclude "that the whole pre-Egyptian narrative, too, was written from an Egyptian perspective." [20]

This latter conclusion by Yahuda serves as a perfect cue for us to re-introduce that traditional theme that Moses was the compiler of the Book of Genesis. Here very briefly I shall outline -- based upon what we learned in The Toledoth in the Book of Genesis -- how, and in what form, the ancient records of Moses' forefathers most probably came into his hands.

Adam to Moses

The ancestral records, or family histories (Toledoth) from Adam to Jacob, written (after the Dispersion) mainly in the old Semitic language of the Aramaeans, would have been taken to Egypt by Jacob.

These records would no doubt have been cherished by Jacob's son, Joseph, who would then have preserved them in Egypt, perhaps even storing copies in the royal Egyptian archives. Joseph later added his own lengthy story to these Patriarchal accounts.

In turn, these sacred records would have become available to Moses, as prince (perhaps even as one of the pharaohs) of Egypt, and would have served as his only "Bible". Apart from Joseph's history -- which was thoroughly "Egyptianized" (see section iv below) -- the records as they came into the hands of Moses most likely would not have had any significant Egyptian influence upon their composition. [21] Moses himself did not actually compose (in the sense of being the original author) any of these Patriarchal histories; but in editing and compiling them, he "re-wrote" or "translated" them into the sophisticated, "Egyptianized" Hebrew language that had reached its peak of literary perfection after centuries of sojourn by Israel in Egypt.

The Egyptian Elements

Since Egyptian, like early Hebrew, survives only in consonantal writing, and hence its real pronunciation is unknown to us, it is customary, when reading Egyptian texts, to insert an e-vowel after each consonant -- unless the correct vocalization is known (thanks to any fortuitous availability of cross-referencing from another ancient language). Thus, for example, the Egyptologists tend to read "medet" for the Egyptian word, "md.t" (meaning "word"); "ikhet" for "ih.t" (meaning "thing", "matter"); "meriyet" for "mry.t" (meaning "tear"). The letter w, when final, is pronounced like u and the letter 3 like a; e.g. "shebu" for "sbw," "wawa" for "w3w3."

For the reader's benefit, I shall be adding all of the appropriate vowels to the Egyptian words below. I shall use "ch" to represent the hard sound that we find in, for instance, the Scottish word "loch."

Further, in accordance with the historically revised view that Moses belonged to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, rather than to the New Kingdom, I shall make a point of drawing as exclusively as possible upon Middle Kingdom linguistic examples. [22]

(i) In the Creation Story

We saw in The Toledoth in the Book of Genesis just how totally the Hebrew account of Creation differs from the Babylonian account in regard to its religious and conceptual motifs, and that there was nothing whatsoever in the Babylonian version to indicate that the Hebrew account owed anything to it. Now we find further, thanks to Yahuda, that there is not even a linguistic dependence with Mesopotamia. Instead it was Egyptian that exerted the influence.

"In the Beginning" (Genesis 1:1)

The Hebrew word, "bereshith", with which the Creation story begins, is found on closer examination to be an exact adaptation to the Egyptian expression, "tepyt" ["tpy.t"], for earliest time, "primeval time." Just as "bereshith" is formed from the Hebrew word for "head", so too is the Egyptian word formed from the word for "head." [23]

"Heavens" (Genesis 1:1)

The Hebrew word for "heaven," "shamayim," occurs only in the plural form. This is all the more remarkable as its stem is the basic root from which the conception "heaven" is formed in all Semitic languages, yet it is only in Hebrew that "heaven" is used in the plural form. Now, as noted by Yahuda, such a conception was quite familiar to the Egyptians, for they accordingly spoke of "pety" ["p.ty"], "two heavens"! [24] Thus we read of the dead king in Pyramid text 406 that: "He has wandered entirely through the two heavens [p.ty]; he has journeyed through the two shore-lands."

(ii) In the Paradise Story

"Tree of Life" (Genesis 2:9)

We recall that in the Garden of Eden there was "every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food" (Genesis 2:9). Likewise, in the "Egyptian Fields," "sekhwet" ["sh.wt"], and in the "Garden of God," "kan netcher" ["k3n netr"], there were all kinds of trees with sweet fruits such as sycamores, figs, dates and vines, as well as other "lovely trees," "khet nedjem" ["ht ndm"]. [25]

Of special interest, however, is the fact that among the trees of the Egyptian Paradise was also the "Tree of Life," "khet en ankh" ["ht n 'nh"]. [26] In the mythology of the Mesopotamians one encounters the common theme that the food of the gods was also the food for eternal life. But, as Yahuda has noted, whereas the Akkadian expression, "akal balati", "Food of Life", is quite different from the Hebrew concept, "Tree of Life," the Egyptian, "khet en ankh" ["ht n 'nh"], "Tree of Life," "corresponds literally with the Hebrew phrase in Genesis 2:9." [27]

"Upon Your Belly You Shall Go" (Genesis 3:14)

Another expression common to Egyptian and Hebrew is that found in Genesis 3:14 when YEHOVAH God says to the serpent, "upon your belly you shall go". Yahuda pointed out that this is the same expression used for reptiles in Leviticus 11:42 as well, where "it is a distinctive denomination for a special category of animals." [28] It corresponds exactly "to the elliptic expression" in Egyptian, "chery hetef" ["hry h.t-f"], "that (which goes) on its belly" for snakes and reptiles generally. Thus in Pyramid Text 662 we read: "Thou art the serpent that (goes) on its belly".

(iii) In the Flood Story

The "Ark" (Genesis 6:14)

No more striking evidence in support of Yahuda's thesis is that the Babylonian stories are later versions of the Hebrew originals is to be found than in the story of the Flood. To begin with, he has noted that the most characteristic fact is that for the chief feature of the whole story, the Ark, the Akkadian word for that vessel is not used. [29] Instead a Hebrew word, "teba", in which the Egyptian word, "djebat" ["db3.t"], "box", "coffer," "chest," has been recognized, is used by the writer. Yahuda exclaimed: "It is astonishing that a narrative supposedly set in Babylonia, uses for the Ark an Egyptian loan-word!" [30]

As, however, the same Hebrew word, "teba," is also used for "basket" in the story of the finding of the infant Moses (Exodus 2:3), a comparison of both passages at once suggests itself. Such a comparison is all the more instructive for our whole linguistic thesis as, on the one hand, it clearly reveals the Egyptian character of the Flood narrative, and, on a secondary level, shows how powerfully Egyptian influences prevailed in the Exodus narrative.

Whereas in the Genesis narrative, for the nature of the timber and kind of pitch that were used to construct the Ark, the Akkadian words, "giparu" and "kupru", are traceable respectively in the Hebrew, "gopher" and "kopher," in the Exodus account, on the other hand, an Egyptian word, "kema" ["km3"], "Nile rushes," is used to denominate the material of the ark of Moses. [31]

The "Rainbow" (Genesis 9:13)

For "rainbow," Genesis 9:13ff. uses a common Semitic word, "kesheth", which is also represented in the Akkadian, "kashtu". But the latter is used exclusively for a shooting weapon. Only in Egyptian do we find the word, "pedjet" ["pd.t"], "bow", both for a shooting weapon and for an arc in the sky. Thus, for example, we read in Pyramid Text 393, speaking of the appearance of the dead king in the Beyond: "The heaven storms, the stars fade, the bows stagger when they see him."

(iv) In the Joseph Narrative

The important story of Joseph and his rise to governorship of Egypt occupies almost one quarter of the entire Book of Genesis. Because the setting for the Joseph narrative is almost entirely an Egyptian one, and because therefore it does not conclude with a Toledoth (since the Egyptian scribes, who wrote on papyrus, not on tablets, did not find much use for a colophon type ending), this section of Genesis received only a very brief mention in The Toledoth in the Book of Genesis. But now that we have switched our attention squarely towards Egypt, the Joseph narrative assumes a unique importance; especially from the point of view of our linguistic study. The fact is that the Joseph narrative is absolutely saturated with Egyptian elements. Of course we can only summarize some of the most striking examples here.

Joseph as "Second" to Pharaoh (Genesis 41:43)

The "kernel of the Joseph narrative," Yahuda noted, is his appointment as Grand Vizier to Pharaoh [32]. For this office, Genesis 41:43 gives a Hebrew word, "mishneh," containing a root meaning "to do twice, to repeat, to double," in the sense that Joseph represented in relation to the king a sort of "double," acting as his deputy, "invested with all the rights and prerogatives of the king." Yahuda explained that exactly in the same way the Egyptian word, "senenu" ["sn.nw"], "deputy," was formed from "sen" ["sn"], "two."

"Father to Pharaoh" (Genesis 45:8)

Joseph was called "Father to Pharaoh," and, according to Yahuda, the Hebrew expression, "ab," "father," is a reproduction of the Egyptian title, "itef" ["itf"], "father," a very common priestly title, and one borne also by viziers [33]. For instance Ptah-hotep, the wise and celebrated vizier of the Old Kingdom's Fifth Dynasty, referred to himself as, "itef netcher mery-netcher" ["itf ntr mryy-ntr"], "father of god, the beloved of god." [34]

To "Hear a Dream" (Genesis 41:15)

At the beginning of his conversation with Joseph, Pharaoh says: "I have had a dream...I have heard that you understand a dream to interpret it" (Genesis 41:15). For "understand", the Hebrew has the verb to "hear", "shama", "you hear a dream" -- a usage that has been so difficult for commentators, but one that corresponds entirely to the Egyptian use of "sedjem" ["sdm"], "to hear" or "to understand." [35]

Joseph's Polished Speech

Even when Joseph speaks to his brothers, who as shepherds and "Asiatics" were regarded by the Egyptians as an abomination, his words and expressions are cast in the superior tone of an Egyptian of high breeding. The biblical narrator (probably Joseph himself) very cleverly depicts how skillfully Joseph played the role of a genuine Egyptian before revealing himself to his brothers, thereby displaying an extraordinarily fine instinct for the polished and elaborate court phraseology -- especially in passages where he employs metaphorical expressions or introduces Pharaoh and his Vizier in conversation. In fact, as Yahuda noted, the whole discussion between Joseph and Pharaoh:

"... so completely mirrors all we know of court institutions with all their elaborate details and nuances that the whole story could only have been told with such exact knowledge by one who was thoroughly familiar with all these things from first-hand observation." [36]

"Kissing" the Food

In Genesis 41:40, Pharaoh says to Joseph, literally: "According to your mouth shall my people kiss". Again, not surprisingly, this verse has been a headache for commentators and translators, as the verb to "kiss" seems to be completely out of place here. [37] But on comparison with Egyptian, as Yahuda explained, "kiss" proves to be "a correct and thoroughly exact reproduction of what the narrator really meant to convey. Here an expression is rendered in Hebrew from a metaphorical one used in polished speech among the Egyptians". Instead of the ordinary colloquial expression, "wenem" ["wnm"], for "eating", the Egyptians (e.g. in Pyramid Texts 1027 & 1323) spoke of "kissing", "sen" ["sn"] the food. Our passage is thus to be taken literally, "but in the sense of the Egyptian metaphor". Pharaoh is saying to Joseph, "by your orders shall my people feed"; whereby Pharaoh simply meant that the feeding of the whole country would be regulated solely "by the measures and ordinances of Joseph."

Court Expressions of Deference

(a) Pharaoh

Addressing the Egyptian king in the third person: "Pharaoh was angry with his servants" (Genesis 41:10); "Let Pharaoh do this" (41:33); and many other such passages, corresponds entirely to the court etiquette of Egypt's Middle Kingdom and is wholly official. This usage dates back to most ancient times, and so we read in a letter addressed in the name of the Sixth Dynasty pharaoh, Pepi II: "... your letter to the king in the palace so that one [= the king] should know." [38] Similarly, in the Story of Sinuhe we find: "Let your Majesty command ("wedj geret chem ek") ["wd grt hm-k"] that they...," etc. (Sinuhe 219).

(b) Face of Pharaoh

A characteristic formula also is the phrase recurring in several passages of Genesis: "in the face of Pharaoh", or "from the face of Pharaoh" (e.g. Genesis 47:2,7 & 41:6), meaning "before Pharaoh". According to Yahuda, [39] this corresponds completely to hierarchic court custom, whereby one might not speak to His Majesty, "re chem-ef" ["r hm-f"], "to his face", but only "in the face of his Majesty", "em cher chem-ef" ["m hr hm-f"]. The same respectful expression was used for viziers, and so we have the phrase "before Joseph's face" (Genesis 43:15 and 34).

(c) Pharaoh Never Named

It has always been a puzzling feature [40] of the Joseph narrative that the king of Egypt is never mentioned by name, but merely as Pharaoh. As Chabas already observed in 1865, [41] the Hebrew word for "Pharaoh" is a direct reproduction of the Egyptian, "Per-a" ["Pr-'3"], "the great House." As is thought, the term originally designated the royal palace. It was then transferred to the government and later to the king as his permanent title. This custom of referring to the royal place by "Per-a" ["Pr-'3"] dates already from the Fifth Dynasty, e.g. Pharaoh Sahure.

(d) "Lords"

Yahuda also noted that a very peculiar form of expression that has often been noted, but has remained unexplained, is the Hebrew word for "lord" in the plural, with reference to either Pharaoh or Joseph. [42] Thus, for instance, a literal translation of Genesis 40:1 would read: "the butler of the king of 'the two lands' (i.e. Egypt) and his baker offended their lords..." instead of their "lord" in the singular. The same ceremonious turn of speech occurs also in Genesis 42:30 and 33 with reference to Joseph. Now we find that already again in most ancient times, in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, the Pharaoh, besides being referred to as, "neb" ["nb"], "lord", in the singular, is also spoken of as "nebwy" ["nb. wy"] in the plural. The use of "nb" in the dual for the king as "double" god Horus occurs already in the Middle Kingdom.

Jacob Before Pharaoh

We could multiply passage upon passage in regard to the Egyptian influence in the language of the Book of Genesis, but we shall content ourselves with just one more striking example. I refer to that difficult passage in Genesis chapter 47 describing Jacob's first meeting with Pharaoh. One line in particular has defied interpretation by commentators, who did not consider to look for the solution in the Egyptian records. To Pharaoh's question to Jacob: "How many are the days of the years of your life?" Jacob replies in the following enigmatic fashion: "The days of the years of my sojournings are 130 years; few and evil have been the days and the years of my life" (Genesis 47:9). What are we to make of this strange statement? What do the exegetes make of it? Let us first see what a modern Biblical expert of the "Documentary Hypothesis" persuasion has to say about this exchange.

We turn again to the opinion of Eugene Maly, the expert on Genesis in The Jerome Biblical Commentary -- whom we met briefly in The Toledoth in the Book of Genesis. As in the previous example, Maly also ascribes this portion of Genesis to the so-called Priestly tradition, or P. [43] And again we find that he completely misses the point as to the significance of the biblical passage. In his comment that: "The presentation of Jacob to Pharaoh is narrated by P with a sobriety that gives it a touch of grandeur," Maly does not in any way come to grips with the import of Jacob's statement. His sweeping and vague remark leaves the reader just as much in the dark as he or she would have been before having consulted The Jerome Biblical Commentary.

Although it might first appear strange that Jacob described his 130 years as "few," they would have been regarded as such by any Egyptian ruler, who believed himself to be an eternal living god, endowed by the gods with millions and myriads of years. No doubt Jacob had been primed by his son Joseph to introduce himself to Pharaoh in this distinctive and formal a manner. In the light of Egyptian court etiquette, so rich in the niceties of speech, Jacob's words were well chosen. As Yahuda put it, "such a remark [as Jacob's], must have appeared as very tactful and thoughtful on the lips of a foreigner." [44]

It must be noted, however, that Jacob's first action in the presence of Pharaoh was to bless the ruler of Egypt (Genesis 47:7). Hence, although Jacob politely went on to assure the quizzical king -- perhaps surprised by this blessing -- that his years were "few" in comparison with one who thought himself eternal, his first action was that of a superior over an inferior (cf. Genesis 14:19 & Hebrews 7:6-7).

The wise Ptah-hotep, Vizier of the Fifth Dynasty king, Issi, wrote in similar "polite" fashion:

"It is not little that I have done upon earth: I have lived a hundred and ten years which the king granted me with rewards exceeding those of my fathers because I did what was right for him up to the place of honour [i.e. up to my greatest age]." [45]

Jacob, having tactfully observed all the correct etiquette that was expected in the Egyptian court, finally blessed Pharaoh again just before leaving his presence (Genesis 47:10).

A Summing Up

The presence of so imposing an array of Egyptian elements in the Genesis stories and Patriarchal narratives (and we have only scraped the tip of the iceberg here), completely overshadowing the reminiscences of unmistakably Babylonian origin, can only be explained as the result of a deliberate transformation and re-modeling of the written histories from the Patriarchal times, under the influence of an Egyptian milieu. This predominance of Egyptian influence can even be considered as a determining factor for dating the composition of the Genesis stories and Patriarchal narratives. For it is clear that such a far-reaching Egyptian saturation can have taken place only in an environment in which the Hebrews lived in close contact with the Egyptians, and it is likewise clear that the only period in which so close a contact can have occurred was the Egyptian-Hebrew epoch.

Hence, there is compelling evidence in support of the traditional view that Moses was the compiler, or editor, of the Book of Genesis. But he was not its author, as we discovered in The Toledoth in the Book of Genesis. This latter conclusion is further borne out by the fact that nowhere in Scripture is there a statement that Moses actually wrote the narratives and genealogies of Genesis. In Genesis we have no statements referring to Moses in the same way as, or similar to, those so often repeated in the remainder of the Pentateuch, "The Lord said unto Moses..." P. J. Wiseman had in fact claimed that the non-occurrence in the Book of Genesis of this phrase, "The Lord said unto Moses..." is surely a clear indication that when it is used in the remaining Books of Moses, it is likely to have been used authentically and accurately, the text having been preserved in a pure state. [46]

The New Testament method of referring to the books of Moses is also worthy of note. According to Wiseman, it "is a significant example of the accuracy with which references to authorship are made in the Bible" [47]. Although Yeshua the Messiah and the apostles repeatedly quoted from Genesis, "they never actually say that Moses wrote or spoke the statement quoted". But when we read references or quotations taken from the beginning of Exodus and onwards to Deuteronomy, "it is then we begin to read in the New Testament, 'Moses said...'"


Having discussed, in fair detail, the Egyptian influence upon the language of the Book of Genesis -- and, before that, Wiseman's thesis on the structure of the book -- I may now summarize the following synthesis in favor of Mosaic compilation of the Book of Genesis:

1). Moses wrote the Book of Genesis in a fully matured Hebrew language that was at that time intensely under the influence of the Egyptian language -- the Hebrew language having been brought to its pitch of literary perfection by Egyptian. The entire Book of Genesis was composed from an Egyptian perspective as regards its language and many of its conventions. The distinctly Egyptian tone in language, concept and custom pervades the entire book.

2). Moses was in possession of the ancient records of his forefathers, passed down from great antiquity via Noah and his sons in the Ark, to the family of Abraham, firstly in Mesopotamia, then in Canaan, and finally via Jacob to Joseph in the governorship of Egypt. Over the centuries these ancient records would doubtlessly have undergone translations, transliterations and editing. Moses, having access to the Egyptian archives, was thoroughly conversant with the histories of his forefathers even whilst still a prince in Egypt. These sacred texts would have served as his only "Bible."

3). Moses retained the basic structure and literary form of these ancient source-records from which he compiled the book we call "Genesis." But he added various footnotes and directional guides for the sake of his contemporaries, since many of the ancient place-names (e.g. in the history of Abraham) were no longer in use in Moses' day.

4). Moses' forty years of exile in Midian had afforded him the excellent opportunity to have become familiar with the lands and languages of the tribes living to the east of Egypt; lands that would so affect the Israelites and their history after the Exodus.

5). Furthermore, it seems that Moses greatly edited the texts of his ancestors. Doubtless, the original series of Isaac, for instance, or Esau, would have been much longer than has come down to us in Genesis. Moses retained only what he considered to be fitting and beneficial to his people. This does not mean that the histories that he had before him were necessarily fragmentary, but rather that Moses found little in some of them that he considered to be relevant to the book that he was compiling; the book that we now call "GENESIS."

Notes and References:

[1] Yahuda, A. S., The Language of the Pentateuch in its Relation to Egyptian (Oxford U.P., 1933).

[2] Ibid., i.

[3] Ibid. On p.ix, Professor Yahuda made the following statement however in favor of the contribution by the established Egyptologists: "I particularly desire to point out that I owe a great part of my knowledge of Egyptian matters to the works of those Egyptologists who have most persistently adopted a skeptical standpoint with regard to a Hebrew-Egyptian relationship. Whilst I unreservedly acknowledge my indebtedness to them, I cannot refrain from expressing some disappointment at the quite incongruous fact, that strong opposition was forthcoming precisely from these Egyptologists, as they ought to have been the first to hail the important results derived from their works. That such an attitude should have been taken up by these scholars, can, I regret to say, only be explained by the fact that the abundant evidence brought forward in my book thoroughly and definitely disproved views which they had maintained with an almost "Pharaonic" stubbornness during the past forty years, affirming again and again that there was very little to be obtained from Egypt and Egyptian for the elucidation of the Old Testament." Yahuda's quote from A. Erman was taken from the latter's Aegypten und aegyptisches Leben im Altertum (1885), 6. Erman reaffirmed this view in the revised edition, by H. Ranke (1923), 5. Similarly Dr. Alan H. Gardiner said about the Exodus that "all the story of the Exodus ought to be regarded as no less mythological than the details of creation as recorded in Genesis", and that "at all events our first task must be to attempt to interpret these details on the supposition that they are a legend." Etudes Champollion (1922), 205.

[4] Plato, The Republic, Bk. VII (Penguin, 1955). But, as I noted in Part One, Yahuda's work is vitiated to some extent by his adherence to the conventional chronology, which is however not to be regarded as his area of expertise.

[5] Mackey, D., The Pharaoh Who Looted Solomon's Temple, Computer Bible Series 3 (Part Two). Nelson had been struck by the fact that the geography and topography that the Egyptian Annalist was describing in Thutmose III's first campaign, in relation to a city that is conventionally identified with the biblical fortress of Megiddo, just did not reflect the true character of Megiddo's environs at all. See also footnote (6).

[6] I. Velikovsky, in his Ages in Chaos I (Abacus, 1953), ch. IV, was the first to suggest that Thutmose III was a contemporary of King Solomon, and was to be identified with the biblical Pharaoh "Shishak". D. Courville followed this view in The Exodus Problem and its Ramifications, Vol. I, Ch. XVI (CA, 1971), without making any significantly new contributions. Dr. E. Danelius, in Did Thutmose III De-spoil the Temple in Jerusalem?, SIS Review, Vol. II, no.3 (1977/78), 64-79, greatly enhanced Velikovsky's thesis by her identifying the terrain described in the Egyptian Annals as that pertaining to the hilly and extremely narrow Beth-horon pass, leading towards Jerusalem. By actually pin-pointing in Thutmose's account three roads that lead towards Jerusalem, Danelius was able to consolidate Velikovsky's thesis, showing that Thutmose III actually led his army right up to the Temple of Jerusalem.

[7] For a brilliant account of the modern-day activities of Procrustes, see G. Ardley's Aquinas and Kant (Longmans, Green & Co., 1950), p.21, also ch. X, etc.

[8] Perhaps it is not surprising, then, to find that: (1) the founders of the "Documentary Hypothesis," Graf-Wellhausen; (2) the inventor of the "Sothic" Chronology, Eduard Meyer; and, in this present paper, (3) Adolf Erman, were all Germans, and hence would likely have been exposed to the influence of Kant. And since the Germans have the reputation for doing things in a thorough way, "gruendlich" (lit. "from the ground up"), non-German institutes of higher learning sometimes take over their ideas unquestioningly.

[9] For views about the location of Abraham's place of origin, "Ur of the Chaldees", by historians who do not identify it with the famous Ur of Babylonia, see e.g. C. Gordon's Before the Bible, 287; by the same author, Abraham and the Merchants of Ura, JNES, 27 (1958); also E. Green's Abraham's Birthplace, C&AH, Vol. VIII, pt.1 (January, 1986), 79-80; and H. Storck's Ur of the Chaldees -- Once Again, C&AH, Vol. IX, pt.1 (January, 1987), 43-47.

[10] Yahuda, op. cit., xxxii.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., xxxiii.

[13] Ibid., 4.

[14] Ibid., xxxiii.

[15] Ibid., xxxv. But not only Egyptian elements; for here Yahuda has noted: "By a careful sifting and sorting of the linguistic peculiarities in many portions of Numbers, and especially of Deuteronomy -- which according to indications there given were compiled during the wanderings in the Sinai Peninsula [sic], in the desert, and finally in the Araba, close to the Jordan -- we meet with many words and expressions which must have been taken from the peoples and tribes with whom the Israelites came into contact in those areas".

[16] More than half a millennium, in fact, by even the most conservative estimate.

[17] Yahuda, op. cit., xxix.

[18] Ibid., 107.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., xxix.

[21] That is not to say that they would not have absorbed any HAM-itic influence at all, since Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had sojourned in the land of the Hamitic Canaanites even before Israel went into Egypt as a nation. But it would be virtually impossible at this stage of our knowledge to determine the extent of such influence.

[22] The Egyptian language did not change all that radically, however, between the Old and New Kingdom eras.

[23] Yahuda, op. cit., 123.

[24] Ibid., 128.

[25] Ibid., 192.

[26] Ibid., 193.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid., 204.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., 206.

[32] Ibid., 20.

[33] Ibid., 23.

[34] Devaud, E. (ed.), Les maximes de Ptahhotep d'apres le papyrus Prisse (Fribourg, 1916), 17.

[35] Yahuda, op. cit., 142.

[36] Ibid., 7.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid., 13. Hence Velikovsky (op. cit., 73) was quite wrong in his claim that the "One" referred to in Pharaoh Ahmose's account of his assault on Avaris, the stronghold of the "Hyksos", was not the Pharaoh himself but was the Biblical king, Saul, acting as the Pharaoh's ally. "I followed the king on foot when he rode abroad in his chariot. One besieged the city of Avaris. I showed valor on foot before his majesty....One fought on the water in the canal of Avaris..." According to Velikovsky: "The indefinite pronoun would not have been used if the Egyptian king had been at the head of the besieging army". That, however, is a false opinion. The terms "king," "One" and "his majesty" in this inscription all refer to Pharaoh Ahmose. I nonetheless agree with Velikovsky in his view that the defeat of the "Hyksos' was due to operations against them by both the early Eighteenth Dynasty Pharaohs and the Israelites (under Saul & David), and that Egypt and Israel were allies at this time (i.e. the beginning of the New Kingdom of Egypt).

[39] Ibid., 13-14.

[40] In fact, because of this tendency by Biblical authors of early books, like Genesis and Exodus, not to name the various Pharaohs, some historians have concluded -- quite unjustifiably as we now find -- that these authors were quite ignorant of the facts pertaining to the histories about which they were writing.

[41] Chabas (1865), as referred to by Yahuda, op. cit.,44.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Maly, E, in JBC 47:9.

[44] Yahuda, op. cit., 17.

[45] Ibid., 17-18.

[46] Wiseman, P. Clues to Creation in Genesis (Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1977), 66.

[47] Ibid.

-- Edited by John D. Keyser.

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