Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament
A review of John Currid's, "Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament," by Dr. Richard Hess.
Currid, John D. 1997 Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker. 269 pp. Paperback. ISBN 0-8010-2137-5.
Currid takes an optimistic view toward the relationship between Egyptian records and sites, and the Old Testament narratives. That is, he understands for the most part a close relationship to exist between the two. This is particularly true in reference to support for historical presentations found in the Bible. There is a section discussing Mesopotamian, Canaanite, Hebrew, and then Egyptian cosmologies with a view to argue the close relationship between the Egyptian and Hebrew. A large part of the book is devoted to the Joseph story, the first half of the book of Exodus, and the wilderness itinerary. The reader will learn much about the confrontation between Moses and pharaoh as well as the plagues and how all these dealt polemical thrusts to various members of the Egyptian pantheon. The discussion forms a helpful background commentary to these passages from Exodus. A significant insight is found in the the chart on p. 115 where Currid demonstrates how the various plagues reversed the events of the creation account of Genesis 1. The world is thrown back into “chaos” and the new flood is found in the Red (not Reed, according to Currid) Sea and its crossing. Currid also relates the bronze serpent of Numbers 21 to the divine serpent imagery from Egypt.
Historical discussion continues with his discussion of Solomon’s reign, primarily in terms of the marriage of pharaoh’s daughter and the administrative system. The former involves an attempt to identify the pharaoh and to discount the view of many that this is an isolated incident in Egyptian history. The latter makes draws some comparisons, especially with 1 Kings 4. Shoshenk (or Shishak) and his invasion of Palestine are discussed. There is included a kind of commentary on the Bubastite Portal text, where the invaded cities are listed. This involves a review of what others have said on the subject.
Two conclusions at the end discuss wisdom and prophecy. The Instructions of Amenemope are not in any way related to the book of Proverbs. The apparent similarities are not very close and they represent what is universally common to wisdom literature. Egyptian dream omen texts and Josephs’s dream interpretation are close. A final section considers the curse on Egypt in Isaiah 19 and its relationship to the Nile and the Egyptian view of that river.
There is much here that the reader will profit by and learn from. At the same time, many things are not discussed. There is little mention of the relation of the Hyksos to the period of Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt. Even if Currid disagrees with the parallels, he should at least have mentioned and discussed this crucial period in Egypt. While the plagues are handled in detail one looks in vain for illumination on the name Yahweh from Late Bronze Age itineraries that mention the Shasu land of Yahweh. Further, the relation of the Tabernacle of Exodus 25-40 and Egyptian religious shrines is missing. Again, there is similarity between the Israelite conquest record of Joshua 12 and the Late Bronze and Iron Age itineraries of Egyptian campaigns. What about the Amarna texts discovered in Egypt and the light they shed upon the geopolitical structure of Canaan near to the time of Joshua and Judges? From the first millennium B.C. both the role of pharaoh Necho and the Elephantine papyrii do not receive any mention.
Where some things are mentioned in detail, the greater context is omitted. Can one really draw any legitimate conclusion when comparing Solomon’s administrative system and Egypt’s, unless one is also prepared to discuss the evidence from the nearby West Semitic archives of Ugarit and Alalakh, or of the Hittite city of Hattusas? The same is true for the discounting of parallels between Amenemope and Joseph. If one is to draw any legitimate conclusions it is necessary to examine the broader context of ancient Near Eastern wisdom.
Bearing these omissions in mind, the book remains an introduction to its subject, and one that one can learn a great deal from.
Richard S. Hess
Professor of Old Testament