Judgments, Part 3 of 3 & A Breakdown of Ancient Egyptian History

“* Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.

It is thought that the laws of ancient Egypt were at least partially codified. In fact, we learn from one Greek writer that in the Late Period there were probably eight books that set out the legal code. But nothing remains of these documents, or for that matter, legal codes from other periods. However, we can derive some of the laws of ancient Egypt from funerary texts, as well as court and other documents.

Essentially, it is believed that Egyptian law was based on a common sense view of right and wrong, following the codes based on the concept of Ma’at. Ma’at represented truth, order, balance and justice in the universe.

This concept allowed that everyone, with the exception of slaves, should be viewed as equals under the law, regardless of wealth or social position. However, when punishment was carried out, often the entire family of the guilty suffered as well.
For example, when individuals were sentenced to exile, their children were automatically outlawed along with them. If a relative deserted from military service, or defaulted on the labor demands of the state, the entire family might be imprisoned.

* Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment.  Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause.

* If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. 

If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.  Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause.

* Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked. 

And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.

* Also, thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

* And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat.  

In like manner, thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy olive yard.

* Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day, thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.

* And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.

* Three times, thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year.  Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty).

And the feast of harvest, the first fruits of thy labors, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labors out of the field.

* Three times in the year all, thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD.

* Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the morning.

* The first of the first fruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the LORD thy God.  Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.

Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place, which I have prepared.  Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.

But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.

For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off. 

Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images. 

And ye shall serve the LORD your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee.

There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the Leviticus of thy days I will fulfill. 

I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee. 

A gold Ma’at pendant which is currently in the British Museum was probably more or less an official badge of legal officials. Some statues of high officials from the Late Period are shown wearing such a pendant. During the Greek period, Greek law existed alongside that of the Egyptian law, but usually these laws favored the Greeks.

And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.  I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate and the beast of the field multiply against thee. 

By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land. 

And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.

Thou shalt make no covenant with them, or with their gods.

They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee” (Ex 23:1-33).


A Breakdown
of Ancient Egyptian History

It is helpful for understanding the history of ancient Egypt to divide this enormously protracted time span into short­er, more manageable segments.

Following the lead of a 3rd century B.C. Egyptian his­torian named Manetho; Egyptian history is typically divided into 30 dynasties.

Pre-Dynastic Egypt (prior to 3000 B.C.)

During this era regional societies and cul­tures began to emerge. Agriculture, pottery making and the construction of stone mon­uments were well established by the end of this period.

Loose confederations eventually gave way to more centralized power.

Archaic Egypt (1st-2nd Dynasties; 3000-2700 B.C.)

Map of ancient Egypt showing major cities and sites of the Predynastic and Dynastic periods (c. 3150 to 30 B.C.).

Meni (or Menes), a semi-legendary ruler from southern Egypt, established the 1st Dynasty.

Memphis became the capital city, and the pharaohs were preoccupied with holding together their extensive kingdom.

Hieroglyphics, the distinctive Egyptian style in art and writing, became well established.

Old Kingdom Period (3rd-6th Dynasties; 2700 -2160 B.C.)

The pyramids and the great sphinx were built, the study of medicine flourished and works such as the Proverbs of Ptahhotep were produced.

Pharaohs ventured outside Egypt on military campaigns to the Sinai and Libya.

First Intermediate Period (7th-10th Dynasties; 2160-2010 B.C.)

Central authority collapsed, dynasties competed and local lords held sway in vari­ous areas. This period produced significant works of pessimistic literature.

Middle Kingdom Period (11th-12th Dynasties; 2106-1786 B.C., overlapping the First Intermediate period).

The pharaohs reestablished central au­thority, and Joseph’s administration brought much Egyptian land under the pharaoh’s direct control (Gen 47:13-26).

Ivory figure of a woman with incised features from Badari, Egypt (c. 4300-4000 B.C.).

Some histori­ans, in fact, suggest that Joseph played a sig­nificant role in bringing about the end of Egyptian feudal power.

 Second Intermediate Period (13th-7th Dynasties; 1786-1550 B.C.)

Centralized authority again collapsed. Dynasties Fifteen and Sixteen were Hyksos (ruled by Semitic rulers who took control of Lower – northern – Egypt).

The relationship of the Hyksos to the exodus is much debated.

New Kingdom Period (18th-20th Dynasties; 1550-1069 B.C.)

Established by Ahmose, who drove out the last of the Hyksos, the powerful New Kingdom became an empire reaching through Canaan into Syria.

Each of the two greatest pharaohs of this time, Thutmose III (c. 1479-1425 B.C.) and Rameses II (c.1279-1212 B.C.), has been suggested as the pharaoh of The Exodus.

Although Thutmose III fits reasonably well with Biblical chronology (Jdg 11:26; 1 Kgs 6:1) Rameses appeared too late for this scheme.

Third Intermediate Period (21st-25th Dynasties; 1069-656 B.C.)

 A considerably weakened Egypt entered this era. At times there were rival pharaohs, and in other instances outsiders ruled.

Even so, vigorous rulers did come to power, includ­ing the Libyan pharaoh Sheshonk I (c. 945- 924) – the Shishakin 1 Kgs 14:25.

Remaining ancient Egyptian historical periods include the Saite-Persian period (26th-30th Dynasties; 654-332 B.C.; a”31st Dynasty” is some­times included), the Ptolemaic period (332-30 B.C.) and the Roman period (after 30 B.C.).

During the Roman period Egyptian power was briefly ascendant again under Saite rulers (who ruled from Sais, in the western delta).

Hoping to curb the rising power of the Bab­ylonians and the Medes, the Saite Neco II (c. 610-595 b.c.) drove his army north through Israel, defeating and killing King Josiah of Judah in the process (2Kgs 23:29).

Detail of a bone figure of a woman from Upper Egypt. Early Predynastic period, Naqada I (4000-3600 B.C.).

Nebuchad­nezzar of Babylon defeated Neco II at Carchemish (605 b.c.) and drove him back into Egypt.

No longer was a formidable power, Egypt annexed into the Persian Empire by Cambyses in 525 B.C.

The subsequent fall of the Persian Empire to Alexander the Great led to the Greek takeover of Egypt in 332 B.C.

After Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., Ptolemy I (a Greek general) seized Egypt, and his dynasty ruled until the death of the last Ptolemaic ruler, the famous Oeopatra VII (c.52—30 b.c.). After that, Egypt became a Roman province.



Judgments, Part 2 of 3 and The Soleb Hieroglyph

“* If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.

* If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.

If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. 

Ancient Egyptian laws were written by the Pharaoh and enforced by him (her) and the officials. Breaking these laws almost never ended well for the criminal, because of the harsh punishments.
The decisions to administer these punishments were in the hands of a vizer or an oracle, but the most significant cases were referred to the Pharaoh. Below you can find a list of the most common fatal and non-fatal punishments of Ancient Egypt.

Fatal punishments were rare, but merciless. They were imposed for the worst crimes, such as treason and plotting against the Pharaoh. One of the most notable examples is Ramses III executing a team that plotted against him by impalement – very slow and painful death.

Tomb raiding was another crime for which capital punishment was administered. Usually it was decapitation or drowning. These two punishments were also executed in severe cases of corruption – the decision in these cases was Pharaohs.

Burning alive was another method used in Ancient Egypt and was administered in cases of vandalism of temples and other places of worship. It wasn’t carried out very frequently because the Egyptians believed that burning alive would rob the deceased of his body and prevent him from achieving eternal life.

Perhaps surprisingly, death sentences were rarely administered for murder and manslaughter (no distinction in Ancient Egypt) – well, rarer than in other ancient civilisations.

However, there are quite a few known instances of forced suicide in Ancient Egypt, instead of administered death sentence. In those cases, the convicted criminals were also punished posthumously by not being given a proper burial.

If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double.

* If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man’s field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution.

* If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.

 * If a man shall deliver, unto his neighbor money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man’s house; if the thief be found, let him pay double.

If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbor’s goods.

* For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbor.

* If a man deliver unto his neighbor an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbor’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good. 

And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof.  If it be torn in pieces, then let him bring it for witness, and he shall not make good that which was torn.

* And if a man borrow ought of his neighbor, and it be hurt, or die, the owner thereof being not with it, he shall surely make it good.  But if the owner thereof be with it, he shall not make it good: if it be a hired thing, it came for his hire.

* And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.

If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.

 * Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

 * Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.

* He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.

* Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

* Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. 

If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.

 * If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as a usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.

* If thou at all take thy neighbor’s raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down: For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? 

And it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.

* Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.

 * Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me. 

Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day, thou shalt give it me.

* And ye shall be holy men unto me: neither shall ye eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs” (Ex 22:1-31).

The Soleb Hieroglyph

In Ex 5:2 the pharaoh scoffed, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go?”

A replica of an Ancient Egyptian relief from the reign of Amenhotep III (14th Century BC) describing a Semetic captive called by its’ Cartouche: “Shasu (Egyptian word for ‘nomads’) of (the Land of) Yhw” or “Shasu of Yhw”. This relief had been found in Soleb of Nubia (modern day Sudan).
The “Shasu of YWH” are also mentioned on reliefs from Amarah West dating to the reign of Ramses II (13th Century BC).
The term “Shasu” mainly focused on the nomads who lived by the area of Ancient Canaan, and spread in groups over this region, as there is a mention of 6 groups of Shasu in the Soleb relief.
The name of the land “Yhw” today belived by some to be located in Southern Canaan.
Some schoalrs tried to connect between the name of the land this group of Shasu had lived in with the Hebrew Bible God YHWH, which is stated in servel chapters as originating from the South. If that’s the case maybe these “Shasu of YHW” were part of the ancient proto-Israelites to form the well-known nation of “Israel” mentioned later on the Merenptah Stele (1208 BC).

It is not clear whether this pharaoh had never heard of Yahweh or whether he was simply dismissing him as the insignificant god of an enslaved people.

Amazingly, though, one of the first refer­ences to Yahweh besides those in the Bible has been discovered in an Egyptian temple.

The Eighteenth-Dynasty pharaoh Amen- hotep III (c. 1390-1352 B.C.) built this temple at Soleb, in upper Nubia along the western bank of the Nile.

This temple was dedicated to Amenhotep III, who was viewed as a divine king associated with the god Amon.

Its hieroglyphics memorialize Amen­hotep Ill’s domination of foreign peoples; subjugated peoples are depicted with their arms bound behind their backs.

The histori­cal accuracy of his claims is doubtful, given that Egyptian pharaohs routinely made such boasts, whether or not they were true.

Although long-lived and otherwise success­ful, Amenhotep III was not a notable warrior.

Even so, one remarkable inscription at the Soleb temple speaks of “the land of the Shasu, (those of) Yhw.”

The term Shasu re­fers to Bedouin peoples of the Levant (the region encompassing Syria and the raj now known as Palestine).

Scholars almost universally acknowledge that Yhw refers to Yahweh, the God of Israel. But what might be the significance of this inscription for Old Testament studies?

Evidently Amenhotep III was aware of a land in the Levant peopled by “Shasu” who worshiped tohweh.

This is not to imply that all Shasu were Israelites; the pharaoh may have been using a generic or shorthand term.

If the Shasu of the inscription were indeed the Israelites, the implication is that the exodus from Egypt to the Levant (Sy­ria/Palestine) occurred prior to the time Amenhotep III.

The traditional date for the ex­odus is understood to be approximately 1445 B.C., or a little more than half a century prior to the reign of Amenhotep III.

As with other such discoveries, however, we do well to treat this “evidence” cautiously.

The Soleb inscription does not unambiguously refer to Israelites, and some have argued that the Shasu who worshiped YHWH were simply a small Bedouin group.


Judgments, Part 1 of 3 & Taken From a River: The Legend of Sargon and the Story of Moses

So that’s where the Ten Commandments came from. 

But what about the judges, do they sentence people for crimes or how does that work?

“Now these are the judgments, which thou shalt set before them.

* If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh, he shall go out free for nothing.

If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.

If his master have given him, a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.

Maid-servants attending to ladies at a banquet, Tomb of Vizier Rekhmire

And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.

* And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. 

If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. 

And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. 

If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.   And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.

* He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.

* And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.  

Maid-servant decking a lady with jewellery at a banquet, Tomb of Jeserkarseneb, XVIII Dynasty

But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar that he may die.

* And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.

* And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.

* And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

* And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed: If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.

* And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.  Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

* If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 

Offering of a necklace and a cap, Tomb of Jeserkareseneb, XVIII Dynasty

And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.  Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

* And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake.

* And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.

* If an ox gore a man or a woman that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit.

But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.

If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him.

A young servant-girl adjusts an earing of one of the guests, Tomb of Nakht, XVIII Dynasty

Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him.

If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

* And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein; The owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his.

* And if one man’s ox hurt anothers that he die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead ox also they shall divide.

Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in time past, and his owner hath not kept him in; he shall surely pay ox for ox; and the dead shall be his own” (Ex 21:1-36).

Taken From a River:
The Legend of Sargon
and the Story of Moses

Discovered in the Assyrian archive in Nineveh, the Legend of Sargon recounts in fantastic language the birth, ascension and rule of Sargon of Akkad, who established his empire in Mesopotamia around 2300 B.C.

Bronze head of an Akkadian ruler, discovered in Nineveh in 1931, presumably depicting either Sargon or Sargon’s grandson Naram-Sin.
Reign c. 2334–2284 BC (MC)
Successor: Rimush
Spouse: Tashlultum
Dynasty: Akkadian (Sargonic)
Father: La’ibum

Sargon II (721 -705 B.C.), a later Assyrian king who sought to emulate his namesake’s meteoric rise to power, probably commissioned the writing of this legend.

The Legend of Sargon resonates with a number of features also found in Moses’ birth narrative.

Sargon’s mother was a high priestess (reminiscent of Moses’ Levitical lineage). After his secretive birth, Sargon was placed in a reed basket, which was sealed with pitch and set adrift on a river.

Aqqi, drawer of water, rescued the infant, adopt­ed him and raised him to be a farmer. Even­tually, he found favor with the goddess Ishtar and was crowned king.

Moses’ and Sargon’s birth accounts em­ploy a common ancient literary motif, in which a hero is exposed to death during infancy, only to be rescued and to achieve greatness.

The plot of the Sargon legend emphasizes the stunning, and often miracu­lous, nature of the hero’s rise from obscurity to honor.

In the case of Sargon II, use of the device may have been a deliberate attempt after the fact to legitimize his own power grab.

The Biblical narrative, however, includes many unique features, such as the threat of national genocide, the attempt to hide the child and his temporary return to his mother.

Although the relationship between the Sargonic and Mosaic narratives is still being debated, the details of Moses’ birth unquestionably signify his heroic role in God’s plan.

It is helpful to bear in mind that the fictional tale commissioned by Sargon II was written much later than the factual, Biblical account of Moses’ early life.