Jewish History Blog

Hyksos or Hebrews? The Middle Kingdom of Egypt

Ancient Egyptian art depicting the defeat of the Hyksos.

In about the year 1700 BCE, a watershed event occurred in Egyptian history: the invasion of the Hyksos people. They successfully took over Egypt and a succession of six kings took power, known as “the Great Hyksos Pharaohs.”

Josephus Flavius, Jewish historian of the 1st century CE and author of The Antiquities of the Jews, identified the Hyksos with the Hebrews. Most historians today disagree, but there are some striking similarities. First, the Hyksos people were from an alien culture and did not follow the Egyptian religion. The Hyksos Pharaohs never claimed to be gods, nor did they build for themselves any of the tremendous monuments that later Pharaohs would. They also moved the capital of Egypt northward. Josephus points out the proximity of their capital to the land of Goshen, which is the area the Jews settled.

The Talmud does not give us any basis for this whatsoever, and we know of no other Hebrew kings of Egypt, except for the Biblical Joseph, who was only a viceroy. The Medrash, which is a compilation of Jewish allegories and legends, tells us that Moses was a king in the Sudan for a long period of time, and we do have evidence that the Hyksos people ruled not only in Egypt, but in the Sudan and Libya. But most of the evidence shows that the Jews attempted to keep a low profile in Egypt, as far as being a part of the government was concerned. In the economy of Egypt, they tended to play a great role, but in terms of the government, they were either not interested or well aware of the dangers of becoming involved.

In about 1560 BCE, the Hyksos were expelled in a rebellion by the local, indigenous population. This marked the beginning of the New Empire, a radical change in Egyptian society. Perhaps as a reaction to the foreign Hyksos rule, Egypt now became xenophobic. Whatever foreigners they did not kill or expel, they enslaved. Notably, the period of the New Empire corresponds with the period of Jewish enslavement in Egypt. All of Jewish history is played against the backdrop of world history, but all of world history is intertwined with the Jewish people.


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Posted in:
Ancient Jewish History, Bible/ Tanach, Sabbath/ Holidays
Rabbi Berel Wein
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  • March 20, 2010

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