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Imperial Bureaucracy

Written by Gary North on January 9, 2016

Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely [shrewdly] with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and ?ght against us, and so get them up out of the land. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they attlicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel (Ex. 1:842).

Who was this new Pharaoh? Old Testament scholars are divided, but Donovan Courville’s reconstruction of Egyptian chronology points to Sesostris III. A major transformation of the Egyptian system of rule was imposed by this king. Courville writes: “During the period preceding Sesostris III, Egypt had existed as a feudal system, and historians speak of this period as the ‘feudal age.’ Under this arrangement, the territory of Egypt was divided into numerous local areas called nomes, over each of which was a prince or governor. He was not a servant of the Pharaoh and was permitted to rule undisturbed so long as he contributed his allotted quota to the king’s treasury and perhaps to the army in case of need . . . Under the reign of Sesostris lll, this situation was changed. For the most part, these local princes were stripped of their power and stripped of their excessive possessions. For the first time in a hundred years or more, Egypt was now under the immediate and direct dictatorship of the pharaoh . . . From this time on, we find no more of the tombs of these princes nor of the prolific inscriptions which they had previously left.” (Courville, The Exodus Problem and Its Ramifications, [1971], vol. 1, pp, 147-48.)

This centralization of political power was accompanied by an extensive building program. Courville argues that this program had to have been accomplished by means of slave labor. Furthermore, “Unlike the structures of the huge building program in the Pyramid Age, and again unlike that which occurred later in the XVIIIth Dynasty, this building was of brick and not of stone” (I, p. 148). This corresponds with the account in the Book of Exodus; the Hebrews used bricks to fulfill their assignments (Ex. 1:14). Another important historical correlation is this: the building programs of Sesostris III and his successor, Amenemhet III, were in the eastern Delta region, which included the land of Goshen, where the Hebrews lived. The cities of Pi-Raamses and Pi-Thom have been discovered in this region, but modern scholars have attributed the bulk of these ruins to Rameses II, a king of a much later date. Courville argues also that the list of the Ramessides kings in the Sothis list correlates to the earlier line of kings, which would explain why the land of Goshen was described as “the best in the land, in the land of Rameses” (Gen. 47:1).

Continuity and Discontinuity: Egypt’s Theology

The religion of ancient Egypt, like all religious systems of the ancient Near East, viewed history as a struggle between chaos and order. Our world had its origin in the primordial waters of the underworld, the Egyptians believed.

Atum, the original god, created two other gods (male and female), which in turn created two more, and these two created Osiris (male sun god) and Isis, who gave birth to Horus, the falcon god of the sky. John A. Wilson concludes that chaos was not overcome by Re-Atum, the creator god, since the god of the underworld and the god of darkness continued to live, “but they continued in their proper place and not in universal and formless disorder,” (Wilson, “Egypt,” in Henri Frankfort, [ed], Before Philosophy: The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, [1946] 1964, p. 54.)

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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