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  #1  
Old 09-05-2009, 07:51 PM
bri1600bv bri1600bv is offline
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Egyptian History: Were the Hebrews ever slaves?

A big part of Judaism and Christianity is the exile from Egypt, etc, where God saved his Chosen people from slavery (why did he allow them to be slaves, not sure) and brought them to the promised land.

What do Egyptians have to say about this? Did they have slaves? Did they have any history of the first born males being killed, rivers of blood (plagues) etc? Not an attempted slam at Jewish history, just curious.

Last edited by bri1600bv; 09-05-2009 at 07:55 PM..
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  #2  
Old 09-05-2009, 10:09 PM
ITR champion ITR champion is offline
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The bottom line is that history from that period is sketchy, with very few useful first-hand documents preserved, so we'll never know for sure. If the Jews were ever enslaved, it would have occurred in the New Kingdom period, which lasted roughly from 1550 B. C. to 1050 B. C. (Timeline here.) This was many centuries after the Pyramids were constructed, so common depictions of Jewish slaves laboring on those are certainly wrong. The Pyramids were built in the Old Kingdom, before 2100 B. C., when Egyptian contact with the outside world was more limited, and the workers were farmers and laborers.

The Egyptians certainly owned slaves. They took slaves whenever they captured a foreign city, and slavery was practiced through the history of Ancient Egypt. That's not to knock the Egyptains; every ancient civilization did the same.
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Old 09-05-2009, 10:19 PM
Diogenes the Cynic Diogenes the Cynic is offline
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No archaeological evidence has ever been found for Iraelites ever having been enslaved in Egypt, for an "exodus", for a migration of same into Canaan or for a conquest of same. The archeological evidence shows that the Israelites were an indigenous Canaanite people who never left Canaan, nor ever returned and conquered it. This is the prevailing view of current ANE archaeology.

See Finkelstein and Silberman's The Bible Unearthed for more detail. The tradition of Israelites as slaves in Egypt is completely unsupported by any empirical evidence.

Last edited by Diogenes the Cynic; 09-05-2009 at 10:20 PM..
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Old 09-05-2009, 10:25 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is offline
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God saved his Chosen people from slavery (why did he allow them to be slaves, not sure) .
"Chosen People" means chosen to tell folks about G-d. See Christians and Moslems. We sort of quit doing that when people began killing us for it.
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Old 09-05-2009, 10:59 PM
bri1600bv bri1600bv is offline
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"Chosen People" means chosen to tell folks about G-d. See Christians and Moslems. We sort of quit doing that when people began killing us for it.
I've heard Jewish people say that but from reading the Old Testament it seems like God "chose" them over every other group...they went into a land where other people were and just annihilated people. God seemed to always be on their side and gave them huge military victories. It never mentions anything about "tell other groups about me", just to slaughter them basically if they were in the Promised Land. Judaism was never a proselytizing religion was it?

Not trying to start an argument, just that from my reading of it and from most (certainly fundamentalist) Christian point of view it's Chosen as in "God's favorite" or "God's people".
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Old 09-06-2009, 12:20 AM
cmkeller cmkeller is offline
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bri1600bv:

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just to slaughter them basically if they were in the Promised Land.
Not so. There were seven specific nations native to Canaan that G-d told the Israelites to slaughter (plus Amalek, which was in a different category altogether), but those were not the only nations that lived there. The Philistines lived in the Promised Land, but although there were (as per the Bible) battles betweem them and the Israelites, the Israelites were never commanded to wipe them out.

And no, Judaism is not a proseletyzing religion. The Bible even states explicitly (Deuteronomy 4:19) that G-d has allowed other nations of the world to worship entities other than himself. However, the Israelite nation, having experienced G-d first-hand, are expected to know better.
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Old 09-06-2009, 12:20 AM
Voyager Voyager is offline
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I've heard Jewish people say that but from reading the Old Testament it seems like God "chose" them over every other group...they went into a land where other people were and just annihilated people. God seemed to always be on their side and gave them huge military victories. It never mentions anything about "tell other groups about me", just to slaughter them basically if they were in the Promised Land. Judaism was never a proselytizing religion was it?

Not trying to start an argument, just that from my reading of it and from most (certainly fundamentalist) Christian point of view it's Chosen as in "God's favorite" or "God's people".
The chosen people part came from the covenant with Abram. I don't agree with carnivorousplant - there is no attempt at conversion anywhere; God was pretty much purely tribal. The only exception was Ruth, but no one ever tried to get her to convert - she did it on her own.

As for the military victories, Jews spend a lot more time thinking about things like the destruction of the Temple, not exactly a victory.
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Old 09-06-2009, 12:25 AM
qazwart qazwart is offline
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There were slaves in Egypt, and sometimes whole groups of people were taken. Also at that period of time, there was also lots of movement of people from one area to another.

The big question is why would a group of people have as their origin story that they came from a distant land and were just a bunch of escaped slaves? Most origins of nations stories show that you were created there in the land you now inhabit, and therefore, have full rights and privileges. This is your land because you always had it.

There may be some truth to the exodus stories. Whether all people who later identified themselves as "Hebrews" were involved or that there were ten plagues can be called into question. But, something happened that created this very strange story of enslavement and rescue which was incorporated into the cultural teachings of that time.

Egypt, of course, doesn't mention that it was visited by ten plagues and all their slaves escaped. They also don't bother mentioning battles that they lost. Writing was for only the very upper strata of society, and what was written was the official history. If it made the king look good, it was written. If not, they didn't bother mentioning it.

You don't get a lot of unofficial written accounts until the times of the Greeks and Romans when writing was much more widespread and not controlled by a central authority.

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Judaism was never a proselytizing religion was it?
A good percentage of the population of the Roman empire was Jewish. The Romans were getting tired of their old myths and were looking around for something more sophisticated. Zoroastrianism was big and so was Judaism. The Talmud mentions that there was quite a bit of outreach at that time. It was about the time of the Roman empire that the laws of conversion were established back then and so was the rule of matrilineal decent. This wasn't an issue earlier when Jews were simply a self contained community. However, with the interest in the general Roman population, these new guidelines had to be clearly established. Before, being Jewish was mainly about simply following the law. There was no idea of official conversion.

The main problem with mass Jewish conversion is the amount of information and training you need. Imagine if someone goes to a city and says "Okay, everyone! You're all Jewish." Before these people could even begin practicing as Jews, they would have to learn about the laws of keeping kosher and the Sabbath. They would have to clean their houses, get new dishes. Throw out their food. People would have to be trained to be ritual slaughterers, teachers, and mohels.

One theory states that there was a massive Jewish conversion in the Roman empire, but it grew too fast for it to be under the control of the Rabbis. Many of these newly converted Jews simply didn't have the knowledge of the commandments and rituals involved, and may not have cared all that much. This group later became the basis of Christianity's rapid grown in the heart of the Roman empire. Paul's teaching that you could find a way to God without having to do all those messy commandments probably found a strong voice in this community.
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  #9  
Old 09-06-2009, 02:06 AM
Diogenes the Cynic Diogenes the Cynic is offline
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There were slaves in Egypt, and sometimes whole groups of people were taken. Also at that period of time, there was also lots of movement of people from one area to another.

The big question is why would a group of people have as their origin story that they came from a distant land and were just a bunch of escaped slaves? Most origins of nations stories show that you were created there in the land you now inhabit, and therefore, have full rights and privileges. This is your land because you always had it.
Exodus is not an origin story, and it was believed that sovereign legitimacy was granted by conquest. The story was not intended to explain where the Israelites came from, but why they had the right to control Canaan. The only way to earn that right to rule something was to conquer it.
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There may be some truth to the exodus stories. Whether all people who later identified themselves as "Hebrews" were involved or that there were ten plagues can be called into question. But, something happened that created this very strange story of enslavement and rescue which was incorporated into the cultural teachings of that time.
What little historicity the story may have is probably based on the Hyskos expulsion in the 16th Century BCE, but it was retooled in the Exodus story to create a mythic history of conquest for the Israelites, and (quite likely) to rebuild a sense of national identity in the wake of the Babylonian exile.
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Egypt, of course, doesn't mention that it was visited by ten plagues and all their slaves escaped. They also don't bother mentioning battles that they lost. Writing was for only the very upper strata of society, and what was written was the official history. If it made the king look good, it was written. If not, they didn't bother mentioning it.

You don't get a lot of unofficial written accounts until the times of the Greeks and Romans when writing was much more widespread and not controlled by a central authority.
This is an argument from absence, at best, and does not represent evidence in favor of Israelites having been enslaved in Egypt. Furthermore, the lack loof documentary evidence is not as germane as the utter lack of archaeological evidence for Israelites in Egypt. They were supposedly there for 400 years. It's simply not credible that an entire people (which the Bible numbers in the millions by the time of the Exodus) could live in one place for 400 years without leaving a trace of archaeological evidence.

There's also no trace of thir presence in the Sinai.
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  #10  
Old 09-06-2009, 07:58 AM
monavis monavis is offline
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The Exodus story doesn't mention the name of the Pharoh that was said to enslave the Israelites,but it was suspected that Ramses the 2d, was pharoh during that period that the Egyptions tried to cross the Red Sea and drowned, but there is evidence that Ramses didn't drown and lived to be 90 years old and his tomb and the tomb of his 50 sons was found by Kent Weeks an American from Seattle. Weeks is still in the process of excavating the tomb as it is so large. The pharoh's eldest son was in the tomb and was a grown man at the time of his death.

If Moses was raised in the Pharoh's household it would have been likely that there would have been some mention of that in Egyption writings.

From what I have read, there is no Pharoh that is missing from that period. So he couldn't have drowned, and why the Israelites would have stayed in the desert for 40 years is unreasonable.

I do not recall reading in the OT of a time that Moses then became head of the Israelites.

Another thing that puzzles me: is if God created all humans, then all humans would have been His children and why he would send another human tribe to kill another, such as in Joshua who slew even women and children at God's command, then punished the Israelites for taking some booty that was consecrated to this God! Apparently the Booty meant more to Him than his own children.
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Old 09-06-2009, 09:51 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Originally Posted by qazwart View Post
The big question is why would a group of people have as their origin story that they came from a distant land and were just a bunch of escaped slaves? Most origins of nations stories show that you were created there in the land you now inhabit, and therefore, have full rights and privileges. This is your land because you always had it.
"Most" maybe but not all.

The Basque and Aztecs both claim right of conquest. The Basque's tale tells of coming from lands further north and east (makes sense, that's where most of the rest of Europe is), picking some land that looked unsettled, beating up and conquering neighbors who didn't like the new arrivals and of a rift between Aitor's seven sons along the lines of "those who married women of our own vs those who married women from the people we'd conquered."

The Aztecs were hired as mercenaries by the peoples then inhabitin Tenochtitlan; after a religious dispute (apparently the locals hadn't understood that "making the princess a goddess" involved killing her - and forgot why they'd hired mercenaries in the first place) they ousted the previous rulers.
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Old 09-06-2009, 10:25 AM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is offline
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The Basque and Aztecs both claim right of conquest. The Basque's tale tells of coming from lands further north and east (makes sense, that's where most of the rest of Europe is), picking some land that looked unsettled, beating up and conquering neighbors who didn't like the new arrivals and of a rift between Aitor's seven sons along the lines of "those who married women of our own vs those who married women from the people we'd conquered."
Doesn't that myth only date back to Chaho in the 19th century, though? It's not an old myth...it's a new invention.
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Old 09-06-2009, 11:41 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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It's what was in the History Museum in Monterrey. Where they got it from, I don't know.
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Old 09-06-2009, 11:51 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Ah, the Basque one? Who is Chaho?

I have no idea who that is, but don't assume a Basque story is invented unless its writer says it is, several "old wives tales" that had been getting discounted by the "serious" historians have been proved to match archaeological data a lot better than the "serious historians'" assumptions. My source for the Basque story is Basque filologists and folklorists (who are indeed XIX century).

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Old 09-06-2009, 12:05 PM
MrDibble MrDibble is offline
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Originally Posted by qazwart View Post
The big question is why would a group of people have as their origin story that they came from a distant land and were just a bunch of escaped slaves? Most origins of nations stories show that you were created there in the land you now inhabit, and therefore, have full rights and privileges. This is your land because you always had it.
Possibly because the Exodus story was written by, and for, people who didn't always have their land, and were trying to legitamise another reconquest of sorts.
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Old 09-06-2009, 12:11 PM
dracoi dracoi is offline
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What do Egyptians have to say about this? Did they have slaves? Did they have any history of the first born males being killed, rivers of blood (plagues) etc? Not an attempted slam at Jewish history, just curious.
One of the things to note is that most of the ten plagues are not unusual events in Egypt. It's like saying that New Orleans got hit by another hurricane. What else is new? The rivers turning to blood is likely not referring to actual blood, but the water turning red due to mud. Plagues of frogs and flies, etc. are also not entirely unprecedented. Some even seem likely to cause the others (if the river becomes undrinkable, you'd expect frogs to leave it; if frogs die, you expect flies). The supernatural aspect is that Moses seems able to control them, while the Egyptians priests do not. The death of the first-born is the only one you'd really see as unusual.

So you see plenty of scattered evidence for some of the plagues, but there's nothing that seems to verify the entire story as described or to verify the final plague at all.

Frankly, I think some of the confusion may come out of translations. It's already been suggested the rivers turning to blood referred to color rather than literal blood. Wikipedia mentions this in regards to the number of Israelites:
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Hebrew University professor Abraham Malamat has proposed that the Bible often refers to 600 and its multiples, as well as 1,000 and its multiples, typologically in order to convey the idea of a large military unit. "The issue of Exodus 12:37 is an interpretive one. The Hebrew word eleph can be translated 'thousand,' but it is also rendered in the Bible as 'clans' and 'military units.' There are thought to have been 20,000 men in the entire Egyptian army at the height of Egypt's empire. And at the battle of Ai in Joshua 7, there was a severe military setback when 36 troops were killed." Therefore if one reads alaphim (plural of eleph) as military units, the number of Hebrew fighting men lay between 5,000 and 6,000. In theory, this would give a total Hebrew population of less than 20,000, something within the range of historical possibility.
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  #17  
Old 09-06-2009, 12:35 PM
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The Master Speaks: Is there any historical basis for the events of the Jewish Exodus?

I've always wanted to do that.
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Old 09-06-2009, 01:03 PM
Diogenes the Cynic Diogenes the Cynic is offline
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The Exodus story doesn't mention the name of the Pharoh that was said to enslave the Israelites,but it was suspected that Ramses the 2d, was pharoh during that period that the Egyptions tried to cross the Red Sea and drowned, but there is evidence that Ramses didn't drown and lived to be 90 years old and his tomb and the tomb of his 50 sons was found by Kent Weeks an American from Seattle. Weeks is still in the process of excavating the tomb as it is so large. The pharoh's eldest son was in the tomb and was a grown man at the time of his death.

If Moses was raised in the Pharoh's household it would have been likely that there would have been some mention of that in Egyption writings.

From what I have read, there is no Pharoh that is missing from that period. So he couldn't have drowned, and why the Israelites would have stayed in the desert for 40 years is unreasonable.
Here's his mummy. It's at the Egyptian museum in Cairo.
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I do not recall reading in the OT of a time that Moses then became head of the Israelites.
The Hebrew bible is contradictory on this point. In Exodus, it says that the Israelites built the city of Pi-Ramesses, which was bult during the reign of Ramesses II (13th Century BCE), but 1 Kings 6:1 says that Solomon began building his temple 480 years after the Israelites left Egypt, which would put the Exodus in the 15th Century BCE.
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  #19  
Old 09-06-2009, 01:48 PM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
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Archaeological finds of pre-Old Testament Yahwist inscriptions and documentation show the location of Yahweh's home as any one of half a dozen different mountains South of Canaan. Nomadic peoples who primarily worshiped a deity called Yahweh appeared to exist all the way from the Eastern edge of Egypt to the Western edge of Syria. However, there were several other nomadic Southern Canaanite tribes that had a primary deity other than Yahweh, but who appeared to share the same symbology (Midianites, Kenites, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, etc.). All of these were consistent with gods in the Canaanite pantheon, just given a different name.

From what archaeology tells us, these groups migrated North into central Canaan where they slowly shifted from a nomadic lifestyle to a cosmopolitan one and eventually became the dominant political force in the land. Their variations on their nomadic histories and religions were likely combined, with the name Yahweh and Mt Sinai being labeled as the official name of the primary deity and his residence, respectively.

However, when they rose to become the rulers of the nation and wanted to seem a bit more fierce than simply having been nomadic goat herders who migrated North, they most likely took some stories of struggles by the various tribes and combined them into the Exodus story. Stories of problems with the Egyptians possibly came from a tribe that had lived near Egypt. Stories of specific territories that were captured by the Israelites seem to assume that there were people inhabiting the region at that time (600BCEish) and so the Israelite people must have fought them, but most of those area were empty at the time the Israelite people were meant to have come, or were held by a different group than the Bible says. A few specific battles may have occurred between the Nomadic tribes and the local Canaanites, but it doesn't appear to have been a massive, focused war between two groups. Rather it was likely one town fighting with one tribe, whereas most of the other tribes were able to move into Canaan without issue.
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Old 09-06-2009, 03:41 PM
njtt njtt is offline
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"Chosen People" means chosen to tell folks about G-d.
But only if you do it without ever mentioning his name. He likes a good joke, doesn't He?
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Old 09-06-2009, 03:52 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is offline
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But only if you do it without ever mentioning his name. He likes a good joke, doesn't He?
Apparently so, considering how many of us are comedians.
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  #22  
Old 09-06-2009, 04:40 PM
Simplicio Simplicio is offline
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The big question is why would a group of people have as their origin story that they came from a distant land and were just a bunch of escaped slaves? Most origins of nations stories show that you were created there in the land you now inhabit, and therefore, have full rights and privileges. This is your land because you always had it.
The Romans traced their origin back to Troy, the classical Greeks believed they came from an invasion of the decedents of Hercules, the Irish believed they crossed the sea to take Ireland from its former fairy inhabitants, the Hebrews thought they came not only as slaves from Egypt but also as nomads from Ur. Just going by the origin myths I know off the top of my head, I actually think positing a foreign origin for your people is more popular then saying your people have always lived in your current location.

I suspect the reason is that most cultures are aware from finding ruins and strange writings that their culture isn't the first one to inhabit their present homeland, so they come up with a story where they crush the former inhabitants and justify their current occupation of the land.
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Old 09-06-2009, 04:53 PM
Uncertain Uncertain is offline
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Stories of specific territories that were captured by the Israelites seem to assume that there were people inhabiting the region at that time (600BCEish) and so the Israelite people must have fought them
I'm not sure what you're saying happened around 600. Not the wars of conquest, which would have happened many certuries earlier. Is that when the relevant biblical passages were written?
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Old 09-06-2009, 05:09 PM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
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I'm not sure what you're saying happened around 600. Not the wars of conquest, which would have happened many certuries earlier. Is that when the relevant biblical passages were written?
Yes, Exodus and Deuteronomy were probably written around 600BCE, plus or minus a century.

The exodus itself was supposed to have occurred sometime previous to 1200BCE, if I recall correctly.

Last edited by Sage Rat; 09-06-2009 at 05:10 PM..
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Old 09-06-2009, 05:11 PM
Simplicio Simplicio is offline
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I actually think positing a foreign origin for your people is more popular then saying your people have always lived in your current location.
And thinking about it some more, connecting yourself to Egypt also seems to be a common theme for nearby cultures. The Greeks claimed their culture and sciences came originally from Egypt, the Gypsies claimed to have originated there, the Gospels have the young Jesus take a somewhat random trip there in his early life, even, somewhat bizarrely, the medieval Scots traced their heritage to Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians, of course, didn't think they came from Egypt, but from elsewhere as well.
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Old 09-06-2009, 05:12 PM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
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A book which covers a lot of this, on Google Books.

Last edited by Sage Rat; 09-06-2009 at 05:13 PM..
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Old 09-06-2009, 06:06 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is offline
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Ah, the Basque one? Who is Chaho?

I have no idea who that is, but don't assume a Basque story is invented unless its writer says it is, several "old wives tales" that had been getting discounted by the "serious" historians have been proved to match archaeological data a lot better than the "serious historians'" assumptions. My source for the Basque story is Basque filologists and folklorists (who are indeed XIX century).
Chaho is Joseph-Augustin Chaho/Agosti Xaho, a French Basque writer. One of his books was "The Legend of Aitor", in which he took the Basque term "Aitor semea", and translated it into "the son of Aitor", and created the idea of Aitor, the father of the Basques, and his seven sons, each of which became the founder of one of the Basque provinces.

Last edited by Captain Amazing; 09-06-2009 at 06:07 PM..
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  #28  
Old 09-06-2009, 08:06 PM
Apollyon Apollyon is offline
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The Exodus story doesn't mention the name of the Pharoh...suspected that Ramses the 2d...
Ramses the 2d? Did he only appear in paintings?

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...and why the Israelites would have stayed in the desert for 40 years...
Moses wouldn't stop and ask for directions.

Thank you... don't forget to tip your waitress....
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Old 09-08-2009, 07:34 AM
monavis monavis is offline
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Ramses the 2d? Did he only appear in paintings?


Moses wouldn't stop and ask for directions.

Thank you... don't forget to tip your waitress....
Ramses the 2d, mummy is on display and he has a very prominent nose.

I like your sense of humor!! Can't tip the waitress service wasn't that good...sorry!!
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Old 09-08-2009, 11:21 AM
even sven even sven is online now
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And thinking about it some more, connecting yourself to Egypt also seems to be a common theme for nearby cultures.
Not just them! The Bassa in Cameroon (and any number of West/Central African ethnic groups) also claim Egyptian heritage. I chalk it up to Egypt being the last time an African culture got any respect.
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Old 09-08-2009, 02:55 PM
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Apparently so, considering how many of us are comedians.
I especially liked the scene where you stoned the guy for saying "Jehova".
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Old 09-08-2009, 03:42 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is offline
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I especially liked the scene where you stoned the guy for saying "Jehova".
I'll need a cite on that one; my Hebrew is lousy.
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Old 09-10-2009, 11:00 AM
zev_steinhardt zev_steinhardt is offline
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Originally Posted by bri1600bv View Post
A big part of Judaism and Christianity is the exile from Egypt, etc, where God saved his Chosen people from slavery (why did he allow them to be slaves, not sure) and brought them to the promised land.

What do Egyptians have to say about this? Did they have slaves? Did they have any history of the first born males being killed, rivers of blood (plagues) etc? Not an attempted slam at Jewish history, just curious.
Of course it's real. Do you think I clean my house for Passover and eat all that matzah and marror for nothing?



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