Before they were slaves

Cecil, you may have covered this. If so, please direct me to your answer. Where did Jews come from before being enslaved by the Egyptians? How did they become slaves?


I’m less than informed when it comes to the Bible, but I do know military history. The first recorded battle was the Battle of Megiddo in 1469 BC. Thutmosis III conquered a coalition of tribes in central Palestine and doubtless took many prisoners back to Egypt with him. Perhaps some of these were Hebrews.

Okay, I’m just guessing…

According to Genesis, Jacob’s family (including the sons who were the fathers of the tribes, more or less) moved to Egypt to ride out a famine. (This was as a result of the events following Joseph’s “coat of many colors”.) Before that they were pretty much nomadic, though they stayed in a general area.

Jacob’s family grew, and eventually the Egyptians became afraid of the large number of Hebrews among them. They took steps to exert control over these people, and soon they had the whole Hebrew nation in slavery.

Of course, this is as recounted by Moses, so you may want to take it with a grain of salt.

Mr. K’s Link of the Month:

Why Plastic Grocery Bags Are Better Than God

Quick correction: The tale of how they came to Egypt is in Genesis. However the events that followed their arrival are recounted in Exodus. Sorry.

The biblical account in Genesis describes the family of Jacob (renamed Israel) coming to Egypt on account of famine in Canaan. His son Joseph had a major power position in the Egyptian bureaucracy (a story too long to recount here.) Jacob comes to Egypt with his twelve sons, their wives, their children, etc. They settle in the area called Goshen.

The opening of the second book of the Bible, Exodus, says that the family reproduced like crazy. A new pharoah “did not know Joseph”, but did fear a foreign people living amongst the Egyptians, and so enslaved them.

OK, that’s the Biblical account.

Scholars (archaeologists and historians, for instance) are very much divided.

-Most accept the Biblical account as very reasonable. In times of famine, nomadic tribes would come to the source of food, and could well settle there. There is nothing inherently improbable (to the scientific mind) about the Biblical account (other than the dream-predictions.)

  • There is clear record in Egypt of a period when outsiders (Hyskos – arguably, Canaanites) had control of the bureaucracy. There was later a revolution against the Hyskos, who were thrown out of power. Some scholars identify the Hyskos regime with Joseph and the aftermath with the enslavement. ((My apologies, I’m writing this at work without access to dates, spelling, etc. so this is my faulty memory… someone I’m sure will correct.))

  • A few scholars believe that there was no enslavement in Egypt, but that the whole story (including Moses and Exodus) was a later invention to try to unify the Israelite tribes by claiming a common ancestry and tradition. Frankly, this seems unlikely to me: if you were going to invent a common ancestry, surely you would pose a Noble Origin, not enslavement and humiliation.

And by the way, at the point in time you are discussing, they were “Israelites,” not “Jews.” The designation of “Jews” doesn’t come until much later.

To address the first question, Abraham, the patriarch of the Israelites, came from Ur, a Chaldean city, probably in Mesopotamia.

There is an article in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review that suggests that Ur may not have been in the south of current Iraq, but much further north, in or near Turkey.

Well, I’m pretty sure that modern science would say it’s pretty improbable that Joseph would have many occasions to sleep with Potiphar’s wife and would turn her down each time. Come on now, was he a man or a mouse?

Joseph suffered from ED?

Well, I’m pretty sure that modern science would say it’s pretty improbable that Joseph would have many occasions to sleep with Potiphar’s wife and would turn her down each time. Come on now, was he a man or a mouse?**

Why is that so hard to believe? Is it really hard to believe that their existed a person who stuck to his principles and his knowledge of what is right and wrong??

Zev, I think Arnold’s comment is what the ancient Egyptians would have called a “joke.”

In fact, it raises an interesting point. The text of Genesis is (usually) very sparse, and rarely describes emotions. Words like love, hate, jealous, sad, are almost never used. Instead, we are left to understand a person’s inner state based on the outside actions and situation.

At the start of the Joseph story, he comes across as a spoiled brat, self-centered and annoying. His rise to prominence in Potiphar’s house, and his rejection of Mrs. Potiphar’s advances, are the way that the text tells us that he has had a personality change. It’s exactly the fact that he resists sleeping with his boss’s wife that tells us that he has become a more worthy and more mature individual.

Yes, zev_s, it was a poor attempt at humor.

Once again CKDextHavn delivers the goods! I must say I never saw the subtle meaning behind Joseph’s rejectal of Potiphar’s wife.