Abraham and the King of Egypt -- By: Charles F. Aling

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 10:1 (Winter 1997)
Article: Abraham and the King of Egypt
Author: Charles F. Aling

Abraham and the King of Egypt

Charles F. Aling

Charles F. Aling, Ph.D., is professor of history at Norhwestern College in Minneapolis MN and President of The Institute for Biblical Archaeology. He is author of Egypt and Bible History, Baker Books, 1981.

The first Biblical figure to have contact with a king of Egypt was Abraham, who is recorded travelling to Egypt to get food during a time of famine (Gn 12:10). While in Egypt, Abraham passed his wife Sarah off as his sister in order to prevent the Pharaoh from taking her into his harem. But the plot backfires. Pharaoh takes Sarah, believing that she is not yet married. For this he is punished by God, and, when he realizes what he has done, he returns Sarah to Abraham but expels the couple from Egypt.

When did this event take place? Is there any way to establish the probable identity of the Pharaoh? And, is there anything in Egyptian history that mirrors the events of Genesis 12?

To date Abraham, we begin with the Biblical date of the Exodus and work back. According to 1 Kings 6:1, the Exodus took place 480 years before the fourth year of Solomon, i.e. 966 BC. Thus, the Exodus was in about 1446 BC. In Exodus 12:40, we find that the length of time from the Exodus back to Jacob’s descent into Egypt was 430 years, dating that Patriarch’s arrival to 1876 BC. Figuring back from Jacob to Abraham by the numbers given in Genesis (for details see Aling 1981: 21), Abraham must have come to Egypt sometime shortly after 2090 BC, thus placing the events of Genesis 12 in the Egyptian First Intermediate period.

What was Egypt like then? Two major characteristics are known. First, there was comparative anarchy during most of this age. The great Old Kingdom had come to an end, and, as the literature of the period shows so clearly, social conditions were chaotic. Secondly, since border defenses were neglected in the north, Asiatics migrated into the Nile delta from Syria-Palestine and settled there.

The kings of the First Intermediate period did not rule all of Egypt. However, one dynasty, the Tenth, working out of its capital at Heracleopolis in northern Middle Egypt, tried to extend its power and influence. In the south, the Tenth dynasty was not very successful. It found a strong enemy in the princes of Thebes. But one of its kings, Wahkare Khety III, had some success in establishing his authority over the delta (see Grimal 1992: 139ff). He freed the north from Asiatic control, re-introduced local government there, re-dug irrigation c...

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