Yahweh In Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts -- By: Charles F. Aling

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 28:3 (Summer 2015)
Article: Yahweh In Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts
Author: Charles F. Aling

Yahweh In Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts

Charles F. Aling


Clyde E. Billington


Among ancient Egyptian designations for types of foreign peoples in the New Kingdom Period, the term Shasu occurs fairly frequently. It is generally accepted that the term Shasu means nomads or Bedouin people, referring primarily to the nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples of Syria-Palestine. There are two significant hieroglyphic references in New Kingdom Period texts to an area called “the land of the Shasu of Yahweh.”1 Except for the Old Testament, these are the oldest references found in any ancient texts to the God Yahweh. The purpose of this article is to study these two references and assess their possible importance in dating the Exodus story.

The Term Shasu

The term Shasu is found in a variety of New Kingdom hieroglyphic texts including the military, administrative, and diplomatic documents of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV, Amenhotep III, Akhenaton, Seti I, Ramses II, Merneptah, and Ramses III. One of the most intriguing of the Nineteenth Dynasty documents referring to the Shasu is a letter, dated 1192 BC, which states in part:

Another communication to my Lord: We have finished letting the Shasu tribes of Edom pass the fortress of Merneptah Hotep-hir-Maat…which is in Tjeku, to the pools of Per Atum of Merneptah Hotep-hir-Maat, which are in Tkeku, to keep them alive and to keep their cattle alive…2

Note here that the Shasu tribes are linked with the Edomites, a tribal people with a well-known relationship to the Israelites. Note too that these Shasu tribes were settled, after they crossed the border into Egyptian territory, at Per Atum in Tjeku, or, to put it in biblical terms, at Pithom in Succoth.3 In addition, it should be noted that these Shasu Edomites were animal herders and that they were also, of course, Semites.

According to Exodus 1:11, Pithom and the nearby city of Raamses were two “storage cities” built by the Israelites for Pharaoh during their bondage in Egypt. In addition, the German scholar Siegfried Herrmann, who translated the above text, has identified the area of Tjeku, where the Shasu Edomites were settled, with the general area of the Land of Goshen mentioned in Genesis 46:34.4 The treatment of the Shasu Edomites by the officials of Pharaoh is reminiscent of Pharaoh...

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