23 September 2010

Letter from Lhasa, number 187. (Osman 1990): Moses, Pharaoh of Egypt

Letter from Lhasa, number 187. (Osman 1990): Moses, Pharaoh of Egypt

by Roberto Abraham Scaruffi

Osman, A., Moses, Pharaoh of Egypt. The Mystery of Akhenaten resolved, Grafton Books, 1990.

(Osman 1990).

Ahmed Osman

The great merit of Osman is to look for historical evidence not for proving the biblical account but simply for adapting, or eventually rectifying it, according to history. It is a scientific approach different from that of those who relegate and liquidate sacred texts as tales, as well as from those simply accepting the biblical account without any apparent interest in its historical foundation or precisions and imprecisions. Actually, as Osman seems to have well present, religions are a mix of history with metaphors and allegories, instead of tales.

Religions are in the sphere of making sense. They do no need to invent. It would been even too dangerous because inventions would be easily unbelievable. They eventually adapt. The scientific method of Osman tests these adaptations and explains them presenting the background history of these religious making senses.

What was lacking, but it not a defect, was the sense of the history he presented. It is not a defect because, when people present history with some prebuilt paradigm, they have finally the tendency, more than the tendency the urge, to “invent” history for supporting their prebuilt paradigm.

Osman presents the story and the history of Semitic populations reaching Egypt, variously combining with Egyptian ethnic groups, even reaching, through these ethnic mixing, the top position and positions. There is finally a cleavage of the ruling class, and also of the population, between polytheists and monotheists, with some top level fights, coup d’État, social separation of the monotheist population finally rescued from a liquidated Pharaoh who comes back and leads his supporters outside Egypt, or anyway outside the control of the Egyptian “government”.

The whys are not methodologically necessary for “justifying” historical evidence. In my opinion, the current method of preposing whys for accepting historical evidence, facts, is even pathological. Odd people, or dishonest people, pretend whys while evaluating the foundation of facts. An historical element, a fact, exists or does not exist. The whys [the right whys, not the captious ones of the cheaters], eventually, come later, while making sense of the found and collected evidence and for finding, organising and explaining more evidence, not for adapting evidence to some preconceived paradigm.

What one (at least a bit trained in or understanding of social sciences’ historical dynamics) sees, without adequate analytical elements for a full understanding (it is not a fault or a lack of the author if the elements there are not or they have not yet been collected and organised/analysed), is that a strong clash at the top levels of the Egyptian ruling class, even with military coups and removal of Pharaohs, may have not happened since religious preferences. Religious “preferences” must have masked or reflected something else. Such a clash supposes a clash between State/“government” bureaucracies over interests and choices. The clash bout Gods must have been a social clash inside the ruling class with some other social support, if finally the exploited or super-exploited class-etnic_group left Egypt under the leadership of an ex-Pharaoh. So, some social and political cleavage produced or accentuated.

All that does not prove or disprove facts (what happened), but calls for other evidence if there is somewhere or just it will be found.

At the end of this Osman’s book there is something about this question. Short but very precious. As Appendix G (Osman 1990, p. 246-247).

The word ‘ibri, Hebrew, has the same etymology of ‘ibr, preposition meaning across, and of Abraham, the Egyptian official (after having sold his “wife” to the Pharaoh and took her back pregnant of Isaac) circumcised himself according to Egyptian customs and, since this Egyptian “benediction” and power, later became the claimed founder of the Israeli tribe in Palestine. In fact, ‘ibri represents the migration of the Abraham family “from Ur in Mesopotamia across the river Euphrates to the land of Palestine-Jordan.” ‘Ibri differentiate Israelites from Egyptians and Philistines.

Palestine was area of troubles for the Egyptian Empire.

We find these ethnic groups also in Egypt-Egypt, where the word ‘peru represented in Egyptian the word ‘ibri, even “long after the Exodus, whichever date we accept for it”.

‘Peru had, in Egypt, a social meaning, so it represented either a social class or a social class-ethnic_group.

“• From Egyptian sources we find the word ‘Peru used to indicate labourers working for the State at heavy manual labour in connection with building operation of the kings, especially the quarrying and transportation of stone;

“• The Babylonian texts, known as the Nuzu Texts, use the word Khabiru to indicate a class of slaves and, as with the Egyptian word ‘Peru, the word appears to indicate a social class of hard labourers rather than an ethnic group;

“• The Bible does not refer to the Israelites as ‘Hebrews’ after the Exodus and during the entry into Canaan with Joshua.

“The conclusion is obvious. The word ‘Hebrew’ was used to designate a particular social class – either disorganized groups of wandering slaves or labourers in the Palestine city States, who were quite distinct from the Hebrews in Egypt or the Israelites in Egypt, who were known as Hebrews while they were engaged in harsh labour. However this term was no longer applied to them once they had been freed by Moses and were looked upon as a nation. Thus, as he term ‘Hebrew’ denoted a social class rather than a people, not all Hebrews can be regarded as Israelites although the Israelites were classed as Hebrews while they laboured at building the treasure cities of Pithom and Raamses.”

“The implication of the King of Jerusalem’s letter (see Chapter 19) is that the two Egyptian officials murdered by the Hebrews at Zarw may have been among the supervisors of their work, and it is possible that these very incidents – or something similar – could have been responsible for bringing to a head the anti-Akhenaten movement in the army that eventually caused his downfall and flight to Sinai.”

(Osman 1990, p. 246-247)

This last paragraph induces a lot of questions such is unlikely in its conclusions. Since, if a Pharaoh, and eventually more than one, of partial Semitic origins, was in some way dismissed, we’d need here some help from social history. Even without any other information, it is however easy to conclude that there was some fight inside State bureaucracies, an intra-bureaucratic fight. If the reason of that fight was how to deal with the labour market, there was evidently a partial or provisional victory of the hardliners, relatively to how to deal with slaves and sub-proletariat. The victory should not have been very solid, if an ex-Pharaoh could finally rescue those slaves or sub-proletariat even after having assassinated a conciliatory Pharaoh, Jesus/Joshua. The equalitarian faction was monotheist. The “classist” faction was polytheist. The monotheists wanted only one God in front of whom everybody was equal. Polytheists wanted that a plurality of Gods reflected social stratifications.

“If Moses and Akhenaten are the same person, they must have been born at the same place at the same time.”

(Osman 1990, p. 106)

“The climate of hostility that surrounded Akhenaten all his life – and one may wonder what could have been the causes were they not ethnic and religious – had surfaced as early as two years after his appointment as coregent.”

(Osman 1990, p. 124)

...Alias, he, and not only him, had some different cultural and political orientation clashed with the traditional one.

“Although not a shred of evidence has been found to confirm the date of Akhenaten’s death, Egyptologists have assumed that it must have taken place at the end of his reign in his Year 17. There is evidence, however, indicating that – as in the Talmud account of the reign of Moses as a king of Nubia (Ethiopia) – he simply fell from power in the course of this year, but did not die. This evidence comes from archaeological, philological and historical sources.”

(Osman 1990, p. 134)

“It is now generally accepted that Akhenaten ruled for only seventeen years, although there is no evidence pointing to which month of this final year his rule ended. However, although he was no longer on the throne, did his followers believe that he was still alive – and would perhaps return one day to take power again?”

(Osman 1990, p. 148)

“At least two events early in Akhenaten’s coregency with his father indicated strong opposition to his rule.”

(Osman 1990, p. 158)

“Akhenaten’s man in the army, as we saw earlier, was Aye, his maternal uncle, the husband of Tiy, his and Nefertiti’s nurse. As a result of this relationship, he could be regarded, according to ancient traditions, as a father figure. Aye was certainly the power behind Akhenaten’s throne from the time of the death of Amenhotep III. Aye’s origins, like those of Yuya, his father, were military.”

(Osman 1990, p. 158)

Osman follows the path of a religious conflict.

“A conflict arose. Aye, still the strongest man in Egypt, realized the danger – the whole Amarna family and their followers, as well as the worship of the Aten, was under threat – and that compromise was the wisest course to follow. However, Akhenaten’s belief in one God was too deep for him to accept a return to any of the former ways. Aye therefore advised him that, in his own interests, he should abdicate in favour of the young Tutankhamun and flee the country. After his departure, Aye, as Tutankhamun’s adviser, allowed the old temple to be reopened and the ancient gods of Egypt to be worshipped again alongside worship of the Aten, a compromise that increased his own power, as it enabled him to pose as the saviour of both army and temple.”

(Osman 1990, p. 160)

“It was only on the death of Aye himself that Horemheb, another powerful military figure, emerged to take power on behalf of the dissident Establishment and to start the campaign of destruction designed to remove all trace of Amarna rule from Egyptian history.”

(Osman 1990, p. 161)

Torah was not the only source of knowledge... Other texts and oral transmissions told different or more complete stories, in parallel with the official vulgata.

“Since Freud first showed the similarity between the religions of Moses and Akhenaten fifty years ago in his book Moses and Monotheism, there has been endless argument about the identity of the first monotheist. As we saw in the introduction to this book, attempts have been made to place the Jewish Exodus long before the Amarna period, thus ensuring the honour to Moses. Then, when this approach failed and all the evidence pointed to the Exodus having taken place after the Amarna reigns, the focal points of attack became the discrediting of Akhenaten himself and efforts to demonstrate that the beliefs he introduced into Egypt were not monotheistic at all.

“The holy books establish Moses as the first monotheist although, while the Hebrew patriarchs believed in one God, they accepted that other peoples had other gods to worship, as in the case of Laban (Genesis, 31:43-55). Yet, from historical sources, Akhenaten is the first person we know of to introduce worship of one God. An examination of their respective religious beliefs makes it clear that Moses and Akhenaten should not be looked upon, as has been largely the case, as rivals but as the same person.”

(Osman 1990, p. 162)

“Although there is as yet no complete proof, it is easy to see that, in the prevailing circumstances, Sarabit offered the best, if not the only, location for Akhenaten’s exile – a holy place, close to another holy place, Mount Sinai, away from Egyptian control, where he could meditate and develop his religious ideas until, when Horemheb’s death brought the Eighteenth Dynasty to an end, he came back to try to reclaim his throne.”

(Osman 1990, p. 172)

“If Moses and Akhenaten were the same person, it must be possible to match some biblical characters with characters we know of in Egyptian history. We can best begin with Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who is described in the Book of Exodus as Moses’ nurse. She is, I think, to the identified as Tiy, the wife of Aye, last of the Amarna kings.


“What strikes us first is that Tiy seems to have been named after Queen Tiye. We know from the Amarna tomb that she was ‘nurse and tutress of the queen’, Nefertiti. She was also, as Baikie noted: ‘The great nurse, nourisher of the god (king), adorner of the king (Akhenaten).’”

(Osman 1990, p. 180)

...On these connections of intertwining, Osman discusses historical and ethnological evidence.

“The account of the Old Testament of the failure of Moses to reach the Promised Land, his death and his burial in an unmarked grave is another curious episode.”

(Osman 1990, p. 186)

“After admonishing and blessing his people, Moses left them with Joshua and climbed the mountain. There, after viewing the Promised Land, he met his death – and was buried by the Lord in an unmarked grave in the plains of Moab below.

“In contrast to this straightforward story, Talmudic sources have a rich collection of contradictory accounts of the manner of Moses’ death. A reference to a confrontation between him and the ‘Angel of Death’ on the Mount before he died, with an indication of a struggle between the two, has persuaded some biblical scholars that Moses was killed. Sigmund Freud interpreted this suspicion in his book Moses and Monotheism to mean that Moses had been killed by his own followers for being too rigid in his views. I do not think this is an accurate interpretation of what happened.

“The key, it seems to me, lies in the reason given why Moses was not allowed to enter Canaan, the Promised Land. According to the Book of Exodus, the reason is that Moses struck a rock with his rod to obtain water for his thirsty followers. This is not really convincing. Why should this practical action be the cause of punishments? It is not as if there is any suggestion that he had been forbidden to indulge in such conduct.”

(Osman 1990, p. 186-187)

“This myth could have been a popular reflection of a real historical event – a confrontation between Moses and Seti I on top of the mountain in Moab.”

(Osman 1990, p. 188)

Osman, A., Moses, Pharaoh of Egypt. The Mystery of Akhenaten resolved, Grafton Books, 1990.