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Egypt in the Bible

Egypt casts an extremely long shadow over the Hebrew Bible.  In every book from Genesis to second Kings—we refer to it as the Enneateuch—there are references to Egypt in every single book. All the major prophets, seven out of twelve minor prophets make reference to Egypt.  We cannot understand the biblical text without understanding Egypt, its culture and its history, and how the history interacts with Israel’s own history. 

And if you were to bring all the biblical authors and editors into a room at one time and say, “well, what do you think about Egypt, what is the biblical view of Egypt?” You would get so many different voices, it would be hard, it would be a cacophony of different voices, because the biblical texts don’t agree.  There isn’t one monolithic picture of Egypt. 

Now we’re very familiar, of course, with the Exodus, which is where Egypt is really a villain, and becomes the opponent of Yahweh and, and the Israelites, of course, are freed from Egypt and that’s the story with which we’re most familiar. 

But, if you turn just a few chapters earlier into the book of Genesis, for example, Egypt is not the big, bad villain; in fact, Egypt is the place where Israel is transformed from a family, a relatively small family, into a great nation.  And, it is that great nation that poses such a great threat to Pharaoh, why he eventually engages in infanticide and increases pressure on his slave labor force, which is comprised of the Hebrews.  So, that’s just one juxtaposition where you can see where, you know, you juxtapose Genesis, where Egypt is not thought of in any, really, in a negative light, in fact, it’s a place where Israel can flourish—go a few chapters further and you have Exodus where Egypt is a villain.

  • Michael J. Chan

    Michael Chan is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, MN. He is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University (BA), Luther Seminary (MA in Old Testament), and Emory University (PhD). In addition to many articles and essays, Chan is also the author of The Wealth of Nations: A Tradition-Historical Study (2017) and coauthor of Exploring the Bible (2016).