|Was the story of Moses stolen from that of the Egyptian hero Sinuhe?|
While scouring a critic's website, we found this claim regarding the Exodus story:
In fact the evidence of "embellishment" is overwhelming when we consider the ancient Egptian story of Sinuhe, which dates from around 1960 B.C - some four hundred years before the expulsion of the Hyksos. BibleAndScience.com tells the story as follows:
"Sinuhe flees Egypt on hearing of the death of King Amenemhet I... and becomes an exile like Moses. His path of flight may have been similar to the Exodus, but his destination was Byblos. He says, "I came up to the Wall-of-the-ruler, made to oppose the Asiatic and to crush the Sand-Crossers....I halted at the Island of Kem-wer. An attack of thirst overtook me"... This "Wall" is the fortresses on the eastern frontier near the present day Suez Canal. Kem-wer is the area of the Bitter Lakes. The ruler of the Upper Retenu (northern Palestine and southern Syria) then befriended him, and Sinuhe marries his eldest daughter. It is a tribal society which fights over pasture land and wells. One battle is similar to the story of David and Goiath. In his old age Sinuhe is allowed to return to Egypt. He leaves his eldest son in charge of his tribe and all his possessions of serfs, herds, fruit, and trees. Finally, Sinuhe receives a proper burial in a pyramid tomb. This story gives helpful background information, but there is no mention of Israel."
Of course, BibleAndScience.com stops short of the obvious and inescapable conclusion... That the Biblical account of the Exodus and of Moses were based at least in part on the story of Sinuhe.
What's all this, then? Fortunately the story of Sinuhe is readily available for comparison (our online source is now defunct) for us to make a test. How well does the summary fit? No better than Homer does Mark. What we have here is a case of "collapsed terminology and data" forced into a comparison by equivocation ("both Lincoln and Kennedy were concerned with civil rights"). So how about those alleged parallels? After a lengthy self-intro and a poetic description of the sunrise, people moaning, etc. we have this:
His majesty, however, had despatched an army to the land of the Tjemeh, with his eldest son as its commander, the good god Sesostris. He had been sent to smite the foreign lands and to punish those of Tjehenu. Now he was returning, bringing captives of the Tjehenu and cattle of all kinds beyond number. The officials of the palace sent to the western border to let the king's son know the event that had occurred at the court. The messengers met him on the road, reaching him at night. Not a moment did he delay. The falcon flew with his attendants, without letting his army know it.
But the royal sons who had been with him on this expedition had also been sent for. One of them was summoned while I was standing there. I heard his voice, as he spoke, while I was in the near distance. My heart fluttered, my arms spread out, a trembling befell all my limbs. I removed myself in leaps, to seek a hiding place. I put myself between two bushes, so as to leave the road to its traveler.
Presumably this is what the critic means when it says, "Sinuhe flees Egypt on hearing of the death of King Amenemhet I... and becomes an exile like Moses." It's a nice summary, but far from complete, and even farther from relevant. The only commonality between Moses and Sinuhe is 1) they flee from Egypt into exile. That's it. There's no common cause, no common reason, no common motive.
Next it is said: "His path of flight may have been similar to the Exodus, but his destination was Byblos. He says, "I came up to the Wall-of-the-ruler, made to oppose the Asiatic and to crush the Sand-Crossers....I halted at the Island of Kem-wer. An attack of thirst overtook me"... This "Wall" is the fortresses on the eastern frontier near the present day Suez Canal. Kem-wer is the area of the Bitter Lakes." What's this "may have been similar" business? Here's how Sinuhe actually ran the course:
I set out southward. I did not plan to go to the residence. I believed there would be turmoil and did not expect to survive it. I crossed Maaty near Sycamore; I reached Isle-of-Snefru. I spent the day there at the edge of the cultivation. Departing at dawn I encountered a man who stood on the road. He saluted me while I was afraid of him. At dinner time I reached "Cattle-Quay." I crossed in a barge without a rudder, by the force of the westwind. I passed to the east of the quarry, at the height of "Mistress of the Red Mountain." Then I made my way northward. I reached the "Walls of the Ruler," which were made to repel the Asiatics and to crush the Sand-farers. I crouched in a bush for fear of being seen by the guard on duty upon the wall.
I set out at night. At dawn I reached Peten. I halted at "Isle-of-Kem-Wer." An attack of thirst overtook me; I was parched, my throat burned. I said, "This is the taste of death." I raised my heart and collected myself when I heard the lowing sound of cattle and saw Asiatics. One of their leaders, who had been in Egypt, recognized me. He gave me water and boiled milk for me. I went with him to his tribe. What they did for me was good.
There isn't a lot here that makes for a convincing parallel. In the ancient world, there was only one route out of Egypt worth taking if you did not want to end up a sand mummy or jungle bait, and that was up through where the Suez Canal is now located. With desert to the west, and the hostile Ethiopians to the south (and a much different climate), Sinuhe's and Moses' route choices were not exactly cause for a Triple A Triptik. The story goes on:
Land gave me to land. I traveled to Byblos; I returned to Qedem. I spent a year and a half there. Then Ammunenshi, the ruler of Upper Retenu, took me to him, saying to me: "You will be happy with me; you will hear the language of Egypt." He said this because he knew my character and had heard of my skill, Egyptians who were with him having borne witness for me. He said to me: "Why have you come here? Has something happened at the residence?" I said to him: "King Sehetepibre departed to the horizon, and one did not know the circumstances." But I spoke in half-truths: "When I returned from the expedition to the land of the Tjemeh, it was reported to me and my heart grew faint. It carried me away on the path of flight, though I had not been talked about; no one had spat in my face; I had not heard a reproach; my name had not been heard in the mouth of the herald. I do not know what brought me to this country; it is as if planned by god. As if a Delta-man saw himself in Yebu, a marsh-man in Nubia."
Then he said to me: "How then is that land without that excellent god, fear of whom was throughout the lands like Sakhmet in a year of plague?" I said to him in reply: "Of course his son has entered into the palace, having taken his father's heritage.
This is followed by a nice little poem in which the "excellent god" is praised in great detail, and then:
"Send to him! Let him know your name as one who inquires while being far from his majesty. He will not fail to do good to a land that will be loyal to him." He said to me: "Well then, Egypt is happy knowing that he is strong. But you are here. You shall stay with me. What I shall do for you is good."
A parallel to Moses being befriended by Jethro? Not hardly, except in the sense that such hospitality was always extended to visitors in the ANE. This is no more a parallel than people ringing your doorbell every day.
He set me at the head of his children. He married me to his eldest daughter. He let me choose for myself of his land, of the best that was his, on his border with another land.
The critic remarks, "The ruler of the Upper Retenu (northern Palestine and southern Syria) then befriended him, and Sinuhe marries his eldest daughter. It is a tribal society which fights over pasture land and wells." None of this is particularly unusual either (and note that Zipporah is never said to be Jethro's eldest daughter): hospitality to strangers, marriages, and gifts from a patriarchal clan elder.
Sinuhe gives us some extended description of the land he was in, including an available grocery list, and tells of his later life helping his father in law go to war against other tribes. and then there is this little poem and account:
There came a hero of Retenu, To challenge me in my tent. A champion was he without peer, He had subdued it all. He said he would fight with me, He planned to plunder me, He meant to seize my cattle At the behest of his tribe.
The ruler conferred with me and I said: "I do not know him; I am not his ally, that I could walk about in his camp. Have I ever opened his back rooms or climbed over his fence? It is envy, because he sees me doing your commissions. I am indeed like a stray bull in a strange herd, whom the bull of the herd charges, whom the longhorn attacks. Is an inferior beloved when he becomes a superior? No Asiatic makes friends with a Delta-man. And what would make papyrus cleave to the mountain? If a bull loves combat, should a champion bull retreat for fear of being equaled? If he wishes to fight, let him declare his wish. Is there a god who does not know what he has ordained, and a man who knows how it will be?"
At night I strung my bow, sorted my arrows, practiced with my dagger, polished my weapons. When it dawned Retenu came. It had assembled its tribes; it had gathered its neighboring peoples; it was intent on this combat.
He came toward me while I waited, having placed myself near him. Every heart burned for me; the women jabbered. All hearts ached for me thinking: "Is there another champion who could fight him?" He raised his battle-axe and shields while his armful of missiles fell toward me. When I had made his weapons attack me, I let his arrows pass me by without effect, one following the other. Then, when he charged me, I shot him, my arrow sticking in his neck. He screamed; he fell on his nose; I slew him with his axe. I raised my war cry over his back, while every Asiatic shouted. I gave praise to Mont, while his people mourned him. The ruler Ammunenshi took me in his arms.
Then I carried off his goods; I plundered his cattle. What he had meant to do to me I did to him. I took what was in his tent; I stripped his camp. Thus I became great, wealthy in goods, rich in herds. It was the god who acted, so as to show mercy to one with whom he had been angry, whom he had made stray abroad. For today his heart is appeased.
It is hard to say, but we are guessing that this is what the critic refers to when they say, "One battle is similar to the story of David and Goiath [sic]." Really? How? Because two guys go at it? That seems to be it, and that's no more than typical ancient one-on-one combat (actually, very unusual for the Jews, who thought collectively; the Philistines were used to that sort of thing) and intertribal warfare that happened on a regular basis.
A nice poem follows, along with an extended plea for mercy from the gods in his old age, and then:
Now when the majesty of King Kheperkare was told of the condition in which I was, his majesty sent word to me with royal gifts, in order to gladden the heart of this servant like that of a foreign ruler. And the royal children who were in his palace sent me their messages. Copy of the decree brought to this servant concerning his return to Egypt:
Very nice, but what has this to do with the Bible? The critic sums: "In his old age Sinuhe is allowed to return to Egypt. He leaves his eldest son in charge of his tribe and all his possessions of serfs, herds, fruit, and trees. Finally, Sinuhe receives a proper burial in a pyramid tomb." Moses does not return to Egypt because he is "allowed" to; he had no eldest son he left in charge of anything, and he was buried somewhere else (who isn't buried someday!) than Egypt.
Sinuhe goes on for a few more paragraphs about how nice a burial he will be promised, and a nice letter he gets from the king in Egypt, and how sorry he was to have left in the first place, and on it goes. He gets escorted back with a group of guards, appears before the king (who he is scared to death of, but he ends up being welcomed by the king and queen, which occasions another nice poem); he is given a bath, clothed in nice linen, a nice house with his own little pyramid reserved for his burial (and his own mortuary priests), the end, happily ever after.
And what has this to do with Moses? Nada. The critic says it gives "helpful background information" (which it does, on common facets of ANE life) but as a parallel for Moses this one belongs back in the stack of "not even close."