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The Mystery of the Shasu and the Name Yahweh in Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts

Charles Aling, Clyde Billington, Gordon Govier : Jan 13, 2010 : ASSIST News

"There is even a reference dating to ca. 1250 BC in Papyrus Anastasi I to a group of giant Shasu living in Canaan who may be identified with the giants encountered by the Israelites at the time of the Exodus. Clearly the Egyptians knew about Yahweh as can be seen in the Soleb and Amarah-West topographical lists, but they did not worship him, and they apparently did not want to worship him."

(St. Paul, Mn.)—The following are excerpts from an intriguing article published in ASSIST News. To read it in its entirety, click on the link provided.

Merneptah SteleThe oldest historical mention of ancient Israel occurs in the Merneptah stele, an Egyptian monument dated to 1208 BC But mention of Israel's God, Yahweh, occurs even earlier in Egyptian inscriptions in conjunction with a group of people called the Shasu. (Photo: the Merneptah stele)

Among ancient Egyptian designations for types of foreign peoples in the New Kingdom Period (1550–1070 BC), the term Shasu occurs fairly frequently. It is generally accepted that the term Shasu means nomads or Bedouin people, referring primarily to the nomadic peoples of Syria-Palestine. There are two hieroglyphic references in New Kingdom Period texts to an area called "the land of the Shasu of Yahweh." Except for the Old Testament, these are the oldest references found in any ancient texts to the God Yahweh.It is very likely that the Egyptians of the New Kingdom Period classified all of the ancient Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, Amalekites, Midianites, Kenites, Hapiru, and Israelites as Shasu.

There is even a reference dating to ca. 1250 BC in Papyrus Anastasi I to a group of giant Shasu living in Canaan who may be identified with the giants encountered by the Israelites at the time of the Exodus. Clearly the Egyptians knew about Yahweh as can be seen in the Soleb and Amarah-West topographical lists, but they did not worship him, and they apparently did not want to worship him.

Nor was Yahweh equated to or identified with any Egyptian deity. There were no temples to Yahweh built by the Egyptians, nor were there any artistic representations made of him, or in fact even any discussions of him in Egyptian texts. It appears that the ancient Egyptians placed Yahweh into a category all by himself. To say the least, this is very strange for the syncretistic Egyptians. A possible explanation is that Yahweh was seen by the Egyptians as an enemy God, of an enemy tribal group which was a part of the hated Shasu peoples who lived north of Egypt.

Pharaoh Amenhotep III, or his scribes, knew about the Hebrew God Yahweh in 1400 BC. This fact is highly significant when trying to date the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt under Moses.

In conclusion, It is clear that there once was a group of Shasu Bedouin/nomads living in Syria-Palestine who were associated with either a deity or a place named Yahweh. It is also clear that the name Yahweh was known to the Egyptians in the 18th Dynasty during the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep III.

We also know from the Old Testament that there were other worshippers of Yahweh in Canaan who did not go into Egypt and therefore did not leave Egypt at the time of the Exodus. The question thus arises, were they perhaps the Shasu of Yahweh mentioned at Soleb and Amarah?

Although we do not have all the information that we wish we did, it is significant that there are no mentions of the Shasu of Yahweh in Egyptian texts earlier than the reign of Amenhotep III... The reason may very well be because the Shasu of Yahweh were indeed the Israelites and that they were still living in Egypt in the early 18th Dynasty.

The fact that the Shasu of Yahweh first appear in topographical lists under Amenhotep III in ca. 1400 BC fits perfectly with the Early Date of the Exodus, but this fact presents major problems for those scholars who prefer a Late Date for the Exodus during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II in the 13th century BC. In any case, these references to Yahweh have been ignored for far too long by both conservative and liberal Bible scholars.

It thus appears very likely that the Shasu of Yahweh, who are mentioned in the topographical texts at Soleb and Amarah-West, were the Israelites who by about 1400 BC had settled into their own land in the mountains of Canaan. It also appears that for the ancient Egyptians the one feature that distinguished the Israelites from all the other Shasu (Semitic herders) in this area was their worship of the God Yahweh.



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