The Hyksos: Evidence of Jacob’s Family in Ancient Egypt?

Some uncanny parallels among the Semitic rulers of Lower Egypt—right down to their individual names
The Ibscha Relief, an Egyptian depiction of the arrival of Semitic Hyksos, as displayed on the tomb of Khnumhotep ii at Beni Hassan
Carl Richard Lepsius/AIBA

In a recent article we established the biblical chronology for the period of the patriarchs: the first half of the second millennium b.c.e., with the migration of Jacob and his family into Egypt in the early 17th century b.c.e. Or more specifically, according to fairly standard chronology, in or around the 1660s b.c.e.

With a chronological biblical framework, we can turn to the archaeological evidence to see if there is a fit. Is it possible to trace the migration of a group out of Canaan into northern Egypt, and their establishment in this “Goshen,” northeastern Delta region as a powerful ruling family during the first half of the 17th century b.c.e.?

Not only is such a group identifiable in Egyptian history, their names, too, are an uncanny match for Jacob and his family.

Introducing: the Hyksos.

A Provincial ‘Canaanite’ Family Migrates

Many are familiar with Egypt’s “New Kingdom” period, which began circa 1550 b.c.e. with the 18th Dynasty—a powerful united Egypt controlled by Thutmosid pharaohs, ultimately transitioning into the 19th Dynasty Ramesside period. This overall New Kingdom period is widely regarded as the one within which the Exodus took place, with both of the two main Exodus theories fitting into this window of time (the 15th-century and 13th-century Exodus theories—see here for more about this debate).

Upper and Lower Egypt Map
Julia Goddard/AMIBA

Before this New Kingdom period began, however, the picture was very different. This is what is known as Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period. This consists of (depending on the definition and chronology) a roughly century-long period from circa 1670 to 1550 b.c.e., a decentralized period in which Egypt was essentially split in half between Upper Egypt (in the south), ruled by native Egyptian pharaohs, and Lower Egypt (in the north—the swathe of Egypt including the Nile Delta and the biblical land of Goshen).

The reason for this divide? The establishment of a Semitic population that had migrated from Canaan into the northern Egyptian Delta as a powerful ruling class. These people of Semitic, “Canaanite” origin were known to the Egyptians as the Hyksos—a unique people known for their shepherding and multicolored garments. And while later, propagandistic Egyptian texts (such as that of the third-century b.c.e. Egyptian historian, Manetho) accused them of violently taking the land, modern researchers now know that they became established within Egyptian territory peaceably.

Procession led by the Hyksos “Abisha” (Tomb of Khnumhotep II at Beni Hassan)

“If you study ‘fake news’ from ancient Egypt, you would consider the Hyksos a band of nasty, marauding outsiders who invaded and then brutally ruled the Nile Delta until heroic kings expelled them,” wrote Egyptologist Danielle Candelora in an article for the American Research Center in Egypt. “In fact, the Hyksos had a more diplomatic impact, contributing to progress in culture …. Rather than an ‘invasion,’ it appears that as the centralized authority of Egyptian kings declined, elites at Tell el-Dab’a increased their local power until, by a coup or simply a slow, peaceful process, they took the Heka Khasut [Hyksos] title and became kings in their own right” (article, “The Hyksos”).

The Hyksos continued to live and self-govern for about a century in the northern Delta region of Egypt, until a series of native Egyptian pharaohs from Upper Egypt in the south rose up, accusing the Hyksos dynasty of overrunning Egypt. Ultimately, the Hyksos were overthrown and eventually, according to Manetho, “took their journey from Egypt, through the wilderness … [and] they built a city in that country which is now called Judea, and that large enough to contain this great number of men, and called it Jerusalem” (as quoted by the first-century c.e. historian Josephus in Against Apion, 1.14).

The association of the Hyksos with the Israelites, therefore, is not uncommon. After all, depending on the chronology followed, this dynasty was established in Egypt within the very same decade as the biblical immigration of Jacob and his family (1660s b.c.e.). By the same token though, unsurprisingly, it is not popular in academia to outright identify the Hyksos as Israelites. The term Canaanites—based on their point of origin, prior to arriving in Egypt—is used much more freely. (As one leading Hyksos scholar stated, based on the West Semitic language and territorial origin of the Hyksos, they “may be called for convenience [sic] sake Canaanites.”) Still, the term “proto-Israelites” is sometimes found in this debate. In a recent Jerusalem Post article, one Egyptologist was cited as dismissing the connection between the Hyksos and the Israelites, condemning those looking for such historic connections with the biblical text because “the [biblical] text is not to be taken literally.” Remarkably, however, she admitted that “[t]he concept has been frozen in the Egyptian memory to the point that to this day, the average person in Egypt thinks the Hyksos were Jews and associates them with destruction and chaos” (emphasis added).

Putting to one side the injunction to not take the biblical account literally, it should be asked: How well do the Hyksos fit with the establishment of Jacob’s family in Egypt? And—despite the comparatively piecemeal evidence for the reign of the Hyksos (by design; later Egyptian rulers sought to blot out any memory of them)—can any individuals actually be positively identified as members of Jacob’s family?

‘Shepherd Kings’

First the name of this people, Hyksos. Some may wonder why this group was not called Israelites. Actually, this terminology is found more often later in the Bible. The term “Hebrews” is more often used than “Israelites,” up until the time of the settlement within Canaan on the other side of the Exodus. (Discussion on this “Hebrews” appellation, which has a remarkable archaeological connection to the time period of the conquest, we’ll save for another article.) Of course, the patriarch Jacob was renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28). But naturally, his sons wouldn’t have immediately borne and used the title Israelites. Often, such patronymic titles take hold several generations later. (And even then, during the later monarchic period, foreign nations often used different terminology from “Israel” or “Israelite,” instead preferring to refer to the nation with the title of its ruling dynasty—e.g. “House of Omri” for Israel in Assyrian inscriptions, and “House of David” for Judah in Syrian and Moabite.)

The term Hyksos first began as an Egyptian appellation. And it is actually first found as early as the mid-19th century b.c.e.—some 200 years prior—on the tomb-wall painting of Khnumhotep ii (depicting an entourage of men and women in brightly colored garments, pictured earlier in this article). Interestingly, following the same aforementioned biblical chronology, this is the period in which Abraham began making his pilgrimages into Egypt, with his entourage.

A fairly standard view is that the Hyksos migrants themselves eventually adopted this as their official dynastic title while in Egypt (see, for example, Candelora’s article “Defining the Hyksos: A Reevaluation of the Title hk3 h3swt and Its Implications for Hyksos Identity”). Josephus, for his part, quoting Manetho, asserts this name to mean “shepherd kings.” From his tome Against Apion: “This whole nation was styled Hycsos, that is, Shepherd-kings: for the first syllable Hyc, according to the sacred dialect, denotes a king, as is Sos a shepherd; but this according to the ordinary dialect; and of these is compounded Hycsos” (ibid).

“Hyksos” hieroglyphs. Note the shepherd’s crook symbol.
Public Domain

The standard modern interpretation of the name Hyksos among Egyptologists is as “foreign kings,” rather than “shepherd kings,” taking Josephus to have misinterpreted the word (but still, expressing the non-native nature of these rulers). Still, whatever the case, the ancient Egyptian historian Manetho—whose work, now lost, is quoted by Josephus—described these people chiefly as a shepherding population. Again from Josephus, quoting Manetho directly:

(But Manetho goes on): “These people, whom we have before named kings, and called shepherds also, and their descendants,” as he says, “kept possession of Egypt …” [Afterward], he says, “That the kings of Thebais and the other parts of Egypt made an insurrection against the shepherds ….”

Josephus continued:

Now Manetho, in another book of his, says, “That this nation, thus called Shepherds, were also called Captives, in their sacred books.” And this account of his is the truth; for feeding of sheep was the employment of our forefathers in the most ancient ages and as they led such a wandering life in feeding sheep, they were called Shepherds.

Indeed, this accords well with the biblical account referenced by Josephus: Jacob’s family, when they were brought into Egypt, being primarily known for their shepherding. From Genesis 47:3-4: “And Pharaoh said unto his [Joseph’s] brethren: ‘What is your occupation?’ And they said unto Pharaoh: ‘Thy servants are shepherds, both we, and our fathers.’ And they said unto Pharaoh: ‘To sojourn in the land are we come; for there is no pasture for thy servants’ flocks ….’” The pharaoh proceeded to turn over land to Jacob’s family in the northern Delta territory of Goshen.

One of the “Hyksos Sphinxes”
Public Domain

The capital city of the Hyksos was a location called Avaris. Again, quoting Manetho, Josephus relayed that Avaris was the “ancient city and country” of the shepherds, “given” to them within Egypt. This site is identified as the modern-day ruins of Tell el-Dab’a. Archaeological excavations have revealed evidence of a clearly foreign, Semitic population, with housing styles similar to that of Canaan, along with Levantine-style weapons and pottery. They also found sacrificial remains notably excluding pig, leading excavators to speculate that some form of “kosher” system was in place. Large food-storage silos were also discovered at the site.

Much has also been made of a palatial complex within the site containing 12 tombs. One of them is much grander than the others, yet lacks any human remains (compare with Genesis 50:25). A fair amount of interesting attention was given to this in Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus (trailer below)—particularly an unusual statue and tomb Egyptologist David Rohl identifies with Joseph.

But what of Jacob and his immediate family? Is it possible to identify any individuals among the Hyksos ruling class? This is where things get especially interesting.

Let the Stones Speak


Yaqub-har scarab from Tel-Shikmona, Israel

Very little is known about the Hyksos rulers. Not only is there significant debate about the order in which they ruled or how many there were (roughly half a dozen), but there is also debate as to whether or not some of them ruled as “pharaohs” in their own right or simply constituted high-ranking figures in the community who were on the scene simultaneously with rulers. One of these especially prominent Hyksos individuals is a man known from nearly 30 royal scarab seals, found—fittingly—primarily in Canaan, as well as in Egypt. These scarabs, believed to date to the 17th century b.c.e., bear the name Yaqub-har.

Yaqub is the exact transliteration of the Semitic name Jacob.

Of course, the Bible shows Jacob was a highly respected leader not only in Canaan, but also in Egypt. When he died, he underwent a 40-day embalming process and was mourned by the Egyptians for 70 days (Genesis 50:1-3; this mummification-to-burial process, including 40 days of packing and preserving the internal organs and body, was well known in ancient Egypt). As with Joseph, he was buried within Canaan.

The “har” in Yaqub-har is a Hebrew-Semitic word that can mean hill, mount or mountain. This word is actually connected with Jacob several times in the Bible (Genesis 31:25, 54; Isaiah 2:3). It may have even constituted some kind of a familial suffix or “surname” among the Hyksos (as is also attested by the next name, below).

Drawing of a scarab of the Egyptian ruler Yaqub-Har

Little is known archaeologically about Yaqub-har, besides his appearance on these seals. Egyptologists still debate whether or not he literally “ruled” or was simply a leading figure among the Hyksos community (naturally, the latter would appear to best fit the biblical account). Whatever the case, it is an uncanny match for the biblical patriarch Jacob in name, period, location and community. It is also apparent that his name was somewhat venerated or popular among the Hyksos; another leader bears a similar variant, Yaqbim.


A single inscription, found on a doorjamb at Avaris, reveals another of the early Hyksos leaders. This individual’s name, similarly suffixed, is Sakir-har. The word sakir means “reward,” with the “har” suffix again matching that of Yaqub-har.

This name closely parallels that of Jacob’s son Issachar.

The biblical name Issachar, or Is-Sakir, means “there is a reward.” The Bible relates that his mother Leah proclaimed when she bore him: “God has granted me a reward [sakar] …. So she named him Issachar” (Genesis 30:18; New English Translation).


But what about Joseph? As the Bible recounts, he was the first of his family established within Egypt, and was of course the individual afforded the initial rulership of the nation as second-in-command of Egypt under the native pharaoh. “And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, ‘See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.’ … [O]nly in the throne will I be greater than thou” (Genesis 41:41, 40).

Besides other prominent names highlighted by archaeology (such as the two above), the Egyptian historian Manetho enumerated six official Hyksos “rulers.” This is what he wrote of the very first one that came to power in Egypt (again, as quoted by the first-century historian Josephus): “At length they [the Hyksos] made one of themselves king, whose name was Salatis; he also lived at Memphis, and made both the upper and lower regions pay tribute …. Thither Salatis came in summer time, partly to gather his corn …” (Against Apion, 1.14). This “corn-gathering” is alone an interesting tidbit, relating to the biblical account: “And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much …” (Genesis 41:49, King James Version).

Manetho’s first Hyksos “king,” Salatis (variously “Salitus” or “Salitis”), may seem at first to have nothing to do with the biblical Joseph in name. But the name Salitis is of particular note.

First, note that both the Classical writers Manetho and Josephus wrote in Greek. In this language, masculine names often have an added -is ending. This is the case with their naming of other such pharaohs or leaders—an -is ending added (such as for the Hyksos ruler Apophis, known in original Egyptian form as Apep or Apepi), a suffix not originally part of the name. So we can strike this from our name Salit-is.

In the Bible, Joseph is called the “governor” of Egypt. From Genesis 42:6: “And Joseph was the governor over the land ….” But the word here translated “governor” is unique, entirely different to that used dozens of times elsewhere throughout the Bible for different governing individuals. The title here is Salit—thus naming him “Joseph the Salit”—an uncanny match for Manetho’s first Hyksos “king” Salit, or Salitis.


After Salitis, the second Hyksos ruler recorded by Manetho is Bnon/Benon. Logically, if we identify the first Hyksos leader Salitis as Joseph—while recognizing other “leading” brothers on the scene at the same time—it would only make the most sense to identify his ordained successor, in a sense, as his only full brother: the youngest of Jacob’s 12 sons, Benjamin. The Bible relates in some detail the level of Joseph’s public honoring of Benjamin in the Egyptian court. He received five times the portion of food as the other brothers (Genesis 43:34), five times the amount of royal apparel, and great riches (Genesis 45:22).

Of course, there is some face-value degree of similarity to the names Benjamin and Benon. But there is another, much more striking connection. A lesser-known fact is that Benjamin actually had two names—Benjamin being his second name, given to him by his father (and a play on his first name, at that).

Benjamin’s first name was given to him by his mother Rachel, who died soon after a painful childbirth. “And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing—for she died—that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin” (Genesis 35:18). The name Benoni—a veritable match for the second Hyksos king Benon—literally means “son of my sorrow.”

Let the Stones Speak

Coincidental Parallels?

All just coincidental parallels? But the list could go on, with certain other less obvious parallels and Hyksos figures. What about one of the later Hyksos leaders, Khyan? Amos 5:25-26 mention the peculiar name Kiyun in the context of the Israelite Exodus. What about Semqen/Shemqon? This Hyksos leader is known from a single scarab seal found at Tell el-Yahudiyeh (interestingly, a site in Lower Egypt whose name means “Jewish mound”). The initial Semitic shem- element is immediately recognizable. But could this perhaps even be a link to the biblical Simeon? Again, there is more than meets the eye with this name: Between the m and the n in Simeon (pronounced in modern Hebrew more like “Shemon”) is a glottal-stop letter (ע) for which there is no equivalent in English (and the original sound of which has also been lost to modern Hebrew). It’s the same letter, for example, that starts the name of the biblical king Omri—a name transliterated in ancient Assyrian inscriptions as Kumri. If this letter was originally pronounced in such a way, is it in the realm of possibility that Shemqon and Simeon (Shem[k]on) are one and the same individual?

There are also names such as that of the final Hyksos leader, Khamudi—a typical type of name for the period (i.e. Genesis 36:26) and a Hebrew/Semitic word meaning something akin to “desirable” or “pleasant.” Another example is the Hyksos leader Sheshi, whose Semitic name can be found in the Bible in use during this period, although for another individual (Numbers 13:22). That’s the thing, though—given the Semitic origin of the Hyksos, from the land of Canaan, their names are typical Semitic ones.

Of course, we do not as yet have absolute physical proof that these above-mentioned individuals were the same as those mentioned in the Bible. Again, knowledge about the Hyksos rulers is extremely minimal (by design—later Egyptian pharaohs sought to eradicate the memory of them). But it is possible to witness a clear “verisimilitude” between the biblical text and the evidence on the ground.

“Abisha the Hyksos,” tomb of Khnumhotep II
Public Domain

Is it all just coincidence? A powerful dynasty operating first within Canaan, subsequently moving peaceably into Egypt and becoming established as a royal dynasty over territory in the north of the land—the biblical region of Goshen—in the 17th century b.c.e.? A Semitic, shepherd-centric dynasty—and one with a peculiar affinity for rich, multicolored garments? A dynasty whose several initial rulers closely match with the names and/or titles of Jacob and his sons (and the first leader particularly highlighted in the context of gathering Egyptian corn, no less)? And a nation, according to Manetho, who also came to be “called Captives, in their sacred books”? What kind of “captives” were these? Or, for that matter, what were their “sacred books”? Can there be any doubt that this is a reference to the biblical Israelites—and their holy scriptures?

But How Powerful Were the Israelites?

The Hyksos indeed rose to become a formidable group within Egypt. They experienced a peculiar, sharp rise to power in the north of the nation, which escalated to a peak of dominance that some argue surpassed even that of the native pharaohs ruling from the south of Egypt. But does that picture appropriately accord with the biblical account of the single family of Jacob? One of the foremost Hyksos experts states that the identification of the Hyksos as “proto-Israelites” should be ruled out because the Hyksos “experienced the glory of controlling the Delta and a part of the Nile valley for over 100 years. … [T]his is in no way in keeping with the tradition of the Israelites and their experience of oppression in Egypt.”

Yet far from being contrary to the biblical record, this fits perfectly with the account contained in Exodus 1:1-10, in which the Israelites, for the first part of their stay in Egypt, had become “fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them” (verse 7). It was only much later that the Israelites were overthrown and enslaved by a “new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people: ‘Behold, the people of the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us; come, let us deal wisely with them …” (verses 8-10). Biblical chronology has Joseph beginning to rule at around 30 years old and dying at 110. Thus, if this “new king” “knew not Joseph,” it would stand to reason that this would be at a bare minimum 80 years after the patriarch had first come to power (and more logically, several decades later than that).

Sarcophagus of Kamose

This statement by the “new king over Egypt” actually reads almost exactly like a text known as the Carnarvon Tablet—a mid-16th-century inscription by the native Egyptian pharaoh Kamose, who feared that the Hyksos were getting too powerful and needed to be overthrown. (For what it’s worth, as the inscription reveals, Kamose’s advisers protested against the nationalistic pharaoh, stating that the Hyksos were doing nothing to threaten Egypt and were instead maintaining trade opportunities. Nonetheless, Kamose dismissed his advisors and went to war against the Hyksos.) It was during the reign of Kamose’s successor Ahmose i that the Hyksos were entirely overthrown and the New Kingdom period began—with all of Egypt united under one powerful, domineering, native Egyptian ruler, starting circa 1550 b.c.e.

The Carnarvon Tablet
Public Domain

There could perhaps be a tendency to view Jacob’s family—his sons, etc—as more or less an insignificant group of humble shepherds quickly overwhelmed within the melee that was ancient Egypt. But even from the outset of their “Eisodus” (entry into Egypt), this was no insignificant group of puff-people. They were, in their own right, a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Such was the strength and influence of patriarch-led groups like this in Canaan—controlling vast numbers of shepherds, retainers and other workmen—that the king of the Philistines sent the patriarch Isaac and his entourage away, “for thou [Isaac and company] art much mightier than we” (Genesis 26:16). And Isaac, if you recall, was a patriarch with only two recorded sons (Esau and Jacob).

Note also the total destruction of the (then notably powerful) Canaanite city Shechem at the hands of only two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, in revenge for the shame brought upon their sister Dinah (Genesis 34). This was a retribution certainly led by these individuals, but undoubtedly with the support of their workmen.

In this same vein, the patriarch Abraham had 318 “trained men, born in his house” (Genesis 14:14)—before he had any sons of his own—whom he rallied to beat back a coalition of armies attacking Canaan. And the personal differences between Jacob and his brother Esau very nearly led not to a single hand-to-hand combat between them, but to all-out war between their large entourages (Genesis 32-33)—Esau fielding a band of 400 men.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons were no mere monkish ascetics or vagrants. They represented powerful leaders over significant populations of people for the time. So much so that James Jordan, in his book The Moses Connection, speculates that Jacob’s total entourage in descending down into Egypt could have numbered as many as 10,000 individuals. Other theories posit “several thousands” (e.g. History of the Old Covenant, Vol. ii, page 149).

All this only fits well with the picture painted of the Hyksos: a civilization in their own right, living within Egypt, powerful in might. Perhaps it’s also no wonder, then, that the Exodus numbers given (just over two centuries later) are so enormous—and why Manetho speaks of the Hyksos during their latter years in Egypt fielding hundreds of thousands of footmen. These were indeed—to use the terminology of the book of Exodus—“footmen,” the “hosts” or armies of Israel (Exodus 6:26; 12:37, 51; Numbers 1:3). It’s also evidently one of the reasons why the native Egyptian pharaoh—ruling over a population generally estimated for this period as being around 3 million people—worried that these rapidly multiplying foreigners were becoming “more and mightier than we” (Exodus 1:9; King James Version).

Of course, all this does not mean that all Hyksos were necessarily Israelites, full-blood descendants of Jacob/Israel. Archaeologists have indeed revealed evidence of some degree of what has been called “multiculturalism” among their community while in Egypt. But again, the Bible itself reveals that at the time of the Exodus, along with the Israelites, a “mixed multitude went up also with them” (Exodus 12:38). The same chapter also contains provisions for those of other nations seeking to become part of the “congregation of Israel.”

One of the “Hyksos Sphinxes” (Kolkatta Museum, India)
PP Yoonus

But How Monotheistic?

Another fallacy that may be held against the general identification of the Hyksos with the Israelites is a tendency to view Jacob’s family as righteous monotheists. This was highlighted a few years ago by a Haaretz journalist, in an article titled “For You Were (Not) Slaves in Egypt,” who dismissed the historicity of the Israelites in Egypt because of a lack of archaeological evidence of a yhwh-worshiping community. (Actually, this fits with the biblical account from another angle: The divine name yhwh was “revealed” to Moses just prior to the Exodus as a name for God which was formerly “not known to them”—Exodus 6:3.)

Certainly, as the Bible reveals, the patriarchs themselves maintained a monotheistic loyalty to the God of the Bible. But that is more than can be said of their families—even their wives. Genesis 35:2 mentions Jacob’s attempt to remove “strange gods” from among those of his household. Genesis 31 even describes Jacob’s wife Rachel stealing away the gods of her father Laban.

The Hyksos, similarly, were known for a degree of monotheism—something unusual in Egypt at the time. They are known for a reverence toward “Seth” (sometimes equated with either the biblical patriarch Seth or Shem—Genesis 4:25; 11:10). And evidence of a degree of Canaanite Baal worship has also been found among their ranks.

But this is another interesting connection between the Hyksos and the Israelites. One of the chief symbols of Baal is the bull. Recall that the Israelites, after being freed from captivity, built and worshiped a golden calf: “… This is thy god, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt’” (Exodus 32:4). This bull/calf motif persistently crops up in Israelite worship. During the period of the judges, for example, Gideon slaughtered the bulls of Baal (Judges 6). Later, King Jeroboam established two golden calves for worship once again—idols that were named as “thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt’” (1 Kings 12:28).

Was this bull/calf god merely an arbitrary Egyptian deity picked up by the Israelites while they were in Egypt? This is a popular explanation. But perhaps it doesn’t sufficiently explain the consistency of the Israelites’ worship of it, and in particular, its role as the “deliverer” from Egypt. Was this, perhaps, a Canaanite or Syrian god that had already been historically worshiped by certain among Israel’s royal ranks—first picked up while in Canaan (or even earlier, in Syria), and continuing to be venerated as a god of the Hyksos later on during the height of their prosperity—hence the identification, post-Exodus, of this god as their original own god, the one who brought them out of Egypt?

Nonetheless, Manetho does include an interesting detail about the early Hyksos, at the time of their arrival in Egypt: they “demolished the temples of the gods” (Against Apion, 1.14).

But Weren’t the Hyksos Driven Out Too Early?

A final question about the association of the Hyksos with the Israelites. Manetho’s account—the most complete, early Egyptian account we have, yet still a pastiche of events composed over a millennium after the fact—at face value appears to show that following the overthrow of the Hyksos circa 1550 b.c.e., they were immediately driven by the Egyptians into Canaan, where they established the Israelite nation with Jerusalem as its capital. Actually, Manetho somewhat confusingly appears to describe two “exoduses.” The second, long after the overthrow and expulsion of the Hyksos, allegedly took place when an Egyptian priest dually named “Osarsiph” and “Moses” rose up to free a band of 80,000 slaves together with 200,000 Hyksos who had somehow reappeared in Egypt, and were driven a second time into Canaan by a later Egyptian pharaoh. Both “exoduses,” interestingly enough, consisted of roughly similar numbers of people (all of which is relayed in at-length quotations in Josephus’s Against Apion).

“The Expulsion of the Hyksos” (1906), as imagined by Egyptian literature
Patrick Gray

Much has been made of the propagandistic (and even clearly anti-Semitic) nature of Manetho’s text (though in many ways, it does constitute a more-than-suspicious admission of the Exodus account—you can read more on this subject in our article here).

Dr. Manfred Bietak, chief excavator of Tell el-Dab’a (Avaris), is one of the foremost experts on the Hyksos. He states that despite Manetho’s overly simplistic claim that the Hyksos were expelled to Canaan following their defeat in the 16th century b.c.e., there is no archaeological evidence for this. “[W]e have no evidence that the Western Asiatic population who carried the Hyksos rule in Egypt was expelled to the Levant,” he writes in his research article “From Where Came the Hyksos and Where Did They Go?” Instead, following their defeat, “there is mounting evidence to suggest that a large part of this population stayed in Egypt and served their new overlords in various capacities” (emphasis added). Evidence of this can be found on finds throughout Egypt, including an “uninterrupted” production of Hyksos-style pottery in the Eastern Delta, as well as a degree of continued worship of “Canaanite cults.”

This archaeological data, then, fits more closely with the biblical account of the Israelites being overthrown by the native Egyptian pharaoh and set to work on various production and construction jobs around Egypt, probably in conditions of worsening severity. This, followed by a single Exodus event—one that does fit with archaeological evidence from a time of upheaval in Canaan, not from the mid-16th-century b.c.e. period of a “Hyksos overthrow,” but roughly 150 to 200 years later.

Particularly notable, to this point, is when the city Avaris ceased to function. Archaeologist Dr. Scott Stripling draws attention to this in Five Views on the Exodus: Historicity, Chronology, and Theological Implications: “Bietak’s stratigraphic analysis [of Tell el-Dab’a] reveals a clear abandonment in the mid-Eighteenth Dynasty, during or after the reign of Amenhotep ii … the latest identifiably pottery dates to the reign of Amenhotep ii.” Amenhotep ii reigned during the middle part of the 15th century b.c.e.—precisely the time period of the Exodus identified in conventional biblical chronology.

Let the Stones Speak

The overall picture revealed by archaeology of the period of Hyksos rule, then, fits remarkably well with the biblical account and chronology of the descent of Jacob and his family into Egypt: the “Eisodus.”

Can we pick up this population on the other side of the sojourn—after the Exodus? We certainly can. But that we’ll save for next time.