After reading Jan Assmann’s Moses the Egyptian I’d like to set out here the various alternative versions of the story of Moses and the Exodus as written by ancient Greek and Egyptian historians. (These will be known to many readers but I want to have them all set out together and perhaps discuss their significance in relation to “what really happened” afterwards.)
Here is the apparently earliest non-Jewish record, written by the Greek Hecataeus of Abdera in the fourth and third centuries B.C.E. after he settled in Egypt. It comes to us via another Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus [= of Sicily] of the first century B.C.E. I will highlight significant sections that overlap (however obliquely) with the biblical narrative.
 Since we are about to give an account of the war against the Jews, we consider it appropriate, before we proceed further, in the first place to relate the origin of this nation, and their customs.
In ancient times a great plague occurred in Egypt, and many ascribed the cause of it to the gods, who were offended with them.
For since the multitudes of strangers of different nationalities, who lived there, made use of their foreign rites in religious ceremonies and sacrifices, the ancient manner of worshipping the gods, practised by the ancestors of the Egyptians, had been quite lost and forgotten.
2 Therefore the native inhabitants concluded that, unless all the foreigners were driven out, they would never be free from their miseries.
All the foreigners were forthwith expelled, and the most valiant and noble among them, under some notable leaders, were brought to Greece and other places, as some relate; the most famous of their leaders were Danaus and Cadmus. But the majority of the people descended into a country not far from Egypt, which is now called Judaea and at that time was altogether uninhabited.
3 The leader of this colony was one Moses, a very wise and valiant man, who, after he had possessed himself of the country, amongst other cities, built that now most famous city, Jerusalem, and the temple there, which is so greatly revered among them.
He instituted the holy rites and ceremonies with which they worship God; and made laws for the methodical government of the state. He also divided the people into twelve tribes, which he regarded as the most perfect number; because it corresponds to the twelve months within a whole year.
4 He made no representation or image of gods, because he considered that nothing of a human shape was applicable to God; but that heaven, which surrounds the earth, was the only God, and that all things were in its power.
But he so arranged the rites and ceremonies of the sacrifices, and the manner and nature of their customs, as that they should be wholly different from all other nations; for, as a result of the expulsion of his people, he introduced a most inhuman and unsociable manner of life.
He also picked out the most accomplished men, who were best fitted to rule and govern the whole nation, and he appointed them to be priests, whose duty was continually to attend in the temple, and employ themselves in the public worship and service of God.
5 He also made them judges, for the decision of the most serious cases, and committed to their care the preservation of their laws and customs. Therefore they say that the Jews have never had any king; but that the leadership of the people has always been entrusted to a priest, who excels all the rest in prudence and virtue. They call him the chief priest, and they regard him as the messenger and interpreter of the mind and commands of God.
6 And they say that he, in all their public assemblies and other meetings, discloses what has been commanded; and the Jews are so compliant in these matters, that forthwith they prostrate themselves upon the ground, and adore him as the high priest, who has interpreted to them the will of God.
At the end of the laws this is added: “This is what Moses has heard from God and proclaims to the Jews.”
This lawgiver also laid down many excellent rules and instructions for military affairs, in which he trained the youth to be brave and steadfast, and to endure all miseries and hardships.
7 Moreover, he undertook many wars against the neighbouring nations, and gained much territory by force of arms, which he gave as allotments to his countrymen, in such a way as that everyone shared alike, except the priests, who had a larger portion than the rest; so that, because they had a larger income, they might continually attend upon the public worship of God without interruption. Neither was it lawful for any man to sell his allotment, lest, by the greed of those that bought the allotments, the others might be made poor and oppressed, and so the nation might suffer a shortage of manpower.
8 He also ordered the inhabitants to be careful in rearing their children, who are brought up with very little expense; and by that means the Jewish nation has always been very populous. As to their marriages and funerals, he instituted customs far different from all other people.
But under the empires which rose up in later ages, especially during the rule of the Persians, and in the time of the Macedonians, who overthrew the Persians, through intermingling with foreign nations, many of the traditional customs among the Jews were altered . . .
This is what Hecataeus of Abdera has related about the Jews.
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