Moses and the Exodus according to . . . . the Egyptian Chaeremon

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by Neil Godfrey

Chaeremon was an Egyptian priest who lived in Alexandria in the first half of the first century and who subsequently moved to Rome where he became the tutor to Nero. Josephus tells us of his version of the Exodus.

Chaeremon is the first to introduce distinctly biblical motifs into the story. The names of the 250,000 lepers being expelled are Moses and Joseph. In Pelusium they encounter 380,000 would-be emigrants who had been refused permission to emigrate with them. These two groups in fact combined forces and conquered Egypt. Later Ramses was able to drive them out of Egypt, pushing them back to Syria.

I omit Josephus’s criticisms of his account.

32. And now . . . I will inquire into what Cheremon says. For he also, when he pretended to write the Egyptian history, sets down the same name for this king that Manetho did, Amenophis, as also of his son Ramesses, and then goes on thus:

“The goddess Isis appeared to Amenophis in his sleep, and blamed him that her temple had been demolished in the war.

But that Phritiphantes [or Phritibantes, = “the scribe of the temple”], the sacred scribe, said to him, that in case he would purge Egypt of the men that had pollutions upon them, he should be no longer troubled with such frightful apparitions.

That Amenophis accordingly chose out two hundred and fifty thousand of those that were thus diseased, and cast them out of the country:

that Moses and Joseph were scribes, and Joseph was a sacred scribe; that their names were Egyptian originally; that of Moses had been Tisithen, and that of Joseph, Peteseph:

that these two came to Pelusium, and lighted upon three hundred and eighty thousand that had been left there by Amenophis, he not being willing to carry them into Egypt;

that these scribes made a league of friendship with them, and made with them an expedition against Egypt:

that Amenophis could not sustain their attacks, but fled into Ethiopia, and left his wife with child behind him, who lay concealed in certain caverns, and there brought forth a son, whose name was Messene,

and who, when he was grown up to man’s estate, pursued the Jews into Syria, being about two hundred thousand,

and then received his father Amenophis out of Ethiopia.”

33. This is the account Cheremon gives us.


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7 thoughts on “Moses and the Exodus according to . . . . the Egyptian Chaeremon”

  1. This post seems unfinished . . .

    Josephus only turns to Chaeremon after completing his discussion of Manetho, which I view as spurious. Josephus’ version of Manetho’s work appears to have been tampered with by at least a Jewish apologist (if not his opponents), as certain key portions of Manetho’s work were missing from Eusebius’ version thereof. http://platosathena.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-use-of-works-of-josephus-as-evidence.html

    I don’t have a problem imagining Chaeremon said what Josephus alleges he said because Chaeremon would have come after the damage to Manetho’s work had been done, so he, too, would have been in a position to describe the Jews as lepers outcast by Egypt. In any event, even the description of the Jewish exodus led by Moses as allegedly described by Hecataeus of Abdera paints the Jews as foreigners pushed out of Egypt by natives because the natives were concerned the foreigners brought blight the land.

  2. I will be drawing these different narratives together in a later post. Egyptologist Jan Assmann applies a social memory model to make sense of them all. We will see he is drawing upon what must have been certain traumatic memories from real past events — in particular the radical attempts at religious-cultural reform by Akhenaton that were followed by a major plague, and not forgetting the earlier period of Hyksos rule.

    I found it to be an interesting application of social memory theory and have Chris Keith to thank for alerting me to Assmann’s work in his inaugural lecture. Needless to say it’s quite a different kind of application of the theory from what I read in Keith’s or LeDonne’s work on Jesus. Some readers may be interested in comparing the two methods. More later — after I list the other Exodus accounts.

    1. I am familiar with Assmann’s work. That’s what led me to the works of Josephus and Manetho. The problem is that Assmann, like most other historians I’ve encountered, fails to recognize that the discussion of Jews and the exodus that Josephus attributes to Manetho appears to have been an interpolation, most likely by a Jewish apologist. The discussion about the “Hyksos” (actually, the term is Hykessos) is particularly troubling as I can’t imagine an Egyptian priest documenting a dark period of history where Egypt was ruled by Foreign Kings (Hykessos) confusing himself and mistranslating the term to be Shepherd Kings (Hyksos) then digressing to explain his confusion with great certainty. It’s utter nonsense on its face.

      One thing we know about the Hykessos is that they worshipped a god with the head of an ass, which may explain the Ass Libel. The Hyksos/Hykessos were not the Jews.

      1. I usually heartily agree with your comments, and thank you for them. But there are problems here.

        1) Priests might admit a past failure – to magnify its reversal.

        2) Then too, anyone might commit a minor linguistic confusion like that; in ancient times millions did. If it is even a confusion. The difference in spelling you note would be considered insignificant by a modern linguist.

        Careful when speculating about what ancients might do. Especially about expecting great exactness in their discriminations. We are looking at a pre scientific age, don’t forget.

        1. Bee,

          You must not have followed the link in my initial comment, but here is a key excerpt from it:

          From Berossos and Manetho, Introduced and Translated: Native Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt by Gerald P. Verbrugghe and John Moore Wickersham, p. 115-118:

          Manetho’s History of Egypt is a lost work, in that it has not been preserved through its own tradition of copying and recopying in manuscript. Instead we have the references to Manetho and citations from Manetho made by other writers in their own works, which have indeed been transmitted through a manuscript tradition (see chap. 9, table D.) These are the texts presented in translation here (in chaps. 6 and 7), and we are totally dependent on these for our knowledge of Manetho and his writings.

          . . .

          The excerpts from Josephus’s counterpolemic contra Apionem (Against Apion) found in F9-F12 are not in fact a genuine quotation from Manetho’s whole work but citations from a set of altered and distorted excerpts. We cannot give a thorough discussion here, but the reader can easily see problems in Josephus’s text: the foundation of Avaris is described twice (F9 §§78, 86-87); Osarsephos is introduced twice (FI2 §§238, 250); the citation at the beginning of F10 gives a mere list of seventeen rulers and their lengths of reign, with no narrative for any—only with the eighteenth does narrative begin; furthermore, this same ruler-list gives no indication of which dynasty is meant, and it actually runs two of Manetho’s dynasties (Dynasties XVIII and XIX) together without a break. Certainly this is not genuine Manetho. It is truly unfortunate that this sort of material bulks so large in the supposed quotations from Manetho. It is also unfortunate that Josephus, who furnishes these texts, is the earliest to cite from “Manetho.”

          As I also noted in my post, Eusebius claimed to have quoted directly from Manetho’s Aegyptica except when it came to “Manetho’s” identification of the Jews with the “Hyksos” stories, which he explicitly cited as “Josephus [quoting] from the book of Manetho.” In other words, Eusebius’ version of Manetho’s work did not make a connection between the “Hyksos” and the Jews, and even he took pains to identify Josephus as the direct source of that information, not Manetho.

          Finally, the difference between Hyksos and Hykessos could not have been the result of “minor linguistic confusion.” In both cases, “Hyk” means king(s), but -sos means “shepherd” and -essos means “foreign,” two concepts that cannot be confused. And it is not like “Manetho” just mistakenly used the word “Hyksos” instead of “Hykessos,” or just misspelled “Hykessos, according to Joesphus “Manetho” explained at length what the term Hyksos meant:

          “‘This whole nation was styled Hyksos, that is, ‘shepherd-kings’: for the first syllable hyk, according to the sacred dialect, denotes ‘a king’, and sos is ‘a shepherd’, according to the ordinary dialect; and of these is compounded Hyksos: but some say that these people were Arabians.'”

          Josephus continues immediately by admitting apparent tampering with Manetho’s text: “Now in another copy it is said that this word does not denote ‘kings’, but, on the contrary, denotes that the shepherds were ‘captives’. For hyk, as well as hak with an aspirate, in the Egyptian language expressly denotes ‘captives’; and this to me seems the more probable opinion, and more in accordance with ancient history.”

          So, in this alternate version of Manetho’s text, did “Manetho” say: “This whole nation was styled Haksos, that is, ‘captive-kings’: for the first syllable hak, according to the sacred dialect, denotes ‘a captive’, and sos is ‘a shepherd’, according to the ordinary dialect; and of these is compounded Haksos: but some say that these people were Arabians.” Probably not. In any event, the Hykessos were real people who ruled over Egypt from Avaris and whose names are included in Manetho’s kings list.

          1. But by all accounts we do not have an independent Manetho text, even outside Josephus. Then too, “captive” kings and shepherds, matches sometimes subject, Jewish tributory kings, and the Jewish pastoral shepherds.

            Then too, “worship” of donkeys might reflect the respect of an early agricultural culture, for the revolutionary new beasts of labor. Possibly therefore this was a view of early Jewish culture.

            Finally, endings with lots of different “s’s” in them are common, though they are still the same word.

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