Egyptian Influence in Israel?

John Dehlin’s “truth claims” essay “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” on the Mormon Stories website makes the following claim:

“The known hostility of Egyptians toward every other nation, particularly the Hebrews, renders it improbable that the Egyptians had sufficient interaction with the Jews so as to have them adopt their language and literature in 600 BC.”

This criticism has been repeated before by predominantly sectarian critics of Mormonism.1 It is, however, demonstrably false.

Egyptologists and biblical scholars have for nearly a century recognized that the close geographical proximity of Egypt and Israel/Canaan facilitated abundant cross-cultural exchange (including language and literature). In the words of one scholar, there was “close and intense relations between Egypt and Palestine through the millennia.”2 While the exact nature and extent of the Egypto-Levantine exchange remains debated, no serious scholar denies that such exchange did in fact occur:

  • Kenneth A. Kitchen, “Some Egyptian Background to the Old Testament,” Tyndale Bulletin 5-6 (April, 1960) 4-18.
  • Ronald J. Williams, “Some Egyptianisms in the Old Testament,” in Studies in Honor of John A. Wilson, ed. E. B. Hauser, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 35 (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1969), 93–98.
  • Ronald J. Williams, “‘A People Come Out of Egypt’: An Egyptologist looks at the Old Testament,” in Congress Volume Edinburgh 1974 (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 231–252.
  • Boyo Ockinga, Die Gottebenbildlichkeit im alten Ägypten und im Alten Testament, Ägypten und Altes Testament 7 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1984).
  • Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 1992).
  • James E. Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 1994).
  • John D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1997).
  • Bernd Ulrich Schipper, Israel und Ägypten in der Königszeit: Die kulturellen Kontakte von Salomo bis zum Fall Jerusalems (Freiburg: Universitätsverlag Freiburg, 1999).
  • Gary N. Knoppers and Antoine Hirsch, eds., Egypt, Israel, and the Ancient Mediterranean World: Studies in Honor of Donald B. Redford (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
  • S. Bar, D. Kahn, and JJ Shirley, eds., Egypt, Canaan and Israel: History, Imperialism, Ideology and Literature (Leiden: Brill, 2011).
  • James K. Hoffmeier, “Egyptian Religious Influences on the Early Hebrews,” in “Did I Not Bring Israel Out of Egypt?” Biblical, Archaeological, and Egyptological Perspectives on the Exodus Narratives, ed. James K. Hoffmeier, Alan R. Millard, and Gary A. Rendsburg (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2016), 3–35.
  • Izak Cornelius, “From Bes to Baal”: Religious Interconnections Between Egypt and the East, in Pharaoh’s Land and Beyond: Ancient Egypt and Its Neighbors, ed. Pearce Paul Creasman and Richard H. Wilkinson (New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, 2017), 209–217.

In particular, it is clear that Egyptian wisdom literature influenced Israelite compositions:

  • Adolf Erman, “Eine ägyptische Quelle der »Sprüche Salomos«,” Sitzungsberichte der preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 15 (1924): 86–93.
  • D. C. Simpson, “The Hebrew Book of Proverbs and the Teachings of Amenophis,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 12, no. 3/4 (Oct. 1926): 232–239.
  • Glendon E. Bryce, A Legacy of Wisdom: The Egyptian Contribution to the Wisdom of Israel (Lewisburg: Bucknell University, 1979).
  • James K. Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2 and Egyptian Cosmology,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 15 (1983): 39–49.
  • James E. Atwell, “An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1,” The Journal of Theological Studies 51, no. 2 (2000): 441–477.
  • Bernd U. Schipper, “Egyptian Background to the Psalms,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Psalms, ed. William P. Brown (New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, 2014), 57–75.
  • Nili Shupak, “The Contribution of Egyptian Wisdom Literature,” in Was There a Wisdom Tradition? New Prospects in Israelite Wisdom Studies, ed. Mark R. Sneed (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2015), 265–304.
  • Nili Shupak, “No Man Is Born Wise”: Ancient Egyptian Wisdom Literature and its Contact with Biblical Literature (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2016). [Hebrew]
  • Noga Ayali-Darshan, “Egyptian and Levantine Belles-Lettres–––Links and Influences during the Bronze Age,” in Pharaoh’s Land and Beyond: Ancient Egypt and Its Neighbors, ed. Pearce Paul Creasman and Richard H. Wilkinson (New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, 2017), 195–205.

As one scholar concluded, “There is no reason to doubt that there could have been [Egyptian] literary influence on Hebrew cosmology as there was in other areas of Hebrew literature.”3

What’s more, it has been recognized for some time that a scribal tradition of using the Egyptian script known as hieratic developed in ancient Israel before and during the time of Lehi and Nephi:

  • Orly Goldwasser, “An Egyptian Scribe from Lachish and the Hieratic Tradition of the Hebrew Kingdoms,” Tel Aviv 18 (1991): 248–253.
  • Stefan Wimmer, Palästiniches Hieratisch: Die Zahl- und Sonderzeichen in der althebräishen Schrift (Wiesbaden: Harraossowitz, 2008).
  • David Calabro, “The Hieratic Scribal Tradition in Preexilic Judah,” in Evolving Egypt: Innovation, Appropriation, and Reinterpretation in Ancient Egypt, BAR International Series 2397, ed. Kerry Muhlestein and John Gee (Oxford, Eng.: Archaeopress, 2012), 77–85.

Of course, Latter-day Saint authors have drawn attention to this data and have discussed its relevance for the Book of Mormon:

But one need to not turn to academic esoterica to see Dehlin’s claim is on its face absurd. One need only read the Bible to discover that Judah and Egypt were diplomatic allies during Lehi’s lifetime.

The only feasible conclusion is that John Dehlin (or the anonymous author of this essay) is either ignorant of this evidence or is deliberately deceiving his readers.

Endnotes

  1. See for instance Martin Thomas Lamb, Book of Mormon: Is it from God? (Salt Lake City, UT: The Salt Lake Herald, 1885), 70; Charles J. Sundberg, The Mysterious Book of Mormon: Does it Appear Truthful? (Sandy, UT: n.p., 1917), 5; Janis Hutchinson, The Mormon Missionaries: An Inside Look at Their Real Message and Methods (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1995), 148.
  2. John Strange, “Some Notes on Biblical and Egyptian Theology,” in Egypt, Israel, and the Ancient Mediterranean World: Studies in Honor of Donald B. Redford, ed. Gary N. Knoppers and Antoine Hirsch (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 347.
  3. Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2 and Egyptian Cosmology,” 48.