CAIRO - An Egyptian lawyer said on Wednesday he was planning to sue the world's Jews for "plundering" gold during the Exodus from Pharaonic Egypt thousands of years ago, based on information in the Bible.
Nabil Hilmi, Dean of the Faculty of Law at Egypt's al-Zaqaziq University, said the legal basis for the case was under study by a group of lawyers in Egypt and Europe.
"This is serious, and should not be misread as being political against any race. We are just investigating if a debt is owed," Hilmi told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The relevant passage from the Bible, Exodus 12 verses 35 to 36 reads: "The Israelites had done as Moses told them; they had asked the Egyptians for jewelry of silver and gold, and for clothing...And so they plundered the Egyptians." This translation is in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
Some Jewish commentators say that while the Biblical passage may be fact, the Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians and therefore had a right to claim compensation for wages.
"Hilmi's assertion that the Hebrew Bible is fact has given Israel and Jews the world over a reason to rejoice. He has opened the door for all Jews to sue Egypt for over 400 years of slavery," writer Beth Goodman told Reuters.
Tareq Zaghoul, a lawyer at the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights in Cairo, said it would be difficult to prove historical fact in the passage that would stand up in court.
"This needs historical documents and evidence to back it up. It is rather far-fetched," he said.
Hilmi said Egyptian and European historical and religious experts were trying to establish if the biblical passage could be taken as fact, and hence form the basis for a lawsuit.
He said the argument that Jews could sue Egypt for enslaving them was also being studied by experts.
Hilmi gave no details of which court he planned to file the case in or whether he thought such a case would be exempt from the sort of statute of limitations that in many countries rules out legal cases after a certain period of time.
He also declined to put a value on the goods "plundered."