This article was originally published March 26, 2012
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- Were Hebrews Ever Slaves in Ancient Egypt? Yes
- And It Came to Pass: What Is Passover?
Here's a question for you: what do actor Charlton Heston, DreamWorks animation studios and Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin all have in common? Well, they've all, at one time or another, perpetuated the myth that the Jews built the pyramids. And it is a myth, make no mistake. Even if we take the earliest possible date for Jewish slavery that the Bible suggests, the Jews were enslaved in Egypt a good three hundred years after the 1750 B.C. completion date of the pyramids. That is, of course, if they were ever slaves in Egypt at all.
We are so quick to point out the obvious lies about Jews and Israel that come out in Egypt – the Sinai Governors claims that the Mossad released a shark into the Red Sea to kill Egyptians, or, as I once read in a newspaper whilst on holiday in Cairo, the tale of the magnetic belt buckles that Jews were selling cheap in Egypt that would sterilize men on contact – yet we so rarely examine our own misconceptions about the nature of our history with the Egyptian nation.
We tend, in the midst of our disdain for Egyptian, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, to overlook the fact that one of the biggest events of the Jewish calendar is predicated upon reminding the next generation every year of how the Egyptians were our cruel slave-masters, in a bondage that likely never happened. Is this really so different from Jaws the Mossad agent?
The reality is that there is no evidence whatsoever that the Jews were ever enslaved in Egypt. Yes, there's the story contained within the bible itself, but that's not a remotely historically admissible source. I'm talking about real proof; archeological evidence, state records and primary sources. Of these, nothing exists.
It is hard to believe that 600,000 families (which would mean about two million people) crossed the entire Sinai without leaving one shard of pottery (the archeologist's best friend) with Hebrew writing on it. It is remarkable that Egyptian records make no mention of the sudden migration of what would have been nearly a quarter of their population, nor has any evidence been found for any of the expected effects of such an exodus; such as economic downturn or labor shortages. Furthermore, there is no evidence in Israel that shows a sudden influx of people from another culture at that time. No rapid departure from traditional pottery has been seen, no record or story of a surge in population.
In fact, there's absolutely no more evidence to suggest that the story is true than there is in support of any of the Arab world's conspiracy theories and tall tales about Jews.
So, as we come to Passover 2012 when, thanks to the “Arab Spring,” our relations with Egypt are at a nearly 40 year low, let us enjoy our Seder and read the story by all means, but also remind those at the table who may forget that it is just a metaphor, and that there is no ancient animosity between Israelites and Egyptians. Because, if we want to re-establish that elusive peace with Egypt that so many worked so hard to build, we're all going to have to let go of our prejudices.
Josh Mintz is completing his degree in International Relations and Middle Eastern studies and is the communications director at Friend a Soldier, an NGO that encourages dialogue with IDF soldiers.