“What I Will Do to Pharaoh”

The Plagues Viewed as a Divine Confrontation with Pharaoh

Kerry Muhlestein

If the Creation narrative is the most read biblical narrative, one can argue that the Exodus narrative, with its place in popular culture, is the most well-known Old Testament narrative. Certainly, within the Old Testament itself, this account is alluded to repeatedly throughout the biblical literature and is central to the heilsgeschichte (literally “salvation history”), or God’s redemptive plan for the Israelites, which runs throughout the Old Testament. In this chapter, Kerry Muhlestein approaches this narrative from the perspective of a conflict concerning kingship—pharaonic kingship versus the divine kingship of Jehovah—noting the relationships between the titles of warrior, creator, and redeemer that God holds. —DB and AS

The story of the Exodus is one of the centerpieces of the Hebrew Bible. Accordingly, this narrative has been the subject of a great deal of commentary and study. Because we can always learn more of what the biblical text is trying to teach us when we better understand its original context and because the plagues narrative is set in Egypt, it behooves us to see what we can learn from this storyline in light of its Egyptian setting.[1] There are a number of complex factors that must be taken into account in order to compare the Plagues narrative with Egyptian cultural ideas. Not everyone will be interested in a discussion of those factors. For the reader who is not interested in discussions regarding how and when the narrative came together, or the era of Egyptian kingship that may be challenged by the plagues, it may be profitable to skip to the section entitled “Plagues, Gods, and Kings.” I hope, however, that the historical circumstances of the story will enhance our study of the theological implications presented in the narrative.

The Plagues Narrative

The plagues portion of the Exodus story has been the recipient of a variety of approaches. It cannot be considered without bearing in mind the various approaches taken to the Exodus narrative as a whole. Source critics have generally thought a number of sources have contributed to this narrative,[2] with P (the “Priestly” source) being especially prevalent.[3] Others have disagreed with this idea for a number of reasons.[4] The dizzying array of ideas put forth by scholars as to the origin of the narrative, coupled with its complexity and unity of theme and style, have led scholars like Thomas Thompson to say that the plagues pericope is a “complex-chain narrative”[5] and James K. Hoffmeier to write that if the literary unity of the narrative is the process of a redactor, “it might be asked if it is possible any longer to isolate the threads that have been so thoroughly reworked.”[6] While there are certainly various sources and redactions behind the Bible as we now have it, at least in this case it seems completely impractical and impossible to attempt to identify them with even a modicum of confidence. Accordingly, this study will examine the plagues narrative as a whole.[7]

Approaches to examining the plagues narrative as a whole have differed markedly. Many have endeavored to explain the plagues as natural disasters, not atypical of other events in the ancient Near East.[8] Others have felt that they are wholly literary creations, merely conveying theological or ideological reasons.[9] Some have approached it from the point of view of looking for parallels between Egyptian literature and the biblical narrative.[10] One approach has been to examine the plagues narrative in the light cast by its Egyptian setting. Many have taken the phrase “I will bring judgment against all the gods of Egypt, I am Jehovah” (Exodus 12:12; author’s translation) to mean that each plague was purposefully aimed at showing Jehovah’s power over a specific deity of Egypt.[11] These attempts have been executed with varying degrees of success but, as Hoffmeier has noted, may be missing the true confrontation being played out in the narrative.[12] In his Anchor Bible Dictionary entry on the subject, Hoffmeier called for further examination of the plagues as they affected the office of pharaoh.[13] Hoffmeier partially met this challenge himself in a small section of his 1996 monograph, but it was not the intent of his book to answer it fully.[14] This article will be an attempt to go a step further in answering that call.

Examining the plagues narrative in the light of Egyptian kingship begs two crucial questions: When was the narrative composed, and at the time of its composition was there substantial enough contact between Egypt and the Israelite kingdoms for an Israelite writer to know anything of Egyptian kingship? The current study will partially answer the latter question, and thus it will be left until the conclusion for consideration. The former question is deserving of greater space than can be allowed here, but it must be addressed sufficiently for us to know where in Egyptian history we should extract the model of kingship that the plagues narrative is challenging.

Despite the fact that there are probably various redactional stages, here we are looking for the period in which the text as we now have it came together in something close to the form we now have it. While it is quite impossible to set an exact date for the composition of the plagues narrative, we can set some limits to it. The purported setting for the narrative seems to be during the late Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Dynasty (roughly the thirteenth century). This, then, confines the very earliest possible date for our text. Opinions about the latest possible date for the initial construction of the text vary widely, and any attempt at setting such a date is sure to draw criticism from one ideological camp or another.[15] However, we do have some clues that can be used to come to a reasonable conclusion. The initial weaving together of different threads into the narrative we now have likely occurred in the first half of the first millennium (Iron Age), during the Twenty-fifth or Twenty-sixth Dynasties, and toward the end of Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period.[16] One important piece of evidence is the composition commonly known as the Song of the Sea, the great piece of poetry recorded in Exodus 15. This is generally viewed as one of the earliest compositions in the Hebrew Bible and purports to be the actual song sung at the time of the event.[17] Yet the prose of the narrative seems to be in later Hebrew than the Song of the Sea, somewhat similar to how the prose introduction to a Shakespeare play will be written in a later English than will the play itself. This later (though still classical) Hebrew introduction suggests that the narrative we now have was composed sometime after the events it described. Additionally, eighth-century prophets Amos and Hosea place enough emphasis on the Exodus motif to demonstrate that it must have been an important and entrenched story by their time.[18] Thus, we can conclude that at least the substantial storyline of the Exodus was in existence by the eighth century. It therefore seems likely that the story came to life in the form in which we now know it sometime between the Nineteenth and Twenty-sixth Dynasties or, in other words, sometime during the decline of the New Kingdom and the Third Intermediate Period.[19]

Timing and the Concept of Kingship in Ancient Egypt

At the outset, then, it would seem that we have two periods to examine: one, the purported setting of the story and two, the time of the composition. However, a closer analysis will help to narrow our investigation. In the late Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties, as well as in the Third Intermediate Period, the concept of kingship that Egypt’s kings were trying to resuscitate was the concept that had existed under the great pharaohs of the New Kingdom. These later kings were very aware of their predecessors and the glorious kingship that they had wielded. While there were some practical differences in their political potency,[20] many of these later pharaohs went so far as to write of their success in returning to a “traditional” kingship[21] or to intentionally mimic accounts of earlier kings as they made their own.[22] There can be little doubt that whatever their royal power was in reality, the image these kings desired to portray to subjects and foreigners was that of the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Dynasties; thus, it is that period to which we should look to find the concept of kingship that the plagues narrative is challenging.

The idea of kingship in Egypt is complex, and different genres of the ancient texts will paint a different picture of the institution.[23] An investigation of the history of Egyptian kingship is well outside of the scope of this paper. However, because many of the sources I will cite were written a thousand years before the purported setting of the text we are studying here, with an even greater gap until the core of the written form we now have took shape, a comment on the sources’ relevance is requisite. While many of the details of kingship would surely have changed between the times of the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom,[24] or the Third Intermediate Period, the concept of kingship really changed very little over the three thousand years of Egyptian history.[25] In fact, kingship in the Eighteenth Dynasty was intentionally modeled on the Twelfth Dynasty,[26] which in turn was an attempt to restore the kingship of the Old Kingdom. As was mentioned above, the kingship of the Third Intermediate Period was modeled after the New Kingdom.

This continual return to the kingship of the past creates a type of spiraling unity in the ideology of Egyptian kingship. While some of the details of the Pyramid Texts[27] may have been mostly lost by the New Kingdom, the interrelationship of the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts,[28] combined with the clear continuity between the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead,[29] coupled with the interdependence of many temple liturgies of the New Kingdom and later periods with the Pyramid Texts,[30] suggests that a general knowledge of this earlier corpus was had at least among the elite. In this study, when the Pyramid Texts are cited in connection with so minute a detail that it may not have formed part of the New Kingdom milieu, it will be observed in the notes. Still, as Rendsburg has demonstrated, “An educated Israelite and his well-informed Israelite audience would have been familiar with the Egyptian cultural context which motivated a good portion of the dramatic narrative of Exodus 1–15.”[31] On the whole we may safely assume that the concepts of kingship being addressed in this paper were predominantly constant throughout the history of ancient Egypt.[32]

Plagues, Gods, and Kings

Drawing a distinction between a confrontation with Egyptian deities and Egypt’s king is somewhat an artificially created modern division. In the cultural mindset of ancient Egypt, such a division would not have been conceived. Indeed, the similarities between the king and the gods “point toward a comprehensive and fundamental kinship that links the king with all deities.”[33] According to many ancient sources, the Egyptians viewed Re[34] or Osiris[35] as the first king of Egypt. The current king was seen as the successor of both. Additionally, the current king was the successor to the creator god in whatever form the creator god was manifest.[36] In a Western impossibility, the king was both Re and Re’s son and successor from the Fourth Dynasty onward.[37] To add to the conundrum, the king was also Horus, Orsiris’s son.[38] In fact, the Pyramid Texts associate the king with Atum,[39] an unspecified creator,[40] Osiris,[41] and Horus,[42] to name a few of the more important deities.[43] The texts also ascribe to the king a divinity of his own. It is impossible to entirely separate Pharaoh from the pantheon of which he was an integral part and for which he served as the earthly representative.

There is another aspect that must be considered as we think of the contest between God and Pharaoh. In Exodus 4:16 and 7:1, God tells Moses that when he appears before Pharaoh, Moses will be as a God and Aaron will serve as his prophet, thus mimicking the relationship that Moses and Jehovah shared. Because Pharaoh was viewed as divine (or semidivine), any normal meeting between Moses and Pharaoh would have been between unequals. By designating Moses as being similar to a god with an attendant prophet, Jehovah made it so that Moses and Pharaoh were equal.[44] This innately lifted Jehovah above Pharaoh, because Jehovah was still greater than Moses, who was now Pharaoh’s equal. Thus, even in the way Jehovah labeled his representatives, he was challenging Pharaoh.

It was appropriate that Moses dealt with the king, for the king was the mediator between the gods and humans, and the only way in which the gods could be approached.[45] Thus, Moses, the intermediary of Jehovah, dealt with Pharaoh, the intermediary of the Egyptian gods. However, it must be remembered that Pharaoh was divine himself; he simultaneously was Re, Atum, Osiris, Horus,[46] and their representative on earth, while Moses was just a man. Thus, the confrontation takes the form of a contest between Jehovah and Pharaoh.

This semidivinity is what made it so important for God to set up a contest with Pharaoh. The Israelites had been influenced by Egyptian idolatry and were struggling with idolatrous practices. By setting up such a contest, Jehovah would make it clear to the Israelites that he alone was divine; not Pharaoh, not the gods Pharaoh was one of or interacted with, but only Jehovah. This was part of the purpose of the contest. It would also be important that other nations recognize the power of Jehovah. In fact, as the Israelites exited Egypt and came into the promised land, the fame of God’s contest with Egypt’s king had reached those lands and made them less willing to attack the Israelites (Joshua 2:10). Further, it should help convince readers for time immemorial of the true nature and sovereignty of Jehovah. In our day we do not often think of the sovereignty of our God, but it seems he intends for us to recognize it.

There is textual evidence for the idea of the plagues being a contest between God and Pharaoh. As mentioned above, Jehovah says that he will mete out punishments on the gods of Egypt, but as the confrontation begins, he instructs Moses to see “that which I will do to Pharaoh” (Exodus 6:1), and at the end Jehovah affirms he will “get glory through Pharaoh” (Exodus 14:4). In Exodus 9:16 Jehovah informs Pharaoh that Jehovah has raised him up specifically for the cause of showing his power via the monarch. The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15) is specific in stating that it is Pharaoh that Jehovah has triumphed over.[47]

Furthermore, some have seen the juxtaposed use by Jehovah and Pharaoh of “Thus says” phrases as an intentional comparison and contest between the two beings, demonstrating which of the two could actually bring about that which he said.[48] Hoffmeier has shown that the Exodus narrative’s expressions concerning the arm of Jehovah are “Hebrew derivations or counterparts to Egyptian expressions that symbolized Egyptian royal power.”[49] The language that creates these images of Jehovah’s arm seems to be employed specifically to invoke the image of Pharaoh’s might and Jehovah’s ability to overcome that might. Additionally, the Hebrew Bible paints the picture of Jehovah as the true king of Israel.[50] It is fitting that when the king of Israel does battle with Egypt, it would be with its king. Since the battle took place on earth, it should be viewed as taking place with the Egyptian gods’ representative on earth, the king. Thus, the proper lens through which we should view the conflict acted out in the plagues pericope is that of Jehovah’s triumph over Pharaoh.

To properly appropriate this lens, we will first briefly look at each individual plague and its relationship with Egyptian kingship, and then we will examine the concept of plagues as a whole and their effect on royal efficacy and theology.

The Plagues

While the turning of Moses’s rod into a snake[51] is not traditionally considered a plague, some have viewed it in this light,[52] and it is certainly the beginning of the contest between Jehovah and Pharaoh. We will briefly examine this contest because the snake was so much a symbol of Pharaoh and his power. The Pyramid Texts describe the king as being a snake.[53] Other Egyptian literature informs us that Horus would trample snakes to protect the king[54] and that Re would drive them away for the same purpose.[55] Moreover, the king wore the Uraeus, a snake-shaped crownlet, which was charged with power and “spat fire at the king’s enemies,” embodying “protective power and aggressive intent towards the forces of disorder.”[56] The Uraeus was the embodiment of the cobra goddess who was to protect the king and imbue him with divine power.[57] This aspect was so intertwined with kingship that it was a part of the king’s titulary, manifest in the “Two Ladies” name of the king. The Cobra Goddess was the second of the two goddesses that gave rise to the “Two Ladies” name that every king received. Further, staffs that appear to be snakes are ubiquitous in Egyptian art, including many that depict the king herding calves with a snake staff.[58] Rendsburg has pointed out that when Moses or Aaron picked the snake up by the tail, which is not how snakes are typically handled, it imitated many depictions of Horus (who was strongly associated with the king) holding a snake by the tail. Depictions of the king herding calves typically show the king holding his snake staff by the tail.[59] As we will see below, there is more to this contest than is immediately apparent, but what is clear at the outset is that the king is closely associated with snakes.

The next challenge came when Moses and Aaron turned the Nile and all of Egypt’s water to blood, making it unfit for drinking. In a way, Jehovah had usurped the king’s abilities since the king is listed as the one who brings about “reddening.”[60] This challenge to Pharaoh is more properly understood when we know a little more of Pharaoh’s identity with the Nile. The Pyramid Texts assert that the king becomes the god Sobek, and in this form cares for Egypt’s water.[61] Elsewhere we are informed that the king is “in charge of the Nile.”[62] Thuthmosis III is described as having the Nile in his service, by which he gives life to Egypt.[63] One pharaoh was told that “the water in the river is drunk when you wish.”[64] From the earliest times the king was seen as having the ability to dominate and further the processes of nature, especially those concerned with the Nile.[65] The Admonitions of Ipuwer tell us that when there is a weak king, or no king, the “river is blood, as one drinks of it one shrinks from people and thirsts for water.”[66] In contaminating the Nile, Jehovah had shown his superiority in an area that was an integral part of the king’s powers.

The next three plagues are problematic to the current approach, or to any approach that tries to tie them in with the king or deity. There simply are not substantial references to anything having to do with these plagues in Egyptian literature. Some attempts have been made to tie the god Khnum in with the plague of frogs since he is associated with reptiles, among other living things.[67] This does have some bearing because Khnum is one of the creator gods, and, as discussed above, the king is associated with all creator gods. The argument becomes a little more appropriate when coupled with the idea that Khnum’s consort is Heket, a frog-headed goddess whose job, among other things, was to control the multiplication of frogs by protecting frog-eating crocodiles.[68] Overpowering the domain of the creator’s consort can be seen as an indirect challenge of the king.[69] However, the nature of this challenge to the king is probably better seen in light of the overall challenge to ma’at that will be presented below.[70]

Understanding the two plagues following the plague of frogs is even more difficult because of the question of translating the words used to designate the creatures of which these plagues consist. These terms have been taken to mean gnats, flies, lice, mosquitos, dog flies, maggots, and beetles.[71] The only one of these translations that could be connected with the king, that of “beetle,” is a dubious translation.[72] It would be convenient for those who desire to see a direct challenge to Egypt’s gods or king in the plagues if these two plagues could be dismissed. However, they are among the shorter lists of plagues provided in Psalms 78 and 105, lending even more weight to their traditional place among the plagues. This forces the author to admit a weakness in the current approach. However, the challenge that these plagues present will be incorporated into this study in a later section. Indeed, little can be said about these plagues except to refer the reader to the section below about the king and the maintenance of order.

The plague on domesticated animals resumes the direct connections that can be made with the king. It assails two of the oldest and most basic ideas behind Egyptian kingship, that of Pharaoh’s role as shepherd and his identity as a bull.[73] There is a tremendous amount of evidence supporting the idea of Pharaoh as a shepherd or herder, including iconography spanning from Early Dynastic to New Kingdom times, etymological ties, passages from wisdom texts, and Egyptological opinions.[74] The king is often depicted as a herder, especially in an important ritual having to do with driving calves.[75] Among the strong animal husbandry connections[76] are the two most prevalent trappings of kingship, the crook and flail; both stem from the image of the king as a herder.[77] This tradition seems to have continued throughout the institution of Egyptian kingship. I add to these arguments the passage from the Book of the Dead that informs us that the creator god was a herder.[78] Though the Bible informs us that “all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians” (Genesis 46:34), it is apparent that the royal ideology included the idea of caring for the livestock of Egypt.

The king and the gods he represented were also seen to be some of the very animals that were being afflicted by Jehovah. Pharaoh was the Ram of Eternity[79] and the bull.[80] The king’s coronation involved an “inheritance of the bull,”[81] and a host of iconography associated with kingship shows the king wearing a bull’s tail. Additionally, Pharaoh’s kingship was reproclaimed at the Feast of Min, a feast associated with a bull.[82] Iconography often drew the king as a bull.[83] In the New Kingdom, kings adopted titles such as “Strong Bull.”[84] This became part of the king’s titulary as the “Horus Name” became it was listed as “Horus, Strong (or victorious) Bull.” “Indeed, the bull appears to have been the animal most closely associated with the king.”[85] The ideas of the king as both a shepherd and bull, when coupled together, present the plague upon Egyptian livestock as being fraught with implications for the potency of the king.

The plague of boils was also a direct challenge to the king’s ability to carry out his royal duties in the face of Jehovah’s intervention. Osiris, with whom the king was associated, is described as one who did not let anything putrefy or swell up.[86] We learn that “well-being” and “health” actually share the throne with the sun god,[87] who was simultaneously both the king and the king’s father. Horus, who was the king, was a doctor, as was his mother Isis.[88] Clearly the king should have been able to prevent boils from coming upon his people. But the narrative demonstrates that he was unable to exercise his divine abilities contrary to Jehovah’s will. This plague does not seem to have come upon the Israelites, demonstrating that Jehovah was able to protect his people. This was also true of the plague upon the cattle of Egypt, which did not come upon the Israelites’ cattle.

There are two aspects to the plague of hail. One is involved with the hail itself and its fiery manifestation. The second is that of the corresponding damage to crops. As to the former, the king had both the ability to cause such happenings and to stop them. Again, Jehovah was usurping the king’s ability, which was to manifest himself as a storm of both flame and lightening[89] or storm clouds[90] or to perform the errand of the storm.[91] Instead, these qualities are applied to Jehovah and his powers. At the same time, the king was supposed to be the one who protected his people from the storm[92] and would not let them be given over to the flame of the gods.[93] Here we see again that Jehovah protected his people from storms and flames, while Pharaoh could not. It is plain that the king was unable to live up to his purported abilities in the face of Jehovah’s onslaught. It was not Pharaoh who caused or was manifest in the flaming storm, and he could not quench it nor avoid being given over to it. He was once again vanquished in his royal abilities. The greater power of Jehovah and his representative is ironically highlighted when Moses stopped Egypt from being given over to the storm or flame by the simple supplicating gesture of spreading out his hands before Jehovah.[94]

The damage done to the crops by the hail is compounded by the damage wrought thereafter by the locusts. Hence, we should consider this damage as a single aspect of two plagues and investigate the phenomenon accordingly. Again, we see that Jehovah was exercising pharaonic ability by striking the fields of the Egyptians, for it was the king who had the ability to damage the crops, and it was he whom the fields feared.[95] More apropos to the contest motif, the king was supposed to be able to ensure a good harvest and prevent such calamities. Egyptian literature consistently and abundantly describes the king’s ability to bring forth crops abundantly and to stop the agricultural calamities that follow in the wake of a weak or nonexistent king.[96] This is a common motif of propagandist writings, showing that the kings themselves promoted the idea. It was the king’s responsibility to ensure the benefits of nature’s abundance for his society.[97] According to the Admonitions of Ipuwer, the lack of a strong king led to bare storehouses and a lack of grain.[98] The Pyramid Texts, unaccounted for in the earlier studies I have cited thus far, liberally supply us with information such as the king being divinely ensured of having “barley, emmer, bread, and beer.”[99] Furthermore, these texts say that “if the King flourishes, Want cannot take his meal.”[100] Elsewhere in these texts, we read that the king has the ability to give food to whomever he wants and that he has the ability to protect himself against those who would take his food away from him.[101] However, this all became an empty boast in the face of Jehovah’s destructive elements. As the story continued, Jehovah would be the one to display these kingly abilities. In this divine conflict, Pharaoh failed in his task to protect his people’s crops against outside forces. Jehovah succeeded in bringing about the destruction that was supposedly the prerogative of the pharaoh.

The darkening of the sun may be the most direct attack against Pharaoh’s ability to fulfill his royal duties in the face of Jehovah’s power. The sun was among the greatest objects of Egyptian worship and was integrally tied to Re and his various syncretistic manifestations. The king was intimately caught up in this association, being both the son of Re and Re himself. Rendsburg and Cassuto have shown that Re was a favorite target in the writings of the Pentateuch, frequently involving a wordplay on rcâ, especially in the plagues pericope.[102] The king was seen as being directly responsible for Egypt receiving sunlight or for illuminating the two lands.[103] It is the king who covers the horizon, and the sun rises at his pleasure.[104] The king is described as being the Sun of the Two Shores[105] and is responsible for dawn[106] or for shining anew each day in the east.[107] The sun shines because of his love for the king.[108] Netherworld books such as the Amduat and the Book of Gates demonstrate how integral the king was to the sun’s daily journey or rebirth. The presence of the sun was a mainstay of Egyptian theological stability and royal ideology. Thus, Jehovah’s power over the sun was monumental. It was incontrovertible evidence that the king had been bested.

The king’s titulary was also tied up with this plague, since one of his names was the “Son of Re.” It is interesting to note that aspects of three of the five names of the king—the “Two Ladies” name, the “Horus, Strong Bull,” name, and the “Son of Re” name—are affected by the plagues. Clearly, much of what was integral to the king’s nature and ability was being challenged.

The final plague, the smiting of the firstborn of the Egyptians, was in some ways less monumental, though it certainly struck the individual Egyptian more personally. Additionally, the Exodus account makes it plain that the plague was brought specifically upon Pharaoh, as well as upon all of Egypt (Exodus 11:1).[109] It also affected the pharaonic facade. In a somewhat difficult translation of the Pyramid Texts, it is the king who claims to eat the firstborn males and females of the Egyptians, thus acquiring their power.[110] We are also told that the king will cause to live those whom he wishes to live, and those whom he wishes to die will surely die.[111] It is implied that the king had the ability to protect his children.[112] In a set of hymns for Senusret III, he is ascribed the power of protecting the youths that they may slumber and of making it possible for the Egyptians to raise their youths.[113] Again, we see that Jehovah had demonstrated an ability to exercise that which was kingly privilege and that Pharaoh could not exercise his powers in opposition to Jehovah, who was in complete control over these royal prerogative elements throughout the story.

The Concept of Kingship in Challenge

An analysis of each plague as it bears upon the abilities of Egypt’s gods and king may at first seem to be somewhat methodologically problematic. One could argue that the whole concept is undermined by the idea that almost every aspect of nature was tied to some god and the king. As a result, it would be difficult to conceive of a natural plague that was not in some way connected with an ability of the king. While at the onset, this notion does seem to compromise the idea of methodologically demonstrating a contest with Pharaoh, a closer examination reveals that, instead, it is exactly the point. Jehovah may have been challenging particular aspects of kingship, but primarily it was the concept of Egypt’s divine king as a whole that was being debunked.

We must first understand the Egyptian concept of the created world, though that can only be presented briefly here. The world was created, or organized, out of chaos, or disorganization.[114] The concept of the correct organization of both natural beings and processes as well as social order was summed up in the term ma’at.[115]Maat reveals itself as the foundation of all order in the created world.”[116] In Egyptian thought, ma’at was in constant danger of being overcome by disorder, or chaos.[117] “The conception of the universe as a fragile entity that was perpetually threatened with oblivion gave to the Egyptian cult of the gods an urgency.”[118] Chaos (Isfet) had to be destroyed in order to uphold order. [119]

The being who was responsible for maintaining ma’at, which necessarily included the destruction of isfet, was the king.[120] This is the primary concept of kingship in Egypt. Texts from virtually every period of Egyptian history that bear on this study express this. For example, a Pyramid Text states that the king “put Ma’at in the place of Isfet.”[121] Similarly, a New Kingdom religious text states that “Re has put the king on the land of the living for eternity and infinity so that he may judge [hu]mankind, so that he may satisfy the gods, so that he may bring about Ma’at, so that he may destroy Isfet.”[122] Amenemhet I claimed to have appeared “as Atum himself, setting in order that which he found decaying.”[123] Thutmosis III was described as one who “transforms Egypt into the condition of the past, as when Re was king,”[124] which was a condition of ma’at. Speaking of what a strong king will cause to happen, the prophecies of Neferti state, “Ma’at will return to its seat, Isfet is driven out.”[125] A host of other texts could be cited to further demonstrate this. [126]

One particularly important aspect of kingship was the ability to destroy chaos (isfet) in order to restore order (ma’at). This is also stressed in many texts. For example, it was spoken of Amenemhet I that “his majesty came to drive out Isfet . . . since he loves Ma’at so much.”[127] Tutankhamun was said to have “driven Isfet out of both lands, and fixed Ma’at in its place.”[128] It was said of Taharqa that “Ma’at is spread throughout the land, Isfet is transfixed to the ground.”[129] Clearly the king had to be able to destroy chaos if he was going to uphold order. This was a foundational principle of kingship.[130]

Many other Egyptologists have commented on the crucial role of the king in the establishment and maintenance of ma’at. A small sampling of comments will help illustrate how central this role was to kingship. “Maat represented . . . qualities which precisely embodied the responsibility of the king’s role.”[131] Wilkinson writes, “The king’s primary duty: to safeguard created order by attacking the forces of disorder.”[132] It has been said that “the king was, ultimately, the source of the well-being of the whole country, not only causing human society to flourish but also causing natural processes such as the succession of seasons, the Nile’s flood, the growth of crops, and so on to take place in an orderly and beneficial way.”[133] Frankfort asserts that the king is the champion of order.[134] Hornung explains that all the elements of ma’at converge in the king, who is responsible for maintaining ma’at and providing it for both the gods and humans.[135]

It is significant to note that it is the king, not the gods, who is responsible for maintaining ma’at. Indeed, much of the iconography of the king was tied up with his maintenance of ma’at: it seems that all of the offerings which the king gave to the gods were tokens of offering ma’at;[136] all of the scenes of the king smiting enemies, conquering in battle, hunting hippopotamus or netting wild birds are symbolic of his conquering chaos.[137] Much more could be said, but the point is well enough made for our purposes.[138] The first (and really only) test of kingship was to maintain ma’at and destroy isfet. In our narrative this is precisely the test that the plagues put the king to and found him wanting. Currid has correlated the plagues with the creative sequence of Genesis, postulating that the plagues were seen as a type of decreation.[139] This adds to the idea of chaos overcoming ma’at, the essence of creation.

During the setting of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties, it was certainly understood that the king had a human nature. But it was also acknowledged that when performing divinely appointed duties, especially upholding and defending ma’at, he could transcend his human nature and become divine.[140] Of the many possible examples of this, we need examine only the Kadesh Battle inscriptions, where we see that as Ramses II is battling Egypt’s enemies, or forces of disorder, he transcends his human nature and becomes a divine warrior.[141] It was also during this same time period that the depiction of the king as the result of divine conception was reaching new heights.[142] During this era there was an acute sense, and a feeling of crucial need, that as the forces of disorder arose, the king’s divine nature would respond, and the king would be victorious in reestablishing ma’at.

Rendsburg has demonstrated that the birth story of Moses pushes him into being identified with Horus. Thus, when Moses contends with Pharaoh, it transforms Pharaoh into the role of Seth while contending with Horus. In their contest, because Horus represents order and Seth represents chaos, we see that this idea of order and chaos being turned upside down is furthered.[143]

The confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh is initially set up as a contest between chaos and order. This is because Moses represents a group of foreigners, and foreigners often fulfilled the prototypical role of chaos.[144] As will be discussed, one of the king’s roles was to conquer and control chaos in its role as foreigners. The request of foreigners to escape the control of the king was a request to allow chaos to not be overcome by order.

As the contest between Jehovah and Pharaoh begins, we are presented with the defeat of Pharaoh’s snakes, a symbolic enactment of the loss of Pharaoh’s divinely granted ability—given him by his uraei—to defeat disorder. As the narrative then moves into the plagues scenario, the reader sees that the plagues are integrally tied up with the same idea. Contaminated water, too many frogs, various insect infestations, disease among humans and animals, storms, loss of crops, the sun being darkened, and loss of human life are all elements of disorder that touch on every aspect of Egyptian life. These calamities as individual catastrophes were just the sort of thing that the king was supposed to prevent, but their arrival in an unrelenting sequence could be seen as nothing short of chaos triumphing over order.

Pharaoh both failed to maintain order and failed to destroy its enemies—his two main duties. Viewed in this light, the plagues of frogs, lice, and flies are much more understandable.[145] They represent familiar elements of the known world, and it is the whole of the known world, down to the most minute elements, that seems to be rising up against the king and Egypt in a chaotic manner. Further, being infested with bugs and boils rendered the priests ritually unclean and thus unable to perform the rituals that could have perhaps aided the king in trying to restore order.[146] Thus, Jehovah both brought chaos into Egypt and prevented the king from restoring order.

Ironically, Jehovah asked Pharaoh to avert this chaos through Moses and Aaron. It was not what Jehovah wanted. Pharaoh’s court also pleaded with him to acquiesce to Jehovah and end the chaos. Yet in his arrogance, Pharaoh refused to comply with Jehovah’s request, and thus Pharaoh created the scenario that highlighted his impotence before God. This ultimately created chaos, the antitheses of everything Pharaoh was supposed to create but was powerless to do so when in conflict with the desires and decrees of Jehovah.

Especially apropos to the chaos-versus-order conflict are the plagues affecting the Nile, crops,[147] herds, the sun, and the firstborn. All of these were symbolic of the crucial cycle of rebirth. Rebirth and the reestablishment of ma’at were essentially the same thing, and the continuation of this cycle, which ensured Egypt’s existence and stability, was the primary role of the king.

As noted, the king was considered responsible for ensuring the regular and healthy flow of the Nile. Disruption to this was seen as a sign of chaos. Particularly pertinent to the Nile’s plague is a text that appears to predate the Exodus, but the copy of which we have is from the Nineteenth Dynasty, roughly contemporary with the Exodus. This text speaks of a time of chaos in which the river turned to blood and foreigners were in the land.[148] This plague was not only part of the unending wave of chaos, but the plague took a form that was specifically associated with chaos, while disrupting the all-important rebirth cycle that could have reestablished order.[149]

Particularly important in the rebirth cycle was the daily circuit of the sun god, Re. A consistent theme in the afterlife literature created by the Egyptians, and even in the art depicted on the walls of the tombs of the pharaohs, was that each night, the sun, accompanied by the king and others, underwent a dangerous journey. Often the sun is depicted as being protected by a snake, but usually the most dangerous element the sun faced was a large snake named Apophis, who was chaos incarnate.[150] In the books of the netherworld, the king played a crucial role in assisting Re in his triumph. His nightly triumph over Apophis, or disorder, allowed Re his daily reappearance or re-creation. It is critical to understand that one of the major symbols for chaos was a snake. It is also important to note that another strong symbol for chaos was foreigners.[151] Thus, a foreigner casting a snake down before Pharaoh would have been seen as a reenactment of the battle between chaotic and protecting snakes, a battle that the king was to be a part of in the afterlife. With all this ideology, Jehovah dared to show his power via a snake and came away from the battle as the victor. Pharaoh’s magicians were unable to overcome Jehovah’s messenger.[152] It would seem that in this journey, Apophis was triumphant, an unthinkable event. To those with a knowledge of Pharaoh’s ties with snakes, this must have been viewed as a direct challenge to Pharaoh’s power.

This same idea of the crucial nature of the sun’s nightly journey to be born again in the morning plays out in the plague of darkening the sun. Both the contest with snakes and the darkened sun seem to draw on a host of literature about the journey of the sun and point to the failure of the king to ensure that ma’at would continue to be reborn. Thus, the sun not shining is poignantly demonstrative of chaos’s triumph over ma’at. Such a darkening of the sun was already associated with chaos and foreigners in Egyptian texts.[153] Still, the individual identifications of the plagues with aspects of the king only add irony to the true challenge, the challenge to Pharaoh’s ability to keep the cosmos in accord with ma’at.

This premise is strengthened when we examine the continuation of the narrative after the conclusion of the plagues pericope. Throughout Egypt’s history, but especially in the New Kingdom, one of the primary ways in which the king maintained ma’at was by defeating Egypt’s enemies in battle, a manifestation of his ability to destroy chaos in his campaign to replace it with order.[154] In the Exodus story, after the king’s abject failure to maintain order throughout his kingdom in the face of the plagues, he turns to his last resort. He arrays Egypt’s formidable army against the Israelites. A victory would have symbolically demonstrated not only Pharaoh’s ability to defeat this disorderly people and their god but also, by extension, his ability to conquer chaos in general. A victory would have shown that, in the end, after all the incursions of chaos his people had experienced, the king could defeat the ever uprising forces of disorder. But the battle scene again shows the king’s inability to defeat chaos.

As the king attempted to attack the Israelites, he was suddenly forced to deal with the sea. In Egyptian thought, the sea was the embodiment of chaos. Jehovah’s division of the sea to provide dry ground for the Israelites is reminiscent of Egyptian creation concepts, in which creation began with the emergence of dry land from watery chaos. In Israelite thought, Jehovah brought about creation, or the original establishment of pristine ma’at, by dividing the sea and thus creating dry ground. Thus, he again demonstrated the ability to perform that which was Pharaoh’s prerogative. However, for Pharaoh, the sea did not stay divided. As the armies of Egypt attempted to cross on the dry ground, they were overcome by the water. Creation or ma’at ceased to exist for them, and they were engulfed by chaos. It is interesting to note that at the point of the division of the waters, the sea is the direct object of Jehovah’s actions. However, as Pharaoh’s armies are covered, the sea is the subject of the action.[155] This seems to indicate that Jehovah can defeat disorder and establish ma’at but that Pharaoh is unable to control the forces of chaos in a similar manner, enabling them to run their natural course and overcome Egypt’s armies.[156] It is the perfect symbol for Pharaoh’s utter defeat at the hands of chaos. He is shown as being completely unable to execute the primary function of his office. He cannot discharge his divine duties.

An additional element that stems from the episode of dividing the waters at the sea is that it demonstrates Jehovah’s creative abilities. Thus, it was clear that he was not just a god of destructive powers. He was, in fact, the great Creator. As the Israelites left Egypt and began to construct the tabernacle with its Creation motifs and symbols, they would play all the more powerfully in the Israelites’ minds after having just seen a dramatic testimony of Jehovah’s creative powers. Truly he was the God of all things, the true king of Creation!

A fervent knowledge of the divine kingship of Jehovah, so forcefully demonstrated throughout the plagues narrative, would play another important role soon thereafter. As the Israelites gathered at Sinai to make a covenant with God, they were in essence acknowledging him as their king and were accepting the terms of being his people. The covenant was more meaningful and powerful as they recognized the full power of their sovereign. God’s covenant promises to protect them and provide a land for them meant all the more when those promises followed on the heels of God’s stunning and intentional victory over the greatest worldly power of the day.

The plagues, followed by the events at the sea, represent the perfect challenge to Pharaoh’s kingship and, by way of contrast, the perfect testament of Jehovah’s divine sovereignty. As such, the biblical account of the plagues was seemingly written with this in mind. We are left with the conclusion that the writer of this narrative had mastered a sound understanding of Egyptian religious thought and the place that the king occupied within this belief system, both in the details and in the larger concepts that loomed behind them. This was no mere guess as to how the plagues were a challenge to Pharaoh. The contest is skillfully presented by someone who had experienced enough contact with Egypt to understand the cultural context of the time that was being portrayed.

The Egyptian milieu of this challenge seems to be part of the point of the Exodus account of the plagues. According to Egyptian history, the pharaohs had always maintained ma’at and vanquished Egypt’s enemies. This became a profound lesson that Israelite prophets would draw on for generations. This lesson struck fear in the hearts of those that the Israelites were about to encounter. And it continues to teach a powerful lesson today as we find ourselves threatened by the powers of the world. When this happens, and we feel as if we are metaphorically in bondage to the great power of Egypt or are surrounded by its insurmountable army, we would do well to remember the lesson taught by the plagues and Exodus narrative. Via methods that an Egyptian and those familiar with Egypt would have understood as touching upon the very core of kingship, the narrative showed that Pharaoh was not able to execute his divine abilities in opposition to Jehovah’s powers; and in this way, Jehovah, the true king of the world, obtained glory over Pharaoh, as Jehovah always will. Such knowledge would be a guiding principle for the ancient Israelites in the days and years thereafter and should continue to be so today.


[1] I am grateful to William Schniedewind, who gave me input on this paper about twenty years ago, and to Jacob Murphy, Aaron Schade, and Daniel Belnap for their aid as well.

[2] Typically, this is seen as a composite of J, E, and P. See S. R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913), 24–29. See also Joel S. Baden, “From Joseph to Moses: The Narratives of Exodus 1–2,” Vetus Testamentum 62 (2012): 133–58; Joel S. Baden, Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012). My gratitude to Jacob Murphy, my student research assistant, for bringing this and several other sources to my attention.

[3] See Konrad Schmid, “Distinguishing the World of the Exodus Narrative from the World of the Narrators: The Question of the Priestly Exodus Account in Its Historical Setting,” in Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective: Text, Archaeology, Culture, and Geoscience, ed. Thomas E. Levy, Thomas Schneider, and William H. C. Propp (New York: Springer International Publishing, 2013), 331–44.

[4] Martin Noth, Exodus: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 9–18, believed that there was a JE source, which P added to. Ronald E. Clements, Exodus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 4–5, believed that the Deuteronomist was the redactor. John Van Seters, The Life of Moses: The Yahwist as Historian in Exodus–Numbers (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1994), 77–105, rejected an independent E source and believed that J and P were present. See also Gary A. Rendsburg, Redaction of Genesis (Ann Arbor, MI: American Oriental Society, 1986); Christoph Berner, “The Exodus Narrative Between History and Literary Fiction: The Portrayal of the Egyptian Burden as a Test Case,” in Levy, Schneider, and Propp, Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective, 285–92.

[5] Thomas Thompson, The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel, vol. 1: The Literary Formation of Genesis and Exodus 1–23 (Sheffield, UK: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Press, 1987), 155. Others have said of the entire Exodus narrative that it is only possible to study it as if it were a story, such as Baruch Halpern, “Fracturing the Exodus, as Told by Edward Everett Horton,” in Levy, Schneider, and Propp, Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective, 293–304.

[6] James K. Hoffmeier, “Egypt, Plagues In,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 374. Elsewhere, James K. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, the Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 146–48, Hoffmeier has convincingly demonstrated a cyclical unity to the narrative. Hoffmeier further writes in “Egypt, Plagues,” 374, that “the emphasis has shifted from the micro to the macro structure of pericopes.”

[7] Many have taken such an approach. For an example of examining the Exodus narrative as a whole, see Gary A. Rendsburg, “Moses the Magician,” in Levy, Schneider, and Propp, Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective, 243–58. Later, Gary A. Rendsburg, “The Literary Unity of the Exodus Narrative,” 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), 113-132, argues most convincingly for the unity of the narrative, especially the plagues pericope.

[8] The most well-known and detailed attempt is Greta Hort, “The Plagues of Egypt,” Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 69 (1957), 84-103. See also R. Steiglitz, “Ancient Records and the Exodus Plagues,” Biblical Archaeology Review 13, no. 6 (1987): 46–49.

[9] For an example of the former, see G. A. F. Knight, Theology as Narration (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976); for the latter, see D. Irvin and T. L. Thompson, “The Joseph and Moses Narratives,” in Israelite and Judean History, ed. J. H. Hayes and J. M. Miller (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977); John Van Seters, “The Plagues of Egypt: Ancient Tradition or Literary Invention?,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 98 (1986).

[10] Brad C. Sparks, “Egyptian Texts Relating to the Exodus: Discussions of Exodus Parallels in the Egyptology Literature,” in Levy, Schneider, and Propp, Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective, 259–81, provides an excellent summary of various comparative efforts.

[11] In Numbers 33:4 and in Exodus 18:11, Jethro believes that the deliverance has demonstrated that Jehovah is greater than all the gods. For examples of this kind of study, see John D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997), 109–13; C. Aling, Egypt and Bible History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1981), 103–10; Knight, Theology as Narration, 62–79. Action serving as a symbol is not uncommon in the Hebrew Bible. See Donald W. Parry, “Symbolic Action as Prophecy in the Old Testament,” in Thy People Shall Be My People, and Thy God My God, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994); J. C. L. Gibson, Language and Imagery in the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 10.

[12] See Hoffmeier, Plagues, 376; Hoffmeier, Israel, 151.

[13] Hoffmeier, “Egypt, Plagues,” 376. Hoffmeier has also called for further involvement of Egyptologists in studying the Exodus, which call this also hopefully satisfies. See James K. Hoffmeier, “Egyptologists and the Israelite Exodus from Egypt,” in Levy, Schneider, and Propp, Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective, 206.

[14] Hoffmeier, Israel, 151–55.

[15] By construction, one may mean either its initial writing or its weaving together of several sources into something similar to the narrative we now have. See Schmid, “Distinguishing the World of the Exodus Narrative,” 334.

[16] For an excellent treatment of this period, see Kenneth A. Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (Warminster, UK: Aris & Phillips, 1986).

[17] Frank Moore Cross Jr. and David Noel Freedman, Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 31–33. Diana Vikander Edelman, “The Creation of Exodus 14–15,” Jerusalem Studies in Egyptology, ed. Irene Shirun-Grumach (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1998), 137–58, believes that only a portion of Exodus 15 is this old, relying upon the idea that a song by a woman (Miriam) is the oldest tradition. But even by Shirun-Grumach’s standard, part of the Exodus tradition is very old. Additionally, Yair Hoffman, “The Exodus: Tradition and Reality. The Status of the Exodus Tradition in Ancient Israel,” in Shirun-Grumach, Jerusalem Studies in Egyptology, 196, dates the Song of the Sea to the inauguration of the First Temple because he sees it as politically expedient at that time. Both Hoffman and Edelman fail to address the authentically archaic Hebrew elements of Exodus 15, the very elements that have led scholars to believe that this is an archaic composition. See also A. Klein, “Hymn and History in Ex. 15: Observations on the Relationship between Temple Theology and Exodus Narrative in the Song of the Sea,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 124 (2012): 516–27.

[18] See Shmuel Ahituv, “The Exodus: Survey of the Theories of the Last Fifty Years,” in Shirun-Grumach, Jerusalem Studies in Egyptology, 132. Even Hoffman, “The Exodus: Tradition and Reality,” 197, sees the established use of the tradition in Hosea, though Hoffman fails to note it in Isaiah. By Hoffman’s own admission, the tradition was older than the period of the United Monarchy (196).

[19] There are many who would posit a later date for the composition of the plagues narrative. See, for example, Schmid, “Distinguishing the World of the Exodus Narrative,” who posits the Persian Period. See also Donald B. Redford, “An Egyptological Perspective on the Exodus Narrative,” Egypt, Israel, Sinai, ed. Anson F. Rainey (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1987), 150. Disagreeing with many of his points is Manfred Bietak, “Comments on the ‘Exodus,’” in Rainey, Egypt, Israel, Sinai. Redford’s arguments are also systematically refuted by Sarah I. Groll, “The Egyptian Background of the Exodus and the Crossing of the Reed Sea: A New Reading of Papyrus Anastasi VIII,” in Shirun-Grumach, Jerusalem Studies in Egyptology, 189–92. Frank J. Yurco, “Merenptah’s Canaanite Campaign and Israel’s Origins,” Exodus: the Egyptian Evidence, ed. Ernest S. Frerichs and Leonard H. Lesko (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1997), 50, using the Merenptah Stela, Exodus 15, Judges 5, and “the mileiu of Ramesses II’s Egypt,” dates “the root of the Exodus story to the Ramesside era.”

[20] See John Baines, “Kingship, Definition of Culture, and Legitimation,” Ancient Egyptian Kingship, ed. David O’Connor and David P. Silverman (New York: Brill, 1995), 36–43. See also Peter Der Manuelian, Living in the Past: Studies in Archaism of the Egyptian Twenty-sixth Dynasty (New York: Keagan Paul International, 1994); Anthony Spalinger, “The Concept of Monarchy during the Saite Epoch: An Essay of Synthesis,” Orientalia 47 (1978). It is important to note, as mentioned above, that the narrative seems to be written before the Twenty-sixth Dynasty because a crucial shift in the decorum of the presentation of the king began during that dynasty. See Antonio Loprieno, “Le Pharaon recostruit. La figure du roi dans la littérature égyptienne au Ier millénaire avant J.C.,” Bulletin De La Société Française d’égyptologie, no. 142 (June 1998). While it was at this period that the decorum of royal presentation changed, it was also then that intentional “archaizing” reached its peak; see Der Manuelian, Living in the Past, 387. We see during this period “incentives to ‘bypass’ recent history in favor of linking contemporary (Saite) times with the past.” Der Manuelian, Living in the Past, 409.

[21] Baines, “Kingship,” 36.

[22] Baines, “Kingship,” 38. See also Erik Hornung, History of Ancient Egypt: An Introduction, trans. David Lorton (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 126, where he writes of the new dynasties carefully continuing Ramesside traditions. Cyril Aldred, The Egyptians (London: Thames and Hudson, 1998), 188, writes of a religious shift during this period that lessened the king’s worship, but Hornung also writes of the “weight of traditional thought” that continued to be attached to the kingship and its official theology. Der Manuelian (summarized in Living in the Past, 403–404) carefully outlines a retrogression in the language of royal stelae from “Late Egyptianisms” to classical Egyptian and even the Egyptian of the Old Kingdom.

[23] David P. Silverman, “The Nature of Kingship,” in O’Connor and Silverman, Ancient Egyptian Kingship, 50. For example, see the discussion on how kings had to portray their violence differently depending upon whether it was personal or institutional in Kerry Muhlestein, Violence in the Service of Order: The Religious Framework for Sanctioned Killing in Ancient Egypt (Oxford, UK: British Archaeological Reports, 2011), 77–80.

[24] For example, in the New Kingdom the kings lost some of their cosmic role, but in the Eighteenth Dynasty it was somewhat regained as the king and the creator god received a new convergence. See Baines, “Kingship,” 24, 26.

[25] See Donald B. Redford, “The Concept of Kingship during the Eighteenth Dynasty,” in O’Connor and Silverman, Ancient Egyptian Kingship, 181; Baines, “Kingship,” 21–31.

[26] Redford, “Concept of Kingship,” 159–61.

[27] In this article, citations of ancient sources will typically be referred to by English publications readily available to the lay reader. In the case of the Pyramid Texts (abbreviated PT in citations herein, except when a more detailed part is referred to, in which case we will use the “pyr” designation), it is assumed that the abundance of online and print versions of the Pyramid Texts makes it such that a simple PT citation along with the number of the PT will be sufficient. Similarly, Book of the Dead references will simply be listed as BD along with the spell number.

[28] Bernard Mathieu, “La distinction entre Textes des Pyramides et Textes des Sarcophages est-elle légitime?,” in Textes des pyramides et textes des sarcophages: D’un monde à l’autre, ed. Susanne Bickel and Bernard Mathieu (Cairo: Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, 2008), 247–62. My gratitude to John Gee for bringing this source to my attention.

[29] See John Gee, “The Book of the Dead as Canon,” British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 15 (2010): 30–31.

[30] See Jan Assman, “Egyptian Mortuary Liturgies,” Studies in Egyptology, Presented to Miriam Lichtheim, ed. Sarah Israelit-Groll (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1990), 1:1–45.

[31] Rendsburg, “Moses the Magician,” 256.

[32] Rendsburg, “Moses the Magician,” 219, argues persuasively that there is no point during which this narrative may have been composed in which the contact with Egypt was not strong enough to have ideas of Egyptian culture not be taken into account.

[33] Erik Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, the One and the Many, trans. John Baines (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971), 139.

[34] See John A. Wilson, trans., “Deliverance of Mankind from Destruction,” in The Ancient Near East, vol. 1: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), 3–5; Herodotus, The Histories, 2.144; Turin Cannon; Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1948), 148–49.

[35] Papyrus Chester Beatty; George Hart, A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses (New York: Routledge, 1996), 155.

[36] Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, 148. Re is a creator god but so is Atum, Khnum, and Ptah, as well as others. See also Lanny Bell, “The New Kingdom ‘Divine’ Temple: The Example of Luxor,” in Temples of Ancient Egypt, ed. Byron E. Shafer (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 138, who writes that “the reigning pharaoh was the physical son of the universal sun god, the Creator.” In note 46 Bell shares three depictions of New Kingdom monarchs as they are conceived by divinity.

[37] Bell, “The New Kingdom ‘Divine’ Temple,” 138. Hornung, Conceptions, 138–39, speaks of the king as being both the prime son and the image of the creator god. See Useratet to Amenophis II, in R. A. Caminos, “The Shrines and Rock Inscriptions of Ibrim,” Archaeological Survey of Egypt 32 (1968), wherein New Kingdom officials cry out to the king “you are Re.” Ramses II is called the “Son of Re” in his Kadesh Battle Inscriptions; see Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 2: The New Kingdom (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976), 63. Redford, Concept of Kingship, 123, demonstrates that during the Eighteenth Dynasty, Canaanites knew that the king was both Re and the son of Re. This relationship was true of Re in his various syncretistic forms, especially of Amun, or Amun-Re. See Kadesh Battle Inscriptions, 69; Baines, “Kingship,” 18; William J. Murnane, “The Kingship of the Nineteenth Dynasty: A Study in the Resilience of an Institution,” in O’Connor and Silverman, Ancient Egyptian Kingship (New York: Brill, 1995), 187–90.

[38] See “A Cycle of Hymns to King Sesostris III,” in Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 1 (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975), 198. See also Hart, Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, 169; Jeremy Naydler, Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1996), 104, who writes that “although the king was Horus incarnate, the kingly prototype was always Ra, the creator god.” Horus was also seen as a god who was king of Egypt, following in the footsteps of his father. See Herodotus, Histories, 2.144; Papyrus Chester Beatty.

[39] PT 215. This, as with the next four references, is just one of the many available examples from the Pyramid Texts. While the Pyramid Texts were well over a thousand years old by this time, they were known and reused in Egypt even into the Ptolemaic period. See Erhart Graefe, “Über die Verarbeitung von Pyramidentexten in den späten Tempeln,” in Religion und Philosophie im Alten Ägypten, Festabe für Philippe Derchain, ed. Ursula Verhoeven and Erhart Graefe (Leuven: Uitgeveru Peeters, 1991), 129–48.

[40] PT 222.

[41] PT 535.

[42] PT 20.

[43] The Pyramid Texts and later sources associate the king with a great number of gods. See David P. Silverman, “The Nature of Egyptian Kingship,” in O’Connor and Silverman, Ancient Egyptian Kingship, 62.

[44] Rendsburg, “Moses as Equal to Pharaoh,” argues this point eloquently. I wrote the current article as a paper presented at a meeting of the 2001 Pacific Region Society of Biblical Literature. Between then and now, Rendsuburg has written two articles, both already cited, arguing various aspects of Jehovah being in a contest with Pharaoh. We arrived at our ideas independently, and while there is overlap between the ideas we present, there is also much that is unique about each approach.

[45] Dimitri Meeks and Christine Favard-Meeks, Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods, trans. G. M. Goshgarian (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 120.

[46] On the Egyptian concept of being more than one kind of being at once and on identifying with deity, see Kerry Muhlestein, “Empty Threats? How Egyptians’ Self-Ontology Should Affect the Way We Read Many Texts,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 34 (2007): 115–30.

[47] See, for example, Exodus 15:3–4, 18–19. See also Thomas B. Dozeman, God at War: Power in the Exodus Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 15.

[48] Currid, Ancient Egypt, 83–84.

[49] James K. Hoffmeier, “The Arm of God Versus the Arm of Pharaoh in the Exodus Narratives,” Biblica 67, no. 3 (1986): 387; see also David R. Seely, “The Image of the Hand of God in the Exodus Traditions” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1990).

[50] Gibson, Language and Imagery in the Old Testament, 21; Marc Brettler, God Is King: Understanding an Israelite Metaphor (Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1989).

[51] When Moses is atop Sinai, the rod turns into a snake. In Pharaoh’s court, the word likely used actually means “crocodile.” It is difficult to know whether the use of crocodile represents a later change or whether it was the original word used. See Rendsburg, “Moses the Magician,” 245–46; Gary A. Rendsburg, “Moses as Equal to Pharaoh,” in Text, Artifact, and Image: Revealing Ancient Israelite Religion, ed. Gary Beckman and Theodore J. Lewis (Providence, RI: Brown Judaic Studies, 2006), 209–10. Rendsburg points out that both animals are associated with the king and that the Horus myth was also associated with the king. Because the text predicts that Moses will turn his staff into a snake, and then at the time it was turned into a crocodile (if the text was not amended), it seems that the text certainly wants us to associate the snake with the event in Pharaoh’s court, even if it was a crocodile then (see PT 317 for an example of the king being associated with the crocodile). Because of this, and because of the very real possibility that the text originally read “snake,” we will here speak of a snake. The crocodile has royal and chaos associations that are very similar to that of the snake, so there is no effective difference. Rendsburg, “The Literary Unity of the Exodus Narrative,” 128–29, argues that the crocodile serves as an upgrade in Moses’s miraculous powers.

[52] See Currid, Ancient Egypt, 85–103; D. J. McCarthy, “Moses’ Dealings with Pharaoh,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 27 (1965): 336–47.

[53] PT 318.

[54] PT 378.

[55] BD 85.

[56] Toby A. H. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt (New York: Routledge, 1999), 191–92; Currid, Ancient Egypt, 89–90. See also “The Annals of the Battle at Megiddo by Tuthmose III,” in Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 2:36, wherein Amun-Re says, “My serpent on your brow consumed them [the enemy]”; Ramses II’s Kadesh inscriptions, in Lichtheim, 2:70 which says, “The serpent on my brow felled my foes.” The idea of protecting against disorder becomes particularly important when it is realized that the plagues represent disorder. See the discussion provided later in this paper.

[57] PT 220–21. Herein, the king addresses the “fiery serpent” and asks it to give him its dread, fear, and acclaim, as well as its protection. See also a depiction in the tomb of Thutmosis III, wherein a five-headed serpent protects the king’s body within its coils.

[58] Rendsburg, “Moses the Magician,” 210–13.

[59] Rendsburg, “Moses the Magician,” 213–15.

[60] PT 273–74. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 1:37, disagrees with this translation, as does Samuel A. B. Mercer, The Pyramid Texts, vol. 2 (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1952), 187. These seem to be the only two published dissensions in translating this difficult passage. The word tr is used for red ink, and since Teti I’s Pyramid Texts include a scribal determinative after the word, there can be little doubt that it referred to red ink, and thus it must have something to do with the color red. In any case, this detail is obscure enough that it may have provided no reference for New Kingdom kingship; though the color may have been familiar to them as an attribute of the king since the king caused the flood, which looked red as it turned muddy. This annual event may have continually carried the impression that the king was the “reddener” of water.

[61] PT 317.

[62] PT 217.

[63] This description is from the translation of a scarab in Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, 195. See also Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, 57; Naydler, Temple of the Cosmos, 167, where Frankfort and Naydler speak of the Nile “respecting” the king and of rituals enacted in order to ensure that this took place, concepts that are known because of translations from the instructions of King Amenemhet I.

[64] “Tale of Sinuhe,” translated in Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 1:231.

[65] Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, 58; Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, 183. See also A. Erman, “Hymn on the Accession of King Merenptah,” in The Ancient Egyptians: A Sourcebook of Their Writings (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966), 279, wherein the king is credited with the fact that “the water standeth and faileth not, the Nile carrieth a high flood.”

[66] Papyrus Leiden 344, translation from Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 1:151.

[67] Currid, Ancient Egypt, 53.

[68] Currid, Ancient Egypt, 110; Knight, Theology as Narration, 6; Hart, Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, 83–84. This connection is even stronger if Moses and Aaron were dealing with staffs turning into crocodiles. The destruction of Pharaoh’s crocodiles in that story (if they were crocodiles) would tie into the sudden multiplication of frogs.

[69] Hoffmeier, Israel, 150, calls the Heket connection into question. Indeed, both Currid and Knight are unconvincing and show little evidence for their conclusions.

[70] Bruce Wells, Exodus, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 206), 1709, also discusses this idea of maintaining ma’at.

[71] See Hoffmeier, Plagues, 375; Currid, Ancient Egypt, 110–11; Knight, Theology as Narration, 63.

[72] Knight does not supply any evidence as to how he arrived at the translation of “beetle.”

[73] Hoffmeier, Israel, 154, sees this plague as at least partially a battle between Moses’s shepherd’s rod and the king’s shepherd’s crook.

[74] Hoffmeier, Israel, 154–55.

[75] Rendsburg, “Moses the Magician,” 211–13.

[76] Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, 188–89.

[77] Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, 190.

[78] BD 15.

[79] BD 18.

[80] BD 82. See also PT 246, which lists the king as a ram and a bull.

[81] Meeks and Favard-Meeks, Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods, 190–91.

[82] Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, 189–90.

[83] Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, 190. This iconography is extremely early.

[84] Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, 191. This title is very appropriate for this study because the New Kingdom is the purported setting of the plagues narrative. See “Coronation Decree of Tuthmose I” in Kurt Sethe, Urkunden des aegyptischen Altertums IV: der 18. Dynastie (Leipzig, 1906), 79-81; Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, Being and Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs (London: Oxford University Press, 1982), 458, who refers to it as a “victorious bull” epithet.

[85] Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, 191.

[86] BD 58.

[87] PT 517. This idea continues throughout Egyptian kingship.

[88] Meeks and Favard-Meeks, Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods, 106. This is from a New Kingdom setting.

[89] PT 261.

[90] PT 254. This idea of the king being a storming flame continues, tied up with the Uraeus, into the New Kingdom.

[91] PT 261.

[92] “Cycle of Hymns to King Sesostris III,” Lichtheim, 1:200. Additionally, in Papyrus Leiden 344, we are informed that one of the results of weak or nonexistent kingship is that “storm sweeps the land.”

[93] PT 260.

[94] Mayer I. Gruber, Aspects of Nonverbal Communication in the Ancient Near East, vol. 1 (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1980), 25–60, discusses this gesture of supplication. See also Kerry M. Muhlestein, “The Use of the Palm of the Hand in the Rituals of the Tabernacle and Temple of Solomon” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1997), 75–80.

[95] PT 254. This small point may not have been well known in the New Kingdom.

[96] Hoffmeier, Israel, 152–53.

[97] Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, 189.

[98] Papyrus Leiden 344.

[99] PT 205.

[100] PT 209.

[101] PT 254.

[102] U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1967), 129; G. A. Rendsburg, “The Egyptian Sun-God Ra in the Pentateuch,” Henoch 10 (1988); Hoffmeier, Plagues, 376.

[103] “Instructions of Sehetepibre,” in Erman, Ancient Egyptians, 84–85; Hoffmeier, Plagues, 377.

[104] “Tale of Sinuhe,” Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 1:231.

[105] “Stela of Amenhotep III,” translated in Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 2:46.

[106] PT 217.

[107] PT 257. See also Papyrus Anastasi 2.5.6, translated in Erman, Ancient Egyptians, 280, wherein the king is described as “thou rising sun, that illumines the Two Lands with its beauty! Thou sun of mankind that banishes darkness from Egypt!”

[108] “Poetical Stela of Thutmose III,” translated in Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 2:36. See also Bell, Divine Temple, 129, who notes texts in which the king’s accession is likened to the sun’s rising. In note 9 Bell discusses iconography that denotes that the king is one with the sun, especially when he was manifest in the Window of Appearance.

[109] See also Dozeman, God at War, 19.

[110] PT 273–74. See also CT 163 and 178. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 1:37, poses a translation that can be read this way. R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 81–82, presents a translation that cannot. See also Mercer, Pyramid Texts, 2:189, who believes that this refers to old men and women, as in those most advanced in age. However, the term smsw refers to a relative age, not a static one. It means the oldest, or eldest, in terms of someone else. The term i3w would be used for those who are old. Clearly smsw refers to the first born. I am indebted to Antonio Loprieno for help in understanding this term, though the responsibility for the translation is mine. See also Mordechai Gilula, “The Smiting of the First Born: An Egyptian Myth?,” Tel Aviv 4 (1977): 95.

[111] PT 217.

[112] PT 224.

[113] “Hymns to Sesostris III,” Lichtheim, 1:199.

[114] See PT 600. For brief outlines of Egyptian cosmogony, see James P. Allen, “The Celestial Realm,” in Ancient Egypt, ed. David P. Silverman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 120–21; Meeks and Favard-Meeks, Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods, 13–17; Erik Hornung, Idea into Image: Essays on Ancient Egyptian Thought, trans. Elizabeth Bredeck (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 39–45; Leonard H. Lesko, “Ancient Egyptian Cosmogonies and Cosmology,” Religion in Ancient Egypt, ed. Byron E. Shafer (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

[115] Of course, this is an oversimplification of the concept. See Hornung, Idea, 131–46; Jan Assmann, Ma'at: Gerechtigkeit und Unsterblichkeit im alten Ägypten (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1969); Stephen Quirke, “Translating Ma’at,” Journal of Egptian Archaeology 80 (1994): 219–31; Terence DuQuesne, “I Know Ma’et: Counted, Complete, Enduring,” Discussions in Egyptolgy 22 (1992): 79–89.

[116] Hornung, Idea, 134. Hornung presents this idea in light of one of ma’at’s symbols, that of the type of beveled pedestal on which the throne of gods and the king rested.

[117] See Muhlestein, Violence in the Service of Order, 2–7, 94–96.

[118] Stephen Quirke, Ancient Egyptian Religion (New York: Dover Publications, 1992), 70. Hornung, Idea, 135, writes that “passively adapting to a preexisting order, following it and respecting it, will not suffice; rather, this order must be established and actively realized time and again.” See also the Admonitions of Ipuwer, in Papyrus Leiden 344, wherein it is presented that only the presence of a strong king will maintain ma’at.

[119] Besides the passages already quoted and those cited below, see Harry Smith, “Ma’et and Isfet,” Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 5 (1994): 67–88; Assman devotes much of the second section of chapter 7 in Ma’at to this idea.

[120] See Naydler, Temple of the Cosmos, 96; Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, 51–52; Siegfried Morenz, Egyptian Religion (London: Methuen, 1973), 113; Donald B. Redford, Pharaonic King Lists: Annals and Day Books (Mississauga, Ontario: Benben Publications, 1986), 259–75. Bell, “Divine Temple,” 128, writes of the king’s royal name being equated with ma’at.

[121] PT 256, translation mine.

[122] “The King as Sun Priest,” as in Jan Assmann, Der König als Sonnenpriester (Glückstadt: J. J. Augustin, 1970), 19, translation mine.

[123] Urk. 7, 27, translation mine.

[124] Urk. 4, 1246, translation mine.

[125] P. Leningrad 1116B, 69, as in Wolfgang Helck, Die Prophezeihung des Nfr.tj (Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1970), 57.

[126] For example, Pyr. 1774–76, “the King put Ma’at in the place of Isfe”; Eloquent Peasant B1.272, the king should “bring about Ma’at”; translations mine.

[127] Urk. 7:27, translation mine.

[128] Urk. 4:2026, translation mine.

[129] Stela of Taharqa year 6, lines 3–5 (Kawa version), as in M. F. Laming Macadam, The Temples of Kawa I (London: Oxford University Press, 1949), translation mine.

[130] See Kerry Muhlestein, Violence in the Service of Order: The Religious Framework for Sanctioned Killing in Ancient Egypt, British Archaeological Reports International Series 2299 (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2011), 96–98.

[131] Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000), 88.

[132] Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, 197. Hornung, Idea, 142, agrees with this principle, writing that the king presents the wedjet eye and ma’at to the gods, symbolizing both an upholding of ma’at and an eradication of the forces of chaos. The idea of the king presenting ma’at to the gods is depicted frequently in temples and elsewhere. It is one of the most common motifs depicted when the king approaches deity. See also PT 255.

[133] Naydler, Temple of the Cosmos, 103. See also Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, 58.

[134] Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, 149. It was the avowed policy of each king to “make Egypt flourish as in the First Time, in the condition of maat,” see Urkunden, 4.1725.5, words of Amenophis III. The king lived on ma’at and fed the gods on it, enabling him to say, “I have made bright maat which Re loves, I know that he lives by it; it is my bread too, I eat of its brightness.” See “Inscription of Sepos Artemidos,” in J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records (New York: Russell and Russell, 1962), 2.299; Naydler, Temple of the Cosmos, 96.

[135] Hornung, Idea, 138. See also PT 627. Vincent Arieh Tobin, Theological Principles of Egyptian Religion (New York: Peter Lang, 1989), 82–83, writes that ma’at experienced “embodiment in the person of the Pharaoh” and that this aspect of the pharaoh “transformed the land into a type of Messianic kingdom on earth.”

[136] Representations and inscriptions of the king presenting ma’at are identical to food and wine presentations, and in some cases the wine jars are labeled as “presentation of ma’at.” See Emily Teeter, The Presentation of Maat: Ritual and Legitimacy in Ancient Egypt (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1997); Wilkinson, Complete Temples, 88.

[137] Wilkinson, Complete Temples, 89. See also Byron E. Shafer, “Temples, Priests, and Rituals: An Overview,” Temples of Ancient Egypt, ed. Byron E. Shafer (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997) 25, who writes that the extremely common scene of the king hunting and in battle symbolized his conquering the forces of disorder.

[138] Quirke, Ancient Egyptian Religion, 70, writes that the king represented the sun god as he controlled the damage chaos does to creation. Currid, Ancient Egypt, 119, writes that the primary job of the king is to confirm and consolidate ma’at. Hornung, Conceptions, 139–41, writes that the king carries out the role of the creator god by preserving the order of the world. Upon the accession of Merneptah it was written, “Water is plentiful; and the Nile carries a high flood. The days are long, the nights have hours, and the months come in due order;” Papyrus Sallier, 1.8.9, translation from A. Blackman in The Ancient Egyptians: A Sourcebook of Their Writings, ed. A. Ermand (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966), 278–79.

[139] Currid, Ancient Egypt, 113–17.

[140] Silverman, “Nature of Egyptian Kingship,” 52. On page 66, Silverman points out that ritual was one of the primary tools that enabled the king to perform these duties. See also, Shafer, “An Overview,” 22, who writes that ritual shifted the king from “humanity” to “divinity.” Bell, “Divine Temple,” 128, writes of the king being the only person capable of offering ma’at because of his simultaneously mortal and divine nature. His cultic acts enabled him to “renew and perpetuate the creation by maintaining the divinely ordained cosmic order—ma’at.” Elsewhere, Lanny Bell, “Luxor Temple and the Cult of the Royal Ka,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 44 (1985): 283–85, notes that ritual allowed the king to assume the role of the creator god or to enact a union with him, which allowed him to re-create.

[141] See Kadesh Battle Inscriptions; see also Naydler, Temple of the Cosmos, 112–18.

[142] Silverman, “Nature of Egyptian Kingship,” 72. On page 87, Silverman demonstrates that this was particularly true during the reign of Ramses II.

[143] Rendsburg, “Moses the Magician,” 215.

[144] See Muhlestein, Violence in the Service of Order, 83–85.

[145] James P. Allen, Middle Egyptian, an Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 126, notes that snakes and frogs were tied up with creation. This is made apparent in drawings found in Medinet Habu.

[146] Rendsburg, “Moses the Magician,” 247–48.

[147] Irene Shirun-Grumach, “Remarks on the Goddess Maat,” Pharaonic Egypt: The Bible and Christianity, ed. Sarah Israelit-Groll (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, the Hebrew University, 1985), 174, notes that ma’at has an “association with the fertility of the land.”

[148] P. Leiden 344, col. 2 line 10 and col. 3 line 1. See Rendsburg, “Moses the Magician,” 246. For an excellent critical translation as well as comments on the striking parallel between this text and the plague in Exodus, see Roland Enmarch, A World Upturned: Commentary on and Analysis of The Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 28.

[149] J. Black, The Literature of Ancient Sumer (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004), 197–204. The myth is also known as Inanna and the Gardener; see S. N. Kramer, History Begins at Sumer, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1981), 73. This source talks of a plague of a bloody river in Mesopotamia, though the reason for it is a bit unsavory and as a result of rape.

[150] For example, see the tombs of Seti I and Thutmosis III. See also Bojan Mojsov, “The Ancient Egyptian Underworld in the Tomb of Sety I: Sacred Books of Eternal Life,” Massachussetts Review 42, no. 4 (2001/2002): 489–506.

[151] See G. Belova, “The Egyptians’ Ideas of Hostile Encirclement,” in Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Egyptologists, ed. C. J. Eyre, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta (Leuven, Belgium: Uitgeverij Peeters, 1998), 145; Edda Bresciani, “Foreigners,” in The Egyptians, ed. Sergio Donadoni (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 222; Antonio Loprieno, Topos und Mimesis. Zum Ausländer in der ägyptischen Literatur, Ägyptologische Abhandlungen 48 (Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrosowitz, 1988); Kerry Muhlestein, Violence in the Service of Order: The Religious Framework for Sanctioned Killing in Ancient Egypt (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2011), 83–85. There has been a small recent movement to say that foreigners should not be equated with chaos. This was presented in the 2019 annual meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt by Jonathan Winnerman, “Maat and the Orientalist Apology,” and Niv Allon, “War and Order in New Kingdom Egypt.” While these two presenters had very interesting ideas, they are counter to the communis opinio and thus far have not sufficiently demonstrated arguments to overturn the general opnion. I look forward to hearing more of their arguments so that the process of scholarly debate can come to a clearer picture of this topic.

[152] The meaning and etymology of the term arummîm, usually translated as “magician,” is complex and debated. Some believe that the word is of Egyptian origin, and others believe that it is of Akkadian origin. Among those who think that the word comes from Egyptian, there is no degree of agreement as to which word it is related to. See Hans Goedicke, “arummîm,” Orientalia 65 (1996); Jan Quaegebeur, “On the Egyptian Equivalent of Biblical arummîm,” in Israelit-Groll, Pharaonic Egypt: The Bible and Christianity; Currid, Ancient Egypt, 94. I am grateful to Dr. Kasia Szpakowska for help in researching this word. The term could have been employed in order to give a “foreign feel” to the story. See Gary Rendsburg, “Linguistic Variation and the ‘Foreign’ Factor in the Hebrew Bible,” in Israel Oriental Studies: Language and Culture in the Near East, ed. Shlomo Izre'el and Rina Drory (Leiden: Brill, 1995).

[153] St. Petersburg 1116B, lines 25 and 32–33. Rendsburg, “Moses the Magician,” 248, also noticed this connection.

[154] See the annals of the Battle at Megiddo by Tuthmose III; the Qadesh Battle Inscriptions; Naydler, Temple of the Cosmos, 108–12; Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, 9.

[155] Dozeman, God at War, 21, points this out.

[156] This is in contrast to an older tale in which the king had a priest divide water in a lake to find an attendant’s last jewelry. Now, Jehovah divides the sea to save his people, but it becomes an agent of chaos when it comes to Pharaoh. See Rendsburg, “Moses the Magician,” 251–52.