Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

a

indicated in the Scriptural narrative by the contrast drawn between the earlier and the later period of the Egyptian sojourn, after a “king arose, which knew not Joseph."

But the change in the condition and treatment of the Israelites by the rulers of the country was probably very slow and gradual. According to the Hebrew text of Exod. xii

. 40, 41, a space of nearly four centuries and a half intervened between the entrance of the children of Israel into Egypt and their exodus under the leadership of Moses; and, although the real duration of the period is disputed, the balance of probability is in favour of this long term rather than of a shorter one. The growth of a tribe, numbering even three thousand persons, into a nation of above two millions, abnormal and remarkable if it took place within a period of four hundred and thirty years, would be still more strange and astonishing if the space of time were seriously curtailed. The ten generations between Jacob and Joshua (1 Chron. vii. 22-27), who was a grown man at the time of the Exodus, require a term of four centuries rather than one of two. Egyptian chronology also favours the longer period. Adopting it, we must divide the Egyptian sojourn into three portions—one of about seventy years, during which the Israelites enjoyed the powerful protection of Joseph ; a second of about two hundred and sixty years, during which they were “afflicted," but did not suffer any very severe oppression ; and a third of about a century, throughout which their “lives were made bitter, and all their service, wherein the Egyptians made them serve, was with rigour” (Exod. i. 14).

The chief event of the first period must have been the death of Apepi, or his expulsion from Egypt by the great founder of the eighteenth dynasty, Aahmes. Apepi, in his later years, alarmed at the growing power of Thebes under the Ra-Sekenens, picked a quarrel with the reigning Theban monarch, Taa-ken, and engaged in a war with the native Egyptians of the Upper Country, in which he ultimately suffered complete defeat. He had to retire upon his frontier city, Auaris, where he was attacked by Taa-ken's successor, Aahmes, who after a time took the city, and drove out the entire body of the invaders (or, rather, of their descendants), who had made themselves masters of Egypt under Saites. It would be interesting to know whether the Israelites were called upon to take part in this war, and, if

See Mr. Deane's " Abraham : His Life and Times," pp. 81-84.

so, what response they made to the call ; but unluckily history is silent on these points, and we are left to conjecture. One thing alone is evident. They did not throw in their lot with the Hyksôs. Engaged under them in the quiet pursuits of pasturing cattle, and perhaps to some extent of agriculture, they were probably unwilling to take up arms, and perhaps were not even called upon to do so. Hence, they did not suffer expulsion. The victorious party under Aahmes left the harmless shepherds in possession of their rich pasturages, and Goshen continued to be inhabited by the descendants of Jacob. As time went on and they multiplied, Goshen must have become more and more thickly peopled ; at the land was rich, the shepherds prospered, and in any times o : -vilty they had a great and powerful protector in Joseph

The death of Joseph, which ushered in the second period, must have at once sensibly affected the position of the descendants of Jacob. They had no longer an advocate among the great of the land, to look after their interests, intervene on their behalf when needful, and call the attention of those in power to any grievance of which they might have to complain. Joseph's position must have been high, even to the end of his life, as we see by the long continuance of his memory (Exod. i.8). But his position was not inherited by either of his sons, or by any descendant, though Ephraim and Manasseh, as grandsons of a High Priest of On, must certainly have been persons of some consideration, even after their father's decease. The old Egyptian prejudice against shepherds would cause the Israelites to be looked down upon and shunned, while their foreign des. cent and the fact that they had been the protégés of the Hyksos would also tend to lower them in the public esteem.

It was probably not very long after Joseph's death that the “affliction,” or ill-usage, commenced which had been foretold to Abraham (Gen. xv. 13). The Israelites began to be treated by their rulers and by the upper classes of the Egyptians much as the fellahin of the present day are treated by their Turkish masters. They were despised, regarded as of small account, tyrannized over, struck upon occasions. As they grew in numbers Goshen became too small for them, and they were compelled to take up their abode in the great towns, or to emigrate into the neigh. bouring districts, where they had to work as common labourers on the land of others, or else to occupy themselves in handi.

crafts. Egypt was very flourishing at the time, and they would have had little difficulty in finding employment; but the passage from the independent nomadic life to a settled abode in towns, or even to a hired service in a country district, is always grievous to those who have enjoyed the freedom of the pastoral state, and is viewed as a degradation. The Israelites did not probably suffer from the wars of the period, for a foreign subject race would not be pressed into the Egyptian service, and the dynasty was so successful in its military expeditions that Egypt had never in its turn to suffer invasion; so that, on the whole, the " affliction” was, thus far, perhaps more sentimental than physical, affecting minds rather than bodies, and consisting more in diminished consideration than in any very tangible grievances, except occasionally, when the poorer and weaker members of the race came into contact with Egyptian aristocrats.

In one respect the time was marked by an extraordinary degree of prosperity. It was during the two hundred and sixty years of the second period that “the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them” (Exod. i. 7). The population increased from twenty thousand to (probably) above a million, and became thus so numerous as to alarm the native Egyptians, who did not perhaps themselves number more than six or seven millions. Rapid increase of numbers is, however, an advantage only under certain circumstances-i.e., when a tribe or a people has a large unoccupied territory, or when commerce or manufactures offer practically unlimited employment to any multitude of applicants. But the circumstances of Egypt were not such as to afford these facilities; and the result must have been a difficulty in obtaining subsistence on the part of the Israelites, unless they consented to a low wage or to occupations which were generally distasteful. Towards the close of the second period we may be tolerably sure that a large number of them were forced to submit to both these inconveniences ; that the lowest kinds of employments were eagerly accepted by thousands of Hebrews who found the struggle for existence a hard fight, and that these persons worked at wages which were barely sufficient to keep the wolf from their doors.

The third period now arrived, “A king arose up over Egypt who knew not Joseph” (Exod. i. 8). The memory of benefits received, however great, dies out after a time. Within fourteen

a

[ocr errors]

years of Salamis the Athenians banished Themistocles; within seventeen years of Waterloo the Duke of Wellington was obliged to protect the windows of Apsley House from the attacks of the London mob by cast-iron shutters. We ought perhaps rather to admire the fidelity of the Egyptians to the memory of a former benefactor, and the tenacity of their attachments, than blame them for fickleness, or hold them up to opprobrium for ingratitude. After two hundred and sixty years they may be pardoned if they had forgotten. The king intended, who is called "a new king,” was probably Seti I., the founder, or quasifounder, of a dynasty-one wholly unconnected with the preceding occupants of the throne, who, if he had heard of Joseph at all, had heard of him only as “the shadow of a mighty name"-a great statesman of the past, perhaps a real “ hero,” perhaps a myth—and who failed to realize it as a fact, that either the Egypt of his time, or he himself individually, was in any way indebted to so remote and shadowy a personage. The king looked to the condition of Egypt with the dry, hard gaze of shrewd, practical common sense, and saw in the position of things at his accession great cause for anxiety. Egypt was threatened by a formidable enemy upon her north-eastern frontier. Three centuries from the death of Apepi brings us in Egyptian history to the close of Manetho's eighteenth dynasty, and the accession of his nineteenth, a critical period in the Egyptian annals, and one of much interest. Egypt had at this time lost all those Asiatic possessions which had been gained under the earlier kings of the eighteenth dynasty-Thothmes I., Thothmes III., and Amen-hotep II., and had retired within her own natural borders. South-western Asia had fallen under the dominion of the Khita or Hittites, who had gradually extended their dominion from the Cappadocian highlands to the low regions of Philistia and Western Arabia. In alliance with the other Canaanite nations, with the Philistines, and even with the Arabs (Shasu), the Hittites threatened an invasion of Egypt, which, it was felt, might have the most disastrous consequences. What, if this contingency actually occurred, would be the part taken by the Israelites ? Might it not be that they would “join themselves to Egypt's enemies, and fight against the Egyptians" (Exod. i. 10), and so either help to bring them under subjection to the Hittites, or else "get themselves up out of the land "? The Israelites occupied the portion of Egypt which the Hittites would first enter; if they joined the enemy they would deliver into his hands a large tract of most valuable territory, and put him in a position from which he would threaten the most important of the Egyptian cities—Tanis, Heliopolis, Bubastis, Memphis. Reflecting upon this, the Pharaoh of the time-Seti I., according to our viewdeemed it incumbent on him to take such measures as should seriously weaken and depress his Israelite subjects, crush their aspirations, destroy their physical vigour, and by degrees diminish their numbers.

The first step was to deprive them of their freedom. The sovereign of Egypt, an irresponsible despot, absolute master of the lives and liberties of all his subjects, had full power to reduce at any time any individual among them, or any class of them, to the slave condition. The pyramid builders had done this on a large scale in the days of old. The Pharaoh, who at the time of which we are speaking occupied the throne, made public slaves of the Israelites. Without perhaps any proclamation of their change of status, he practically established it by sending his agents into the districts which they inhabited, and impressing into his service as forced labourers all the males of full age, who were not incapacitated by infirmity or sickness. The main employment which he assigned to them was in connection with his buildings. He was a builder of cities, especially of storecities, or magazine-cities, and needed for their construction a constant supply of hundreds of thousands of bricks. All the outer enclosures of cities, of temples, and of tombs, all the houses, all the walls of magazines and of public buildings generally, except temples and palaces, were built of this material ; even the mounds upon which cities were ordinarily emplaced, to raise them above the level of the inundation, were of the same substance. The Israelites were taken from their free trade of shepherds, lazily tending their flocks and herds in the open pastures of Goshen, to the close confinement of the brickfield, where, under taskmasters who exacted from them a certain fixed quantity of work, they dug the stiff clay, mixed and kneaded it with hands or feet, shaped it carefully into the proper form by means of a mould, and at the end of the day produced their “ tale of bricks” before the taskmaster. The labour was heavy and incessant, carried on under a hot sun, continued from morning to night, and performed under fear of the rod, which was at once freely applied to the back and shoulders of any one

a

« EdellinenJatka »