Egypt is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible almost seven hundred times, and it is referred to another 25 times in the New Testament, making it the most frequently mentioned place outside Canaan in the Bible. In biblical times, Egypt was already an ancient civilization and the pyramids were thousands of years old. Israel’s status as a relative newcomer can be seen in the fact that many of the events described in the Hebrew Bible are set in an era now known as the New Kingdom (1550-1069 B.C.E.), which was the most recent of the major periods of ancient Egyptian history. Egypt and Israel shared a border in antiquity as they do today, and this led to occasional contact and interaction between the peoples of the two lands. Certain biblical passages allow us to get some sense of the nature of that relationship, but Egyptian texts are less helpful in that regard.
Did you know…?
- Egypt is mentioned in the Bible more times than any other place outside Israel.
- Egypt was already thousands of years old when Moses was born.
- The Bible presents Egypt as a place of both punishment and protection.
- The exodus and Moses are not mentioned in written records from ancient Egypt.
- The earliest reference to Israel outside the Bible comes from an Egyptian source.
Was Egypt enemy territory for people in the Bible?
The relationship between Egypt and the Israelites is complicated. According to several biblical passages, the Israelites spent about four hundred years of enslavement in Egypt (
But that is only part of the story. The land of the pharaohs is also sometimes the Bible’s go-to place, and on occasion it was a destination for people leaving Israel either on their own or because they were forced to flee. In a reversal of the exodus journey, they headed south to seek asylum or refuge from oppression and tough times. Among the biblical notables who travel to Egypt in order to escape hardship are Abraham and Sarah (
Is Israel mentioned in Egyptian sources?
Egypt is commonly referred to in the Bible, but the favor is not returned in the Egyptian written material. The Egyptians were meticulous record keepers, but in all of their annals there is not one reference to the exodus or the events and individuals associated with it in the Bible. That includes Moses, whose name is of Egyptian origin despite the attempt to connect it to Hebrew in
The lone mention of Israel in an Egyptian text is found on a stela, or stone slab, that commemorates a military campaign of a pharaoh named Merneptah, who ruled from 1213 to 1203 B.C.E. This stela dates to approximately 1208 B.C.E., and it is important because it contains the earliest reference to Israel outside the Bible. Merneptah’s campaign took him to Canaan, and the inscription lists the various enemies he encountered and defeated along the way. Among those listed is one referred to as Israel, and what is particularly interesting is that the name is identified as a group of people and not, as the others on the list, a place. This tells us that by that time there was an entity in Canaan that was known as Israel. It sheds no light on how they got there or how long they had been there, but this Egyptian evidence provides the earliest clue we have that is related to the origin of the people who would go on to produce the Bible.