Exploring Ancient History - The First 2500 Years
QR Code
Exploring Ancient History - The First 2500 Years
Roy Schulz  

Chapter 20:


Abraham and Sarah in Egypt

   Though God called Abraham out of the world, he was still to serve God in having a great impact upon the history of the nations.
   Let's notice the account in Genesis 12. Abraham, Sarah, and their group journeyed south from Haran into Canaan (verses 5-6). Once in the land, the Eternal again appeared to Abraham and spoke to him (verse 7). This was to happen quite frequently to Abraham's future life. The one who became Jesus Christ came in human form and directed his servant's activities. Then verse 8 finds Abraham near Bethel which was not far from the location of Jerusalem. And verse 9 shows him moving even farther toward the south.


   Before taking up the next major section of the story, it is necessary to learn more about Sarah. She played an extremely important role in God's plans for Abraham. Her very name is significant. In the Hebrew, the word Sarah means a "female noble lady, princess, queen." (See number 8282 and associated words in the Hebrew dictionary of Strong's Concordance.) Sarah must have come from royal ancestry. But this name was also prophetic because it described her role as the wife of Abraham, the mighty prince and patriarch, and the mother of the famous individuals that would later be born.
   Read Gen. 17:15-16 where it is recorded that God changed her name from Sarai to Sarah. Both these names come from the same root and have the basic meaning of princess. However, as Adam Clarke points out in his discussion under Gen. 17:5, the term "Sarai" seems to refer to her government in her own family only whereas "Sarah" apparently indicates her government over the nations (verse 16) of which Abraham is called the father or lord.
   It is definite that Sarah has also a Hebrew because she was Abraham's sister. This fact is revealed in Gen. 20:12. Abraham explained to Abimilech, "And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife." From this we learn that Sarah was actually Abraham's half-sister. In that early time in history it was legal to marry a near relative. The above verse implies that Terah actually married twice. Adam Clarke quotes this ancient tradition: "Terah first married Yona, by whom he had Abraham: afterwards he married Tehevita, by whom he had Sarah."
   Probably Terah's first wife died. In Antiquities I, VI, 4 Josephus states that Sarah was the daughter of Haran and therefore Abraham's niece, but this is erroneous. The Bible states otherwise.
   As the next portion of the Bible in Genesis 12 shows, Sarah was "very fair" in other words she was blond. The blond peoples of Israel today derive this characteristic basically from Sarah. The story also reveals that she was very beautiful which is why Pharoah wanted to take her from Abraham.
   Sarah was the woman, then, through whom God wanted to continue the line of which Christ would ultimately be born. He also wanted her to be the ancestor of the Children of Israel. No other woman was suitable for God's purpose. Sarah had certain qualities which God wanted passed on to future generations. Thus she, as well as Abraham was chosen for a great purpose.

Which Pharoah did Abraham meet?

   After Abraham had been in Palestine for a year or two, a famine afflicted the land (Gen. 12:10). This was due to the sins of the pagan Canaanites. But the famine also was for a great purpose! God wanted Abraham to leave temporarily and move into Egypt. The Egyptians at this very junction in their history, needed certain things that only Abraham could provide.
   Verses 10-13 tell what happened before Abraham and Sarah got to Egypt. Abraham had not yet built all the faith in God he needed. He was afraid the Egyptians would kill him and take Sarah if they found out she was his wife. Therefore they agreed to say that she was his sister. This of course, was a clever half-truth. But they were to learn that cleverness is no substitute for faith.
   When Abraham moved into Egypt it caused no small stir in the country. Abraham had an extensive entourage traveling with him. How many were in his group? Gen. 14:14 provides a basic clue. Here it is revealed that Abraham had a specially trained army of (318) men. Now realize that this was only the military part of his total force of servants. He had cattlemen, farmers, gardeners, artisans, weavers, and other types of servants. He had people to take care of his astronomical records and equipment. And this vast group would also include wives and children along with all the cattle, tents, and equipment. In short, there could have been as many as 2,000 people associated with Abraham. When this household moved into a strange country we can be sure the event made front-page headlines. Abraham was a leader and a man of means and ability!
   This large a group coming into Egypt would definitely attract the attention of the Pharaoh. Abraham. Certainly requested permission to use a large area for grazing with a necessary water supply. His entourage could not be hidden in a corner. The Bible speaks of "Pharaoh" (verse 15). but the man's name is not mentioned. Who was this ruler of Egypt? Egyptian history supplies the fascinating answer. During the life of Abraham the most influential dynasty in Egypt was Dynasty XI of Thebes. It endured for 143 years between 2035 and 1892. The most powerful ruler during the course of this dynasty's duration was Mentuhotpe II. He ruled for the lengthy period of 51 years from 1962 to 1911 (Compendium, Vol. I, p. 84). This 51 years is right during the time when Abraham moved to Palestine. Abraham came to Palestine in 1941. This is the date of Genesis 12. The date of Genesis 14 is 1938. Thus Abraham was in Egypt about 1940.
   Now the famous historian, Rawlinson, supplies information showing that Mentuhotpe II was famous for having dug MANY WELLS throughout much of Egypt. What does this mean? This important fact provides expansion of the facts in the Bible. Abraham found, when he moved into Palestine, that there was a drought there.
   This drought, as Genesis 12:10 emphasizes, was very "grievous." It extended into Egypt also, yet Egypt had water while other areas did not. Mentuhotpe II had compensated for the lack by digging all those wells.

Why the Pharaoh Took Sarah

   This is only the beginning of the story of Mentuhotpe II. Read the story in Gen. 12:14-15: "and it came to pass that, when Abram was come into Egypt. The Egyptians beheld the woman [Sarah] that she was very fair (a beautiful and intelligent blond). The princes also of Pharaoh saw her and commended her before Pharaoh: AND THE WOMAN WAS TAKEN INTO PHARAOH'S HOUSE."
   What did Pharaoh want with Sarah? Answer: he was a collector of beautiful women. Mentuhotpe II was the first ruler in Egyptian history, according to all extant archaeological findings, to have had a harem. Archaeologists have been able to find the location of this harem. The have discovered mummies of some of the women along with various items such as headdresses. He was the first to send servants throughout the country to claim women for his harem.
   This is why the "princes" of Pharaoh "commended" Sarah to Mentuhotpe. They were probably competing with each other to see who could please the king the most by finding the prettiest harem candidate. Sarah's light hair and complexion contrasted strikingly with the darker Egyptians.
   Not only the tomb but the statue of Mentuhotpe has been found. He looks like a man who would be interested in women. He was a short little man with a "tough" appearance. He gives the impression of having much energy. He must have because he was a strong leader as our story will point out shortly. This Pharaoh undoubtedly enjoyed the pleasures of music and women and probably Egyptian beer.
   Abraham's clever half-truth designed to save his life had backfired. He should have told the truth. But "all things work together for good" for the servants of God. Sarah's "kidnapping" was just another part of God's purpose.
   Josephus supplies this brief and fascinating account: "now, as soon as he came into Egypt, it happened to Abram as he supposed it would; for the fame of his wife's beauty was greatly talked of; for which reason Pharaoh, the king of Egypt would not be satisfied with what was reported of her, but wanted to see her himself, and was preparing to enjoy her; but God put a stop to his unjust inclinations. By sending upon him a distemper, and a sedition against his government. (Notice how God intervened. Match this statement with verse 17.) And when he inquired of the priests how he might be freed from these calamities, they told him that this, his miserable condition was derived from the wrath of God, upon account of his inclinations to abuse the stranger's wife. He then, out of fear, asked Sarah who she was, and who it was that she brought along with her. (This fills in what took place between verses 17 and 18 of Genesis 12.) And when he found out the truth, he excused himself to Abram, that supposing the woman to be his sister, and not his wife, he set his affections on her, as desiring an affinity with him by marrying her. But not as incited by lust to abuse her. He also made him a large present in money, AND GAVE HIM LEAVE TO ENTER INTO CONVERSATION WITH THE MOST LEARNED AMONG THE EGYPTIANS; from which conversation his virtue and his reputation became more conspicuous than they had been before" (Antiquities I. VIII, 1)
   The fact that Abraham was permitted to meet with the great minds of Egypt was a very significant event. But before this can be covered we must realize the political situation that existed in Egypt prior to and during the reign of Mentuhotpe II.

The Political Achievements of Mentuhotpe II

   Shem reigned in Egypt from the city of Thinis for 18 years from 2037 to 2019. but in 2019 he had to leave Egypt and go to Italy when Noah died. When this great patriarch left Egypt, war broke out! Apparently when the controlling influence of Shem was removed from the country it fell to pieces.
   Now in the same year that Shem departed Egypt, Wahankh Inyotef, a predecessor of Mentuhotpe II came to power at Thebes. He ruled for 49 years, 2019-1970. Early in his reign a tragic war broke out between the dynasties of Thebes and Heracleopolis. The fight was for control of the city Thinis (Abydos) where the first Dynasty in Egyptian history originated. In this struggle Dynasty I ended and a new dynasty arose in 1993. Thebes won out in the struggle and kept the new Thinite Dynasty under subjection.
   Wahankh Inyotef was succeeded on the throne of the 11th Dynasty by a king who ruled for the 8 years to 1962. And then Mentuhotpe II came to the throne. With this event new thing's were in store for war-torn Egypt.
   After Mentuhotpe came to power, the war with the Heracleopolis continued intermittently. In his ninth year, 1954, a great battle was fought between Thebes and Heracleopolis. Thebes was trying to conquer this city to the north. So small was the population of Egypt in those days that only sixty men were lost by the Thebans in their attack. This, along with many other evidences. Proves that the Eleventh Dynasty was one of the earliest in Egypt. Dynasty XI was actually parallel with the end of Dynasty I and the early part of Dynasty II of Abydos or Thinis. Thebes won the battle.
   Though Thebes was successful in this battle of 1954, the war with Heracleopolis persisted off and on until 1935. In that year Heracleopolis was decisively conquered. As a result, Egypt was completely united under Mentuhotpe II! He succeeded in restoring order out of political chaos!

Abraham's Influence on Egypt's Future

   Now notice that Abraham came to Egypt just five years prior to the unification of Egypt under Mentuhotpe the Great. This, then, was a very crucial juncture in the history of Egypt. God wanted Abraham there at just this precise moment in history. Egypt needed the kind of guidance, direction, and education that only the great Abraham could provide.
   Now to continue with the story left of in Josephus, Mentuhotpe permitted Abraham to confer with the most learned men in the country. Abraham began to speak to the most influential men in Egypt! Josephus describes what took place: "For whereas the Egyptians were formerly addicted to different customs, and despised one another's sacred and accustomed rites, and were very angry with one another on that account, Abram conferred with each of them, and confuting the reasonings they made use of, every one for their own practices, demonstrated that such reasonings were vain and void of truth: whereupon he was admired by them in these conferences as a very wise man, and one of great sagacity; and this not only in understanding it, but in persuading other men also to assent to him [Abraham was a gifted speaker!] He communicated to them, ARITHMETIC, and delivered to them the science of ASTRONOMY; for before Abraham came into Egypt they were unacquainted with those parts of learning ..." (Antiquities I, VIII, 2).
   Let's analyze this information. First of all Abraham helped the Egyptians get straightened out on religion their "sacred rites." Mentuhotpe was getting the country unified politically. But now the leaders of the country needed a solution to the to religious problems to go along with that political unity. In other words this indicates that Abraham came, not at a time when Egypt was stable and unified but just at the very time when its leaders were struggling to establish stability and harmony in society and government. At this crucial time there must have been all kinds of confusion and arguments about worshipping the cat god here, the crocodile god there, and the hippopotamus god some place else and various other gods that had been established prior to Abraham's arrival. The Egyptians had all these ridiculous religions. Abraham. Through sound logic and persuasive reasoning, helped them resolve their problems.
   This is not saying that Abraham converted them all to the worship of the true God. It simply seems that he helped them to do away with enough unsound thinking that they could understand religion better.
   Now notice the next major point Josephus preserved in his history. Abraham taught the Egyptians mathematics and the science of astronomy. They had not had this knowledge prior to Abraham's arrival. They had probably heard of his outstanding knowledge even before he came to Egypt and new they wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from him.
   Now why this knowledge about math and astronomy so necessary and valuable to the immature nation of Egypt? let's consider the astronomy first. Information on the movements of the heavenly bodies enabled the Egyptians to set up a calendar! This saved them endless confusion on how to divide their time in terms of weeks, months, and years. What society could function without a fixed calendar?
   What about mathematics? It's value is obvious. It was needed for setting boundaries of different areas, building houses and other structures, planning whole cities. Engineering vast systems of irrigation, developing a system of weights and measures and regulating trade, just to name a few. Abraham supplied the Egyptians with the basic and practical knowledge they needed to stabilize their society. He gave them a practical foundation on which to build.
   As a result, Egypt grew to greatness in the ancient world. By the time of Dynasty XII (1892-1680) Egypt was a world power. In the early 1700's Egypt was conducting successful military operations all over the ancient world. But that is not all!
   Joseph was ruler its Egypt for 66 years during the period 1734-1668. Jacob and the rest of his sons came there after the end of the summer, 1726. They came to the leading nation of the world. This was the great and prosperous land where the nation Israel could prosper and grow to maturity and later carry out God's will before the other nations of the world. Yes, God used Abraham centuries in advance to prepare Egypt for the coming of the Children of Israel.
   And notice this interesting parallel: Just as in the case of Abraham, God used a famine later to cause Jacob and his sons to move to Egypt (Gen. 41:53-57; 42:1-2). In both instances, God used the same method to get his servants down to the land of the Nile.

An Early Egyptian Historical Novel

   The Egyptians preserved myths or legends much as did the Greeks. The Egyptian legends however, tended to be more historical. They were couched in the form of what we would call "historical novels" today. One of the ancient historical novels that has been found pertains to the time of Dynasty 9. This dynasty spanned the years 2035 to 1626 although it was of Minor importance after 1935. Thus this dynasty was in the time of Abraham.
   Now in the story of Dynasty 9 there was said to be a Semitic peasant who came into the country out of Asia riding on a donkey and communicated wisdom to the Pharaoh. What is so unusual about this account is that the only historical novel in all Egypt that pictures the Pharaoh communicating with some foreigner is in the very time of the Ninth Dynasty in the days of Abraham.
   Now the Egyptians, of course, in their vanity and egotism, did not name this "peasant" and they certainly did not picture him to be wealthy and famous. What's more it is made to appear as if the Pharaoh (new this wisdom all along, but merely wanted to hear it over again from this foreigner! Nevertheless, this ancient story undoubtedly refers to this time when Abraham came to Egypt and serves as a corroboration of the account Josephus preserved.
   After his important mission in Egypt has over Abraham and his vast entourage went back into Palestine. But Abraham's impact on future events was not ended. While God wanted Egypt to grow great, he wanted Assyria cut down to size. This was the next part of Abraham's commission and provides the story behind the story of Genesis 14!

Previous      Chapter 20      Next
Publication Date: 1967
Back To Top