The Context of Ancient Egyptian Kings

When Moses is leading the people out of Egypt, what is the Pharaoh like? One of the most obvious facts was that the heart of Pharaoh was hardened. But what was the background of this? Though dating between 2400 and 2000 BC, the ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts shed some light on this question. The text soon to follow displays the traditional pride (a term meant to be neutral) and power of an Egyptian pharaoh. From utterances 273-274, Faulkner titles them The king hunts and eats the gods. The following is an excerpt from the text:

“The King’s neck is on his trunk. / The King is the Bull of the sky, / Who conquers(?) at will, / Who lives on the being of every god, / Who eats their entrails(?), / Even of those who come with their bodies full of magic” (Faulkner, 80).

When the Exodus occurs in Egypt, after Yahweh has demonstrated his power against Pharaoh, and more importantly the Egyptian gods, Pharaoh has fallen further than he has ever fallen. Thus, his attempt to redeem pride and honor by chasing the fleeing Israelite population is essential to the validity of his rule. Furthermore, this text also demonstrates why there does not seem to be any record of an Israelite population enslaved by Egypt. To do so would require the Pharaoh to admit his defeat and the defeat of Egyptian gods. The loss of Israelite slaves is no little thing.

So, if a person ever states that Israelite enslavement is historically incorrect, remember that no empire establishing or attempting to establish a empire would record such a loss within their historical court records. And, when reading the Bible, know that Pharaoh’s decision to free the Israelite population is no small deal: Pharaoh placed his honor and power on the line.

Faulkner, R. O. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts,. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969.

“Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective” by Martti Nissinen

Martti Nissinen critically considers the role, and even definition, of sexuality in the ancient world. Originally published in Finish in 1994, and in English in 2001, Nissinen approaches homosexual relations from a historical perspective, because he recognizes how the modern person’s thoughts of sexuality differ from how the ancient world thought of sexuality. Throughout his work, he explores texts of Assyrian, Greek, Roman, and biblical origins. In analyzing concepts from a multitude of ancient texts, he clearly shows, with strong evidence, the basics of how the ancient world thought of sexuality and gender. He also demonstrates how the modern reader of the Bible, especially the Christian, must take seriously the cultural significance and meanings behind the texts, which are so rooted in another time.

His conclusions of ancient views on sexuality ultimately show how sexuality, biological sex, gender, and life all inter-relate. For example, he demonstrates the assinnu of the Assyrian and Babylonian deity Ishtar. The assinnu was a priest-like person who was neither male nor female. That said, the assinnu cannot either be a “transgender” in the most modern terms because their roles within society had nothing to do with sexual orientation, which is, in and of itself, a 19th century creation. He goes on to show how homoerotic relationships, not to be confused with homosexual relationships, existed and were viewed in classical antiquity, the Hebrew Bible, and Judaism.

Challenging the traditional view of Christianity, Nissinen challenges any interpreter of the Bible to reconsider his or her approach to the Bible, even suggesting that the modern view of homosexuality is under “the authority of the Hellenistic Jewish synagogue” rather than the Bible (124). Although his view and study pose a significant challenge to more conservative Bible readers, it is important to understand the history if any person hopes to make a reasonable, honest, and well-thought out argument for or against—or perhaps somewhere in the middle— homosexuality in the 21st century.

Though it is well-written, well-researched, and in depth (often times it is quite explicit), it is also accessible to any reader without too much use of technical language to limit the audience to be scholars. If you are a scholar, a student, or simply hope to study the history of sexuality for answers on life, this book is perfect for you. Though it is about 20 years old, the scholarship is still relevant for today and essential for understanding how same-sex relation were understood in the ancient world. And, if you’re a theologian, there is even an appendix specifically exploring the theological implication of the historical overview and practical applications for what can be done in light of them.


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