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.