“Under the pretext of recording fables and current reports about the Jews, he [Manetho] took the liberty of introducing some incredible tales, wishing to represent us as…condemned to banishment from Egypt.”
Flavius Josephus, Against Apion
I’ve been intrigued by the story of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt for more than a decade. More than any of its close rivals, including the tale of Haman in the Book of Esther, the Exodus looms large as an early and extremely influential psychological landmark in the lachrymose and highly dubious pseudo-history of the Jewish people. Most obviously, the putative liberation from Egypt is commemorated by Judaism every year, in the form of the Pesach, or Passover festival. Indeed, this festival is one of the most important features of the Jewish religious calendar. Historian Paul Johnson remarks that Exodus “became an overwhelming memory” and “gradually replaced the creation itself as the central, determining event in Jewish history.”
Exodus has a power that exists independently from the trappings of religious myth, acting through the centuries as a defining narrative of victimhood, group vindication, and self-validation. Jews living under the Tsar produced endless Yiddish plays and satires containing barely concealed allusions to the Tsar as the latest incarnation of Pharaoh. Exodus is a foundation upon which Jewish identity, as well as Jewish religiosity, is built, and for this reason it has greatly preoccupied even the most atheistic of Jews, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud among them. Moses, as a subconscious archetype, squats in the shadows of the Jewish psyche.
The early reception of Exodus by non-Jews also plays an important role in the Jewish worldview, in the sense that the “virus” of “anti-Semitism” is said to have originated in response to it. In this regard, there is an almost universal consensus among Jewish intellectuals that the earliest origins of “anti-Semitism” can be traced to the writings of an Egyptian priest allegedly offended by the account of the Israelite escape from Pharaoh. The theory relates specifically to a history of Egypt, the Aegyptiaca, written by an Egyptian priest named Manetho around the third century BC. Although the Aegyptiaca is lost to us, we are able to piece together much of its contents based on subsequent rebuttals by later Jewish writers such as Flavius Josephus, and also references to the text by several Greek and Greek-Egyptian intellectuals.
In summary, Manetho reported that centuries earlier a foreign population had entered Egypt’s eastern border via “infiltration of the Delta.” This foreign population subsequently rose in power within Egypt, becoming a burden and a pestilence to the natives. At some point, the foreign population developed a serious disease of the skin, and the Egyptians were finally motivated to expel the invaders, who later relocated to Jerusalem. Read more