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Ancient Egypt - The Second Intermediate Period

Updated: Nov 10, 2020


The 13th and 14th Dynasties

The transition to the 13th Dynasty seems to have been a smooth one, as they continued to rule from an area just south of Memphis. This dynasty is considered a lost dynasty. We have the names of ten kings who are listed for the dynasty that lasted about 70 years, but little else, other than a few small pyramids at Dahshur and four small pyramids at Saqqara. This 13th Dynasty held control over both Upper and Lower Egypt until about the end of the dynasty when the Eastern Delta in Lower Egypt broke away. They did so under their own petty kings and established the obscure 14th Dynasty, made up of a local Canaanite population. They would rule the Eastern Delta for 57 years.

Now the Delta gets its name from the Greeks when they came into Egypt from the north, traveling across the Mediterranean, and saw this marshy land that was shaped like a triangle. The triangle is the Greek letter Delta... so they called it the Delta. There is very little tangible record from this Delta Dynasty because the area is so moist. There is water everywhere and it is very difficult to excavate. Picture trying to dig in the swamp, it is almost impossible. Whole temples have entirely sunk underwater. As a result, the 14th Dynasty is also considered a lost dynasty.

The Hyksos 15th Dynasty

It appears a prolonged famine struck the Delta region which may have been the cause for the weakened state of both kingdoms. It is at this time that the Hyksos began to assume control in the Delta regions. These Semitic immigrants had been steadily entering Egypt for sometime, as noted in the last episode. Their history is vague due to their illiteracy, and most information about them is negative, as it comes from native Egyptians who hated foreign rule.

The Hyksos established the 15th Dynasty and appeared to take Avaris from the 14th Dynasty as their capital. Because of the Delta conditions, little remains of the temples and fortifications. The problem with tracing the Hyksos in the historical record is that only victories were recorded in Ancient Egyptian chronicles. Defeats and negative press went unrecorded. They did not have the same sense of history that we do, meaning they did not record events for the sake of history, for keeping the historical record straight.

Appropriately for a people associated with the desert, they chose as their main deity the god Seth, the deity of the desert wasteland. Seth was looked upon by the Egyptians as the evil god who hacked up the good god Osiris. But for some reason, which is unclear, he is eventually worshiped by later pharaohs who consider him changed in some way. We'll discuss that ahead in this podcast. But for now, Seth

was considered kind of like the devil and appropriately worshiped by these foreigners, whom the native Egyptians hated. Seth was represented by an animal, called the seth-animal, because there is really nothing like it. Speaking of the devil, interestingly this animal has a forked tail. This animal has the head that looks almost like a goat with the horns like a ram going in the opposite direction, going towards it's back. The body is more like a feline or canine. Its very strange that this animal is so prominent in Egyptian mythology and really how it was adopted by these Hyksos.

The Hyksos also introduced their own foreign gods from their Phoenician homelands, such as the mother goddess, Astarte, and the storm and war god, Reshef. We have no evidence of Hyksos temples to these gods. They don't seem to have integrated with the locals. However, there is evidence that they traded and associated with the Minoans in Crete. A jar with a Hykosos cartouche was discovered in the palace of Knossos on Crete.

The Hyksos were not literate. Their scarabs show only scroll work designs and very few inscriptions. There were very few Hyksos scarabs in the south, which indicates that they most likely stayed in the north.

For our Bible scholars, something to really consider is that these Hyksos may have been related to the story of Joseph. Remember Joseph was sold as a slave who eventually worked his way up to vizier based on his relationship with the pharaoh. That story fits with this time and would only be possible with the Hyksos, since we can prove that they were Semitic immigrants, much like the Biblical Hebrews. For those who study the Bible, this is a really fascinating topic. One that Egyptologist Bob Brier goes into in his series from the Great Courses called 'The History of Ancient Egypt'. He devotes an entire episode on this possibility in lecture 15. This is one of my favorites from the Great Courses collection. It consists of 48 30-minute lectures from one of the world's most exciting and talented instructors. See my media highlight series for more information as I provide reviews on this great material.