Anyone familiar with Ptolemaic Egypt, or indeed the study of Egyptian history at all, knows the name Manetho. Something really interesting that I stumbled upon in Manetho’s Aegyptiaca this morning is the following.
Now, if you care to compare these figures with Hebrew chronology, you will find that they are in perfect harmony. Egypt is called Mestraïm by the Hebrews; and Mestraïm lived <not> long after the Flood. For after the Flood, Cham (or Ham), son of Noah, begat Aegyptus or Mestraïm, who was the first to set out to establish himself in Egypt, at the time when the tribes began to disperse this way and that. Now the whole time from Adam to the Flood was, according to the Hebrews, 2242 years.
Here is the text in Latin as it appears in the Loeb Classical Library (quoted above).
Atque haec si cum Hebraeorum chronologia conferre volueris, in eandem plane sententiam conspirare videbis. Namque Aegyptus ab Hebraeis Mestraïmus appellatur: Mestraïmus autem <haud> multo post dilvuvium tempore exstitit. Quippe ex Chamo, Noachi filio, post diluvium ortus est Aegyptus sive Mestraïmus, qui primus ad Aegypti incolatum profectus est, qua tempestate gentes hac illac spargi coeperunt. Erat autem summa temporis ab Adamo ad diluvium secundum Hebraeos annorum MMCCXLII.
In his next section, Manetho then explains, “Mestraïm was indeed the founder of the Egyptian race; and from him the first Egyptian dynasty must be held to spring.” (Sane Mestraïmus generis Aegyptiaci auctor fuit, ab eoque prima Aegyptiorum dynastia manare credenda est.)
This passage stands out in a number of ways.
First, it is further evidence that Ptolemaic Egyptians were aware of Hebrew traditions. Being a priest at Heliopolis, and being fluent in Greek (which the Aegyptiaca was originally written in), Manetho was evidently aware of or otherwise had read (at least parts of) the Hebrew Bible. He almost certainly was reading the Septuagint (or another contemporary or slightly older Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and incorporated elements of the Hebrew proto-history in Genesis in his own reconstruction of Egyptian history. In fact, Manetho goes so far as to suggest that the Egyptians originally sprang from Mestraïm (Hebrew מצרים), a significant admission from a native Egyptian.
Second, I have toyed with the idea of the Book of Abraham being a Hellenistic-era pseudepigraphon. I am not arguing positively that such is the case, but I have not ruled it out entirely either. For many reasons that I won’t get into here, the Book of Abraham works really well as a Jewish-Egyptian pseudepigraphon, and could easily fit in a Hellenistic Greco-Egypto-Jewish context. One thing that stands out to me that I believe reinforces this possibility is the name Manetho gives Mestraïmus––– Aegyptus–––and his discussion of the founding of Egypt. Or, if you prefer, Egyptus. Here is the relevant passage from the Book of Abraham.
Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth. From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land. The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden; When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land. Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal. (Abraham 1:21–25)
The Book of Abraham provides a mythic Urgeschichte of the founding of Egypt that is striking in its similarity to Manetho’s. In both cases a descendant of Ham settles in Egypt after the flood and establishes the Egyptian race. In Manetho’s reckoning Aegyptus was a man. In the Book of Abraham Aegyptus was a woman. What’s neat about the Book of Abraham account, however, is a potential pun or wordplay in the text. “When [Aegyptus] discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.” One of the common images in Egyptian creation mythology (e.g. at Heliopolis and in the Pyramid Texts) is the idea of the primeval hillock (the Benben stone or bnbnt, associated with the bnw phoenix-bird) springing or rising out of the waters of chaos at the time of creation. Could we be seeing a similar play on imagery here in the Book of Abraham?
Also, consider the fact that the earliest manuscripts of the Book of Abraham have the name Zeptah as the name of the daughter of Ham who discovered Egypt.
|William W. Phelps and Warren Parrish Copy of Abraham Manuscript, Summer–Fall 1835. Image from the Joseph Smith Papers website. Click to enlarge.
Zeptah could very easily be the Egyptian zꜣt-ptḥ or “daughter of Ptah.” (The t in zꜣt may have been dropped because of the awkwardness of pronouncing a consonantal cluster such as tpt in English.) Ptah, of course, was the primeval creator god of Memphis, the great capital city of the Old Kingdom. The significance of this lies in the fact that the name “Egypt” (Aegyptus/Egyptus) derives from the Greeks attempting to translate Ḥw.t-kꜣ-ptḥ (“house/enclosure of the ka of Ptah”), the name of the great temple at ancient Memphis, which ended up as Αἴγυπτος.
In any event, I am just throwing all of this out to chew on. I think a good case can be made for the Book of Abraham at least being a Hellenistic pseudepigraphon. The interesting tidbit from Manetho above, I believe, reinforces this.