In my continuing study of the similarities between the Hebrew Scriptures and contemporaneous (and, in this case, pre-dating) ancient Near Eastern literature, I came across these two Egyptian tales. They are significant in length. However, take a few minutes to read them, and keep the biblical account of Joseph in mind…
The Tale of Sinuhe
I was a henchman who followed his lord, a servant of the Royal harim attending on the hereditary princess, the highly-praised Royal Consort of Sesostris in the pyramid-town of Khnem-esut, the Royal Daughter of Amenemmes in the Pyramid-town of Ka-nofru, even Nofru, the revered.
In year 30, third month of Inundation, day 7, the god attained his horizon, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Sehetepebre. He flew to heaven and was united with the sun’s disk; the flesh of the god was merged in him, who made him. Then was the Residence hushed; hearts were filled with mourning; the Great Portals were closed; the courtiers crouched head on lap; the people grieved.
Now His Majesty had despatched an army to the land of the Temhi, and his eldest son was the captain thereof, the good god Sesostris. Even now he was returning, having carried away captives of the Tehenu and cattle of all kinds beyond number. And the Companions of the Royal Palace sent to the western border to acquaint the king’s son with the matters that had come to pass at the Court. And the messengers met him on the road, they reached him at time of night. Not a moment did he wait; the Falcon flew away with his henchmen, not suffering it to be known to his army. Howbeit, message had been sent to the Royal Children who were with him in this army, and one of them had been summoned. And lo, I stood and heard his voice as he was speaking, being a little distance aloof; and my heart became distraught, my arms spread apart, trembling having fallen on all my limbs. Leaping I betook myself thence to seek me a hiding-place, and placed me between two brambles so as to sunder the road from its traveler.
I set out southward, yet purposed not to approach the Residence; for I thought there would be strife, and I had no mind to live after him. I crossed the waters of Mewoti hard by the Sycamore, and arrived in Island-of-Snofru. I tarried there in the open fields, and was afoot early, when it was day. I met a man who rose up in my path; he showed dismay of me and feared. When the time of supper came, I drew nigh to the town of Gu.
I ferried over in a barge without a rudder, by the help of a western breeze; and passed on by the East of the quarry in the district Mistress-of-the-Red-Mountain. I gave a road to my feet northward and attained the Wall of the Prince, which was made to repel the Setiu and to crush the Sandfarers. I bowed me down in a thicket through fear lest the watcher on the wall for the day might see.
I went on at time of night, and when it dawned I reached Petni. I halted at the Island-of-Kemwer. An attack of thirst overtook me; I was parched, my throat burned, and I said: This is the taste of death. Then I lifted my heart, and gathered up my body. I heard the sound of the lowing of cattle, and espied men of the Setiu.
A sheikh among them, who was aforetime in Egypt, recognized me, and gave me water; he boiled for me milk. I went with him to his tribe, and they entreated me kindly.
Land gave me to land. I set forth to Byblos, I pushed on to Kedme. I spent half a year there; then Enshi son of Amu, prince of Upper Retenu, took me and said to me: Thou farest well with me, for thou hearest the tongue of Egypt. This he said, for that he had become aware of my qualities, he had heard of my wisdom; Egyptian folk, who were there with him, had testified concerning me. And he said to me: “Wherefore art thou come hither? Hath aught befallen at the Residence?”
And I said to him: “Sehetepebre is departed to the horizon, and none knoweth what has happened in this matter.” And I spoke again dissembling: “I came from the expedition to the land of the Temhi, and report was made to me, and my understanding reeled, my heart was no longer in my body; it carried me away on the path of the wastes. Yet none had spoken evil of me, none had spat in my face. I had heard no reviling word, my name had not been heard in the mouth of the herald. I know not what brought me to this country. It was like the dispensation of God. (…)”
Then said he to me: “How shall yon land fare without him, the beneficent god, the fear of whom was throughout the lands like Sakhmet in a year of plague?”
Spake I to him and answered him: “Of a truth his son has entered the Palace and has taken the inheritance of his father. A god is he without a peer; none other surpasses him. A master of prudence is he, excellent in counsel, efficacious in decrees. Goings and comings are at his command. It is he who subdued the foreign lands while his father was within his Palace, and reported to him what was ordered him to do. Valiant is he, achieving with his strong arm; active, and none is like to him, when he is seen charging down on Ro-pedtiu, or approaching the mellay. A curber of horns is he, a weakener of hands; his enemies cannot marshal their ranks. Vengeful is he, a smasher of foreheads; none can stand in his neighbourhood. Long of stride is he, destroying the fugitive; these is no ending for any that turns his back to him. Stout of heart is he when he sees a multitude; he suffers not sloth to encompass his heart. Headlong is he when he falls upon the Easterners; his joy is to plunder the Ro-pedtiu. He seizes the buckles, he tramples under foot; he repeats not his blow in order to kill. None can turn his shaft or bend his bow. The Pedtiu flee before him as before the might of the Great Goddess. He fights without end; he spares not and these is no remnant. He is a master of grace, great in sweetness; he conquers through love. His city loves him more than itself, it rejoices over him more than over its god. Men and women pass by in exultation concerning him, now that he is king. He conquered while yet in the egg; his face has been set toward kingship ever since he was born. He is one who multiplies those who were born with him. He is unique, god-given. This land that he rules rejoices. He is one who enlarges his borders. He will conquer the southern lands, but he heeds not the northern lands. He was made to smite the Setiu, and to crush the Sandfarers. Send to him, let him know thy name. Utter no curse against His Majesty. He fails not to do good to the land that is loyal to him.”
And he placed me even before his children, and mated me with his eldest daughter. He caused me to choose for myself of his country, of the best that belonged to him on his border to another country. It was a goodly land called Yaa. Figs were in it and grapes, and its wine was more abundant than its water. Plentiful was its honey, many were its olives; all manner of fruits were upon its trees. Wheat was in it and spelt, and limitless cattle of all kinds. Great also was that which fell to my portion by reason of the love bestowed on me. He made me ruler of a tribe of the best of his country. Food was provided me for my daily fare, and wine for my daily portion, cooked meat and roast,fowl, over and above the animals of the desert; for men hunted and laid before me in addition to the quarry of my dogs. And there were made for me many dainties, and milk prepared in every way.
I spent many years, and my children grew up as mighty men, each one controlling his tribe. The messenger who fared north, or south to the Residence, tarried with me, for I caused all men to tarry. I gave water to the thirsty, and set upon the road him who was strayed; I rescued him who was plundered. When the Setiu waxed insolent to oppose the chieftains of the deserts, I counselled their movements; for this prince of Retenu caused me to pass many years as commander of his host. Every country against which I marched, when I made my assault it was driven from its pastures and wells. I spoiled its cattle, I made captive its inhabitants, I took away their food, I slew people in it; by my strong arm, by my bow, by my movements and by my excellent counsels. I found favour in his heart and he loved me, he marked my bravery and placed me even before his children, when he had seen that my hands prevailed.
There came a mighty man of Retenu and flaunted me in my tent. He was a champion without a peer, and had subdued the whole of Retenu. He vowed that he would fight with me, he planned to rob me, he plotted to spoil my cattle, by the counsel of his tribesfolk. The prince communed with me and I said: “I know him not, forsooth I am no confederate of his, nor one who strode about his encampment. Yet have I ever opened his door, or overthrown his fence ? Nay, it is envy because he sees me doing thy behest. Assuredly, I am like a wandering bull in the midst of a strange herd, and the steer of those cattle charges him, a long-horn attacks him. Is there a humble man who is beloved in the condition of a master? There is no Pedti that makes cause with a man of the Delta. What can fasten the papyrus to the rock? Does a bull love combat and shall then a stronger bull wish to sound the retreat through dread lest that one might equal him? If his heart be toward fighting, let him speak his will. Does God ignore what is ordained for him, or knows he how the matter stands?”
At night-time I strung my bow, and tried my arrows. I drew out my dagger, and polished my weapons. Day dawned and Retenu was already come; it had stirred up its tribes and had assembled the countries of a half of it, it had planned this fight. Forth he came against me where I stood, and I posted myself near him. Every heart burned for me. Women and men jabbered. Every heart was sore for me, saying: “Is there another mighty man who can fight against him?”
Then his shield, his battle-axe and his armful of javelins fell, when I had escaped from his weapons and had caused his arrows to pass by me, uselessly sped; while one approached the other. I shot him, my arrow sticking in his neck. He cried aloud, and fell on his nose. I laid him low with his own battle-axe, and raised my shout of victory over his back. Every ‘A’am shrieked. I gave thanks to Montu, but his serfs mourned for him. This prince Enshi, son of Amu, took me to his embrace. Then carried I off his possessions, and spoiled his cattle. What he had devised to do unto me, that did I unto him. I seized what was in his tent, I ransacked his encampment.
I became great thereby, I grew large in my riches, I became abundant in my flocks. Thus God hath done, so as to shew mercy to him whom he had condemned, whom he had made wander to another land. For today is his heart satisfied. A fugitive fled in his season; now the report of me is in the Residence. A laggard lagged because of hunger; now give I bread to my neighbour. A man left his country because of nakedness; but I am clad in white raiment and linen. A man sped for lack of one whom he should send; but I am a plenteous owner of slaves. Beautiful is my house, wide my dwelling-place; the remembrance of me is in the Palace.
O God, whosoever thou art that didst ordain this flight, show mercy and bring me to the Residence! Peradventure thou wilt grant me to see the place where my heart dwelleth. What matter is greater than that my corpse should be buried in the land wherein I was born? Come to my aid! A happy event has befallen. I have caused God to be merciful. May he do the like again so as to ennoble the end of him whom he had abased, his heart grieving for him whom he had compelled to live abroad. If it so be that today he is merciful, may he hear the prayer of one afar off, may he restore him whom he had stricken to the place whence he took him.
O may the King of Egypt show mercy to me, that I may live by his mercy. May I salute the Lady of the Land who is in his Palace. May I hear the behests of her children. O let my flesh grow young again, for old age has befallen, feebleness has overtaken me, mine eyes are heavy, my hands are weak, my legs refuse to follow, my heart is weary, and death approaches me, when they shall bear me to the city of Eternity. Let me serve my Sovereign Lady. O let her discourse to me of her children’s beauty. May she spend an eternity over me!
Now it was told the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Kheperkere concerning this pass wherein I was. Thereupon His Majesty sent to me with gifts of the Royal bounty, and gladdened the heart of this his servant, as it had been the prince of any foreign country. And the Royal Children who were within his Palace caused me to hear their behests.
Copy of the Decree Which Was Brought to His Humble Servant Concerning His Return to Egypt
Horus, Life-of-Births; Two Goddesses, Life-of-Births; King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Kheperkere; Son of Re, Sesostris, living for ever and ever. A Royal decree unto the henchman Sinuhe. Behold, this decree of the King is brought to thee to instruct thee as following:
– Thou hast traversed the foreign lands and art gone forth from Kedme to Retenu; land gave thee to land, self-counselled by thine own heart.
What hadst thou done, that aught should be done against thee? Thou hadst not blasphemed, that thy words should be reproved. Thou hadst not spoken in the council of the nobles, that thy utterances should be banned. This determination, it seized thine own heart, it was not in my heart against thee. This thy Heaven, who is in the Palace, is established and prospereth daily; she hath her part in the kingship of the land, her children are at the Court. Mayest thou long enjoy the goodly things that they shall give thee; mayest thou live by their bounty. Come thou to Egypt, that thou mayst see the Residence where thou didst grow, that thou mayst kiss the earth at the Great Portals and have thy lot among the Companions. For today already thou hast begun to be old, thy manhood is spent. Bethink thee of the day of burial, the passing into beatitude: how that the night shall be devoted to thee with ointments, with bandages from the hands of Tayt; and a funeral procession shall be made for thee on the day of joining the earth; the mummy-shell of gold, with head of lazuli; and a heaven above thee; and thou placed upon the hearse, oxen dragging thee, musicians in front of thee; and there shall be performed the dance of the Muu at the door of thy tomb; and the offering-list shall be invoked for thee and slaughterings made beside thy stele; thy columns being shapen of white stone amid the tombs of the Royal Children. Thus shalt thou not die abroad. ‘A’amu shall not escort thee. Thou shalt not he placed in a sheep-skin, when thy mound is made. Yea, all these things shall fall to the ground. Wherefore think of thy corpse, and come.
This decree reached me as I stood in the midst of my tribesfolk. It was read aloud to me, and I laid me on my belly and touched the soil, I strewed it on my hair. And I went about my encampment rejoicing, and saying: How should such things be done to a servant whom his heart led astray to barbarous lands? Fair in sooth is the graciousness which delivereth me from death; inasmuch as thy ka will grant me to accomplish the ending of my body at home.
Copy of the Acknowledgement of this Decree
The servant of the harim Sinuhe says:
Fair hail! Discerned is this flight that thy servant made in his witlessness, yea even by thy ka, thou good god, lord of the two lands, whom Re loves and Montu, lord of Thebes, praises Amun lord of Karnak, Sobk, Re, Horus, Hathor, Atum with his Ennead, Sopdu, Neferbaiu, Semseru, Horus of the East, the Lady of Imet who rests on thy head, the Conclave upon the waters, Min in the midst of the deserts, Wereret lady of Punt, Har-uer-re, and all the gods of Ti-muri and of the islands of the sea: they give life and strength to thy nose, they endue thee with their gifts, they give to thee eternity illimitable, time without bourn; the fear of thee is bruited abroad in corn-lands and desert-hills, thou hast subdued all the circuit of the sun.
This thy servant’s prayer to his lord to rescue him in the West, the lord of Perception, who perceiveth lowly folk, he perceived it in his noble Palace. Thy servant feared to speak it; now it is like some grave circumstance to repeat it. Thou great god, peer of Re in giving discretion to one toiling for himself, this thy servant is in the hand of a good counsellor in his behoof; verily I am placed beneath his guidance. For Thy Majesty is the victorious Horus, thy hands are strong against all lands. Let now Thy Majesty cause to be brought Maki from Kedme, Khentiaush from Khentkesh, Menus from the lands of the Fenkhu. They are renowned princes, who have grown up in love of thee, albeit unremembered. Retenu is thine, like to thy hounds.
But as touching this thy servant’s flight, I planned it not, it was not in my heart, I conceived it not, I know not what sundered me from my place. It was the manner of a dream, as when a Delta-man sees himself in Elephantine, a man of the marshes in Ta-seti. I had not feared. None had pursued after me. I had heard no reviling word. My name had not been heard in the mouth of the herald. Nay, but my body quivered, my feet began to scurry, my heart directed me, the god who ordained this flight drew me away. Yet am I not stiff-backed, inasmuch as suffering the fear of a man that knows his land. For Re has set the fear of thee throughout the land, the dread of thee in every foreign country. Whether I be at home or whether I be in this place, it is thou that canst obscure yon horizon. The sun riseth at thy pleasure, the water in the rivers is drunk at thy will, the air in heaven is breathed at thy word. Thy servant will hand over the viziership which thy servant hath held in this place. But let Thy Majesty do as pleaseth thee. Men live by the breath that thou givest. Re, Horus and Hathor love this thy august nose, which Montu, lord of Thebes, wills shall live eternally.
Envoys came to this servant, and I was suffered to spend a day in Yaa to hand over my possessions to my children, my eldest son taking charge of my tribe, all my possessions being in his hand, my serfs and all my cattle, my fruit and every pleasant tree of mine. Then came this humble servant southward and halted at Paths-of-Horus. The commander who was there, in charge of the frontier-patrol sent a message to the Residence to bear tidings. And His Majesty sent a trusty head-fowler of the Palace, having with him ships laden with presents of the Royal bounty for the Setiu that were come with me to conduct me to Paths-of-Horus. And I named each several one of them by his name. Brewers kneaded and strained in my presence, and every serving-man made busy with his task.
Then I set out and sailed, until I reached the town of Ithtoue. And when the land was lightened and it was morning there came men to summon me, ten coming and ten going to convey me to the Palace. And I pressed my forehead to the ground between the sphinxes, the Royal Children standing in the gateway against my coming. The Companions that had been ushered into the forecourt showed me the way to the Hall of Audience. And I found His Majesty on a throne in a gateway of gold; and I stretched myself on my belly and my wit forsook me in his presence, albeit this god greeted me joyously. Yea, I was like a man caught in the dusk; my soul fled, my flesh quaked, and my heart was not in my body, that I should know life from death.
Thereupon His Majesty said to one of those Companions: Raise him up, let him speak to me. And His Majesty said: “Lo, thou art come, thou hast trodden the deserts, thou hast traversed the wastes; eld has prevailed against thee, thou hast reached old age. It is no small matter that thy corpse should be buried without escort of Pedtiu. But do not thus, do not thus, staying ever speechless, when thy name is pronounced.”
But verily I feared punishment, and answered him with the answer of one afraid: What speaketh my lord to me? Would I might answer it, and may not. Lo, it is the hand of God, yea the dread that is in my body, like that which caused this fateful flight. Behold, I am in thy presence. Thine is life; may Thy Majesty do as pleaseth thee.
The Royal Children were caused to be ushered in. Then His Majesty said to the Royal Consort: “Behold Sinuhe, who is come as an ‘A’am, an offspring of Setiu-folk.”
She gave a great cry, and the Royal Children shrieked out all together. And they said to His Majesty: “It is not really he, O Sovereign, my lord.”
And His Majesty said: “Yea, it is really he.”
Then brought they their necklaces, their rattles and their sistra, and presented them to His Majesty: “Thy hands be on the Beauteous one, O enduring King, on the ornament of the Lady of Heaven. May Nub give life to thy nose, may the Lady of the Stars join herself to thee. Let the goddess of Upper Egypt fare north, and the goddess of Lower Egypt fare south, united and conjoined in the name of Thy Majesty. May the Uraeus be set upon thy brow. Thou hast delivered thy subjects out of evil. May Re, lord of the lands, show thee grace. Hail to thee, and also to our Sovereign Lady. The horn of thy bow is slacked, thine arrow loosened. Give breath to one that is stifled, and grant us our goodly guerdon in the person of this sheikh Si-mehyt, the Pedti born in Ti-muri. He fled through fear of thee; he left this land through dread of thee. But as for the face of him who sees Thy Majesty, it blenches not; as for the eye that regardeth thee, it fears not.”
Then said His Majesty: “Nay, but he shall not fear, he shall not dread. For he shall be a Companion among the magistrates, he shall be set in the midst of the nobles. Get you gone to the Chamber of Adornment to wait upon him.”
So when I was gone forth from the Hall of Audience, the Royal Children giving me their hands, we went together to the Great Portals, and I was placed in the house of a Royal Son. There was noble equipment in it, a bathroom and painted devices of the horizon; costly things of the Treasury were in it. Garments of Royal stuff were in every chamber, unguent and the fine oil of the King and of the courtiers whom he loves; and every serving-man made busy with his task. Years were caused to pass away from my flesh, I was shaved and my hair was combed. A burden was given over to the desert, and clothing to the Sandfarers. And I was clad in soft linen, and anointed with fine oil; by night I lay upon a bed. I gave up the sand to them that dwell therein, and oil of wood to him who smears himself with it. There was given to me the house of a provincial governor, such as a Companion may possess; many artificers built it, and all its woodwork was new appointed. And meals were brought to me from the Palace three times, yea four times, a day, over and above that which the Royal Children gave, without remiss.
And there was constructed for me a tomb of stone in the midst of the tombs; the masons that hew tombs marked out its ground-plan; the master-draughtsmen designed in it; the master-sculptors carved in it; and the master-architects who are in the Necropolis bestowed their care upon it. And all the gear that is placed in a tomb-shaft went to its equipment. And ka-servants were given to me, and there was made for me a sepulchral garden, in which were fields, in front of my abode, even as is done for a chief Companion. And my statue was overlaid with gold, and its apron was of real gold. It was His Majesty caused it to be made.
There is no poor man for whom the like hath been done; and I enjoyed the favours of the Royal bounty until the day of death came.
It Is Finished, from the Beginning to the End, According as it Was Found in Writing
Alan H. Gardiner, Notes on the Story of Sinuhe (Librairie Honoré Champion:Paris, 1916). For complete footnotes to text, click here.
The Tale of the Two Brothers
It is said, there were two brothers, of the same mother and the same father. Anubis was the name of the elder, and Bata the name of the younger. As for Anubis, he had a house and a wife; and his young brother was with him as if he were a son. He was the one who made cothes for him, and he went behind his cattle to the fields. He was the one who did the plowing, and he harvested for him. He was the one who did for him all kinds of labor in the fields. Indeed, his young brother was an excellent man. There was none like him in the whole land, for a god’s strength was in him.
Now when many days had passed, his young brother [was tending] his cattle according to his daily custom. And he [returned] to his house in the evening, laden with all kinds of field plants, and with milk, with wood, and with every [good thing] of the field. He placed them before his [elder brother], as he was sitting with his wife. Then he drank and ate and [went to sleep in] his stable among his cattle.
Now when it had dawned and another day had come, [he took foods] that were cooked and placed them before his elder brother. Then he took bread for himself for the fields, and he drove his cattle to let them eat in the fields. He walked behind his cattle, and they would say to him: “The grass is good in such-and-such a place.” And he heard all they said and took them to the place of good grass that they desired. Thus the cattle he tended became exceedingly fine, and they increased their offspring very much.
Now at plowing time his [elder] brother said to him: “Have a team [of oxen] made ready for us for plowing, for the soil has emerged and is right for plowing. Also, come to the field with seed, for we shall start plowing tomorrow.” So he said to him. Then the young brother made all the preparations that his elder brother had told him [to make].
Now when it had dawned and another day had come, they went to the field with their [seed] and began to plow. And [their hearts] were very pleased with this work they had undertaken. And many days later, when they were in the field, they had need of seed. Then he sent his young brother, saying: “Hurry, fetch us seed from the village.” His young brother found the wife of his elder brother seated braiding her hair. He said to her: “Get up, give me seed, so that I may hurry to the field, for my elder brother is waiting for me. Don’t delay.” She said to him: “Go, open the storeroom and fetch what you want. Don’t make me leave my hairdo unfinished.”
Then the youth entered his stable and fetched a large vessel, for he wished to take a great quantity of seed. He loaded himself with barley and emmer and came out with it. Thereupon she said to him: “How much is what you have on your shoulder?” He said to her: “Three sacks of emmer and two sacks of barley, five in all, are on my shoulder.” So he said to her. Then she [spoke to] him saying: “There is [great] strength in you. I see your vigor daily.” And she desired to know him as a man. She got up, took hold of him, and said to him:
“Come, let us spend an hour lying together. It will be good for you. And I will make fine clothes for you.”
Then the youth became like a leopard in [‘his’] anger over the wicked speech she had made to him; and she became very frightened. He rebuked her, saying: “Look, you are like a mother to me; and your husband is like a father to me. He who is older than I has raised me. What is this great wrong you said to me? Do not say it to me again! But I will not tell it to anyone. I will not let it come from my mouth to any man.” He picked up his load; he went off to the field. He reached his elder brother, and they began to work at their task. When evening had come, his elder brother returned to his house. And his young brother tended his cattle, loaded himself with all things of the field, and drove his cattle before him to let them sleep in their stable in the village.
Now the wife of his elder brother was afraid on account of the speech she had made. So she took fat and grease and made herself appear as if she had been beaten, in order to tell her husband, “It was your young brother who beat me.” Her husband returned in the evening according to his daily custom. He reached his house and found his wife lying down and seeming ill. She did not pour water over his hands in the usual manner; nor had she lit a fire for him. His house was in darkness, and she lay vomiting.
Her husband said to her: “Who has had words with you?” She said to him: “No one has had words with me except your young brother. When he came to take seed to you, he found me sitting alone. He said to me: ‘Come, let us spend an hour lying together; loosen your braids (1). So he said to me. But I would not listen to him. ‘Am I not your mother? Is your elder brother not like a father to you?’ So I said to him. He became frightened and he beat (me), so as to prevent me from telling you. Now if you let him live, I shall die! Look, when he returns, do [not let him live]!(2) For I am ill from this evil design which he was about to carry out in the morning.” (3)
Then his elder brother became like a leopard. He sharpened his spear and took it in his hand. Then his elder (brother) stood behind the door (of) his stable, in order to kill his young brother when he came in the evening to let his cattle enter the stable. Now when the sun had set he loaded himself with all the plants of the field according to his daily custom. He returned, and as the lead cow was about to enter the stable she said to her herdsman: “Here is your elder brother waiting for you with his spear in order to kill you. Run away from him.” He heard what his lead cow said, and when another went in she said the same. He looked under the door of his stable and saw the feet of his elder brother as he stood behind the door with his spear in his hand. He set his load on the ground and took off at a run so as to flee. And his elder brother went after him with his spear.
Then his young brother prayed to Pre-Harakhti, saying: “My good lord! It is you who judge between the wicked and the just!” And Pre heard all his plea; and Pre made a great body of water appear between him and his elder brother, and it was full of crocodiles. Thus one came to be on the one slide, and the other on the other side. And his elder brother struck his own hand twice, because he had failed to kill him. Then his young brother called to him on this side, saying: “Wait here until dawn! When the Aten has risen, I shall contend with you before him; and he will hand over the wicked to the just! For I shall not be with you any more. I shall not be in the place in which you are. I shall go to the Valley of the Pine.”
Now when it dawned and another day had come, and Pre-Harakhti had risen, one gazed at the other. Then the youth rebuked his elder brother, saying: “What is your coming after me to kill me wrongfully, without having listened to my words? For I am yet your young brother, and you are like a father to me, and your wife is like a mother to me. Is it not so that when I was sent to fetch seed for us your wife said to me: ‘Come, let us spend an hour lying together’? But look, it has been turned about for you into another thing.” Then he let him know all that had happened between him and his wife. And he swore by Pre-Harakhti, saying: “As to your coming to kill me wrongfully, you carried your spear on the testimony of a filthy whore!” Then he took a reed knife, cut off his phallus, and threw it into the water; and the catfish swallowed it. And he grew weak and became feeble. And his elder brother became very sick at heart and stood weeping for him loudly. He could not cross over to where his young brother was on account of the crocodiles.
Then his young brother called to him, saying: “If you recall something evil, will you not also recall something good, or something that I have done for you? Go back to your home and tend your cattle, for I shall not stay in the place where you are. I shall go to the Valley of the Pine. But what you shall do for me is to come and look after me, when you learn that something has happened to me. I shall take out my heart and place it on top of the blossom of the pine. If the pine is cut down and falls to the ground, you shall come to search for it. If you spend seven years searching for it, let your heart not be disgusted. And when you find it and place it in a bowl of cool water, I shall live to take revenge on him who wronged me. You will know that something has happened to me when one puts a jug of beer in your hand and it ferments. Do not delay at all when this happens to you.”
Then he went away to the Valley of the Pine; and his elder brother went to his home, his hand on his head and smeared with dirt (4). When he reached his house, he killed his wife, cast her to the dogs, and sat mourning for his young brother.
Now many days after this, his young brother was in the Valley of the Pine. There was no one with him, and he spent the days hunting desert game. In the evening he returned to sleep under the pine on top of whose blossom his heart was. And after many days he built a mansion for himself with his own hand (in) the Valley of the Pine, filled with all good things, for he wanted to set up a household.
Coming out of his mansion, he encountered the Ennead as they walked about administering the entire land. Then the Ennead addressed him in unison, saying: “O Bata, Bull of the Ennead, are you alone here, having left your town on account of the wife of Anubis, your elder brother? He has killed his wife and you are avenged of all the wrong done to you.” And as they felt very sorry for him, PreHarakhti said to Khnum: “Fashion a wife for Bata, that he not live alone!” Then Khnum made a companion for him who was more beautiful in body than any woman in the whole land, for (the fluid of) every god was in her. Then the seven Hathors came (to) see her, and they said with one voice: “She will die by the knife.”
He desired her very much. She sat in his house while he spent the day hunting desert game, bringing it and putting it before her. He said to her: “Do not go outdoors, lest the sea snatch you. I cannot rescue you from it, because I am a woman like you. And my heart lies on top of the blossom of the pine. But if another finds it, I shall fight with him.” Then he revealed to her all his thoughts.
Now many days after this, when Bata had gone hunting according to his daily custom, the young girl went out to stroll under the pine which was next to her house. Then she saw the sea surging behind her, and she started to run before it and entered her house. Thereupon the sea called to the pine, saying: “Catch her for me!” And the pine took away a lock of her hair. Then the sea brought it to Egypt and laid it in the place of the washermen of Pharaoh. Thereafter the scent of the lock of hair got into the clothes of Pharaoh. And the king quarreled with the royal washermen, saying: “A scent of ointment is in the clothes of Pharaoh!” He quarreled with them every day, and they did not know what to do.
The chief of the royal washermen went to the shore, his heart very sore on account of the daily quarrel with him. Then he realized (5) that he was standing on the shore opposite the lock of hair which was in the water. He had someone go down, and it was brought to him. Its scent was found to be very sweet, and he took it to Pharaoh.
Then the learned scribes of Pharaoh were summoned, and they said to Pharaoh: “As for this lock of hair, it belongs to a daughter of Pre-Harakhti in whom there is the fluid of every god. It is a greeting to you from another country. Let envoys go to every foreign land to search for her. As for the envoy who goes to the Valley of the Pine, let many men go with him to fetch her.” His majesty said: “What you have said is very good.” And they were sent.
Now many days after this, the men who had gone abroad returned to report to his majesty. But those who had gone to the Valley of the Pine did not return, for Bata had killed them, leaving only one of them to report to his majesty. Then his majesty sent many soldiers and charioteers to bring her back, and with them was a woman into whose hand one had given all kinds of beautiful ladies’ jewelry. The woman returned to Egypt with her, and there was jubilation for her in the entire land. His majesty loved her very very much, and he gave her the rank of Great Lady. He spoke with her in order to make her tell about her husband, and she said to his majesty: “Have the pine felled and cut up.” The king sent soldiers with their tools to fell the pine. They reached the pine, they felled the blossom on which was Bata’s heart, and he fell dead at that moment.
When it had dawned and the next day had come, and the pine had been felled, Anubis, the elder brother of Bata, entered his house. He sat down to wash his hands. He was given a jug of beer, and it fermented. He was given another of wine, and it turned bad. Then he took his staff and his sandals, as well as his clothes and his weapons, and he started to journey to the Valley of the Pine. He entered the mansion of his young brother and found his young brother lying dead on his bed. He wept when he saw his young brother lying dead. He went to search for the heart of his young brother beneath the pine under which his young brother had slept in the evening.(6) He spent three years searching for it without finding it.
When he began the fourth year, his heart longed to return to Egypt, and he. said: “I shall depart tomorrow.” So he said in his heart. When it had dawned and another day had come, he went to walk under the pine and spent the day searching for it. When he turned back in the evening, he looked once again in search of it and he found a fruit. He came back with it, and it was the heart of his young brother! He fetched a bowl of cool water, placed it in it, and sat down according to his daily (custom) .
When night had come, his heart swallowed the water, and Bata twitched in all his body. He began to look at his elder brother while his heart was in the bowl. Then Anubis, his elder brother, took the bowl of cool water in which was the heart of his young brother and (let) him drink it. Then his heart stood in its place, and he became as he had been. Thereupon they embraced each other, and they talked to one another.

Then Bata said to his elder brother: “Look, I shall change myself into a great bull of beautiful color, of a kind unknown to man, and you shall sit on my back. By the time the sun has risen, we shall be where my wife is, that I may avenge myself. You shall take me to where the king is, for he will do for you everything good. You shall be rewarded with silver and gold for taking me to Pharaoh. For I shall be a great marvel, and they will jubilate over me in the whole land. Then you shall depart to your village.”
When it had dawned and the next day had come, Bata assumed the form which he had told his elder brother. Then Anubis, his elder brother, sat on his back. At dawn he reached the place where the king was. His majesty was informed about him; he saw him and rejoiced over him very much. He made a great offering for him, saying: “It is a great marvel.” And there was jubilation over him in the entire land. Then the king rewarded his elder brother with silver and gold, and he dwelled in his village. The king gave him many people and many things, for Pharaoh loved him very much, more than anyone else in the whole land.
Now when many days had passed, he entered the kitchen (7), stood where the Lady was, and began to speak to her, saying: “Look, I am yet alive!” She said to him: “Who are you?” He said to her: “I am Bata. I know that when you had the pine felled for Pharaoh, it was on account of me, so that I should not live. Look, I am yet alive! I am a bull.” The Lady became very frightened because of the speech her husband had made to her. Then he left the kitchen.
His majesty sat down to a day of feasting with her. She poured drink for his majesty, and he was very happy with her. Then she said to his majesty: “Swear to me by God, saying: ‘Whatever she will say, I will listen to it!” He listened to all that she said: “Let me eat of the liver of this bull; for he is ‘good for nothing.” So she said to him. He became very vexed over what she had said, and the heart of Pharaoh was very sore.
When it had dawned and another day had come, the king proclaimed a great offering, namely, the sacrifice of the bull. He sent one of the chief royal slaughterers to sacrifice the bull. And when he had been sacrificed and was carried on the shoulders of the men, he shook his neck and let fall two drops of blood beside the two doorposts of his majesty, one on the one side of the great portal of Pharaoh, and the other on the other side. They grew into two big Persea trees, each of them outstanding. Then one went to tell his majesty: “Two big Persea trees have grown this night-a great marvel f6r his majesty beside the great portal of his majesty.” There was jubilation over them in the whole land, and the king made an offering to them.
Many days after this, his majesty appeared at the audience window of lapis lazuli with a wreath of all kinds of flowers on his neck. Then he (mounted) a golden chariot and came out of the palace to view the Persea trees. Then the Lady came out on a team behind Pharaoh. His majesty sat down under one Persea tree (and the Lady under the other. Then Bata) spoke to his wife: “Ha, you false one! I am Bata! I am alive in spite of you. I know that when you had (the pine) felled for Pharaoh, it was on account of me. And when I became a bull, you had me killed.”
Many days after this, the Lady stood pouring drink for his majesty, and he was happy with her. Then she said to his majesty: “Swear to me by God, saying: ‘Whatever she will say, I will listen to it!’ So you shall say.” He listened to all that she said. She said: “Have the two Persea trees felled and made into fine furniture.” The king listened to all that she said. After a short while his majesty sent skilled craftsmen. They felled the Persea trees of Pharaoh, and the Queen, the Lady, stood watching it. Then a splinter flew and entered the mouth of the Lady. She swallowed it, and in a moment she became pregnant. The king ordered made of them (8) whatever she desired.
Many days after this, she gave birth to a son. One went to tell his majesty: “A son has been born to you.” He was fetched, and a nurse and maids were assigned to him. And there was jubilation over him in the whole land. The king sat down to a feast day and held him on his lap. From that hour his majesty loved him very much, and he designated him as Viceroy of Kush. And many days after this, his majesty made him crown prince of the whole land.
Now many days after this, when he had spent [many years] as crown prince of the whole land, his majesty flew up to heaven (9). Then the king (10) said: “Let my great royal officials be brought to me, that I may let them know all that has happened to me.” Then his wife was brought to him. He judged her in their presence, and they gave their assent. His elder brother was brought to him, and he made him crown prince of the whole land. He (spent) thirty years as king of Egypt. He departed from life; and his elder brother stood in his place on the day of death.
Colophon.-It has come to a good end under the scribe of the treasury, Kagab, and the scribes of the treasury, Hori and Meremope. Written by the scribe Ennana, the owner of this book. Whoever maligns this book, Thoth will contend with him.

1. Wnh here does not mean “to put on”; on the contrary, it m@ans “to loosen” one’s braids, as a woman does when she lies down. This meaning of wnh is known from the medical texts; see H. von Deines and W. Westendorf, Wdrterbuch der medizini’schen Texte (Berlin, 1961-1962), 11, 194, where the authors write: “Der Terminus wnh bezeichnet eine L6sung zweier Teile von einander, ohne class eine vollstandige Trennung erfoigt.”
2. Or restore: “You shall kill him.”
3. Literally, “yesterday.” The day ended at sunset.
4. Gestures of mourning.
5. Smn, “to establish,” evolved to include the meanings “to record,”
and “to determine.” Hence the chief washerman did not “stand still,” but rather he “determined” or “realized” that he was standing opposite the lock of hair.
6. The phrasing falls to take into account that the pine has been felled.
7. The bull.
8. The Persea trees.
9. I.e., the king died.
10. Bata.
Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), Volume II, 203 – 211.
For an electronic version, click here.
Notable Similarities
Although the various accounts of Joseph in Genesis do not explicitly replicate the two Egyptian tales referenced above, there are some striking similarities. In the Tale of Two Brothers, the most obvious correlation occurs in the first part wherein the youngest brother is seduced (unsuccessfully) by his older brother’s wife. In the Genesis account, Joseph is not a brother of Potipher. However, like the younger brother in the Egyptian Tale, Joseph is a trusted and powerful member in the family. His apparent infidelity to his master (Potipher/older brother) results in exile (the younger brother and prison for Joseph). However, both stories end with the vindication of the wrongly accused, as both the younger brother and Joseph rise to incredible prominence in the Egyptian court.
In the Tale of Sinuhe, the theme of exile/restoration is again revisted, remarkably reminiscent of the fall and rise of Joseph in the Genesis accounts.
Now it may be questioned why it is assumed that the Genesis text is based, in part, upon these and other Egyptian tales. One of the most compelling reasons for this assumption is that given the amount of knowledge concerning the kingdom of Egypt around the time when Joseph presumably rose to prominence, there is no extant evidence to substantiate Joseph’s existence. Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that the authors of the Genesis texts borrowed from the plethora of Egyptian tales that would have been in existence at the time of composition, substituting a Hebrew identity for characters within the tales. It is speculated that this may have been done for political reasons, perhaps as a polemic against Egyptian occupation or oppression.
In my previous post about the similarities between Genesis genealogies and Sumerian King lists, I devoted a short discussion to what conclusions about the dependence/co-dependence of Hebrew writers on other ancient, non-Hebrew literature means for the concept of the inspiration and authority of the Hebrew Scriptures. This question is especially magnified in the above-referenced examples, for if the correlations are actual, the conclusions which one must reach is that because the Egyptian tales are clearly fictional, so the story of Joseph, which appears to be at least partially based upon these tales, is also (at least partially) fictional. Obviously, in light of many biblicists’ claims about the necessity of interpreting the narratives of Hebrew Scripture as “actual history,” such a conclusion raises signficant questions which must be critically engaged, not only in how one interprets the Hebrew Scriptures, but also in how one deploys language about the nature and meaning of these texts. While I do not, for the sake of avoiding redundancy, wish to revisit these discussions, I would submit the following thoughts from Paul Ricoeur concerning the nature and value of religious fiction:

“We may say that history by opening us to the different, opens us to the possible, while fiction, by opening us to the unreal, opens us to the essential” (Paul Ricoeur, “The Narrative Function,” Semeia 13 (1978): 117-202).

I would suggest that this is a reasonable starting place for thinking about the supernatural nature which religious literature is supposed to express. If God’s supernatural activity within human and cosmological history could be reduced to modern conceptions of “history,” such activity would be stripped of all supernatural value whatsoever, for critical history can only properly and, more importantly, properly engage that which belongs to natural history (see this article for a more detailed discussion). However, the scandalous nature of fiction is that it expresses a certain form of un-reality, a history where the impossible is that which is most real and genuine, where that which cannot be quantified by modern scientific/historical inquiry is the status quo. Perhaps, on one level, it is only through the “lying” nature of metaphorical nature that some truth can be expressed about that which is beyond the epistemological accessbility of the finite human experience. Such an approach is incredibly offensive to the modern mind; that the supernatural exists and would lay claim to human activity is the most scandalous thought to the human mind. This is necessarily true because humans are naturally and unavoidably prone to quantify and absolutize their own existence. Our narrow range of sensory experience becomes the paradigm for existence. Therefore, the most offensive thought that could present itself to this hegemony is that that which is unreal to human experience could and does legitimately stake a claim in “reality” and, moreover, demands the primacy of qualifying what true reality actually is. How, then, it is possible to describe this constant war between the “real” and “unreal?” The only way is through a lie. To tell the truth through human language is to perpetuate the false primacy of reality-qualified-by-human-experience. To tell the “history” of God, through critical/historical motifs, then, would be nothing more than to bind the supernatural, filtering out anything that cannot be bounded by human experience. Therefore, in a very anti-rational way, fiction/metaphor allows humans the only possibility of dealing honestly with the reality of the “unreal” by deliberately denying the illegitimate hegemony of human experience through the usage anti-humanly-idealized language.
Of course, the moment in which one will not allow fiction to operate as a language-lie is the moment that one capitulates to the false claims of human experience for exclusivity in defining reality. While one may, in insisting upon “literalizing” fiction, claim that one is “preserving” supernatural history, such an insistence is really a double-lie that once again roots the parameters of the supernatural within the grasp of phenomenology.