Saturday, October 1, 2016

THE REAL MOSES AND HIS GOD (first part of book) By August Hunt



Copyright © August Hunt 2014 All Rights Reserved
Cover Photo Credit: Jan Pieter Van De Giessen of Aantekeningen Bij De Bijbel
World Wide Web



Acknowledgements                                     7       
Introduction                                                8
Chapter One: The Date of the Exodus         13
Chapter Two: Yahweh and His Angel          23
Chapter Three:  The Burning Bush            41
Chapter Four: Mount Horeb/Sinai             69
Chapter Five: The Ark of the Covenant       77
Chapter Six: Moses                                     87
Chapter Seven: Sokar of Rosetau and
          Baal of Peor: The Burial Place of
          Moses                                                110   
Chapter Eight: How Ramessesemperre
          Became Moses                                   112
Appendix One - The Goddess Eve and
Her Dirty Consort Adam: A Different Take
on Creation and the Location of the
Garden East of Eden DIRTY
Appendix Two – The Real Mountain of
Noah and His Ark



I wish to thank Walter Mattfield of BIBLE ORIGENS for his invaluable assistance.  His many years of research, and more importantly his willingness to share the fruits of his labor with me, drastically reduced the amount of time I would otherwise have had to commit to this project.  On many occasions Walter supplied me with information, pointed me in the right direction for additional resources or saved me from stumbling along unprofitable paths.

Many other scholars, amateur and professional alike, have contributed to the creation of this book.  Whenever appropriate, I credit them in the body of the text. Of course, as the author I am solely responsible for the book’s contents and no views expressed herein were espoused by the scholars who so generously devoted their wealth of knowledge to its completion.


People have long speculated on the date of the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, the nature of the Burning Bush of Moses, the mysterious god Yahweh and his angel, and on the founding of the first tent shrine at Mount Sinai.  Perhaps even more effort has gone into attempts to identify Moses with attested personages of the time.  And this is to be expected, given the fact that these events form the foundation of a religion held dear by much of the world.  But to date, all that surrounds Moses and his experiences and actions is still a mystery – and some would doubtless prefer that it remain such.

As an inheritor of the Judaic-Christian traditions of the West, I have long harbored a “closet” interest in Biblical literature.  In childhood, I was impressed with the miraculous qualities of the Old Testament stories.  While I was inculcated in my society’s beliefs to some extent, I was also permitted total freedom of thought and, once I had achieved a sufficient level of maturity, was allowed to form my own opinions on things religious.  It is true that many emphasize how vital it is to question one’s faith, yet I have never personally encountered those who practice what they preach in this regard.  I have found that universally any genuine manifestation of doubt, or any focused, objective scrutiny of belief systems, are either directly or indirectly discouraged.  If discouragement is not a sufficient deterrent, sanction or exclusion usually has the desired effect.  The only truth a certain religion binds itself to is whatever serves to perpetuate itself.  Other truths, unless they can be made to eventually lead the wayward back to the flock, are not entertained in any substantive way.

After many years of pondering these matters, and often coming to grips with their ramifications, I decided it was time to apply myself to a speculative analysis of some of the central episodes of the Book of Exodus.  I realized, after thoroughly reacquainting myself with the material, doing an enormous amount of research on secondary sources and contemporary texts deemed respectable by the academic community and, after much thought, having come up with a revolutionary theory, that I might have something important and exciting to say on the subject.   Although this theory runs counter to everything that had gone before, it has been arrived at, ironically, by respecting the Biblical account.  I had not found it necessary to rely on late, corrupt, confused, suspect retellings by “authorities” such as those by Manetho.  Nor have I had to resort to “revised” chronologies, some of which temporally displace the Exodus by hundreds of years in order to make it coincide with the much earlier expulsion of the Hyksos or Foreign Kings from Egypt.

At the same time, I appreciate more than others have the profound impact Egyptian society and, more particularly, Egyptian religion, must have had on the Hebrews during centuries of residence in the land of Pharaoh.  I find it a ridiculous notion that after such a long period of time assimilating to Egyptian ways, to being in a very real sense “Egyptianized”, that the Hebrews did not engage in a fair degree of religious syncretization.   Standard practice for the Egyptians was to identify various gods and goddesses with each other, or even aspects of gods and goddesses with each other, and to embrace the worship of foreign deities in a similar process.  Any investigation of the religion that Moses founded must acknowledge the obvious: his people had long been subjected to the seductive power of Egyptian beliefs and rituals, and even in the desert of the Sinai Peninsula the Egyptian gods and goddesses held sway.

As for my method of argument in the following pages, language and archaeology will be my twin guides.  A unique comparative approach will seek to reveal conclusive relationships between Hebrew and Egyptian words.  The findings suggested by these relationships will then be considered in the context of the only two sites in the Sinai which could possibly have been Mount Horeb/Sinai.  This blending of tongues and exploration of ancient ruins will help us find a verifiable candidate for Moses himself.

My apology is offered in advance to individuals who are offended by the ideas contained in this little book, as well as to institutions that ordinarily interpret as objectionable any intellectual treatment of the supposed Word of God.  I am also well aware that even skeptics of Biblical veracity may resent what I have set out to do, either because they disagree on my “angle of attack” or because they already have developed or adopted their own pet theories which run counter to my own.

Many will doubtless question my motives for committing the worse possible act of hubris: daring to peer under the veil of the holiest of mysteries, to see if I can glean but a fraction of a glance at what is either the ultimate reality or what is ultimately real.  To this charge I can only respond with full honesty and, I hope, a measure of modesty: I do not believe it is the purpose of our life to believe.  I feel it is the purpose of our life to find out what it is we should not believe.  Only by doing that, through an endless process of eliminating ignorance and the false beliefs ignorance engenders – a process which might loosely and somewhat philosophically be defined as “scientific” - can we ever discover real and abiding truths.

August Hunt
January 1, 2014


Exodus 12:40-41 tells us that prior to the Hebrew departure from Egypt under Moses, the Israelites had been in the land for 430 years.  1 Kings 6:1 claims the right number is 480 years, while the Septuagint says 440.  In Exodus 1:11, we learn that the Hebrews had been set to work building Pi-Ramesses (modern Qantir) and Pithom (Tell er-Retabeh or Tell el-Maskhutah).  Finally, when the Exodus actually occurs, the Hebrews cannot take the Egyptian Way of Horus along the coast to Canaan because of the presence there of the Philistines (13:17).

These fairly precise dating markers allow us to pinpoint the events of the Exodus account.  It is well known, firstly, that the builders of Pi-Ramesses and Pithom were Seti I and Ramesses II the Great.  Thus the pharaoh who is reigning at the time of Mose’s birth could be none other than the 19th Dynasty’s Ramesses II (1304-1237 B.C.; dates courtesy Donald Redford), for whom Pi-Ramesses was named.

However, given that the Hebrews cannot go along the coast when they leave Egypt because of the presence of the Philistines there, we know that this could not have happened any earlier than the reign of Ramesses III of the 20th Dynasty.  This is because the Philistines had not settled in Canaan until the reign of Ramesses III.  This pharaoh was also long-lived – in fact, by far the longest lived ruler of Egypt since the days of Ramesses II: 32 years.  Six pharaohs intervened between the reigns of Ramesses II and Ramesses III, their combined reigns totaling approximately 37 years.

When Moses is a young man, he murders an Egyptian overseer (2:12) and has to flee to Midian.  His sojourn in Midian, during which he marries a Midianite woman and has children, lasts for “a long time” (2:23), after which the pharaoh dies.  This extra-long reign strongly suggests Ramesses II again, as he was on the throne for 67 years.  However, as we have seen above, Ramesses III also had a very long reign, and it was in his reign that the Philistines settled in Canaan.  Ramesses III not only used Pi-Ramesses as a royal residence, but is thought to have built a larger stables for the city atop those belonging to Ramesses II. If this is true, then Ramesses III could have been confused with the original builder of Pi-Ramesses.

I have culled the following from Ian Shaw’s account of the reign of Ramesses III in “The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt”:

1) The Sea Peoples first tried to enter Egypt in the days of Merneptah (the successor of Ramesses II); they did it again in the reign of Ramesses III
2) Ramesses III’s mortuary temple at Medinet Habu was closely modeled on the Ramesseum of Ramesses II
3) Ramesses III tried to emulate Ramesses II in many other ways; his own royal names were all but identical to those of Ramesses II and he even named his sons after the latter’s numerous offspring
4) Ramesses III expanded Piramesses; the Harem Conspiracy, the goal of which was to assassinate Ramesses III, was apparently hatched at Piramesses

It is fairly obvious based upon the above that Biblical commentators who opt for Ramesses II as the pharaoh of Moses’ birth and early years are simply wrong.

Indeed, if we calculate 430 years from Jacob’s arrival in Egypt (Jabob may be the Hyksos king Jakobher, whom Redford puts at 1662-1653), we find ourselves at 1223, during the reign of Ramesses II.  If we opt for the 480 year span, we arrive at 1173, which falls in the reign of Ramesses III.

Of course, if Moses’s life spanned the period from Ramesses II to that of Ramesses III, we would have another reason for a possible confusion of these two pharaohs.  Later in this book, we will see that our historical candidate – or candidates - for Moses lived from the reign of one of these kings to the reign of the other.

As it happens, Ramesses IV had a very short reign of only 6 years.  His son, Ramesses V, was on the throne for only 4 years before he perished in a smallpox epidemic.  Ramesses VI (156-1149 B.C.) is the pharaoh under whom the Egyptian presence in Sinai was withdrawn.  Putting this all together, if we allow for Ramesses III being the pharaoh Moses originally flees from for killing the Egyptian overseer, and make his successor Ramesses the IV the pharaoh of the Exodus, with his son Ramesses V being the firstborn of pharaoh whom Yahweh slew in the plague (29:1), we have a startlingly coherent and accurate chronology for the Exodus.  Granted, in reality Ramesses V actually ruled for a few years after his father; he did not pre-decease Ramesses IV.   But such a telescoping of events is not unusual in traditional history and I think that in this context the slight discrepancy must be allowed.

I would add that if we use the 480 year calculation and apply the start date of this period not to Jakobher/Jacob, but to his son, Joseph, of the next generation of Hebrews in Egypt, the tally might well come out matching exactly the reign of either Ramesses IV or V.

The proponents of a revised chronology which runs counter to the Exodus marker dates and supports the notion of the Exodus being a Hebrew version of the Hyksos expulsion several centuries prior to the time of Ramesses III does not take into account the fact that we are specifically told by trustworthy Egyptian accounts that the Hyksos did not drop down into the Sinai.  Instead, once they were expelled from Avaris (Tell ed-Dab’a) in the Delta, they were defeated again at the Sinai border fortress of Tjaru (Tell Heboua, the “Northeastern Gate” of Egypt;  information courtesy Mohammed Abd El-Maksoud, Director of the Eastern Delta and Sinai, Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egypt), and then were driven north after a successful three-year siege at Sharuhen (possibly Tell Haroer in the Negev, rather than Tell el-Ajjul on the coast, according to Donald Redford).  Such a scenario cannot be reconciled with Moses leading the Hebrews into the southern Sinai.

It is true that the 18th Dynasty founder Ahmose I, the Egyptian pharaoh responsible for driving out the Hyksos, re-opened the Sinai to Egyptian control.  Ahmose re-established the mines and Hathor-Sopdu temples at Serabit el-Khadim, while the Timna mines and Hathor temple did not become established until the time of Ramesses II (or perhaps the co-regency of Ramesses II and his father, Seti I).  Serabit el-Khadim remained in operation until Ramesses VI’s withdrawal from the Sinai.  We have evidence of his presence there.  Timna does not show evidence for Ramesses VI; the record there stops with Ramesses V.

We will have reason to return to a more detailed discussion of both Serabit el-Khadim and Timna when we search for Mount Sinai/Horeb in a subsequent chapter.

In THE BIBLE UNEARTHED; ARCHAEOLOGY’S NEW VISION OF ANCIENT ISRAEL AND THE ORIGIN OF ITS SACRED TEXTS (The Free Press, 2001), Chapter 2, “Did the Exodus Happen?”, authors Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman claim that no evidence exists for supporting the notion that the Exodus actually took place.  They point to a paucity of archaeological remains in the Sinai and conclude that there is no trace of even a greatly reduced number of Hebrews living in the region at the supposed time of Exodus.  This reasoning is faulty, of course, and goes to the heart of the kinds of mistakes in judgment that can take place when looking for proof of a traditional account without allowing for a variant interpretation of that account.  One cannot remain a steadfast literalist when treating of Biblical narratives.  Finkelstein’s approach to Biblical Studies has come under severe fire, most recently in Robert Draper’s “Kings of Controversy: Was the Kingdom of David and Solomon a Glorious Kingdom or Just a Little Cow Town?” (December 2010 National Geographic Magazine).

While William G. Dever (in Chapter 2, “The Exodus – History of Myth?”, WHO WERE THE EARLY ISRAELITES AND WHERE DID THEY COME FROM?, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006) takes a less brutal view of the Exodus narrative than Finkelstein and Silberman, he does outline five problems that seem to make the story suspect:

1) Too much detail for an orally handed-down account; for such an account to be accurate, it would have to be much vaguer
2) Some information is “clearly fanciful” and “contradictory”; anachronisms abound
3) The priestly material is too complicated and thus plainly represents later traditional material
4) Problems with the itinerary or “stages” of the Sinai wanderings exist.  Many places are lost or cannot otherwise be identified; some are known to have been Egyptian at the time of the Exodus
5) The “recurrent problem of miracles”; despite attempts to explain these miracles as natural phenomena, the heavy reliance on “mighty acts of God” cast doubt on the whole narrative

Once again, none of these points force us to abandon the possibility or even the probability that the Exodus was a real, historical event or conflation of historical events.  Any traditional narrative is prone to being embellished as centuries elapse.  It does not mean that just because such embellishments are present we must dispense with the underlying traditional account.  Instead, we must more carefully examine the account itself to see if there is any way its basic story can be shown to be true.  We do this by stripping it of its embellishments and looking for any event or events in the records of other ancient Near Eastern peoples that may account for the formation of such a tradition.  First and foremost among these people, of course, must be the Egyptians.


Now that we have established to what period in Egyptian history Moses belongs, and have come up with an approximate date for the Exodus, i.e. sometime during the reigns of Ramesses IV or V, we can begin to examine the Hebrew god Yahweh within the context of Egyptian religion.

Our first step in performing this task is to briefly go over the meaning of Yahweh’s name, as this is currently accepted by most modern scholars.  The best explanation of the name Yahweh is still held to be that propounded by Professor Frank M. Cross in his book _Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic_: YHWH is a shortening of the phrase ‘il zu Yahweh s.aba’t or “El/God who creates the hosts (of heaven)”.  Here Yahweh is a causative of the verb h-w-y, “to be” (further information courtesy Professor John Huehnergard, Harvard University).  I concur with this theory, despite a recent attempt by Adam Strich (“The Root *HWY and the Name YHWH”, Harvard University, 2008) to demonstrate that the ‘to be’ definition is secondary to the original meaning of the root, which was ‘to fall’.

Yahweh is most certainly to be derived from the Hebrew verb hayah or hawah, “to be or become”.  The ancient Hebrew god is, therefore, “He Who Comes Into Being” or, simply, “He Who Becomes”/”The Becoming One”.  Indeed, it has been expressed that the idea is not that of being or of existing, but of coming to pass.

It is not at all certain, however, that it really is Yahweh in the Burning Bush.  To quote the relevant passage from Exodus 3:2 and 3:4:

“There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush… When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush…”

Now, theologians have attempted to account for the ‘angel’ by assuming this was merely the physical manifestation of God. In other words, when God chose to reveal himself to men, he took on the appearance of the ‘angel’.

This is correct only to a point.  The Hebrew word used in this context for ‘angel’ is mal’ak.  It derives from an unused root meaning “to dispatch as a deputy”.  The meaning is actually “messenger”.  Now, in Egyptian religion the moon god Thoth (DHw.t.y, probably pronounced something like ‘Djehuti’) had the common epithet of isti ra, “the deputy/substitute/representative of [the sun god] Re”.  According to Boylan’s “Thoth: The Hermes of Egypt”, this epithet refers to the idea that the moon takes the place of the sun at night, but its light is merely a reflection of that of the sun.  A late epithet of Thoth is wpwty, “messenger”, a designation which may have come about because of Thoth’s identification with Hermes.  From very early on, Thoth was a kind of agent of Re, being the latter’s chief scribe/minister (information courtesy Aayko K. Eymo).

The etymology of the name Thoth is unknown.  Current opinion holds to the notion that DHw.t.y may stand for “He of DHw.t”.  The problem with this theory is that no such place as DHw.t is recorded in the Egyptian sources.

In an effort to come up with a better derivation for Thoth’s name, my attention was recently drawn to an Egyptian baboon deity named DjehDjeh (DHDH). The repetition that is obvious in Djeh-Djeh caused me to consider the possibility that the name could be imitative in origin. So I wrote to two world experts on baboons and asked whether there is a vocalization among the Hamadrayas baboons that could have been represented or "mimicked" by 'Djeh! - Djeh!'. In response, Dr. Dorothy Cheney pointed me to her web site page with baboon vocalizations:

After paying very close attention to various kinds of barks, I concluded that the two-phase calls of baboons could easily have been rendered by ‘Djeh-Djeh’.

Sergei Anatolyevich Starostin claimed that DH-DH tied in with Cushitic gwa-gwa / gaw-gaw, "(large) monkey", but he admits that the data are too scarce and unreliable to really postulate an Afroasiatic word. It seems clear to me that the Cushitic word
is likewise a sound mimicking word, and that to apply Afroasiatic sound shifts to it would be very dubious.

To go a step further, I wonder whether it is possible that the above mentioned baboon call, of purely imitative origin, could have yielded a hypothetical word/name for the sacred baboon, *DH(w). This occured to me as Hopfner  proposed a hypothetical word *DH(w ) for 'ibis', to explain the problematic name of the god Thoth (DHw.t.y), but to my knowledge his hypothetical word for ibis cannot be backed up with ancient Egyptian or Afroasiatic examples.

According to Thomas Kelly (via the AEgyptian-L mailing list):

“An imitative origin for Djeh-Djeh has merit. Jaromir Malek states, on page 25, in “The Cat in Ancient Egypt”: “There was only one word for cat in pharaonic Egypt which we can find in the hieroglyphic writing.  It was the onomatopoeic miu or mii (feminine miit), imi (feminine imiit or miat) in demotic, the penultimate stage of the Egyptian language, and emu or amu in Coptic, written from c. the third century AD. The cat was simply '(s) he who mews,' and as we shall see, this was how the Egyptians themselves understood it.  If the "miu" from a cat became the word for cat then it is possible that the bark from a baboon could become the word for baboon.”

Thoth, according to Gardiner, Peet and Cerny (_The Inscriptions of Sinai, Part II), was the nomen loci or patron deity of Maghara near Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai.  Both these places were mined by the Egyptians (see below).  Thoth is also present in several inscriptions at Serabit el-Khadim.

But if the angel of the Lord is the moon god Thoth, how can Yahweh be the sun god Ra?

The Egyptians had a marvelous capacity for religious syncretization.  One god could be identified with another, and often gods who served very specific functions became mere aspects of a greater god.  The syncretized deity we are most interested in when it comes to Yahweh as a possible aspect of Re is Re-Khepri.

Khepri was the god of the rising sun in Egyptian religion, and as such also the god of the resurrected sun who had survived the night in the underworld to be reborn in the morning.  Symbolized by a scarab beetle, the name of this god derives from the verb xpr, “come into being”.  A related word is xprw, “form, manifestation”, literally ‘that which has come into being’.

Scarab ( = Khepri) amulets were found at Timna and Serabit el-Khadim, as were sphinxes (= Horemakhet-Khepri and, of course, the pharaoh as the human incarnation of that syncretized deity).  Serabit el-Khadim has two sphinxes representing Thutmose III flanking and adoring Hathor in the form of a sistrum.

One of the sphinxes at Timna bears the upper portion of a cartouche containing the prenomen ‘User-ma’at-re’ for Ramesses II, III or V.  Petrie describes statues of sphinxes flanking the temple of Hathor at Serabit el-Khadim; these were representative of Thutmose III.  The god Khepri is mentioned in only one dedication in the Sinai.  This occurs at Serabit el-Khadim, where Thutmose III is called the “precious egg of Khepri”.

So if Yahweh is merely a Semitic rendering of the Egyptian divine name Khepri, and the angel of Yahweh is the Egyptian god Thoth, Yahweh himself may not actually be present in the Burning Bush.  Thoth may be there alone, speaking not only for Yahweh-Khepri, but as Yahweh-Khepri.

Margaret Barker, in her recent book THE GREAT ANGEL: A STUDY OF ISRAEL’S SECOND GOD (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), has proposed that the apparent confusion between Yahweh and his angel/messenger is due to the fact that originally Elohim (the plural of majesty and excellence used for a single divine being, not a plural in number, as for “gods”) was the chief creator deity of Israel, and Yahweh his son.  According to this theory, then, Yahweh was the messenger of Elohim.  The problem with Barker’s argument is that it fails to take into account the significance of Yahweh to a thoroughly Egyptianized Asiatic (see below for Moses’ ancestry).  Moses identified his own Egyptian deity with a Midianite god.  But it would appear the ‘messenger’ that spoke to Moses from the Burning Bush was not Yahweh/Khepri himself, but an entity the Egyptians would have been very familiar with – Thoth the deputy of the sun god.

Does this explanation adequately explain the mystery of the deity (or deities) of the Burning Bush?  Well, it may do so if we view the phenomenon solely from the Egyptian perspective.  Unfortunately, this nice, neat picture I’ve just painted does not take into account some important factors on the Midianite side of things. Nor does it take into consideration the identity of Abraham’s god prior to the Hebrew’s long stay in Egypt.

Any investigation of Abraham or Abram must begin with an analysis of his name as well as those of his immediate family.

From “Abraham: What cultural, textual, and archaeological sources can tell us about this patriarch”, by P. Kyle McCarter, in Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, edited by Hershel Shanks, Biblical Archaeology Society:

“…the connections between the family of Abraham and the city of Haran in northern Mesopotamia (Eski Harran or "Old Haran" in modern Turkey) are very precise in our earliest narrative source (J. or the Yahwist). Terah, Nahor and Serug--Abraham's father, grandfather and great grandfather (Genesis 11:22-26)--seem to be the eponymous ancestors of towns in the basin of the Balikh River, near Haran.

All three names appear in Assyrian texts from the first half of the first millennium B.C.E. as the name of towns or ruined towns in the regions of Haran, namely Til-(sha)-Turakhi (the ruin of Turakh), Ti-Nakhiri (the ruin of Nakhir) and Sarugi. Earlier, in the second millennium B.C.E., il-Nakhiri had been an important administrative center, called Nakhuru. The patriarchal connection with this region may be rooted in historical memories of Amorite culture of the second millennium B.C.E.”

The reference to the Amorites (literally ‘Westerners’) here leads us to brief discussion of Abram’s ‘Ur of the Chaldees’.  While various places have been selected for this site, the best is still Ur in southern Mesopotamia.  This became part of the Amorite kingdom, as described succinctly in this account from

“The Amorites began to arrive in the territory to the west of the Euphrates, modern Syria, from around 2500 BC. The Akkadians called them Amurru, and they probably originated from Arabia (a less popular theory places them in India). Although there was no actual invasion, for a period of five hundred years they drifted down into southern Mesopotamia, integrating into Sumerian civilisation where they lived in enclaves. They served in the armies of Third Dynasty Ur, and provided general labour for both Ur and Akkad before that. As Ur declined, and with it Sumerian civilisation, many Amorites rose to positions of power. When the final end of Ur came at the hands of the Elamites, the Amorites, virtually Sumerians themselves by now, were in a strong position to pick up the pieces.

Rather than maintain the Sumerian system of city states, where farms, cattle and people belonged to the gods or the temples (ie. the king), the Amorites founded kingdoms which had their capitals at many of the old cities, even if some of these new kingdoms were virtually the equivalent of a city state in their size and power. As well as inheriting the surviving Sumerian cities, the Amorites also built a number of large and powerful cities of their own, from Syria down to southern Mesopotamia…

They founded or expanded cities and created kingdoms of their own, such as Amrit, Amurru, Andarig, Arvad, Dilbat, Ekallatum, Eshnunna, Hamath, Isin, Karana, Qattara, Razama, Terqa, and Tuttul (and probably Der as well, although records here are sketchy). They also assumed control of older city states throughout Mesopotamia, Syria, and Canaan, such as Alalakh, Alep (Aleppo), Borsippa, Carchemish, Ebla, Gebal, Kazallu, Kish, Lagash, Larsa, Mari, Nippur, Qatna, Sippar, Tuba, Ur and Uruk.”

But can we prove Abram was an Amorite?  Well, the Encyclopedia Judaica (2007) says of the name Abram:

“ABRAHAM (originally Abram ; Heb. אַבְרָהָם, אַבְרָם), first patriarch of the people of Israel. The form "Abram" occurs in the Bible only in Genesis 11:26–17:5, Nehemiah 9:7, and i Chronicles 1:26. Otherwise, "Abraham" appears invariably, and the name is borne by no one else. No certain extra-biblical parallel exists. A-ba-am-ra-ma, A-ba-ra-ma, A-ba-am-ra-am occur in 19th-century b.c.e. Akkadian cuneiform texts. Abrm appears in Ugaritic (Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (1965), pp. 286, 348, text 2095, line 4), but is most likely to be read A-bi-ra-mì (Palais Royal d' Ugarit, 3 (1955), p.20, text 15.63, line 1). There is no evidence that Abram is a shortened form of Abiram. As to the meaning of Abram, the first element is undoubtedly the common Semitic for "father"; the second could be derived from Akkadian ra'âmu ("to love") or from West-Semitic rwm ("to be high"). "He loved the father" or "father loves" is a far less likely meaning than "he is exalted with respect to father" i.e., he is of distinguished lineage. The meaning "exalted father" or "father is exalted," while less satisfactory, cannot be ruled out. No Hebrew derivation for Abraham exists. In Genesis 17:5 "the father of a multitude [of nations]" is a popular etymology, although it might possibly conceal an obsolete Hebrew cognate of Arabic ruhâm, "numerous." More likely, Abraham is a mere dialectic variant of Abram, representing the insertion of h in weak verbal stems, a phenomenon known from Aramaic and elsewhere.”

It should be pointed out that the cuneiform text forms of the name alluded to above come from the city of Dilbat, which was of Amorite foundation.
But the best evidence we have that Abraham was an Amorite comes from the name of his father.  Terah can indeed be linked to the Amorite city name Til-sha-Turakh.  But this is only part of the story.  The name Terah itself (once wrongly linked with a moon god because of the Ur-Haran connection; see the entry for Terah in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible) has been properly derived from Akkadian turahu (remember the –h in both words is pronounced liked a k), ‘mountain goat, ibex’.  And this etymology tells us exactly who Terah is: he is Amurru/Martu, the god of the Amorites.

Amurru/Martu, whose city was the unlocated Ninab, had as his sacred animal a ‘caprid’, i.e. a horned, goat-like animal.  According to Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East, he is variously depicted stepping on a caprid, holding a caprid in his arms, or the caprid may appear alone, symbolizing the god, or may appear with only the god’s shepherd’s crook.

Thus Abram is ‘son of Amurru/Martu’, i.e. he is an Amorite.

The god of Abraham was originally Amurru/Martu.  The adoption of the Canaanite El – the equivalent god in that pantheon – was a logical and perhaps inevitable development once the Hebrews found themselves in Canaan.  By consulting such excellent sources as the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, we quickly learn of the many identical traits shared by Amurru and El:

“[Amurru] is best characterized as a storm god… A number of scholars believe the name Shadday, usually found as El-Shadday, reflects the epithet bel sade, ‘Lord of he Mountain’, currently carried by Amurru… Martu has many traits of a West Semitic storm god… According to a Sumerian hymn, Amurru is a warrior god, strong as a lion, equipped with bows and arrows, and using storm and thunder as his weapons…His behavior typically reflects the characteristics of Amorite nomads as perceived by civilized Mesopotamians… Cross explains the combination El-Shadday by assuming Amurru is the Amorite name (or form) of El.  He argues that El as the divine warrior of important western tribes or leagues was reintroduced into Mesopotamia under the name Amurru… The cuneiform orthography An-an-mart-tu could be read as El-Amurrum, ‘the Amorite El’… The pairing of Amurru with Ashratu, morever, also suggests an underlying identification with El…”

Amurru's affinity with the storm god Adad is evinced by his being referred to as 'Adad of the Deluge'.  The Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East discusses this aspect of his character:

"Amurru is repeatedly represented together with the symbol of the storm god Adad, the lightning bolt.  The divine figures seem to have shared special bonds in written sources.  Additionally, they seem to have borrowed iconographic attributes from each other from time to time.  When bearing in mind that Amurru as a god of the steppe might have developed some features of a storm god, his association with Adad is not surprising."

We will see in the next chapter just how Amurru plays into the Moses story.  For now, it is important only to point out that the ibex of Amurru shows up with the name of Yahweh associated with it – and both are brought into the iconographic context of the tree or pole of Yahweh’s consort Asherah. 


All of which leads us back to a careful consideration of the Burning Bush.  In Egyptian religion, gods and goddesses are frequently associated with sacred trees and often this association is intended to convey the fact that the trees in question are actual symbols for the divinities, i.e. the god or goddess is the tree.  For Khepri, however, I was only able to find two instances in which the god is definitively linked to trees.

In the first, Khepri as scarab beetle is found atop the head of Iusaas, goddess of the sacred acacia located just north of Heliopolis, in the temples of Hibis, Edfu and Dendera (Elisabeth O’Connell, Assistant Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, The British Msueum).  This goddess, also apparently referred to as Nebet-Hetepet, “Lady of Offerings”, was in the Ptolemaic period assimilated to Hathor, who then took on the title of “Lady of the Acacia”.  In the Late Period, a text relates how Seth approached the “wonderful hall of Iusaas with the acacia tree in which life and death are contained (Katherine Griffis-Greenberg, Doctoral Program, Oriental Institute, University of Oxford).”  Originally Hathor’s tree was the sycamore, and the sun was said to rise between two sycamore trees in the east every morning.  In one of the Pyramid texts, the god Horus is said to emerge from an acacia tree (Khepri was identified with Horus as Horemakhet, Horus in the Horizon, the name given to the Great Sphinx at Giza by Thutmose IV), and the god Osiris (Khepri can be depicted wearing the crown of Osiris) in Late Period monuments and documents is called ‘Unique [or alone] in the acacia tree’.  Yet another Pyramid Text gives the Pharaoh Pepi as “the son of Khepri, born from Hetepet, under the tresses of [the goddess] of the town of Iusaas, north of On [Heliopolis]…”  Finally, the Coffin Texts speak twice of “the acacia of Iusaas-town north of” Heliopolis (Dr. Martina Ullman).  The Book of the Dead says of Osiris that “I betook myself to the Acacia Tree of the [divine] Children”.

There is no doubt, then, that Khepri is brought into intimate connection with the acacia tree.  Unfortunately, his appearing atop the head of the goddess Iusaas as an iconographical motif is found only in the Late or Ptolemaic periods (Dr. Martina Ullmann).  In addition, the acacia is called shittim in the Bible, as was the wood used to build Yahweh’s ark (more on which I will have below).  It would appear, then, that the seneh or “thorn bush” that is the Burning Bush cannot have been an acacia (although see below).

The second tree from Egyptian religion which can be shown to have a connection with Khepri also has an affiliation with Thoth, the angel of Yahweh-Khepri.  This is the so-called Desert Date, Balanites aegyptica, known to the ancient Egyptians as the ished tree.

On the southern wall of the tomb of the Ramesses II period official Amenmose (TT 373) is a representation of the Egyptian ished tree, which is said to be the tree of the eastern horizon from which the sun rises (Pierre Koemoth and Sydney H. Aufrere).  In front of the ished tree is the god Osiris in his capacity of wp iSd, “opener of the ished tree”.  Osiris had to open the ished so that the sun could escape from the underworld – in its guise as Khepri – and ascend into the morning sky.  We can plainly perceive Khepri as a winged scarab beetle flying towards/into the ished, which Osiris is “opening” for him.

A more startling example of Khepri with the ished is shown on a wall relief at the Temple of Hibis.  Here we can see Khepri crowning the ished tree, while Thoth, the “Angel of Yahweh/Khepri”, is writing on the leaves of the tree.

Thoth is known to have written the name of Ramesses II on the leaves of the ished tree at Heliopolis.  The moon god performs the same function on ished tree scenes involving Seti I and Ramesses II at Karnak.  According to Donald Redford, the ished tree motif first appears during the 12th Dynasty.  So we can make the irrefutable claim that both Khepri and Thoth were placed in close connection with Balanites aegyptica by the ancient Egyptians.

Having thus determined that there is justification for linking both Khepri (= Yahweh?) and Thoth (= the angel of Khepri-Re?) with the Desert Date or Balanite Tree, we need to take a closer look at the Biblical Burning Bush.

The Hebrew word used to name the Burning Bush is cenah, pronounced seneh.  This is from an unused root meaning “to prick”.  As such, it is usually described as a “thorn bush”.  The Balanite or ished tree of Thoth and Khepri has thorns.

While there is no indication the ished tree was conceived of by the ancient Egyptians as a symbol for a goddess, we must remember that Hathor, the chief deity of both the Serabit el-Khadim and Timna temples in the Sinai Peninsula, was called “Lady of the Sycamore”.  In Egyptian belief, the sun rose between two “Sycamores of Turquoise”.  Another epithet of Hathor was “Lady of the Turquoise”.  Isis and the sky goddess Nut could also appear as sycamore trees.

Walter Mattfield, basing his conclusions on the findings of several respectable Egyptologists, has convincingly argued for the Golden Calf of the Moses story being the Egyptian sun-calf who is depicted rising between Hathor’s sycamore trees. The sun-calf was also said to be born each morning from Nut the “Heavenly Cow”.  So Moses’ injunction against worshipping the Golden Calf was directed at the god Ihy, son of Hathor, who could take the form of a calf.  For the Egyptians, even the pharaoh, as the human incarnation of the sun god, could take the form of a golden calf.  The Hebrews who were worshipping the Golden Calf as the rising sun were merely worshipping Khepri under another guise.

It would not be unreasonable, therefore, to see in the ished tree of the eastern horizon yet another representation of the sky goddess.  Khepri (Yahweh?) and the Thoth (Angel of Yahweh?) could be viewed as occupying the Burning Bush precisely because they are in the sky.  The various rock carvings in the Sinai of the seven-branched menorah are themselves, of course, images of the sky-tree, in whose branches burn the flames of the seven planets.

While the balanite would seem to be the Burning Bush, we are once again (as I hinted at in the last chapter) focusing solely on the Egyptian material.  We are not taking into account the god of Abraham, i.e. Amurru of the Amorites.  Nor are we bearing in mind something even more important.

We have found ‘Yahweh’ names in the 2nd millennium B.C. cuneiform archives of Mari in NW Mesopotamia.  These names take the form Yahwi-ilum, Yahwi-Adad, Yahwi-Dagan and the like.  Yahwi- in these theonyms is usually taken to mean  ‘to manifest [oneself]’ or similar and the word is, indeed, derived from the same word meaning ‘to be’.  Thus the Shasu group called YHW’ in the Egyptian records (see the next chapter) is not the only occurrence of the Yahweh word or name found outside the Bible. 

For the Hebrews, the sacred tree or pole was the Asherah, named for the goddess of this name.  She was the consort of El, but also of Amurru, the god of Abraham.  Learning more about Asherah and discovering the identity of her tree are critical for our understanding of what happened at the Burning Bush. 

As Professor Nicolas Wyatt’s entry on Asherah in the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible makes clear, “the etymological possibilities [for Asherah] are considerable.”  No consensus has yet been reached on the name, but in my opinion only one makes sense given the Biblical context.  I refer the reader to the dictionary entry for a discussion of all the current proposed etymologies.

The most common misunderstanding when it comes to the word asherah in the Bible is that a pole (or poles) is mentioned.  It is not – ever.  The idea of a pole comes from what appears to be implied by the text.  For instance, we know the asherah (or plural asherim) were made of wood.  Also, a tree that was planted in a sacred precinct could be termed an asherah. The most important verse for our purposes is Deuteronomy 16:21, here from the New Revised Standard Version:

“You shall not plant any tree as a SACRED POLE [the highlighted words are here substituted as an inferior translation for the word asherah] beside the altar that you make for the Lord your God; nor shall you set up a STONE PILLAR [matstsebah] – things that the Lord your God hates.”

Now the real question is this: was 1) the use of the goddess’s name as a common noun denoting a pole or tree due to the fact that as she was symbolized by a tree, the tree itself coming to be called after her or 2) did her name itself originally mean tree or pole or, finally, 3) are we totally wrong about the asherah being a tree or pole and, if so, what was it/she?

To help us determine which of these three possibilities best explains the name Asherah, I will list first the remaining Bible verses (from the NRSV) that contain her name, leaving her name intact rather than translating it with an unwarranted phrase:

Judges 6:25 NRS

That night the Lord said to him, "Take your father's bull, the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar [mizbeach] of Baal that belongs to your father, and cut down the ASHERAH that is beside it;

Judges 6:26 NRS

and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, in proper order; then take the second bull, and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the ASHERAH that you shall cut down."

Judges 6:28 NRS

When the townspeople rose early in the morning, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the ASHERAH beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built.

Judges 6:30 NRS

Then the townspeople said to Joash, "Bring out your son, so that he may die, for he has pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the ASHERAH beside it."

1 Kings 16:33 NRS

Ahab also made an ASHERAH. Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.

2 Kings 13:6 NRS

Nevertheless they did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he caused Israel to sin, but walked in them; the ASHERAH also remained in Samaria.

2 Kings 17:16 NRS

They rejected all the commandments of the Lord their God and made for themselves cast images of two calves; they made an ASHERAH, worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.

2 Kings 18:4 NRS

He removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the ASHERAH. He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan.

2 Kings 21:3 NRS

For he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he erected altars for Baal, made an ASHERAH, as King Ahab of Israel had done, worshiped all the host of heaven, and served them.

2 Kings 23:15 NRS

Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin—he pulled down that altar along with the high place. He burned the high place, crushing it to dust; he also burned the ASHERAH.

The ONLY proposed etymology for the goddess name that fits what is going on in the above-quoted verses is Akkadian asirtum (esertu/isirtu/isertu), discussed by Tilde Binger in Asherah: Goddesses in Ugarit, Israel and the Old Testament (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series 232, 1997):

“Asirtum [etc.] –

Sanctuary, chapel, temple (place of congregation); the goddess of the temple; a separate room in private houses for cultic purposes; a temple-shaped base, used for placing pictures and symbols (sacred); a ‘place of grace’; a sacrifice or gift for the gods; care; charity; guidance; an overseer; a female organizer or supervisor of sacrifices

…Mesopotamian asirtum is almost exclusively used of sacred places.”*

The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, under its entry for the word igigu, mentions a god found in a list named I-sir-tum, from isirtu, ‘sanctuary’.

Now, in light of this etymology, we can see Asherah in a two-fold way:  she is, on the one hand, the sanctuary itself, delimited by a sacred tree, and the goddess named for the sanctuary.  Thus you can GO TO THE ASHERAH to worship ASHERAH.

*The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible article adds “the common noun atr (‘asr), meaning ‘sacred place’ is most widely attested in the Semitic languages (Albright, AJSL 41 1925; Day 1986).

In the Canaanite myth “The Gracious Gods”, El tells Asherah and her doublet Rahmay and their two sons, the Morning and Evening Star, to

“…raise up a sanctuary (or dais? better throne) in the midst of the holy desert:

“…there you will make your dwelling among the stones and trees.”

If we notice in the Bible verses cited, the asherah tree or pole is almost always paired with either a stone pillar or an altar (itself often made of unhewn stone).  This is startlingly similar to Athirat’s sanctuary (or throne) and dwelling ‘among the stones and trees’.

I would make one comment on Tilde Binger’s discussion of the word asirtum.  The same noun is found in Old Babylonian as ašte2; (ĝeš) aš-te; (ĝeš) iš-de3, "chair, throne; seat, dwelling; shrine, chapel”.  This immediately reminds one of the throne of Athirat, as well as the chair the goddess Inanna (Ishtar, the Canaanite Astarte) wants Gilgamesh to make for her from the wood of the huluppu tree she planted in her garden in Uruk.  She also wants a bed made and both may be considered emblems of Venus as queen and goddess of love/sex (or the marriage bed?).  If the throne of the goddess were manifest in the tree, then the Asherah as sacred space would specifically be her place of enthronement.  She could be, by extension, the Throne-goddess as well as the Sanctuary-goddess.

The same huluppu tree is home to the Anzu-bird (thundercloud in its crown), Lilitu (wind demoness in its trunk) and the snake that knows no charm (Euphrates River at its roots).  Thus we are talking about a fairly typical world tree, whose top was positioned at the North Pole, the point upon which the sky turned.  The most familiar example of such a tree would be the tree of the golden sun apples belonging to the Hesperides of Greek myth.  This tree’s fruit is known to be solar in nature, as it was the sun that made the western sky glow golden when it set.  As is the case with the huluppu tree, the tree of the Hesperides was guarded by a serpent, Ladon of a Hundred Heads. 

As to whom Athirat/Asherah really is, Professor Nicolas Wyatt has made his case for seeing her and her sister Raymay as hypostases for the sun goddess Shapsu.  For those interested in reading his argument, please see “The Gracious Gods: A Sacred Marriage Liturgy”, found in Religious Texts from Ugarit, 2002.  Other top scholars do not agree with Wyatt’s argument.  However, it is clear that she and her sister give birth, respectively, to the Morning and Evening Star.  In the Mesopotamian system, Ishtar/Inanna, i.e. Venus, has as her mother either Ninlil consort of Enlil the father of the gods, or Ningal the consort of Nanna the moon god.  Athirat/Asherah, as consort of El the father god would then be the Canaanite equivalent of Ninlil, “Lady Wind”.

Professor John Day of Oxford passed along the following information regarding Asherah the goddess and Asherah the cult object:

“The most likely view is that Ugaritic Athirat/Hebrew Asherah/Akkadian Ashratum means "sanctuary, holy place". This fits the fact that the name sometimes appears parallel in Ugaritic with the name Qudshu, which has this same meaning. Asherah is not a sun goddess. She appears as the mother of the gods, "creatress of creatures", and would appear to have been a kind of fertility goddess of some kind, as indicated by certain depictions showing her with emphasized breasts. The symbolism of her by a stylized tree (rather than a mere pole) also coheres with this.

If you read my book on Yahweh & the gods and goddesses of Canaan, or my articles on Asherah in Journal of Biblical Literature 1986 or in Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. 1, you will know that I see "Asherah" in the Old Testament as denoting sometimes the goddess and more often the wooden symbol of her. This wooden symbol is expressly stated to have been manmade in the OT, so not a living tree as the rabbis later imagined. I have also argued that the symbol had the form of a stylized tree, as depicted on one of the "Yahweh and his Asherah" pithoi from Kuntillet Ajrud.  (The Hebrews may have forgotten the original etymological meaning 'sanctuary'.) "Asherah" and "the asherah" are mentioned in similar contexts, so there is no doubt that the latter was named after the former.”

The particular stylized tree that he mentions is flanked by two ibexes who are feeding on its leaves.  This helps us identify just exactly what tree belonged to the goddess.  I’ve consulted several modern scientific studies on the diets of ibexes (e.g. Hakham and Ritte 1993 on these animals in the Dead Sea region), and somewhere around 70% of their diet is composed of ACACIA LEAVES. [Of course, the ibex also consume the Desert Date or Ished Tree.]

There is, in fact, an important symbiotic relationship that exists between ibex and acacia.  To quote from Elanor M. Bell’s Life at Extremes: Environments, Organisms and Strategies for Survival (2010):

“[Dorcas gazelles and ibex] are both predators and dispersers of Acacia seeds: while some seeds are destroyed, others are defecated unharmed.  Ingestion by large herbivores facilitates germination by scarification of the seedcoat.  While infestation by bruchid beetles reduces Acacia germination, herbivores may reduce brucchid infestation: (i) due to their stomach acids; (ii) crushing by the herbivore’s teeth; or (iii) by removing seeds prior to (re-) infestation.”

Why is this significant?  Because of the extraordinary holy nature of the wood of the acacia.  From


a-ka'-sha (shiTTah, the shittah tree of the King James Version, Isaiah 41:19, and `atse-shiTTah, acacia wood; shittah wood the King James Version, Exodus 25:5,10,13; 26:15,26; 27:1,6; Deuteronomy 10:3.):

ShiTTah (= shinTah) is equivalent to the Arabic sant which is now the name of the Acacia Nilotica (NOT Leguminosae), but no doubt the name once included other species of desert acacias. If one particular species is indicated in the Old Testament it is probably the Acacia Seyal--the Arabic Seyyal--which yields the well-known gum Arabic. This tree, which has finely leaved ular flowers, grows to a height of twenty feet or more, and its stem may sometimes reach two feet in thickness. The tree often assumes a characteristic umbrella-like form. The wood is close-grained and is not readily attacked by insects. It would be well suited for such purposes as described, the construction of the ark of the covenant, the altar and boarding of the tabernacle. Even today these trees survive in considerable numbers around `Ain Jidy and in the valleys to the south.”

I would add that a very common site at Timna (see Chapter 4 below) is ibex feeding on acacia trees.

So, what we have for the Egyptian and Hebrew trees and their associated deities are these:

1) Ished tree with Khepri and Thoth
2) Acacia tree with Yahweh and Angel/Messenger of the Yahweh

The problem is that the Angel of Yahweh is the actual fire in the bush.  This does not fit Thoth at all.  Furthermore, a little further in the Moses story (Exodus 13:21-22, we are told that Yahweh went before the Hebrews in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  As the pillar of fire is almost certainly the same cloud filled with heavenly fire, i.e. lightning, most especially sheet lightning, and as the cloud that descends upon Mt. Sinai during the Theophany is the same lightning-filled cloud as well as the cloud otherwise associated with the Tabernacle and described as Yahweh’s tent (Psalm 18:10-11), we must assume the old storm god Amurru of the ibex is still present.  We will see in the next chapter that the same cloud was generated with incense and appeared over the ‘mercy seat’ of the ark of the covenant.

So what to make of the Burning Bush episode?  Well, as it turns out, we must introduce another god known to be associated with the Egyptian ished tree into the equation.  This is the Father god – and ram god – Amun, the head of the Egyptian pantheon.  Amun not only was conflated with Khepri, but is often described in terms very similar to Khepri himself (see David Klotz’s Adoration of the Ram: Five Hymns to Amun-Re from Hibis Temple, Yale Egyptological Studies 6, 2006). Amun’s name means ‘The Hidden One”, and other gods – like the sun god Re – were considered to be his physical manifestation.  So in his capacity as Amun-Re he was both visible and invisible.

Amun was a very complicated deity, who eventually subsumed pretty much every other god in the pantheon.  Often these gods were referred to as his bas, ba being a word that not only indicates a sort of  soul, but a sort of separate physical mode of existence for its owner. Ba can also mean ‘ram’, and ‘to be manifest, present’. 

What follows is a hymn from Hibis to Amun as the Ba of Shu, the air/wind god:


[Yo]u are Amun,
you are Shu,
you are the highest of gods,
you are “Sacred of Manifestations” [dsr-hpr.w; title for Ba of Shu] as the four winds of heaven,
so (you) are called, when they come forth from the mouth of his majesty.
The Ba of Shu, who bends the winds, who traverses heaven daily,
Who lives as the Supports of Shu, unto the limit of the heavenly circuit.
He enters into every tree,
with the result that the branches come alive:
His power is more cutting than any powerful lion.
He makes the sky rage,
and he stirs up the sea :
It is (only) through his calming that they settle down.
The one who is most manifest (ba) of manifestations (ba.w).
He makes Hapi flood according to his will,
and he makes flourish (?) the fields according to his desire:
nobody else being as p[owerful] besides him.
His voice is heard, but he is not seen,
while letting every throat breathe.
The one who reassures the pregnant concerning her children,
so the newborn which comes from her lives.
He who goes around the mysterious-regions for [W]eary-of-Heart,
existing as the sweet, northern wind.
It was to let him have use of his body
that he filled his nose by means of all of his scents, at all times, every day,
while arriving at his time, without cease in his action,
In his name of Horus Valiant of Arm,
who protects Shentayt,
so that her son might endure upon the throne of his father,
may he live eternally.
Amun, the Ba of Shu,
Who travels  inside a cloud,
while separating earth from heaven,
as he endures in all things.
The Life-force from whom one lives, eternally.

Now, we may immediately recognize here the ram-god Amun, existing inside a cloud, invisible as the wind.  In a Ptolemaic hymn to Amun, we are told:

“Loud of voice without being seen:
It was within his cloud that he shouted on earth.”

The “shouting” is, of course, thunder, taken as the voice of the god.

I would see Yahweh and his ‘angel’ the same way.  I’ve already alluded to the Amorite theonyms found at Mari – Yahwi-ilum, Yahwi-Adad, Yahwi-Dagan.  If we then allow for such names to be read as ‘Manifest is El/Adad/Dagan’ or, perhaps better, ‘Manifestation of El/Adad/Dagan’, then Yahweh IS Amun, while the Angel of Yahweh is Amun’s storm-cloud manifestation, which we can equate with the earlier Amurru/El.  In other words, Yahweh/Amun “resides” within the storm-cloud (Amurru/El), but is himself invisible.  If we accept this, then Yahweh and the cloud-angel are one and the same entity and yet separate entities. The old Amurru/El as Angel is merely the visible aspect of the unnamed, hidden god Amun.


The name YHWH has exactly the same meaning as that of the Egyptian Khepri.  While I do not see evidence in YHWH's cult of Khepri, the word xpr, 'to be, to become, to manifest', as well as bA, ' to be manifest', 'to be present', are used for Amun, the chief god of the Egyptian pantheon, in several contexts.  All other gods came to be viewed as manifestations of Amun. 

In the Amorite personal names I alluded to, the Yahwi- component is not a divine name.  It is paired with a divine name and means something like 'god X is manifest'.  The YHW’ Shasu group may have been called such because they worshipped a god called 'the Manifest One’ or ‘the One who Manifests Himself’.

Syncretism being what it is, deities with similar characteristics were often identified with each other.  There is a lot of evidence for an Amorite connection for Abraham, and if his father Terah the ibex/wild mountain goat is a reference to the caprid of Amurru/Martu, then we can at least say that before the Hebrews stayed in Egypt they were Amorites who worshiped the storm god Amurru.  The latter has been related to the Canaanite El by several scholars, and not only because of their shared consort, Athirat/Ashratu (the Asherah of Yahweh). 

If Amurru worshipers were in Egypt long enough, they may have conflated their ibex-god with the ram-god Amun, El's counterpart.  And Amun, in turn, whose visible manifestation was the storm cloud (as demonstrated in Egyptian hymns to the god), was identified by the Midianites with their own god Yahweh, the Manifested One. 

Having established that Moses’ ished/balanite tree was syncretized with the Midianite acacia, and that Amun of the ished was similarly syncretized with Yahweh of the Asherah, and that Yahweh’s angel is merely a designation for the storm-cloud form of Amun/Yahweh, where was the sacred mountain of the god and tree?


Often one will find the name Sinai derived falsely from the name of the Babylonian moon god, Sin or Suen.  This has been shown by numerous authorities to be indefensible both philologically and phonologically.  However, the Hebrew definition for Sinai (Ciynay) is “thorny”, from a Proto-Semitic *sinn. There is a Western Chadic word c*in-, meaning ‘sharp point, tooth, sharp, sharp object’, an Akkadian sinnu, “tooth”, Arabic sinn, “point”, Syriac sinna, Ugaritic sn, Ge’ez senn.

This etymology for Sinai supplies us with the clue we need for getting a geographical fix on the mountain of Moses.  The Egyptian god of Sinai was Sopdu, whose name is derived from spd, “sharp”.  The hieroglyph used to spell the first part of Sopdu’s name stands for “sharp” and is a simple pointed triangle.  It has been surmised that this pointed triangle was in reality a plant thorn, and by extension a tooth. Indeed, in the Pyramid texts the word spd is applied to the teeth of the god.  Sopdu is found at Maghara in the Sinai as “Lord of the Eastern (Desert).”  At nearby Serabit el-Khadim, where he was worshipped with Hathor, “Lady of the Turquoise”, he is called “Lord of the East”, “of the Foreign Lands” and “Lord of the Foreign Lands”.

What I find hard to believe is that no one has seen fit to propose the following:  that Sinai is the Semitic rendering of ‘land of Sopdu’, and that the Mountain of Sinai must, therefore, be a mountain of the god Sopdu.

One such mountain was, obviously, that of Serabit el-Khadim with its Sopdu shrine.  But is this mountain the same as Mount Horeb, the name Exodus gives for the location of the Burning Bush?

Horeb or Choreb (pronounced kho-rab) means “desert”, and is from the root charab, “to be dry, be dried up”.  There is no mountain of this name in the Sinai, and some have thought it merely a descriptive phrase rather than a true name, i.e. Mount Sinai was a “desert mountain” or a “mountain in the desert”.  But archaeology has opened up another possibility.

When Moses first went to live in Midian, which at that time was across the Gulf of Aqaba from Sinai, its northwestern-most part being roughly coterminous with the extreme southern end of the Arabah, “he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1).”  Now, in this context, it makes no sense at all for Moses’s mountain to be Serabit el-Khadim in the southeastern Sinai Peninsula.  There is, in fact, only one place he could have reached from Midian as a shepherd that would fulfill the requirements of a Mount Horeb.

A  Midianite presence has been demonstrated at the Egyptian mining complex at Har Timna or Mount Timna at the southwestern end of the Arabah.  The Egyptians called Timna or, rather, the Arabah (see Beno Rothenberg) Atika, a word perhaps to be related to Akkadian etequ, Proto-Semitic ‘ataq, Ugaritic ‘tq, “to pass, go along, go past; to go through, cross over”.   Juan Manuel Tebes also believes Atika is the Arabah and would further connect the name with the Biblical Atak (“Egypt in the East: The Egyptian Presence in the Negev and the Local Society During the Early Iron Age”, in Cahiers Caribeens d’Egyptologie 9, February/March 2006).  Midianite miners were also present at Riqeita near Gebel Musa and, of course, at Serabit el-Khadim, but both of these places are too distant from Midian to be Horeb.

Timna is also the only other place in the region which bears evidence of Hathor worship in the Egyptian period.  The Hathor shrine at Timna was re-established during the reign of Ramesses III and a Midianite tent shrine which would appear to be the model for the Biblical Tabernacle replaced it shortly after the demise of Ramesses V (Beno Rothenberg).  We have seen above that the Exodus took place around this time.

We also know (see Donald Redford’s section on the Shasu or Asiatic nomads in his _Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times_) that Egyptian records from Soleb and Amarah of the fifteenth century B.C. mention YHW’ within the geographical context of Seir/Edom, i.e. the Arabah of Timna.  Thus the god Yahweh with whom Moses identified his own Egyptian Amun was already in existence centuries before Moses’ time, and Yahweh belonged at Mount Horeb.  Indeed, Biblical tradition claims that Yahweh came forth from Seir and originated in Edom. 

Unfortunately, we cannot say that Sopdu was at Timna.  His worship is not attested there – only Hathor’s.

The name Horeb, ‘Desert’, may correspond to that of Arabah.  The latter means “desert plain, steppe, desert, wilderness”.  While the Akkadian harbu cited above appears to be a cognate of Hebrew Horeb, there was also a Sumerian eria meaning “wasteland”.  It is my guess that Arabah came from a root more similar to eria than to harbu.  In any case, the “wilderness” Moses takes his flock across to reach Mount Horeb is, almost certainly, the Arabah itself, and Horeb is just another way of saying “Mount Arabah”.

The Balanite or ished tree is found in the Arabah, as is the acacia, so the presence of the Burning Bush at Mount Timna/Horeb is to be expected.

If what I have outlined above is correct, we would seem to have two holy mountains of God, not one: Mount Sinai/Sopdu and Mount Horeb.  How do we account for this within the confines of the Biblical story?

Well, as hinted at above, the tent shrine Moses is said to have set up at Mount Sinai/Sopdu or Serabit el-Khadim was actually erected at Mount Horeb/Timna.  There is no Midianite-style tent shrine at Serabit el-Khadim.  It does not necessarily follow, however, that the tradition placing Moses and the Hebrews at Mount Sinai is a spurious one.

We could account for the inclusion of two holy mountains of God in the Moses story by positing that Timna and Serabit el-Khadim, due to the presence at both places of Hathor shrines, had merely been confused with each other and thus conflated.  The Midianites themselves were miners at both Serabit el-Khadim and Timna.  As a good example of how the mountain of God could be relocalized, we need only look at Jebel Musa, the “Mountain of Moses”, near another Midianite mining center (Riqeita).  Several other mountains in the Sinai have been proposed as Moses’s Mount Horeb, but none of them possess the four critical, prerequisite features that are found only at Timna: 1) proximity to Midian 2) the presence of Midianites 3) a significant Egyptian attestation (which translates into the presence of Egyptian gods and Egyptian religious motifs, such as that of the ished tree) and 4) a tent shrine.   Nor do any of these other candidates for Moses’ Mount Sinai show signs of the worship of Sopdu, something unique to Serabit el-Khadim.

Once again, if we trust the Biblical narrative, we can allow for Moses’ actual journey to Serabit el-Khadim-Mount Sinai/Sopdu and still be able to explain why the Midianite tent shrine of Timna was wrongly transferred to the former location.  We have seen how Moses’ first sojourn in Midian corresponds to the reign of Ramesses III, who re-established the mines and Hathor Temple at Timna.  We also know that Moses took the Hebrews out of Egypt after the deaths of Ramesses IV and V, in other words, in the reign of Ramesses VI.  Not only was the last expedition to Serabit el-Khadim launched by Ramesses VI, but during the same pharaoh’s reign the Midianites destroyed the Hathor temple at Timna and erected their own tent shrine.  So it is distinctly possible that the trek of Moses and his people to Serabit el-Khadim happened at the same time the tent shrine was erected at Timna.

When we search for a historical Moses below, we will take a close look at a man (or men) who could well have been at both Timna during its re-establishment by Ramesses III and at Serabit el-Khadim during the expedition by Ramesses VI.

In closing, I would remind my readers that the name Amun (= the Midianite Yahweh) is actually found in the inscription at Timna as part of the name of Ramesses III:

"Between the king and the goddess, and facing to the right, are a pair of vertical cartouches, the first in the field between their heads, the second in the field between their legs. These contain respectively the prenomen and nomen of Ramesses III "Wosimare'-mi'amun Ramesses-hikaon". Although the cartouche containing the nomen is preceded by the title rib hc-w "Lord of Diadems", there is no visible trace of a corresponding title before the prenomen. It should be noted, however, that the surface of the cliff is damaged and weathered here, and that there is room beneath the border line of the stela and the first cartouche to restore rib U-wy "Lord of the Two Lands"."

 [From 'The Royal Butler Ramessesemperrēʿ' by Alan R. Schulman, Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 13 (1976), pp. 117-130, American Research Center in Egypt;]


Much has been written in the past on the Ark of the Covenant as essentially a typical Egyptian portable shrine. Many such shrines are mentioned or depicted in the Egyptian records.  It is not my purpose in this chapter to cover this ground again.  Rather, I will restrict my treatment of the ark to just two features: the guardian cherubim mounted on each end of the ‘mercy seat’ and the tablets of the Law said to be contained within the sacred chest.

Walter Mattfeld has assembled a wealth of material on what may be the ancient Near Eastern parallels to the Biblical cherubim of the ark.  He has proposed that the cherubim (from Akkadian harabu, “to bless, to praise, to dedicate an offering”; cf. Ugaritic krb) appear as winged or unwinged lions or sphinxes flanking the thrones of Canaanite, Phoenician and Egyptian monarchs.  The Ark of the Covenant is sometimes thought to be Yahweh’s throne (although see below).

In the case of the Egyptian guardian sphinxes, they are always shown with their wings folded down over their backs.  There is one Egyptian throne, that of the New Kingdom Queen Mutnodjme, wife of Pharaoh Horemheb, which has a female sphinx with wings extended.  Other Egyptian scenes show portable thrones also protected by flanking lions or sphinxes.

The best example of a sphinx with wings extended acting the role of a throne guardian is that found on an ivory at Megiddo, dating to ca. 1200 B.C.  We also have a splendid depiction on a stone sarcophagus of King Hiram of Byblos seated on a similar throne, flanked by a sphinx with wings extended, dated a c. 1300-1200 B.C.

Perhaps the most interesting portrayal of an Egyptian winged sphinx is found on a chariot panel of pharaoh Thutmose IV (1419-1410 B.C.).  Here the sphinx is trampling Asiatic enemies. 

But there are four major problems with viewing the cherubim as throne sphinxes.  First, the idea that the ark was Yahweh’s throne is due to a misinterpretation of the Hebrew word kapporeth, which has been translated “mercy seat” in the past.  Kapporeth is actually to be related to Akkadian kaparu and like so much else in the Old Testament demonstrates borrowing of Mesopotamian words and concepts by the Jews during the Babylonian Captivity.

According to the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, kaparu means ‘to wipe off, to smear on (a paint or liquid)’; kupurru is ‘to wipe off, to clean objects, to rub, to purify magically’, so ‘to be rubbed, to be smeared’.  Kupiratu is ‘wipings’, kupurtu is ‘ointment’.  The idea is that the lid or cover of the ark, with its attached cherubim, was periodically either ritually cleaned, i.e. purified, and/or was anointed with oil, purified with incense or had sacrificial blood smeared upon it.  So the kapporeth was ‘that which was cleaned or smeared or otherwise covered with a purifying substance’.  The idea that the kapporeth is an object of atonement comes from the recorded practice of its being exposed to incense and sprinkled with blood on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:11-15).  The incense created smoke that hovered over the kapporeth, symbolizing the angel/cloud manifestation of Yahweh/Amun.

Second, the guardian sphinxes are used only for the thrones of human monarchs, not for gods proper.  Third, the throne guardians face forward, looking in the same direction as the seated monarch or, in the case of portable thrones, in the direction the said thrones are being carried.  And fourth, the sphinxes guarding these thrones do not assume an adoring/praying/ blessing posture, something which is inherent to the cherubim, whose very name demand such a function.

Thus the cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant cannot have been sphinxes.  Sphinxes work no better in defining the form and function of the cherubim than the Egyptian Aker, the double-headed lion earth god who symbolized the horizon.  Aker’s heads faced outward.

Is there any way we can determine the identities of the winged cherubim that flanked the kapporeth on the Ark of the Covenant?

Well, according to Canticles iii, sparks that issued from between the two cherubim killed serpents and scorpions.  The Egyptian scorpion goddess was called Serket.  While apparently subsumed by Isis in the late period, Serket appears with the goddess Neith during the New Kingdom in Luxor Temple and in Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple (Wilkinson).  The scorpion goddess is also paired with Nephthys, sister of Isis, in the mythological story if the birth of Horus.  In this last, Nephthys and Serket assist Isis in guarding the infant god after he is stung or bitten.  In the same myth, Isis is accompanied by seven scorpions which are the emanations of Serket.  These scorpions protect her and her unborn child.

Nephthys was not evoked for protection against snakebite.  So if Serket or Isis were one of the cherubim, Nephthys is very unlikely to have been the other.  We need a goddess who served an apotropaic function specifically geared towards snakes and who is known to have been associated with either Isis or Serket.

Several Egyptian goddesses could take serpent form.  Wadjet was the primary cobra goddess of Egypt.  She is linked with Nekhbet, not with Isis or Serket.  Isis herself, of course, was famous for having cured the sun god Re of snakebite – a snakebite she herself caused to be inflicted upon the god.  So it is certainly possible that the two cherubim are Isis and Serket.  However, we have seen that Serket is paired with Neith and the latter goddess had strong serpent affinities.  Not only did she create the underworld serpent Apophis, but she could appear in serpentine form as protectress of the pharaoh and of Re (see Richard Wilkinson’s “The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt”).  She appears as a serpent in the Book of the Dead (185) and as a gilded wooden cobra found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Pyramid text 1375 has a pharaoh proclaim: “… Neith is behind me [in a protective sense] and Serket is before me.”  Also in the Pyramid Texts, Neith watches over the deceased Osiris with Isis, Nephthys and Serket.  These four goddesses were assigned to the four sides of the coffin and were charged with watching over the sons of Horus, themselves guardians of the canopic jars.

Most important for our understanding of the ark of the covenant is the depiction on a rock carving at Abu Simbel of Ramesses II's army at the Battle of Kadesh.  For at the center of his army is a portable shrine, complete with an adored deity flanked by two winged goddesses, facing the deity, their arms outspread. This is proof that such portable shrines were carried by the Egyptians in battle, much as is claimed to be the case in the Old Testament in regards to the Ark of the Covenant. While we cannot know which deity is portrayed in this particular carving, it is almost certainly Amun-Re (= Yahweh), the chief Egyptian god of the time. 

Similar images are found elsewhere in Egyptian iconography, either with portable shrines in isolation or with such shrines placed atop boats.  Both types might be carried by bearers resting long poles on their shoulders.  The only major difference from scene to scene is what deity’s cult statue is situated between the flanking winged figures. Quite accidentally, I recently came across a faience model tambourine in the Metropolitcan Museum of Art which shows Bastet in just such a shrine/boat, flanked by the two winged adorers/protectors.  A rare surviving wooden portable shrine from the Ptolemaic period in the Smithsonian Institute’s collection has three panels depicting winged deities flanking gods.  Adolf Erman’s drawing of Amun-Ra’s portable bark-shrine at Karnak, which is being carried by priests, (“Life of Ancient Egypt”, p. 275) shows once again the same winged goddesses flanking the cult statue.  Karnak has reliefs of other divine barks as well, with the stylized adoring/protecting winged deities flanking the deities in their shrines.

Having postulated that the two cherubim of the ark were, in all likelihood two Egyptian goddesses, and Yahweh was the Midianite version of Amun, we may next consider the two tablets of the Law.  As described in the Biblical account, the tablets were made of stone at the mountain of God.  Such an action, viewed within an Egyptian context, clearly suggests the carving of dedicatory stelae.  Stelae of this kind were made and set up at holy sites, including Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai.  Typically, they were raised in the name of a pharaoh as a recording of something done for the residing deity of the holy site in question.  Such stela were often large and very heavy.  They were intended as stationary, permanent monuments.

While it is certainly possible that the Hebrews under Moses instituted a new role for rock-hewn stelae, i.e. the recording of commandments uttered by Yahweh, from a mere practical standpoint it can be said unreservedly that no one would want to carry such objects around in a portable shrine.  If this is the case, just what lies behind the story of the recording of the Ten Commandents on stone tablets?

The explanation is deceptively simple.  A common word for a stela in the Egyptian language was ‘wD’.  This word derives from the verb ‘wD’, meaning “command”. In other words, a stela was a “commandment”, in the sense, according to the Egyptologists, that it was commanded or commissioned to be set up by a royal person.

Thus when we are told in the Moses story that the commandments were written on stone tablets, what is actually happening is that “commandments”, i.e. stelae, are being cut out of stone, carved with dedicatory inscriptions and set up at the Hathor temple on Serabit el-Khadim.  To this day many such stelae can be seen at this place.  There are even broken stelae strewn about which may well have provided the creative impetus for the episode of Moses’ breaking of the first tablets of the Law when he discovered the Hebrews worshipping the solar Golden Calf.   Similar stelae were set up at the Timna Hathor temple, although these were destroyed or defaced when the Midianites erected their tent shrine there.  Only one Timna stela has remained intact and we will discuss this object’s significance in the next chapter.


In looking for a historical candidate for Moses, we need to fulfill several conditions, all based on the criteria we have established in previous parts of the book.  First, he must be Asiatic, i.e. not a native Egyptian.  Two, he needs to have been present at Timna during the re-establishment there of the mines and Hathor temple in the reign of Ramesses III.  Three, he needs to have been present at Serabit el-Khadim during Egypt’s last expedition to that site under the direction of Ramesses VI – or there must be a reasonable level of probability that he or a namesake was there as this time.  Four, he must be someone sufficiently educated in regards to the Egyptian religious system to have identified the Shasu group YHW’ in Edom/Seir with his own god Amun and to have associated the ished/balanite tree with the local acacia.  Five, he would need to be of a fairly significant social status within the Egyptian highly-stratified, hierarchical system, for the Bible tells us he was the adopted son of Pharaoh.  And six, his ancestry must be consistent in a fundamental way with the genealogy supplied for him in the Bible.

To begin trying to satisfy these various points, it is important to reiterate what has often been remarked regarding Moses’ line of descent from Jacob via Levi.  And that is, simply put, this: an ancestral trace that runs Jacob (probably the Hyksos Jakobher)-Levi-Kohath-Amram-Moses is insufficient to cover the over  four centuries that spanned the period from the entry into Egypt of the Hebrews and the Exodus, which we have surmised happened immediately after the death of Ramesses V.  Moses’ genealogy is, in large part, a fabrication, with the life spans of the people involved being greatly exaggerated in order to make sense of the Biblical narrative.

Exodus tells us that Levi was born to Jacob in Aram, known later as Assyria. This may well be essentially correct, as Ramesses III recorded a certain Levi-El in a list of places mentioned in his description of a Syrian campaign.  Kohath, son of Levi, was born in Canaan.  In Genesis 46:8-11, we learn that Kohath went with his father and Jacob to Egypt.  We are not introduced to Amram, son of Kohath, until Exodus 6:18.  There is it implied that Amram was born to Kohath in Egypt.  However, one of Amram’s brothers was named Hebron, and this last is a mere eponym for Hebron in Canaan.

If the reader will indulge the author, we should briefly investigate these names from an etymological perspective.  The accepted Semitic meaning of Levi is ‘He who joins or unites”, from a primitive root lavah (lwh).  This has been interpreted as referring to the bond that existed between this priestly clan and their god, Yahweh.  Given the toponym Levi-El or “[those who or that which is] joined to/united with El [‘God’]”, this definition if almost certain.  The corresponding Egyptian word was xnm, “join, unite with”.  Xnm is the root that lies behind the name of the important Egyptian god Khnum, ‘He who unites or joins’.  In a verbal sense xnm had the sense of “to join or unite with a god or the dead” (see David Shennum’s English-Egyptian Index).

On the other hand, it is also possible that the Levites, with their patriarch Levi, were originally simply the inhabitants of the L
evi-el town mentioned above.  Many proper names which first appear in the genealogies of the Book of Genesis reveal themselves to be merely eponyms.  The Levites may be no different; Levi would be the eponym for Levi-el.  As the inhabitants of this place were by virtue of their town-name “attached to God”, such a distinction may well have caused them to be viewed as deserving of a special priestly function.

A second definition for lwh is 'to borrow, to lend', and it has been theorized that a Levite, therefore, was 'one pledged for a debt or vow' to Yahweh or to his sanctuary (see The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies by John William Rogerson and Judith Lieu, 2006).

"Levite" has also been connected with an Assyro-Babylonian word li'u or le'uu, "wise, prudent" (Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria, Ann Jeffers, 1996).

The fourth possible etymology for lwh is perhaps more illuminating: 'to turn, twist'.  Such a derivation could imply that the Levites "turned and twisted" in ritual dances.  The Egyptians had a word rwi, which we know became lo in Coptic.  This Egyptian verb would have been something like *laway.  Its primary meaning was 'leave, depart, go away', but it also described a type of ritual dance.

But Meek pointed out that several personal names in the tribe of Levi were to be derived from words for 'snake': Nahshon, Nahash, Shuppim.  He also emphasized the creation of the bronze serpent Nehushtan by Moses of the tribe of Levi – perhaps to be related to the cult artifact excavated from Timna.  Frequently discussed in this connection is Leviathan (livyathan, the "twisting serpent"), who was envisioned as the primeval sea encircling the earth. This image of a twisting or encircling serpent brings to mind Egyptian mhn, 'coil', and Mehen, 'the coiled one', the great serpent who protected the sun god Re on his nightly journey through the underworld.  In the Underworld Books, Mehen is depicted coiled around or above the shrine-like cabin of the boat of Re.  A feminine form of Mehen, Mehenet, is the name given to the uraeus serpent placed on the head of Re.  As the Levites were in charge of Yahweh's ark, might they not have been a priestly clan originally named for Mehen or Mehenet?  Hebrew livyah was a wreath-like ornament. It is thus possible the Levites wore wreaths fashioned to resemble the coiled serpent protector of Re.

Aaron’s name would appear to designate a certain priestly function.  Professor John Huehnergard of Harvard University informed me that it had been suggested that Aaron’s name may be derived from “an otherwise lost or rare Semitic root '-h-r; there is a rare Arabic word 'ahar- cited in a few dictionaries.”  According to Professor Wolfhart Heinrichs of Harvard University,

‘Ibn Manz.ûr (13th cent.) in his large dictionary "Lisân al-ŒArab” says:

al-aharah is the "equipment of a house." [Then he quotes] al-Layth [redactor of the earliest Arabic dictionary]: the aharah of a house is the clothes, the carpets & cushions, and the furniture therein. ThaŒlab [grammarian, d. 904] said: [The phrase] baytun h.asanu 'l-z.aharati wa-'l-aharati wa-'l-Œaqâr means the "equipment," the z.aharah being what is outside and the aharah being what is inside [plus the lot, on which the house is built]. The plural is ahar [which is actually a generic noun, while aharah is the unit noun] and aharât [which is the plural of the unit noun, thus denoting several units]. [This followed by four lines in the rajaz meter that contain the word ahar, which are then explained.]

I can't say that ahar(ah) is a ghost word. It is certainly rare, I have never seen it in a text.  Rajaz poetry is notorious for its strange vocabulary, which could mean that it is easy to hide a ghost word in a line of rajaz. On the other hand, the lexicographers mostly insisted on good transmission of words. Some ghost words did creep in, due to lapsus calami and other distortions. But the word ahar does not easily lend itself to such misspellings.’

I then proposed that the name Aaron does derive from a lost Hebrew word cognate with Arabic aharah (or with the root of aharah), and asked if this could be a reflection of his priestly function inside the Tabernacle.  Or, more precisely, he was the priest in charge of the equipment of the Tabernacle.  This would mean that 'Aaron' was not originally a proper name, but a title or descriptive of a priestly role/function. Professor Heinrich responded: “This explanation looks plausible to me.”

As for Kohath, the son of Levi, Professor Anson F. Rainey of Tel Aviv University says:

“The name of a hero, hunter, in Ugaritic literature is Aqhat. It is the same word as Kehat plus prosthetic aleph. The attested biblical forms cannot possibly be participles, either active or passive. There are no long vowels anywhere. The very short "o" vowel is deceptive, don't fall for it.”

I will return to this name for a more detailed examination below.

Amram, son of Kohath, is a manufactured name.  It means “Exalted People/Nation”, and may be compared to Abram, “Exalted Father”, the original name of Abraham (“Father of Multitudes” via folk etymology).  The Exalted People is a designation for the Hebrews.  It is most decidedly not the name of Moses’ father.    Instead, it is intended to show either his descent through the Hebrews, God’s Chosen People, or through the Levitical branch of the Kohathites.

Miriam, the name of Moses’s sister and hence daughter of Amram, derives from the same verbal root RWM, meaning “to be high above; to be exalted; to rise up”.  As a personal name it means “[the] exalted one” and may be compared with the Ugaritic MRYM, Punic MRM.  In the Ugaritic Baal Cycle, we find it used in the context MRYM SPN, “heights of Saphan”, the Saphan in question being the mountain of the god Baal.

The various Ramah or Ramoth place-names in Canaan were also derived from this same Semitic root and thus designated high places, while Ammon or the “[Land] of the People/Nation” preserves a form stemming from the Am- of Amram (although this region is given an eponymous founder Ben-ammi, “Son of the People”).

Kohath is the most important of the names claimed as ancestors of Moses.  There is good reason for not only associating this name with that of the Ugaritic Aqhat, but for identifying the two ‘hunters’ as the same legendary, heroic personage.

The Ugaritic hero Aqhat is the son of Danil (a name later found in Hebrew as Daniel).  Recent scholarship has reached a concensus on an epithet assigned to Danil, ’MT. RPI’.  Wilfred G. E. Watson of the University of Newcastle on Tyne and Nicholas Wyatt of the University of Edinburgh in their “Handbook of Ugaritic Studies”, perhaps put it best:

“In my translation [of the Aqhat Epic] (1998c, 250 n. 5), I have taken it [the epithet MT. RPI] in the sense of ‘man (i.e. ruler) of Rapha’.

Rapha or Raphon was named for the god Rapiu and can be identified with the modern Er-Rafeh close to the Biblical sites of Ashtoreth-Karnaim and Edrei in that part of Bashan known as Hauran.  An Ugaritic text (see KTU 1.108) states that the god Rapiu is enthroned at and rules from Ashtoreth-Karnaim and Edrei.

Originally, Danil was associated with Hermel just south of Kadesh and Shabtuna in Syria because of his second epithet, ‘Mt. Hrnmy’.  The identification of HRNMY with Hermel was first proposed by W.F. Albright in his “The Traditional Home of the Syrian Daniel”, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 130, pp. 26-27.  Albright has arrived at this conclusion by assuming that the ‘RNM/HRNM found in Egyptian records was HRNM(Y).  To make his argument for Hermel work, Albright resorted to letter substitutions, letter transpositions and disposed of the Arabic meaning of this place-name by declaring it a folk etymology.  Hermel was judged to be HRNM because the former seemed to be in the same general area as several other place-names mentioned in the same Egyptian records.

Albright has no idea what the original meaning of HRNM might have been.  Nor did he account for the fact that there are actually two Hermels (one in Hamah, the other in Tartus), which would have forced him to explain how both of these town names were identical corruptions of HRNM.  The terminal –Y of HRNMY is thought to be an ethnicon (Professor Anson Rainey, private communication) or, to put it in the words of Professor Huehnergard of Harvard (private communication), “Ug. Hrnmy is merely the gentilic adjective of the place name hrnm, pronounced harnamu.”.

I would propose a new identification for the site of HRNM, namely the ancient Naveh, or Nawa, very close to Ashtoreth, Edrei and Raphon.  The HR- can easily be accounted for thusly:  according to Professor Wilfred G.E. Watson at The University of Newcastle on Tyne, “The Ug. word hr occurs in KTU 1.107:44 and 1.4 ii 36 and perhaps in 7.53:3; it means ‘mountain’.”  Hebrew naveh is from navah, and is cognate with Akkadian namu, “living in the steppe, steppe-dweller”.  The word is found in the Mari texts with the meaning “movable encampment of people and herds”. Anson Rainey (in his “The Military Personnel of Ugarit”, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 24, No. 1 / 2, January, 1965) says that ‘Wiseman has observed that namu is the Middle Babylonian reflex of nawu(m) from the Mari texts which meant “encampment”, “pasturage” or “steppe”.  James M. Scott (in “A New Approach to Habakkuk II 4-5A”, Vetus Testamentum XXXVm 3, 1985) states that

‘… the Hebrew verb nawa may have an almost exact cognate correspondent in the well-attested Old and Standard Babylonian verb namu, meaning “to be abandoned, to lie in ruins, to lay waste, to turn to ruins; to become waste, ruined”… Several lines of evidence support the correspondence of nawa to namu, both in form and meaning.  First, namu corresponds to nawa phonologically: even through the Akkadian m would be the normal correspondent rather than the less common w, both namu and nawu are attested forms… Second, the substantive derivative of namu (i.e. namu “pasture land”) corresponds in usage to the derivatives of nawa (i.e. naweh “abode of shepherds or flocks” and nawa “pasture, meadow”)… Third, if the Ugaritic verb nawa “to be desolated” belongs to the same root as nawa and namu, then nawa belongs to a common lexical stock denoting destruction.”

Namu occurs in Ugaritic text RS 8.208 as applied to a man named Buriyanu, where the word is translated by J. J. Finhelstein as “man of the steppe”.

Geographers, historians and archaeologists have defined Nawa as the city of Ayub, i.e. the Biblical Job.  The town is also said to include the tomb of Shem, Noah's son. The palaces and dwellings of Nawa demonstrate its historical importance and there are many ancient hills and ruins around, including Al Jubia and Tell Umm Horan.

HRNMY, then, could mean that Dan’il is a man of Naveh, as well as a man of Raphon, both sites being in the Hauran of Bashan.  An alternative to this interpretation will be briefly discussed below.

Bashan, in Hebrew bsn, is cognate with Ugaritic bthn, Akkadian basmu, Aramaic ptn and Arabic bathan: all nouns (see James H. Charlesworth’s “Revealing the Genius of Biblical Authors: Symbology, Archaeology, and Theology”, COMMUNIO: A THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL, XLVI, 2004, Nr.2, and F. Charles Fensham’s “Ps. 68:23 In the Light of the Recently Discovered Ugaritic Tablets”, JOURNAL OF NEAR EASTERN STUDIES, Vol. 19, No. 4, October 1960) denoting some kind of dragon or snake.  It is possible the reference is to a cosmological serpent much like the Tiamat of the Babylonian creation epic ENUMA ELISH, who when slain has a mountain heaped over her head and other mountains heaped over her udder.  Bashan is dominated by “Mount Bashan”, now Jebel el-Druze, a cluster of over a hundred basaltic volcanoes, and the associated volcanic field.  Jebel el-Druze is the northern part of the great Harrat (Arabic for “lava flow”) Ash Shamah, which extends from southern Syria, across Jordan and into northwestern Saudi Arabia.  It is conceivable that the lava field itself was thought to be what remained of the cosmological serpent. The alternate etymology is Hebrew bsn, 'fertile, stoneless piece of ground' (Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd Revised Edition).  But I have to go with the geography, and that favors the 'serpent' interpretation.

I have above proposed that Harnamu is for “Mountain of the Steppe”, a reference to a hill at Nawa.  But it is just as possible that Harnamu is a reference to Mount Bashan itself, literally a sacred mountain at the heart of Dan’il’s kingdom.

The region of Bashan stretched from the border of Gilead in the south to the slopes of Mount Hermon in the north (W. Ewing in _The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia_).  As such, it was the most northerly part of Palestine east of the Jordan River.  Hauran is an extraordinarily rich plain, running between Jebel ed-Druze or Mount Bashan on the east, and Jedua and Jaulan (modern Golan) in the west.  This plain reaches Jebel el ‘Aswad in the north and the Yarmuk River in the southwest, and finally open desert in the southeast. It is from 1,500 to 2,000 ft. above sea-level, and almost 50 miles in length, by 45 in breadth.  The district of the Hauran known as En-Nuqrah has fertile soil composed of volcanic detritus where wheat is cultivated.

The name Hauran may mean either “Hollow [land]” or the land of the Canaanite god Hauron, an underworld deity not unlike Rapiu.  It may not be a coincidence that the Kohathites, after the conquest of Palestine by the Hebrews, were given the twin cities of Beth-Horon in Ephraim.  Horon (cognate with Hauran) has as its root Hebrew hor (chowr, “hole, cave”), and is in all likelihood not “House of the Hollow”, but “House of [the god] Hauron”.  Also interesting is the presence of Hauran in Bashan, “the Serpent/Dragon” (see above); the god Hauron is evoked in two Ugaritic charms for healing snake-bite.

So now that we have established with some degree of certainty that Danil and his son Aqht belonged to Bashan, and to the plain of Hauran in Bashan in particular, we can return to our consideration of the Kohath grandfather of Moses, who bears a name identical with that of Aqht.

At Timna, which we have identified with Moses’ Mount Horeb, a rock-face carving was found above the Midianite tent-shrine.  It will be recalled that this Midianite tent-shrine has been erected on the site of the earlier Egyptian shrine to Hathor.

The carving in question is a dedication of Ramesses III to Hathor, presented by one Ramessesemperre, “Re has given birth to him in the house of Re”, a royal butler.

What scant information we have on this man (kindly provided to me by Dr. Maarten J. Raven, Curator, Egyptian Department, National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, Netherlands; see the article “The Royal Butler of Ramessesemperre by Alan R. Schulman , JARCE XIII, 1976, and “Le Dinnitaire Ramesside Ramses-em-per-re, Jocelyne Berlandini-Grenier, BIFAO 74, 1974) strongly suggests that he was either the son or grandson of another Ramessesemperre who held high offices under the pharaohs Ramesses II and Merneptah.  The first Ramessesemperre was Syro-Palestinian, having the original, non-Egyptian name Benitjen or “Ben-azen”, with a father Yupa’o or Yupaao (another foreign name; according to Michael Coogan this last could be from the Semitic root yp’, “to shine”).  The first Ramessesemperre had yet another Egyptian name, Meriunu.  But what is startling about this man is that he was from Ziri-bashana.

Olivier Lauffenburger informs me that Ziri-bashana occurs in the Amarna letter EA201 (a letter from Artamanya of Ziri-bashana to the Egyptian king).  Ziri is, in fact, to be read seri (with an emphatic s), which means in Akkadian “plain, steppe, open country”.  Thus Ziri-bashana or Ziri-Bashan is the Plain of Bashan, i.e. the Hauran of the legendary Canaanite hero Aqht.

It would not be unreasonable for a man of Hauran in Bashan to count among his distant ancestors a great Bashan hero such as Aqht.  Aqht’s descendents, in turn, were an “Exalted People”, i.e. Amram, among whom was Ramessesemperre or “Moses”.  Note that is has long been recognized that Moses is a truncated form of just such a theophoric name as Ra-messes.

Now, this latter Ramessesemperre, the son or grandson of his earlier name-sake, is thought by Rothenburg, the excavator of Timna, to be the man in charge of the expedition to Timna to re-establish the mining operations there and re-dedicate the Hathor shrine.  To support this notion, which by and large is accepted by the Egyptological community, he cites the following from the “Papyrus Harris” (408-409, James Henry Breasted’s _Ancient Records of Egypt, Volume 4, The Twentieth Through the Twenty-Sixth Dynasties_).  In this papyrus, Ramesses III boasts that

“I sent forth my messengers to the country of the Atika [= Timna/Mount Horeb], to the great copper mines which are in this place.  Their galleys carried them; others on the land-journey were upon their asses.  It has not been heard before, since kings reign.  Their mines were found abounding in copper; it was loaded by ten-thousands into their galleys.  They were sent forward to Egypt, and arrived safely.  It was carried and made into a heap under the balcony, in many bars of copper, like hundred-thousands, being of the color of gold of three times.  I allowed all the people to see them, like wonders.”

“I sent forth butlers and officials to the malachite-country [= Serabit el-Khadim], to my mother, Hathor, mistress of the malachite.  There were brought for her silver, gold, royal linen, mek-linen, and many things into her presence, like the sand.  There were brought for me wonders of real malachite in numerous sacks, brought forward into my presence.  They had not been seen before, since kings reign.”

The royal butler who led the expedition to Timna under Ramesses III later held the rank of “Commander of Foreign Warriors”.  This is attested in Year 4 of the reign of Ramesses V, the pharaoh who perished of smallpox, the plague of the Exodus story that took all the Egyptian first-born sons.  The Foreign Warriors are thought to have been mercenary Sherden, a Sea People most likely from Sardis and not, as previously believed, Sardinia.  We have seen above how Ramesses V is the last pharaoh attested at Timna, and that Ramesses VI was the last Egyptian king to send an expedition to Serabit el-Khadim.  The Midianite tent-shrine at Timna formed the basis for the Biblical traditions concerning the Tabernacle at the Mountain of God.

I would propose that this Ramessesemperre who was in charge of the expedition to Timna under Ramesses III was sent on a similar expedition to Serabit el-Khadim under Ramesses VI.  At the time of this latter expedition to what was Mount Sinai/Sopdu, the Midianites established their tent-shrine at Mount Horeb/Timna.  The Ramesses VI expedition to Mount Sinai was thus conflated in popular tradition with the simultaneous establishment of the tent-shrine at Mount Horeb.

There is little difficulty in accepting that Ramessesemperre/Moses, when at Timna, took a wife from among the Midianites who either worked at the copper mines or who shared some kind of control of those mines with the Egyptians.  We already know that a people called YHW’ lived in precisely this region and Ramessesemperre/Moses would quite naturally have identified his own ram-god Amun with a similar local deity.

Ramessesemperre at Mount Sinai/Serabit el-Khadim would, of course, be accompanied by his god, Amun.  Any rededication of the Serabit el-Khadim Hathor temple during the reign of Ramesses VI, which coincided with the building of the Midianite tent-shrine at Timna over the ruins of the Hathor shrine Ramessesemperre had rededicated there in the reign of Ramesses III, would in the conflated Biblical account be rendered as the Theophany of Sinai.

In passing, given Moses relationship with the Burning Bush, it may be significant that Ramessesemperre the elder is shown adoring Hathor, Lady of the Sycamore, on lintel (?) Brooklyn 35.1315, and receiving a libation from the goddess Nut in tree form on the second register of stela British Museum 79.


Ramessesemperre was, to the best of our knowledge, buried at Saqqara in Egypt.  His tomb is listed among missing tombs in this area by G. T. Martin in “Hidden Tombs of Memphis”.  Dr. Maarten J. Raven, Curator of the Egyptian Department for the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden in the Netherlands, who has worked extensively at Saqqara, informs me that “Indeed we have found a single relief block, perhaps belonging to the tomb of Rameseesemperre.”

Deuteronomy 34:6 tells us that Moses was buried “in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day.”

Now, Saqqara gets its name from that of the ancient Egyptian god Sokar, who was lord of Rosetau (R’-sTA.w).  This Rosetau means, literally, “Mouth [of the] passage/cavern/ramp” that led into the Underworld.  Beth-peor was named for its Mount Peor, peor meaning ‘cleft’ or ‘gap’, from pa’ar, ‘to open wide [the mouth], to gape’.  This mountain was home to a Moabite god called, aptly, Baal-Peor, i.e. ‘Lord of the [mouth-like] Gap’.  The Gap in question was doubtless an entrance into the Underworld. According to “The Dictionary of Deities and Demons of the Bible”, the name Peor “is related to Heb P’R, ‘open wide’, which in Isa 5:4 is said of the ‘mouth’ of the netherworld.”  The same source defines Baal-Peor as probably “the chthonic aspect of the Canaanite god of fertility, Baal.”

What has obviously happened here is that there was some memory of Moses’ burial at Saqqara, but the burial place was moved to Beth-peor to serve the needs of the Biblical narrative.  Baal-peor must have been seen as the Moabite equivalent of Sokar of Rosetau.  The reason Moses’ tomb at Beth-peor could not be found is because it was never there to begin with.  It was at Saqqara.


It is reasonable to ask how the Egyptian official Ramessesemperre (or a conflation of the first and second personages of this name?) could possibly have become the Moses of the Bible.  While it is beyond the scope of this work to attempt a detailed analysis of such topics as the evolution of folkloristic motifs during the course of centuries of orally transmitted tradition, etc., there are a few general comments that can be made which might go far towards answering this question.

1) Ramessesemperre was an Asiatic, whose father had come from Bashan bordering on what would become Israel.
2) As the leader of an expedition to Timna (Horeb) and, probably, Serabit el-Khadim (Sinai), he would have had under his leadership other Asiatics, among whom undoubtedly would have been Hebrews.
3) While at Timna, Ramessesemperre could well have been given a daughter of a local Midianite priest, a worshipper of Yahweh.  That Ramessesemperre, who was thoroughly Egyptianized, would have identified the Midianite Yahweh with his own Amun is only natural: the Egyptians engaged in this kind of syncretization of deities on a regular basis.
4) Some of the Hebrew slaves (or laborers?) at Pi-Ramesses and Pithom might well have been conscripted to accompany Ramessesemperre on his mining expeditions.  These slaves would have been set to work in the mines at these sites, or have been involved in the smelting process and the transportation of copper and malachite.
5) The last mining expedition to Serabit el-Khadim, Moses’ Sinai, took place during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses VI.  After this, the Egyptians withdrew permanently from the Sinai Peninsula.  If, as I have proposed, Ramessesemperre led this last expedition, one which was concurrent with the Midianite founding of their tent sanctuary to Yahweh at Timna, which had not been visited by the Egyptians since the reign of  Ramesses V, and if we further postulate that slaves of this last expedition to Serabit el-Khadim either escaped from the Egyptian overseers or were released on the orders of Ramessesemperre (who, knowing in advance there would be no more expeditions, had no further need of the Hebrews), then we can create the following narrative outline of the development of the Moses story:  An expedition to Timna is sent out during the reign of Ramesses III, under the leadership of Ramessesemperre.  The Hathor shrine at Timna, along with the mines there, are re-established.  Ramessesemperre remains at Timna for the duration of the mining operations, taking as a wife (or concubine?) the daughter of a Midian priest.  His close family connection with the Midianites, who may also have worked the mines, caused him to recognize his own god Amun as the Egyptian counterpart of his father-in-law’s god Yahweh.  The story of the Exodus from Egypt after the death of Ramesses V is a reflection of the expedition launched by Ramesses VI to Serabit el-Khadim.  This would prove to be the last mining expedition in the Sinai undertaken by the Egyptians.  If Ramessemperre were present as leader of the expedition, then this would match the story of Moses’ journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai.  At this same time, the Midianites destroyed the Hathor shrine at Timna and replaced it with their own tent sanctuary to Yahweh.  If this event were roughly contemporaneous with a group of Hebrew slaves escaping from their Egyptian overseers at Serabit el-Khadim or being released from their servitude by none other than Ramessesemperre, then their eventual presence at the tent sanctuary at Horeb – which in the Biblical narrative is mistakenly placed at Serabit el-Khadim – would make the Moses story complete.  We need only allow for the usual legendary accretions to the tale, and the relocation of Moses’ final resting place from Saqqara in Egypt to Mount Peor on the border of the Promised Land.

It seems clear that the life and career of the Egyptian official Ramessesemperre was the model for that of the Biblical Moses, and that the historical Moses was, therefore, Ramessessemperre.


Professor James K. Hoffmeier has pointed out a possible chronological problem with my Moses candidate.  As he outlines this problem (see in more detail his paper “What is the Biblical Date of the Exodus?”, in JETS, 50/2, June 2007, pp. 225-47),

1. Why is Israel mentioned in the Merneptah Stela as present in Canaan in 1208 B.C. if the Exodus and Moses are date to 75 years later on your scheme?

2. There is evidence at the very end of the LBA and Iron I (13th cent.) for new villages, types of houses, etc, and some destructions (like Hazor) at this period, but not a century later when your Israelites should appear in the land!

These points, while significant, presuppose that only one group came into Israel at one time.  While it is certainly true that the Merneptah Stela and even some archaeological evidence show that an entity by the name of Israel existed somewhat before the time of Ramessesemperre, this does not negate the possibility that the latter figure was commemorated in the way I have outlined above by a group arriving slightly later in Canaan.  If the traditions of this later group had eventually come to predominate, then the entire Exodus story would naturally have been written in such a way as to best accommodate the legendary feats of Moses. 

Plus, I’ve already mentioned that the later Ramessesemperre may well have been a son or grandson of the one who served at the time of Pharaoh Merneptah.  The two figures could easily have been confused and/or conflated in legend, the earlier one living at the time the Merneptah Stela was erected.

More recently, the date of Ahmose I has been questioned due to a new interpretation of the so-called Tempest Stela (see “Tempest Stela of Ahmose: World’s Oldest Weather Report”, Apr 3, 2014 in  Thus some of these important early dates connected with Egyptian royal chronologies continue to be revised.

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