Tales From Ancient Egypt: The Birth of Stories

Tales from Ancient Egypt


Loren Fisher’s Tales From Ancient Egypt: The Birth of Stories is now available. In this latest book, Loren provides fresh translations, notes, and introduces to

  • The Story of Sinuhe: A Wander on the Earth
  • The Enchanted Prince
  • The Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor
  • The Journey of Wen-Amon
  • A Dialogue between a Man and His Ba

All five of these tales are wonderful and enlightening. Loren brings the skills of the scholar and the poet to his translations.
While these stories are extremely important in their own right, they are also relevant to the cultural context of the whole of the Ancient Near East including ancient Israel.

As Loren says in his introduction,

Unlike some other ancient states, both Israel and Egypt wrote epic tales in Prose. This prose, with a scattering poetry, is not only important for our understanding of Israel and Egypt, but it is also important for a clear understanding of the history of world literature.

I think it unfortunate that while many current biblical scholars know at least a smattering of Akkadian and Ugaritic, it’s relatively uncommon these days to find those that know much ancient Egyptian. And yet, the Hebrew Bible displays obvious indebtedness to ancient Egyptian culture in much the same way it displays indebtedness to ancient Mesopotamian culture. One needs look no further than Proverbs 22:17-24:22’s relationship to the Instruction of Amenemope or the collection of Egyptian loanwords in Hebrew for verification. Contributing to the mix of rather obvious cultural influences is the use of hieratic numerals in epigraphic Hebrew. And yet, scholars often pass over or depreciate the role of the Egyptian story when discussing stories from ancient Israel. Loren’s book, if it receives the reading it deserves, will go a long ways to correct this deficiency.
Go to Loren’s website to learn what Baruch Levine and John Cobb have to say about Tales From Ancient Egypt: The Birth of Stories. If you’ve’ heard enough already and just want to purchase it, head over to Cascade Books to place an order.

6 thoughts on “Tales From Ancient Egypt: The Birth of Stories

  1. We had an Egyptological guest lecturer at Brandeis during my grad school days—I can’t recall his name, but I believe he was an Israeli. Since the man was also conversant with the Hebrew Bible, I asked him if Egypt figured prominently as an influence upon biblical literature, in his opinion. He basically said no. There are a few important exceptions, he added. But Egypt did not have nearly the kind of influence that Mesopotamia did on the Hebrew Bible. (Mind you, we’re not talking about material culture.) If memory serves, he seemed to suggest the reason had something to do with Egypt’s inwardness. I was surprised. But now that I look back on his judgment, it makes sense. First millennium Egypt was not the superpower that it was in the New Kingdom period. The Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonians and then the Persians all bested them at one point or other. There were moments when Egypt surged into the great ANE clashes (e.g., in the late 7th century). But even Egyptologists talk about the first millennium as a period of long, slow decline. This is precisely the period the Hebrew Bible took shape, especially later in the first millennium.
    As an ANE/HB scholar, however, I think there is good reason to learn about Egypt. Egypt was part of the world of the ANE, the world that produced the Bible. Even if Egypt was on the decline in the first millennium, knowing about this culture helps one obtain a fuller understanding of the ANE and therefore the Bible’s place in it. That’s why I am trying to fill in my Egyptological knowledge a bit, especially since I’m teaching a course on ANE history that includes Egypt. I don’t plan to learn Egyptian anytime soon. But I am interested to do some reading in myth, ritual, and religion, especially.

  2. Calvin,
    Thanks for the reinforcement.
    A agree that Egypt was in a long period of decline during the first millennium. But, as you indicated, they could still be a factor to be reckoned with from time to time. While the relationship is never as clear as we would like it and it’s nature may vary in location and time, material culture had and has some relationship with ethnic culture if for no other reason than they exist(ed) in the same context.
    The only Judean satellite that we know much about was in Egypt and Jeremiah 43 reports that Johanan and an entourage that included Jeremiah fled to Egypt. Now both of these facts may simply reflect that Egypt was in the opposite direction from Babylon and there was reason to expect some safety and protection there. But, as far as the Jeremiah tradition contains a genuine memory, this event happened before the jelling of the Jeremiah material and presumably before the jelling of a lot of other biblical material too. So, aside from the proximity of Egypt, there is at least one or more latish pathways for Egyptian cultural influence in addition to periods of Egyptian resurgences and possible pre-Israelite/Judean Egyptian influence.
    Actually I agree with you that Mesopotamian influence was likely greater than Egyptian influence. The question is one of degree.

  3. Nice timing! I’ve been dusting off my Egyptian, and I still have all my stapled sheets of yellow legal pad on which I worked through Sinuhe and Shipwrecked Sailor. Seems like a book purchase that was Meant to Be.

  4. Since I have made my case in this book, I will not repeat myself here, but I would say that I disagree with the Israeli scholar in Alan Lenzi’s report. A time of decline does not do away with years of contact with the rest of the Mediterranean world. The following quote is from this period of decline:
    “Look, Amon made thunder in the sky,
    when in his time, he put Seth beside him.
    Indeed, Amon has established all the lands.
    When he established them,
    he established first the Land of Egypt.
    Thus craftsmanship came from it
    to reach the place where I am, and wisdom.
    from which you have come.”
    The words of Zakar-Baal, Prince of Byblos,
    From The Journey of Wen-Amon.

  5. Duane, I agree that it is a matter of degree.
    Loren, the kind of thing you are citing here is precisely why I think we ANE/HB scholars should be more aware of Egypt. The text you cite may not be directly influential on the Bible. But it’s Weltanschauung and maybe poetic style is similar in many respects and therefore helpful for us for being more culturally competent readers of the Bible and other ANE literature. I’ll have to read your book.

Comments are closed.