Egyptian diasporas: Manetho, Josephos and others on legends of migration concerning Hyksos and Judeans (third century BCE and on)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Egyptian diasporas: Manetho, Josephos and others on legends of migration concerning Hyksos and Judeans (third century BCE and on),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 19, 2023,

Ancient authors: Josephos (ca. 90 CE), Against Apion 1.227-251 (Manetho / pseudo-Manetho); 1.289-292 (Chairemon); and, 1.304-320 (Lysimachos of Alexandria) (link); Tacitus (ca. 110 CE), Histories 5.1-13  (link; link to Latin).

Comments: In these passages attributed to Manetho (an Egyptian priest of the fourth-third centuries BCE), Chairemon (an Egyptian priest of the first century CE), and Lysimachos of Alexandria (first century BCE) by Josephos, and a separate passage by Tacitus (ca. 110 CE), these Egyptian, Greek and Roman authors present legendary accounts regarding migrations of Egyptians (and in one case migrations to and from Egypt by the Hyksos) to Judea or other eastern locales. The reliability of such accounts (they are not reliable as historical information) is far less important than the implications such speculative accounts of migration have for imagined ethnic interactions or competition and in some cases denigration of other peoples (as when Judeans / Jews are denigrated by association with lowly Egyptians by Greek or Roman authors). I present the legends of migration in chronological order (by author) as much as possible.

Source of the translations: H.S.J. Thackeray and R. Marcus, Josephus, volumes 1-7; LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1926-43), public domain (Thackeray passed away in 1930, Marcus passed away in 1956, and copyright not renewed), modernized and thoroughly adapted and revised by Harland based on the Greek. Clifford H. More, Tacitus: The Histories, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1931), public domain (copyright not renewed), adapted and modernized by Harland.


Book 1

[Manetho (ca. 300 BCE) on migrations to and/or from Egypt, according to Josephos]

The first writer, on whom I [Josephos] propose to dwell at some length, is one whose evidence has already served me a little way back to prove our antiquity: I mean Manetho. This author, having promised to translate Egyptian Matters from the sacred books, begins by stating that our ancestors [Josephos identifies Manetho’s “Hyksos,” on which go to this post, with Judeans] entered Egypt in the tens of thousands and subdued the inhabitants, and goes on to admit that they were afterwards driven out of the land, occupied what is now Judea, founded Jerusalem, and built the temple. Up to this point, he followed the chronicles. But then, under the pretext of recording fables and current reports about the Judeans, he took the liberty of introducing some incredible tales, wishing to represent us as mixed up with a crowd of Egyptian lepers and others who were condemned for various ailments, as he asserts, to banishment from the land. Inventing a king named Amenophis, an imaginary person, the date of whose reign he consequently did not venture to fix (although he adds the exact years of the other kings whom he mentions), he attaches to him certain legends. Manetho presumably forgot that he has already clarified that the departure of the shepherds for Jerusalem took place 518 years previously. For it was in the reign of Tethmosis that they left and, according to Manetho, the succeeding reigns covered a period of 393 years down to the two brothers, Sethos and Hermaios the former of whom, he says, took the name of Egyptos and the latter that of Danaos. Sethos, after expelling Hermaios, reigned fifty-nine years, and his eldest son Rampses, who succeeded him, sixty-six. In this way, after admitting that all those years had elapsed since our ancestors left Egypt, he now interpolates this fictitious Amenophis.

This king, he states, wishing to be granted, like Or, one of his predecessors on the throne, a vision of the gods, communicated his desire to his namesake, Amenophis, son of Paapis, whose wisdom and knowledge of the future were regarded as marks of divinity. This namesake replied that he would be able to see the gods if he purged the entire land of lepers and other polluted persons. Delighted at hearing this, the king collected all the maimed people in Egypt, numbering 80,000, and sent them to work in the stone-quarries on the east of the Nile, segregated from the rest of the Egyptians. They included, he adds, some of the learned priests, who were afflicted with leprosy. Then this wise seer Amenophis was seized with a fear that he would bring down the anger of the gods on himself and the king if the violence done to these men were detected. He also added a prediction that the polluted people would find certain allies who would become masters of Egypt for thirteen years. He did not venture to tell this himself to the king, but left a complete statement in writing, and then put an end to himself. The king was greatly disheartened. Then Manetho proceeds (I quote his actual words):

“When the men in the stone-quarries had continued long in misery, the king acceded to their request to assign them for habitation and protection the abandoned city of the ‘shepherds,’ called Auaris, and, according to an ancient account concerning the gods, dedicated to Typhon. They went there and now having a place to serve as a base for revolt, they appointed as their leader one of the priests of Heliopolis called Osarsiph, and swore to obey all his orders. By his first law he ordained that they should not worship the gods nor abstain from the flesh of any of the animals held in special reverence in Egypt, but should kill and consume them all, and that they should have no relations with anyone except members of their own confederacy. After laying down these and a multitude of other laws, absolutely opposed to Egyptian custom, he ordered all hands to repair the city walls and make ready for war with King Amenophis. Then, together with other priests and polluted persons like himself, he sent an embassy to the shepherds, who had been expelled by Tethmosis in the city called Jerusalem, setting out the position of himself and his outraged companions and inviting the shepherds to join in a united expedition against Egypt. He set out to escort them first to their ancestral home at Auaris, to provide abundant supplies for their multitudes, to fight for them when the moment came, and without difficulty to reduce the land to submission. The shepherds, delighted with the idea, all eagerly set off in a body numbering 200,000 men, and soon reached Auaris.”

“The news of their invasion angered Amenophis, king of Egypt, who recalled the prediction of Amenophis, son of Paapis. He began by assembling the Egyptians. After deliberation with their leaders, he sent for the sacred animals which were held in most reverence in the temples, and instructed the priests in each district to conceal the images of the gods as securely as possible. His five-year-old son Sethos, also called Ramesses after his grandfather Rampses, he entrusted to the care of a friend. He then crossed the Nile, with 300,000 of the most efficient warriors of Egypt and met the enemy. But instead of engaging them, he turned back and returned to Memphis under the belief that he was about to fight against the gods. There he picked up Apis and the other sacred animals which he had ordered to be brought there. With all his army and the Egyptian population, he went towards Ethiopia, whose king was under obligation to him and at his service. The latter welcomed him and maintained the whole multitude with all the products of the land suitable for human consumption. He assigned them cities and villages sufficient for the destined period of thirteen years’ banishment from the realm, and moreover stationed an Ethiopian army on the Egyptian frontier to protect King Amenophis and his subjects.”

“Such was the condition of affairs in Ethiopia. Meanwhile the Solymites came down with the polluted Egyptians, and treated the inhabitants in so sacrilegious a manner that the regime of the shepherds seemed like a golden age to those who now witnessed the impieties of their present enemies. Not only did they set cities and villages on fire, not only did they pillage the temples and mutilate the images of the gods, but, not content with that, they habitually used the very sanctuaries as kitchens for roasting the venerated sacred animals and forced the priests and prophets to slaughter the sacred animals and cut their throats. Then they threw the priests and prophets out naked. It is said that the priest who gave them a societal organization and code of laws was a native of Heliopolis, named Osarsiph after the Heliopolitan god Osiris, and that when he went over to this people he changed his name and was called Moses.”

This, and much more which I omit for the sake of brevity, is the Egyptian gossip about the Judeans. Manetho adds that Amenophis subsequently advanced from Ethiopia with a large army, his son Rampses at the head of another, and that the two attacked and defeated the shepherds and their polluted allies, killing many of them and pursuing the remainder to the frontiers of Syria. That, with more of a similar kind, is Manetho’s account.


[Lysimachos of Alexandria (first century BCE) on migrations from Egypt, according to Josephos]

I will next introduce Lysimachos. He brings up the same theme as the writers just mentioned, the false story of the lepers and cripples, but surpasses both in the incredibility of his fictions, obviously composed with bitter hatred. His account is this:

“In the reign of Bocchoris, king of Egypt, the Judean people, who were afflicted with leprosy, scabies, and other diseases, took refuge in the temples to beg for food. The victims of disease being very numerous, a famine took place throughout Egypt. King Bocchoris then sent to consult the oracle of Ammon about the failure of the crops. The god told him to purge the temples of impure and impious persons, to drive them out of these sanctuaries into the wilderness, to drown those afflicted with leprosy and scabies, as the sun was indignant that such persons should live, and to purify the temples. Then the land would yield crops again. On receiving these oracular instructions, Bocchoris summoned the priests and those serving at the altars, and ordered them to draw up a list of the unclean persons; to deliver them into military charge to be conducted into the wilderness; and, to pack the lepers into sheets of lead and sink them in the ocean. The lepers and victims of scabies having been drowned, the others were collected and exposed in the desert to perish. There they assembled and deliberated on their situation. At nightfall they lit up a bonfire and torches, and mounted guard. On the following night kept a fast and implored the gods to save them. On the next day a certain Moses advised them to take their courage in their hands and make a straight track until they reached inhabited land, instructing them to show goodwill to no man, to offer not the best but the worst advice, and to destroy any temples and altars of the gods which they found. The rest assenting, they proceeded to put these decisions into practice. They traversed the desert and, after great hardships, reached inhabited land: there they maltreated the population and plundered and set fire to the temples, until they came to the land now called Judea, where they built a city in which they settled. This town was called Hierosyla because of their alleged sacrilegious tendencies. At a later date, when they had risen to power, they altered the name to avoid the disgraceful imputation, and called the city Hierosolyma and themselves Hierosolymites.”


[Chairemon (first century CE) on migrations from Egypt, according to Josephos]

The next witness I will cross-examine is Chairemon. This writer likewise professes to write on Egyptian Matters, and agrees with Manetho in giving the names of Amenophis and Ramesses to the king and his son. He then proceeds to state that Isis appeared to Amenophis in his sleep, and reproached him for the destruction of her temple in war-time. The sacred scribe Phritobautes told him that, if he purged Egypt of its contaminated population, he might cease to be alarmed. The king then collected 250,000 afflicted persons and banished them from the land. Their leaders were scribes, Moses and another sacred scribe: Joseph! Their Egyptian names were Tisithen (for Moses) and Peteseph (Joseph). The exiles on reaching Pelousion fell in with a body of 380,000 persons, left there by Amenophis, who had refused them permission to cross the Egyptian frontier. With these the exiles concluded an alliance and marched upon Egypt. Amenophis, without waiting for their attack, fled to Ethiopia, leaving his wife pregnant. Concealing herself in some caverns she gave birth to a son named Ramesses. On reaching manhood, Ramesses drove the Judeans, numbering about 200,000, into Syria, and brought home his father Amenophis from Ethiopia. Such is Chairemon’s account.


[Tacitus (ca. 110 CE) on Judeans as migrants from Krete, Assyria, or Egypt]

Book 5

However, as I am about to describe the last days of a famous city, it seems appropriate to give an account of its origin. It is said that the Judeans were originally exiles from the island of Krete (Crete) who settled in the farthest parts of Libya at the time when Saturn had been deposed and expelled by Jove. An argument in favour of this is derived from the name: there is a famous mountain in Krete called Ida, and hence the inhabitants were called the “Idaeans,” which was later lengthened into the barbarous form “Iudaeans.” Some hold that in the reign of Isis the excess population of Egypt, under the leadership of Hierosolymus and Iuda, evacuated into neighbouring lands. Many others think that they were of Egyptian descent, who in the reign of Cepheus were forced to migrate by fear and hatred. Still others report that they were Assyrian refugees, a landless people who first got control of a part of Egypt. Then later they had their own cities and lived in the Hebrew territory and the nearer parts of Syria. Still others say that the Judeans are of illustrious origin, being the Solymian people celebrated in Homer’s poems [Iliad 6.184; Odyssey 5.282], who founded a city and gave it the name Hierosolyma, formed from their own.

Most authors agree that, during a plague in Egypt which caused bodily disfigurement, King Bocchoris approached the oracle of the god Ammon and asked for a remedy, where he was told to purge his kingdom and to transport this people into other lands, since it was hateful to the gods. So the Hebrews were searched out and gathered together. Then, being abandoned in the desert and while all others were idle and weeping, one of the exiles named Moses warned them not to hope for help from gods or people, for they were deserted by both. Instead, he warned them to depend on themselves and to regard the first one to assist them in escaping from their present distress as a guide sent from heaven. They agreed, and then set out on their journey in utter ignorance, but trusting chance. Nothing caused them more distress than scarcity of water and, in fact, they had already fallen exhausted over the plain and almost near death. Then a herd of wild asses moved from their pasturage to a rock that was shaded by a grove of trees. Moses followed them, and, guessing the truth from the grassy ground, discovered abundant streams of water. This relieved them, and they then marched six days continuously. On the seventh day, they seized a country, expelling the former inhabitants. There they founded a city and dedicated a temple.

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