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A MYSTERIOUS FIGURE IN THE COURT OF PHARAOH

ARTAPANUS’ STORY OF THE EGYPTIAN COURTIER HERMES



 

1. An ancient Greek writer called Artapanus, who flourished in the second century BC but of whom little else is known, (§S-300, below, >>), tells a story about a great one in the court of Pharaoh in the heyday of the Egyptian Empire. Though Artapanus lived much later than the events he describes, over 1200 years later, in fact, his account can be proved to be based on authentic Egyptian records. How it relates to the Exodus, we shall see presently. Artapanus’ story runs as follows, with certain adaptations to complete the sense enclosed in square brackets:



ARTAPANUS’ STORY OF THE EGYPTIAN COURTIER HERMES



FROM EUSEBIUS, PRAEPARATIO EVANGELICA BK. IX. CH. XXVII. 1-20:

(For PDF scanned image of the original Greek, ed. Gaisford, click here. The paragraph numbers are from the Dindorf edition. Some dotted omissions and square-bracketed substitutions have been made for the sake of the argument. They are mainly cross-references between the narrative of Artapanus relating to Egyptian history and the Biblical account of the Exodus. They do not affect the substance of the narrative. The reader is requested to bear this patiently, and read through regardless to paragraph §24, where the complete text is given, by which point the reason for the omissions and substitutions will be obvious.)

2. “1. AND Artapanus says ... that after the death of ... the king of Egypt, his son Palmanothes succeeded to the sovereignty. 2. This king behaved badly to [Asiatics]; and first he built Kessa, and founded the temple therein, and then built the temple in Heliopolis. 3. He begat a daughter Merrhis, whom he betrothed to a certain Chenephres, king of the regions above Memphis — for there were at that time many kings in Egypt; and she, being barren, appropriated to herself a child [from someone of Asiatic origin] .... 4. .... and when grown up [this child] taught mankind many useful things. For he was the inventor of ships, and machines for laying stones, and Egyptian arms, and engines for drawing water and for war, and invented philosophy. Further he distinguished the (central) city for thirty-six nomes, and appointed the God to be worshipped by each nome, and the sacred scriptures for the priests; whereas they used to be cats, and dogs, and ibises. He also apportioned select land to the priests. 5. All these things he did for the sake of keeping the sovereignty firm and safe for Chenephres. For previously the multitudes, being under no order, now expelled and now set up kings, often the same persons, but sometimes others. 6. For these reasons then [he] was beloved by the multitudes, and being deemed by the priests worthy to be honored like a god, was named Hermes, because of his interpretation of the Hieroglyphics.

3. “7. But when Chenephres perceived the excellence of [Hermes] he envied him, and sought to slay him on some plausible pretext. And so when the Ethiopians invaded Egypt, Chenephres supposed that he had found a convenient opportunity, and sent [him] in command of a force against them, but enrolled the population of field-laborers for him, supposing that through the weakness of his troops he would easily be destroyed by the enemy. 8. But [he] with about a hundred thousand of the field-laborers came to the so-called nome of Hermopolis, and there encamped; and sent generals to preoccupy the country, who gained remarkable successes in their battles. He adds that the people of Heliopolis say that this war went on for ten years. 9. So [Hermes] and his followers, because of the greatness of the army, built a city in this place, and therein gave the ibis sacred protection, because this bird kills the animals that are poisonous to man. And they called it Hermes’ city {Hermopolis, the modern Eshmunein}. 10. Thus then the Ethiopians, though they were enemies, became so fond of [him], that they even learned from him the custom of circumcision: and not they only, but also all the priests.

4. “11. But when the war was ended, Chenephres pretended to welcome him, while in reality continuing to plot against him. So he took his troops from him, and sent some to the frontiers of Ethiopia for an advanced guard; and ordered others to demolish the temple in Diospolis {Thebes} which had been built of baked brick, and build another of stone from the quarries of the neighboring mountain, and appointed Nacheros superintendent of the building.

5. “12. And when he was come with [Hermes] to Memphis, he {Chenephres} asked him whether there was anything else useful for mankind, and he [Hermes] said the breed of oxen, because by means of them the land is ploughed: and Chenephres having given the name Apis to a bull, commanded the multitudes to found a temple for him: and (where) the creatures had been given sacred protection by [Hermes], there he bade them bring and bury them, because he wished to bury the inventions of [Hermes] in oblivion.

6. “13. Once the Egyptians had come to see him as an alien, he {Chenephres} bound his friends by an oath not to report to [Hermes] the plot which was being contrived against him, and he appointed the men who were to kill him. 14. When however no one would obey him, Chenephres reproached Chanethothes, who had been awarded titles by him more than all; and he, on being thus reproached, promised to make the attempt when he found an opportunity. 15. And Merrhis having died about this time, Chenephres committed the body to [Hermes] and Chanethothes with the professed intent that they might transport it across to the locations beyond Egypt and bury it, supposing that [Hermes] would be slain by Chanethothes. 16. But while they were on the way, one of those who were cognizant of the plot reported it to [Hermes]; and he being on his guard buried Merrhis himself, and he called a river and a complex {lit. “city”} in that location a “Meroe” {i.e. a “Nubia,” or an “ Ethiopia,” presumably as a substitute for the intended location beyond Egypt}. And this Merrhis was honored by the inhabitants not less highly than Isis.

7. “17. Then [Hermes’ brother], having learned about the plot, advised his brother to flee into Arabia; and he took the advice, and sailed across the Nile from Memphis, intending to escape into Arabia. 18. But when Chanethothes was informed of the flight of [Hermes], he lay in ambush intending to kill him; and when he saw him coming, he drew his sword against him, but [Hermes] was too quick for him, and seized his hand, and drew his sword and slew Chanethothes. 19. So he made his escape into Arabia ....

7a. “20. About the same time Chenephres died, having been the very first person attacked by elephantiasis; and he is said to have incurred this misfortune because he ordered [Asiatics] to wear linen garments and not to wear woolen clothing, in order that they might be conspicuous, and be punished by him ....” [An anonymous 13th century Syriac chronicle (Chron. Anon. Ad Annum Christi 1234, ed. trans. Chabot, ms. p. 63) adds the following, seemingly from Artapanus, as it uses the names Merrhis, Chenephres etc.: “And his (viz. Chenephres’) murder came about as follows: this husband of Merrhis, the daughter of Pharaoh, hated (Hermes) on account of the famous deeds he accomplished, and wished to slay him. However, when (Hermes) perceived his duplicity, he sent lethal poison by the hand of a faithful man who was an acquaintance of this Chenephres, and he offered it to him to drink, and so the king perished. Then he feared lest the thing should become known to Pharaoh, and lest he should destroy him. He slew also another Egyptian who rose up against one of the (Asiatics).”]

 

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