Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament

By John D. Currid
Grand Rapids : Baker (1997). 269 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
11.2 (Fall 2000) : 246-247

John Currid, who received his doctoral degree from the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and is presently an Associate Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, has provided a very readable and profitable overview of the many and varied interrelationships between ancient Egypt and the OT.

Currid writes his book in a time when many biblical scholars contend that there was little actual connection between Egypt and the Bible. For some, the Bible’s references are mostly anachronisms, i.e., references to an Egyptian element long after the fact (and therefore these elements provide nothing helpful for understanding the Ancient Near Eastern [ANE] background of a given section of Scripture). Some regard the Egyptian “connections” as a figment of the biblical writer’s imagination. In contemporary nomenclature, scholars who view the historicity of the Bible with great suspicion and skepticism are labeled as “minimalists.” At the outset, Currid lays before his readers his intention to “argue vigorously against the prevailing minimalistic approach. . . . A primary aim of this book is to show many firm points of contact between Egypt and the Bible on a variety of levels” (13).

Currid divides his volume into five major sections (thirteen chapters). The first section introduces the larger issue of the significance of ANE background and historical data. After delineating reasons why certain scholars downplay the significance of an Egyptian background for the OT, Currid examines some of the cosmologies of the ANE world, comparing them to a Hebrew cosmology. He contends that the biblical pattern came first and the other ANE concepts derive from that original pattern.

The second section (and the largest section, 42 % of the book) considers Egyptian elements found in the Pentateuch. After comparing the cosmogonies of Egypt and Genesis 1–2, Currid examines the Egyptian background of Potiphar, the confrontation of Moses’ rod/serpent with the rods/serpents of the Egyptian magicians, the Ten Plagues, and the bronze serpent erected during the wilderness wanderings. He also gives attention to Israel’s itinerary as they traveled from Egypt to the land of promise.

In the third section Currid examines the connections that existed between Egypt and Israel that appear in the historical books of the OT, giving special attention to Shishak’s invasion of the southern kingdom during the reign of Rehoboam. The final two sections compare Egyptian and biblical wisdom literature and prophetic material.

In addition to a handful of illustrations (figures, photographs, and maps, 11 total), Currid provides a select bibliography of relevant works dating from 1973- 1995. The book concludes with a helpful Scripture and subject index. The most helpful figure (#1, pp. 17-19) involves a chronology of Egypt and Palestine and includes a select list of kings. Although he does not address the issue directly in the body of the book, this chronology shows that Currid favors a late date for the exodus. At the end of chapter ten, in the form of an appendix, Currid provides a running commentary of the Bubastite Portal (189-202), which has special significance for the reign of Shishak. Toward the beginning of Chapter 11, Currid includes a helpful starter bibliography of works that deal with the relationship of the “Wisdom of Amenemope” and the Book of Proverbs.

A few scattered conclusions made by Currid deserve mention. Although he says that the precise location of Sinai is unknown (137), his map suggests that he accepts the traditional location for Sinai (Jebel Musa) rather than the Arabian location suggested in recent scholarship (124). Currid suggests that the crossing of the “Red Sea” took place at the northern end of the G ulf of Suez (135-36).

Currid could significantly improve this volume by including more maps and illustrations. At several points where Currid delineates various place names (especially those in Egypt), a detailed map for the reader to consult at that point would have proved helpful (e.g., Chap. 7).

This reviewer found the volume interesting and helpful throughout. Currid is willing to offer a unique interpretation in places, firmly interacts with and critiques minimalists, and admits when he feels that existing evidence does not allow for a concrete conclusion. Kenneth Kitchen, an Egyptologist of note, writes that “Currid’s well-documented book is a breath of fresh air and represents a valuable contribution” (11).