COUNTRY YOKELS ?
A thought on Genesis 46.33-4
This is one of the intriguing passages which we find in the Old Testament, particularly in the lives of the patriarchs. Dating from over three thousand years ago, the full meaning is bound to be obscure. Customs, attitudes and the whole way of life now are so different from then, that it is difficult to imagine what it was really like.
These verses tell of an incident in the life of Joseph. He welcomed his aged father, brothers and their families to Egypt. Then to the leaders among them he gave strict instructions to tell Pharaoh and his court that they had been herdsmen looking after cows, and not shepherds, who were 'an abomination to the Egyptians'. Why was this the case?
It used to be believed that Joseph said this because the Hebrew Hyksos shepherd kings who had once ruled Egypt had been expelled. In fact it now seems almost certain that the Hyksos dynasty was in power in Egypt during the life of Joseph and the patriarchal family. Pharaoh of dream fame who made Joseph his 'second in command' is believed to have been one of the Hyksos.
The explanation that is now given concerns the urban based Egyptian citizens who looked down in horror at the nomadic peoples of Canaan. They would not be the last proud townsfolk to look down on 'country yokels'. Sheep thrived on the Judean hills, cattle were more adapted to the lowlands around the River Nile. It was cows and corn that Pharaoh had seen in his dreams. But lambs were the significant animal in the salvation of Israel.
Joseph's brothers were welcomed to Goshen in the Nile delta, and Pharaoh held out the hand of peace by inviting Joseph to recommend good stockmen to his royal farmlands.