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Osarseph is a semi-mythical figure in the history of Ancient Egypt who has been equated with Moses. His story is recounted by the Jewish historian Josephus, in his book Against Apion. Josephus quotes from the now-lost writings of the Ptolemaic Egyptian historian Manetho (writing in the third or fourth century BC).

Story

According to Josephus, Manetho described Osarseph as a tyrannical high priest who rose to power during the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep. He was part of the priesthood of Osiris at Heliopolismarker, and is supposed to have built up a following amongst "diseased" people, possibly lepers. Amenhotep had a dream which he interpreted as divine advice to expel Osarseph and his diseased followers from the nation. He exiled them into Canaan where they organised a rebellion in alliance with the Canaanite population. The Osarsephites then invaded Egypt, driving Amenhotep and his son Ramses, also known as Sethos, into exile.

Osarseph and his leper followers are said to have instituted a 13-year reign of religious oppression before Amenhotep and Ramesses/Sethos eventually returned to oust the usurpers, expel them from the nation, and restore the old Egyptian religion.

Interpretations

Manetho apparently states that these events are the real history behind the biblical story of Moses and the Israelites, an argument that Josephus rejects as absurd. Many modern scholars interpret it as an early example of anti-Semitism (especially the claim that Jews are descendants of exiled lepers). It is typically explained as a conflation of the story of Akhenaten's 12-year monotheistic regime with that of Moses as narrated in the Bible. Akhenaton was the successor of Amenhotep III, but did not usurp power from his father. However, there seems to have been a co-regency period, which may have included two centres of power, one in the traditional capital of Thebes and one in Akhenaten's new capital at Amarnamarker.

There is also evidence of a major pandemic in Akhenaten's reign. According to the Amarna letters Akhenaten sent a regiment of Sudanesemarker Medjay troops to Canaan and Syria, which may have helped spread the pandemic throughout the Middle East. This may have been remembered and distorted as "the expulsion of lepers". After his death Akhenaten's monotheistic regime was replaced by supporters of the old religion, leading to a new dynasty headed by rulers called Ramesses and Seti (Sethos). The story also seems to incorporate aspects of the Canaanite Hyksos invasion of Egypt.

Others identify Osarseph as Joseph, a situation in which Joseph's interpretations of the dreams of the pharaoh are identified as the dreams of Amenhotep III. These are not mutually exclusive interpretations; it is possible that Osarseph is both Joseph (interpreter of dreams and friend to the pharaoh) under Amenhotep III, and Moses (a monotheist, leading the rebellion) under Akhenaten. The identification of Osarseph is, for obvious reasons, highly controversial.

It is also possible that Osarseph is to be identified with the Asiatic official Chancellor Bay, a powerful courtier in the interregnal period between the 19th and 20th Dynasties, during the reign of Amenmesse and Seti II and before the reign of Setnakhte and Ramses III. Following his fall from power, Pharaoh Setnakhte and his son Rameses III are recorded in the Elephantine stele and Harris Papyrus as expelling Asiatics from Egypt.

Whether Manetho had access to any authentic records of the Amarna era, or to an actual expulsion of lepers, is not known. Records of his king lists are inconsistent and are not easy to reconcile with the historical record, but they appear to be based on authentic records. His account is not unique. Tacitus also wrote that "most authorities" agreed that the Jews originated as a diseased people expelled from Egypt. According to some traditions, Moses' sister Miriam was said to suffer from leprosy.

See also



External links



References

  1. Mnetho's king lists
  2. Tacitus on the Jews



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