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An Old Pharaoh Does Not Have To Be 200 Years Old

December 25, 2013

Rashi to Exodus 1:8 (

A new king arose: [There is a controversy between] Rav and Samuel. One says: He was really new, and the other one says: His decrees were new. [From Sotah 11a, Exod. Rabbah 1:8] (Since the Torah does not say: The king of Egypt died, and a new king arose, it implies that the old king was still alive, only that his policies had changed, and he acted like a new king. – Rashi on Sotah 11a)

There is another mahloqeth: Artscroll’s commentary to Sotah on one hand, and Artscroll’s and Amos Hacham’s (via Daat Mikra) commentary on this verse. The former point out in a footnote that eventhough one opinion holds that this new Pharaoh had a major change of policy, Rav and Shmuel tell us nothing about how long he reigned before that happened, whereas the latter say, without any basis, that this was the (emphasis mine) same pharaoh from Joseph’s time. Just consider. Joseph was viceroy for some 80 years, and his older brother Levi died more than 20 years after that. It is certain that in that time there were many Pharaohs. Perhaps even a dynastic change, as also suggested by Daat Mikra. I would concede that the last pharaoh of Joseph’s tenure could have started the servitude. Could be. But not certainly.

Take President Obama, for instance. If today he were to suddenly be against Obamacare and imposing a “peace process” on Israel. we would call him a new Obama, even if he has been president for 5 years. The fact that someone reinvents himself tells us nothing about how long it was before that change.

This touches on an important issue: the Jewish fantasy fix. Some need their religious beliefs to be fantastic. It’s much cooler to believe that one or two bicentenarian Pharaohs reigned throughout the entire patriarchal period than to believe that pharaohs had normal-length reigns.



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