On The Nature of Biblical Egypt: “Mitzraim”

Whenever we read the bible there’s an almost automatic response to take the stories and characters at face-value, i.e. in a literal sense, and place its stories, scenes and characters far away from us into the distant past; we imagine poor people dressed in ancient garbs doing all kinds of fantastical things, and whenever we don’t understand something we’re always eager to excuse the admittedly strange biblical events by saying: “Well, those were different times!”

And it’s possible to read the bible in such a way: to think about a physical stone when it says “stone” and to imagine an ocean of sand when it says “desert”, etc. But these approaches either eventually end up in meaninglessness or become the basis for strange ideological fruit, because they’re missing the point that Biblical Hebrew is not a language which describes this world at all. It’s a root-language, in a double sense, both in its linguistic character, but also in the sense that it describes complex root problems of human existence in a very unique way.

So, for example, instead of imagining biblical of Egypt as an ancient culture at the southeastern Mediterranean shores, complete with camels, palm trees and golden palaces, let’s put our ideas aside for a bit and let the Hebrew letters speak for themselves.

A Different Kind of Egypt

In today’s conversation we’re looking at the biblical concept of Egypt, again, not in a historical, geographical or archaeological sense, but by unfolding the root of the Hebrew word itself, which — if we allow it — can tell us so much more than any of our prejudiced opinions ever will.

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About Eti Shani

Eti Shani was born in Israel and has been teaching Hebrew for more than 10 years with a special interest and experience in ancient Hebrew scriptures and culture. She's also the author of a series of books for novice and intermediate Hebrew learners.