What Did Slavery in Egypt Really Mean?

As late as the 18th century, taxes in much of Europe were often paid in the form of labor, known as corvée. Ziony Zevit argues that this was the form of bondage Egypt imposed on the Israelites, as described in the opening chapter of the book of Exodus, read in synagogues tomorrow. He finds evidence, inter alia, in the statement that the Egyptians placed over the Israelites “taskmasters [literally officials of missim] to afflict them with their burdens.”

Throughout the ancient world, farmers working the lands would be taxed by representatives of central authorities (kings or deities) who were considered the actual owners. These taxes were rendered by delivering livestock, or agricultural produce, and/or through the performance of corvée labor, which could involve fieldwork, dredging canals, or work on construction projects. Hebrew mas (plural missim) is connected to this latter form of taxation. Mas refers to a unit of laborers drafted for corvée service and is a cognate of Akkadian massu.

With this in mind, Zevit proposes a novel reading of the verse that sets up the story of Egyptian bondage: “Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.”

The most common interpretations of the phrase are that the king did not have a personal relationship with Joseph, that he was not aware of what Joseph did [for his predecessor during the famine], or that he did not feel especially grateful for it. Yet, I suggest that the phrase is not about a state of knowledge. It is rather about not recognizing, i.e., honoring, Joseph’s blanket support of his brothers and their descendants as [described] toward the end of Genesis. This special recognition included the right to provisions from official food storage facilities, which Joseph first offers his family upon their reconciliation.

Read more at theTorah.com

More about: Ancient Egypt, Exodus, Hebrew Bible

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security