The Asiatic Scene at Beni Hasan

One archaeological discovery that is of great interest to biblical scholars is the painting found in a tomb in the village of Beni Hasan. The painting shows a caravan of people from Syro-Palestine visiting the governor. According to some archaeologists, the painting offers important insights into the world of the Biblical Patriarchs.

The information below is an excerpt from an article published by Associates for Biblical Research:

The modern village of Beni Hasan is one hundred sixty miles south of Cairo (and just north of Amarna on the map). Named after the local Bedouin tribe living for centuries, it sits adjacent to the ruins of Monet-Khufu, ancient capital of the sixteenth (Antelope) nome in Middle Egypt. Little of the city is left, except the rock-cut tombs in the cliffs high above the Nile’s eastern shore. Here Egyptologists found a now-famous tomb painting which offers important insights into the world of the Biblical Patriarchs

The Asiatic Scene at Beni Hasan

Of special interest to Biblical scholars is the north wall mural, dated to the sixth year of Twelfth Dynasty Pharaoh Sesostris II (ca. 1892 BC). Here, to the left, Khnum-Hotep is pictured as a hunter, twice the size of everyone else. On the right side, he is triple-size with a long staff apparently in his left hand. Approaching the governor, in the third register from the top, is an unusual scene-a caravan of people from Syro-Palestine visiting the governor. Called Aamu in the hieroglyphic inscriptions, but commonly referred to as Asiatics by Egyptologists today, they were known to regularly cross the Sinai from Canaan into Egypt-but seldom visited this far south. This visit’s inclusion in his tomb decoration suggests that Khnum-Hotep considered this to be a significant event during his reign.

The scene depicts fifteen people (eight men, four women and three children) of a different skin color than almost all the other people on the mural. Their yellow skin was a standard Egyptian artistic convention to differentiate Mediterranean-world foreigners from Egyptian men (red skin color). Interestingly, Egyptian women are also depicted with yellow skin (maybe suggesting they stayed indoors and out of the sun). Nubians, or Cushites, from southern Africa are depicted with darker skin (along with other physical characteristics).

Beni Hasan Asiatics and the Biblical Patriarchs

The Khnum-Hotep tomb paintings, in general, provide an important glimpse into daily life and activities in this Egyptian province early in the second millennium BC. Yet this one scene offers a unique glimpse of Asiatics in Egypt at this time. Whether merchants or traveling artisans, the scene and inscription suggest an extended family, of thirty-seven, traveling from Syro-Palestine into Egypt.

Because Khnum-Hotep’s administration occurred at the turn of the nineteenth century BC, the depiction of Asiatics in Egypt at this time can’t help but conjure up a picture of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph) each of whom also spent time in Egypt during this general time period. A group of men, women and children suggests an extended family unit working and traveling together, reminiscent of Jacob’s family traveling to Egypt. So the Beni Hasan Asiatics’ appearance, dress, equipment and mode of travel should reflect much about the Patriarchs.

Both the Biblical Patriarchs and the Beni Hasan Asiatics traveled from the same region (Syro-Palestine) to the same region (Egypt) during the same period (twentieth-nineteenth centuries BC). While no one proposes these are the Israelites, it is the right people, the right places and the right time to offer greater insights into the world of Biblical characters.

Read the article in its entirety by visiting Associates for Biblical Research.

Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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