Thursday, January 07, 2016

Pharaoh the Crocodile

In the Haftara for Va`eira (in Yechezkel 28:3), we see Pharaoh addressed as the great Tanim:


Speak, and say: Thus saith the Lord GOD: behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh King of Egypt, the great Tanim that lieth in the midst of his rivers, that hath said: My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.”

As for the definition of this Tanim, Shadal has an interesting suggestion. He writes (page 29-30 in the PDF):

“Behold I am against thee, Pharaoh King of Egypt: It is known that Pharaoh is not the name of a specific king, but rather it is a generic term for all the kings of Egypt. And the basic import of this word in the Egyptian language is Sun, and afterwards it was borrowed to mean king. And it appears that this name was also borrowed in the Egyptian language to mean the great Tanim which lies in the midst of the rivers of Egypt -- this is the crocodile -- for Par’un (or Par’oh) by the Arabs means crocodile as well. And according to this, the prophet [Yechezkel] compared Pharaoh -- that is to say, the king of Egypt, who was contemporary to him -- to this crocodile, for both of them were called Pharaoh.

And to know the true name of the king of Egypt of whom Yechezkel spoke, one needs to recall the words of Yirmeyahu who said (Sefer Yirmeyahu 44:30):

ל  כֹּה אָמַר ה, הִנְנִי נֹתֵן אֶת-פַּרְעֹה חָפְרַע מֶלֶךְ-מִצְרַיִם בְּיַד אֹיְבָיו, וּבְיַד, מְבַקְשֵׁי נַפְשׁוֹ:  כַּאֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי אֶת-צִדְקִיָּהוּ מֶלֶךְ-יְהוּדָה, בְּיַד נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ-בָּבֶל אֹיְבוֹ--וּמְבַקֵּשׁ נַפְשׁוֹ.  {ס}
30 thus saith the LORD: Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies, and into the hand of them that seek his life; as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, his enemy, and that sought his life.' {S}

from which we may deduce that Pharaoh who ruled in Egypt in the days of Tzidkeyahu and in the days of Nevuchadnetzar was Chafra’. And know that in truth, this king was known to the ancients, who wrote the annals of Egypt, by the name of Ουαφρης or Apries, and he was a king in the days of Nevuchadnetzar according to their calculations.

sobek.png‘that lies in the midst of his rivers’ - the Tanim, or crocodile, is an animal which dwells on the land and in water.”

End quote of Shadal.

To bolster this connection between Pharaoh and the crocodile, I would point to Sobek, the crocodile god. Every Pharaoh was the living incarnation of Horus, the falcon-headed god, but eventually (as per Wikipedia), Sobek and Horus were fused:

In this period, Sobek also underwent an important change: he was often fused with the falcon-headed god of divine kingship, Horus. This brought Sobek even closer with the kings of Egypt, thereby giving him a place of greater prominence in the Egyptian pantheon.

And in an ancient Egyptian spell, Pharoah is praised as the living incarnation of Sobek, the crocodile god. Thus:

He is first known from several different Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom, particularly from spell PT 317.[3] The spell, which praises the pharaoh as living incarnation of the crocodile god, reads:
"Unis is Sobek, green of plumage, with alert face and raised fore, the splashing one who came from the thigh and tail of the great goddess in the sunlight ... Unis has appeared as Sobek, Neith's son. Unis will eat with his mouth, Unis will urinate and Unis will copulate with his penis. Unis is lord of semen, who takes women from their husbands to the place Unis likes according to his heart's fancy."[4]
If so, Yechezkel referring to Pharaoh as a great crocodile makes sense.

Another interesting tie-in. According to Rabbenu Bachyah, the צפרדע is the crocodile.


Josh fan said...

צפרדע Also has the פ ר

Aryeh Shore said...

what about Josephus who says that MO in Egyptian is water and SHEH in Egyptian is draw out so it is just a coincidence that it formed the Hebrew name Moshe. I have never found an Egyptologist who could verifty that there is something like this in Egyptian.

Aryeh said...

Aryeh, most Egyptologists agree that Moses is an Egyptian suffix meaning "son of". Compare to Thutmose. It's unclear if there was something else she said but that wasn't what's his name was known as.

Joe in Australia said...

I don't know Coptic (a language descended from Egyptian), but a bit of messing around on the Internet found these two words:

Me-Ou-Epsilon - v. mwou - Water.
Khey-Ei-Ne: vt. To pluck from

If you put them together it sounds like "moukhen". Who knows, maybe the Copts that Josephus knew pronounced "khen" as "shen" or even "sheh".

Aryeh Shore said...

well while we are here, where does ibn ezra get that his name was Monius. He cites the Nabatean Book of Agriculture (which I gather is not a serious book) and the books of Greek wisdom. Not sure why books of Greek wisdom would mention Μωυσῆν as Monius

Nadav said...

Great idea! I cited it in my latest post...


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