When Israel Was in Egypt’s Land

P. 11766 + P. 14046


What happens when one defies the will of God, the Pharaoh of that time was soon to find out in a not too pleasant way. „With the staff in my hand I will strike the water in the Nile, and it will turn to blood“. (Ex 7:17). These are the last words on the fragmentary leaves of this parchment codex, which contains excerpts from the 2nd Book of Moses (Exodus) of the Old Testament in Greek.

This section of the Old Testament describes the events leading up to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. It deals with conflicts between the Israelites and Pharaoh as well as the first of the ten plagues: the turning of the waters of the Nile into blood. When the Pharaoh of Egypt enslaved the Israelites and drowned them in the Nile, God (Yahweh) chose Moses to lead his people to the promised land of Canaan in the area of present-day Israel, „the land flowing with milk and honey“. After Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, God sent Moses to deliver the first of the plagues to Pharaoh.

All this can be read on the remains of this small parchment codex, which probably originated around the 4th century AD. In its form, this codex resembled modern books. It consisted of several layers of double leaves which were laid on top of each other and bound. They were written on both sides, the hair side and the flesh side. But codices were not only made of parchment. A few copies made of papyrus have also survived from antiquity.

The pages preserved from the codex were each inscribed with 12 lines, of which only a few have been preserved in their entirety. The text on the individual leaves is not continuous. Some leaves are missing between them and have not survived. The miniature codex can at most have contained the Book of Exodus, which alone would fill about 400 leaves of this format.

The story told in the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament goes even further. As the last of the ten plagues sent by Yahweh, Moses announced the death of all the firstborn in Egypt. When Pharaoh lost his son to this last plague, he finally gave in and let the Israelites go. Later, however, he persecuted them, which ended tragically for him and his soldiers. Moses had been given the ability by God to lead his people safely to the other side of the Red Sea. He stretched out his hand and immediately a wind arose that parted the water so that the Israelites could pass by on dry ground. But when Pharaoh wanted to follow them, the sea closed again and destroyed Pharaoh and his army.

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