Nearly four hundred years passed after the children of Israel migrated into the lush, northeastern territory of Goshen. The highway near their farms and vineyards saw the headlong retreat of the Hyksos, the foreign Semitic kings under whom Joseph served. It thundered to the tramp of triumphant armies, horses, chariots and strings of captives, and felt the tread of haughty ambassadors with their elaborate retinues coming to pay flattering homage to the mightiest ruler of the known world, the Pharaoh of Egypt.
Not a word of all this is reported in the compressed narratives of the Bible. The touchstone for inclusion in the Old Testament was the simple question: did it affect the sons of Abraham and their understanding of their noble heritage and mission?
And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation.
And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly,...
Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.
With these words the Bible introduces the momentous adventure that gave birth to the Jewish nation.
Toward the end of the fourth century of the Israelites' sojourn Egypt was threatened by the probing armies of the Hittites, pouring down from the mountains of Asia Minor. The new King became uneasy. What if these virile foreigners, the Israelites, were to join the invading forces?
To reduce their vigor he decreed they be conscripted for the exhausting labor of making and laying bricks for the building of massive store-cities on the Delta.
The more they were oppressed the more the Israelites seemed to multiply. Tribal pride glimmers through the tale of the two Israelite midwives whom the Pharaoh ordered to kill all baby boys at birth. However they gave clever excuses and allowed the babies to live.
Unsuccessful in that scheme, the Pharaoh brutally commanded that every son born to the Hebrews be thrown into the Nile.