Holman Bible Dictionary


(hik' ssohss) Racial name from the Greek form of an Egyptian word meaning “rulers of foreign lands” given to kings of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Dynasties of Egypt. The word, which does not appear in the Bible, was later misinterpreted by Josephus as meaning “shepherd kings.”

With the decline of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (about 2000-1786 B.C.) large numbers of Asiatics, mostly Semites like the Hebrew patriarchs, migrated into the Nile Delta of northern Egypt from Canaan. These probably came initially for reasons of economic distress, such as famine, as did Abraham (Genesis 12:10). Unlike Abraham, many groups stayed in Egypt as permanent settlers. Under the weak Thirteenth Dynasty, some Asiatics established local independent chiefdoms in the eastern Delta region. Eventually, one of these local rulers managed to consolidate the rule of northern Egypt as pharaoh, thus beginning the Fifteenth Dynasty. The Sixteenth Dynasty, perhaps contemporary with the Fifteenth, consisted of minor Asiatic kings. As these dynasties of pharaohs were not ethnic Egyptians, they were remembered by the native population as “Hyksos.”

While the Hyksos pharaohs ruled northern Egypt from Avaris in the eastern Delta, the native Egyptian Seventeenth Dynasty ruled southern Egypt from Thebes. This period is known as the Second Intermediate or Hyksos Period (about 1786-1540 B.C.). The status quo was maintained until war erupted between the Hyksos and the last two pharaohs of the Seventeenth Dynasty. About 1540 B.C., Ahmose I sacked Avaris and expelled the Hyksos. As the first pharaoh of a reunited Egypt, Ahmose I established the Eighteenth Dynasty and inaugurated the Egyptian New Kingdom or Empire.

Joseph's rise to power (Genesis 41:39-45) as pharaoh's second-in-command would have been far more likely under a Hyksos king. Joseph was related ethnically to the Semitic Hyksos rulers, while the native Egyptians regarded Semites with contempt. Ahmose I is very likely the pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8 NRSV). If Joseph served a Hyksos pharaoh, an Egyptian king would not have “known” of him in a political or historical sense, nor would he have regarded him as significant in an ethnic sense.

Daniel C. Browning, Jr


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'HYKSOS'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<http://www.studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?number=T2935>. 1991.