Egypt As Breadbasket

Sa-Iset the Younger, ca. 1279-1203 B.C.E. Wood, 22 1/2 x 6 x 6 1/2 in. (57.2 x 15.2 x 16.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 47.120.2. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 47.120.2_SL1.jpg)

In Genesis 26, the land of Canaan was hit by yet another drought: Now there was a famine in the land—besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time—and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar. The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” So Isaac stayed in Gerar.

The land of Canaan was dependent upon rainfall to irrigate its crops and for drinking water, and was subject to variation in annual rainfall amounts. Egypt had the Nile River, which was a more reliable source of water for agriculture. A sensible move during periods of drought in Canaan would be to go to Egypt. In the biblical story, God denies Egypt its traditional role as breadbasket during a time of need.

The Late Bronze Age Collapse of the late 13th and early 12th centuries was a widespread phenomenon, and saw the demise of the major kingdoms and empires of the ancient Near East. In the Aegean, Mycenaean Greece saw its end, ushering in a 300 year dark period. The Hittite Empire was reduced to minor Neo-Hittite states. The Amorites were displaced by the Arameans. The Assyrian kingdom shrunk in size and the Babylonian Kassite dynasty was overthrown.

A cooling in temperatures, which resulted in less sea water evaporation and a reduction in rainfall has been identified as a cause of the Late Bronze Age Collapse. But just as in the Bible, during the Late Bronze Age Collapse, Egypt stepped into its traditional role as the breadbasket of last resort.

Merneptah was an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled Egypt for a decade near the end of the 13th century BCE, following his father Ramesses II. In Egyptian records, he is said to have attempted to help the Hitties stave off starvation. “[I] caused grain to be taken in ships, to keep alive this land of Hatti.”

The chief of his granaries was one Siese the Younger, also referred to as Sa-Iset the Younger. His likeness, in the photo above, can be seen at the Brooklyn Museum. 

For a song of coming to someone’s aid in a time of need, enjoy Irving Berlin’s Operation Vittles at 2:45-4:10 in the link below: