The Royal Jacob

In Parshat Vayetze Genesis 28, Jacob, or in Hebrew Yaakov, dreams of a ladder extending to the sky, with God above the ladder. God promises Jacob, “I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.” Jacob will be the progenitor of kings. While Jacob’s descendants will eventually become kings, there was a Jacob who was actual royalty.

Egypt is dominated by the Nile River, which flows north from the higher elevations of Upper Egypt in the south to the lower elevations of Lower Egypt in the north. In ancient Egypt, power fluctuated between kingdoms that were able to unify and control both Upper and Lower Egypt, and intermediate periods in which regional kings ruled parts of Upper or Lower Egypt, but not both.

The Old Kingdom controlled all of Egypt, but it eventually collapsed and gave way to the First Intermediate Period. By the turn of the 3rd millennium BCE the Middle Kingdom had consolidated power, but the center failed to hold and gave way to the Second Intermediate Period. Egypt was again united in the 16th century BCE by the New Kingdom, only to see centralized power falter and be followed by the Third Intermediate Period.

In both the periods of centralized rule and intermediate periods, kingship was passed down within the family, to form dynasties, until dynastic rule was interrupted and new dynasties arose. During the Second Intermediate Period, for example, the 13th through 17th Dynasties ruled at different times and in different locations in Egypt.

Amongst these dynasties in the Second Intermediate Period were non-Egyptian kings from western Asia. The 14th Dynasty was non-Egyptian west Asian. The 15th Dynasty was formed by a group from west Asia known as the Hyksos, likely from the term meaning ‘“rulers of foreign lands” or according the 1st century CE Jewish historian Josephus, meaning “Shepherd-kings.”

In ancient Egypt, scarabs were small seals that were in the shape of a scarab beetle. Scarabs often contained names of kings. Numerous scarabs with the name Yakub-Her have been found in Sudan, Egypt and as far away as biblical Canaan. This name does not appear on any lists of Egypt’s kings, but the wide geographical range argues for Yakub-Her being an important royal figure and perhaps a king. There are debates about when he ruled, but estimates are in the 14th or 15th Dynasties, between the 18th through 16th centuries BCE.

Yakub-Her is not an Egyptian name, but has west Asian roots. Egyptians in the 2nd millennium BCE did not have the ‘L’ sound in their language, which would give an Egyptian pharaoh something in common with Kim Jong Il in the movie Team America. But Babylonians did have the sound for ‘L.’ And the name Yakub-El appears in earlier Babylonian contracts. Thus others read the name on the scarabs as Yakub-El or Yakub-Baal, appending the name Yakub with gods from the Canaanite epic Baal Cycle.

Given the number of Yakub-Her scarabs that were found, they are housed in a variety of locations. The British Museum has some in their collection. They are not on display, but can seen in the following link: ( One Yakub-Her scarab was also found in Tel Shikmona near Haifa, and is on display at the National Maritime Museum in Israel, near Haifa.