Bubastis, Capital of Egypt and Ezekiel, The Prophet in Exile

Sent On: 
Thu, 2021-12-23
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The Egyptian Holy Family tradition is so much richer than stating that they fled the soldiers of king Herod from location A to B to C. Each location has a history that should be considered. Bubastis is a location in the Egyptian Delta on the route of the Holy Family. It is also mentioned in the Old Testament Prophecy of Ezekiel. Rev. Konrad Knolle wrote this paper in 2003 upon my request but only now this text has been edited for publication in Arab-West Report. One can read this text in conjunction with ‘Between Science, Belief and Wishful Thinking; Reviewing Dr. Maḥmūd ʿUmar’s „The Well of the Holy Family in Tal Basṭa.” (Arab-West Papers no. 77, December 23, 2020).


Chapters 30-32 of the prophecy of Ezekiel should be placed in the context of the power struggle between the two great powers of these days: Egypt and Babylonia. Egypt was ruled by pharaoh Necho II (610-595 BCE) who undertook a number of construction projects across his kingdom and according to Greek historian Herodotus sent out an expedition of Phoenicians to sail around Africa. Palestine was under the sphere of influence of Egypt. Necho tried to contain the westward advance of the Babylonian Empire and cut off its trade route across the Euphrates. Yet, the Egyptians were defeated by an unexpected attack of the Babylonians in the battle of Carchemish in 605 BCE. Following this battle the Egyptians were expelled from the Levant. The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and took the Jewish elite in exile. Many of the deportees as well as the population remaining in Judah had hoped to gain freedom through Egypt’s might. Many deportees, Knolle writes, started to doubt their faith in Yahweh, the God of Israel.  Syncretism began to dilute their faith. Ezekiel was a priest before his exile and became a prophet providing sermons and messages to give the deportees hope. He interpreted the destruction of Jerusalem and exile as God’s punishment for the Jews not being obedient to God’s word. God was using Babylon as a tool to punish the Jews and with this He was greater than Marduk, the god of the Babylonians. Ezekiel provides hope by prophesying the return of the Jews in Babylon to Palestine and the reconstruction of a reunited Israeli state.


Konrad Knolle writes that Ezekiel was acutely aware of the political affairs of his days. His prophecy included the nations around Israel and describes this as step from a faith of one nation to an ethical universalism. Where Ezekiel preached a message of hope to his contemporaries later political developments made it possible for the Jews to return and read Ezekiel as a prophecy. This prophecy of hope later influenced returnees such as Nehemiah, governor of Persian Judea under Artaxerxes I of Persia (465–424 BC) and New Testament authors who expanded the concept of a universalist faith. This message of hope was further seen as an encouragement for 19th and 20th century Zionists to return to what they call the ‘promised land.’


Locations of the Holy Family are not random locations. They were often chosen because they were important in the days the Holy Family stories developed. Tal Basṭa is one of such locations. One should not take such stories as a historical facts as Maḥmūd ʿUmar tried to do but one should look at the historical context in which these stories developed. That gives so much more depth to the Holy Family tradition than presenting that they went from location to location.



December 23, 2021


Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-Chief Arab-West Report