Archaeology Odyssey 1:4, Fall 1998

“This is the Taste of Death”

A fleeing Egyptian bureaucrat reveals what life was like in ancient Canaan

By Anson F. Rainey

Can a folktale from the Middle Bronze Age provide us with information about the remote past that has eluded even extensive archaeological expeditions?

The answer is yes. The Tale of Sinuhe,1 composed during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, may help resolve scholarly debates about social conditions in Canaan-Syria (also known as the Levant) in the early second millennium B.C.

Sinuhe’s story takes place during the reigns of the first two pharaohs of Egypt’s 12th Dynasty: Amenemhet I (1991–1962 B.C.) and Senuseret I (1971–1928 B.C.). It is told in the first person by Sinuhe himself, a high official in Amenemhet’s court who leaves Egypt, travels to Canaan, raises a family and finally returns to Egypt in order to live out his days among his own people and receive a proper burial.

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