I was reading on the origin and development of the worship of Yhwh right through the bronze age, iron age ,the canonization of monotheism to the present day, when I came across the mysterious Shasu of Yhwh. That had me researching on who this people were and why there is so much speculation on them by researchers. Before I get to the Shasu part, it’s interesting to note that Yhwh is the name of the state God of ancient Israel and Judah. His name is a tetragrammaton that was used to remind the people to use the epithet ‘Adonai’ ( lord ) instead of the holy name. There is so much on this topic and I’ll leave that for another day. Shasu, pronounced ‘Shaswe’, is a word that literally means ‘ people who went by foot ‘ and was used by the Egyptians to refer to lawless bandits, nomads and pastoralists or people from different middle East ancient nations be it Edomites, Hapiru, Midianites etc.The Shasu of Yhwh came into the picture when ruins of an ancient temple of the ancient city of Soleb, in Nubia were excavated ( present day northern Sudan ). The temple was built by Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III, to honour the god Amun-Ra. Within the temple there are a series of columns each with a relief sculpture of a prisoner with his hands tied at his back and a name ring identifying his territory, which were territories conquered by Amenhotep III.
The column of interest was one inscribed, ‘ The land of Shasu of Yhwh, ‘. The immediate conclusions to the inscription were; Around 15B.C, Amenhotep knew about Yhwh, the Exodus must have happened much earlier in history since the pharaoh of the exodus had no clue who Yhwh was ( Exodus 5:2 ) and that a group of people referred to as the Shasu inhabited Canaan and worshipped Yhwh. However, Soleb isn’t the only place the name Yhwh was found, the name was also found in temples built by Ramses II at Amara West and Aksha (still present day Sudan ). In Amara, the inscription read, ‘Yahu in the land of Shasu,’, it also mentioned six groups of Shasu; the Shasu of se’ir ( Edom ), the Shasu of laban, the Shasu of sam’ath, the Shasu of wady hasa, the Shasu of pysps and the Shasu of yhwh.
The Shasu word is also mentioned in the papyrus Anastasi VI, an Egyptian text from the 13th BC. It records the transfer of Shasu tribes specifically the Edomites to the eastern Egyptian delta referred to in the Bible as Goshen, inorder to keep them and their cattle alive. This corresponding to the Bible story of Jacob and his sons ( Genesis 42 – 45 ). The papyrus Anastasi I also uses the term Shasu to refer to a community of giants who lived in Canaan. Speculations link this giants with the very ones the Israelites met during their exodus.
The land of shasu of Yhwh could mean that the shasu of Yhwh were a settled people who had a land of their own and sometimes moved about. Yhwh could also be a geographical place where the shasu wandered such as se’ir, laban, sam’ath etc. The naming of a place by the deity worshipped in the locality not being uncommon in the ancient middle East. In the Bible, however, it’s referred to as Midian, and it’s where Moses first spoke to Yhwh in the form of a burning bush ( Exodus 3:5 and 15 ).Another speculation is that Yahu/Yhw/Jahu in the land of shasu, could also mean that the region was inhabited by two different groups; The Yahu and the Shasu. The theory could be proof of historical conflicts between the shasu, being remnants of the Turkic mongolian colonizers, and the Yahu, being the Judah tribes. The shasu therefore could be nomads who lived in co-operation with other populations but were quick to violence at times of risk.
Some scholars also argue that the worship of Yhwh started with the Edomites and Midianites. This is proven by Edomites of the mines of Timnah,who converted an earlier Egyptian temple to the worship of Yhwh. The biblical verse of judges 5:4 supports this theory by saying:
Lord when you left the mountains of se’ir, when you came out of the region of Edom, the earth shook…
The shasu of Yhwh were therefore hypothetically from northern Edom/ se’ir originally, and later on formed the community of Israel.The shasu of yhwh could also be the Israelites. Mentioned on the ancient inscriptions at Karnak, there was an uprising of a group of Shasu and Habiru who worshipped Yhwh along the border of Egypt and sinai ( 1300 – 1290B.C). Seti I along with his son Ramses II, routed them into Canaan after years of bondage in Egypt as prisoners of war( 1500 – 1200 ).They settled in Se’ir and Midian and others at the hills of Judah to form the ethnic group of Israelites. Egyptian scribes, from then onwards, adapted the term shasu for any group of people that came from the region. This theory is highly disputed since both groups of Shasu and Israelites are depicted in different clothings and hairstyles.
The last of the speculations is that, the Shasu of Yhwh were originally a group of people that escaped Egypt, went through some divine intervention passing through Midian where they picked up the worship of Yhwh from the Midianites . They find their way to the hills of Judea, and spread the message of liberation and Yhwh to the tribes that had fled the canaanite city states. A new community arises composed of nomads, run away slaves and canaanites all united under the freedom loving Yhwh. Their stories, first told and preserved by word of mouth, are later written down to form the Bible.
The interesting bit about the Shasu of Yhwh is that you can choose what speculation to go by!