Posted on March 19, 2012 by The Torah Tour Guide, Yosef Back
The Abomination of Egypt; the Miracle of the Passover Sacrifice
After the fourth plague, Pharaoh offered Moses a compromise – the Israelites could worship God in Egypt without going to the wilderness. Moses replied, “We are going to sacrifice the gods of Egypt in honor of our God. Could we possibly slaughter the Egyptians’ gods right in front of their eyes, and they not stone us?” According to the Torah, the Egyptians held sheep to be sacred, as the image of their deity.
Ultimately, the Torah tells us, God commanded the Israelites to take a lamb or a kid for each household. They were to hold it for four days, from the tenth until the fourteenth of the first month, and slaughter it on the fourteenth. This was done in Egypt, despite the Egyptians’ religious beliefs. To this day Jews commemorate this event, calling the Sabbath preceding Passover Shabbat Hagadol – “The Great Sabbath” – for the Egyptians were powerless to do anything to harm them or to prevent them from sacrificing the Egyptian gods.
Egyptian mythology confirms this. The god Khnum was one of the principal gods of Egypt, and one of the oldest. Khnum’s temple was located on the island of Elephantine, today known as Aswan. He was said to be responsible for the level of the Nile and the silt that was deposited from the river’s flooding. He was also portrayed as the creator of mankind. His image is of that of a man with a ram’s head. Remains of mummified rams have been found in Khnum’s temple.
Bible Confirms that The Egyptians worshiped Sheep
The lamb in the context of the Passover story was a god (amongst many) for the Egyptians. Indeed some of the ten plagues were with respect to the other idols of the Egyptians (frogs, river Nile, wild animals for example). Tellingly, the lamb, a sign of fertility, was killed in the middle of the month of Nisan (Aries in the zodiac corresponds to the time of Nisan and has the sign of the sheep) and the blood of the lamb placed on the door lintels of the Israelites’ dwellings. A biblical proof that the lamb was a god of the Egyptians is by consideration of Exodus 8 which concerns Moshe’s request of pharaoh to allow a sacrifice in the desert. Considering verse 22:
22 And Moses said: ‘It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God; lo, if we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us? Exodus 8
A question may be asked if the sacrifice (lamb/ sheep) was an abomination to the Israelites or the Egyptians. The answer to the rhetorical question asked by Moshe causes us to consider what would the basis be for the Egyptians to stone the Israelites, if not for Israelites sacrificing the god of the Egyptians?