The titles given to Sanehat at the opening are of a very high rank, and imply that he was the son either of the king or of a great noble. And his position in the queen's household shows him to have been of importance; the manner in which he is received by the royal family at the end implying that he was quite familiar with them in early days.
But the great difficulty in the account has been the sudden panic of Sanehat on hearing of the death of Amenemhat, and no explanation of this has yet been brought forward. It seems not unlikely that he was a son of Amenemhat by some concubine. This would at once account for his high titles—for his belonging to the royal household—for his fear of his elder brother Usertesen, who might see in him a rival, and try to slay him after his father's death—for the command to him to leave all his possessions and family behind him in Syria, as the condition of his being allowed to return to end his days in Egypt—for his familiar reception by the royal family, and for the property given to him on his return.
The date recorded for the death of Sehote-pabra—Amenemhat I., the founder of the XIIth Dynasty—agrees with the limit of his reign on the monuments. And the expressions for his death are valuable as showing the manner in which a king's decease was regarded; under the emblem of a hawk—the bird of Ra—he flew up and joined the sun.
Sometime before his death Amenemhat had been in retirement; after twenty years of reign (which was probably rather late in his life, as he seems to have forced his way to the front as a successful man and founder of a family) he had associated his son, the first Usertesen, on the throne, and apparently resigned active life; for in the third year of Usertesen we find the coregent summoning his court and decreeing the founding of the temple of Heliopolis without any mention of his father. The old king, however, lived yet ten years after his retirement, and died (as this narrative shows us) during an expedition of his son Usertesen.
The time of year mentioned here would fall in about the middle of the inundation in those days. Hence it seems that the military expeditions were made after the harvest was secured, and while the country was under water and the population disengaged from other labour.
The course of Sanehat's flight southward, reaching the Nile at Cairo after two days' haste, indicates that the army was somewhere west of the Delta. This would point to its being on the road to the oasis of the Natron Lakes, which would be the natural course for a body of men needing water supply. His throwing himself between two bushes to hide from the army shows that the message came early in the day, otherwise he would have fled in the dark. He then fled a day's journey to the south, turning his back on the sycamore, and slept in the open field at Shi-Seneferu somewhere below the Barrage. The second day he reached the Nile opposite Old Cairo in the afternoon, and ferried himself over, passed the quarries at Gebel Mokattam, and the red hill of Gebel Ahmar, and came to a frontier wall before dark. This cannot have been far from Old Cairo, by the time; and as Heliopolis was in course of building by Usertesen, it would be probably on the desert near there, for the protection of the town. Passing the desert guards by night he pushed on and reached Peten, near Belbeis, by dawn, and turned east toward the valley of Kemur, or Wady Tumilat. Here in his extremity he was found by the Sati or Asiatics, and rescued. This shows that the eastern desert was left to the wandering tribes, and was without any regular government at this period; though all the eastern Delta was already well in Egyptian hands, as we know by the monuments at Bubastis, Dedamun, and Tanis.
The land of Adim to which Sanehat fled appears to be the same as Edom or the southeast corner of Syria. It was evidently near the upper Tenu, or Rutennu, who seem to have dwelt on the hill country of Palestine. The hill and the plain of Palestine are so markedly different, that in all ages they have tended to be held by opposing people. In the time of Sanehat the upper Tenu who held the hills were opposed to the Tenu in general who held the plains; later on the Semites of the hills opposed the Philistines of the plain, and now the fellah of the hills opposes the Bedawi of the plain. The district of Amuanshi in which Sanehat settled was a goodly land, bearing figs and grapes and olives, flowing with wine and honey and oil, yielding barley and wheat without end, and much cattle. This abundance points rather to the hill country near Hebron or between there and Belt Jibrin, as this south part of the hills is notably fertile. The Tenu who came to defy Sanehat, being in opposition to the upper Tenu, were probably those of the plain; and the opposition to Sanehat may have arisen from his encroaching on the fertile plain at the foot of his hills, as he was in the best of the land "on the border of the next land."
The Egyptian was evidently looked on as being of a superior race by the Tenu, and his civilisation won for him the confidence which many wandering Englishmen now find in Africa or Polynesia, like John Dunn. The set combat of two champions seems—by the large gathering—to have been a well-recognised custom among the Tenu, while it exactly accords with Goliath's offer in later times. And raising the shout of victory on the back of the fallen champion reminds us of David's standing on Goliath.
The transition from the recital of the Syrian adventures to the petition to Pharaoh is not marked in the manuscript; but from the construction the beginning of the petition is evidently at the place here marked. The manner in which Sanehat appeals to the queen shows how well he must have been known to her in his former days.
The decree in reply to Sanehat is in the regular style of royal decrees of the period. Apparently by a clerical error the scribe has substituted the name Amenemhat for Userte-sen, but the Horus name and the throne name leave no doubt that Usertesen I. is intended here. The tone of the reply is as gracious as possible, according with the king's character as stated by Sanehat, "He is a friend of great sweetness, and knows how to gain love." He quite recognises the inquiries after the queen, and replies concerning her. And then he assures Sanehat of welcome on his return, and promises him all that he asks, including a tomb "in the company of the royal children," a full recognition of his real rank. Incidentally we learn that the Amu buried their dead wrapped in a sheep's skin; as we also learn, further on, that they anointed themselves with oil (olive?), wore the hair long, and slept on the ground.
The funeral that is promised accords with the burials of the XIIth Dynasty: the gilded case, the head painted blue, and the canopy of cypress wood, are all known of this period, but would be out of place in describing a Ramesside burial.
Sanehat's reply is a full course of the usual religious adulation, and differs in this remarkably from his petition. In fact it is hard to be certain where his petition begins; possibly the opening of it has been lost out of the text in copying from a mutilated papyrus; or possibly it was sent merely as a memorandum of Sanehat's position and desires, without venturing to address it personally to the king; or even it may have not been allowable then to make such petitions formally, so as to leave the initiative to the king's free will, just as it is not allowable nowadays to question royalty, but only to answer when spoken to.
The proposal to bring forward his fellow-sheikhs as witnesses of his unabated loyalty is very curious, and seems superfluous after Usertesen's assurances. Beyond Abisha of the Amu at Beni Hasan, these are the only early personal names of Syrians that we know. The Fenkhu in this connection can hardly be other than the Phoenicians; and, if so, this points to their being already established in southern Syria at this date. But these chiefs were not allowed to come forward; and it seems to have been the policy of Egypt to keep the Syrians off as much as possible, not a single man who came with Sanehat being allowed to cross the frontier. The allusion to the Tenu belonging to Pharaoh, like his dogs, is peculiarly fitting to this period, as the dog seems to have been more familiarly domesticated in the XIth and XIIth Dynasties than at any other age, and dogs are often then represented on the funereal steles, even with their names.
The expression for strangeness—"as a man of the Delta sees himself at the cataract, as a man of the plain who sees himself in the deserts"—is true to this day. Nothing upsets an Egyptian's self-reliance like going back a few miles into the desert; and almost any man of the cultivated plain will flee with terror if he finds himself left alone far in the desert, or even taken to the top of the desert hills. .
We learn incidentally that the Egyptian frontier, even in the later years of Usertesen I., had not been pushed beyond the Wady Tumilat; for Sanehat travels south to the Roads of Horus, where he finds the frontier garrison, and leaves his Syrian friends; and there laden boats meet him, showing that it must have been somewhere along a waterway from the Nile.
The abasement of Sanehat might well be due to natural causes, beside the reverence for the divine person of the king. The Egyptian court must have seemed oppressively splendid, with the brilliant and costly workmanship of Usertesen, to one who had lived a half-wild life for so many years; and, more than that, the recalling of all his early days and habits and friendships would overwhelm his mind and make it difficult to collect his thoughts.
Sanehat's appearance was so much changed by his long hair, his age, and his strange dress, that his former mistress and companions could not recognise him. The use of collars and sceptres in the song and dance is not clear to us. The sistra were, of course, to beat or rattle in time with the song; the sceptres or wands were perhaps the same as the engraved wands of ivory common in the XIIth Dynasty, or of blue glazed ware in XVIIIth, and would be used to wave or beat time with; but the use of the collar and counterpoise, or menat, is unexplained, though figures of dancers are shown holding a collar and menat, and such objects were found buried in the ceremonial foundation deposit of Tahutmes III. at Koptos.
This song of the princesses is clearly in parallel phrases. First are four wishes for the king and queen, in four lines. Second, an ascription of wisdom and power, in two lines. Third, a comparison of the king to Ra, and of the queen to the great goddess, in two lines. Fourth, an ascription of righting power. Fifth, a petition for Sanehat, winding up with the statement of fear inspired by the king, as explaining Sanehat's abasement. To this the king responds by reassuring Sanehat, and promising him position and wealth.
The account of Sanehat's renewal of his old national ways can best be appreciated by any one who has lived a rough life for a time and then comes back to civilisation. Doubtless these comforts were all the more grateful to him in his old age, when he was weary of his unsettled life.
In the preparation of his tomb it is stated to have been a pyramid, with rock-cut well chamber, and built of bricks above. This just accords with the construction of the pyramids of the XIIth Dynasty.
The last phrase implies that this was composed during Sanehat's life; and such a life would be so remarkable that this biography might be prepared with good reason. Also it is very unlikely that a mere story-teller would have dropped the relation without describing his grand funeral which was promised to him. From suddenly stopping at the preparation of the tomb, without going further, we have a strong presumption that this was a true narrative, written at Sanehat's dictation, and probably intended to be inscribed on his tomb wall. In any case, we have here an invaluable picture of life in Palestine and in Egypt, and the relations of the two countries, at an epoch before the time of Abraham, and not paralleled by any other document until more than a thousand years later.