The modern name of a fragmentary tale preserved on the verso of Papyrus Harris 500 (Papyrus British Museum 10060). Written during the Ramessid period, the papyrus also contains the Story of the Doomed Prince and, on its recto, a series of love poems. Like these other works, The Taking (or Capture) of Joppa is written in literary Late Egyptian; it was probably composed not much earlier than the papyrus itself.

The story, whose beginning is lost, is set in the time of Thutmose III (eighteenth dynasty, c.1500 BCE). The surviving portion opens with the Egyptian army laying siege to the Palestinian coastal town of Joppa (modern Jaffa). A member of the Egyptian force named Thoth (or Djehuti) has apparently invited the ruler of Joppa (identified in the story only as “the enemy of Joppa”) to a parley outside the walls of the town, where he plies the ruler and his retainers with food and drink. Once the retainers have lapsed into drunkenness, Thoth offers to surrender himself, his family, and goods. Perhaps misunderstanding the offer, the ruler asks to see the pharaoh's baton. Thoth first shows him the baton, then strikes the ruler senseless with it and has him manacled.

At this point Thoth conceals a force of Egyptian soldiers in two hundred large baskets. Word is sent to the ruler's wife that the baskets are part of the tribute of Thoth's surrender. The baskets are brought into Joppa, whereupon the Egyptian soldiers emerge and seize the town and its inhabitants. The story ends with Thoth sending word of his victory to the pharaoh in Egypt.

The extent to which The Taking of Joppa reflects historical events is uncertain. Thutmose III listed Joppa as one of the towns subjugated during his first military campaign, in Year 22–23 of his reign. In the story, however, the pharaoh is absent in Egypt when Joppa is taken. Assuming the story to have some basis in fact, it is possible that it reflects a subsequent rebellion of the city after the campaign of Year 22–23. This, in turn, may explain Joppa's status in the later eighteenth dynasty, when it was administered directly by Egypt rather than ruled as a semi-independent vassal state like most of its neighbors. A general named Thoth, who was also “Overseer of Northern Countries,” is known to have served under Thutmose III and was undoubtedly the model for the tale's hero.

The historicity of details in the story itself is purely conjectural. The Taking of Joppa is clearly a work of literature, like the other works preserved in Papyrus Harris 500. As such, its main literary interest lies in the ruse by which the Egyptians succeed in capturing the town, which prefigures the Trojan Horse of Homer's Iliad.

Bibliography

  • Gardiner, Alan H. Late-Egyptian Stories. Bibliotheca Aegyptiaca, 1. Brussels, 1932. Publication of the ancient Egyptian text in hieroglyphic transcription, pp. 82–85a.
  • Goedicke, Hans. “The Capture of Joppa.” Chronique d'Égypte 43 (1968), 219–233. Translation and commentary.
  • Wente, Edward F. “The Capture of Joppa.” In The Literature of Ancient Egypt, edited by William Kelly Simpson, pp. 81–84. Rev. ed. New Haven and London, 1973. Translation.

James P. Allen