The word תּוֹעֵבָה (tôʿēbâ, "abomination") is very common in the Hebrew Bible, usually designating breaches of covenant stipulations which are tôʿēbâ in the sight of YHWH. These uses are concentrated in Leviticus (6x) and Deuteronomy (17x), and then the prophets, particularly Jeremiah (8x) and, most incessantly, Ezekiel (43x).1 This question concerns the three uses that occur pre-Mosaic covenant, all referring to tôʿēbâ in the sight of the Egyptians. Two are from the Joseph cycle:
Genesis 43:32: "... the Egyptians were unable to eat with the Hebrews, for that is tôʿēbâ to the Egyptians."
Genesis 46:34: "... for everyone who pastures sheep is tôʿēbâ to the Egyptians."
And a third in the time of Moses:
- Exo 8:22: ".... for the sacrifices we shall make to the LORD our God are tôʿēbâ to the Egyptians."
I'm wondering if we know anything more that would explain these. The third example sort of makes sense (sacrifices to a different God), but in case of the first two it seems odd that this family of Hebrew shepherds became so favored in Egypt while everything about them was apparently tôʿēbâ.
- Is anything known about Egyptian society or cult at that time that would support the contention of the Biblical text that such things were labelled tôʿēbâ?
- What exactly did tôʿēbâ mean from an Egyptian perspective?2
1. Proverbs also uses the term (22x) in an somewhat more flexible sense.
2. To the extent that such information might be available, I'm interested in both the motivation (was this indeed a cultic term denoting offense to a deity?) and sociologic implications (was segregation in "the land of Goshen" an expected remedy for tôʿēbâ living among us?).