Egyptian society generally had no laws. Instead, the Egyptians governed their society by an ethical concept called Maat, “order.” This concept led to a pretty permissive society. If an act did not disrupt the community and was not an act against the king, it was generally permitted.
Punishment for Crimes
We have to remember that Egyptian ruled by a brutal military dictatorship. So magistrates maintained order by force and corporal punishment. Acts against the king were usually met with the death penalty. But for lesser offenses beatings were commonplace.
However, magistrates did not only use beatings to punish crime but also as an interrogation method. The way the Egyptians used beatings was that they would beat you first before asking any questions, ask their questions, then beat you again if they felt like you needed it. Interrogators only believed that they got honest answers when an interrogation first started with a beating.
If the magistrate or king could not decide what to do with you, they would send you to jail. In Genesis 39, we read about Potipher’s wife falsely accusing Joseph of rape. As a slave, this crime would earn more than a beating. But if the accuser was less than reputable, it would not necessarily warrant the death penalty. Perhaps, Potipher understood the character of his wife. So Joseph was sent to Egyptian jail [Gen 39:20].
Now, the Egyptian concept of jail might not be what you expect. The Egyptians used their rock quarries as jails. Quarries existed that were the operated by skilled professional stone cutters [see featured image]. However, quarries were also used as prisons.
Egyptian jails had no doors, bars, or walls. Succinctly put, these jails needed no restraints. Quarries typically were found in remote locations with very little water. If anyone tried to escape, they would be subject to the heat of the desert and die of dehydration in short order. This was strong incentive to stay and do one’s time.