We began our tour in a large room full of Egyptian stuff. I didn’t know much about the Egyptians, and wasn’t sure how much I wanted to know about the Egyptians – but actually it turned out to be very interesting.
We were on a Bible Tour at the British Museum, and although I wasn’t completely sure what that meant, I figured I might learn something useful. We met our guide next to the stairs, picked up a folding chair (which I was later very grateful for, as the tour involved a lot of standing for those people who didn’t have chairs) and off we set – to the Egyptian room.
Before we could begin our tour, we needed to learn a fundamental truth about Egyptian psychology, which was that “If it isn’t carved in stone, it didn’t happen” and therefore anything unpleasant or embarrassing about their history, they simply deleted. So, when we looked at the Egyptian equivalent of a family tree for Ramesses (that well-known Pharaoh) there were lots of names missing. They weren’t missing because he didn’t know who his ancestors were, they were missing because those ancestors were embarrassing. (Now, wouldn’t we all like to do that!) As I said, anything ‘carved in stone’ was thought to be eternal, therefore anything not there, could be ignored, as if it never happened.
Having learnt this snippet of Egyptian psychology, we then began the tour proper – which was to look for evidence, beyond the writing in the Bible, that would support the events described. So, as the whole ‘Israelite slaves being saved by a God who sent plagues so that Pharaoh is defeated and those slaves can leave’ would be somewhat embarrassing to the Egypyians of the day, we were never going to find evidence, carved in stone, that would remind them of that piece of history. However, there were other clues, circumstantial evidence, that supported the Bible claims.
In about 1875BC, Joseph was sold as a slave to Egypt, and while he was there, he told the pharaoh what his dreams meant, and was then put in charge of all the food. So, when there were 7years of plenty, they saved food, and when this was followed by 7years of famine, they could eat the stored grain. Now, we know that the pharaoh of the day was deemed to be responsible for everything, he was almost a god, and therefore a famine, of any length, would be his fault. This would make the pharaoh of the dreams very worried when Joseph told him the meaning of his dreams, and he would want to act.
Egyptian records, show that Senwosret took complete control of all the agriculture during his reign as pharaoh, which was a strange and significant thing to do. We also know that when he was buried, he shared his tomb with his vizier (the ancient Egyptian equivalent of a prime minister). There is a carving, which states this vizier was “ruler of all the world” – which is exactly what Pharaoh described Joseph as, in the Bible account. Pretty interesting, huh? You can see statues of Senwosret in the British Museum today (he wasn’t a looker).
The oppression of the Israelites, when they were treated as slaves, probably began during the reign of Ahmose. After him, came Thutmose, and he had a very powerful daughter (very unusual in those days) who even ruled for a while and had statues made in her image, in the form of a pharaoh. It would make sense if she was the “daughter of Pharaoh” who fished the baby Moses out of the river, and then raised him in the palace.
Later, there was a very powerful pharaoh, called Thutmose III. He ruled during the high point of Egyptian history, was well known for his building projects and so on. We know that Moses was over 80 when he started negotiating with Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave, so the timing fits. Then, half way through Thutmose III’s reign, everything begins to go wrong. We don’t know why (because there is nothing ‘carved in stone’ about it) but we do know that the next pharaoh was not his son, that all his power seemed to stop half way through his reign, and, even more significant, the pharaoh after him made it a priority to go and conquer other nations so they could capture new slaves. Sounds convincing to me, I reckon Thutmose III was probably the Pharaoh from Exodus (even if Hollywood thinks it was Ramesses!) You can see his statue in the museum, but someone has bashed away his belt (which was how the statue of a pharaoh was identified) and added the cartouche (the oval that contains the pharaoh’s symbols) of Ramesses on his chest. Because if it’s ‘carved in stone’, it must be true…
There is loads more to tell you about the museum, especially the ‘evidence’ for angels killing whole armies – but I’m out of space. I’ll tell you next week.
Bye for now,