June 21, 2018

Excursion to Egypt and Israel (1)

by Mike Willis

In March-April 2008, I led a group of 59 travelers as we journeyed from Cairo, through the Sinai peninsula, and entered southern Israel, after which we traveled throughout Israel. When the group returned home, Andy Alexander, Tom Roberts, and I stayed for an additional week during which we were led by a guide who had done doctoral work in archaeology. Many of our readers may never have the opportunity to make such a trip, so I thought that I would try to give you some sense of what this marvelous trip was like by recounting our travels.

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Our trip began when we departed JFK airport in NYC and flew via Milan, Italy to Cairo. The airplane trip is long and everyone was worn out upon our arrival. Our guides picked us up at the Cairo airport and took us to our hotel. However, since there were still a couple of hours of sunlight, he suggested a short boat ride on the Nile. This was a very peaceful and relaxing excursion and helped us to adjust our body clocks to our new time zone (otherwise we would have been tempted to go immediately to bed).

The Nile River, with its annual flooding which enriched the soil around the river and in the Delta area, enabled Egypt to become the bread basket of the ancient world.  Even in Romans days, wheat was shipped from Egypt to Rome to supply the needs of Italy. Because prosperity depended upon the flooding of the Nile (which in turn depended upon rain hundreds of miles up river from Cairo), not on the annual cycle of rain in the Delta region, Egypt frequently would prosper when other economies were devastated by drought. Abraham journeyed to Egypt in search of food (Gen. 12), and Isaac would have gone there had God not forbidden him to go (Gen. 26:2). Jacob sent his sons to Egypt in search of food during a famine. Later, he moved his family to Egypt where they dwelt for 400 years (Gen. 37-50).

The next day we began our visit in Cairo commencing with a short stop at the memorial to Anwar Sadat who was assassinated on October 6, 1981. From there we went to the Cairo Museum which houses many of the world's greatest archaeological monuments. The monuments are impressive, but only a few of them make direct contributions to the Bible.

One of the important displays is the Merneptah Stele (also known as the Israel Stele or Victory Stele of Merneptah). This large granite stele was erected by Amenhotep III, but was later inscribed by Merneptah (1213-1203 B.C.). This stele has the earliest surviving reference to Israel outside of the Bible. It is generally dated at 1209 B.C. and celebrates Merneptah's victorious campaign in Canaan. He lists Israel among those whom he defeated. The stele poses a problem for those who take a late date for Exodus (1250 B.C.), because Israel would hardly have had time to cross over into Canaan by the time the Merneptah campaign occurred. The Merneptah stele is independent (from the Bible) evidence of Israel's existence very earlier in her national life. We saw many other impressive displays at the Museum (the display on Tutankhamum, for example), but the Merneptah Stele was relevant to me. Many mummified bodies were on display reminding us of the two biblical characters who were embalmed; Jacob and Joseph (Gen. 50:2, 26). After he was embalmed, Jacob's body was taken to the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, where it was buried in the family tomb along with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Leah. Joseph's body was taken from Egypt when the Israelites migrated to Canaan (Exod. 13:19; Josh. 24:32).

Pyramids of Giza

Leaving the Museum, we journeyed to Giza to see the pyramids, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Giza pyramid complex dates before 2500 B.C. The pyramids would have been standing when Abraham traveled to Egypt (Gen. 12) and when Joseph was taken as a slave to Egypt. There is little doubt that many of the Egyptians would have seen the pyramids. Though they have little biblical significance, except to provide social context for that portion of Scripture that relates to Israel in Egypt, the pyramids and sphinx are impressive. Always located on the west bank of the Nile (toward the setting of the sun), the pyramids where faced with polished, highly reflective white limestone and thought to represent the descending rays of the sun. Even today scholars are not positive how the pyramids were constructed. The Sphinx monument appears in front of the pyramid to Cheops. Near the Mycerinus Pyramid were three mastabas, which were burial tombs for important people in the Egyptian court.

Departing Giza, we traveled about twenty miles further south to Saqqara in order to see the Step Pyramid of King Djoser (2667-2648), the second king of the third dynasty. This pyramid is thought to have been created by Imhotep, one of Egypt's most learned men. From the location of the Step Pyramid, one is able to see more than a dozen other pyramids. The day was hazy so I am not sure that we could see all of the pyramids visible from that site. We returned to our hotel for the evening, having enjoyed a delightful day around Cairo. I even got some shots of our associate editor and his wife riding a camel and, if offered the right price, I might even make the photo available.

Truth Magazine Vol. LII: 8  p12-14 August 2008

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