Digging into The Past
Temple Terrace, FL
Egypt and the Bible
A number of important Bible stories take their setting in Egypt. Abraham sojourned there (Gen. 12:10). During Joseph's stay in Egypt he went throughout the land storing grain (Gen. 41:46-48). Moses was born there, adopted by the daughter of a Pharaoh, and trained in all their wisdom (Acts 7: 20-22). We have every reason to believe that these men would have seen the pyramids and other "antiquities" of their time. The Step Pyramid of Djoser, located at Saqqara, was built about 2640 B.C. Shortly thereafter came the famous Giza pyramids. These ancient tombs cause one to stand in awe even today. The Great Pyramid (of Cheops) covers 13 acres and contains 2,300,000 blocks, each weighing an average of two and one half tons. On my trip to Egypt in 1967, I had the eerie privilege of going into two of the burial chambers in the heart of the Pyramid of Chephren. Men look little beside these great structures! They show us something of the wisdom of ancient Egypt and of the superstition characteristic of the land.
The earliest description of Palestine comes from an Egyptian literary text. In The Story of Si-nuhe, written in the 20th century B. C., a traveler tells of his pleasant stay in northern Palestine. He describes the land as follows:
Figs were in it, and grapes. It had more wine than water. Plentiful was its honey, abundant its olives. Every (kind of) fruit was on its trees. Barley was there, and emmer. There was no limit to any (kind of) cattle (Quoted in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, ed. by J. B. Pritchard, p. 19).
This reminds one of the promises that God made to the Israelites to bring them into a "land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 3:8).
Travel to Egypt
That foreigners traveled to Egypt has been made abundantly clear. In the tomb of Khnum-hotep III at Beni Hasan, about 169 miles south of Cairo, there is a painting showing 37 Asiatics of the desert bringing gifts to Egypt and desiring trade. A reproduction of this colorful piece of art can be seen in
Everyday Life in Bible Times, p. 108.
Pharaohs Not Identified in Bible
No Pharaoh is called by name in the Bible and the Sacred Record suggests no specific dates to help us in determining the date of Joseph, the oppression of the Israelites or the Exodus. When evidence is lacking, it seems that theories become quite abundant. A word of warning needs to be issued. It has been popular in the past to identify the 'Apiru (or Habiru) of the Amarno letters (14th century B. C.) with the Hebrews. It is now generally considered that "the 'Apiru were regarded as a social rather than an ethnic group" (Charles Pfeiffer, Tell El Amarna and the Bible, p. 53). The term 'Apiru, ranked a group as foreigners. There are records of such groups all over the Middle East in that period of time. While such may have referred to the Hebrews, it certainly could not be limited to them.
It is easy to tell folk that the mummy of Pharaoh has been found. But isn't that a bit vague? There are many Pharaohs. The mummy of Ramesses II is now exhibited, but he ruled at about 1290 to 1223 B.C. This late date is assumed by most liberal scholars as the date of the Exodus. Conservative scholars tend to place the Exodus in the reign of Amenhotep II (ca. 1436-1411 B.C.), though some are willing to come a bit later. Since the Bible neither names the Pharaoh nor gives the date, we have considerable difficulty. Many pages could be written showing the evidence for the various positions. Here I am simply suggesting that we need to be careful not to be too dogmatic. It is sufficient to say that the names and customs which the Bible ascribes to Egypt have been shown to have been correct during that general period of time.
"Treasuries of Egypt"
One of the things that most impressed me in Egypt was the many rooms in the Egyptian Museum exhibiting the magnificent mortuary furniture discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun (King Tut, for short). Howard Carter made the discovery in the Valley of the Kings, near Thebes, in 1922. This was the first unplundered Egyptian tomb to be excavated. The gold face masks, gold coffins, jewelry, statues and chariots almost defy the imagination in their magnificence. This find, dating to about 1350 B.C., gives us some indication of the wealth of Egypt within a hundred years or so of Moses. I think it helps one to appreciate the deliberate choice and material sacrifice of Moses, who "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter" and who esteemed the reproach of Christ "greater riches than the treasures of Egypt" (Heb. 11:24, 26).
The identification of the stores cities of Pithom and Raamses, built by the Israelites (Ex. 1:11), has been much disputed and is still not on solid ground. Generally, Raamses has been identified with Tanis and Pithom with Tell el-Maskhutah. But Pithom is often identified with Tell er-Retaba. The bricks used at Tell el-Maskhuta illustrate something that reminds one of Exodus 5: 10-21. The lower levels of brick have chopped straw. In the middle sections the clay is mixed with reeds and near the top only mud was used without any binding substance. This only illustrates that such procedure was used; it does not prove that the Israelites did it.
In this section we have not offered too many specific contacts between Egypt and the Bible. This information falls into the area of general corroboration. Shortly we will begin to discuss some specific examples of corroboration. We trust that this article will not discourage the Bible teacher from using the evidence of archaeology, but that it will encourage each of us to be cautious and to study each point carefully. These, and other related problems, are discussed in a fine way in Charles F. Pfeiffer's Egypt and the Exodus ($2.95 from Truth Magazine Book Store).
By the time this article appears I hope to be completing my third tour to the Bible Lands (May 5-23). I expect to come back with a better understanding of many of the finds I plan to discuss in the coming months.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIII: 8, pp. 13-14