Table of contents
|Why was Egypt so advanced for its time? |
|The problem with conventional Egyptian dates |
|How were the dates for chronologies derived? |
|Other dating methods |
|Secular and religious revision of biblical history |
|Hebrew slaves in Egypt? |
|A new collaboration for CMI|
|Ramses II (the Great). Is he the pharaoh of the Exodus?|
|The Rosetta Stone|
|Tutankhamen’s tomb (KV 62)|
Egyptian chronology can be a challenging subject for biblical creationists. That’s because the secular, majority view about these chronologies extends further back than an objective reading of the biblical chronogenealogies allows for creation: a little over 6,000 years ago. These chronologies are hotly debated among Christians and secularists alike, with the consensus being increasingly challenged. Moreover, some of the incredible Egyptian monuments like the great pyramids on the Giza Plateau have dates ascribed to them that would have them being built before the earth-reshaping Flood of Noah’s time around 4,500 years ago. Following a strict biblical chronology, Egyptian civilization cannot predate creation, nor can the pyramids be pre-Flood constructions.
This article (although lengthy) does not attempt to solve any of the seeming problems in aligning Egyptian chronologies with the biblical text with any great detail. But for the average layperson trying to understand Egyptian history, it is often a case of ‘Where do I start?’ ‘How do we align such things?’ There are so many names, dynasties and dates bandied around with seeming authority that it is a confusing topic to investigate. Also, without some background or a framework to help the Christian gain some perspective on the issues, it is difficult to be discerning about any information that claims to solve the many mysteries that Egypt presents—and there are dozens of those from Christian researchers alone! Hopefully this article will help us realize that the issue is not as cut and dried as the secular community sometimes presents it. Nor does Egyptian civilization falsify biblical history as the skeptics would like us to think.
Egypt’s ancient culture is one of the most popular and well-preserved in the world, and it is one of the most visited tourist destinations due to the pyramids and the wealth of historical antiquities found there. In addition, there are thousands of Egyptian artifacts on display in museums across the world, which have been seen by millions. Among these displays, one can look at busts or statues (sometimes amazingly lifelike) of past pharaohs and their wives, as well as everyday objects used by these fascinating people. Combined with the wealth of writing (hieroglyphics) left behind, a vivid picture of ancient Egypt emerges to capture our imaginations.
The most popular and widely read book in human history, the Bible, also has a lot to say about Egypt. Most people are familiar with the accounts of Abraham’s sojourn, Joseph’s rise to influence and the formation of the nation of Israel via the Exodus. Egypt is mentioned 291 times in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) and 79 times in the book of Genesis alone.
Egypt’s culture was preoccupied with death and the afterlife, which motivated them to produce many artifacts, many of which were subsequently preserved due to the coincidence of an extraordinarily hot and dry climate. As part of this obsession, they worshipped multiple false deities who they believed could interact and intervene in miraculous ways in the physical realm (in the nature of magic arts), and who could also enable a person’s transition to heaven. Ancient Egyptians believed that one’s body, image, and name needed to be preserved in this world after death in order for them to enter and exist in the eternal realm. As such, Egypt developed a massive industry on dealing with death, and it became the pivotal part of their culture. Most would be familiar with iconic famous sites like the Great Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure on the Giza Plateau near Cairo and the Valley of the Kings near Luxor. These were, in reality, just magnificent tombs forming part of a massive necropolis complex. Pharaohs encouraged the idea that they were living incarnations of, or even born of, the deities that were worshipped in those days. However, preservation of the dead body was not only important for royalty; ordinary people had to be preserved after death also and were often buried in simpler ways. It’s just that royalty and those who held high positions (overseers and nobles) possessed greater wealth that enabled them to construct more elaborate and grandiose places of burial befitting their ‘god-like’ status.
Some of the reasons that people have for being fascinated with Egypt are a little misplaced. A popular idea is that ancient people in the past were more primitive or less intelligent. And since the mainstream dates assigned to Egyptian history go back over 7,000 years (around 5,000 BC) to alleged ‘proto-dynastic’ and ‘pre-dynastic’ periods, many wonder how Egyptian culture became so advanced, so quickly. In some part, this seeming mystery is due to the overwhelming belief in evolution, and mankind’s slow rise from an alleged Stone Age culture. In contrast, the Bible implies that people were intelligent from the very beginning of creation. The mention of Tubal-Cain in Genesis 4:22 indicates that people were forging metals within several generations after Adam. It is a mistake to assume that because people in the past had less technology, they must have been less intelligent. Technology is developed by trial and error, and builds upon former discoveries. In short, time and innovation is the key. For example, personal computers were unheard of 40 years ago. Were we more ‘primitive’ or less intelligent then? No, we have just discovered and invented new things over time, and continue to do so.
The Bible reveals that after the Flood, people disobeyed God and built an enormous tower at Babel, probably a ziggurat. After God confused the languages “in the days of Peleg”, it has been suggested that the ancestors of the Egyptians brought this knowledge with them. However, Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, claims instead that Abraham brought knowledge from the same Mesopotamian region when he travelled to Egypt to escape the famine in his own land:
Before Abraham went to Canaan (Genesis 11:31), he originally came from Ur of the Chaldeans. Ur was a Sumerian city-state in Mesopotamia, and the Sumerians have been credited with the invention of mathematic tables. For example, we still divide a circle in to 360° based upon the Sumerian innovation. Interestingly, the Sumerians built ziggurats that are strikingly similar to pyramids, and researchers still question today how the ability to build these arose contemporaneously as there are no Egyptian records mentioning the Sumerians. One could imagine exposure to mathematics for the first time would cause rapid advancements in many things, including architecture. It would certainly be a prerequisite for the construction of pyramid building. Admittedly, this is speculative and Josephus is not an indisputable authority. He certainly had an interest in advancing the Jewish cause, so we should be cautious about citing this as evidence. But Sumer was advanced, Abraham did visit Egypt, and secular historians are often baffled by the rapid rise of Egypt.
Abraham visited Egypt 215 years before Jacob and his family moved to Egypt. We can biblically derive the date of the Exodus (see later), and regardless of whether we ascribe to the short (215) or long sojourn (430 years) timeframe of the Hebrews in Egypt, it would have put Abraham’s visit well within the timeframes of the Old Kingdom pyramid builders of Egypt (if we do not ascribe to the secular dates though). Again, while this is interesting, it remains speculative as the Bible has no mention of any of this with regard to Abraham’s dealings with Pharaoh.
It is true that mystery and debate still surround the methods employed for the construction of the great pyramids of Giza. They were built from massive limestone and sandstone blocks weighing c. 1.5 tons or more, and some granite blocks weighing a staggering 80 tons. The pyramids are still some of the largest man-made structures ever built. Also, Khufu’s pyramid is the only one of the seven ancient wonders of the world remaining today, although it is the oldest by far.2 Until the Lincoln Cathedral (England) was built in 1311, it was also the tallest man-made structure in the world—meaning it held the record for well over 3,000 years (using a biblical timeframe).
There have been numerous ideas put forward for the construction of these pyramids, including a radically different, but seemingly viable, internal ramp theory put forward by the French architect Pierre Houdin.3 Most don’t know that there are over 130 pyramids (although smaller) in Egypt, and the construction of these is less mysterious. Many are made out of smaller blocks or mud bricks. Other grand constructions, like the cutting of the tombs into the sides of mountains for the Valley of the Kings or carving the massive granite obelisks seen in temples, are not so mysterious, but the effort needed to construct them is still staggering. Yet, when many want to rewrite conventional history, sometimes radical ideas are proposed.
Some even suggest that since the great pyramids are beyond the capabilities of ancient people, advanced extraterrestrials must have constructed them. Or at least, they imparted sophisticated technological knowledge to the ‘primitive Egyptians’. With such theories there is often an overlay of misinformation coupled with a deliberate omission of facts (half truths). For example, it has often been argued that ancient Egyptians could not have possessed the technology to carve perfectly square blocks by using simple hand chisels made of copper—the most commonly used metal of the day (copper is relatively soft compared to forged metals of today). Such comments omit the fact, for example, that the Egyptians actually used toothed saws, and although made of copper (at the time), once a groove was established in the block they would add sand (something that is plentiful in Egypt) as a further abrasive cutting aid. Getting perfect squares was not a problem as tri-squares (like the ones used in geometry classes at schools) have been found, and we know they also used string and plumb bobs to obtain straight lines. Also, we now know that later Egyptian dynasties constructed bronze tools and weapons.
When the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC) visited Egypt, he wrote about lifting machines that were used to raise large stone blocks being used for construction. But he was only recounting secondhand stories because his visit was many centuries after the completion of the pyramids. Although we might never actually know how the great pyramids were constructed, we can be sure that the Egyptians were innovative and clever, and they most certainly had the manpower. And later on, with other types of constructions, a massive slave base to assist them. The latter point, though, is being increasingly challenged by secular archaeologists (see later).
One of the main areas used to strongly challenge the biblical dates for creation (c. 4000 BC) and the Great Flood (c. 2450 BC), is that of the conventional chronological dates assigned to Egyptian history. Aside from the mythical and highly questionable pre-dynastic period (c. 5000 BC), for which there is scant archaeological evidence, the first Egyptian dynasty is now conventionally believed to have begun under King Narmer (Menes in Greek) or Aha, or both contemporaneously, around 3400 BC. This was due to the discovery of the Narmer Palette in 1897 which contained the earliest depiction of an Egyptian king and some of the earliest hieroglyphic inscription ever found. It was described by popular Egyptologist Bob Brier as “the first historical document in the world” and mainstream thought says it depicts the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by Narmer.4 It was subsequently dated to the 31st century BC. Whatever it does actually represent it was supposedly made some c. 900 years before the global Flood of Noah’s time, which would make its survival impossible.
It is presumed that because we supposedly have such a rich archive of Egyptian history and a seemingly accurate and well preserved lineage of the pharaohs, then the dates assigned to traditional Egyptian chronologies must be accurate. For Christians, many want to know where to place these famous pharaohs into biblical history, particularly during the time of Joseph (Genesis) and Moses (Exodus). This is because, although pharaohs are often mentioned in the accounts of Joseph and Moses, they are not mentioned by their names, unlike later writings in the Old Testament. Besides the country of Egypt, the word ‘Pharaoh’ is mentioned 209 times in Genesis and Exodus alone.
|Pre 3200 BC||Predynastic/Prehistory|
|3200–2686 BC||Early dynastic Period||1st–2nd|
|2686–2181 BC||Old Kingdom||3rd–6th|
|2181–2055 BC||1st Intermediate Period||7th–10th|
|2055–1650 BC||Middle Kingdom||11th–12th|
|1650–1550 BC||2nd Intermediate Period/Hyksos||13th(?)–17th|
|1550–1069 BC||New Kingdom||18th–20th|
|1069–664 BC||3rd Intermediate Period||21st–25th|
|664–525 BC||Late Period||26th|
|525–332 BC||Achaemenid/Persian Egypt||27th–31st|
|332–30 BC||Ptolemaic/Greek Egypt|
|30 BC–641 AD||Roman & Byzantine Egypt|
When most people cite Ancient Egyptian history it conventionally covers the period up to the Persian occupation c. 525 BC, and is broken up into several distinct periods (see table). The major groupings are the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. Between these Kingdoms are placed ‘intermediate’ periods which are often hotly disputed by observers. At the End of the ‘Golden Age’ of Egypt which ceased with 20th Dynasty in the New Kingdom, Egypt suffered on and off periods of instability during the Third Intermediate Period (21–25th dynasties). Then came an alleged Late Period which spanned dynasties 26–31. From this time (c. 525 BC) up to the birth of Christ, Egypt was ruled by various foreign invaders and is divided between the Archaemenid (Persian), Ptolemaic (Greek), and Roman/Byzantine periods.
As mentioned earlier, there are a few detailed lists of the pharaohs that ruled Egypt. This gives the impression that there is an abundant and accurate record of Egypt’s history. One of the most well-known is the King List of Abydos, found in the temple of Seti I (19th Dynasty). It contains a list of 76 kings, allegedly in order, from the Old Kingdom to Seti I in the New Kingdom (19th Dynasty). It is the only source we have regarding the names of some pharaohs that allegedly existed, which makes it disparate with other lists on that point alone. Secular scholars readily admit that this list is inaccurate and contains many errors. For example, there are no kings mentioned from what is called the Second Intermediate Period, which included the time of the Hyksos (a foreign rule of possibly four dynasties). The reason for this is that the Hyksos were regarded as invaders and thus enemies. Egyptians never dignified their enemies by mentioning their names—especially in temples! In addition, some of the most famous pharaohs in history have been omitted, such as the female pharaoh, Queen Hatshepsut of the powerful 18th Dynasty. And in the case of this queen, her face, images and cartouches were even chiseled off some of the monuments that she built. She was another who was regarded as an illegitimate ruler.
Also omitted was ‘the great heretic’ Akhenaten (formerly Amenhotep IV—four generations after Hatshepsut) who rejected the worship of the most famous deity in Egypt, Amun, during what is known as the Armarna period. Some scholars believe that he tried to institute a monotheistic religion when he elevated the status of the god Aten, the sun-disk (hence why he changed his name). Whatever is the case, both he and his son, the famous ‘boy-pharaoh’ Tutankhaten (later Tutankhamen), other pharaohs Smenkhkare and Ay have all been omitted from the Abydos list as they were viewed as illegitimate rulers stemming from, and related to, Akhenaten’s heretical reign. Also missing is Neferneferuaten, although some scholars even doubt his existence. The lack of mention of one’s enemies, or rewriting or erasing history about those you disregard (memory washing or damnatio memoriae) was a common Egyptian practice. Seti I’s arbitrary selectivity calls into question the validity of his list for providing an accurate history of Egyptian rulers.5
In an attempt to perpetuate the royal bloodline of their family, the pharaohs often married their sisters and daughters.6 But Tutankhamen died suddenly at 20 years of age (probably due to an accident) and left no heirs (although two mummified fetuses alleged to be born to Tutankhamen have been found). After the pharaohs Smenkhkare and Ay (who were probably advisors to Akhenaten and Tutankhamen respectively), Horemheb, a general in Tutankhamen’s army, assumed control over Egypt. Horemheb pretended that the unpopular Amarna period of Akhenaten to Ay never existed and he incorporated their regnal years into his own. Horemheb chose one of his viziers, Paramessu, as his successor. Paramessu’s praenomen or royal name became Ramses I, and he became the founder of the Ramesside era of the 19th and 20th dynasties. His son was Seti I who compiled the Abydos King List.
Due to the abandonment of the traditional deities by Akhenaten and the death of the young Tutankhaten/ Tutankhamen with no heirs, Egypt was religiously and politically destabilized. Like Horemheb before him, Seti I restored order by reinstating the former polytheistic religious practices and restored the temples to the worship of Amun and multiple deities. His selective omission of Akhenaten and his immediate family was an attempt to reinforce the idea that he had been ordained by the gods to return Egypt to its former glory days before Akhenaten. Not being born of noble blood, Seti I’s King List was probably a vain attempt to legitimize his right to the throne by including himself in the long line of Egyptian pharaohs who preceded him.
Although secular Egyptologists agree that Egyptian chronologies are in desperate need of revision, they generally believe that the dates assigned to the New Kingdom chronologies (18th–20th Dynasties) are reasonably reliable. Let’s consider a few reasons why this is believed to be so.
The New Kingdom period is generally the best attested to of all the Egyptian-born dynasties (‘Egyptian born’ as opposed to the occupied times of the Persian, Ptolemaic and Roman periods etc.), because they were the most recent and most lavish. For example, there is a wealth of information left behind by the pharaohs in their tombs at The Valley of the Kings, the ongoing expansion by pharaohs of the temples of Karnak and Luxor, as well as other sites that were constructed during this period. They reveal information that indicate sequential rules by individual pharaohs as opposed to overlapping dynasties prior to this period, and co-regencies during the the Third Intermediate and Late Periods that came after it. The Third Intermediate period is also a contentious area in chronology due to the complex issues that Egypt went through at this time. In the Late Period it is believed that there is evidence of Nubian expansion, foreign incursions and rule Persians and Assyrians, and various expulsions of same. Some researchers believe there are unwarranted inflations of dynasties and time during these Third and Late periods which also force revisions in Ancient Near East chronologies. It is also a hot button for another reason. It is generally believed that the Exodus took place sometime during the reign of the New Kingdom pharaohs. Of course this is the number one mystery most Christians want to solve (see later). But if the time ascribed to the Third Intermediate and Late Periods is dubious then it could have a backwards flow on effect on the dates ascribed to the New Kingdom dynasties also.
The New Kingdom was also a time of unprecedented expansion of Egyptian rule into neighbouring countries. As such, archaeologists have found many synchronisms via writings/letters and artifacts in these countries that were contemporaneous to what became commonly known as the Egyptian Empire. Some of these include the Amarna letters (cuneiform tablets), where correspondence between their vassal states is well documented. In this area most disputes over reigns and dates are usually in the range of decades, compared to the Old and Middle Kingdoms which have fewer records and synchronisms, meaning that these could be as many as hundreds of years off. In the case of the Valley of the Kings, tombs were cut into the hills on the west side of the river Nile opposite the city of ancient Thebes (now Luxor). Since they are underground, they have not weathered as much as the above ground temples. Although most of them were robbed of treasures, they were not desecrated as much by vandals and robbers probably due to the difficulty of access and hidden locations. The walls and ceilings of these tombs contain vast amounts of writing and pictures that are beautifully preserved in vivid colour (see more later). They have provided a wealth of information about this greatest time in Egyptian history.
The Turin King List is also known as the Turin Royal Canon and comprises pieces of papyrus written in hieratic script7 from the reign of Ramses II (or ‘Ramses the Great’/19th Dynasty, the son of Seti I). It is displayed in the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy. Ramses II also added his own list at Abydos, so if the Turin list was compiled at his request, it may well have been a continued attempt to legitimize both his and his father’s right to the throne. Much of the beginning and ending are lost, but what can be seen reveals reigns in years, months and even days for some kings. They are also often compiled into family groups—the same groups that seemed to form the basis of the dynasties compiled by the later Egyptian historian Manetho (see later).
Strangely, this list was written on the back of a tax roll. Given that it was a previously used papyrus, it seems to signify a distinct lack of importance if commissioned by a king. Another question about its historical reliability is that it contains a listing of the mystical or protodynastic king-gods, demi-gods, spirits and human beings who ruled Egypt from creation up to the time the document was presumably crafted. On the surface this may be a further attempt to perpetuate Ramses’ II inheritance to the throne by linking him to the commencement of Egyptian history itself. Ramses II was certainly no shrinking violet. He reigned longer than any other pharaoh (66 years), built temples and cities on an unprecedented scale, and many think that his ego was as big as the temples he built. Hence, his later ascribed nickname of ‘Ramses the Great’. He even appropriated many other temples built by former pharaohs by incorporating his own statues and even overlaying his own cartouches (a border used normally to surround the name of a king) in place of the original pharaohs’. This displayed a great deal of disregard for his royal ancestors given the very serious importance of preserving images and names for the afterlife. So, in one aspect he was keen to preserve their names on a list as it legitimized his right to rule, but then usurped what they had done to elevate his own status as being superior to them.
Ramses II wanted to be regarded as the living embodiment of the gods, and his aim was to be the most famous pharaoh of all. History records that his reporting of the battle of Kadesh with the Hittites (on display at his temple in Abu Simbel) was ‘fast and loose’ with the truth, where he turned a retreat and subsequent peace treaty into a ‘stunning victory’. This was common among pharaohs (and a general practice by the autocracies of the ancient world) who never admitted their defeats, embellished their victories and did not even dignify their enemy kings by mentioning their names when recording battles and conquests. With regard to the Turin List, Egyptologist Donald Redford studied the papyrus and noted that:
Hollywood and popular culture loves to display Ramses II as the pharaoh of the Exodus in Moses’ time. One main reason is because Exodus 1:11 states that the Israelites built the store cities of Pithom and Raamses (Pi-Ramses). The latter usually gets associated with Ramses II (the Great), and thus, many liberal scholars use this to favour a ‘late Exodus’ date of c. 1267 BC. with deference to secular chronological dating of Egypt.
Most are not aware though that the designation of ‘pharaoh’ only started to be used as a title for Egyptian kings during the New Kingdom’s 18th Dynasty.9 Prior to this the word pharaoh literally meant ‘great house’ akin to the royal palace. The foreign Hyksos rulers of the 2nd Intermediate Period (13–17th dynasties) ruled and built a great city known as Avaris (near modern Tell El-Dab’a). But later, Ramses II (19th Dynasty) constructed Pi-Raamses on a nearby site, and expanded it to become the major occupied site in this area. Thus, when this area was originally built and occupied many years before by the Hebrews it was unlikely to have had the name of Pharaoh Ramses attached to the city. Christian archaeologist Dr Bryant Wood writes:
Interestingly, Bietak also believes that the former Avaris was abandoned (the Exodus?) somewhere in the middle of the 18th Dynasty, yet, Ramses II was a king of the 19th Dynasty. Interestingly, the Egyptian priest and historian Manetho (from whom most of modern chronologies are derived—see later), referred to two Exodus events in Egypt; one major and one minor one with the largest being well before the 19th Dynasty period.
Although we can determine the probable date of the Exodus from Scripture, the basic problem is aligning this with the dates ascribed to Egyptian chronologies (and pharaohs), particularly when there are massive inconsistencies in the Egyptian records themselves. A biblical text for the Exodus is 1 Kings 6:1 which says:
Most evangelical scholars generally believe the date for the commencement of the building of the Temple (the fourth year of Solomon’s reign) is in May 967 or 966 BC, this would place the Exodus at around 1446 or 1445 BC (some suggest a date earlier of around 1491BC. To prefer a late Exodus date of 1267 BC, the 480th year referred to in Scripture would have to be allegorized. The main reasons scholars do this is their deference to secular archaeological interpretations and the dates attached to them. Ramses II’s reign was c. 200 years after the biblical date for the Exodus (even by secular dating of his reign). Egyptologist and biblical scholar Doug Petrovich favours the early Exodus date. In addition to the biblical evidence, he writes:
As mentioned, Ramses II built on a massive scale. Pharaohs not only built tombs and cities, they built temples for funeral preparation and for worship. Often temple functions were intertwined.
Many are not aware that at the very rear of many of the temples, statues of their gods were placed in a ‘divine’ room. Today, many people call this the ‘holy of holies’ (Djeser-Djeseru), which was the same name given to a major hall in Queen Hatshepsut's mortuary temple (Deir el-Bahri) on the west side of Thebes/Luxor). In the massive temple of Abu Simbel (south of Aswan) built by Ramses II and dedicated to himself, some 65 metres from the entrance, this room contains the usual ‘trinity of the temple’, but with a difference. The ‘trinity’ represented are the gods Re-Horakhty (Horus), Amun-Re, and Ptah. However, in this shrine Ramses II broke with tradition and added a fourth statue in this ‘holy’ place—that, of himself, thereby claiming he was also a god in the tradition of the ‘gods’ of Egypt.
An incredible testament to the building ingenuity of the Egyptians is that the whole temple was built and aligned in such a way that on February 22 and October 22 each year, the sun’s rays enter the temple through the front doorway and illuminate the statues inside the holy of holies that included Ramses II. And allegedly one of those dates coincides with Ramses II’s birthday. This is more evidence of the massive propaganda campaign that emanated with the 19th Dynasty in trying to legitimize their right to the throne.
Although there are smaller temples within the major site of Karnak at Luxor, it is primarily dedicated to the god Amun (Amun-Re/Ra), whose influence in Egyptian religion seemed to increase during the New Kingdom period, even after Akhenaten tried to do away with him. He was increasingly being regarded as the king of gods and protector of Egypt during the expansive military campaigns of the New Kingdom.
Successive pharaohs kept making additions to the Karnak site so that it eventually became the most massive and arguably the most impressive temple complex, not only in all of Egypt, but in the world. It covers an area of 80 hectares (200 acres) and the main temple of Amun is so large it could contain ten average European cathedrals. As such, it was important for the pharaohs to have their legacies enshrined and perpetuated here.
In a small corner of the temple complex in the Festival hall of Thutmose III (18th Dynasty), an engraved list can be found of 61 kings (although only 39 are legible and one is not written in a cartouche). Thutmose III was the son of Thutmose II who had two royal wives. The aforementioned Hatshepsut was one of these. Thus, she was a stepmother to Thutmose III, and actually reigned as a coregent with him when he was a boy. This was until later when she decided to reign in her own right.” Thutmose III is often called the ‘Napoleon of Egypt’ as he conducted more foreign campaigns than any other pharaoh, thus expanding Egypt’s reign to unprecedented levels. The list mentions the names of some pharaohs that are omitted on other lists. Also, many of these ‘unique’ kings have been assigned to the dubious First and Second Intermediate Periods of Egyptian history, which causes one to question their validity, particularly if the Hyksos reigned for the majority of the 2nd IP. If they were legitimate, then why were they not mentioned anywhere else? Half the seated kings are featured facing one direction and the other half the other way, but mysteriously they are not listed in chronological order preceding Thutmoses III. The list is now on display in the Louvre museum in Paris, but its value as an historical record is dubious.
The Saqqara tablet is an engraved stone that is on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It was found in the tomb of an overseer/chief lector of Ramses II in the Saqqara necropolis near current Cairo. The inscription contains 58 pharaohs of which only 47 cartouches can be read. They range from Dynasty 1 to Ramses II (Dynasty 19) but are actually out of order. It is known to be very inaccurate and makes numerous omissions, similar to the Abydos List, and is not highly regarded.
Currently housed in Palermo, Sicily, the Palermo Stone is made of black basalt and is one of seven pieces of a stele (a kind of rock slab) known as the Royal Annals of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. Other fragments are held in Cairo and London. The Palermo fragment is inscribed on both sides with hieroglyphic text and the original stele appears to be a year by year record of the kings and major events during their reigns from the 1st to the 5th Dynasties. It also records the names of some mythical pre-dynastic kings.
Although many view the Palermo Stone as a vital insight into the Old Kingdom, it remains controversial. Many Egyptologists are unsure as to whether it was constructed at the end of the period it describes, or whether it was assembled as late as the 25th Dynasty, or even added to over time. There are also doubts as to whether it is an original or even a copy of a copy. This brings into question whether there may have been copying mistakes and potential modifications (either accidental or deliberate) of the text based upon any possible agendas of the ruling pharaohs when any possible copies were made.
The reasoning for detailing these lists is to highlight the problems with using them to accurately define Egyptian chronologies and also in trying to assign dates to such chronologies. They are regularly inaccurate, disagree with each other, and some were compiled with political agendas in mind. And notably, all lists have gaps in their texts.
Just how are dates assigned to these kingdom periods and their rulers? In our modern age we can research the life of a relatively recent monarch (compared to Egyptian history). For example, we might say that the British Queen Victoria lived from 1819 to 1901 AD. When we see the name of an Egyptian pharaoh with a similar regnal date next to it, our natural inclination is to presume these are accurate and were recorded in the same way we do today. However, no such standardized calendar system existed in ancient times. Although they understood a year as a timeframe (mainly due to seasons and astronomical observations), they did not count dates like we do today. Instead, they counted the number of years a king reigned and if necessary, added a gap of a few years before the reign of the next monarch and so on. But when attempting to construct a proper backward order of those kings from a specific known time to develop a timeline, one has to presume that the king lists we have are accurate, and it is known that they are not. Even secular archaeologists admit it is all a mess. Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner wrote that:
At the time of writing, even the opening sentence on populist Wikipedia’s Egyptian chronology page says:
So, it is not as clear cut as is commonly perceived. Modern archaeologists determine regnal dates and kingdoms, as we shall see, in other ways. In recent years, once accepted regnal and kingdom dates have been mostly overridden and reassigned by later archaeologists, and the dates continue to be fluid and to change.
In the ancient world some listings of important pharaohs were devised by classical writers like Herodotus (484–425 BC), who visited Egypt. But there were no reliable dates or historical records for him to work from even in his day. And, for example, his list disagrees in some areas with modern devised chronologies, particularly with regard to the three pharaohs who built the three best known iconic pyramids at Giza—those of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure (father, son and grandson).14
Without doubt, the major source for our current Egyptian chronologies are the works of an Egyptian priest called Manetho. They are still the most popular used today, mainly because they are viewed as the most complete and, thus, the best we have. This is despite the fact that both secular and Christian Egyptologists know that these ‘standard’ chronologies are in desperate need of revision.
Manetho lived in the 3rd century BC at the time when Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemies. The Greek conqueror Alexander the Great installed General Ptolemy to rule Egypt. After Alexander’s death, the Ptolemies reigned supreme, but instead of abolishing the culture of Egypt, they adopted it. Ptolemy’s children and subsequent descendants installed themselves as pharaohs, built temples to the Egyptian deities, and even adopted the practice of incestuous marriage in an attempt to keep their own royal bloodline ‘pure’. Many would be familiar with the most famous of the Ptolemaic pharaohs; Cleopatra VII (69–30 BC), whose lovers were the Roman generals Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. She was also the last pharaoh ever to rule Egypt.
There is little doubt that Manetho was trying to prove to the Greeks that the Egyptians were the world’s oldest civilization. This was a hot issue amongst the different cultures of the day. Berosus was attempting to claim the same about the Mesopotamians, as was Eratosthenes15 (Greek), who was the chief librarian at the great library of Alexandria and, interestingly, the first person to calculate the circumference of the earth.16 In his work Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt), Manetho compiled Egyptian history into the thirty dynasties that are commonly used today. This does not include the Ptolemies, who were added later as a 31st Dynasty. As part of his agenda to extend Egyptian civilization as far back as he could, Manetho also included the names of many of the pre-Old Kingdom/pre-dynastic kings that are now thought to be mythical gods, with many of them also being related to creation events. For example, Ra (called Helios in the Greek by Manetho) was the sun god and Ptah (Greek: Hephaistos) was the craftsman creator god who was before all things. Even though Manetho’s chronologies are the most widely used, no original copies of his writings exist today. The earliest surviving reference to Aegyptiaca is in Josephus’s Against Apion. However:
Other remnants include hotchpotch similes compiled by later Roman Christian historians Eusebius and Africanus. But even these copies are different from each other as they do not agree on names or the length of reigns ascribed to some of the kings and even the arrangement of dynasties. One commentator noted:
Syncellus also thinks that Bocchoris and Manetho copied each other. Certainly both of them extended their chronologies into the mythical past. He wrote:
Archbishop James Ussher, in his classic Annals of the World, seemed to rely upon Josephus, Eusebius and other ancient historians, but he rejected Manetho as unreliable up to the New Kingdom’s 18th Dynasty that began with Ahmose20 (which means most of Egyptian history prior to that).
Another large problem that continues to this day is the transliteration of names from one language to another. Let’s keep in mind that these basic chronologies were devised and used even before the Rosetta Stone was discovered. As such, we were not able to translate hieroglyphics until the 1800s. Before that all we had were modern translations of ancient writings that used unreliable Egyptian sources.
The Rosetta Stone is a rather unremarkable looking stele from the time of the Greek/Ptolemy occupation of Egypt (c. 332 BC). Yet, it is unquestionably one of the most important finds in all archaeology because it finally enabled researchers to unravel the previously undecipherable hieroglyphic script of Egypt.
Hieroglyphs were traditionally used by Egyptian royalty for issuing decrees and were commonly used on a pharaoh’s or Egyptian god’s temples, monuments or tombs. In short, they were sacred characters used for special mandates and the important priests and royal scribes were the main ones who possessed the knowledge and ability to write them. The common script used in ancient Egypt was hieratic (see ref. 21). Language changed as Egypt succumbed to different foreign rulers over time, and so did the writing. The Rosetta Stone details a decree issued by King Ptolemy V in 196 BC in three different languages so it could be read by all Egyptian citizens. At the top was hieroglyphic script (because the Ptolemies took the place of pharaohs they were attempting to continue their royal traditions). In the middle was Demotic, which was a more simplified form of hieratic in common use at the time;21 and at the bottom was classical Greek, the lingua franca of most of the known world at that time. Because it was essentially the same text in three language forms, it provided the key to unlocking the hieroglyphic code.
The Ptolemies were the last ruling pharaohs in Egypt before the country succumbed to a succession of foreign rulers. After the Ptolemies, Egypt became part of the Roman/Byzantine Empire, and Christianity became the state religion by the 4th century AD. As hieroglyphics were associated strongly with the Egyptian cults of the past, they were abandoned. Demotic eventually morphed into Coptic which had its origins in the Greek alphabet. After the Islamic subjugation of Egypt in the 7th century AD, Arabic became the main spoken and written language. Thus, thousands of years of Egyptian history became ‘lost in translation’.
The Rosetta Stone was found in 1799 AD by a soldier in Napoleon’s army near el-Rashid (Rosetta). It was not until 1822 when the brilliant Frenchman Jean-François Champollion, who could read both Greek and Coptic, published a translation. Fascinatingly, hieroglyphics is a phonetic text. That is, its pictures and symbols correspond to sounds. As mentioned, sounding names was very important because to speak them was to give or grant life. With Napoleon’s defeat by the British under the Treaty of Alexandria in 1801, the Rosetta Stone became the property of the British. Although there have been many requests by the Egyptian government to return it, it remains housed in the British Museum.
When later Egyptologists attempted to translate pharaohs’ names from hieroglyphs on monuments, they went to Manetho for comparisons. But this was an extremely difficult task because Manetho’s names were transliterated into Greek. As an example, let’s take the transliterated common names used today for the three great pyramid builders mentioned earlier, Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. In the Greek their names are Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinos, respectively. Misidentification is still a major unknown factor today and a hot topic of debate particularly amongst those seeking to revise Egyptian chronology. David Rohl, in his book A Test of Time, advocates a new shortened chronology for Egyptian history. About Rohl it has been said that:
This does not mean that Rohl is correct, but it serves to highlight the confusion and how much a single misidentification of a name might alter a chronology by hundreds of years. For example, some of the revised chronology schemes popular with Christians also have serious problems because they follow the Russian psychiatrist Immanuel Velikovsky in promoting misidentifications, such as that of Hatshepsut with the biblical Queen of Sheba. See Why Pharaoh Hatshepsut is not to be equated with the Queen of Sheba.
To complicate things further, by the time of the Middle Kingdom, the full titulary or royal protocol of a pharaoh consisted of five names; the ‘Horus’ name; the nebty or ‘Two Ladies’ name; the ‘Gold Horus’ name; the praenomen or ‘throne name’; and a nomen, the personal name given at birth.23 And some pharaohs even had multiple names within these names such as Ramses II who had six different Horus names. Manetho did not choose consistently from the five different types of names.
As cited earlier, for the 18th and 19th Dynasties of the New Kingdom the pharaohs left very good records. Arguably we know more about them than any other period of Egyptian history, but Manetho even disagrees with these.
Manetho also contributed to another problem now recognized by many Egyptologists: overlapping dynasties. One commentator also wrote:
With regard to co-regencies, Egypt was often broken up into distinct kingdoms—mainly the Upper Kingdom (upper Nile, inland or southern/lower regions) and Lower Kingdom (lower Nile/Nile delta, northern land regions). So, on occasions, Egypt was a divided land with separate rulers. Evidence of this was in the crowns that the pharaohs wore. By looking at reliefs and statues we can often tell whether he ruled over a single/divided kingdom or a united upper and lower kingdom.
It is likely that most of Manetho’s overlaps and inflations occurred during some of the hotly disputed intermediate periods between the major Kingdom periods, where we have scant records left by the Egyptian ruling pharaohs, particularly in the king lists. For example, for the 7th Dynasty he claims that it was composed of 70 kings who ruled for seventy days.26 Clearly this cannot be true.
One should realize that chronological dates for Egypt are not fixed in stone (pardon the pun), although most laypeople would think otherwise. As we shall see, the dates ascribed to the reigns of pharaohs and even Kingdom periods are quite fluid and based upon a number of factors. This includes linking Egyptian history with records found in other cultures. In short, archaeologists try to find synchrony with other civilizations such as Assyrian, Babylonian, and Greek chronologies that might have been contemporaneous with Egypt’s. However, as mentioned earlier, this is also difficult because of the transliteration and translation of Egyptian names into the languages of those other cultures and also doubts over which titulary was used. For example, similar problems occur when trying to identify Israeli and Judean kings in other cultures’ records. Another factor is that the reliability of the chronologies of other cultures is often not agreed upon by archaeologists either.
One example of synchrony can be found from the 18th Dynasty Amarna period of Amenhotep III (three generations after Thutmose III) and Akhenhaten. Numerous correspondence (the Amarna Letters) has been found between the pharaohs and their contemporaries in other countries. One fascinating example of this is a letter from King Rib-Hadda of Byblos (an Egyptian vassal state) to Amenhotep III when he writes:
This suggests that the land of Sidon (now part of modern Lebanon) was conquered by the Habiru. Many scholars think the Habiru/Apiru are the ‘Hebrews’ of Egyptian times27 (habiru was also a designation used to refer to a refugee or fugitive—something the Egyptians certainly would have applied to the Hebrews).28 This might be anecdotal evidence that the Hebrews had left Egypt before the reign of Amenhotep III, and most certainly earlier than the late Exodus date of Ramses II who ruled eight pharaohs later than Amenhotep III.
Attempted synchronisms extend to Egyptian artifacts like pottery, scarabs, statues or jewelry found in other countries/cultures. These synchronizations of styles can indeed be useful. If artifacts from say ‘period X’ in Egypt were found with Caananite artifacts from the same period then one might be able to make some synchronizations.
But, using a single line of evidence to date another culture might be problematic. Over time, styles of ceramics and pottery etc. changed. So, if one could find Egyptian pottery or a scarab in another country where archaeologists are reasonably confident of the date (via the period/or dynasty that it came from), then they could use that as a guide to dating the culture of the country that it was found in. One problem with this is it is not an exact science. No one can ever be sure that it was not already old before it made its way to another country and it relies upon accepted dates of the Egyptian culture. Also, it could be the same in reverse if such artifacts from another country were being found in Egypt, and so on.
To assist with dating artifacts from Egypt, carbon-14 dating is now extensively used but widely disputed due to the massive revisions in time can lead to. We have written much about the alleged absolute reliability of 14C dating. This method is revolutionizing Egyptian chronologies and it is one of the culprits for extending them back to pre-biblical history. But in one example of just how fluid Egyptian chronologies are based on 14C dating, a popular newspaper recently reported:
This time it was a downward revision of nearly 400 years in one fell swoop from “radiocarbon dating of excavated hair, bones and plants.”30
But not everyone is convinced that this is the best way to revise chronologies. A 14C study released in 2010 had roughly confirmed the traditional Old and Middle Kingdom dates (whereas the new 14C has now reduced the Old Kingdom beginnings by c. 400 years). Famous Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, who at the time of the 2010 report was secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities, said:
Again, it shows how much disparity there is in trying to reconcile timelines for ancient Egypt as no one source seems to be consistent with any other and many preconceived ideologies and agendas rule. The further back in ancient Egypt one tries to use 14C dates the more disparate the figures are also likely to become. Also, because there are fewer artifacts from the more ancient dynasties the more likely it is that researchers will rely upon 14C alone as a single line of evidence. Hence, why an Old Kingdom revision can occur in the blink of an eye by c. 400 years. This is less likely with New Kingdom dates where we have a wealth of more recent evidence to confirm or reject a 14C date.
Due to the enormous confusion caused by conflicting sources, Egyptologists were looking for a way to order and date, in particular, Manetho’s thirty dynasties. Many think that there are astronomical cycles that exactly match Egyptian records. One attempt to align them came via Richard Lepsius who noticed references in Egyptian documents to the heliacal rising32 of the ‘dog star’ Sirius (Egyptian sopdet, Greek sothis). From this, chronologists came up with the idea of using it as a frame of reference for fixing dates of some of the pharaohs based on a 1,461 year cycle of the Egyptian civil or administrative year of 365 days. Because the rising of Sirius occurs every 365.25 days—i.e. once per Julian year—it was believed that the Egyptians calculated their astronomical year by using this rising.33 This was subsequently seized upon and popularized by Eduard Meyer and famous Egyptologist James Breasted (whose chronologies have been a mainstay for many years).
However, there is widespread disagreement over the idea that the Egyptians built their calendar on the Sothic cycle and it is confusing for the layperson to navigate. Some swear by this method of fixing dates while others reject it completely (as it is with many things ‘Egypt’). For one thing, one would need to know the actual place of Egyptian observations of Sirius. For example, there is enough latitude difference between Upper and Lower Egypt to throw off cumulative dates.34 Although there are six mentions of the rising of Sothis in Egyptian texts, none of them mention the name of any pharaoh whose reign they supposedly occurred in, and one would have to presume the king lists were correct to correlate them. Given the wide disagreement it would be unwise to date chronologies by any Sothic cycle. (For more on this read Fall of the Sothic theory: Egyptian chronology revisited). As with much in trying to determine all things ‘ancient Egypt’, often one fact, or one line of evidence is presumed to be correct (like an astronomical fixing—there were others besides Sothis, such as moon fixes). That is then used as a fixed point for determining all other dates. However, where there is contention of any fixed point, it is unwise to use it as one’s starting point.
The Bible has been shown to be a valuable guide to locating and interpreting archeological discoveries. An Israeli archaeologist, Dr Eilat Mazar, granddaughter of pioneering Israeli archaeologist Benjamin Mazar, stated:
But today, skepticism and anti-biblical sentiment is growing. Secular scientists claim the Bible’s history has been invalidated by the theory of evolution and it is not going too far in saying that an anti–judeo-christian/anti-biblical ideology drives much of the ‘science’ behind evolution. In the same way, modern archaeology has been infected by this modern ‘plague’. Firmly in their sights are Egyptian history and its chronologies, and the increasingly popular idea that they also invalidate the Bible’s claims about the past.
One seeming area of strength to their arguments is that the pharaohs of Moses and Joseph’s time are not mentioned by name in the Bible, and that Egyptian records do not mention any Hebrew nation in their land, particularly as ‘slave’ builders.
It seems significant that the words ‘Egypt’ and ‘pharaoh’ are mentioned so many times in the Pentateuch, yet the author, Moses, who was a first hand witness to what he wrote, did not mention any names or the praenomens of the pharaohs. Later, other biblical authors had no problem in mentioning their names. We read about pharaohs Shishak (1 Kings 11:40; 2 Chronicles 12:2), Tirhakah (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9), Hophra (Jeremiah 44.30) and Neco (2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chronicles 35:20; Jeremiah 46:2), and notably on almost every occasion they have the prefix of ‘pharaoh’ before their names (Pharaoh Neco, Pharaoh Shishak and so on). Given that he had more reason for mentioning them than any other biblical author, one might think that Moses deliberately excluded them. That is, he had a strong reason for doing so.
Let’s recall the importance of names for pharaohs. Most had a minimum of five, and to use the name of the pharaoh was to give him life in this world and the next. When Egyptians used a name it granted an individual status. The cartouches were of vital significance in Egyptian times and they needed to exist after a pharaoh was dead for him to continue life in the afterworld. To remove a pharaoh’s image and scratch out his cartouche was the worst thing that could be done. It would erase his memory, and thus, his existence post death. In short, the name or cartouche had a form of power and significance attached to it, particularly the latter as it was also a representative symbol or image of the pharaoh as it ‘spoke’ his name.
Culturally, the Egyptians truly despised and disrespected their enemies and anyone who stood against them. This can be seen from their dealings and battles with foreign kings recorded in the various temples around Egypt. In the many writings that remain, particularly in the later dynasties contemporaneous with Moses, you will rarely see the name of a foreign king mentioned. To do so would be to give him credit or status. Petrovich writes:
As an example, Petrovich writes about the battle of Megiddo and an Egyptian with the conspirator King of Kadesh, where Thutmoses III merely referred to him as:
The lack of mention of any pharaohs’ names in Moses’ writings also adds to the obvious difficulty of synchrony, until later in the New Kingdom period where the pharaohs are named in Scripture. “Shishak”, for example, is the first pharaoh named when he had dealings with the Hebrew nation.
The Bible’s statement that Hebrew slave labour was used in Egypt is of vital importance to the nation of Israel and to Christian theology. However, there is a modern movement often displayed in popular level books and documentaries that there were no Hebrew slaves in Egypt at all. The most common claim to support this is the lack of ancient Egyptian references, considering they were there for hundreds of years and numbered up to two million people. Keeping in mind the propagandist nature of pharaonic documentation and lack of mention of those they considered enemies, Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen wrote:
The best preserved Egyptian records available appear on temple monuments dedicated to gods and kings, so one would not expect epic losses to be recorded there. In addition, after 40 years of excavating the Avaris/Ramses site, Austrian researchers under the guidance of Manfred Bietak, Director of the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Cairo 1973–2009, have not found any historical documents from any period at all. So, the argument that there should be records of such events is somewhat fallacious. Keep in mind that to mention or read out aloud a person or persons’ name in this world was to give them life in the next—speaking it caused it to happen because the Egyptians were great believers in magic. We’ve previously read about the practice of memory washing occurring between the rulers themselves. There would be little chance that the ancient Egyptians would bestow their Hebrew enemies with this honour in any written form. In short, once one better understands the nature of Egyptian culture, one would not expect to find records of an ‘underclass’ that defeated the gods of Egypt and the gods’ human incarnations, the pharaohs.
Another oft cited ‘evidence’ to discredit the Hebrew occupation is the claim that the great pyramids (Giza) and the tombs in The Valley of the Kings etc. were never built by Hebrew slaves, but instead, devoted subjects who loved their kings. I have seen firsthand how this has even filtered down to many of the tour guides, who make such statements to the millions of tourists who visit Egypt each year. I have also witnessed how this has become a politically sensitive issue with Egyptians in discussions with them. One should remember that once-Christian Egypt is now an Islamic country, and although currently moderate, anti-Semitic sentiment still runs high in many parts. In short, we should not be surprised that there is an outwardly manifested spiritual agenda to discredit the Bible’s history in this regard. Particularly, as the events in Egypt ultimately led to the formation of the nation of Israel and their settling of the Promised Land—an event and land that is hotly contested by Muslims today.
One high profile advocate of the ‘no slaves’ idea is the former Chief Minister of Antiquities in Egypt, Zahi Hawass (mentioned earlier), who served under the former president Mubarak before the revolution of 2011. Subsequently, he fell out of favour due to allegations of corruption and accusations of peddling antiquities out of Egypt for personal gain. Nonetheless, Hawass has appeared in literally dozens of Western made documentaries that are still being aired today. In short, he was ‘the go to man’ in Egypt for permission to excavate and film, and he made sure he appeared in most of them. As such, his influence upon popular Western thought with regard to Egypt should not be underestimated. Although, to date, none of the allegations has been proven (the Muslim government that dismissed him has since been dismissed itself), one thing is of no doubt; Hawass is a rabid anti-Semite who does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. I have seen documentaries where he openly claims to have found proof that slaves did not build Egypt—ergo there was no nation of Hebrews who came out of Egypt, and therefore the Christian Bible is not true. He is also a conspiracy theorist who is on record saying, for example:
Even the few documentaries that do not feature him (e.g. ref. 3) often now make passing comments that ‘modern research has shown that slaves did not build Egypt’, and almost always without qualifying such statements. The standard view being promoted is that willing citizens who loved their pharaohs built the archaeological wonders like the great pyramids, the incredible temples and the amazing underground necropolis known as the Valley of the Kings. But how realistic is this idea?
Because the great pyramids at Giza are the most well known icons in Egypt, movies, books and even well-meaning Christian children’s cartoons have depicted Hebrew slaves building them. This cannot be so. It is an urban myth that has become popular culture. Large scale pyramid building ceased at the end of the Old Kingdom, although building smaller ones continued for hundreds of years. Joseph arrived in Egypt some 400 plus years before the Exodus of Moses’ time (see aforementioned date for this), so even by secular dating of the kingdoms’ dynasties, the building of the great pyramids had finished long before Joseph’s arrival.
In a bait-and-switch tactic, secular Egyptologists love to point to evidence of worker’s settlements and tombs that have been recently discovered on the Giza Plateau besides the great pyramids. There is evidence from skeletons of workers that surgery and broken bones were mended, meaning it appears these people were looked after. It seems strong evidence that these were willing workers. As there was no Hebrew settlement in Egypt at that time, the pharaohs needed to recruit locals to help build these great pyramids. Many have suggested these were farmers and other subsistence workers looking to supplement their income between seasons. Another interesting piece of anecdotal evidence is that after this period of pyramid building Egypt went into a long period of economic and political instability. Such building involved massive and expensive public works would have overtaxed the treasury, particularly, if labour had to be hired. It is believed that at the end of the 6th Dynasty, civil wars ravaged the country and central rule and power became diluted in favour of local governors who set up their own local pharaonic dynasties (creating some of the confusion described earlier) during the First Intermediate Period. Some scholars have even suggested that the 7th Dynasty (Manetho’s 70 kings in 70 days) is a metaphor for the chaos that engulfed Egypt at this time.
Besides the Hebrews being used as slaves in Egypt at a later time, the pharaohs subjugated their own people. In Genesis, Joseph foretold of a famine that would engulf Egypt. In Genesis 47:20–21 we read:
This indicates that slavery was actually widespread throughout Egypt at least at one specific point in its history. It is interesting to consider what it means when it says the whole country served under Pharaoh. There are many types of servitude and even simple employment or willingness to serve was often referred to as slavery. During the New Kingdom period, Thutmoses III and Amenhotop II conquered foreign countries and brought back slaves. In 2013 the discovery of over 100 papyri documents from the Ptolemaic period presumed to be around 2,200 years old revealed that many Egyptians entered slave contracts voluntarily. Egyptologist Dr Kim Ryholt of the University of Copenhagen said:
The Bible indicates that the Hebrews were involved in menial hard work. In the book of Exodus it is clear that one of their main functions was to build bricks of mud and straw. Part of the punishment that the pharaoh of Moses’ time enacted upon the slaves was that they had to gather the straw component for themselves (Exodus 5:8). When one travels through Egypt today, such mud bricks can still be seen everywhere. They were often used in smaller pyramids and the massive walls that surrounded many of the temple buildings that began during the ‘Golden Age’ of the New Kingdom dynasties. Let’s remember that, although Joseph and his family had arrived in the land hundreds of years before this time, it also took a while before they grew in number. Exodus 1:8–12 describes this:
It took some time before they were treated as slaves. Shortly after the death of this pharaoh and under a reign of another, the Exodus took place. During this latter reign there is no timespan of hundreds of years, because it all took place within the lifetime of Moses. It is mainstream belief that the Exodus took place around 1445 BC.
Native Egyptian brothers Ahmose and Kamose ruled the middle Nile regions around what is now Luxor (Thebes in Greek). To their north the despised Hyksos (15–17th Dynasties/2nd Intermediate Period) occupied the Nile Delta region, and to the south the Nubian king reigned. After intercepting a message from the Hyksos trying to form an alliance with the Nubians, the brothers rebelled and fought against the Hyksos. Kamose allegedly said:
Kamose died and Ahmose finally expelled the Hyksos and ruled over a reunified and expanded Egypt, when he subsequently conquered the gold mines of Nubia. The Golden Age (New Kingdom) is synonymous with massive and opulent building of temples that began with Ahmose’s dynasty (18th) and also the construction of the tombs in The Valley of the Kings (KV = Kings Valley) on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor.44 Although Kamose was regarded as the last king of the 17th Dynasty, his brother Ahmose was regarded by Manetho as the first king of a new dynasty; such was the importance of expelling the Hyksos and returning the country to Egyptian rule.
The workers who carved the images of pharaohs, and the scribes and artisans who inscribed stories and the cartouches of names in these temples and tombs were highly respected. They were the ones who would be responsible for helping the pharaoh’s image to remain eternally. They would not be involved in much of the menial and backbreaking work of hauling blocks and pillars to construct the temples. Many of the important artisans were housed and well cared for in a village known as Deir El Medina, close to the Valley of the Kings, where one can still see the ruins today.
As mentioned, mud bricks were used for building much more mundane structures like walls and storehouses at Pi–Raamses in the land of Goshen. However, is it possible that a few Hebrews slaves were used for some work in the Valley of the Kings and or around constructions in the Luxor area where there are numerous temples and lots of mud brick constructions?
The Valley of the Kings was built as a remedy to the desecration and theft that was occurring in the mastabas45 and pyramids in the deserts. Pharaohs were buried with their earthly possessions, including all their gold and jewellery, in the belief they would use them in the afterlife. A massive pyramid structure in the middle of the desert virtually said ‘rob me’, and even though a specific police force (the medjay) was assembled with the job of guarding such necropolises, they often became corrupt at the promise of riches. So, as a remedy to this, massive underground tomb complexes were carved into the sides of mountains in what is now known as the Valley of the Kings. Some of the tunnels are hundreds of feet long, with adjacent side rooms and usually a large burial chamber at the rear. The purpose of building into the side of mountains was to hide the tombs. After the burial of the pharaoh, the entrances were sealed and covered over with rubble to resemble the local surroundings.
As these tombs were discovered by modern archaelogists, mostly in the 19th century, they revealed amazing craftsmanship. After a tunnel or room was cut, plasterers would then finish the walls and ceilings making them as smooth as modern houses today. Then the scribes would etch hieroglyphics and pictures in the walls and ceilings. Then the pharaoh’s life story and his proposed journey to the afterlife were often painted in vivid colour. Let’s consider how this was achieved.
Summer temperatures are extreme in Middle and Upper Egypt. The tunnels had to be carved out of solid rock with nothing more than hand tools, and the dust would have been appalling the farther they descended from the entrance. And this not just from the chiseling, but also from the many workers who would have been constantly walking backwards and forwards to remove the rubble. There was no natural light in these tunnels, so oil lamps, probably fueled by animal fat, were used. The thick acrid smoke that such lamps create, along with the dust, would have made the air barely breathable. With no natural ventilation or ways of extracting the dust and smoke from the air, it would have severely shortened the life expectancy of the workers. It would have been awful work; much worse than cutting large blocks or making mud bricks—at least one could get some fresh air! Some have suggested that water could be used to reduce the dust and smoke but how was that dispersed? They did not have spray cans to do this. More hand driven methods of dispersing water would have only compounded the problems in the tunnels and made conditions slippery. The solution to this problem could have been to use a disposable workforce—one that could not blab the locations after construction. In short, slaves. I confess that this is speculative as the Bible indicates that the majority of Hebrews were located in Goshen, but maybe some the Hebrews and possibly Nubians were also involved in this. I find it difficult to comprehend that the well cared for artisans of Deir el Medina were involved in the menial work of tunnel digging.
Working in the Valley of the Kings also meant a form of incarceration for the more valuable workers also. Even though living conditions for the artisans at Deir El Medina were good, once someone worked in the Valley of the Kings it became a life sentence. The reason for choosing underground tombs and the remote location was to avoid theft and desecration of tombs. Once they were finished the entrances were sealed and covered up to look like the surrounding countryside. So, anyone who worked in the Valley of the Kings could not return to ‘the world’ because they knew the locations of these tombs with their incredible wealth. This is probably another reason why the conditions at Deir El Medina were so good. Perhaps one could be encouraged to spend a life there in relative comfort with job security. The Valley of the Kings had its own elite police force known as the Medjay to guard the Valley of the Kings. The workers were escorted several miles every day as they walked from Deir El Medina to the Valley of the Kings and back.
It is noteworthy that records of some occupants and their names have been found at Deir El Medina. At this village an architect for Thutmose I’s tomb wrote:
It seems to imply he was the only ‘important’ person who knew the location of the tomb. And many such workers and nobles even had their own tombs. At the Egyptian Museum in Cairo one can see depictions, statues and other artifacts of these scribes and artisans. But why are there no such details left behind for the other workers—the ones who performed most of the backbreaking work? It could be because they were regarded as an underclass of the state. In the same way that the Egyptians never mentioned their enemies, they never mentioned their slaves, and Egypt is still in denial today.
Also, if the current popular story is true that workers volunteered because they loved their kings, then why is there such a horrific record of tomb robbing, obviously by the people who knew the location of such tombs, even when the penalty was execution? Despite the attempt at creating a secret location, theft was a real and evident problem after the construction of the Valley of the Kings, hence the need for such a police force. Many believe that the Medjay themselves were also involved. It was such a problem that in the latter part of the New Kingdom, priests were desperately concerned about the desecration of the pharaoh’s mummies. From any tombs that they knew about, they removed and rewrapped and moved them to at least two other locations. These were discovered in the late 1800s and the location became known as the ‘mummies’ caches’. Simply, if the people were in such awe and respect of their kings, why did the pharaohs go to such lengths to avoid theft? After all, this was one of the reasons for moving to the Valley of the Kings in the first place.
Although it does appear to have been entered at least once, the relatively intact find of Tutankhamen’s tomb was a unique exception to the rampant theft in the Valley of the Kings. The original tomb, discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter, remains the most famous find in all of Egyptian archaeology due to the incredible caches of treasures it contained. One of the reasons it was not easily found by robbers was probably because the tomb was relatively small. Tomb building usually commenced immediately upon the installation of a new king. Manetho claimed that the ‘boy king’ only reigned for nine years, so, one theory is that there was little time to build Tutankhamen a larger tomb due to his premature death. In addition, the tomb was buried beneath the remains of workmen’s huts probably from later dynasties. The tomb was so small, relative to others in the Valley of the Kings, that many of the items stored in it were disassembled (chariots, beds etc.). Despite this, massive amounts of gold (his solid gold casket and funerary mask) and other treasures were found (also despite a belief that approximately 60% of the jewellery was previously removed).
There were so many belongings stored with Tutankhamen that it took Carter and his team eight years to meticulously record and remove its contents. This tomb is probably responsible more than any other single find for creating the huge modern popular interest in Egyptian archaeology.
The need for a revision of traditional dates assigned to Egyptian chronologies is not some wishful need for a rewriting of history by creationists, as some popular blogs like to comment. The need has been noted by most secular scholars and this is due to the aforementioned disparity in such things as the king lists and the trail left by Manetho, but subsequently picked up by others. We should remember that these dates are actually fluid. They can be easily moved around by other factors such as 14C dating. Huber, in The Journal of Egyptian History writes:
In short, archaeological discoveries in Egypt and the dates assigned to Egyptian chronologies have not falsified the biblical dates for creation and the Flood. Despite the incredible legacy of the Egyptian pharaohs, the interpretation of their relics and records are not an accurate record of history. Self-interest and agendas were endemic throughout Egyptian history and because of the disparity of the records that remain no one can be sure if we are reading the truth anyway. Despite the wealth of material from Egypt, we need to recognize that the pharaohs were also masters of ‘misinformation’.
My own view is that unless there are more major archaeological finds that can be harmonized with one another, we are all looking through a glass darkly. For example, I believe that at best, we can theorize about who we think were the pharaohs of Joseph’s and Moses’ time, but it does not seem likely that we will have a concrete conclusion (as opposed to best estimates) this side of eternity. I realize that this will not find agreement with many Christians who have spent years researching Egypt, and have made some detailed claims as to the identities of these pharaohs. However, when one looks there are a plethora of different views as to their identities and widespread disparity among Christian researchers on this issue. Obviously, they cannot all be correct, which only further highlights the incredible difficulty with synchronizing both Egyptian and biblical history. This is made all the more difficult by the internal disparity of Egyptian records themselves. Due to the huge amount of seeming information that focuses on details such as pharaohs’ names and dates etc., the dates ascribed to chronologies often seem convincing to lay observers. Thus, many think that the correct starting point should be Egyptian history itself and that the Bible’s history needs to be ‘fitted in there’ somewhere. However, we should never be concerned that the Bible will be falsified—we don’t need to rescue it so much that we ‘neuter it’. This has been done in so many areas, none more so than the creation vs. evolution debate, where many Christians have succumbed and deferred to the secular interpretations of scientific data. Studying Egyptian history is no different. The Bible should be our lens for determining what happened in the past, whether it is creation or the events in Egypt.
My hope is that, for the lay Christian trying to come to terms with the wide range of claims from the secular and Christian communities, this document will at least provide a filter and framework for viewing such claims, and dispel the need for deference to secular interpretations of Egyptian history.
As this is such a difficult and contentious area, CMI is pleased to advise that a new research collaboration has been formed with our friends at The Associates for Biblical Research (ABR, www.biblearchaeology.org). See our Creation magazine article by ABR’s Bryant Wood on The walls of Jericho: Archaeology confirms: they really DID come a-tumblin’ down. This new collaboration is aimed at using the respective strengths of each ministry to help each other through the difficult areas of science and archaeology, including all things Egypt. Although we might not agree on specific dates or timing of events, as young Earth creationist organizations our agreed aim is to preserve the integrity of Scripture at all times.
Like CMI, the ministry of Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) is committed to the full authority, infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. Historically, our area of specialization has been the science of archaeology and its relationship to the Bible, but our vision entails broader apologetic and Christian worldview issues. Since our founding in 1969, we have conducted two archaeological excavations in Israel. Presently, we are excavating Khirbet el-Maqatir, a site which we strongly believe to be the Ai of Joshua 7–8.
From its inception, ABR founder Dr. David Livingston established critical doctrinal distinctives including a recent creation, cosmic Fall and global Flood paradigm of early earth history. Additionally, ABR affirmed the historicity of the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. During those early years ABR staff members were committed to other important areas of investigation, and therefore, the Genesis chronologies were not the focus of targeted research. Thus, our general position has historically been that the genealogies probably had limited gaps, and that the Flood might be dated to 4000 or 5000 BC at the very earliest. Dr. Livingston, for example, dated the Flood at 3000 BC, based on archaeological considerations.
In recent years, the work of CMI on the chronologies of Genesis 5 and 11 began to challenge ABR’s general view of these eras. As a result, the era from the Flood to Abraham has become an important area of research for our ministry, since archaeological evidence from this era can be excavated and evaluated. We are grateful that the CMI ministry has positively served to encourage ABR to improve our understanding of this era of history. While there are still issues that need resolution concerning archaeological dating of the Ancient Near East (including the history and chronology of ancient Egypt), the goal of the ABR ministry has been, and will continue to be, upholding the Bible as the final authority in all matters of earth and cosmic history. In conducting archaeological research, our goal is to unearth the truth while never compromising on what the Bible clearly states.
Thus, we hope that our archaeological and biblical expertise will bring a positive and supportive dimension to our relationship with CMI. Our staff and associates are well trained in their areas of specialization, and we believe our ministry serves the body of Christ in a unique and edifying way. We trust that our ongoing collaboration with the CMI staff will yield fruit for both ministries, and ultimately better serve the church at large by challenging rampant skepticism against the Bible. Our respective ministries seek your prayers in this regard.