Egypt is much better known to the general public than is Mesopotamia. Pyramids, pharaohs, and mummies have long been staples of the popular press, and readers of the Bible are aware of the Israelites being in bondage in, and then escaping from, Egypt. There is much more to the story. In fact there is a sense in which several different "Egypts" are portrayed in the Bible. As in chapter two, this chapter begins by summarizing what God allowed to form before his people began interacting with the land of the Nile.

[One of the pre-dynastic ceremonial slate palettes which recorded "history." In this example a victory by Upper Egypt over the north seems to be commemorated; the men on the upper left are held by standards which, in later reliefs, clearly identify southern nomes (districts) in Egypt. In dynastic times pharaoh could be represented as a lion or a bull, an imagery that was already in place. It has been suggested that the incomplete figure on the far right is dressed in a Mesopotamian garment]

[One side of another ceremonial palette. Narmer's name is at the top center of each side. The customary interpretation of the palette is that it commemorates Narmer's military victory over Lower Egypt. On this side he is shown wearing the tall White Crown of Upper Egypt, and on the other side he wears the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. From this point on the two crowns were often joined into a single headdress, signifying the union of the Two Lands. This motif, the mace-wielding pharaoh and the exaggerated size of the main figure in a scene, continued even past dynastic times. Notice also that the characteristic Egyptian rendering of a person, with the torso in frontal view and the rest of the body in profile, had already begun]


Predynastic Egypt

Because much of early Egypt is deeply buried under Nile mud, it has not been possible to push as far back in time as can be done for Mesopotamia. Most of what is known about Egypt prior to 3100 B.C. is derived from cemeteries located back from the reaches of the Nile's yearly inundation. What we find is that the graves gradually became more elaborate and more filled with objects. Food offerings, and such essentials of daily life as tools, combs, and cosmetic kits, imply some belief in an afterlife. It is also clear that the south (Upper Egypt, the Nile Valley) was materially richer and culturally distinct from the north (Lower Egypt, the Delta area). The dividing line between the "Two Lands," an ancient Egyptian designation, was just south of modern Cairo.

Development began accelerating toward the end of the predynastic period. Cylinder seals, specific artistic designs, and monumental architecture give rise to the conclusion that Mesopotamia (which was then in the later stages of its Protoliterate period, see page 32) played some role in this advance. Some scholars would also credit Mesopotamia with introducing the concept of writing into the Nile Valley.

The  sphinx. The human face is assumed to be that of Khafre.

Early Dynastic (c 3100-2700 B.C.)

Dynasties 1-2

The division of Egyptian history into dynasties is attributed to a late third century B.C. Egyptian priest named Manetho. Although some of his divisions seem arbitrary, they are now so ingrained that they continue to be used. Narmer (probably the legendary Menes), who was based in Upper Egypt, is generally credited with forcibly uniting the country and founding Dynasty 1. Little can be said about the first two dynasties, but it would appear that battles and rebellion were characteristic of the time. This also seems to have been the time when the concepts of divine kingship and ma'at (truth, justice, order), which theoretically would remain unchanged for centuries, were fully formulated.

The Old Kingdom (c. 2700-2200 B.C.)

Dynasties 3-4

There was apparently a smooth transition to Dynasty 3. Djoser, a third-dynasty king, repeatedly revised the plan of his tomb. The final result was the 204-foot (62-meter) tall "step pyramid." The pyramid was only one part of a funerary complex; it, and several auxiliary buildings, were set within a perimeter wall over a mile in length. During the Old Kingdom the Egyptians believed their pharaoh was a god; they used the same term to designate a god and a king. This belief helps explain how such huge structures could have the support of the people.


Giza, just west of modern Cairo, is famous for its pyramids, which are the sole example of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to remain largely intact. These pyramids were built for three pharaohs of the fourth dynasty: Khufu (Hellenized as Cheops), Khafre (Chephren), and Menkaure (Mycerinus). Khufu's pyramid (sometimes called the Great Pyramid) is slightly larger than Khafre's, and stood 481 feet (146.6 meters) tall when its capstone was in place. Of the pyramids, only that of Khafre still retains some of the smooth white limestone casing stones. The now exposed inner blocks average 2.5 tons (2.5 tonnes) each. The pyramids are basically solid except for passageways to their burial chambers.

There is nothing mysterious about how the pyramids were constructed. Ramps and sledges were used to move the blocks into outcropping, which sits near place, and simple water levels ensured a flat construction site. The 13-acre (5.3 hectare) site on which Khufu's pyramid rests is only one inch (2.5 centimeters) out of level for its far corners.

The pyramids are only one part of a complex. Funerary temples on the east side of each pyramid were linked by covered causeways down to valley temples. And, as with Djoser's pyramid complex, there were perimeter walls. The pyramid field also boasts the Sphinx, carved from a rock outcropping, which sits near Khafre's Valley Temple. The human face on this recumbent lion is assumed to be that of Khafre. Additionally, queens were interred in small satellite pyramids adjacent to the main pyramids, and several funerary boats were buried at the base of Khufu's and Khafre's pyramids. Dozens of mastabas (tombs) of courtiers and officials also fill the area.

Contrary to what has sometimes been written, the pyramids were not built by slaves, and space considerations require that only a few thousand Egyptians could have labored at any one time. Recent excavation south of the stone causeway uncovered a town for permanent workers and a barracks area thought to have been for a rotating labor force.

The pyramids have attracted a number of eccentric theories: that they were astronomical towers; that they were built by ancient astronauts; or that pyramid-shaped structures possess healing powers. There are even groups who claim God has written a prophetic timeline in the Grand Gallery within Khufu's pyramid, and that the timeline is based on the "pyramid inch." Such aberrations are best avoided.


Dynasties 5-6

The Egyptian "Instructions" were begun in the Old Kingdom and continued to be written well into the first millennium B.C. These Instructions contain advice from a father to his son concerning how to behave in the world. Some of the advice, as in the Instruction of the Vizier Ptah-hotep, is timeless:

Ma'at [Justice] is great, and its appropriateness is lasting; it has not been disturbed since the time of him who made it, whereas there is punishment for him who passes over its laws ... If thou art one to whom petition is made, be calm as thou listenest to the petitioner's speech. Do not rebuff him before he has swept out his body or before he has said that for which he came. A petitioner likes attention to his words better than the fulfilling of that for which he came.

During the Old Kingdom Egypt had to repel incursions from Sinai, and may have resorted to military force to maintain its commercial interests in Palestine and Nubia. The Egyptians established a colony at Byblos (near modern-day Beirut in Lebanon) to facilitate trade in cedar, which the Egyptians prized for their boats and coffins. Theoretically, pharaoh was an absolute ruler but beginning in the fifth dynasty that theory began to break down. Various reasons are given for a growing decentralization: for example that the long length of the Nile fostered a growing independence as nobles and officials hundreds of miles from pharaoh could not always wait for his directives to reach them from the capital at Memphis. Their increasing independence can be seen in the way it became less essential that their tombs cluster near the king's pyramid. Toward the end of the Old Kingdom, trade disruptions, together with the increasing burden of building pyramids and exempting temple estates from taxation, began to destabilize the economy. Additional factors are also cited as causes and, whatever weight one chooses to give to each, the Old Kingdom fell.

First Intermediate Period (c. 2200-2100 B.C.)

Dynasties 7-11

For a time Memphis clung to the fiction that it still ruled all of Egypt, but the country split and ruling houses were established a Herakleopolis in the north, and Thebes in the south. People from Syria-Palestine began filtering into the eastern Delta with their flocks. The rapid turnover in pharaohs, and the small, poorly built pyramids point to the troubled times and further decline in the power and prestige of the throne. Thebes finally pushed north and reunited the country. (Scholars generally divide Dynasty 11 between the First Intermediate Period and the following Middle Kingdom.)


The Middle Kingdom (c. 2100-1800 B.C.)

Dynasties 11-12

The Theban reunification of the country seems to have been both bloody and swift. It was followed, however, by one of the more peaceful and prosperous periods in Egyptian history. The nobles and officials were reined in, and the long years of rule by Dynasty 12 pharaohs imply that stability had been regained. Co-regency became a regular practice as the kings tried to ensure dynastic succession. (Centuries later the kings of Israel and Judah would likewise employ co-regency to ensure a smooth transition of power.)

Thousands of acres of new land were put into agricultural use and foreign trade expanded. Caravans and ships reached out into neighboring areas and added to the prosperity of the times. Egypt also expanded militarily: a string of forts was established in Nubia along a hundred-mile stretch of the Nile to claim the second cataract as Egypt's new southern border. A line of forts, the "Walls of the Ruler/' was

Reliefs from dynasty tomb of Nefer at Sakkara. Since much of what we know derives from tombs, the Egyptians are sometimes perceived as living in constant anticipation of death. On the contrary they loved life and believed they could project their present into the future. These scenes from the fifth dynasty tomb of Nefer depict (top) men constructing a papyrus boat, animal husbandry, and (bottom) women dancing, and men jousting from boats. Other reliefs on the tomb walls picture further aspects of daily life that Nefer expected to have available to him after his death.

Models of houses, fully-rigged ships, and workers engaged in various industries have been found in Middle Kingdom tombs. Like the tomb wall reliefs and paintings, the models provide rich insight into the activities and scenes of daily life. This model is of a Nile funerary boat.

also built to monitor the frontier facing Palestine; but those who had already entered the eastern Delta were apparently assimilated into the population.

The Middle Kingdom pyramids retained the main features of those in the Old Kingdom, but elaborate safeguards signal an increasing concern over protecting the burials from robbery. The largest of the Middle Kingdom pyramids stands about 200 feet (61 meters) tall. As a consequence of their finished stone veneer being placed over a rubble core, all are poorly preserved today.

Abraham entered Egypt to escape a famine. A border dispatch from somewhat later on records the admission of Bedouin tribes from Palestine "to keep them alive and to keep their cattle alive." Perhaps some such accounting was made when Abraham and his entourage were allowed past the Walls of the Ruler. Abraham would have stopped in the eastern Delta where other people from Palestine had relocated from time to time. As noted above, he entered a land that had regained its stability, and was making a concerted effort to continue in the spirit of the Old Kingdom. The capital had been moved upriver to Thebes, but it was returned back north to a spot near Memphis  (Lisht). Pharaohs began to have seasonal residences in the eastern Delta.

There has long been speculation concerning pharaohs interest in Sarah. One commentary found with the Dead Sea Scrolls says he was attracted to her fingernails! It is more likely that the Egyptians saw Abraham as potentially useful to their commercial dealings with Palestine. An exchange of women was one way to seal agreements between two parties, and this could explain

Cutaway of an Egyptian estate. This illustration is based on an estate excavated at Amarna. Although the site of Amarna dates later than the time of Joseph (see below), it provides a visual setting for his employment with Potiphar. The main building has vents near the first floor ceiling so that hot air can escape the rooms, but large windows are provided upstairs. (The roof has been omitted to show the interior construction.) The circular structures in the foreground are silos. Their staircases allowed the newest grain to be poured into the top while the oldest grain could be extracted through the lower doors. Storerooms, workrooms, and servant quarters are adjacent to the main building.

Hagar's entry into the family. In any event, it was probably not very long before Abrahams deception was discovered and he was escorted out of the country. 

As with the Old Kingdom, various reasons have been suggested to explain the fall of the Middle Kingdom: the royal bloodline thinned out, there was royal infighting, trade with the north was disrupted.


Second Intermediate Period (c. 1800-1570 B.C.)

Dynasties 13-17

Egypt again split into competing claimants, and then a wave of Canaanites, called Hyksos by the Egyptians, took control of at least all of Lower Egypt. They ruled from Avaris in the eastern Delta, but how far their control reached into Upper Egypt is not certain. Although the Hyksos assimilated various facets of Egyptian culture (for example,

An Egyptian Silo.

In this Middle Kingdom granary model a worker carries grain in a pot. Egypt's dependence on the Nile's annual inundation, and memory of earlier years of famine, made them very sensitive to the possibility of the recurrence of a time in which, as one of their texts states, "everything that they eat was short."

they used Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian titles, and worshiped the Egyptian god Seth), when they were finally expelled there was a concerted effort to erase this period from history. One ancient Egyptian king-list, for example, jumps from the end of the Middle Kingdom to the first ruler of Dynasty 18.


The caravan that brought Joseph into Hyksos controlled Lower Egypt (Genesis 37:28) brought him to an Egypt politically quite different from the one Abraham knew. Joseph attained a comfortable status for a slave and functioned well until he was falsely accused by Potiphars wife and thrown in jail.

Joseph was put in the same jail as two of pharaoh's officials: his "chief cup-bearer" and his "chief baker." These are well-known Egyptian titles. The Egyptians believed that dreams were one way the gods communicated with people, and it was Josephs demonstrated ability in interpreting dreams (first for the two officials and then for pharaoh) that catapulted him from prison into high office. Egyptian texts record other instances of upward mobility by foreigners in society, but it certainly did Joseph no harm that he had come from the same geographical area as the Hyksos. Genesis 41:42-43 records Josephs investiture: examples of signet rings and chariots have been found; tomb paintings show the fine linen garments, the gold chain (the Egyptian "Gold of Honor") bestowed on favored people, and the bowing of the knee to those in authority. For seven years Joseph was in charge of storing supplies of grain in anticipation of the coming lean years. So much grain was gathered that the scribes ceased trying to keep an accounting (Genesis 41:49).

Since the Hyksos originated in Syria-Palestine, it is not surprising that they were willing to share their food supplies with people from that region (Genesis 42). Josephs family was settled in the same eastern Delta (Goshen) where Abraham had resided decades earlier. The chapters relating the life of Joseph in Egypt, from his servitude in Potiphar's house, through his rise as a non-Egyptian to high office, to the embalming and mourning for Jacob and then for Joseph himself, faithfully mirror what is known of the culture of that country. For example, according to Genesis 50:26, Joseph was 110 years old when he died this specific number was an Egyptian expression for a long or ideal life span, not necessarily a statement of actual age. (THAT'S  AN  INTERESTING  CUSTOM  OF  EGYPT  -  Keith Hunt)


The New Kingdom (c. 1570-1069 B.C.)

Dynasty 18 (c. 1570-1318 B.C.) The Hyksos were in Egypt for approximately one hundred years, and some Egyptians adjusted to their presence. In Upper Egypt, however, frustration over their rule of part of the country grew into hatred and then finally to what has been characterized as "wars of liberation." Ahmose, often identified as "the pharaoh who did not know Joseph" (Exodus 1:8), is credited with the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt, and the founding of Dynasty 18.

In some ways Dynasty 18 took up where the Middle Kingdom had left off: art and architecture, for example, repeated earlier themes. However, no more pyramids were built. Instead, the pharaohs were buried in the guarded Valley of the Kings at Thebes; their tomb entrances were hidden, and their mortuary temples placed outside that valley. Also changed was Egypt's attitude toward foreigners; they could no longer be patronized. Egyptian troops became more aggressive both to the south and to the north. Within Egypt, foreigners still living in the land were put to work on government projects, and not too many years later a move was made toward population control. Within that atmosphere of increasing oppression Moses was born.

The princess who found Moses is not named, and it is fruitless to speculate as to her identity since there would have been several princesses at any given time. Moses was brought into the royal court and despite being "educated in all the learning of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22), he did not lose his Hebrew heritage.

Thutmose III was the fifth pharaoh of Dynasty 18, but initially he was shunted aside by his stepmother, Hatshepsut. Theoretically the two co-ruled the country but in actual fact she was the one in control. During her reign the emphasis was on building projects and commerce with the outside world. Interestingly, Hatshepsut ruled Egypt as king, not queen; masculine pronouns were used in reference to her, and artists rendered her as decidedly masculine.

When Hatshepsut died and Thutmose III gained full control of the country, there was an immediate and dramatic shift in state policy. Empire became the operative word. In less than three months Thutmose III led an army into northern Palestine where he routed a coalition that had gathered at Megiddo. In fourteen of his next sixteen years the Egyptian army marched north over Palestine's coastal highway, once even going as far north as the Euphrates River to engage the Mitannians, an emerging power in western Mesopotamia. Garrisons were strategically placed in Palestine and native princes were brought back to Egypt to ensure the loyalty of their fathers. By relocating them, it was also hoped that a pro-Egyptian mindset could be inculcated for future use. The training that Moses received can be seen as a forerunner of this policy.

Thutmose III.

Thutmose III is shown in this relief from the Karnak temple bashing Syro-Palestinian prisoners. He assumes a similar pose to that taken by Narmer centuries earlier (see page 69).

Bottom: Amenhotep II.

Amenhotep II's skill with the bow was memorialized in both word and relief. One text tells of his drawing 300 bows to test their quality, and then climbing into his chariot and shooting arrows through copper targets nearly 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) thick, "a deed which had never been done nor heard of." This relief, also from the Karnak Temple, depicts how he unerringly hit poles and other targets. In the lower right his arrows are shown protruding several inches through a thick copper target. By kind permission of James Hoffmeier.

Tomb painting dating to the reign of Thutmose III. The scene depicts the various stages of brick-making, from mixing water and mud, to forming the mixture in molds, and then setting the bricks out to sun dry. Finally, the bricks were gathered for use. Sometimes mud is of such a consistency that straw does not need to be added, but usually it is required as a binder to keep the bricks from breaking as they dry. Exodus 5 records that the Egyptian taskmasters stopped supplying straw to the Hebrews, but they did not lower the demanded number of finished bricks. An Egyptian text dating later in the New Kingdom informs us that fifty bricks per worker was then considered the daily quota.

Following the 'early date" of the Exodus (1447 B.C.) Thutmose III has been identified as the "pharaoh of the oppression" and, therefore, the pharaoh from whom Moses fled (Exodus 2:15). His hostile attitude toward non-Egyptians certainly fits the biblical picture. One Egyptologist rates Thutmose III as "incontestably" the greatest of all Egyptian pharaohs, and "Napoleonic" in both his accomplishments and stature. Egyptian texts cast Thutmose III as a militarist, and also as a sportsman; one account relates that he hunted 120 elephants in northern Syria (after that, the last reference to elephants in that area dates to the eighth century B.C.).


Thutmose III was followed by his son Amenhotep II. Following the "early date" of the Exodus, Amenhotep II would be "the pharaoh of the Exodus." Like his father he was a militarist; he took his army north across the Orontes River in Syria, and south almost to the fourth cataract in Cush. His "press clippings" picture him as even more a sportsman than his father. It would seem he spent his life excelling in every form of competition. His strength as an oarsman was amazing; he could not be beaten in a footrace, and his feats of archer were simply superhuman. These reports of his deeds are certainly exaggerated, but one wonders how much he felt it was necessary to give substance to them. Moses' reluctance to confront pharaoh is understandable, and pharaoh's response to Moses' request is in keeping with his official image (Exodus 5:2).

The Hebrews had been assigned to forced labor, specifically to build store cities. Excavations at Tell el-Dab'a (Avaris) have found fortifications and storage facilities that were begun first for Ahmoses, and then continued in use through following reigns as Egypt campaigned into Syria. and Palestine. Those structures may have been some of the ones built by the Hebrews.

The plagues that followed pharaoh's intransigence have something of a natural order, and the Bible does not state how extensively the country was affected. Several of the plagues could have been interpreted by the Egyptians as evidence that the gods of Egypt were no match for the God of Moses. Following the tenth plague pharaoh temporarily relented and gave permission for Moses to take his people out of Egypt. But before they left he changed his mind and God intervened to give the Hebrews safe passage.


Dynasty 18 after Moses 

Amenhotep II was followed by his son Thutmose IV, who was not the eldest son (Exodus 11:5). The next king, Amenhotep III, used marriage to forge diplomatic ties; princesses from both Mitanni and Babylonia were added to his harem, but he became preoccupied with enjoying the wealth that had poured into Egypt from the recently created empire. Consequently, Egypt's hold on Palestine began to loosen.


In his last years, Amenhotep III was assisted by his son. However, this son, Amenhotep IV, continued the neglect and neither father nor son gave much attention to the political turmoil that was then shaking Palestine (see page 107). Amenhotep IV precipitated the short-lived "Amarna revolution." He raised the sun god Aten to preeminence, changed his own name to Akhenaten (glory of Aten), closed temples to other gods, and moved the capital to a new site north of Thebes (Amarna). Scholars are divided over whether these changes should be seen as a move to monotheism. They are also divided over whether Akhenaten was motivated by religious zeal, or whether he was attempting to break the power of the Theban priesthood. Some who have argued for a "late Exodus" have tried to find the origin of Moses' monotheism in "Atenism," but the prominent Egyptologist Donald Redford finds the essential features of the two religions too dissimilar for any influence to have been possible.

Smenkhkare took the throne only to be soon replaced by Tutankhamun. Amarna was abandoned and the capital moved back to Thebes. The worship of Amon was resumed and Atenism was declared a heresy. While Tutankhamun and two additional rulers played out the end of Dynasty 18, political changes were taking place north of the country. Mitanni fell and the Hittites (see chapter 7) began exerting pressure in areas the Egyptians had claimed earlier in the dynasty.

Dynasties 19-20 (c. 1318-1069 B.C.) The last king of Dynasty 18 chose Ramses I as his successor, but Ramses I ruled less than two years before his son, Seti I, became pharaoh. Thebes remained the religious capital, but the seat of government moved north to Memphis. Farther north, in the Delta, Seti I built a summer palace at Avaris, the previous Hyksos capital. He also renewed Egypt's interest in empire as armies again moved north along Palestine's coastal highway. They paid little attention to the hill country where the Hebrews had by this time settled. Rather, their focus was on Syria, into which the Hittites had extended their control.

Seti I ruled fourteen years, and was followed by Ramses II, who reigned sixty-seven years. Ramses II was a prolific builder, and he incorporated his fathers summer palace at Avaris into a new capital, Pi-Ramesses, which became one of the largest cities in the ancient Near East. Egyptian armies continued their marches northwards and repeated battles were fought with the Hittites for control of Syria. In one of those battles Ramses II rode into an ambush and nearly lost his life. After he returned home, however, both texts and wall reliefs transformed the near debacle into glorious victory. Concern over the rising power of Assyria eventually led the two sides to sign a peace treaty. Ramses II married a Hittite princess but, in keeping with Egyptian policy, he did not send an Egyptian princess to the Hittites. (Following the 'late date," 1290 B.C., Ramses II is identified as the Pharoh of the Exodus. The archaeological supports for this date are no longer accepted. Further, the 'late date" requires a compaction of the period of the Judges far beyond what is reasonable.)


Merenptah followed his father, Ramses II, to the throne. Early in his reign Merenptah beat back an attempted immigration from Libya to the west. The "Merenptah Stele" records both this victory, and his encounter with the Israelites in Palestine.

The founder of Dynasty 20, Setnakht, ruled only two years and then he was followed in unbroken line by Ramses III through XI. Ramses III had repeatedly to defend his country. Twice early in his reign Libyans tried to settle in the Delta. Also early in his reign (about 1200 B.C.) people the Egyptians called "Sea Peoples" came out of the Aegean and attempted to enter Egypt. Ramses III was able to hold them off, and with great bravado proclaimed his victory in both text and sprawling wall reliefs. Some of the Sea Peoples who survived became mercenaries in the Egyptian army, while others settled along the coast of Palestine. Of the several groups that constituted the Sea Peoples, the Philistines are best known because of their appearance in the Bible (see pages 110, 112).

Ramses III was the last effectual Ramesside pharaoh. In the reigns that followed him there are reports of worker strikes, harem conspiracies, and tomb robberies. During the reign of Ramses XI the Theban priesthood and the south effectively became independent. Egypt was again divided.

Three Egyptian rulers

Following the "early date" of the Exodus, these three personages lived during the early years of the Judges.

Below: Akhenaten, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, holds two libation vessels as he worships the sun disk, the Aten, which hovers over him. Hands of the sun rays extend toward his offerings, and nefer, the sign for life, is held to his nose. Behind Akhenaten is his wife Nefertiti and one of their daughters. Although short-lived, three stages have been discerned in Amarna period art. Shown here is the second stage in which the king is almost grotesquely rendered. Several theories have been proffered in explanation, but almost all agree Akhenaten had some physical problem.

Right: Gold face mask of Tutankhamun. He wears the royal nemes headdress, a striped linen wig cover, as well as the ceremonial false beard. Tutankhamun died while still a teenager and his reign would have largely been ignored if his tomb had not been found still crammed with most of its grave offerings. The riches found in his tomb give some hint of the treasures that must once have graced the burials of more prominent pharaohs.

Lower right: The famous bust of Nefertiti. She wears her customary tall blue crown, and is much more realistically rendered than in the relief. The Amarna-period emphasis on the royal family is unprecedented in earlier Egyptian art.

Below: The Merenptah Stele (Israel Stele). Made of black granite, this is 7.5 feet (2.2 meters) tall. The god Amon is shown twice at the top center of the stele. On the left he faces Merenptah and the goddess Mut, on the right he faces Merenptah and the god Horus. Toward the bottom the stele reports a campaign along the coast of Palestine. The next to the last line of the inscription contains the claim "Israel is laid waste;" definitely placing Israel in Palestine about 1220 B.C., but providing no indication of how much earlier Israel had arrived.

Abu Simbel

Top: The Egyptian landscape is dotted with structures dedicated to Ramses II, but Egyptologists note that some were hastily built, some were built with blocks taken from earlier buildings, and on some his name was simply put over that of a previous king. Abu Simbel, pictured here, was cut into a cliff just north of the Nile's second cataract. This temple was the focus of international attention in the 1960s since it was in danger of being covered by Lake Nassar when the Aswan High Dam was completed. Abu Simbel was rescued by cutting it apart into blocks and then reassembling the blocks atop the cliff, above the projected new water line. This illustration shows the temple in its original setting. Each of the four statues of Ramses II is over 65 feet (19.8 meters) tall.

Thebes and Its Temples

The city of Thebes began on the east bank of the Nile, probably where the Karnak temple now sits. The west bank became the main cemetery for the city and, in time, the whole area grew to hold the largest concentration of temples in Egypt. Beginning in Dynasty 18 and continuing through Dynasty 20, pharaohs were buried in the Valley of the Kings. The royal tombs were separated from their mortuary temples, which were set outside the valley and back from the edge of cultivation (some of the better preserved mortuary temples are indicated). The mortuary temple of Amenhotep III must have been one of the finest, but today only the "Colossi of Memnon" from its entrance avenue remains.

Top right: Der el-Bahri temple. The mortuary temple of Hatshepsut consists of terraces that are connected to one another by ramps. The covered porticos on each level are richly reliefed with scenes depicting highlights of her reign. This architectural plan was never used again. The Valley of the Kings was on the other side of the cliffs against which her temple was built.

Bottom right: The Luxor temple. Sited south of the Karnak temple, this was begun by Amenhotep III but Ramses II subsequently added a forecourt and this pylon to the entranceway. Grooves in the pylon once held flagstaffs from which banners waved. Each of the seated statues of Ramses II is 76 feet (23 meters) tall. Originally there were two obelisks, but one was transported to Paris early in the nineteenth century.

Great Temple of Amon

Above: Plan of the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak. Construction at Karnak began in the Middle Kingdom and continued into the last centuries B.C. as pharaoh after pharaoh added to the complex.

Opposite: Wall relief from the Karnak temple. Shortly after the death of Solomon, Shishak invaded Palestine. This wall relief commemorates his campaign and depicts Shishak brandishing a sword and holding ropes connected to nearly 200 cartouches (ovals), each containing the name of a place in Palestine he claimed to have defeated. Bound bodies are attached to each cartouche. The relief amplifies the biblical account of this raid (see page 119).

Third Intermediate Period (c. 1069-656 B.C.)

Dynasty 21

Beginning with Dynasty 21, the pharaohs were buried at Tanis, the Delta capital, rather than in the Valley of the Kings. In the south a line of high priests ruled from Thebes in the name of Anion. Contact between north and south was usually peaceful and even resulted in intermarriage. Early in the dynasty Wen-Amun, a Theban official, was sent to Byblos where for centuries the Egyptians had maintained commercial ties. As he sailed along the coast of Palestine he was robbed, and then scorned at Byblos as that city's prince repeatedly demanded his departure. The prince of Byblos made it clear that the respect once shown the Egyptians (see Sinuhe, pages 105-106) was no more: "I am not your servant! I am not the servant of him who sent you either!" Egypt had become a "crushed reed" long before that imagery was used in the Bible to describe the country (2 Kings 18:21; Isaiah 36:6).

In Dynasty 21 Egypt provided asylum for Hadad of Edom when he fled from David. Hadad married into the royal family and his son was raised in the Egyptian court. At the death of David, Hadad returned to Edom where he was an "adversary to Israel all the days of Solomon" (1 Kings 11:14-22, 25). Siamun, the next to last king of Dynasty 21, has been identified as the pharaoh who, in giving a daughter in marriage to Solomon (see page 116), broke a centuries old point of foreign policy. He also gave Gezer to Israel as a dowry, thus relinquishing Egypt's last vestige of empire.

Dynasties 22-23

More and more Libyans had been finding their way into the Delta and the Fayum. They became so thoroughly assimilated into the Egyptian population that only their names give evidence of their foreign origin. The family of Shishak (Shoshenq) had been in Egypt for five generations, and when he founded Dynasty 22, the transition to power was smooth. In his day Merenptah claimed to have totally destroyed the Libians. In S'hishak's time, however, much of Egypt was ruled by Libyans even more acculturated than the Hyksos had been. The fears of the

Black granite head of Taharqa. This is the king who came to Hezekiah's aid when the Judean king was attacked by Sennacherib of Assyria. Taharqa wears the cap-like crown favoured by the Cushite kings. He was twice forced to flee upriver to escape the Assyrians. Thebes was sacked four years after his second escape, ending Dynasty 25. The head is 13.75 inches (35 centimeters) high.

"pharaoh who knew not Joseph" came true in a way Merenptah would never have anticipated.

Surprisingly little is known about the two Libian dynasties. Shishak provided their main intrusion into biblical history. He gave refuge to Jeroboam when he fled from Solomon (1 Kings 11:40) and then, five years after the death of Solomon, he sent an arnry into Palestine (see page 119). During the reign of Osorkon I Egypt launched a failed attack on Judah (2 Chronicles 14:9-15). Osorkon IV is probably the "So king of Egypt" (2 Kings 17:4) from whom Hoshea sought help in the dying days of Israel.

Dynasties 24-25

A line of Cushite kings developed in Nubia where a gradual Egyptianization had taken place. Piankhy ruling from Napata, below the fourth cataract, advanced north and conquered Egypt in the name of Amon. These Napatan kings considered themselves legitimate pharaohs of Egypt; they wrote their language in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and they were buried in small steep-sided pyramids.

As Assyria began bearing down on Syria-Palestine, the Dynasty 25 kings initially stayed neutral, but during the reign of Hezekiah they tried to come to Judahs aid (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9). Further encounters between Egypt and Assyria followed, and at one point Thebes was even sacked. Assyria's attempt to turn Egypt into a vassal nation proved to be both troubled and short-lived.

Late Dynastic (c. 656-525 B.C.)

Dynasty 26 [Saite]

Dynasty 26 (or Saite, after its capital city, Sais, in the western Delta). When the Assyrians were not able to maintain control of Egypt, the country was united again, this time under Psamtik I. Stability and prosperity characterize the dynasty, conditions that were due, at least in part, to an increasing foreign population. The pharaohs of this dynasty, whose names reveal a Libyan or Napatan heritage, were protected by Ionian Greek bodyguards. The country's security relied more and more on mercenary armies and fleets. A Jewish garrison at Elephantine guarded the first cataract, once again the southern border of Egypt. Greek and Ionian merchant colonies sprang up in the Delta, and Upper Egypt became an "agricultural granary."

An archaizing tendency in art, architecture, and religious texts had been in evidence for some time, but the trend became even more pronounced as Egypt became increasingly cosmopolitan. This neoclassi-cism was so well executed that some recovered Dynasty 26 works of art were initially thought to date to the Old or Middle Kingdoms.

When Assyria began its precipitous collapse, Pharaoh Necho's attempt to step into the vacummand take possession of Syria and Palestine resulted in a confrontation with Josiah and the death of the Judean king. A puppet king was put on the throne in Jerusalem, but Egypt's dream of a revived empire was soon crushed by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army at Carchemish, and Egypt narrowly escaped invasion. Egypt did not come to Jehoiakim's support when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem, but Apries did send an army to aid Zedekiah when the city came under siege. It was to a Saite Egypt that Jeremiah was taken after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

The Last Dynasties (c. 525-332 B.C.)

Dynasties 27-31

The fall of Babylonia was unexpectedly swift, and only a few years later, in 525 B.C., Egypt found itself added to the new Persian empire. Dynasty 27 began when Cambyses II, the son of Cyrus the Great, conquered the whole country, a feat the Assyrians and Babylonians had not managed. Greek historians had nothing good to say about Cambyses, but modern scholars paint a more positive picture of his rule. Whatever the truth, Cambyses' reign over Egypt was brief (the Bible ignores him completely, see Ezra 4:5), and Darius the Great was next on the throne of Persia. Darius tried to pose as legitimate pharaoh of Egypt, going as far as to build a temple and commission reliefs depicting him making offerings to the gods of Egypt.

Dynasty 27 was not without interruptions. Egypt revolted following Darius' defeat at Marathon, and it was left for his son Xerxes to restore the satrapy (a province into which the empire was divided). Egypt revolted again when Xerxes died, and it was a few

One of the Elephantine papyri. Written on papyrus and in Aramaic, the papyri were folded, tied, and sealed to guard their contents. In addition to contracts and deeds, the papyri also contain private and official letters. Taken together, they provide great insights into the daily and religious life of the Jewish community living at Elephantine. Written in the fifth century B.C., the papyri also constitute one of the evidences that many Jews, probably the majority, did not rush back to Palestine when return became possible.

years before Artaxerxes reclaimed the territory Near the end of the dynasty Jews at Elephantine began writing the "Elephantine Papyri." Among these documents were letters to Jews in Jerusalem who had returned from exile. The letters tell of problems and needs in Upper Egypt, but they give no hint of any desire to return to Palestine.

Only one king is listed by Manetho for Dynasty 28, but little can be said about him. What is clear is that Egypt declared itself again free and, through Dynasty 30, struck alliances with Sparta, Athens, and other parties in an effort to maintain that independence. Through it all the Persians considered Egypt a rebellious satrapy and on his second try, in 343 B.C., Artaxerxes III succeeded in reclaiming the country.

Manetho's dynastic list ends with Dynasty 30, but the brief renewal of Persian control, which lasted only nine years, is sometimes called Dynasty 31. This final dynasty was extinguished by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. Alexander was welcomed as a deliverer by the Egyptians, but he stayed only briefly before continuing on to conquer what remained of the Persian empire. One of his generals, Ptolemy, was left in charge. Still another "different" Egypt was about to begin.


Ptolemaic Egypt (c. 304-30 B.C.)

When Alexander died a few years after conquering Egypt, his dream of a united world did not long outlive him, and Ptolemy became king of Egypt. At first Egypt prospered. Alexander had taken time to found Alexandria and this seaport grew to become one of the largest cities in the world. It not only became Egypt's capital, but also a cultural center to rival Athens. Ptolemaic control initially extended into Palestine and a large number of Jews were deported from Jerusalem and Judea and resettled in Alexandria. Many more joined them voluntarily, and their community became one of the most important within the Diaspora. In time they began speaking Greek and it was for them that the Old Testament began to be translated into Greek (the Septuagint).

Under the Ptolemies, the Greeks spread south from the Delta and took their language and culture with them. At the same time, though, the Ptolemies were attracted to Egypt's past and they tried to be accepted

The temple to Horus at Edfu. In the Ptolemaic period the Hellenistic world increasingly intruded into the land of the Nile. In art there were awkward attempts to merge Egyptian and Hellenistic styles. At the same time, this temple, begun early in the Ptolemaic period, exhibits much that is familiar, including the 118-foot (36-meter) high pylon with reliefs of the pharaoh in a striding and enemy-bashing pose. Fourteen volumes were required for the Egyptologists to publish the reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions from this one temple.

as legitimate successors to the pharaohs. They enlarged old temples, and built new ones to Egyptian gods. In 198 B.C. Egypt lost control of Palestine to the Seleucids, Greeks ruling another portion of Alexanders shortlived empire, who were by this time operating from Antioch on the Orontes. During much of the second century B.C., and continuing into the first century B.C., Ptolemaic infighting caused Egypt to decline.

The growing power of Rome became increasingly felt in Egypt and it was Rome that more and more began to dictate events. In 168 B.C., for example, when the Seleucids tried to invade Egypt, it was the Romans who ordered them to leave. Cleopatra (actually Cleopatra VII) was the last Ptolemaic sovereign, but she was under the control of the Roman Senate. Cleopatra's desire to recover Palestine for Egypt, and her closeness to Mark Antony, caused great difficulties for Herod who had, by then, been declared king of the Jews by Rome.


When Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide in 30 B.C., Egypt became a Roman province, administered in the name of the emperor by a prefect. The Romans made some attempt to pose as heirs of the pharaohs; they added to old temples, put their names on others, and built a few small temples of their own. But the distinctly Egyptian civilization was dying out. The practice of mummification continued, but the mummy portraits that came into vogue were hardly Egyptian. And although temples to the goddess Isis spread into the Roman world, it was a greatly altered form of that deity that was exported. Egypt became a part of Rome's breadbasket, and grain ships began to move along the coastline between Alexandria and Italy. The apostle Paul boarded one such ship when he sailed for Rome.

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone carries a decree issued in 196 B.C. by Ptolemy V for priests of Memphis. Its real importance today is that the trilingual inscription in Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian demotic (a cursive form of hieroglyphics), and Greek, provided the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics and recovering much of ancient Egypt's written history.