Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 129 (Vol 22.3) January/February 2022
Exodus: An Egyptian Story
by Peter Feinman.
Oxbow Books 2021
When the Egypt Exploration Fund was founded in 1882, a major objective was to locate biblical sites and connect Egyptian history with scripture.
Yet by the twentieth century, Egyptology and Biblical Studies had gone their separate ways, with many scholars denying the historicity of the biblical account. Because the Bible does not name the Pharaoh of the Exodus, many dates have been offered ranging from the 16th to the 12th centuries BC. In an attempt to square the circle, some have even proposed two Exodus events, one with the 16th century expulsion of the Hyksos (based on Manetho) and one in the 13th century BC at the time of Ramesses II (based on Exodus 1:11). The thesis of this book is that it is possible to connect the two together.
Feinman’s aim is to place the story of Moses using only the Egyptian sources, rather than relying on the biblical tradition, which he rarely mentions. Instead he gives his own retelling of the period from the Hyksos Fifteenth Dynasty to the reign of Merneptah in the Nineteenth Dynasty. He argues for the execution of Seqenenra by Apophis on the battlefield prior to the negotiated withdrawal of the Hyksos at the time of Ahmose. Yet he argues that not all these Semites departed and this is shown by the Speos Artemidos inscription of Hatshepsut and the 400 Year Stela of Ramesses II. Ramesses himself was saved at the battle of Kadesh by the timely arrival of the n’rn troops – which is clearly a Semitic term for young warriors. Feinman continues to use the term “Hyksos” for these people rather than a term such as apiru/habiru that is more prevalent by the Eighteenth to Nineteenth Dynasties. He agrees that the Exodus was in the time of Ramesses II, and dates it precisely to 8th July 1272 BC. He speculates whether Moses might be the mysterious Mehy, erased from the wall reliefs of Sety at Karnak to be replaced by Prince Ramesses. It was ultimately Merneptah on the Israel Stela who was able to claim victory over Israel – not his father Ramesses. He thinks the imaginative story of the Quarrel between Apophis and Seqenenra about the noisy hippos is a piece of propaganda written at the time of Merneptah. In it the loser, Seqenenra, is equated with Ramesses II, and the now missing portion would have told of the victorious success of Ahmose who is identified with Merneptah.
This book comprises two distinct elements. On the one hand a careful re-presentation of Egyptian history, and on the other a speculative reconstruction of how the Moses story might fit. The more specific the argument becomes the more speculative it is, of course. If there was a neat answer to the Exodus conundrum it would have been found by now. It was fun to see ‘Ramesses the Great’ presented as a two times loser (to the Hittites and the Israelites). But I found the Merneptah speculation unconvincing.
Would a son allow a text that subverted his father’s memory, even in an oblique way? The ‘Restoration Stela’ of Tutankhamun is hardly a parallel. Ramesses II was no ‘heretic Pharaoh’ and the ageing Merneptah was no ten-year-old Tutankhamun directed by his courtiers. So this book belongs in the ‘alternative’ category, but is decidedly better than most in the genre, being based on an understanding of ancient Egyptian society in its reconstruction of a possible, but unverifiable, hypothesis.
Egyptian Mythology: A traveller’s guide from Aswan to Alexandria
by Gary J. Shaw.
Thames and Hudson, 2021
This ambitious work clearly demonstrates the amazing complexity of Egyptian myth, legend, literature and belief. The author uses the framework of a travel guide to present each section related to its locality. The book is divided into locations, starting at Aswan, through Edfu, Thebes East Bank, Thebes West Bank, on to Dendera, Abydos , Tell el-Amarna and Hermopolis and Tuna el- Gebel before reaching the Fayum, Memphis, Heliopolis, Bubastis, Pi-Ramesses, and finally ending at Alexandria.
To give a flavour of the contents, the first section begins at Elephantine Island with a survey of the myths relating to the stories of creation and the roles of Hapy, the Osiris story and the importance of the god Khnum.
There are literary links here too, with the unfinished Tale of Hihor and the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor. At Philae the stories of Isis, Horus, and Seth are retold and these are revisited at Edfu and, in more detail, as the traveller reaches Abydos and beyond. The section ends as befits a travel guide, with some information on the modern site.
The narrative follows a similar pattern for all the locations covered and the reader will discover a wealth of information, some quite well-known, some more obscure. There are many examples of different versions of myths and legends with some contradictory deities who appear beneficent or heroic in some versions, while in others are presented as evil or dangerous.
The god Osiris for example in some versions is presented as a rapist and seducer of Nepthys. Every so often the author invites the reader to take part in the narrative; at one point an invitation is offered to “rattle your sistrums, put on your finest. It’s time to raise a glass to the original goddess of good times
Along the route we meet a wide variety of divinities particularly associated with certain places. At Hermopolis (el-Ashmunein) we meet Thoth and his sacred baboons and we learn of wisdom and magic. In the Fayum, Sobek and his crocodiles are prominent. Further on, in the Delta it is Bastet and her cats who dominate.
No trip through the landscape of belief could omit the site of Tell el- Amarna and the change attempted by Akhenaten. These are a few of the major players, but the voyage covers much more, including 75 manifestations of the sun god.
The final sections are perhaps less detailed as there are fewer large monuments in the Delta region. The major city of Pi-Ramesses is no longer visible on the ground at Qantir, much of it having been moved to Tanis where a large number of remains can be seen. Alexandria, the final port of call, is discussed in a more historical fashion as much of the ancient city is now under water. The reader is finally invited to take a bus to the Siwa Oasis and the temple of Zeus-Amun where you can pretend that you are Alexander the Great, though the author points out that proclamations of divinity are not guaranteed.
An Artist in Abydos: The Life and Letters of Myrtle Broome
by Lee Young.
AUC Press, 2021
The history of Egyptian archaeology has often been recorded and told by men; however, women also played a vital role in the development of early excavations in Egypt during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Their contributions were often not given the prominence they deserved in the eventual publication of archaeological excavations, perhaps being noted as a participant or assistant rather than as an integral member of field teams in their own right.
Rarely, we are gifted with the chance to learn about a woman’s life and work on excavation in Egypt in their own words, through letters, photographs and drawings, of which this volume is an excellent example.
Myrtle Florence Broome (1887- 1978) was a British archaeological artist who came from an artistic family in London. In 1911, Broome began her Egyptological studies with Flinders Petrie and Margaret Murray at University College London, where she stayed until 1913 as one of ‘The Gang’ – an illustrious group of Murray’s students who also included Rex Engelbach, and Guy and Winifred Brunton. In 1927 Petrie asked Broome to join his expedition team at Qau el-Kebir as a copyist, and in 1929 Broome went on to work at the temple of Sety I at Abydos for the Egypt Exploration Society, directed by Amice Calverley. Here, over eight seasons, Broome was able to apply her artistic skills to copy the fine painted reliefs with photographic accuracy, in preparation for the lavish publication of the temple.
415 of Broome’s letters from her time at Abydos are now kept in the Griffith Institute, Oxford, covering the years 1927-1937 and are presented here in this volume. These detailed letters shed valuable light on the nature of Broome’s work, on excavation life and her experiences of people and the landscape, and of local craftspeople and their traditions which may otherwise have gone unrecorded.
Young records that when Broome describes a scene in her letters, she does it “with the eye of an artist”, which makes the experience of reading through her letters especially enjoyable.
Broome’s descriptions of her excitement arriving in Alexandria for the first time in 1927 are especially vivid – an experience many of us can relate to when reflecting on our own first visits to Egypt. Hints at Broome’s humour and her modesty at the vast amount of work she achieved in the field are also woven throughout her letters, many of which were sent to her parents in England, making the reader feel personally connected with Broome and her experiences in Egypt.
Broome’s artistic abilities clearly extended beyond her formal copying of the ancient monuments: several of her artworks are reproduced in colour in this volume, including desert landscapes and village scenes she encountered which truly took my breath away. A selection of photographs of Broome and her contemporaries also illustrates these letters and helps to bring her story to life. Recommended for all interested in the day-to-day life of early excavations in Egypt, and of the history and culture of Abydos, this book will also undoubtedly encourage readers to develop a fondness for Broome and her determination to succeed in the very male-dominated world of early Egyptology.
Ancient Egyptian Biographies: Contexts, Forms, Functions
edited by Julie Stauder- Porchet, Elizabeth Frood and Andréas Stauder.
Lockwood Press, 2020
Hardback, $89.95; pdf of individual papers $15
The reviewer was fortunate to attend the workshop in Basel in 2014 on which this collection of papers is based, and can attest that it represents the highlights of a most stimulating series of discussions held there.
One particular highlight for English readers is that all the contributions are in English, but include significant new works (and reflections on previously published pieces) from scholars who usually write in French or German.
Biography is perhaps the quintessential form of ancient Egyptian nonroyal written texts; these are widely discussed but discussion is rarely collected between the covers of a single volume, which makes the present work of great value. The papers here will collectively be of interest to scholars, but also fill a ‘gap in the market’ for students studying individual examples and looking for wider contextualisation.
I certainly know this would have been useful when I was a student! Especially valuable are the initial cross-cultural comparisons, which draw parallels with Mesopotamian examples and with linguistic theory, emphasising that Egyptian texts are not a total anomaly and can be studied from a variety of perspectives. The whole volume is set into context in term of the physical manifestation of (monumental) biographical texts by John Baines, one of the grand masters of the study of the genre.
Chapters are then grouped in a roughly chronological order in terms of the material they discuss, beginning with the Old Kingdom and moving through into the Late Period. Close attention is paid throughout to the setting of the inscribed biography, the social context of its content and the identity of the speaker: are biographies written about people, or are the autobiographies voiced by the person themselves? Individual chapters address the claims to veracity in some biographical texts, the role of the town(speople), the themes of promotion, religious piety and participation in rituals.
The larger, A4 format of the book allows for decent-sized, clear illustrations, which are welcome. An index of all the biographies cited in the book is included at the end, making this an accessible and very useful work that will be of considerable importance in future for both scholars and students – but also to anyone who has wondered what so many monumental texts contain.
The First Pharaohs: Their Lives and Afterlives
by Aidan Dodson.
AUC Press, 2021
Aidan Dodson is steadily building up quite a library of well-presented coffee table books (his Lives and Afterlives series) aimed at the general reader, each focussing on a specific pharaoh.
While this is possible for New Kingdom rulers (Sethy I reviewed in AE116, Rameses III in AE119 and Nefertiti in AE124), we of course know far less about the earliest kings of Egypt. So this latest volume covers the monarchs of the first three dynasties, but within the same framework, detailing their lives and monuments, their immediate legacy and their afterlives in modern times.
After a brief introduction to the earliest human occupation of Egypt, the first chapter begins with Tomb U-j at Umm el-Qaab, the possible existence of a king called Scorpion and southern expansion into the North. Early signs of unification include the presence of the name of the southern king Irihor in the Sinai and the appearance of southern material culture in the Delta. Early sources name ‘Menes’ as the first king of Egypt, although conflicting evidence from ancient and classical sources makes it difficult to clarify exactly who this king was. The first ruler for which there is any certainty is Narmer, who features on the famous palette from Hierakonpolis but is also attested on more than fifty other objects from different sites.
There is more certainty for the series of First Dynasty kings than for the next two dynasties, thanks in particular to a seal impression from the time of King Qaa, confirming the line of kings from Narmer and his successor Hor-Aha through to Qaa himself.
Little is known about the first king of the Second Dynasty, Hetepsekhemwy, but he appears to represent a clear break from the previous dynasty, marked in particular by the moving of the royal cemetery from Abydos to Saqqara, thus suggesting the centre of power had been transferred from the South to the North. The middle part of the dynasty is less clear with conflicting sources and some suggestion of civil war. A change in name for the last ruler of the dynasty (Khasekhem to Khasekhemwy) suggests that this king managed to reunite the country.
The Third Dynasty is also problematic although this was the period in which the very first pyramid was built at Saqqara (the Step Pyramid, explored in some detail in the chapter), built by Netjerkhet Djoser who is now considered to be the direct successor of Khasekhemwy. The dynasty ends with king Huni and some confusion over his possible association with small step pyramids, the Meidum pyramid and the Brick Pyramid at Abu Rowash (which the author thinks is likely to be his burial place).
Chapter 4 – “Limbo” – traces the immediate legacy of these early kings, including the production of the Annals (such as the Palermo Stone) in the Fifth Dynasty and renewed interest during the Twelfth Dynasty with the appropriation of the Abydos Tomb of Djer as the Tomb of Osiris and a return to royal pyramid building.
Ancient graffiti reflects that the Old Kingdom monuments became popular tourist attractions in the New Kingdom, while the archaism of the Late Period can be seen as an attempt to “reset the Egyptian monarchy”.
Some elite Graeco-Roman burials were placed within the Old Kingdom royal funerary monuments, while Djoser enjoyed his own cult during the Twenty-sixth Dynasty and into the early Ptolemaic Period when the priest Manetho was commissioned to write his chronicle of the Egyptian monarchy and Djoser’s architect Imhotep became a deity.
The final chapter covers the rediscovery of Egypt’s early history from the nineteenth century onwards, followed by a handy chart of royal serekhs and an extensive bibliography.
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