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Tuesday, April 30th 2013


Egypt: The Eighteenth Dynasty, part 2


[Egypt Part 1]       [Egypt Part 2]       [Egypt Part 3]       [Egypt Part 4]       [Egypt Part 5]       [Egypt Part 6]

Workshop LogoAs Jay Kesler says, "A word to the wise is unnecessary." Still, in case you didn't notice that this is part 2 of I don't know yet how many, I would like to suggest that you begin with part 1. 

Let me continue for a little while with sweeping up chips that have fallen to the floor of my workshop and select some usable wood shavings. In the process of immersing myself in studying Pharaoh Akhenaten, I've learned a lot about the 18th dynasty of Egypt, the first of the New Kingdom, and I'm in the middle of telling you a little bit about it. Please note that I've added a couple of small details to last night's entry as well as corrected some spellings.

We left off with the multi-talented Queen-Pharaoh Hatshepsut, daughter of Tuthmosis I, widow of Tuthmosis II, regent for Tuthmosis III, Pharaoh by the divine favor of the god Amun, whom she had served for a time as "Wife" and priestess. Now, Nicholas Reeves (Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet, 2005) argues that phrases such as the one I just paraphrased from Hatshepsut, i.e. "Pharaoh by the divine favor of Amun," were inappropriate for a Pharaoh and would cause a lot of trouble later on. A Pharaoh is a Pharaoh because he is supposed to be a Pharaoh, and he maintains the country's relationship to the gods. A god may even prophesy to someone that he is going to be a Pharaoh in the future, but the office of Pharaoh is not (supposed to be) dependent on the approval of a specific god. The reason lies partially in political pragmatism because--for all practical purposes--that concept implies that ultimately the priests of the god have the power to bestow Pharaoh-ship on a person, much as the pope traditionally crowned the German emperors. Acknowledging Amun's favor per se would have been fine, but stating that one is Pharaoh because of the support of a specific god is presumably going too far because saying so just put too much power into the hands of the priests. And there can be little question that Hatshepsut established her position thanks to her affiliation with the temple of Amun.

In addition to the complaint that relying on divine support supposedly decreased the status of a Pharaoh, an overemphasis on Amun could also cause friction with the other two major temple complexes, the Ra-sanctum at Heliopolis and the Ptah facility at Memphis. There had been some recent attempts at compromise, e.g. Amun became popularized as Amun-Ra, but those did not accomplish much. Each group of priests was looking for a door to more power, and Hatshepsut had just handed the priests at Thebes (where her daughter was serving as "God's Wife" now) a huge opening.

HatshepsutDespite these underground grumblings, Pharaoh Hatshepsut turned into an outstanding queen. Her reign was marked by continued prosperity on the whole, and during her reign, there were some successful military excursions, probably headed up by her charge, Tuthmosis III. When the boy became old enough, the regency turned into a co-regency of two Pharaohs, a relatively common occurrence in Egyptian history, practiced in order to ensure a smooth transition. However this co-regency was probably longer than most. After ruling for twenty-two years (perhaps) Hatshepsut passed away and received a royal burial. Tuthmosis III was now on his own and made use of what he had learned during his "apprenticeship," so to speak, to become an extremely powerful and effective ruler. Counting the time of the co-regency with Hatshepsut, he was on the throne for more than fifty years (54 is the currently popular number).

I might just mention, not-so-in-passing, that Ramses II (the "Great") ruled even longer. His reign lasted sixty-six years. Ramses II, as I mentioned last night, is commonly said to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus, but whoever thought up that association committed a serious flaw in their thinking, at least as long as we do not whittle away at the biblical narrative so that we can cram it into that time slot. There must have been at least two crucial Pharaohs in the life of Moses; there were more, but two were essential to his story. There must have been one whom we can call the "Pharaoh of the Oppression" and one who served as the "Pharaoh of the Exodus." The Pharaoh of the Oppression did not start enslaving the Hebrews, but he enforced the practice throughout his reign. It was during his time that Moses killed an Egyptian man and then fled, spending the next forty years in the wilderness. He did not return to Egypt until God sent him back once this Pharaoh had died and a new one, the Pharaoh of the Exodus, was on the throne.

Now, if Ramses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, as is commonly asserted, the Pharaoh of the Oppression would have been Seti I, who only ruled nine years. As Gleason Archer liked to say, Moses could not have spent forty years in the wilderness during those nine years. And if we were to go back multiple Pharaohs, adding up to forty years prior to Ramses II, that would take us back to the time of the accession of Thutankamun ("King Tut"). If we then assumed that the incident that caused Moses to flee did not occur immediately at the beginning of a Pharaoh's reign, it would have to have occurred during the Amarna years, which is impossible in so many ways, I can't count them (and I need to ask you to take my word for it). Not that anyone seriously advocates that option, but it does not begin to hold any water.

Well, one might reply, doesn't it make sense, though, to think of Ramses II as the Pharaoh of the Oppression and then consider his successor, Merenptah, to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus. First of all, that is not what is being asserted. It is Ramses II that everyone is attracted to as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Second, the reason why it is not being asserted is that it does not fit in with Merenptah's historical record at all. He went on a conquering spree of the "Levant" (Palestine, Lebanon, Syria), and in his self-laudatory stele, he specifically mentions Israel by name, so there is no question that the Israelites  had settled in the Promised Land by then--a fact that also adds to making Ramses II as the Pharaoh of the Exodus mathematically implausible. Even with such a long reign, knowing that the Israelites did not depart in his first year, adding up the forty years of travel through the desert by the Hebrews plus the time of the conquest under Joshua plus a time of peace and settling in the land stretches even Ramses' sixty-six years to the point of improbability. On the other hand, the fact that Merenptah, functioning hypothetically in the role of Pharaoh of the Exodus, had an intact, powerful military at his disposal, does not square with the biblical account of the drowning of his army in the Red Sea. Still, what is more important is that the Pharaoh of the Oppression, who had a rather long reign, and the Pharaoh of the Exodus must have been two different persons. (And, yes, as I keep saying, you certainly can deny the truth of various parts of the biblical story, but in that case you're certainly not finding a historical time slot for the biblical story. You're merely finding a point in history to suit the story you're making up.)

Nobody fits the possibility of being the Pharaoh of the  Oppression better than Tuthmosis III. He was powerful, self-assured, ruthless, and the circumstances surrounding his reign don't force us to change any aspect of the biblical narrative. He reestablished the dominance of Egypt over the Levant with a powerful army and would not have given a fig for the wishes of a group of Semites who were serving as slaves in the Nile Delta. He considered this northernmost area of the country to be a nice buffer zone between Egypt and the countries further north, such as the Hittites. If they wanted to invade Egypt, they would first of all have to work their way through the two million or so Hebrews living in that slave colony, giving him some extra time for his response.

Now, we need to do some hypothesizing. For all that we know, Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III appeared to have had good rapport during their lengthy co-regency, with Tuthmosis by and large subordinating himself to the queen if necessary. However, late during his reign, quite a while after Hatshepsut's departure into the underworld, he ordered that her name be erased from all public inscriptions and whatever documents there may have been, making it appear at least superficially that Hatshepsut had never existed, let alone been Pharaoh. Such ex post facto purges had happened both before him and would do so again after him--none with the vehemence with which Akhenaten would eventually be dis-remembered--and this particular one was actually fairly perfunctory, but it was effective. We must ask what motivated him to do so? Such measures were obviously taken in order to obliterate the name of a predecessor with whom one had a strong disagreement. The problem is that it is difficult to isolate where that rather late posthumous disagreement with Hatshepsut may have lain. There doesn't seem to have been any major tension between them on any issues, of either foreign or domestic policy during her lifetime. The fact that she was a woman was not an issue. There were female Pharaohs previously. Two possibilities come to mind; one is slim, and the other one is slimmer. To whatever extent Hatshepsut may have been thought to have sold out to the priesthood of Amun, Tuthmosis III may have decided that he needed to cut those bonds and reassert his independence by publicly establishing a distance between himself and his onetime co-Pharaoh. I'm also wondering (and this is the very slim option) whether, as Tuthmosis III was dealing with the Hebrews in the north, he felt that he needed to assert his dominance because Hatshepsut may have been too lenient in that matter. Admittedly, this is a weak guess, but it may be a tiny part of a potential explanation.

The son of Tuthmosis III, Amenophis II (Amenhotep II), would then be the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Amenophis carried on his father's policy of military ventures into the Levant--until some time during his tenth (or so) year on the throne, out of a total of about twenty-five. At that point, he abruptly ceased all military activity. It was as though his army had totally disappeared, and he began to negotiate for peace with his former enemies. For a long time, even under later Pharaohs the "Egyptian" army consisted primarily of mercenaries and recruits from surrounding areas, such as Libya and Nubia.  One might think that the irresistible Egyptian army had suddenly drowned in the Red Sea. There was no war during his last fifteen years, nor during the time of his successor, Tuthmosis IV.

I don't know how many times I've heard or read people bring up the point that an event of such great calamity would surely have been recorded by the Egyptian historians. One's first reply would have to be to inquire which historians the objector might have in mind. Egypt did not have historians until late into the Ptolemaic era (after Alexander the Great), and they did not posses very good records to go on. Remember what I just said about Tuthmosis III trying to erase references of Hatshepsut from public awareness. I added that, compared to the post-Amarna purge, what he did was relatively superficial, but it was still effective. It was a long time before anyone was able to put together her role or her importance, particularly the fact that she actually reigned as Pharaoh. In contrast to some other civilizations, Egypt did not maintain chronicles of important events. The written sources that historians use are fictional stories that shed light on attitudes and events, business records, correspondence on papyrus and a few tablets, and a myriad of inscriptions. Inscriptions on tombs, in temples, on and in houses, on columns, alongside pictures, these are what provide us with the written history of Egypt from an Egyptian point of view. And that last phrase, "from an Egyptian point of view," is the most notable matter of concern.

In fact, when I say, "from an Egyptian point of view," I mean specifically the point of view of the person, say, a Pharaoh, who ordered the inscriptions to be made. And that meant that the inscription had to not just be favorable to the Pharaoh, but to glorify him. Exaggeration was the rule. The Pharaoh was credited with the deeds of his underlings, his predecessors, or persons out of the scribe's imagination. He received praise for the victories his army had won, even if he was not a part of the campaign, and even if there was no campaign. Pharaohs too young to shave or to grow the ceremonial beard were lauded for having single-handedly slain hundreds of well-armed professional warriors. They hunted so successfully that one would wonder whether any antelopes could be left in Africa. Ramses II led his army into Syria in order to rein in the expanding Hittites. The end result is often called a "draw," but the Pharaoh did not achieve his aims, and so, for practical purposes, he lost. Still, his monuments declared his great victory, and, according to a former student, to this day Egyptian schools teach the success of Ramses II in this campaign. In short, most of the writings, particularly the inscriptions, are pure propaganda that no one could (should) accept unquestioningly as true. Needless to say, a necessary implication of this approach is the policy of never ever recording anything negative, unless doing so is ordered by someone's enemy, and even then the program of deliberate self-exaggeration at the expense of the enemy, as well as the truth, would be the rule. In short, the idea of anyone in Egypt recording the calamities of the ten plagues followed by the destruction of the army in the Red Sea is, if I may use the word, "inconceivable."

The fact is, of course, that the Israelites did conquer Palestine and settle there, and Merenptah's stele takes the question of whether that happened off the table (at least it should do so for thinking people). The Hebrews' own records indicate that they had migrated from Egypt. In this case, the silence of the Egyptian records speaks volumes. This is not the fallacy of an appeal to silence because Egyptian silence in the face of a known calumny is, in fact, an acknowledgement of the disaster. (We can add to this phenomenon the fact that, whereas there are some, very few, responses by the Pharaoh to the Amarna tablets, there are no acknowledgements of the pleas by the Canaanite princes for help against the invading 'apiru. But that's another can of worms, to which we can return some time later.)

If Amenophis II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, then he was the one who received all of the plagues from God, including the death of his first-born son. Again, we would not expect the Pharaoh's scribes to mention such an event, but we are not without evidence for this occurrence. We'll save that for the next entry.

Until then . . .

[Egypt Part 1]       [Egypt Part 2]       [Egypt Part 3]       [Egypt Part 4]       [Egypt Part 5]       [Egypt Part 6]

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