Exodus: Gods and Kings

BookCoverPreview.doMy latest novel in the series following Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt is called Seti’s Secret.  It is an adventure story set in modern-day Egypt but, as with the previous five novels in the series, it sets out to explore an ancient mystery.  For this book, I have chosen the Exodus story, proposing the historical identities of the Pharaoh as well as of Moses himself.

Publication of my book has coincided with Ridley Scott’s release of his Biblical film epic Exodus: Gods and Kings.  I went to see the film yesterday, interested to compare my take on ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ with Scott’s.

Since its release on Boxing Day, the movie has been banned in Egypt, Morocco and the UAE.  Egypt cites historical inaccuracies in the film, including depictions of the Jews building the pyramids and an earthquake causing the parting of the Red Sea.  Morocco has halted screenings because the film contains a “representation of God”, which is forbidden under Islamic Law.  The UAE has supported its decision saying the film contains religious inaccuracies about Islam as well as other religions, although it has not specified these inaccuracies.

I guess the movie-going public is arguably less concerned about historical and religious accuracy than it is about enjoyment.  I won’t comment on whether or not the film is enjoyable – that is for each person who sees it to decide.  I certainly found it epic, with sweeping vistas and grand stage sets – the plagues were particularly well depicted.  But as a writer, accuracy is something I have to be concerned with, and there are a few points I’d like to explore.

The opening title sequence tells us it is 1300 BCE (Before ‘Christian’ or ‘Common’ Era).  This places us in the latter years of the reign of Pharaoh Seti I, who appears briefly in the early scenes of the film as the elderly king about to pass on his throne. To be fair to Ridley Scott, I’m not sure he represented the Hebrew slaves as building THE pyramids.  True, the film shows workers constructing pyramids (in the sweeping panoramic shots of ancient Memphis) but I expect this is just for dramatic effect.  The Giza pyramids were built some 1000 years earlier during the Old Kingdom, presumably long before the Israelite sojourn in Egypt as described in the Bible; and before the 400 years Scott’s opening titles claim the Hebrews have been enslaved.  I guess it depends whether you’re prepared to accept that pyramids continued to be built in Egypt, even into the New Kingdom.

A more interesting historical inaccuracy for me was the scene showing Seti I’s funeral taking place at the Temple of Abu Simbel – another piece of grand cinematography – but factually impossible, since Abu Simbel wasn’t built at the time, and Seti I was interred in the Valley of the Kings.

If the film showed an earthquake parting the Red Sea, I missed it.  I saw Moses go to sleep asking for divine intervention, then wake to find the waters had miraculously drained away to allow the Hebrews to cross.  The special effects showing the seawater crashing back in again are among the most impressive in the film – although it is perhaps stretching credulity to the limit for both Moses and Ramses to survive the deluge, on their opposite banks of the Sea, given the on-screen violence of the Tsunami-like wave that engulfs the Egyptian army and both lead characters with it.

The Bible is oblique about whether or not the Pharaoh survives being cast into the sea.  The Torah is more specific in suggesting the Pharaoh drowns.

Which brings me to what I consider the crux of the historical matter.   Was Ramses II (Ramses the Great) the Pharaoh of the Exodus?  Ridley Scott apparently believes so, as did Cecil B DeMille before him, in his film The Ten Commandments.  Yet is there any historical evidence for his candidacy?

Ramses II ruled Egypt for upwards of sixty years.  His mummy is on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and is of a man in his nineties when he died.  So if he pursued the fleeing Israelites into the Red Sea he certainly survived it.

Interestingly, the Bible never names a Pharaoh.  So we are forced to look for other evidence in the Old Testament as well as in the historical and archaeological record to identify which Pharaoh is described.

The primary argument in support of Ramses II in the Exodus story seems to be that the Bible states the Pharaoh subjected the Hebrews to harsh labour building his store cities of Pithom (the location used in Scott’s film) and Ram’ses.  Ramses II certainly built a new capital city Pi-Ramses (or Piramesse).  Its remains have been discovered under the modern town of Qantir in the Eastern Delta, close to a branch of the Nile that silted up approximately 1,000 BCE.  Because Ramses built a city and named it for himself, hey presto he is the Pharaoh of the Biblical Exodus story.  That’s it.  That’s the evidence.

What is perhaps not so well known in popular culture is that Pi-Ramses was apparently built on top of the remains of an earlier city.  Historians have identified this as the Hyksos capital of Avaris and perhaps also the border city of Zarw, identified by some as Biblical Goshen, where the Hebrew tribes are said to have settled after their descent into Egypt.

If true, this enables us to construct a rather different scenario.  The historical record tells us that the grandfather of Ramses II, who ruled as Ramses I, was the Overseer of the Fortress of Zarw while still a commander in the previous Pharaoh’s army.  As he shares the name of his more famous grandson, I think it equally possible that he was the one who oversaw the daily lives of the Hebrews living in the place his grandson later decided on as the location for his new city.

The Bible also suggests the Pharaoh of the Exodus was not the same individual as the Pharaoh of the Oppression.  Exodus 3:6 describes Moses’ reluctance to return the Egypt to free the enslaved Hebrews after God speaks to him from the burning bush.  God reassures Moses that his life will not be in danger if he returns to Egypt as “all those who wished to kill you are dead”.  The earlier section (Exodus 1:8) tells us “Now there arose up a new king over Egypt”.  These passages suggest that during the years Moses spends in the wilderness, the previous pharaoh has died to be replaced by a new one. This would exclude Ramses II as being the Pharaoh to banish Moses and also the one on whom Moses unleashes the ten plagues.

There is more evidence, of course.  But, for now, I’ll end by saying if you’re interested in how the historical and archaeological evidence can be used to construct an alternative set of characters for the Exodus story, you may wish to read Seti’s Secret. (This is book 6 in a series, so I’d suggest you start with the first book Carter’s Conundrums).  The books are available on all Amazon sites.

As for the religious inaccuracies cited by the nations who have banned Ridley Scott’s film, I’ve decided they are the subject of a whole new article, which I will publish in the next couple of days.

Fiona Deal

Author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt

Tutankhamun: The Truth Uncovered

Last night I watched the hour long BBC1 documentary called ‘Tutankhamun : The Truth Uncovered’.

It set out to present clues as to why the most famous Egyptian Pharaoh of them all died so young.  The theory of murder due to a blow to the head was debunked.  Actually, it was debunked years ago … the bone fragments shown by X-ray to be floating in the back of the boy king’s skull were proved to have been displaced post mortem and also after the embalming process.

The programme showed us a ‘virtual autopsy’ using more that 2,000 CT scans of Tutankhamun’s mummified body.  This remarkable technology has enabled scientists to reveal the first ever full-sized, scientifically accurate computer generated image of the young king.  Sadly, it is a far cry from the hauntingly beautiful and perfect image we are more used to from the glorious death mask and much of the other artwork and statuary surviving of Tut from antiquity.

It reveals the club foot, which explains once and for all why so many walking canes – over 120 of them – were found by Howard Carter when he entered Tutankhamun’s tomb. I can’t help but wonder if seeing ‘the truth uncovered’ might actually be a little less than Tutankhamun deserves.  We come face to face with a teenager who might now unkindly, but no doubt accurately, be referred to as a cripple.  I’m sure he’d have preferred the images of himself riding his chariot, full of youthful vigour to be the ones to survive him down the centuries.

And with mention of the chariot (there were six of them found dis-assembled in Tutankhamun’s tomb) we come to the next popular theory explaining his early death. The CT scan reveals the fracture above his knee, which experts believe to have killed him.  A long-held theory is that the fracture was caused by a fall from his chariot whilst out hunting, or perhaps even in battle. (Or maybe he was pushed?).  But last night’s documentary suggests it would have been almost impossible for the young king to ride at any speed in a one-man chariot.  Or indeed ride a chariot at all.  The club foot and bone wasting disease shown also to be affecting his left foot would, we are told, have made it excruciatingly painful to ride.

And so, another explanation has to be found.  It is not slow in coming.  Epilepsy.

This condition, we are told, may also account for the ‘visions’ experienced by Tutankhamun’s predecessors.  His great-grandfather, Thutmosis IV, recorded in the famous ‘dream stele’ (still situated between the paws of the Sphinx) the vision in which the Sphinx spoke to him and told him if Thutmosis cleared the sand from around the Sphinx’s body, he would be crowned king.  And, Akhenaten, the controversial pharaoh who preceded Tutankhamun was apparently given to religious visions, which led him to elevate the sun disc, the Aten, as the sole god from the Egyptian Pantheon.  They also led him to build a new city, modern Amarna, on virgin soil in middle Egypt.

And now, with the mention of Akhenaten, we come to the part where I take issue with last night’s documentary.  DNA testing has enabled scientists and Egyptologists to build Tutankhamun’s family tree.  This has established that the body found in tomb KV55 is Tut’s father, and the ‘younger lady’ found in the cache hidden inside Amenhotep II’s tomb is Tut’s mother.  More astonishing, Tutankhamun is shown to be the product of an incestuous full-brother-and-sister relationship.

This much, I believe, is irrefutable.  It seems to me tragic that in their attempts to keep the royal bloodline pure, the pharaohs of the late 18th dynasty actually inbred its genetic downfall.

BUT, the documentary makes one big and, to my way of looking at it, unsupportable assumption … That the KV55 mummy is Akhenaten.  Ergo Akhenaten is Tutankhamun’s father.  This is presented as FACT, with no questions asked.

This does the viewing public a huge disservice.  While Akhenaten is unquestionably one candidate as the KV55 mummy, he is not the only one.  Many scholars believe the skeleton to be that of Akhenaten’s younger brother, an ephemeral character on the pharaonic stage.  His name was Smenkhkare.  Nobody has ever been able to prove the identity of the KV55 mummy for sure.  So, for the BBC to overlook this and present Akhenaten as the sole candidate seems to me to be misleading and negligent.

We know Akhenaten was famously married to Nefertiti.  They very publicly had six daughters.  Images of the whole family are plastered all over Amarna.  Nobody has yet gone so far as to suggest the ‘younger lady’ is Nefertiti, or that she was Akhenaten’s full sister.  So, we must suppose that Akhenaten had an incestuous relationship with one of his full sisters, who bore Tutankhamun.  Under the royal protocol of the time, she would have had to be one of his wives, possibly even his Great Royal Wife.  For this to have completely escaped the historical record seems to me extremely unlikely.

Yet, if his younger brother Smenkhkare were to have had an incestuous marriage with one of their sisters, with Tutankhamun as the result, it seems perfectly possible for no record of it to have survived.

I personally believe Smenkhkare is the KV55 mummy.  Other scholars agree.  One other piece of evidence supports this theory.  On last night’s documentary, Tutankhamun was repeatedly described as Akhenaten’s successor.  He wasn’t. At least, not at first.  The historical record shows quite clearly that Smenkhkare came to the throne on Akhenaten’s death.  Incidentally, Smenkhkare married Akhenaten & Nefertiti’s eldest daughter, his niece Meritaten, presumably to strengthen his right to rule.  She became his Great Royal Wife.  Whether his previous sister-wife was still alive at the time is a matter for conjecture.

It is not clear how long Smenkhkare ruled.  Some experts say a few months, others up to three years.  But rule he did.

To me, this is more evidence that Tutankhamun was not Akhenaten’s son.  There are plenty of other examples of minors coming to the throne, so his age would not have presented a reason for him to be passed over in favour of his ‘uncle’ Smenkhkare if indeed Akhenaten was his father.  I think in the absence of a male heir who was his son, the throne passed to Akhenaten’s brother and only then on Smenkhare’s death to his son, Tutankhamun.

Frustratingly, none of this can be proved once and for all.  We need more discoveries to be made in the historical record, or for modern science to take yet another leap forward.

I’m left with the impression of a documentary wanting to re-work old ‘truths’ to find a new angle.  I’d have been perfectly happy with this, if only certain assumptions were not presented as fact.

Luckily for me, there is one field in which it’s more acceptable to work within what’s known, and make up the rest.  I am a fiction writer.  The mysteries of ancient Egypt are my chosen subject.  So last night’s documentary was of particular interest.  I’m pleased to say, it didn’t present anything to make me go back and rewrite any of the content of my books.  The second book in my series following Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt is Tutankhamun’s Triumph.  If you’re interested in reading more about Tut’s family tree, you may wish to give it a go.

Fiona Deal

Author of Carter’s Conundrums, Tutankhamun’s Triumph, Hatshepsut’s Hideaway, Farouk’s Fancies and Akhenaten’s Alibi. Available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and all other Amazon sites.

BookCoverPreview.do

 

Book 2 of Meredith Pink's adventures in Egypt

Book 2 of Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt

Hatshepsut's_Hideawa_Cover_for_Kindle BookCoverPreview.do

BookCoverPreview.do

 

So who was King Farouk?

BookCoverPreview-2.doscan0052

My latest book following Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt is called Farouk’s Fancies.  On a recent trip to Luxor I visited the wonderful old colonial hotel, The Winter Palace.

This was once a winter retreat for Egypt’s last reigning monarch, King Farouk.  He was last in line of the Turkish Mohammed Ali Dynasty that had ruled Egypt for ten generations.  It sparked my interest in finding out a bit more about the king who was exiled to Europe after an uprising by the people that toppled him from power (sound familiar?)

And what a fascinating and larger(literally) than life character he was!

English: Photograph of Farouk I (1920-1965), K...

English: Photograph of Farouk I (1920-1965), King of Egypt (1936-1952). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He came to the throne as a teenager; young, handsome and blue-eyed.  But the honeymoon period wasn’t to last. Known early in his reign for his excessive partying and gambling, Farouk was once described as “a stomach with a head”. He grew to over 20 stone. It’s rumoured he drank 30 bottles of fizzy drink every day and had caviar for breakfast; apparently eating it straight from the can.

King Farouk of Egypt (1948)

King Farouk of Egypt (1948) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was said if there were seven deadly sins, Farouk would find an eighth.  He was a glutton , womaniser, gambler and, perhaps bizarrely for someone with infinite wealth, a kleptomaniac.  He famously stole a pocket watch from Winston Churchill.  He later claimed to have simply found it lying around, but neglected to mention that he’d “found” it in Churchill’s pocket.  He also stole a ceremonial sword from the coffin of the Shah of Persia, while it was in Cairo.  It put a strain on relations between Egypt and Persia for years.

There’s another story that after having nightmares about lions attacking him, Farouk decided to take a trip to the Cairo Zoo.  Once there, he shot the lions in their cages. Hardly a normal reaction to suffering a bad dream!

Finally, when Hitler’s army was preparing to invade Egypt, Farouk sent Hitler a telegram apparently welcoming the offensive. He resented the British forces occupying his country.  I can only assume he must have thought the Nazis were somehow preferable.

Farouk frittered away his popularity. In 1952, he was overthrown in a move supported by both the British and American governments and soon afterwards the hugely popular President Nasser took up the reigns of leadership in Egypt.  Farouk was sent into exile in Europe.  When his palaces were raided, he was found to have huge collections of treasures including rare coins, stamps, and a massive collection of pornography.

While my book is set in the present day, so Farouk does not appear as a character, the mythology that’s sprung up about his personality and excessive lifestyle provided a great backdrop for my story.