Exodus: Gods and Kings (Part 2)

imagesRidley Scott’s motion picture Exodus: Gods and Kings is in cinemas now.  It has sparked a storm of controversy in some Middle Eastern countries, where many have banned it for both historical and religious inaccuracies.  I wrote a blog a couple of days ago looking at the historical side of the Exodus story, specifically whether there is any evidence that Pharaoh Ramses II was the Pharaoh of the Oppression / Exodus as depicted in popular culture.

It is problematic to write an opinion-piece about religious inaccuracies for fear of causing offence.  There has always been debate about the extent to which the Old Testament and other religious books, such as the Torah, are historical or literary works.  As such, I guess the question is whether they should be taken literally or whether some poetic licence is allowable.  I daresay even the most ardent Biblical scholar would accept the Old Testament stories were handed down orally through generations before they were written down.  So some embellishment and distortion is likely, which is perhaps how all the best myths grow up in the popular imagination.

So to call something inaccurate religiously-speaking, one would have to take the Bible stories at face value and expect them to be faithfully retold without deviation or dramatic licence.  Perhaps that’s a bit much to ask of a movie-maker.

To my way of looking at it, the Bible and other religious works are books of faith.  I personally don’t consider faith is at odds with having an enquiring mind.  I don’t see how seeking the historical genesis (no pun intended) of the Bible stories undermines any theological beliefs we may hold.  Put simply, whether or not I believe in Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as a ‘historical’ event or as a parable to reference good and evil and the consequences of our choices and actions…  it makes no difference to the ‘faith’ I may have in a higher being, whom we might call God.

BookCoverPreview.doAnd so, I turn to the Exodus story and feel free to ask questions and form opinions as, I suspect, did Ridley Scott and Cecil B DeMille and other film-makers.  I do so because I am a fiction-writer.  My latest novel, Seti’s Secret (Book 6 in a series following Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt) also explores the Exodus story, although from a different angle.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something could be found in Egypt to cast light on the Exodus from the historical / archaeological perspective?

The ten plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea by Moses are apocryphal.  We can choose to see the hand of God at play or we can seek an explanation in the natural world.  Much has been written about the possibility of a series of ecological disasters causing the plagues.  The volcanic explosion of Santorini in antiquity is also cited as possibly being linked to both the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea.  But was it the Red Sea?  The literal translation of Yam Suph is ‘Sea of Reeds’.  This might make a more likely location for the crossing of the fleeing Israelites in bitter lakes near the Delta region, not far from Suez (perhaps not quite so exciting for the special effects team of a movie-maker).

Morocco halted screenings of Ridley Scott’s epic because the film contains a “representation of God”, which is forbidden under Islamic Law.  Scott depicts the vengeful God of the Old Testament as a young boy who comes across as a bloodthirsty little chap, for all his public schoolboy way of speaking.

This vengeful God has always seemed to me somewhat at odds with the author of the Ten Commandments.  But then, as others have pointed out, these appear to be a re-phrasing of Spell 125 of ancient Egyptian Book of The Dead.

Similarly, Psalm 104 is a virtual mirror image of ‘the heretic’ Pharaoh Akhenaten’s Hymn to the Aten.  So to my way of looking at it, and at the risk of offending those of a more orthodox religious view, the origins of many of the world’s leading religions today can be found in ancient Egypt.

Moses is credited as being the father of Judaism and forefather of Christianity and Islam.  Many writers and historians have sought out the identity of Biblical Moses among the royal families of ancient Egypt.  The Bible makes it clear he grew up in the royal household.  Sigmund Freud, the Jewish father of psychoanalysis, was the first to suggest a link between the apparently monotheistic beliefs of the pharaoh Akhenaten and the great monotheistic religions of the world today.  In his book Moses and Monotheism, published in English in 1939, he suggested Moses may have been a follower of Akhenaten, and perhaps served at his court.  This seems to me an inherently more likely scenario than growing up as a ‘brother’ of Ramses II, and helps explain so much more …

BookCoverPreview.doIf you’re interested in finding out more, and you like a relatively light escapist read, you might want to give my fictional series a try. The Moses story is explored in Akhenaten’s Alibi and Seti’s Secret.

BookCoverPreview.doThe series starts with Carter’s Conundrums.  All six books in the series are set in present-day Egypt.  Each is a modern adventure that also sets out to explore an ancient mystery.  They are available to download or in paperback on all Amazon sites.

Happy New Year to all.

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

 

Nothing new under the Egyptian Sun

BookCoverPreview.doI’ve just published Akhenaten’s Alibi, the fifth book in the series following Meredith Pink on her adventures in Egypt.  It’s set against the backdrop of the turbulent events of the summer of 2013, when the people of Egypt took to the streets to protest the ‘undemocratic rule’ of their first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.  This resulted in a coup d’etat that ousted him from power.

As I’ve mentioned before, it seems there really is nothing new under the Egyptian sun.  Some scholars claim the first coup d’etat took place in Egypt over 3000 years ago.  Back then it wasn’t a democratically elected president but a divinely anointed pharaoh who was allegedly forced to abdicate his position.

akhnatontall.gifThe pharaoh in question was Akhenaten, arguably the most intriguing of all the pharaohs.  He ruled towards the end of the golden age of Egypt’s empire in the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom.  Some say he catapulted it into decline.  He has been called ‘the first individual in history’.  It’s not hard to see why.  Unlike the traditional statuary and tomb-and-temple carvings that remained largely unchanged over a passage of time spanning upwards of 2000 years, Akhenaten’s is unique.  For reasons that remain obscure, he chose to have himself represented artistically with an elongated and distorted body shape and with exaggerated and unflattering facial features.

a_2b8e4f28What we know for sure is that he led a religious revolution, breaking with centuries’-worth of uniformity and consigning the ancient Egyptian pantheon of gods and goddesses to oblivion.  Instead he elevated the Aten, the sun disc for sole worship.

The big questions this begs … was Akhenaten the first monotheist in history?  Did he pave the way for the great monotheistic religions of the world… Judaism, Islam and Christianity?  Was he a contemporary, or perhaps an inspiration for Moses?  Opinion is divided.  Some claim Akhenaten was an enlightened spiritualist, born before his time. Others that he was an autocratic despot who imposed his thinking on a resistant populace.

So, was Akhenaten ousted from power by a people unwilling to accept his unilateralism, in the way Morsi was?  Or did he die a natural death?  Were his beliefs kept alive by a small band of his followers, who handed them down perhaps until the Qumran Essenes set them down in the earliest biblical writings, the Dead Sea Scrolls?

We may never know.  But these are intriguing questions for a fiction writer.  My latest novel seeks to weave a story from these threads and set it against the backdrop of the modern political situation in Egypt. It’s available on all the Amazon sites.  I hope you enjoy it.  If you’d like to begin with the first book in the series, look out for Carter’s Conundrums, also available on Amazon

Fiona Deal