Ramses’ Riches now published

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book 9 - v3On a mission to Egypt to retrace the steps of the great explorer Giovanni Belzoni, the next stop is Abu Simbel.  But Merry and friends have more reasons for wanting to make the trip down Lake Nasser than just to see The Great Temple of Ramses that Belzoni famously dug from the sand.

First, there’s the golden statuette of Helen of Troy apparently found there.  And second, the promise – on very good authority – of a stash of treasure.

Intrigued and mystified – as both are surely impossible – Merry sets sail to find out more.

This is the ninth book in my fiction series following Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt. The books are escapist fiction – adventure stories – set in the present day.  All have an ancient Egyptian mystery at their heart.

IDBC00078 Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt - Fiona Deal - CCThe first book in the series is Carter’s Conundrums.  It starts with Merry, on holiday in Egypt, getting trapped inside the Howard Carter Museum in Luxor, and making a discovery … This sets her off an a treasure hunt, and the adventure of a lifetime.

The books are aimed at adults who enjoy action, mystery and adventure stories.  And at anybody with at least a passing interest in ancient Egypt; its mysteries, treasures and enduring civilisation.

All books are available in Kindle and paperback formats on Amazon.  I do hope you enjoy them…

Fiona Deal

 

 

 

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

 

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

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