3,200-Year-Old Pictures of Israelites Found in Egypt

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    3,200-Year-Old Picture of Israelites Found in

    EgyptBy Frank J. Yurco

    Sidebar: Understanding the Wall of Reliefs

    Sidebar: Usurped Cartouches Key to Discovery

    Jurgen Liepe

    Karnak, the great temple of the god Amun-Re in Thebes, Egypt, appears here in the distance.

    Under construction for more than 2,000 years, the temple of Karnak is viewed through the

    hypostyle hall of the Akh-menu temple of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (15041450 B.C.E.) in the

    foreground. An obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut, located beyond the Karnak sanctuary, is visible on a

    line with the center of the temple doorway. Flanking the doorway are engaged statues of

    Tuthmosis III.

    According to author Frank J. Yurco, a wall adjoining Karnaks great Hypostyle Hall exhibits reliefs

    that illustrate the Canaanite campaign of Merenptah, pharaoh of Egypt from 1212 to 1202 B.C.E.Among the vivid portrayals is the oldest known depiction of Israelites, a discovery that may aid in

    solving the mystery of their origin.

    Winter of 19761977. I was in Luxor, in Upper Egypt, site of the ancient city of Thebes. As a

    member of the University of Chicagos Epigraphic Survey, I was there studying the magnificent

    reliefs and recording the hieroglyphic inscriptions that almost cover the site.

    In my spare time, I would work collecting whatever data I could find that might elucidate the late

    XIXth Dynasty (12931185 B.C.E. ), on which I was then writing my doctoral dissertation. It wasin this connection that I found myself regularly studying a set of battle reliefs accompanied by

    extensive hieroglyphic inscriptions located in the famous Karnak temple.

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    This particular scene is on the outer western wall of the Cour de la Cachette. The wall itself was

    originally about 158 feet long and 30 feet high and is composed of blocks about 50 to 63 inches

    long and 40 inches high. Time, unfortunately, has not been kind to the sculptors who created this

    monument. Except at the extreme left (north) end, the top of the wall is missing. Three scenes at

    the right (as one faces the wall) are no longer in place. The Romans took down the blocks forming

    these scenes, in order to widen the gateway to the right when they removed from Karnak the

    obelisk now in the Lateran Square in Rome. Sometime after the advent of Christianity, Egyptian

    Copts built their own structures against the wall and pulled out stones so that the holes thereby

    created in the wall would support sections of their buildings. Stones from the destroyed scenes of

    the wall are still strewn about in a field nearby. Fortunately, some of these blocks can be identified

    with particular locations in the wall.

    Courtesy of Lawrence E. Stager

    The western wall of the Cour de la Cachette.

    Near the left side of the wall, between two short engaged pillars that extend several inches from

    the wall, is a long hieroglyphic textthe text of the Peace Treaty that followed the great battle of

    Kadesh, on the Orontes in northern Syria in 1275 B.C.E., between Ramesses II and the Hittite

    army led by Muwatallis.

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    Frank J. Yurco

    Peace in their time. Filling the space between two engaged pillarsthe slightly projecting blocks at

    left and upper rightthis long hieroglyphic text established peace between Ramesses II and the

    Hittite king Hattusilis III after some two decades of hostilities that included the famous battle at

    Kadesh, in northern Syria, in 1275 B.C.E. Concluded in the 21st year of Ramesses IIs reign (1258B.C.E.), the Treaty misled earlier scholars into thinking that the four battle scenes, two on each

    side of the treaty, related to Ramesses II. Although reliefs depicting the battle of Kadesh once

    stood to the left of the Treaty, they were largely, though imperfectly, erased at some time before

    Merenptahs battle reliefs were carved. Who erased the Kadesh reliefs is not known, but it is

    possible that Ramesses II felt that the commemoration of the battle was inappropriate beside the

    Peace Treaty and therefore ordered his own relief erased.

    To the left of the Peace Treaty text are two battle scenes; to the right, two more. Then, farther to

    the right areor weresix more scenes (two of the scenes at the far right are completely gone andmust be entirely reconstructed, in part from blocks in the nearby field). The four battle scenes

    seem to frame the Peace Treaty, two on each side. To the right of these four battle scenes are other

    scenes that progress from left to rightthe binding of prisoners, the collecting of prisoners,

    marching prisoners off to Egypt, presenting the prisoners to the god Amun, Amun presenting the

    sword of victory to the king (moving right to left) and finally a large-scale triumphal scene. The

    scenes stand in two registers, or rows, one above the other, except for the large triumphal scene at

    the right, which extended all the way from the top to the bottom of the wall. Each of the scenes

    also contains hieroglyphic inscriptions.

    One of the things that especially interested me in the inscriptions was the cartouchesthose

    oblong rings tied at the bottom that enclose the fourth and fifth names of the pharaoh. Both in the

    reliefs on the wall and on the loose blocks from these reliefs scattered about, all of the names in the

    cartouches had been usurpedthat is, they had been partially erased and recarved with the names

    of a later king.

    The names of the pharaoh that now appear in the cartouches belong to Sety II (11991193 B.C.E.).

    I wanted to look for the names of the earlier pharaoh under the names of Sety II. I should perhaps

    add that Egyptian pharaohs had five different royal names: The first four were given to him at his

    coronation: (1) The Horus name (so-called because it begins with a hieroglyph of the Horus

    falcon); (2) the Two-Ladies name (because it begins with a vulture and a cobra, both representing

    female goddesses); (3) the Golden-Horus name (because the Horus falcon stands on a symbol forgold); and (4) the prenomen (usually it is compounded with the name of the sun god). The fifth

    name is the kings personal name given to him at birth. All five names together are called his

    titulary. Only the fourth and fifth names are enclosed in cartouches. And it was these I especially

    wanted to examine.

    My work with the Epigraphic Survey had provided me with the techniques, training and

    experience for just such a task. The principal tool in examining usurped cartouches is the mirror.

    With a mirror you rake the light across the cartouche to deepen the shadows. This makes the

    carving stand out more sharply. It is not difficult to use this technique on a stone lying on the

    ground or even on one on the lower register of the reliefs. It is more difficult standing on a ladder

    10 feet above the ground.

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    The technique employed by the usurping pharaohsusurpation of cartouches was quite common

    all over ancient Egyptwas to hammer out and partly erase the original name. Then the surface

    was coated with plaster. But often the erased surface would first be scored to create a roughness

    that would better hold the plaster. Finally the new name would be incised in the plaster. Over the

    centuries, the concealing plaster tends to fall away, leaving visible traces of the carving beneath. In

    short, the very technique of usurpation often allows the traces to be unscrambled. In many cases,

    the traces are clearly visible.

    This set of battle reliefs has dozens of usurped cartouches. But usurpation was not confined to the

    cartouches alone; it also appears on the full extended titulary of the pharaoh in the great triumphal

    scene, which originally was on the far right end of the wall.

    The names of the latest versions in these cartouches and in the titulary belonged, as I said, to Sety

    II. Because of the statements of earlier scholars who had seen the wall, what I expected to see

    beneath the upper version were the names of Ramesses II. To my surprise, when I began

    examining these cartouches closely, I discovered they had been twice usurped. The original name

    had been partially erased; a second name had been incised on plaster that covered the original

    name; then that name on the plaster had been erased and replaced with the name of Sety II.

    Frank J. Yurco

    Superimposed cartouches.

    Drawing of superimposed cartouches.

    It gradually became clear that the name below Sety II was Amenmesse (12021199 B.C.E.),

    perhaps Setys half-brother. But below the name of Amenmesse was not the expected Ramesses II(12791212 B.C.E.), but Merenptah (12121202 B.C.E.)! This, as we shall see, had extraordinary

    consequences.

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