Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Brier poses interesting literary analysis of the Exodus story

In my latest series of lectures on ancient Egypt, Professor Brier applied his literary analysis method to the Exodus story. Here are some interesting points he makes:

Internal evidence:
The cities of Pithom and Ramses (Pi-Ramses) were real.
Bricks, not stones, were used to build storehouses.
Bricks were made with straw in Egypt but not in Canaan
Midwives were told to watch "between the two stones" for male Hebrew infants. In Egypt, women giving birth used birthing stools or stones so this was probably a reference to the Egyptian style of giving birth.
The name Moses is Egyptian not Hebrew. Iit means "birth" or "is born". Tuthmosis means the god Toth "is born".)

External evidence:
A Leiden Papyrus says "Distribute grain rations to the soldier and to the Apiru who transport stones to the great Pylon of Ramses". "Apiru" is used to describe tribal people of the desert and sounds somewhat like "Hebrew". This may be a reference to the Hebrews.

(I found a very interesting article by Rabbi Dovid Lichtman including this same reference: Since it is written by a rabbi, it may be subject to a lack of objectivity. However, I found the evidential statements intriguing--Much more coherent than the recent Discovery Channel program "Did Moses Exist?")

The Merneptah Stela from year 5 of Merneptahs reign (1207 BC) refers to Israel: "Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe; Ashkelon has been overcome; Gezer has been captured. Yano'am was made nonexistent; Israel is laid waste, its seed is not." Brier points out that this is the earliest non-Biblical reference to Israel. Another thing he points out is that on the stella, foreign nations were denoted with a hieroglyph resembling three mountains (because most foreign countries had such mountains). But the reference to Israel does not include this determinative hieroglyph. He believes this indicates the Israelites were still a wandering people at the time the stela was carved and had not yet founded a nation.

Brier also asserts that counting backward from this time places the Exodus around year 20 of Ramses the Great's reign. Ramses first son, Amunhirkepshef, disappeared from the historical record about this time too although he was obviously a grown man not a young boy as depicted in DeMilles "Ten Commandments".

Brier does point out, however, that there could not have been 600,000 men not including families involved in the exodus since Egypt at that time only had a total population of just over 1 million. He thinks this aspect of the story was simply exaggerated over time. He says a more rational figure would be no more than 600 and maybe as few as 60.

He recommends Ernest S. Frerichs and Leonard H. Leskos Exodus: The Egyptian Evidence, Winona Lake, IN, 1997.

I also wondered about the finality of the statements on the Merneptah Stela. "Israel is laid waste, its seed is not". So why do traditionalist believe there is a continuity between later Israelite civilization and the Israel of Merneptahs time. I guess I'm not the only one as I found this interesting article on the subject:

Thursday, April 24, 2003

No Aristeias in Helen of Troy Miniseries

Well, I watched Helen of Troy part 1 Sunday night twice just to make sure I didnt miss anything. (It took my husband, who was casually reading the paper, an hour to figure out I was just watching the same program again!) Overall I found the program entertaining and noticed there was an attempt to at least follow some of the events in mythology. I didnt remember Theseus being killed by Pollux (and my web research confirmed my suspicion). I also didnt remember Paris being abandoned and raised by a shepherd but I checked on that and it is part of the myth. (This new grandmother must be getting senile!)

There are several things that do detract from a reasonably well-made story. Achilles is nearly a non-character and totally out of character with the other members of the cast. (That shaved head just looks totally wrong and the scriptwriter has not given the actor any lines to work with either) I noticed on the USA website that he isnt even mentioned as a main character. Of course by downplaying Achilles, USA was able to side-step the Patroklas issue. Paris is also portrayed as being able to defeat Hector in hand-to-hand combat. Hectors character should be fleshed out and epitomize honor and courage but in this program he is definitely taking a back seat to Paris.

On the positive side, Rufus Sewell is excellent as Agammenon. He commands such screen presence that he virtually steals the scenes in which he appears. Matthew Marsden is doing a good job as Paris too. Sienna Guillory is putting a lot of effort into her part as Helen and I enjoyed the brief but amiable appearance of Stellan Skarsgard as Theseus. Emilia Fox is also suitably otherwordly as Cassandra.

I watched part 2 last night. Although it had some intense battle scenes (I notice that the director attempted to recreate the "Saving Private Ryan" effect with the whizzing arrows and water level landing scenes) I felt the storyline lost a great deal without the morality lessons of Achilles, Patroklas and Hectors aristeias. Achilles was just a vicious brute. Since there was no grief for Patroklas, his dragging of Hectors body behind his chariot had no particular significance except to make him look like he was just vainglorius. (Alexander the Great would have never idolized a person like that!) Of course, in real Greek mythology, Agammenon brought Cassandra back to Mycenae as a slave. There is no mention of any rape of his brothers wife Helen. I assume this scene was intended to thoroughly villify Agammenon since the entire program seemed focused on him as the antagonist. I also did a double take when Clytemnestra showed up in Troy. I guess the director was running out of time so they didnt have time to have Agammenon sail back to Greece to be murdered in his bath. I also found the Paris-Menelaus duel strange. In the Iliad, Menelaus supposedly wounded Paris so grievously that Paris had to be rescued by Aphrodite. Having Menelaus show clemency was confusing. I guess it was intended to show Menelaus was not so bad after all. I couldnt reconcile this view of Menelaus, though, with the fact that he apparently allowed Agammenon to take over his wife as was shown in the bath murder scene with Clytemnestra.

The hubris of the Greek sack of Troy was also not shown. Priam was killed but not at the household altar. Cassandra was not shown raped in the temple of Athena by Aios the Lesser. (although according to this website, Cassandra may not have been raped after all. Queen Hecuba was murdered rather than enslaved and of course there was no mention of Andromache and little Astyanax. (

All in all, however, it was much more interesting to watch than Junkyard Wars!

I found this review of the "Troy" feature film script an interesting contrast to the TV version:

Monday, April 21, 2003

Horemheb a more reasonable suspect in the death of Tutankhamun

Dr. Brier has been discussing the death of Tutankamun in my audio lecture series and he thinks Tut was murdered by Aye too. However, the more I learn about Horemheb the more I think he is a more likely suspect. Although its true Aye became Pharaoh after Tut, Aye was a relatively old man (60) and, as Im sure Horemheb expected, did not live long. Today, Dr. Brier mentioned that its very curious that many of the same scenes depicted in Tuts tomb were duplicated in Ayes tomb. He mentions a scene of 12 baboons that is almost identical in both tombs. He said the style of painting is so similar hes relatively sure they were even painted by the same artist. Aye obviously wanted to be closely associated with Tut (since he could not celebrate his association with the heretic pharaoh Ahkenaten). He was even buried in a tomb began originally for King Tut near the burial of Tuts grandfather, Amenhotep III.

But, when Horemheb came to power, all evidence of the "Amarna" period were eradicated, including the reign of his predecessor, Aye. It may just have been Horemheb that was pressuring Anaksunamum to marry Aye, knowing that she would probably never produce an heir from such an old man (in their way of thinking). Who knows, perhaps she did become pregnant anyway and was murdered because of it. As a career military man, Horemheb would have been outraged by Anaksunamuns request for a new husband from the Egyptians old enemies the Hittites and Horemheb would have certainly had the military force to ambush and kill a Hittite prince protected by a large entourage. Horemheb reigned for thirty years after Aye so obviously he was a much younger man and had no way to know that he would never have an heir either.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Literary analysis as an alternative to archaeological findings

I am presently enjoying a series of 48 lectures about ancient Egypt by Professor Bob Brier. I really enjoy his presentations and found his approach to biblical archaeology, and to the authenticity of the Joseph story, interesting. He points out that there has been no archaeological evidence (so far) of the presence of the early Israelites in Egypt. However, he said that if you have no physical evidence, you can at least conduct a literary analysis to see if the story "holds water".

He pointed out several key aspects of the Joseph story that indicates to him that whoever wrote the story at least had a very good knowledge of Egypt. For example, he mentioned that in the Coptic version of the story (he had previously explained that Coptic is the ancient Egyptian language written with the Greek alphabet), the word for "magicians" that Pharaoh consulted to interpret his dreams would be translated as "dwellers in the house of life". He said in ancient Egypt, a temple was called the house of life so this passage is really referring to the priests. In actual fact, ancient Egyptian priests kept texts used for dream interpretation in the "house of life". People desiring to have a dream interpreted would go to a priest in the house of life where the priest would consult the texts for the proper interpretation. So, this part of the story is accurate to the time period and culture.

Another example he pointed out was the name of the Egyptian man who purchased Joseph. He said Potiphar was an accurate example of an Egyptian name. The third example he mentioned was the pharaoh awarding a gold ring to Joseph to symbolize his authority. He said that in ancient Egypt, a highly placed official was usually given a gold signet ring by the pharaoh as a token of the new official's authority so even that small detail was accurate. He also mentioned that, even though there was no archaeological evidence of the presence of ancient Israelites, there was an inscription that recorded a famine that lasted for seven years. So, although this type of analysis cannot verify the actual existence of an Israelite named Joseph, the story was obviously related to or recorded by someone with extensive knowledge of Egyptian culture from that period.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Petrie Museum receives grant worth more than $83 million

The Petrie Museum in London, which owns one of the largest intact collections of Egyptian antiquities outside Egypt, received a grant worth more than $83 million. The museums collection, encompassing over 800,000 items including the worlds oldest dress, was built up by William Flinders Petrie, an archaeologist and the first Edwards professor of Egyptian archaeology and philology at the university. Petrie, who died in 1942, is referred to as the father of scientific archaeology.

See also:

Translating the Hieroglyphs

I am presently listening to The Teaching Company lecture "The History of Ancient Egypt" presented by Professor Bob Brier. Even though I am a passionate viewer of any program having to do with ancient history and ancient historical characters, I learn new things with each lecture. For example, most of us are familiar with the rosetta stone and its role in translating the ancient hieroglyphs. But I did not realize one of the other important factors was Champollions knowledge of Coptic. I knew about Egypts Coptic-sect of Christians but I did not realize their written texts are the ancient Egyptian language written in the Greek alphabet.