Friday, October 30, 2009

Archaeology and Exodus in the News

Zahi Hawass, Egyptian director of antiquities (or some such), has an article discussing a tomb and its potential connections to Hebrew history, which of course means “The Exodus.”

The discovery of this tomb which took place almost 20 years ago remains an important archaeological event. The reason for this is that the person buried in the tomb was known as "Aper-al" and this is an Egyptianized form of a Hebrew name. Aper-al was the vizier for King Amenhotep III, and later for his son King Akhenaten. Pharaoh Akhenaten was the first ruler to institute monotheism represented by the worship of the sun which he called Aten.

Excavations of this tomb continued for almost 10 years, beginning in 1980 and ending in late 1989. Amongst the artefacts discovered here were several portraits entitled "spiritual father of Aten" as well as "the Priest" and "the first servant of Aten." This means that Aper-al served as the chief priest of Aten in the Memphis region during the reign of King Akhenaten.

First, it’s unclear to me how this story intersects with Israelite history at all, much less the Exodus narrative. Everyone who knows biblical history knows that the pharaoh of the Exodus was Amenhotep II, not III, and certainly not IV. The Exodus happened roughly 100 years before Akhnaten (aka Amenhotep IV) in precisely 1446 BC.

Actually, it’s a point of some contention whether the Exodus (if it happened at all) happened under Amenhotep II in the mid-fifteenth century BC OR under Rameses II in the early thirteenth century BC. Either way, Akhnaten falls squarely in the middle between the two.

Second, what biblical figure should we connect this “Aper-al” to? The Bible gives Joseph a vizier-like position but by the Bible’s chronology, he would have to predate the Exodus by 430 years, not 60. What about Moses? Well, the Bible gives no such indication that Moses had a position like that. He certainly wouldn’t have been buried in Egypt, fully assimilated to Egyptian culture. I have heard it claimed that Moses got his monotheistic ideas from Amarna Egypt (or was it that Akhnaten got his monotheistic ideas from the Hebrews?).

So, at best, we have some unknown assimilated Hebrew who may or may not have influenced or been influenced by Aten worship. Not a very compelling biblical connection, so I must conclude that the “Exodus” connection is merely thrown into this story to gain more readers. What a surprise!! Near Eastern archaeologists using tenuous biblical connections for publicity purposes.

Incidentally, the claim that Akhnaten was a monotheist at all is rather far-fetched. Egyptian religion is consistently henotheistic, and Akhnaten was no exception (that means, you get all worked up about your god being the most supreme over all the other gods – not monotheistic where you claim the others don’t even exist. That’s a relatively late development to the religious landscape).

Via Agade

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