One of the things that was amazing to me about being in Egypt is how much of their history reinforces and further explains things that I’ve read about in the Bible for years. There were two areas where this really stood out to me.
First, Egyptian culture in general. One of the nights we were there we took a boat trip around on the Nile River. We had a local Muslim friend with us and he was telling us about Egyptian culture while we did it. He told us that Egyptians have always been laid back and content because the Nile has always made life easy. He described how food has always been easy to get because of the river and as a result part of their DNA as a people is to be laid back and relaxed. It was relatively easy for them to have the things they needed to survive. As I thought of that, it suddenly helped me to understand why the Israelites are so quick to complain to God and Moses about food shortages once they leave Egypt. I never really understood how they could look back and miss it (since they were ill-treated slaves) especially when God was bringing them on a new journey to something He called the Promised Land. But it began to make more sense. God was teaching them to depend on Him, and not on the stability of the river and all that it produces. And God’s way of doing things was different than the ebb and flow of the river that they’d grown accustomed to. Fascinating.
The second area of insight for me was the history of the Pharaohs. We spent a day touring the pyramids with a guide, and he told us the history of many of the pharaohs. One of them was Akhenaten. This was who they thought was Pharaoh when Joseph came to Egypt. Now I’ve heard about the Joseph side of the story, but I learned a different side from Egyptian history. Akhenaten is famous for turning the spiritual belief of Egypt from a polytheistic religion to a monotheistic religion. He was the only pharaoh to do this, and it was a huge ordeal as you might imagine. Did his experiences with Joseph cause him to do this? Unfortunately, it didn’t go well for Akhenaten, as ultimately they suspect that the people killed him over it. Oh, and you’ve probably heard of his son, the legendary King Tut. This would also help to explain why Tutankhamun became pharaoh at only age nine. Interesting.
The other pharaoh that was insightful was Ramses II. This is the guy thought to be pharaoh at the time of Moses when God brought the Israelites out of Egypt. What I never knew is that Egyptians love Ramses II (this actually surprised me at first). According to the great Wikipedia, he is “often regarded as Egypt’s greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh.” It helps one of the more difficult stories in the Bible to make more sense. Often people struggle with the explanations in Exodus that God hardened pharaoh’s heart. But if Ramses II was indeed the pharaoh, this was already a very proud and stubborn person who spent a lot of time creating giant monuments about himself and attempting to conquer other regions. It makes the comparison of what God did despite him even more striking. “…the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25) I also had the chance to look at Ramses’ mummy, which is very well preserved. It was crazy to look at his face and realize that this was likely the face that Moses was looking at during the great story of the Exodus.
Here is a before (a giant statue of Ramses II) and after (his mummy in the Cairo Museum) picture of Ramses II.