I grew up in the 1960s reading about Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, filled with adventures that delighted my young mind and fueled my thirst for adventures of my own.
On my recent exploration of Egypt, I learned a great deal. I will share (a) how each location I visited relates to events mentioned in the Bible, (b) the significance of Egyptian history for Egypt’s famous 5 in the Bible: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Jeremiah and Jesus, (c) and how Egypt’s pyramids, mummies and animal-headed humans were adopted to form Judaic explanations about life and death as well as Christian doctrines such as the resurrection and the afterlife.
Finally, I will invite you to think a few things through — how assumption and presumptions (AP) inherited, adopted and adapted (IAA) by generations of Christians, shape the religious claims we encounter from interpreters of the Bible, which form what we think of as our knowledge, which in turn become the bases of our beliefs. I call this motif about claims, knowledge and beliefs CKB.
It is always a good idea to think about your beliefs and how they came about. Today, this is made possible by advances in science, technology and medicine that pave the way for archaeologists, historians, linguists, geologists and other scientists who work alongside biblical scholars to piece together the story of Christianity from Abraham to Jesus.
I first visited Egypt in 2004 but was overwhelmed by the long list of names, temples and pyramids. This time, I prepared well ahead and wanted to learn about the local legends, stories, and accounts as well as the archaeological, historical, and scientific descriptions of Biblical events and people. So I hired a private guide who was both an Egyptologist and archaeologist to visit 5 locations: The Giza governate: to see the pyramids of Saqqara, Dahshur and Giza; Luxor to see the Egyptian temples; Edfu and Kom Ombo to visit the Greco-Roman temples; Abu Simbel to see Rameses II’s temple, and Cairo to see the mummies, learn about the Egyptian beliefs in the afterlife as well as the Coptic Christianity’s Holy Family tradition
- The first stop was at the GIZA GOVERNATE
We drove to Saqqara, to see King Djoser’s Step Pyramid, or “Stairway to Heaven” built during the 3rd Dynasty. It consisted of 6 stone mastabas or rectangular tombs built one on top of another, forming a pyramid of steps
Next, I went inside the pyramid of Pharaoh Unas, who had inscriptions cut into the walls inside the pyramid, now known as the Pyramid Texts.
Then to Dahshur to see the Bent Pyramid built by King Sneferu. Of the 4th dynasty. A miscalculation led to risking the weight limit of the foundation, so a change in angle caused a bent look.
I also went 200 feet inside the Red Pyramid via a 3-foot-high passage. It was like climbing down and up a 20-story building hunched up the entire time. King Sneferu was buried here.
Finally, to Giza to see the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure and the Sphinx, all from the 4th dynasty.
Egyptian pyramids are resurrection machines built by ancient kings to house their mummified bodies, to be born again to the afterlife. The pyramids housed the dead bodies of their kings while the nearby temples housed the spirits of their gods. If these 3 terms resurrection, born again and afterlife seem familiar to Bible readers, it is because Christianity drew from Judaism, which drew from ancient Egyptian religious teachings.
Being right there, staring at these ancient buildings that Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Jeremiah and Jesus himself would have seem, was quite breath-taking. These pyramids are among the oldest surviving artifacts that connect history to the Bible. In Egypt, reading parts of the Bible became more like reading history
2. My next stop was LUXOR, a one-hour flight from Cairo, to visit four locations: Luxor and Karnak on the east of the Nile, and the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut’s temple on the west of the Nile. Thus, the Nile River divides the gods on the right bank and the kings on the left bank. At (i) Luxor and (ii) Karnak, generations of Egyptian kings built ever bigger temples, obelisks and storehouses of religious treasures to a variety of gods, to ensure the economic well-being of the kingdom.
By the time of the New Kingdom (16th to 11th century BC), after 1000 years of burying kings in pyramids, and having their bodies and treasures stolen, the royal bodies were buried 400 miles south of Giza, under mountains that looked like natural pyramids rather than building pyramids that looked like artificial mountains. This place came to be known as The Valley of the Kings.
At (iii) The Valley of the Kings, 64 royal tombs have been uncovered so far. I visited the tombs of Rameses I (KV 16), Rameses III (KV 11) and Rameses IV (KV 2)
Also on the left side of the Nile, I visited one of my favorite monuments, the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, a stunning display of the most powerful female pharaoh. Hatshepsut was the daughter of Thutmoses I. She was married off to her half-brother Pharaoh Tuthmoses II. When her husband died, the throne was supposed to pass on to her husband’s son by another wife. But Hatshepsut usurped the throne from her stepson, who became pharaoh Thutmoses III following Hatshepsut’s death.
Thutmoses means to be “born of the god Thoth” and refers to the God Thoth born again as Egypt’s king. Thoth was both scribe to the gods and to the underworld. In later years, the Hebrew word Moses means to be “drawn out of the water” but was associated with the name Thutmoses, to be “born again” (yeah). By the time of Jesus, the Gospel writers introduced the concept of being “born again”.
At Luxor, the terms resurrection, born again and the afterlife took on new meanings for me, even though they had much older pre-Christian origins. It was gratifying to learn God was actively engaging human minds long before modern religions and their doctrines were invented.
3. EDFU and KOM OMBO
At Luxor, I embarked on a 4-day sail upriver on a Nile motor cruiser. My destination was the temples at Edfu and Kom Ombo.
The temples at Edfu are among the most well preserved in Egypt. Many of these Ptolemaic (Greco-Roman) temples were repaired and rebuilt by the Greek and Roman rulers of Egypt over earlier Egyptian temples. Alexander the Great of Macedon’s conquest of Egypt led to the Europeanization of Africa’s greatest monuments. The Greeks rebuilt Egyptian temples with fluted columns. And the Romans came next, made Egypt a Roman province and the emperors built Roman temples to their own honor.
The temple atKom Ombo was dedicated to two divine trinities: (a) Sobek, Hathor and their child Khonsu and (b) Haroeris, Tasenetnofret and their child Panebtawy. At the back of the Kom Ombo temple, along with the figure of the sky goddess Nut who holds up the sky, are figures of a lion, a falcon, a bull and a serpent representing the four winds.
In the Old Testament, the author of Ezekiel 1:10 describes the four creatures as: “Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle” (NIV). In the New Testament, the author of Revelation 4:7 describes them as: “The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle” (NIV). By the 2nd century AD, Bishop Irenaeus associated these four creatures with the New Testament’s four evangelists. The man is Matthew, the lion is Mark, the ox is Luke, and the eagle is John. This Christian Tetramorph (four shapes) derived from the book of Ezekiel’s four living creatures and represent four facets of Christ.
Egypt’s religious animal symbols were inherited by the Hebrew Bible, adopted by the Greek and Roman religions in Egypt, and adapted by Christianity’s New Testament.
At Edfu and Kom Ombo, incidental references to Egypt’s divine trinities and the four animal symbols that were passed on to the Jewish, Greek and Roman religions, became part of the culture into which the Bible was finalized and into which Jesus was born.
4. ABU SIMBEL
Next, after the boat docked at Aswan, a 3-hour bus ride brought me to Abu Simbel, where Pharaoh Rameses II built two massive rock-cut temples, for himself, his wife Nefertari, and their children. Again we encounter a 13th century BC trinity of Egyptian deities to which the Rameses temple was dedicated: Ra-Horakhty, Ptah and Amun.
What is the significance of Rameses II for biblical scholars? Assuming that Moses was a historical figure, Rameses II is the likely pharaoh whom Moses confronted in the 13thcentury BC. The temples’ many rooms are filled with writings, carvings and paintings. You can see loads of data describing the life of this pharaoh, his kingdom, his friends and his enemies.
Abu Simbel provides important background information into Moses’ world, the economic, political and religious leaders in the Ancient Near East and Egypt as well as their beliefs and priorities that shaped the later religions of Judaism, and Christianity.
Our final stop was the capital city of Cairo, to see the ancient mummies of pharaohs.
Mummies fascinate us because they seem to have cheated death.
While the most famous mummy is that of Tutankhamun of the 18th dynasty at KV 62 in the Valley of the Kings, the most important is the mummy of Rameses the Great (II) of the 19th dynasty first buried at KV 7, but it was moved to Deir el-Bahri to protect it from looters, where it was discovered in 1881.
In 1974 Egyptologists noticed that the 5 foot 7 inch mummy’s condition was rapidly deteriorating. The following year, Rameses II was flown to Paris for examination and conservation. His mummy was issued an Egyptian passport that listed his occupation as “King (deceased)” and was received at the airport with the full military honours befitting a king. After extensive scientific work was done to reduce the rate of decay, Rameses II was returned to Cairo and kept at the Egyptian Museum. In 2021, it was moved from the Egyptian Museum to the National Museum of the Egyptian Civilization, where all the major mummies of important pharaohs were on display.
Rameses II is probably the only face from the Bible you are ever going to see. Of all the other names mention in the Bible, he alone has been physically preserved for the past 3200 years.
Finally, I visited two Coptic churches in Cairo:
The Hanging Church was built over much older foundations and ‘hangs’ over them. It is the most important Coptic Church and houses the relics of early Christian martyrs.
Next, I visited the Cavern of Abu Serga, also known as the Church of the martyrs Sergius and Bacchus. It was built in the 4th century on the site where, according to tradition, the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus took refuge for 3 months on their 42-month refuge in Egypt. This makes the Coptic Church of Egypt, whose patron saint is Mark the Evangelist, older than the Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and even the Ethiopic Church.
At Cairo, I came face to face with what is probably the man who stared down Moses himself, the half-brother of Israel’s founder and the first man who proclaimed YHWH as God. Here, I also stepped into a church that Jesus, Mary and Joseph might have found refuge, which reminded of the plight of political and economic refugees in our world today. This Holy Family Tradition ought to inspire Christians to practice
Jesus’ call to compassion for the weakest among us — the refugee migrant.
Let us now take a look at what led to Egypt’s construction of pyramids and mummification of the dead — JUDGMENT DAY and WEIGHING THE HEART ceremony.
The ancient Egyptians believed that death was only the end of life on earth. The person will be judged and his spirit can reach their idea of Heaven. Of all the organs in the body, the heart is the most important. It is the seat of memory, thought and emotion. It recorded all of the deeds of a person’s life, and was needed for judgment day in the afterlife. The Egyptians imagined a Weighing of the Heart Ceremony at Judgment Day to determine the destiny of the dead person.
During the ceremony, the heart of the deceased is weighed against the Feather of Ma’at, the goddess of truth and justice. If the deceased had lived a life of truth and integrity, the heart is light as the feather, securing access to the Field of Reeds (Aaru, the Egyptian afterlife, an idealized vision of one’s life on earth in heaven). If the heart is heavy with wrongdoing, it would immediately be devoured by Ammit, the monster and the hope of an afterlife is lost forever. Written spells lined the walls of the sarcophagus meant to instruct the heart to provide a story that would ensure a successful rise to the Field of Reeds
This Weighing of the Heart Ceremony so closely matches the Christian vision of the Afterlife: Judgement Day, Everlasting Life in Heaven, and Eternal Death in Hell. This connection between ancient Egyptian and Christian beliefs have led many biblical scholars to study the religions of ancient Egypt, for which written evidence pre-date Christianity’s New Testament by at least 1500 years. It is very likely that the Egyptian belief about the afterlife became the source of Judaic and Christian inheritance of ideas, adopted and adapted for later purposes in a neighboring land — Israel, which became Palestine by the time of Jesus.
Animals-Headed Humans. Have you noticed the strange animal-headed gods of Egyptian religions? I can think of Amun (ram), Anubis (jackal), Apis (bull), Bastet (cat), Horus (falcon), Sobek (crocodile), Thoth (Ibis or baboon) and Wadjet (cobra). Egypt’s ritual use of local animals to explain their roles in the human experience is echoed in the Bible, but with animals that speak.
While stories of talking animals is not unique to Christianity, such episodes in other religions are often understood as myths and not historical events. Talking animals are often used to convey theological truths. In many religions. In the East, talking animals include the horse, monkey, and pig, most notably in the story of The Journey to the West, a Ming dynasty collection of tales describing the Chinese quest for Indian Buddhist scriptures.
In the West, Christian parents rarely object to Dr Doolittle’s ability to speak to animals, and more importantly, the animals can speak to him, because they are not regarded as scientific and historical accounts. Thus, even in Christian theological thought, science is the arbiter of truth — not that science is truth, but that truth is often mediated by a scientific account of reality.
Signs and Science. When a belief cannot be verified scientifically, the fallback is often claims to miracles as the basis for belief. Yet, the very definition of a miracle is an outcome based on the suspension of natural laws of physics. All miracles are exceptions to the universal laws of physics as we know them — for example, any human flight before 1783 (hot-air balloon) or any powered human flight before 1903 (Wright flyer) were considered miraculous events.
From Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as Greco-Roman deities, divine-powered flights that defy the physical laws of gravity were offered as evidence of miraculous power. Here are some examples: Hinduism’s Hanuman the monkey God (inspired by Indian monkeys), Buddhism’s Guru Rinpoche otherwise known as Padmasambhava, who flew from Tibet to Bhutan on a flying tigress (inspired by Bengal tigers), Chinese flying dragons (inspired by dinosaur bones), Judaism’s flying horse-powered Chariots of Fire and Chariots of the Lord, Christianity’s 2, 4 and even 6-winged creatures such as flying lions, oxen, cherubs, and seraphs, and Islam’s Buraq, the flying winged horse (inspired by Arabian horses) who carried The Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem and then on to Heaven and back. The choice of animals often depends on local geography and history.
The Bible describes two talking animals, a serpent and an ass. Christian theology’s evolving interpretations of these two events respond to scientific logic as new knowledge is acquired. Eve’s conversation with a serpent in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1–6) and Balaam’s conversation with an ass he was riding after “the LORD opened her mouth” to speak (Num. 22:28–35) have long puzzled readers of the Bible. These OT accounts caught the attention of the NT writers, who offered reasonable ‘scientific’ explanations, since everyone knew that non-humans did not possess speaking organs to emulate the human power of speech.
Two NT books provided ‘information’ about the Serpent and Balaam’s ass that were not present in the original Old Testament texts: that the serpent is an embodiment of Satan or the Devil (Revelation 12:9) and the ass spoke ‘with a man’s voice’ (2 Peter 2:16).
They attempted to address disconcerting issues generated by the biblical representation of talking animals: If God made a distinction between humans and the rest of Creation, why are animals represented as having the markers of humanity — speech and by implication, reason? And if these two special animals could talk, who originated the thoughts embodied in their words — the animal itself or God?
After the Bible was written, later Jewish and Christian exegetes constructed “paratexts” that reflect their anxieties about the confounding exegetical issues evoked by the Serpent and Balaam’s ass. Philo (20 BC-AD 50), a Jewish exegete from Egypt, advocated the use of the allegorical method — the stories were symbolic.
These biblical interpreters indicate that the New Testament writers, living in an age far removed from Old Testament writers, had become sensitive to the inconvenient questions their generation of believers were sure to ask. Just as Jesus was 1700 years removed in time from Abraham the New Testament writers were over 500 years removed in time from the Old Testament writers. A lot of new knowledge is acquired by the human race over such an expanse of time.
Thus, Old Testament readers were comfortable about biological specimens of talking non-human animals, but New Testament writers writing a thousand years later felt constrained to explain them as unique cases where supernatural forces (demonic and divine) interrupted the way of nature to provide such special dispensations. Only one snake 🐍 and one ass were provisioned to speak 🗣️ and Post-NT writers ✍️ were even more concerned about the credibility of such references.
Some explained the instances not as supernatural imposition on God’s creation (as the NT writers did) but rather as non-historical events, i.e., there was no talking serpent and ass. This bold departure from both the OT and NT writers became part of Christianity’s doctrinal inheritance.
Today, Christian readers of the OT can adopt one of 3 distinct interpretations: (i)There were two talking animals (c. 1000 BC). (ii) Supernatural forces changed the laws of physics and biology to allow two animals to talk (c. AD 50). (iii) There were no talking animals (c. AD 50 on)
Christianity’s use of animals in the Bible as supernatural specimens of nature in part of a long line of animal imagery among the world’s religions. The common thread among the religions is this — every interpretation regarding the animals rely on our increasing knowledge (scientia) of the world we live in, including the characteristics of each animal.
I would like to acknowledge and thank my private guides, Egyptologists Tarek Rady and Mansour Gad Allah.
Now, about what I call Egypt’s Famous 5: From Abraham to Jesus
Egyptian religions influenced the thoughts of 5 men in the Bible.
Around 1700 BC, Abraham of Mesopotamia migrated to Canaan, then Egypt before settling down in Canaan. Around 1600 BC, Joseph of Canaan was sold as a slave and settled in Egypt. Around the 1200s BC, Moses of Egypt migrated to Midian in Arabia before returning to Egypt. Around the 600s BC, Jeremiah of Judah was forced to migrate to Egypt. Around the turn of the 1st century BC + AD, Jesus’ parents brought him to Egypt for the first years of his life before they returned to Palestine.
You can see the prominent role that Egypt played in the lives of these 5 men. In fact, if you read all 850,000 words of the Bible, you will see Egypt appears almost 750 times. What can we know about their place in Egypt’s story from the Bible, modern archaeology, and historical studies?
Egypt first appears in the Bible with the story of a Mesopotamian called Abraham, who moved to Canaan, but migrated to Egypt during a famine. Abraham is important to Christianity. Aside from Moses, no Old Testament character is mentioned more in the New Testament than Abraham. James refers to Abraham as “a friend of God”, a title used of no one else in Scripture. Christians in all generations are called the “children of Abraham”.
We know little about his birth and early life. We first meet Abraham when he is already in his 70s. His father, Terah, lived in Ur, a city either in northern Mesopotamia (modern Turkey) or in southern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). Interestingly, Abraham was neither an Israelite nor a Jew because Israel was the name given to his grandson Jacob and Jews refer to descendants of his great-grandson Judah. However, he was a “Hebrew” or a descendent of Eber, a great-great-grandson of Noah since Hebrews or Ivri, refers to one who pass over land, i.e., nomads, and came to refer to any tribe that came from beyond [on the eastern side of] the [Euphrates] River.
In the Bible, Hebrew refers to a people and never to a language. What we think of as the Hebrew language in the Bible is in fact Aramaic. However, by the 19th century, a series of incorrect identifications led to the shift from Jews who spoke Aramaic to become Hebrews who speak Hebrew.
And by the way, when Abraham migrated to Egypt, he would have seen the pyramids and learned about the Egyptian religions and customs. Each major city or region worshipped their own pantheon of gods.
Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery, and he ended up in Egypt. According to the Bible, Joseph rose through the ranks to become the Pharaoh’s chief minister, the second-in-command. Exercising his authority Joseph invited his father Jacob’s (called Israel) family came to settle in Egypt. But how did a non-Egyptian like Joseph from Canaan achieve such a high office to serve Pharaoh?
Here’s a quick introduction to Egypt during Joseph’s time. The 15th, 16th and 17th dynasties simply describe different kings ruling different parts of Egypt at the same time. Then King Ahmose reunited the land to become the first king of the 18th dynasty and ruler of a single kingdom. Joseph would have lived during Egypt’s 15th dynasty (c. 1630–1523 BC) when the Hyksos, a semitic-speaking people from Canaan, ruled the northern part while Egyptians ruled the south.
So, who were the Hyksos? The Old Kingdom (2700–2200 BC) was the age of Egypt’s pyramid building. Next came the First Intermediate Period (2200–2000 BC), which described the decline of a unified government. Then came the Middle Kingdom (2000–1780 BC) when the dynasty based in Thebes restored order. People from Canaan called “Asiatics” began to migrate, first as merchants, to the eastern Nile Delta. A second collapse of a unified Egypt called the Second Intermediate Period (1780–1550 BC), saw Canaanite Asiaticswho had been living in the region grew in power. Some of their leaders began to rule from Avaris in northern Egypt. They came to be known as the Hyksos, a Greek corruption of the Egyptian term for “rulers of foreign lands” or “heka khasut”. Thus, Asiatic Canaanites migrated to northern Egypt and ruled as the Hyksos or heka khasut — rulers from foreign lands. These Hyksos introduced new technologies from the horse and chariot to glass manufacturing and set precedents for the international diplomacy followed in the Amarna Letters.
Joseph would have served a non-Egyptian pharaoh of northern Egypt, not the whole of Egypt. This may explain Joseph’s dramatic rise to power as a non-Egyptian outsider.
Now, its no surprise that Abraham’s descendants adopted Egyptian culture. In fact, something I did not realize … both Abraham’s grandson and great-grandson, Jacob and Joseph, were mummified in accordance with Egyptian practice.
The Bible states that both Jacob and Joseph were mummified. The book of Genesis describes Jacob and Joseph as concerned that their bodies would be left in Egypt. Both explicitly stipulate that their mummified corpses must be brought to Canaan and buried there. JACOB: Gen 49:29 — Then he instructed them, saying to them, “I am about to be gathered to my kin. Bury me with my fathers in the cave which is in the field of Ephron the Hittite .”(NIV) JOSEPH: Gen 50:25–26 — And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt (NIV).
What does mummification entail? The brain was disposed of by hooking it through the nose, often after it was manually liquified by moving the hook about inside. The heart was the most important organ to the Egyptians. Often buried along the heart was an amulet in the shape of a scarab beetle inscribed with instructions for how to successfully use the heart to enter the afterlife. The Bible describes the process of embalming as taking 40 days as part of a 70-day mourning period. This matches the Egyptian sources which mention a 40-day period of drying and draining the body of liquids followed by a 30-day treatment with oils. The jars of non-royal elites often bore the likenesses of the so-called sons of Horus: Imsety, a human who protected the liver, Hapy, a baboon who guarded the lungs, Qebehsenuef, a falcon who protected the intestines, and Duamutef, a jackal who protected the stomach.
By the 13th century BC, the Hebrews in Egypt grew in numbers but declined from favor. The king began to oppress them. According to the Bible, the Egyptian pharaoh did not “know” what Joseph the Canaanite did for the Hyksos dynasty of Egypt. What this really meant was that after the Egyptian pharaohs replaced the Hyksos pharaohs, Joseph’s contributions to Egypt as a Canaanite were no longer celebrated. Moses grew up as a prince of Egypt but later knew that he was a Hebrew. In a rage, he killed an Egyptian who mistreated a fellow Hebrew and then fled to Midian in Arabia. Moses and his brother Aaron confronted Pharaoh and after a series of plagues, led fellow Hebrews and other slaves out of Egypt to form a new community of people called Israel — a name given to Joseph’s father, Jacob.
Israel means “Let El or God prevail”. Would it surprise you that Moses’ 10 Commandments was probably written in Egyptian hieroglyphs rather than in Hebrew, a script that did not yet exist in the 13th century BC. Some wonder if the ever happened at all. Although there is no record of the biblical exodus found in any Egyptian tablet, that is not unusual; like many nations, the Egyptians did not record their defeats.
Is there any reference of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the Bible? Well, kinda. The Biblical account states that the Israelites built “supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.” The Egyptian records state that King Seti I (c.1290–1279 BC) built a new garrison city, which his son, Ramesses II (c. 1279– 1213 BC) called Pi-Ramesses. A second city was built and dedicated to Per-Atum. The Egyptian cities of Pi-Ramesses and Per-Atum were the biblical cities of Rameses and Pithom.
Was Israel mentioned in Egyptian Records? Pharaoh Rameses II’s 13th son became Pharaoh Merneptah, who erected a stele (1200s) that mentioned Israel as a new people group formed in West Asia.
Was Moses the brother of Pharaoh Rameses II? There has been much speculation about the identity of the pharaoh whom Moses confronted in Egypt. Although several candidates have been suggested, there is near consensus that the most likely pharaoh was Rameses II.
We have now covered some 500 years from the time of Abraham to Moses. Events that happened between the lifetimes of Abraham and that of Moses are akin to events that happened between the 16th century and today. So much has taken place in the past 500 years that entire fields of knowledge and even countries, cities and races did not exist in the 16th century. Likewise, reading the Biblical accounts that spanned Abraham to Moses compresses 5 centuries of history into a few pages.
Next, we shall summarize the significance of Egypt in the Bible over the next the 1200 years, from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus, and note how each generation of Israelites were concerns about different enemies: In the 13th century BC Moses’ concerns were about Egypt. In the 12th — 11th centuries BC, Kings Saul and David fought the Philistines. During the 10th century BC, King Solomon married Pharaoh Siamun’s daughter and during King Rehoboam’s reign Pharaoh Shishak invaded both Israel and Judah. In the 8th — 6th centuries BC the Israelites were worried about Assyria, Babylonia and Persia. During the 8th century BC, the Assyrian army besieged Jerusalem and King Hezekiah asked the pharaoh for help. By the 7th century BC, King Josiah fostered a distinct monotheistic belief and tried to stop Pharaoh Neco from passing along the coast. In the encounter, Josiah was killed. During the 4th century BC, the Jews were concerned about the Greeks and in the 1st century AD, during Jesus’ time, the looming concern was the Roman empire.
The people in each period in history faced very different challenges and the writers of each era wrote to address them. Scholars have to bear that in mind when verses are quoted from different books of the Bible so the meanings are not interpreted out of context. The 1200-year interval between Moses and Jesus is akin to us reading about life in the 9th century, some 800 years before modern science existed!
In the 6th century BC, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. The prophet Jeremiah told the people in Judah not to flee to Egypt (Jeremiah 42:19), but many went anyway. (Jeremiah 43:1–7). Subsequently, Jeremiah was forced to relocate to Egypt.
From the 5th century BC to the time of Jesus, many Jews lived in Egypt, but their use of the Hebrew language had declined. In the 3rd century BC, some of these Egyptian Jews in Alexandria translated the Old Testament into Greek between 250–150 BC. This translation, known as the Septuagint, became the Bible commonly used in Israel during the days of Jesus and the apostles.
So Jesus, living in Roman Palestine, read a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible which was in fact created in Egypt.
Around the 1st centuries BC and AD, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus fled to Egypt to escape King Herod’s attempt to execute all the infant boys in and around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13–23). Their journey have been traced by the Coptic Church to include 20 towns in modern Egypt.
What is the connection between Moses and Jesus? The Gospel writers in the New Testament portrayed Jesus to an audience already familiar with the account of Moses in the Old Testament. Moses’ 40 years in the Sinai desert was echoed by Jesus’ 40 days in the Judean desert. The Gospel writers portrayed Jesus as the new Moses.
So important was Egypt to the early followers of Jesus that someone as prominent as Mark the Evangelist, to whom one of the Gospels was attributed, became known as the Apostle to the Egyptians.
The long and central role that Egypt plays in the history of the Christian faith is longer than even that of Israel itself. While the Kingdom of ancient Israel lasted less than 300 years, the Kingdom of ancient Egypt lasted almost 3000 years. Assyria led to the demise of Israel in the 8th century BC and Rome saw to the death of Egypt’s last pharaoh in the 1stcentury AD. Christian beliefs did not emerge in a vacuum. Egyptian religions significantly shaped the religious ideas of the Hebrews, who later became known as Israelites and Jews, who made up the earliest Jesus Followers.
In the 4th century, the Jesus Followers under Roman Emperor Theodosius I made a final break from Judaism and henceforth, Christianity became a new and independent religion with its own set of beliefs. One that inherited, adopted, and adapted Egypt’s belief in being born again into the afterlife through pyramids and mummies, to become the Christian belief of being born again into everlasting life.
From the story of Egypt’s famous Five in the Bible, we learn that the major beliefs of the Christian faith were inherited, adopted and adapted by the Jews and later, the Christians to form the current doctrines of faith. A study of Egyptian history can tell us a great deal about the intent and purposes of the many biblical writers who wrote from the perspective of their own geohistories and challenges. When interpreting any text from the Bible, it would be wise to bear this in mind. Find out when and where that text was written, its geohistory makes a huge difference in figuring out the author’s intended meaning. Then you can apply any lessons learned for your own geohistory, your time and location, to address your concerns.
1) The pyramids as the means for the resurrection of pharaohs to the afterlife show a spiritual practice almost 3000 years before Christian beliefs regarding the resurrection were established. This is strong evidence of the inter-religious continuity between Christianity and religions that predated it.
2) The temples of Kom Ombo and Abu Simbel, dedicated to Egypt’s divine trinities and the dominant Egyptian divine trinty is Asar, Aset, and Heru or their Greeks names, Osiris, Isis, and Horus. show that the idea of God in three is a very old one. This remarkable find assures us that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity was not invented in the first century but had a much older history in the ancient Near East.
3) The biblical references to the mummification of Jacob and Joseph ring true to the Egyptian practice of embalming the dead. This is internal textual evidence of the Bible’s scientific historicity regarding two major figures of the Old Testament. It shows that parts of the Bible are historically reliable and corroborated by extra-biblical sources.
4) The Judgment Day’s Weighing of the Heart Ceremony identifies a practice at least 1500 years before Christian beliefs about Judgment Day. This shows that the New Testament’s writings about Judgment Day is in line with Israel’s neighboring countries’ religious beliefs.
These archaeological discoveries of pyramids, mummies and the weighing of the heart ceremony, all achieved by field exploration and scientific analyses shows the importance of boots-on-the-ground research.
Why was this trip to Egypt so important for me, a Christian theologian of science? Visiting Egypt showed me that the human quest for God draws from a variety of sources based on local geographies, histories, and vocabularies. Egypt’s pyramids, temples and mummies that described the divine trinities and stories about judgment day and the weighing the heart ceremony, are local variations of the same human quest in different civilizations.
This does not mean that all religions are the same or that they all lead to God. That would be too simplistic a conclusion.
Had I not visited Egypt, it is unlikely that I will think of people from Abraham to Jesus in the context of Egyptian religions. Field research like this makes all the difference to gain a fuller account of the Christian faith. It helped me to think about the inherited beliefs I adopted and adapted throughout my life. Now, in the autumn years of my life, which is also the most interesting time, I am less concerned about what others think of me. With nothing to prove and few people to impress. I can continue my quest for God and truth without fear or favor.
What if Christian beliefs have a far longer history than the Bible?
I used to wonder why God waited until Jesus was born to announce himself? Humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years yet God identified himself only 2000 years ago? And that some like me, were lucky to hear the Gospel but the vast majority of humans, including most of my family and friends, were unlucky? It was a hard claim to believe. But I held my tongue. Later, I learned that the Old Testament predated Jesus and the Apostles, with prophets and kings of ancient Israel who knew about the same god. That made sense. Then I learned about the Egypt and Mesopotamia, where human writing began, and their influence on the Bible. Now that really made sense. In my explorations and investigations, I began to learn about other pre-Christian religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism.
How far back does God’s encounter with humans go? Was God engaging with the human mind before writing was invented — during prehistory? I went to learn about the ancient shamanistic and totemic religions of the Australian indigenous nations which are almost ten times older that the oldest Egyptian religion. Next I visited West Africa to learn about the Voudon or Voodoo beliefs that date back to the dawn of human history. My research in human origins led me to deepen my understanding of humanity’s most enduring legacy — belief in God. The discipline of paleoanthropology currently dates our oldest known ancestors, anatomically modern humans(AMH) to about 300,000 years ago and archaic hominids to about 7 million years ago in Africa.
My own interest as a theologian of science is when did what I call spiritually modern humans (SMH) arise? From the beginning of humanity, spirituality has been at the forefront and every ancient civilization were consumed with the quest for God. Egypt is one of 7 civilizations which influenced the writing of the Bible and origin of the Church.
God’s compassion extends beyond specific religions of specific countries claiming specific doctrines and the rise of modern science has not diminished this quest for the Divine, but has enhanced the theological understanding of the Christian faith.
Distinguish claims from knowledge to form your beliefs. In matters of faith, learn to distinguish history (what happened) from theology (what the people were encouraged to believe) and from religion (what the people practiced) to better make sense of the Bible or any religious scripture.
How to believe what we ought to believe?
a) Where any sacred texts can be verified such as geographical and historical accounts, they are to be interpreted literally.
b) Where the texts can be falsified geographically and historically (meaning they do not match reality), we can safely infer them to be symbolic or allegorical. As in mathematical proofs, once established, falsification should be a once off and permanent determination. It should not change with time — lack of evidence is not evidence of a lack. Falsification is a high bar.
c) Where the texts can neither verify nor falsify, we should be open to interpretation but not condemn others who do not share our preference. The passage of time that generates new knowledge (not claims) provides the epistemic tools to confirm or disconfirm a claim.
Every religion in every geographical region during every period of history is local in its POV of God — even within a single religion, variations exist and they imagine themselves to be the sole arbiter of interpretation. This is why field research is so important to gain a fuller account of the Christian faith.
I invite you to reverse engineer CKB and always consider the basis of your belief, which is usually the knowledge you think you know, next, the source of that knowledge, which is usually the claims of others, then, consider the reliability of any claim, whether it can be verified, falsified or neither (VFN).
In everyday life, most of what passes for knowledge is not direct knowledge but adopted claims of others who may have direct knowledge. We cannot all be scientists or historians or construction workers or janitors, so we cannot possibly have direct knowledge of what we think we know. We learn to trust the sources of the claims that help us to know, so that we can form reliable beliefs. But when our knowledge increases or is revised by new knowledge, we change our beliefs. That is what we do on an everyday basis. For example, I believed that only Egypt has pyramids. Later, I visited the Sudan and I found even more pyramids. My direct knowledge has increased, and it changed my belief. Then I read of pyramids in South America on FaceBook, posted by people I trust. This indirect knowledge revised my belief about pyramids, which I soon discovered exists in more places. This is how beliefs are formed, shaped, and revised with new knowledge. This is why a New Testament exists, to interpret the Old Testament, which itself is a series of newest texts re-interpreting older ones, as they consider fresh knowledge.
It is wonderful to learn that the God of the universe was concerned about the human experience way before any institutionalized religion told us so.
Let us not import our geohistorical prejudices into our beliefs about God, whose love for created nature is wider than our interpretations.