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Thursday, February 6, 2014



The Ancient Egyptians believed that their dead went onto another life in the After-world, and the soul could live on only if the body was preserved from decomposing. These Ancient Egyptians took drastic measures about preserving the body of the deceased. They also protected it from thieves. Their bodies were buried along with treasures the deceased might be needing in the next world, as they would call it. This captured the interest of grave robbers.

During the Old Kingdom of Egypt, the Egyptians buried their dead in "mastaba" tombs. These were flat and rectangular structures, built of brick or stone, and sloping sides. The body was placed deep in a sealed chamber, along with all his treasures. They used false doors and filled the shaft with stones and created a system of elaborate sliding doors to keep the sarcophagus from grave robbers. These mastaba tombs were no longer good enough for the gods they considered themselves to be when Egypt's wealth and empire grew. They then began to build pyramid tombs with pointed tops that reached the sky. 


This pyramid is the earliest known pyramid built around 2630 BC for King Djoser of the 3rd Dynasty. It was 203 feet tall, located near present-day Cairo. Its purpose was to serve as a gigantic stairway up to the heavens for the deceased pharaoh. This Pyramid of Djoser was built by Imhotep. His pyramid was remarkable for both its size and innovative use of dressed stone.. He began with a mastaba tomb and then added another mastaba tomb on top of it, followed by four more making a total of six levels. The result was the first step stone pyramid. Around it was a complex of buildings that resembled pharaoh's palace and its surrounding buildings. This entire complex was enclosed by a 30 foot wall with 14-15 entrances with only one that was functional. What an unimaginable work!  Under it was an elaborate maze of tunnels, chambers, galleries and shafts that would total over 3 1/2 miles long. These were built for religious purposes and to discourage grave robbers. After the 3rd Dynasty, all that was left of the Djoser's tombs was his mummified left foot as remains and treasures.


The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest of all. It was built for King Khufu(Cheops) of the 4th Dynasty. This was part of an immense complex of monuments to the dead known as a Necropolis(city of the dead). It measured 756 feet on each side and weighed almost 6 million tons. It took 20 years to be built, required about 800 tons of stone per day. It was the tallest man-made structure at 480 feet high, for over 3,800 years. It remains substantially intact today. Inside the pyramid were 3 chambers: a King chamber, a Queen chamber, and an unfinished chamber deep inside. It was surrounded by smaller buildings which included temples, mastaba tombs for court nobles and four smaller pyramids. Beside the pyramid sits a statue, the Great Sphinx of Giza. Its carving has the body of a lion and the head of a king or a god. It still remains the largest statute in the world at 65 feet high and 240 feet long. Unfortunately, the Sphinx has lost its nose. There are endless theories that have grown out of the loss of the nose. One suggests that a Muslim chopped it off. The story is impossible to verify and is only one of several.

As the Old Kingdom of Egypt declined around 3000-2100 BC, it split into dozens of independent states. This period is known as the First Intermediate Period. The Middle Kingdom began with the 11th Dynasty in 2040 BC, but its real reunification began under Pharaoh Amenemhet I and the 12th Dynasty in 1991 BC. Amenemhet I was not of royal lineage. He was a powerful military general who managed the throne establishing Egypt's 12th Dynasty. He ruled from 1991 to 1962 BC. He used many tactics to reunify Egypt. He also built a strong of fortress called "The Wall of the Prince" along the eastern Delta to protect Egypt's border with Asia. Under his reign Egypt prospered. He expanded his empire by pushing his army south into exotic Nubia gaining total control of trade routes. He was killed around 1962 BC and his son took the throne. The 12th Dynasty reigned from around 1991-1802 BC.

No one can explain with certainty how the Bible narrative fits in with what is known of Egyptian history, but here is a possible overlay of the Twelfth Dynasty with the Biblical account story:

Amenemhet I - reigned 1991 - 1962 BC
1991 BC - Abraham dies
Senusret I - reigned 1971  - 1928 BC
1930 BC - Jacob travels to Haran
Amenemhet II - reigned 1929 - 1895 BC
1899 BC - Joseph taken to Egypt
Senusret II - reigned 1897 - 1878 BC 1886 BC - Joseph released; 1879 BC - famine begins
Senusret III - reigned 1878  - 1843 BC 1876 - Jacob moves to Egypt; 1859 - Jacob dies
Amenemhet III - reigned 1842 - 1797 BC 1806 - Joseph dies
Amenemhet IV - reigned 1798  - 1790 BC

I want to point out that the 12th Dynasty of Egypt reached its peak under the reign of Amenemhet III with his son succeeding him, Amenemhet IV. His son reigned for only one year dying without an heir. His wife, Queen Sobekneferu, took the throne making the Pharaoh's power grow weak under her. This is the beginning of a new period in Egyptian history called the Second Intermediate Period (1782-1570). During the Intermediate Period between the Middle Kingdom and the beginning of the New Kingdom, the Hyksos invaded the eastern part of the Nile Delta. They seized power in 1663 BC and ruled Egypt as the 15th Dynasty. The Hyksos were a group of Semitic-Asiatic descent who first settled in northern Egypt during the 12th Dynasty. Their name meant "king-shepherds." They ruled most of Lower Egypt and part of Upper Egypt, ruling for about 150 years and probably had a friendly relationship with the Israelites who lived in that region. They made alliances with the Nubians without moving into southern Egypt. The Hyksos Dynasty was probably diminished because of conflicts with the Egyptians. And around 1567 BC, Ahmose I of the 18th Dynasty defeated the Hyksos reuniting again with Egypt. This was the end of the Second Intermediate Period and the beginning of the New Kingdom.

The Israelites began their time in Egypt towards the end of the Book of Genesis as a family of seventy. They were given the land of Goshen thanks to Joseph's influence. This was the most fertile part of the Nile Delta. We read, "But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them." Exodus 1:7. Notice the 7 words the Bible uses to describe the Israelites' prosperity in Egypt: fruitful, increased, greatly, multiplied, exceedingly, mighty and filled.

Exodus 1 does not say much about how many Israelites there were when the exodus began. But it does mention that the entire land of Goshen, a region in Egypt's Nile Delta, was "filled with them." In Numbers 1, Moses ordered a count (census) of all able men to go out to war in Israel older than twenty. This was in the second year after the Israelites had fled Egypt. The total number was 603,550. These were only males. It did not include the women, the children, the Levite men (priests from the tribe of Levi, who did not fight). If we take all these into account, the entire population may have been as many as two million or perhaps even more. All this population growth from 70 to perhaps two million took around 400 years from the time of Moses to Jacob. I bet the Egyptians were astounded over the Israelites' growth in number. They were alarmed when the Hebrew's numbers grew this large. It is then that the Pharaoh ordered their midwives to kill all Hebrew baby boys in an attempt to slow down their rapid growth.

In Exodus 1:8-9, we read that when a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph and said to his people, "behold the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we." This king may have been from a new Dynasty, possibly the Hyksos, who rose to power around 1663 BC. Or it could have also been Ahmose I of the 18th Dynasty. This may be the one since he succeeded in driving out the Semitic invaders, the Hyksos. The Israelites were considered a second set of Semitic people, the Hebrews,and a threat. His solution against the Hebrews was slavery. The Bible indicates that he forced them to build two great cities, Pithom and Rameses. But this did not slow their growth. The Israelites' prosperity was of great concern to Egypt's pharaohs, who were desperate to grow and protect their kingdom.

In Exodus 1:12-14 we read, "But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel. The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them." Even though the Israelites were forced to work in the meanest of conditions, they continued to multiply. Again, the Bible uses seven words to describe the hard labor the Egyptians assigned with the purpose of controlling their growth: labor, rigorously, made, labor, labor, labors and rigorously.

Because of the Israelites' growth, the pharaoh took drastic measures instructing the Hebrew midwives to kill any male Hebrew. Fortunately there we two good Hebrew midwives who feared God, Shiprah and Puah that refused to obey the pharaoh's order to kill all male Hebrew boys. Because these midwives refused to obey pharaoh's order to exterminate Hebrew children, God blessed them, establishing households for them, "So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them." Exodus 1:20-21. God loves those who are upright; He does not forsake His godly ones; He preserves them forever; He surrounds them with His favor as with a shield; His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him is as high as the heavens. We can surely see God's nature and character when He blessed these midwives who refused to obey the Pharaoh's order, but instead preferred to obey God. This is remarkable!

FASCINATING FACT ABOUT MIDWIFERY: Ancient midwives held positions of prestige. Shiphrah and Puah, the two Hebrew midwives, were probably overseers of a large guild of midwives. They could have not cared for the entire Israelite population alone. Did you know that pregnant women used a birthing stone or brick decorated with scenes of the birthing process? The woman would stand, kneel or squad and the midwife would position her in front of the mother to catch the baby. What an experience! I thank God for this blessing myself since I have had the privilege of using a midwife to have a home birth.

Exodus 1, ends with Pharaoh taking matters into his own hands. He orders everyone to cast every Hebrew male boy into the Nile River. His orders could not have been ignored since he was considered a god among the Egyptians. His target was to decrease the Israelite population.

The following is a timeline of Egypt's Old, Middle and New Kingdoms:



Old Kingdom
3000 BC - 2100 BC
Djoser, Khufu
First Intermediate Period

Middle Kingdom
2040 BC - 1782 BC
Amenemhet I, Amenemhet III
Second Interm. Period

(the Hyksos)
New Kingdom
1570 BC - 1070 BC
Ahmose I, Rameses II
Third Interm. Period


The more that we learn about the power and glory of the Egyptian Pharaohs, the more amazing it is to me that the slave people of Israel should have been able to escape them, were it not for the great power of God as He worked through Moses and the Bible account of the ten plagues. It is inconceivable that such a people could be defeated in any other way, God's Way.


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