Ancient Egypt has given us some of the most recognizable iconography and artifacts of antiquity. While Egyptian artifacts can be found all over the world, the greatest selection is found in the Cairo Egyptian Museum, located just off Tahrir Square. Not only is the museum a treasure trove of Egyptian artifacts, it contains one of the oldest archeological evidences for the Bible.
Walking into the Egyptian Museum is like walking into a classic movie set. Opened in 1902, the building holds its own historic value, and emanates an aura of adventure. While criticized for being in somewhat disrepair and lacking the modern and sophisticated quality of great museums such as the Louvre, Metropolitan, or British Museum, its unique rugged quality adds to the mystique of the ancient civilization to which it is dedicated . It only displays a fraction of the 120,000 items in the museum’s collection, yet is packed with artifacts, the biggest attraction for the average visitor being the Tutankhamun collection.
Egyptians were among the most powerful and wealthy ancient civilizations, and also held some of the most distinct and culturally unifying religious views on the afterlife. In their view all material possessions they were buried with could continue to be used after death for eternity. Naturally, the home comforts of furniture, jewelry, dishes, even remains of domesticated animals all were included in the tomb chambers for use in the eternal paradise they called the A’aru, or Field of Reeds. This belief most famously resulted in the tradition of mummification, as they believed the body continued to hold the soul even into the afterlife, and therefore any decay in the body would have adverse effects for eternity. These strong religious beliefs resulted in excellent preservation of artifacts from daily life (albeit, largely of the wealthy) from one of history’s most ancient cultures, all conveniently stored within stone tombs ideal for preservation. While a few items of Tutankhamun’s Tomb travel around the world, the vast majority of the items are on permanent display at the Cairo Egyptian Museum.
In a small, dusty corner of the museum resides The Merneptah Stele. The average visitor will easily miss this stone slab, and the lack of any descriptive placard or signage will leave it a mystery to those who stumble upon it. However for those looking for it, it is one of the most significant discoveries of biblical archaeology. The Merneptah Stele is the earliest found reference to the nation of Israel outside of the Bible, and is the only discovered reference of Israel from ancient Egypt. The hieroglyphs are an account of the military victories of the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah, and near the bottom of the inscription there is a very short reference to Israel that reads, “Israel is laid waste, its seed is not.” Dated to 1230 BC, it was discovered in Thebes, Egypt by British archaeologist Flinders Petrie in 1896.
Not only have my travels increased my innate love for history, but they have also introduced a new love for archeological study. The great museums of the world preserve these ancient objects, from which we can extrapolate endless information about cultures and civilizations that would have otherwise been long forgotten. In all these great museums you will also find significant archeological evidences for the historical veracity of the bible, intermingled with the peoples of the ancient world. Yet unlike the relics of the ancient world that reside behind glass, the messages and divine story of the bible continue to shape and move the world today.