Day 5, Wednesday, December 8
Stop #1: The Valley of the Kings
This is a large valley where the pharaohs of the Egyptian New Kingdom had themselves and their families buried. Here I visited the tombs of Rameses III, Tausert/Setnakht, Thutmose III, and Tutankhamun.
Tausert was one of the few queens who ever ruled Egypt. She was the last ruler of the 19th Dynasty. She probably only ruled for a couple of years but was honored with a burial in the Valley of the Kings by her husband, Seti II. Her tomb was later taken over by Rameses III who used it as a tomb for his father, Setnakht.
Rameses III was the second king of the 20th Dynasty and was the last great king of the New Kingdom. He repelled an attempted invasion by the Sea Peoples (probably Philistines) and made successful conquests into Canaan.
Thutmose III was possibly the greatest military leader in all of human history. He conducted at least 17 campaigns during his reign and expanded the Egyptian empire to its greatest extent ever.
Tutankhamun is well known because his tomb is the only tomb of a pharaoh that has ever been found untouched by grave robbers. Based upon the massive amount of riches found within the tomb of this boy-king who only ruled a handful of years, we can only imagine what riches pharaoh’s like Rameses II and Thutmose III must have had in their tombs.
I was not allowed to take any photographs in the Valley of the Kings. The Egyptian government originally allowed people to take pictures inside the tombs but only without the camera flash. Lots of people still used the flash so the government revised the rule to only allow pictures outside the tombs in the Valley. However, people would sneak their cameras into the tombs and take pictures. Now, the law is that no pictures are allowed in the Valley and if you are caught with a camera it will be confiscated. So, sadly I have no pictures. You will have to check out Wikipedia a documentary or the video below to see images of the tombs. The video is not well done, it looks like the guy was probably hiding a camera in his pocket as much as the frame bounces around. In this video’s favor, it does give you an opportunity to see what the climb down into three of these tombs (Thutmose III, Rameses III, and Merneptah) is like. For that reason, I recommend watching it.
Stop #2: The Mortuary Temple Complex of Hatshepsut
Hatshepsut was the mother of Thutmose III and was the longest reigning female in Egyptian history.
Stop #3: Deir el-Medina and some reflectons
This was the village of the workmen who built the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. It was set up by the pharaohs as a place where the workmen could easily reach their worksite, be provided for, and be watched closely. The inhabitants of this village could possibly have been slaves like the Hebrews.
When we imagine the Hebrews in slavery in Egypt we imagine slavery as it was in the United States prior to the 20th century. In the ancient world, slaves, unless they were convicted criminals, do not appear to have been treated harshly. Their owners needed dedicated, strong workers and so they provided for their slaves needs. Numbers 11:4-6 says, “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!'” These complaints do not come from a people who were struggling to survive under oppressive slavery. They were being provided for with good food. Why would anyone want to return to Egypt if it was a place where they struggled to survive? Maybe life in Egypt was not so bad for the Hebrews. Perhaps the temptation to return was attractive because working for the pharaoh may not have been great but it was at least decent and reliable. Would that not make leaving Egypt, a place where they are being somewhat provided for by the pharaoh, and heading to a land they did not know except by stories passed down from their forefathers, much more difficult than might be imagined if The Ten Commandments, Charlton Heston, version was correct?
Leaving behind a life that might not have been great, but where needs were being met and setting out into the unknown trusting that the God of their forefathers would lead them someplace better was a big step. Not only that, but when they finally arrived in the Promised Land, what was it? A land flowing with milk and honey? Certainly not by American standards. The Promised Land was a land of rocks, rocks and more rocks. Sure there is the Hill Country where a few crops can be grown, but it isn’t very big and if God really wanted to bless the Israelites with a good, bountiful land, then why did He not lead them to Iowa, Illinois or Missouri?
The land He gave the Israelites was a land between empires. It was constantly run over by massive armies from the north going to Egypt or vice versa. This was one of the worst places in the ancient world anyone could try to live and possess. Why did God bring them out of Egypt where things might not have been great, but they were alright? And, why would He bring them to a place as unstable as Canaan and call it the Promised Land? Perhaps because what God sees as good is not the same as what our self-centered minds see as good. God’s desire is that we trust Him with 100% of everything we possess. If you are being provided for by a pharaoh, there is no need to trust God to provide for you. Whatever slavery was like in Egypt, whether better or worse than our mental picture of it, the Hebrews were still slaves. Upon exiting Egypt they had to wander around in the desert for forty years, not because they were geographically lost, but because they were spiritually lost. They had to make a decision whether to completely trust God and move forward into the unknown, or to go back to what they had known.
God’s Promised Land was a place where there was no way His people could survive unless they trusted Him. He was their one and only option. From Joshua to Malachi the Bible tells the story of the Hebrews/Israelites repeating a cycle of trusting God and being successful in this Promised Land and then turning from him, and being run over by one of the great empires on this land’s borders.
We do not comprehend the extent of God’s desires and plans for our lives. Only by trusting Him with absolutely every part of life and turning that life over to Him (a very scary thing to do since that act enters us into the greatest unknown we have ever faced) will we ever begin to see the Promised Land, a land flowing with God’s love and provision. A safe place where whatever happens, the creator of the universe has your best interest at heart.
Stops #4, 5, and 6
We finished the day with visits to the Medinet-Habu Temple where the sacrifice of human beings is mentioned in Egypt for the first time since Prehistory. We also went to the Ramesseum, which was the mortuary temple of Rameses II. Rameses II was possibly the pharaoh of the Exodus. And lastly, we visited the Colossi of Memnon. These two gigantic statues were named after Agamemnon, from the Illiad and Odyssey. The Greeks who came here thought that the wind coming through the stones sounded like the weeping of Agamemnon over his lost wife. These two statues are actually all that remains of a massive temple built by Amenophis III, also known as Amenhotep III. The rest of the temple was destroyed by the annual flooding of the Nile.
If you click on the pictures you will find that they contain captions which often provide interesting information on the contents of the picture.
Later that night…
We returned to Luxor for the evening and I went shopping in the marketplace with a few other JUC students. The experience in the marketplace was very disappointing. The shopkeepers were really aggressive and whined a lot. It is not fun to bargain with people of that sort. We managed to get a couple good deals, but the process of getting those is not one I care to go through again.
At 6:45pm we got on the bus and went to the Luxor train station. The train actually arrived early! Nothing in Egypt ever seems to be on time, much less early. The train left on time and soon after dinner was served. We had rice with some chicken. We also had a roll, some yogurt (which was actually sour! Yogurt in Israel usually isn’t sour.) and a honey-filled dessert. In addition to that there was an orange and a packet of Borio’s thanks to a fellow JUC grad student. Borio’s are the exact same thing as Oreo’s. However, one is not affiliated in any way with the other. There are lots of companies over here that are total knockoffs of American companies.
After dinner we discovered that we are supposed to be arriving in Cairo at 4am! Ugh. That means we have a 3:30am wake up visit from the conductor. That also means that I am going to sleep right now.