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27th March, 2007

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Ancient Egypt and the Flood

Martha and I watched the fifth episode of the BBC series “Egypt” with considerable fascination. It recounted the story, well known to historians, of how Jean-Francois Champollion deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics. A movie-worthy story in its own right, we were particularly intrigued by revelations that he was subject to considerable opposition from the Roman Catholic Church on the grounds that his findings might jeopardize traditional views about biblical chronology. The church offered (and he accepted) to fund his travels to Egypt to study monuments first hand “on the condition that he never reveal any findings that contradict the teachings of the Church” about the early history of the world, particularly the timing of creation and the flood of Noah. As one anti-Bible site put it:

While in Egypt, Champollion realized some of the Egyptian inscriptions pre-dated the biblical flood, on the Church's chronology. He kept the information to himself because French ecclesiastics had subtly ordered him not to publish any such findings.

Can ancient Egyptian history be reconciled with the biblical flood? Dawn to Dusk accepts the biblical account of a universal flood, but acknowledges the numerous problems associated with such a belief. However, we are confident that one day the problems will be solved to the delight of those who love Jesus Christ (who believed in the Flood — Matt. 24:37) and to the chagrin of unbelievers. Even now, many of the skeptics' favorite arguments can be rebutted. Skeptics love to make sarcastic statements about the Flood, such as,

[The Egyptians] continued building their civilization and constructing monuments, and didn't bother to take notice of the worldwide flood that was supposed to be drowning them all (The Whole Silly Flood Story).

Skeptics will tell you that the Bible puts the Flood at about 2400 BC and the first dynasty of Egypt at about 3100 BC. Some Bible scholars seek to harmonize the disparity by suggesting that the Flood cut its swathe right through the history of ancient Egypt — thus, both dates are correct. Egyptian civilization was disrupted, they say, by the Flood between the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom but a descendant of Noah returned there and built a new civilization (Middle Kingdom) modeled precisely on the old. We reject that concept primarily because,

1. hieroglyphics continued almost unchanged from the first dynasty through to the last; the idea that they were reintroduced, as is, decades after all its scribes drowned stretches credulity to its limits;

2. historical data shows that the Old Kingdom petered out as a result of political turmoil rather than through inundation, as pointed out by Fekri Hassan, Petrie Professor of Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology & Department of Egyptology, University College London: “Within the span of

20 years, fragmentary records indicate that no less than 18 kings and possibly one queen ascended the throne with nominal control over the country.” He proposes that the political breakdown was due, in turn, to “a sudden, unanticipated, catastrophic reduction in the Nile floods over two or three decades. This was so severe that famine gripped the country and paralyzed the political institutions” (The Fall of the Egyptian Old Kingdom).

The solution to the apparent discrepancy comes about by a recognition that, (1) the biblical data would allow the occurrence of the flood to go back to around 3000 BC and, (2) reconstructing the history of Egypt is, “a task fraught with problems” (Wikkipedia, Egyptian Chronology), so that the beginning of the First Dynasty may need to be brought closer to our times. Concerning the second point,

… Professor Heinrich Otten has called the current scholarly consensus a "rubber chronology" that could be stretched or shrank, by arbitrarily established lengths of co-regencies between rulers and even overlapping dynasties…” (Wikkipedia, ibid).

That overlaps occurred is corroborated by 2 Kings 7:6:

For the LORD had caused the army of the Syrians to hear the noise of chariots and the noise of horses -- the noise of a great army; so they said to one another, "Look, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians to attack us!"

Note that — more than one king at the same time. In short, the Flood occurred earlier and Egyptian history began later than often realized.

Two ancient historians, whose testimony is taken seriously about other matters, have something important to say to those who push the beginning of the First Dynasty back to the fourth millennium. The Jewish recorder of events, Josephus, says this:

All the kings from Menes [the “first Pharaoh”]… until Solomon… was more than one thousand three hundred years” ( Antiquities , Book VIII, vi, 2).

Solomon ruled in the 900s BC. If Josephus was right, Pharaonic reign goes back to approximately 2300 BC, not to 3100 BC.

Herodotus, a Greek historian who wrote his famous “The Histories” in the fifth century BC, said this about Egypt:

… it is clear to any intelligent observer… that the Egypt to which we sail nowadays is, as it were, the gift of the river and has come only recently into the possession of its inhabitants (Penguin Books, 1972, p. 131).

We would be courting possible embarrassment to reject this testimony of the “father of history”, as Herodotus is known. Of course, who can say for sure exactly what he had in mind with that critical word “recently”?

Dawn to Dusk welcomes further discussion on this topic of interest to both believers and skeptics.

The Temple of Luxor


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