I know people who have read Elisabeth Peter’s Amelia Edwards series about classical Egyptology and archaeology, and I know others who have been studying ancient Egyptian, Sumerian, and Babylonian societies. I was starting to feel left out of the conversations. So the other day, I had the opportunity to borrow a book about Ramesses so I did just that. (That, and the book that I had grabbed for my trip turned out to be full of profanity and I had to put it down.)
Anyway, when I picked up this book, I noticed that it had a preface to readers with little to know background in Egyptology. This has merit. Then Tyldesley continued to explain that most well-read amateurs knew as many facts as most experts, I realized that we had an honest writer. This was looking up. Then she explained that the difference between the amateur and the professional was an understanding of the theories, debates and some technical details. Finally, she described how many writers were pushing their pet theories while either disregarding or overlooking contrarian facts. She promised not to do that.
One of my concerns with reading history books is trying to figure out which authors are telling the truth and which authors are spouting guff. Tyldesley impressed me as one of the former, so I decided to read on.
It was true that there were many aspects about the book that I didn’t quite understand, but Tyldesley made certain to explain enough stuff that I would understand the critical pieces of the story she told. In the end, I gained a much better understanding of Egyptian culture around the time that the Israelites were in Egypt. One point that stood out to me was the idea of maat. While more or less indefinable, the idea of maat is probably best explained as “rightness” or maybe “organization and truth” as opposed to “chaos and lies.” The pharaoh as the sacred semi-devine custodian of maat was responsible to keep the country an orderly place. (As best I understand it, the Egyptian view of god(s) changed with each pharaoh and so can’t be easily defined.)
Given the above, the pharaoh would often re-purpose the monuments of his predecessors for his own use. You know, things like a new face and name plate on the statue or a new cartouche (royal nameplate) in the history books. They easily and regularly re-purposed the history of their fathers and ancestors to be their own history. This was acceptable as the new pharaoh was now a god in the place of the previous pharaoh; they were different people, but same office. Then again, Ramesses even lied about the great battle of Kadesh between Egypt and the Hittites. (It was more of a draw than a real defeat by either side.)
Finally, the other fascinating thing that I learned was about the countries structure. The citizens worked for pharaoh and consequently he could tell them where to live and what to do. Pharaoh would build a city and them populate with workers, administrators and give everyone a job (maybe building monuments or mining or farming). This helped with the rewriting of history. They didn’t have access to bloggers to spread the real truth of the situations. 😀
Oh yeah. Many of the tombs were raided within a couple of hundred years of internment. The priests did quite a bit of the grave robbing. Eventually, the government was desperate for cash and since all the tombs were being robbed as they were located, the official government began an official program of “tomb and mummy restoration.” They would take the mummy out, clean up the mummy, and reinter it in a new location all the while taking anything of worth for the empty government coffers….
What do you know about Egypt? Any tidbits you can share or titles that you can recommend?