Back in Cairo, I was joined by my colleague Dr. Steven Wunderink who arranged the details of my trip and was a constant source of biblical and historical information. There are over 118 known pyramids in Egypt to date, and we set out early to view the most ancient ones. The step pyramid of Djoser (c. 2700 BC) from the Old Kingdom period resembles the ziggurats of Mesopotamia and is a forerunner of the more famous pyramids of nearby Giza.
Built as a royal tomb, the complex is surrounded by what was a tall wall over 32 feet high and contains numerous architectural structures including a roofed Court of Columns designed from limestone to look like massive plant stems or trees in an endless garden (40 columns over twenty feet high). This was a foretaste of later temples and tombs I would visit that idealized nature with huge columns representing a forest garden of enormous lotus-like columns, nature and water scenes—something like the garden of Eden in Genesis 2.
8 The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.
In the nearby Tomb of Ka-Gmni from the same Old Kingdom period (c. 2340 BC), the walls are completely covered with scenes from this life as an expectation for what would happen in the next.
The detail work from this period required artisans to chip away from the limestone all but the desired images which would stand out in raised relief. Later, in the New Kingdom period, artisans got lazier and carved images into the wall with less detail. Every inch of these tombs was also painted in vivid colors, and some of that paint from over 4,000 years ago is still intact today! Part of the reason that these tombs are so well preserved is that they were built immediately west of the Nile Valley where the bank rises well above where the water would normally reach them. Notice the stark contrast between the lush Nile Valley and the barren desert to the west.
The famous Giza Pyramids (c. 2560–2540 BC) were built a bit later in the Old Kingdom Period. It just overwhelms me to think that they would have been over 500 years old when Abraham visited Egypt! Contrary to the Hollywood film Exodus: Gods & Kings, the Hebrews didn’t build the pyramids. Joseph, Moses, and many other biblical figures would have seen these impressive structures which would have been quite ancient to them as well. Sometimes, Hollywood historiography really sphinx!
In the afternoon, we flew from Cairo to Aswan where we welcomed the sunset over the Nile while sipping pomegranate tea and preparing for what to expect the following day.
The wall mosaics of Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria portray how Mark had success preaching the gospel among the Jewish community in Alexandria, and the first Jewish believer was a shoemaker. But Mark was later martyred by Roman pagans who dragged his body through the cobblestone streets on Easter Sunday 68 AD, and some of his relics are on display in the crypt. Sadly, on Palm Sunday (April 9, 2017) twin suicide bombings took place here and at St. George’s in nearby Tanta, Egypt—with a total of 45 killed and 126 injured. ISIS claimed responsibility. There is now a strong military presence outside most churches throughout Egypt.
Similarly, there is tight security at the historic synagogues of Egypt (historic because Jews were expelled in the 1950s and their property was sequestered). Only about 50 Jews remain in all of Egypt today, and nearly all are women over 55 years of age. Nevertheless, there are some special holiday services held in Alexandria’s Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue for various Jewish communities throughout North Africa. It was also in Alexandria that the famous translation of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint or LXX was translated into Greek by seventy Jewish scholars during the third and second centuries B.C. All of this made for an especially nostalgic experience to stand at the bema of Alexandria’s synagogue and recite the Shema.
Later in the day, I visited the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina which opened in 2002. Alexandria was a center for culture and erudition in the Mediterranean world. And this new library is the recreation of the famed Ancient Library of Alexandria founded by Ptolemy I Soter in the 300s BC. Its interior is modeled after the historic Daughter Library which had niches for storing papyrus scrolls. The exterior resembles a tilted hieroglyphic sun disk with the rising side dressed in Aswan granite that is inscribed with words from 120 different scripts representing the ascent of cultural illumination like the rising of the sun. I burst out with laughter when I finally found the Hebrew inscription—it looked like they chose the word for toothpaste! But maybe it’s some obscure word in Aramaic . . . I’m still researching this one. For those who want to offer a guess, the consonants from right to left are ayin, fey, tzadi, shin, hey. For a bibliophile, all of this was quite fascinating!
In the prophecy of Ezekiel 30:17, “the young men of Heliopolis (also known as Aven or On) and Bubastis (Pi-beseth or Tel Basta in the eastern Nile Delta) will fall by the sword and the cities themselves will go into captivity.” Ezekiel did not predict the destruction of Luxor in Upper Egypt in the far south, so its temples are still standing today. But the ruins of Heliopolis are underneath modern Cairo, never to be seen again apart from some excavations that have revealed an obelisk and a bust that was first identified as Rameses II then later as Pismatic I. And the utter devastation of Bubastis is unmistakable when observing the massive amounts of quartzite stone column pieces that were once imported from nearly 600 miles in Aswan but are now strewn about like messy mounds of legos. With Heliopolis, Bubastis is in complete ruins though its imposing broken monuments reveal a once magnificent city. Even the seven cobras carved as guardians from granite could not protect it, but they are preserved today as a reminder of the city’s former strength. Speaking of guardians, this archaeological site is so far off the beaten path that most foreigners never visit, and I had to be escorted by a security detail.
“The guy on the far left shadowed me for two days like my personal John Reese (Jim Caviezel from Person of Interest).”
Greetings friends, my name is Tim Sigler, and I serve as CJFM’s Israel Scholar-in-Residence. Perhaps you’ve read some of my articles in Messianic Perspectives or used our Messianic Jewish Home Calendar. I’ll have the privilege of exploring some biblical and historic sites in Egypt over the next 10 days, and I’d like to invite you to join me on my travels in the footsteps of Moses (though Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Joseph and the rest of the family, the children of Israel as a whole for 430 years, Aaron and Miriam, then much later Elijah, Jeremiah, Joseph & Mary with baby Jesus were here as well, and according to tradition Mark the evangelist brought the Gospel to Alexandria). So Egypt plays a significant role in Bible history and prophecy as a place of bondage and a place of refuge—feel free to pray for me that this trip will be the latter! The key passage for my trip will be the words spoken to Jacob in Genesis 46:3-4a, “So He said, ‘I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again . . .”
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