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.