Shaking the Faith?

In late 2004, somewhat vague advertisements have appeared in Newsweek magazine parroting a new show from The Discovery Channel. The topic? Ancient Egypt, specifically the reign of Ramses II, and the continuing dig in KV5 (King’s Valley 5, “Valley of the Kings” west of Thebes in Egypt, and the fifth tomb discovered), the large tomb for the children of Ramses II.

To what end? Kent Weeks, KV5 excavator, obviously thinks that he has found the skull of the oldest son of Ramses II. This is being capitalized upon as an opportunity to make a splash to promote the subject and the ongoing dig. What is the capital? The Bible, of course. The show is being parroted as a challenge to Judaism and Christianity, a dare to see whether faith can “hold up” to the potential “crack” of the son of Ramses II.

What does all of this mean? Well, the implicit assumption being made is that if the Biblical text is right, Ramses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, and therefore his son would have paid the penalty of the tenth plague: the killing of the Egyptian firstborn. If the skeletal evidence from this child does not show such a death, i.e. he died of some disease or foul play, the Biblical text therefore must be wrong. Such is what the marketing of the show would claim.

Such is only one of many instances in a disturbing trend manifest among television channels (particularly The Discovery Channel and The History Channel) to make misleading and sensationalist claims in the thirst for ratings, becoming “infotainment” and not responsible reporting. As time wears on the “entertainment” part seems to be triumphing over the “information” part, and it appears that The Discovery Channel is more than willing to promote one theory of the Exodus in order to perhaps tear it down to gain an audience.

Let me say now that I have not seen the show, nor have any idea as to whether or not the child’s skeleton will show evidence “for” or “against” the Biblical account. It does not matter to me whatsoever, because there is an underlying problem with the entire presentation: if one believes in the accuracy of the Bible, Ramses II is not the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

1 Kings 6:1, when providing the account of the opening of the Temple in Jerusalem under Solomon, notes that such occurred 480 years after the Exodus. If we assign Solomon a date of around 950 BCE, this would leave us with 1430 BCE as the timeframe of the Exodus. Ramses II reigned during the thirteenth century (ca. 1290-1220); such would be more in harmony with the period of the Judges than the Exodus.

Modern scholasticism, if it would even accept the notion of an Exodus (since many believe that the Exodus was an epic narrative invented to glorify an otherwise banal conquest/gradual infiltration of Canaan) may perhaps desire to place the Exodus around the end of the period of Ramses II, or possibly during his son Merneptah, of whom we have a stelae that records a victory over “Israel,” the first such reference in Egyptian writing we have to date. The widespread belief about Ramses II being the Pharaoh of the Exodus, however, dates far before the 21st century. Ramses II is one of the best-known pharaohs of Egypt, and he wanted it that way: no one else matched his output of statues and co-opting the statues of his predecessors. Perhaps only Tutankhamun is more well-known thanks to the discovery of his nearly intact tomb in the 1920s. Ramses II was believed for many years to have been the greatest pharaoh in terms of strength and military output. Since American and European societies were dominated by the Bible and ancient Israel, it was natural to combine the most recognized pharaoh of Egypt with greatest event involving Egypt in the Bible. The evidence for an Israelite exodus under Ramses II has more to do with preconception than reality.

Arguably the most powerful and most effective pharaoh militarily was not Ramses II but his predecessor Thutmose III, whose military campaigns resulted in the largest extent of empire Egypt would ever know: and that without a glorified stalemate! According to the Biblical chronology he would be the Pharaoh of the Oppression, with his son Amenhotep II the Pharaoh of the Exodus. This would put the wanderings during the times of Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III, and the conquest under Joshua during the tumultuous Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten reign which saw massive internal instability and a laissez-faire attitude toward Egyptian holdings in Canaan. At Akhenaten’s capital, today’s Tell el-Amarna, a cache of letters was found, full of correspondence between the Canaanite petty kings and Akhenaten, many of them appealing for aid in the face of attacks from the “‘Apiru,” perhaps a reference to the invading Israelites. This would place Israel in the times of the Judges during the renaissance of the Egyptian New Kingdom under Seti I and Ramses II, and Israel would be present in the land during the invasion of Merneptah.

So will anything The Discovery Channel shows about the child of Ramses II shake the faith? Absolutely not. Far greater and better combatants of the truth have come and gone, and it is almost humorous to see such money expended on a dead-end road. But the concern is that The Discovery Channel may end up shaking the faith of some who do not have this knowledge, who do not know what 1 Kings 6:1 means in terms of the Exodus, who do not know that the answer would lie with Amenhotep II and not Ramses II (the former, by the way, did lose his firstborn son; his younger son, Thutmose IV, commemorated his unlikely accession by placing a stelae in the paws of the Sphinx detailing how his elder brother died). They may have never thought anything else regarding Ramses and the Exodus, and this is the major challenge with such television programs on “The Discovery Channel.” It parrots itself as a source of legitimate, viable information, and it has sold out to create hype and make a cheap buck. It would rather lose integrity and willingly attempt to erode faith in the God of Israel for their own profit.

As for you, be not disturbed by the show. As for them, well, they will answer to the higher authority for their actions.

Ethan R. Longhenry

Shaking the Faith?

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