Peristyle Hall at Medinet Habu
Egyptology

Panorama Photograph of the Peristyle Hall at Medinet Habu

A panorama photograph of the Peristyle Hall at Medinet Habu. Medinet Habu was initially built as the mortuary temple for Ramesses III, but later on became the main administrative center for West Thebes during the 20th and 21st dynasties. Unlike many of the mortuary temples in West Thebes, Medinet Habu is largely intact and even much of the paint on the reliefs remains preserved. Ramesses III reigned for 31 years and was assassinated in a conspiracy by his royal harem (Queen Tiye) to put a minor son, Pentawere, on the throne over the crown prince Ramesses IV.

Deir el-Bahari against the cliff
Egyptology

Deir el-Bahari against the cliffs

This is a photo of Deir el-Bahari against the cliffs.  This was the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut of Dynasty 18.  The temple is located in West Thebes next door to the Middle Kingdom temple of Montuhotep.  When one visits Deir el-Bahari, one immediately notices the cliffs looming overhead.  I wanted to capture the magnitude of the cliffs compared to the temple.

Saf Tomb from Thebes
Egyptology

Saf Tombs from West Thebes

Over the next few months, I’m going to be actively engaged in writing my new book on the Ark of the Covenant and ancient Egypt.  As such, I’m going to devote most of my time and energy to that endeavor.   Unfortunately, I’m not going to be publishing blogs at the pace that I was.

However, what I am going to do is publish some photographs that I have taken over the years with a brief commentary.  These photos should be of interest since they are taken with the eye of an archaeologist.  So they should give you an unique perspective on Egypt.

Today’s photograph was taken at West Thebes.  It is a photograph of a pair of saf tombs as seen from the Ramesseum.  saf tombs typically date from the 11th to early 12th dynasties.

Statue of Keret, overseer of the herem
Egyptology

The American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) annual meeting

Just arrived back from the annual American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) conference in Washington, DC. There the latest research on ancient Egypt was presented. Plus, I had the opportunity to go to the Egyptian Queens exhibit at the National Geographic Museum, which was better than I expected. Overall, a great trip where I got to see a lot of old friends and meet some new ones.
 
Above is a photo I took of the statue of Keret that I took at the National Geographic Museum.  Keret was overseer of the royal herem.  He lived during the 18th Dynasty and the statue dates to Amenhotep II or Thutmosis IV.
Hypostyle Hall of Ramesses II at Karnak Temple
Archaeology

Photography and Archaeology

Photographs are an important component to being a respected archaeologist.  When people come to your lectures, they are not nearly as interested in your rigorous scientific method and seed counts, as they are interested in your stunning photographs.  There is an old joke.  “What is the difference between a historian and an archaeologist?  The archaeologist has pictures.”  Like a lot of jokes there is more than a grain of truth to the punch line.

 

Photographic Needs of the Archaeologist

Most archaeologists who do photography are self-taught.  Many are simply handed a camera at a dig and told to take pictures.  However, photography is a skill like any other.  A skill that can be learned and can be done well or poorly.

In many ways the needs of the archaeology photographer are similar to the needs of the sports photographer.  Unlike the average photographer, both sports and archaeology photographers normally ply their craft in low light conditions and need cameras that can do low ISO shots.  Both benefit from fast, large aperture lenses.   And both often find themselves in situations where tripods and flashes are often impractical or prohibited.

In museums and tombs, an archaeologist may have to take photographs that are good enough for publication but are restricted by extreme low-light environments where tripods and monopods are not permitted.  When taking photography in temples, local administrators generally permit flash photography but may charge a hefty tripod “fee” if they see you carrying a tripod.

Sometimes you will have to carry your equipment for a good hike into mountainous terrain.  Not all archaeological sites are located conveniently by a shopping mall parking lot.  So anything you need, you may have to carry in and out of the camp site.  Sure, that all-aluminum Manfrotto tripod is rock solid, but it is also rock heavy especially after a 10 mile hike.

 

Camera and Lens Recommendations

When it comes to selecting the equipment for doing archaeological photographs, I would recommend that one begins with a good modern camera body.  A body that can do 24 megapixals and 25000 ISO is generally sufficient.  Whether one chooses a cropped sensor or a full-frame camera depends largely upon personal goals and tastes.  And there are advantages and disadvantages to either.

A good selection of lenses is a must.  I would recommend 2 low light lenses (a 50mm prime and a 17-50mm telephoto) with an aperture no greater than f/2.8. The 50mm f/1.8 lens is super cheap and one the best general purpose lenses that you can get for your camera.  For museum work, I typically use a Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS lens.  While I don’t generally like or trust Sigma lenses–they are heavy, expensive, and unreliable–this particular lenses has been a solid work horse for me.

I would recommend one long telephoto lens.  I like the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 SP Di VC lens because it is a good value for the money. This lens has a good reach but is not as crisp as 70-200mm lenses.  Nevertheless, a 70-300mm lenses is less than a quarter of the price and can focus in on those reliefs at the tops of the Egyptian pylons.  In other words, good enough.

I would also recommend a wide angle rectilinear (not fish-eye) lens.  No longer focal length than 17mm for cropped-sensor cameras and 25mm for full-frame cameras.  Because of their wide angles of field, these lenses are particularly useful for taking interior photos of small, cramped rooms, such as tombs.  I use the Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II VC.  Wide angle lenses are also wonderful for taking those dreamy shots of the exteriors of monuments–we need more of these photos in archaeology.

 

Miscellaneous Equipment and Final Thoughts

Additional gear you should consider would be a speedlight off-camera flash with a flash cord–important for taking clear shots of reliefs.  A solid, light, travel tripod, preferably made of carbon fiber.  A shutter cord–yes, they still make them for DSLRs and they are still useful.

Also consider a good gear backpack to haul all your stuff.  I prefer the backpack over the traditional camera bag.   When you start accumulating multiple lenses and camera bodies, a traditional camera bag becomes way too awkward and bulky to carry around with you.

Stunning photography and great discoveries keeps archaeologists in the public eye.  Many universities will teach you the rigor to make academically sound discoveries.  But when it comes to learning photography, you are pretty much on your own.  Yet, I’m hoping that this blog will be a helpful resource for those wanting to add photography to their archaeological repertoire.

 

 

Outside of Dra Abd el Naga in the Egyptian desert.
Bible

Understanding Genealogies in the Bible (part 2)

Toledot, or Hebrew genealogies, often operate under slightly different rules than Western genealogies.  Two weeks ago we discussed a bit about how genealogies work in the Bible.  However, we can say more, which is why a part 2 is necessary.

 

Rules of the Toledot

Unlike what is commonly found in western genealogies, toledot often exclude intermediaries.  These intermediaries were descendants that either did not reproduce or weren’t significant to the overall outcomes.  Let’s take for example the toledot of Moses in Exodus 6:

And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon and Kohath and Merari; and the length of Levi’s life was one hundred and thirty-seven years.  The sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimei, according to their families.  The sons of Kohath: Amram and Izhar and Hebron and Uzziel; and the length of Kohath’s life was one hundred and thirty-three years.  And the sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi.  These are the families of the Levites according to their generations.  And Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, and she bore him Aaron and Moses; and the length of Amram’s life was one hundred and thirty-seven years.  [Exod 6:16-20]

Exod 1:5 states that 70 men entered Egypt who descended from Jacob.  When the Israelites left Egypt, those 20 years or older were counted to number at least 603,550 according to the weight of the half-shekel redemption offering [Exod 38:26].  If we look at the generations of the toledot of Moses, we see three generations being born in Egypt.  Levi begat Kohath, Kohath begat Amram, and Amram begat Moses.  Many of the toledot from this period in the book of 1 Chronicles are quite short, usually three or four generations.  The text makes it clear that Exodus 6 is naming the “families of Levites” or clans and not specifically the individuals involved per se.

 

The Unconventional Lifespans

If we took the toledot at face value, this becomes a demography problem.  According to the CIA World Factbook 2016-2017 edition, the country with the highest fertility is Niger with 6.76 children/woman.  So assuming that each person of the seventy original descendants of Jacob had both a wife and children, then it would take between 6 and 7 generations to produce a population of around 500,000.

The other thing one might notice is the unconventional length of the lifespan of the Moses’ ancestors.  Levi lived to 137, Kohath to 133, and Amran to 137 years.  There does not appear to be anything symbolic about these numbers.  These numbers are not numerologically significant factors; such as 7, 12, or 40.

Now, I wouldn’t say that people living to 137 years is out of the question.  Early calendar systems had idiosyncrasies that could account for some extended dating.  Not to mention that the wages of sin could have accelerated death by diminishing potential lifespans.

But I think that a simpler solution is also possible.  In many toledot, the chronicler may not be using the length that the person was alive.  For example, in Exod 6:20, the chronicler says that the “years of the life of Amran were seven and thirty and a hundred.”  The “years of the life of” may refer to living memory, which is the years that others have a living memory of the person.  This would abbreviate the genealogy for the authors while using a definition for life that is part of the repertoire of the ancient Near East.

 

 

Painting from the tomb of Nebamun showing cattle being herded and storage chests.
News

A New Book with Hendrickson Publishers

I am happy to announce that I have signed a book contract with Hendrickson Publishers.  The book will be on the Egyptian context of the Ark of the Covenant.  This will be a context study that will show where the Ark fits in the narrative of the ancient Near East.  I will be writing the book for the non-expert. Yet, I will include lots of detail for those who want to see the trees as well as the forest.

I expect the book to be about 300 pages with lots of illustrations and photographs.

 

A torah scroll.
Bible

Understanding Genealogies in the Bible (part 1)

About 15 years ago I led a small Bible study group.  We would take a book of the Bible and study it one chapter at a time.  When I came to the end of the book, I would ask the group, “Which book do we study next?”  And of course, nobody wanted to decide what the next book would be.

So, I would say “If nobody can decide what book we are going to study next, I get to pick.  And my choice would be the book of Numbers with all those lovely genealogies.”  No sooner would I say that, and someone would propose a book (a different book) to study.

The typical Bible reader has an aversion to genealogies.  Modern readers often see genealogies as the “boring bits” that one needs to buzz past to get to the interesting stuff.  I think that this outlook is unfortunate because genealogies were the literary device of choice that ancient writers used to give us the really juicy info.

 

The Purpose of Genealogies

In the ancient Hebrew, genealogical lists are called toledot.  An important consideration is that toledot are not quite the same as what we call a “genealogy” in the West today.  Knowing the technical difference between a toledot and a genealogy can help us navigate the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the West, genealogies normally trace the ancestors of a person going as far back as possible.  Hebrew toledot sort of do the opposite.  Toledot start with a well-known person and attempt to trace that person’s descendants.  The purpose of a toledot is not to establish pedigree as much as it is to show the person’s posterity.  So, in effect, the ancient Israelites believed that the actions of a person would have outcomes that would manifest generations down the line.

Ancient writers used these toledot for didactic purposes.  Often the toledot sets up the historical context, but the writer could also use it to convey a moral lesson.  Most western genealogies lack this didactic component.

 

The Genesis 5 Toledot

One example of a toledot comes from Genesis 5 where we find the posterity of Adam (of the Garden of Eden infamy).  We see in Genesis 5 the following structure:

And <Person 1> lived <Number A> years and became father of <Person 2>,  And <Person 1> lived <Number B> years after he was father to <Person 2>, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of <Person 1> were <Number A+B> years and he died.

The writer repeats this structure from Adam to Jared six times.   Then on the seventh generation, Enoch doesn’t die but it taken away instead [Gen 5:24].  This disruption of the normal (intentionally monotonous) pattern using antithesis shows what this toledot is really about.  The subject is that mankind is now beset with death without relief.

Adam sinned and fell from grace largely causing the mess on what we call planet Earth.   God created Adam in a perfect world that had no death.  The toledot in Genesis 5 is to show the reader Adam’s posterity–his actions which caused death to rule unchecked.

 

Who’s Who

The other thing that genealogies can do is establish why something happened.  In 2 Samuel 6, Uzzah was struck dead by God after touching the Ark of the Covenant [2 Sam 6:7].  The difficulty here is that touching the Ark was not in and of itself an offense.  Priests had handled the Ark several times in its history with impunity.  So what gives?

The first thing is that the reader may notice is that the Ark was placed on an ox-cart [2 Sam 6:3], which was forbidden since it was to be carried only by its poles [Exod 25:14].  But this alone probably would not have resulted in condign action.

The other thing we are told is the genealogy of Uzzah in verse 4.  He was the son of Abinadab.  Abinadab was the son of Jesse and brother of King David [1 Sam 17:13, 1 Chr 2:13], which makes Uzzah the nephew of the king.  Moreover, this makes Uzzah from the tribe of Judah.  Only Israelites from the tribe of Levi and of those only descendants of Kohath were permitted to carry the Ark [Num 4:15].  Although one offense may have been overlooked, two impious actions were seen as irreverence [2 Sam 6:7].

Toledot can give the modern Bible reader fascinating information if we take the time to try to understand them.

 

 

An ancient Egyptian stone quarry at Hatnub. These quarries were sometimes used as jails.
Bible

Crime and Punishment in Ancient Egypt

Egyptian society generally had no laws.  Instead, the Egyptians governed their society by an ethical concept called Maat, “order.”  This concept led to a pretty permissive society.  If an act did not disrupt the community and was not an act against the king, it was generally permitted.

 

Punishment for Crimes

We have to remember that Egyptian ruled by a brutal military dictatorship.  So magistrates maintained order by force and corporal punishment.  Acts against the king were usually met with the death penalty.  But for lesser offenses beatings were commonplace.

However, magistrates did not only use beatings to punish crime but also as an interrogation method.  The way the Egyptians used beatings was that they would beat you first before asking any questions, ask their questions, then beat you again if they felt like you needed it.   Interrogators only believed that they got honest answers when an interrogation first started with a beating.

 

Egyptian Jails

If the magistrate or king could not decide what to do with you, they would send you to jail.  In Genesis 39, we read about Potipher’s wife falsely accusing Joseph of rape.  As a slave, this crime would earn more than a beating.  But if the accuser was less than reputable, it would not necessarily warrant the death penalty.  Perhaps, Potipher understood the character of his wife.  So Joseph was sent to Egyptian jail [Gen 39:20].

Now, the Egyptian concept of jail might not be what you expect.  The Egyptians used their rock quarries as jails.   Quarries existed that were the operated by skilled professional stone cutters [see featured image].  However, quarries were also used as prisons.

Egyptian jails had no doors, bars, or walls.  Succinctly put, these jails needed no restraints.  Quarries typically were found in remote locations with very little water.  If anyone tried to escape, they would be subject to the heat of the desert and die of dehydration in short order.  This was strong incentive to stay and do one’s time.

 

The "Dream Book" a papyrus held in the British Museum. A catalog to interpret dreams.
Bible

Dreams and their Interpretation

The Egyptians believed that dreams could foretell the future.  And as such the interpretation of dreams played an important part of ancient Egyptian culture.  In fact, the interpretation of dream persists among modern Egyptians today.

 

The Dream Book

Two so-called “dream books” have survived from ancient Egypt.  Perhaps the most interesting is Papyrus Chester Beatty III, a fragmentary papyrus written in hieratic.  This papyrus is a catalog of dreams and their interpretations.

The format of the interpretations is quite formulaic.  All the dreams are predicated upon you appearing your dream.  The dream is then summarized.  The book then gives a one-word appraisal of the  dream, either “good” or “bad.”  And then the book predicts what’s going to happen to you.

A couple of examples from  the dream book are as follows: “[if a man sees himself in a dream] seeing the god who is above–good; it means much food.”  Or, “[…] seeing himself [in] mourning–good; the increase of his possessions.”  Or, “[…] looking in a deep well–bad; his being put into prison.”  Or, “[…] seeing an ostrich–bad; harm befalling him.”

The content of these dreams were not limited by propriety or societal mores.  Dream books provided interpretations for dreams involving drinking wine, engorged genitals, and copulating with one’s mother.  Also, some of these dreams could be quite cringe worthy, such as, drinking one’s own urine or blood, or copulating with a pig.  Counter-intuitively, the dream books considered some of these noxious dreams to have good outcomes.

 

Joseph and Dream Interpretation

One cannot refer to dream books without being reminded of the dream interpretations found in the Bible, most notably those interpretations done by Joseph.  Joseph was sent to prison where he interpreted the dreams of his fellow prisoners.  Joseph interpreted the dream of a cupbearer:

So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream, behold, there was a vine in front of me; and on the vine were three branches. And as it was budding, its blossoms came out, and its clusters produced ripe grapes.  Now Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; so I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.”  Then Joseph said to him, “This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days; within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you will put Pharaoh’s cup into his hand according to your former custom when you were his cupbearer. [Gen 40:9-13]

The Chester Beatty papyrus has a similar dream.  “[…] seeing himself with one greater than he–good; it means his promotion by his (own) agency.”  The cupbearer saw himself serving the king, so a promotion or restoration of position was the expected interpretation.

 

Pharaoh’s Dream and the Dream Book

The cupbearer remembered Joseph as an interpreter of dreams and suggested to the king that Joseph could interpret his dream.   Joseph interpreted the king’s dream as foretelling seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.  The king described his dream as follows:

Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream, and behold, he was standing by the Nile.  And lo, from the Nile there came up seven cows, sleek and fat; and they grazed in the marsh grass.  Then behold, seven other cows came up after them from the Nile, ugly and gaunt, and they stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile.  The ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. Then Pharaoh awoke.  He fell asleep and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven ears of grain came up on a single stalk, plump and good.  Then behold, seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them.  The thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream.  [Gen 41:1-8]

The Chester Beatty papyrus has some favorable interpretations that reference bovines.  “[…] seeing a dead ox–good; it means seeing [the demise?] of his enemies.”   “[…] killing an ox–good; killing his enemies.”  “[…] carving up an ox with his (own) hand–good; killing his (own) adversary.”  And, “[…] bringing in the cattle–good; the assembling of people for him by his god.”

But there are also some unfavorable interpretations.  “[…] feeding cattle–bad; it means roaming the earth.”

Grain is also referenced.  “[…] seeing barley and spelt [given?] to those yonder–good; it means the protection of him by his god.”  “[…] measuring barley–bad; it means the arising of words with him.”

Likewise, dreams provided predictions for harvests.  “[…] seeing a large cat–good; it means a large harvest will come to him.”

 

What can we make of Dream Interpretations?

Although the Chester Beatty papyrus is far from complete, we can see that the interpretation of dreams was codified knowledge.  A lot of questions remain regarding how the ancient Egyptians interpreted dreams.  How did the Egyptians interpret more complex dreams?  How extensive were these dream books?  Did the Egyptians standardize dream books?  How many editions were in circulation?  Fortunately, the Chester Beatty papyrus gives us a tantalizing start to this fascinating subject.