Thebes

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Thebes – City of the Scepter
The city of Thebes is called “waset,” “niwt reset,” or “niwt imn” by the Egyptians, meaning City of the Scepter, City of the South, or City of Amun. Thebes was a royal city, and the scepter represented this. Thebes was somewhat unique in that the city was built on both the east and west banks of the Nile, with about half of the city’s 1970 acres on each side. As the city was the capital of Egypt during most of the 18th Dynasty and a major city regardless, the Israelites would have been familiar with it. Thebes actually is mentioned in three Old Testament passages -- Nahum 3:8, Jeremiah 46:25, and Ezekiel 30:14-16.

Thebes – Theban Necropolis
On the west bank of the Nile in the Thebes area is the famous Theban Necropolis, consisting of a variety of royal and private tombs, mortuary temples, and a village for the workmen. The Valley of Nobles, which contains the highest concentration of private tombs from ancient Egypt, is located here. Of particular interest is the Tomb of Rekmire, TT100, an 18th Dynasty official who served as governor of Thebes and as vizier under Pharaohs Thutmose III and Amenhotep II. During his time in office, he oversaw many building projects in Egypt. The walls of his tomb depict the brick-making process by Asiatic slaves, exactly what the enslaved Israelites did in Egypt. There is even a tomb painting which shows an Egyptian slave master watching over Asiatic slaves making bricks with text reading “the rod is in my hand, be not idle.” Compare this to Exodus 2 and 5 in which the brick-making labors of the Israelites slaves are enforced by Egyptian taskmasters.

    He [Moses] went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren (Exodus 2:11).

    So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters over the people and their foremen, saying, “You are no longer to give the people straw to make brick as previously; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the quota of bricks which they were making previously, you shall impose on them; you are not to reduce any of it”
    (Exodus 5:6-8).
Rekmire was an official during the enslavement period just prior to the Exodus, and his tomb paintings reveal exactly the type of labor that the book of Exodus describes -- Asiatic slaves (Israelites specifically in Exodus) making bricks for Egyptian building projects under the harsh supervision of taskmasters. The tomb of Rekmire is also important for Egyptological studies as it contains the full text of the “Installation of the Vizier,” which describes the office and its duties, and may also be applicable to the position that Joseph held while a high official in Egypt.

Thebes – Tombs of Interest
Other private tombs of interest in the area of Thebes include the 18th dynasty tomb of the royal herald Intef, TT155, an official who served during the reign of Thutmose III, and the 18th dynasty tomb of Nakht, TT52, the scribe, priest, and “Astronomer of Amun,” who possibly served during the reign of Thutmose IV. Nakht’s tomb shows Asiatic slaves gathering grapes, while Intef’s tomb is a little more specific -- designating these Asiatic slaves as ‘Apiru, and showing them pressing grapes for wine. ‘Apiru was the Egyptian version of the term Habiru, which generally designated an Asiatic who lived on the fringes of society and often in a nomadic lifestyle. Some scholars in the past sought to equate the term Habiru with Hebrew, but the textual evidence now points to a possibility that Hebrews fit into the Habiru designation, but it certainly was not an exclusive term describing Hebrews.

Nearby is the workmen’s village of Deir el-Medina, a residential area for artisans crafting the royal tombs around Thebes between the 18th and 20th Dynasties, and originally called “set maat” or Place of Truth/Justice. According to inscriptional evidence found on the bricks of the surrounding wall, the settlement was founded by Thutmose I. Although the houses were closely packed together, each had the name of the owner marked on the doorway. Excavations indicate that a vast increase in labor came under Thutmose III. In documents recovered from Deir el-Medina, two groups of workmen were led by two foremen (from the workmen’s group) and under the authority of the Vizier of Thebes, much like the organization written of in Exodus 5. Another text states that workers had gone “to offer to their god,” similar to two requests of the Hebrews “please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to Yahweh our God” (Exodus 3:18, cf. Exodus 5:3). Texts from this village, along with inscriptions in the self-made tombs of the workmen, indicate their relatively high level of literacy.

Also on the west bank of Thebes is Malkata, palace of Amenhotep III, originally called “Tehen Aten” or Splendor of the Aten, built in the early 14th century BC. This is the best preserved and largest of the palaces of New Kingdom Egypt, and gives the observer a firsthand look at the type of palace that Moses and Aaron (Exodus 2 and Exodus 7) and Abraham and Joseph (Genesis 12 and Genesis 40-50) would have visited.

Thebes – Valley of the Kings and Queens
To the west of Thebes is the Valley of the Kings. Here, many Pharaohs were laid to rest -- some who reigned over and interacted with the Israelites. Called “The Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh, Life, Strength, Health in The West of Thebes,” Thutmose II, III, and IV, Hatshepsut, Amenhotep II and III, Tutankhamen, Seti I, Ramses II, Merenptah are some of the important Pharaohs buried here.

Nearby is Deir el-Bahri, the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut called Djeser-Djerseru. Hatshepsut (ca. 1504-1482 BC), daughter of Thutmose I and successor to her husband Thutmose II, reigned during the co-regency of Thutmose III. Her monuments were defaced and damaged 20 or so years after her death, when Amenhotep II took power, even attempting to identify her works as his own. This may have been done as backlash for the events of the Exodus, perhaps because she was the “daughter of Pharaoh” who raised Moses, the man who caused rebellion in Egypt and led out a vast number of Egypt’s slave population. Women of royal birth in the 18th Dynasty were identified by the title “daughter of the king.” This is essentially the same title given to the princess who took Moses from the Nile, the “daughter of Pharaoh” (Exodus 2:5). Hatshepsut was the only child of Thutmose I and Queen Ahmose that survived past infancy, indicating that she is the obvious candidate if the timeline is at all accurate.

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