Karnak Temple – Egyptian Ruins near Luxor
The Karnak Temple complex is located in southern Egypt in and around the modern city of Luxor, which has a wealth of ancient Egyptian ruins. Although most of the Israelites interactions with Egypt came in the north, this area contains much artwork related to Old Testament biblical history.
Karnak Temple – Huge Complex of Great Importance
The Karnak Temple is one of the most incredible ruins of the ancient world. Originally a shrine built in the 12th Dynasty for the god Amun when he was only a local deity, it was added to by successive Pharaohs, especially during the 18th and 19th Dynasties. Although called a temple, the Karnak Temple is actually a temple complex with multiple temples to different gods, built around two axes pointing to the four points of the compass. Pharaohs such as Thutmose I, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, Seti I, and Ramses II all built here.
Karnak Temple – A Long Legacy
Perhaps the most famous element of the Karnak Temple is the Hypostyle Hall, which was begun in the 18th Dynasty and finished in the 19th Dynasty, composed of 134 papyrus-shaped pillars, many 21 meters high and 3 meters in diameter, decorated with reliefs and paint still visible today.
Queen Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose I and wife of Thutmose II, usurped the throne for 22 years and was possibly the “daughter of Pharaoh” that drew Moses out of the Nile and adopted him (Exodus 2:5–10). At Karnak, she constructed Egypt’s tallest obelisks 29.5 meters, one which can still be seen today, along with her cartouche on it.
Thutmose III (ca. 1504–1450 BC), who according to biblical chronology reigned just before the Exodus and 40 years of wilderness wandering and suggested by some to be a Pharaoh of the oppression or Pharaoh of the Exodus, had a topographical relief constructed on the sixth and seventh pylons that listed cities in the Levant that he conquered. Many of these cities are also recorded in the Old Testament, and in the proper order, including a set from Numbers 33:45-50. Inscribed on the wall are locations as part of a topographical list containing 119 place-names in Canaan, Transjordan, Lebanon and Syria. The Egyptian route from the Arabah to the Plains of Moab lists four locations: Iyyin, Dibon, Abel, and the Jordan River. Numbers 33 lists six locations they camp at: Iyyim, Dibon-gad, Almon-diblathaim, Mt. Nebo, Abel-shittim, and the Jordan River. By comparing the two lists, one can see the route taken by the Israelites through Transjordan matches correctly with the Egyptian topographical list. Thus, the travel account in Numbers 33 is not only accurate, but in accordance with data from around 1450 BC, just over 40 years before the Israelites made the journey on this route.
Karnak Temple – The Way of the Land of the Philistines
The Canaan campaign reliefs of Seti I (ca. 1294-1274 BC) on the walls of the Karnak Temple depict the “Way of the Land of the Philistines” that the Israelites avoided in their Exodus (Exodus 13:17), as it was said to be a place where they would encounter war. On this relief at the Karnak Temple complex, a map of the Horus way shows 11 forts and a north-south reed lined waterway crossing called “ta denit” (the dividing waters). Combine this map with Papyrus Anastasi I, and 23 Egyptian fortifications are present along the highway from Tjaru at the border of Egypt to Rafa at the border of Canaan. The site of Tjaru has been identified as a border fortress and town near modern Qantara, northeast of the Ballah Lake. Inscriptions show its use by 18th and 19th Dynasty Pharaohs, specifically Thutmose II, Seti I, and Ramses II. Thus, the Israelites avoided the easy path along the coast as God had commanded because it was heavily guarded by Egyptian troops, and recent archaeological research has demonstrated this “Way of the land of the Philistines,” also known as the “Way of Horus,” to be guarded by Egyptian border fortresses.
Karnak Temple – Pharaoh Merenptah (Merneptah)
The Pharaoh Merenptah (ca. 1213-1203 BC) also commissioned a relief at the Karnak Temple, one which is thought to correspond to the Merenptah Stele (Merneptah Stele) mentioning Israel found in his mortuary temple near Thebes on the west bank of the Nile and now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The relief is especially important to Biblical history because it may contain the earliest artistic representation of Israelites. The alleged Israelites in the relief are dressed more like Canaanites, whose culture they progressively adapted to during the Judges period when this relief was designed, instead of Shasu nomads like they were during the Exodus and wandering period.
Karnak Temple – Pharaoh Shishak (Shoshenq)
Finally, the topographical list of Pharaoh Shishak I (ca. 943-922 BC) commemorated his conquests in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, mentioned in 1 Kings 14:25 and 2 Chronicles 12:2-4. On the wall of the Bubastite Portal at the Temple of Amun in Karnak, a long list of place names is recorded in relation to military conquest. Part of it records the military campaign of Shoshenq I (Shishak 1) against Canaan and the Negev, supposedly naming captured cities in this conquest or tribute expedition of Shoshenq I. According to the Shishak Relief, both Israelite and Judean cities were involved. This campaign was probably against Jeroboam of Israel and Rehoboam of Judah, as indicated by 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles, although neither name is found in the Egyptian inscriptions, but this is expected as the list does not contain personal names. At this point in the history of the Divided Kingdom, the Hebrew writers are not very concerned with the Northern Kingdom, and there is no information about Shoshenq I’s attacks in the north.