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The Story of Man (continued)

Ramses II

Ramesses II, is given special attention in The Story of Man, and some historical background is essential.  He name is and was often transcribed as Ramses, and he is one of the most well known figures from ancient Egypt. He was the third king of the19th dynasty and the second son of Seti I. His older brother died before adulthood, and Ramses took the throne is his 20's.  He ruled from 1279 to 1213 BC, a total of 66 years.  Although he was once credited as living to the age of 99, it appears he died between 90 and 92.  Considering the average life expectancy of the age this was indeed an accomplishment in itself.  Greek authors such as Herodotus appear to have known this ruler as Sesostris.  According to Eusebius of Caesarea he was the Pharaoh as recorded in the book of Exodus in the Bible. He is well known in ancient history as the Egyptian ruler who defeated the Sherden people from coastal Turkey (the Sea Peoples), as well as engaging the Hittite Empire at the (second) battle of Kadesh in Western Syria.  The battle went badly for Egypt, and after a few years of uncertainty in 1258 BC Ramses agreed with the Hittite King Hattusuili III to a peace treaty which has been credited as the first such document in history. There are two very different versions of the battle, one Hittite and the other Egyptian.  From the facts, however, it is clear that Egypt did not prevail. The discovery of the mummy of Ramses II in 1881 at Deir el-Bahri caused a major sensation at the time. It is still visible at the Cairo Museum, where it is still a major attraction because of its Biblical connection.(4)

The association of this king with the one in Exodus is tenuous.(5)  Eusebius (AD 275 - 339), while recording Church history, may have been able to examine documents that supported this attribution, but there are a number of difficulties.  The most obvious is that Ramses II did not die by drowning in the Red Sea. It is not specifically stated that the ruler drowned, and the book of Jonah suggests that this ruler later became the ruler of Nineveh.  The Haggada states that it was his successor that became ruler of Nineveh.  In fact, of course, there is no evidence that the Egyptians controlled Nineveh, which is in Northern Iraq, at any time.  The solid evidence for the parting of the Red Sea is at least as elusive. However, it may not be a surprise that Egyptian annals do not contain a detailed record of such events as plagues and military defeats. However, some scholars have noted that a people - called Hapiru in the Amarna letters and Hittite treaties of the time - were likely ancestral to the Hebrews.(6)  In any case a stele(7) that commemorates the Victory of Amenhotep III (1391-1353 BC or 1388 - 1350 BC) over Sea Peoples as well as rebels in the Levant notes the name "Israel."  It is the earliest known use of this name. While not much can be gleaned from the short line of text that deals with the country being laid waste, it is clear that the term refers to a people and not a country, as the determinative for "country" is not used. Some scholars suggest that "Israel" refers to a band of Bedouin like people known to the Egyptians of the 15th century BC as "Shasu."(8)


Portrait of Ramses II Figure 7 (from p. 232). This portrait of Ramses II does not follow ancient examples, and injects the artistic conventions of the Victorian age into antiquity.

The book The Story of Man suggests that it was the son of Ramses II who reigned at the time when the Hebrews left Egypt and : "During the reign of this son various surrounding nations attempted to invade Egypt.  These invasions and the loss of property and population occasioned by the exodus of the Hebrews, caused the first decline in the power and wealth of this wonderful country.  During the reigns of his three successors, civil war added its sufferings to those occasioned by foreign invasions.  The first business of the twentieth dynasty was to expel these invaders" (pp. 232-233).


(4) Grimal, N. (1992).  A History and Ancient Egypt.  Blackwell: Oxford, pp. 250-253.
(5) The evidence for the Exodus is non-existent from Egyptian sources. There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that a migration of some sort did take place, however.  Kitchen, K.A. (2003) On the Reliability of the Old Testament.  Eerdmans: Michigan, p. 310.
(6) Mendenhall, G.E. (1970). "The Hebrew Conquest of Palestine," The Biblical Archaeologist Reader Vol III, ed. Edward F. Campbell Jr. and David Noel Freedman.  Anchor Doubleday: Garden City, New York, pp. 100-120.  This is a very contentious area, and some scholars suggest that the term refers to groups of bandits and not a people per se.
(7) Manassa, C. (2003). The Great Karnak Inscription of Merneptah. Grand Strategy in the Thirteenth Century BC. Yale Egyptological Studies 5.
(8) Redford, D. B. (1992). Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton University Press.

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