merneptah

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Merneptah (or Merenptah) was the fourth ruler of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. He ruled Egypt for almost ten years between late July or early August 1213 and May 2, 1203 BC, according to contemporary historical records. He was the thirteenth son of Ramesses II and only came to power because all his older brothers, including his full brother Khaemwaset or Khaemwase, had predeceased him, by which time he was almost sixty years old. His throne name was Ba-en-re Mery-netjeru, which means “The Soul of Ra, Beloved of the Gods”.

Merneptah suffered from arthritis and atherosclerosis and died an old man after a reign which lasted for nearly a decade. Merneptah was originally buried within tomb KV8 in the Valley of the Kings, but his mummy was not found there. In 1898 it was located along with eighteen other mummies in the mummy cache found in the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV35) by Victor Loret. Merneptah’s mummy was taken to Cairo and eventually unwrapped by Dr. G. Elliott Smith on July 8, 1907. Dr Smith notes that:

The body is that of an old man and is 1 meter 714 millimeters in height. Merneptah was almost completely bald, only a narrow fringe of white hair (now cut so close as to be seen only with difficulty) remaining on the temples and occiput. A few short (about 2 mill) black hairs were found on the upper lip and scattered, closely clipped hairs on the cheeks and chin. The general aspect of the face recalls that of Ramesses II, but the form of the cranium and the measurements of the face much more nearly agree with those of his [grand]father, Seti the Great.

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A quick look at: Gezer, one of the main Canaanite cities of pre-Israelite Palestine.

First of all, a little historical context:

During the Middle Bronze Age, ca. 2000-1500 B.C.E., Gezer grew into one of the most massively fortified Canaanite sites in Palestine. […] This period was brought to an end ca. 1482 B.C.E. in a violent destruction, no doubt to be attributed to Pharaoh Thutmosis III. […] A decline in the 13th century B.C.E. was followed by a localized destruction, probably the work of Pharaoh Merneptah […] According to both archaeology and the Biblical tradition (cf. Josh 10:31-33) Gezer was not destroyed in the Israelite conquest. There are at least five levels on the summit that reflects continued Canaanite occupation, plus incursions of Philistines, in the 12th and 11th centuries B.C.E.

W. Mills, R. Bullard, 

Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, Mercer University Press, 1990.

The Standing Stones at Gezer are shown in the first image. The meaning and function of these stones are debated; popular explanations include the suggestions that they represented other cities who owed tribute to Gezer or represented Canaanite deities. In the third photo is the six-chambered gate at Tel Gezer -the fortification of Gezer has been attributed to Solomon in biblical texts.

Shown in the second photo is a reproduction of the Gezer calendar. Discovered in 1908, this calendar is one of the oldest surviving Hebrew texts, and provides us with key information about the ancient Israel agricultural cycle. Scholars have suggested that this calendar could have been a schoolboy’s memory exercise, or the text of a popular children’s/ folk song. The calendar reads the following (via: Michael D. Coogan, A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament, Oxford University Press, 2009):

  • Two months gathering (September, October)
  • Two months planting (November, December)
  • Two months late sowing (January, February)
  • One month cutting flax (March)
  • One month reaping barley (April)
  • One month reaping and measuring grain (May)
  • Two months pruning (June, July)
  • One month summer fruit (August)

The original tablet is currently displayed at the Museum of the Ancient Orient, Turkey.

Photos courtesy & taken by Ian Scott.

Merneptah was the fourth pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. He was the thirteenth son of Ramesses II, also known as Ramesses the Great, and inherited the throne as his elder brothers had all died before their father. As a result of this, Merneptah was in his sixties when he became pharaoh, and only ruled Egypt for just under ten years before his death. 

Merneptah built his mortuary temple of the west bank at Luxor. Although it was mostly destroyed, it has been extensively restored by the Swiss Institute of Archaeology

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Merneptah photo set time! 

My favorite Merneptah memory: When I went to Egypt with 2 of my grad school friends in 2008, we of course went to the Cairo museum and we were assigned a very nice gentleman (“Bob”) as our ‘tour guide’ but I think we only had about 2 hours total in the museum. After about 5-10 minutes listening to this guy talk, I realized if I stayed with the group I would miss out on pretty much everything I wanted to see in the museum. The moment of decision came when we were led to a corner of a room and I was looking at the very large stele directly behind our guide, trying to figure out why it looked so familiar. And lo, it was the Merneptah Stele! I kind of freaked out (quietly, of course). Our guide didn’t even mention the stele. At all. Even though he was basically leaning on it while he was talking. So, we (my 2 friends and I) ditched the group and saw all the things we wanted to see and made much better use of those 2 very short hours. I highly recommend buying the extra tickets for the royal mummy rooms. They’re an oasis of quiet and calm in the sea of chaos that is the Cairo Museum. Plus, it’s super cool to hang out with queens and pharaohs. They’re a pretty rad bunch :) I hope they’re ok…