When you are in Jerusalem and are done with tours of the Holy Land, a bit of fascinating culture will show you the other side of this amazing land. The Israel Museum has just opened a new exhibition, never before seen, in which you are sure to be awestruck by the unending amount of ancient artifacts and archaeological remains.
Little Known Artistic Cross-Cultural Ties
Apparently, during the second millennium BCE, Egypt and Canaan shared aesthetic, ritual, and cultural affinities with one another. The exhibition highlights some of the fascinating art pieces you will see, which are primarily from Israel.
- Egyptian Scarabs – Divine and royal names were found etched on scarabs, or stone beetles used in Egypt as talismans and symbols of resurrection and placed in their coffins in Canaanite tombs. This was originally an Egyptian custom, borrowed by the Canaanites.
- The inscribed gold ring of Tutankhamun (ironic that the last five letters of his name are Hamun, which is the name of the evil and dark character in the soon to be celebrated holiday of Purim). This was found in a tomb in Israel and is the only object found there with his name inscribed on it.
- Statue of Ramses II – Ramses was found in a temple at Beth Shean. This is the only evidence of a royal statue made in Canaan.
- Royal Stelae – Stelae are monuments commemorating military victories, of which there were many to be had.
- Anthropoid Coffins – Canaanites shared the custom of burial in anthropoid coffins, or coffins resembling the human form.
- Fragment of the front feet of a Sphinx for the Pharaoh Mycerinus of the fourth dynasty kingdom. It was most likely an antique at that time and might have been given to a local medium ruler or to the Dynasty of Hazor as a gift. This would have occurred in the late Bronze Age, which would be one thousand years before Egypt conquered Canaan. It has the distinction of being the oldest piece you will see at this exhibition.
- A medium-size statue of Pharaoh sitting and covered in gold leaf. The queen was originally part of this work of art. Now all you see is her hand wrapped around the king’s waist.
- A half-bust of Pharaoh Thutmase III (1458-1425 BCE) wearing a head-dress with a uraeus, or a rearing cobra.
On display is an original map of Israel with familiar cities that exist until today such as Beit She’an, Beit Shemesh, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Akko and Megiddo. Eventually, Egypt ruled not only over Canaan, but over a host of city-states such as Jaffa, Beit She’an and Gaza. Egypt also adopted some of the customs and deities of its captives. For example, Egypt worshipped ‘Hather,’ a deity of Canaan, while the Canaanites worshipped many of the deities of Egypt.
This exhibit is the first realization of the relationship and rule between Egypt and Canaan. An interesting portion of the exhibition notes the Egyptian role in the invention of what probably was the first alphabet. It was based on thirty letters, all in picture or geometric form. As you exit the exhibit, you are invited to write your name in hieroglyphics on a multimedia station. This innovative writing was shared by Egypt and the Canaanites. The most controversial portion of this exhibition is the question by the curators of this program as to whether the exodus of the Jewish people ever occurred. They believe it is merely mythic story-telling that was compiled between the 8th and the 7th centuries. Their reasoning is that there has never been any archaeological proof found to corroborate this ‘historical’ tale. If there is one museum you visit on your trip, let it be the Israel Museum. Pharaoh has appeared in all his glory, as the ruler of ancient Egypt, the tyrant and the savior of the universe. The Egyptian empire lasted 350 years and then became history.