Egypt

Walk through tour of the Brooklyn Museum

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A spontaneous get-together between Brooklinian friends, celebrating a birthday on a Saturday night. And what better place to celebrate than – the Brooklyn Museum!

On the first Saturday of the month, the Brooklyn Museum is open – and free – until 11PM. It’s all a buzz, with DJs, dancing, music and lots of noise – and vibrance. We chose this need to do a casual walk-through tour, highlighting anything from #InfiniteBlue – and Lapis Lazuli, to Ancient Near East: Assyria and Egypt.

More pictures coming later. And meanwhile:

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The Age of Empires Strikes Back

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Returning customers, especially for the same tour, is very encouraging. Both pictures are of today’s group at the Metropolitan Museum.

The right-hand picture is of returning customers from last year. Mrs. Gitta Neufeld, head of educational development at Allegra Franco School of Educational Leadership (second from right) attended my tour in June 2017, and hired me as a teacher at Allegra Franco. I am looking forward to beginning my second year teaching there.

Take it from her:

(amidst the hustle and bustle of the Met’s closing hours – this is being cleaned up slightly, but bear with us for 22 seconds!)

 

Parasha Pearls for Shabbat Hagadol

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This week, Parashat Tzav and the Shabbat before Pesach, is called שבת הגדול – the “Great” or “Grand” Sabbath.

Why is it called Shabbat Hagadol?

School children learn the story of how the Hebrews tied the pascal lamb to the bedpost on the sabbath before the very first Passover in Egypt. But this was a risky thing to do, as  the Egyptians deified the lamb. However, G-d protected us and it was a grand display of His benevolence that not a single Egyptian tried to hurt us for holding their gods at bay.

But come now, seriously?

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Student proudly demonstrates an artifact he found in relation to Pesach and Shabbat haGadol

On a Museum tour with ninth graders from Magen David Yeshivah High School, which I lead in early March, a student discovered a Ptolemaic period deity in the form of a ram – representing the Egyptian god Amun-Re, often represented in that form.

This student will never forget that!

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Ram headed sphinx of the god Amun-Re at Karnak. From: http://www.travel-pictures-gallery.com/

Summer 2017

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Success!

Summer Public Tanach Tours are over

Public tours will resume shortly, and a schedule will be posted soon.

It has been a long summer, with nearly 20 Tanach and Jewish History tours running at the Met. The summer Public Tanach Tour series is now complete, and we are gearing up for the year.

Follow Torah Intermedia to learn about upcoming tours, lectures and programs, as well as articles and reviews.

Last Tanach Tour Complete
Paying tribute to the “met sticker” tradition.. last one out of the museum today, Sunday, August 27

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Thank you so much for an amazing tour of the MET with my children! You were so engaging with my children and managed to still fill the rest of the tour for us adults with lots of meaningful content! I will recommend you to anyone looking for a great tour guide of the MET and specifically a Jewish tour. You were great!!!

Rabbi Yochai “Yogi” Robkin
Director of outread of DATA at Plano, Texas
Tanach Highlights Tour on August 17
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“Our extended family, ranging in age from 7 to 65, enjoyed a wonderful tour of the Met with Nachliel. He planned scavenger hunts, decryption games, and more to keep the younger crowd interested while engaging the adults with his vast knowledge. The tour brought the museum to life. I highly recommend it!”
J. Robkin, from Atlanta, GA
Tanach Highlights Family Tour, August 17
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Manhattan Jewish Experience, July 30

Thank you Nachliel providing us all a great understanding of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires and their connection to Tanach!

Rabbi Pinny Rosenthal
Manhattan Jewish Experience
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Mechon Hadar, July 21

We so enjoyed having Nachliel as our guide at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our group had been studying rabbinic materials about idolatry and Nachliel helped bring those issues to life through the Met’s collections. His comfort both with the ancient and classic sculpture we looked at as well as his fluency in Bible and rabbinic literature were terrific!

Rabbi Ethan Tucker
Rosh Yeshiva, Mechon Hadar
New York, NY
Tour took place on July 21
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“Fascinating…Truly eye opening into the world we only hear about. The connection of Ancient Artifacts and the Tanach is explained and put into perspective, especially in this troubled time. This tour only reinforces our Historical connection to the Holy Land of Israel”

Jeff and Chery Klein from Monsey, NY. Participated July 23

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This your is a great way to be introduced to the history of the Ancient Near East! It’s very comprehensive and spans a pretty good range of time. I also loved that it was grounded (corroborated) by passages of Tanakh. I loved seeing the intersection between the written record of history and Torah! Personally, I would have loved to spend more time on the text itself, but it’s hard to do it all in under two hours. I recommend this for anyone who’s interested in the A.N.E.!

Malka Rappaport from Crown Heights, NY. Participated Wednesday, July 12

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Powerful presentation of the era of kings – Regional Kingdoms and Empires…the separation of Israel and Judea and eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian diaspora. Nachliel is a passionate guide and very informed and well traveled in order to present his material.

Notes were very well researched and presented. This tour was made even more powerful during the period of the three weeks between Tammuz and Tisha b’Av.

– Aliyana Wasserman, Rosanne Koenigson from Edison, NJ. Participated Sunday, July 16

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“I’ve lived in New York City my entire life and have been through the Metropolitan Museum of Art…many times. Nachliel made me feel like I was touring these wings for the first time.”
Mrs. Susan Strassburger. Participated Sunday, June 18
“Nachliel is exceptionally knowledgeable and passionate about his twin loves – Torah and Archeology. He showed us the importance of contextualizing II Melakhim and Yirmiyahu in its Ancient Near Eastern setting…We moved at a rapid-fire pace…”
Ms. Sarah Robinson, Tanach Teacher at Kushner Hebrew Academy. Participated Sunday, June 18
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Some action from Sunday, June 18’s tour

Tanach Tour June 18

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Gear up for the summer with a

Tanach Tour at The Met!

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When?

Sunday afternoon, June 18

Group A:

12:00-1:45

Group B:

2:15-4:00

In Short…

Join us at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as we go through the final chapters of the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah, during the First Temple period, until its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

See fascinating artifacts that bring these civilizations to life, learn about the dilemmas we faced during these times, and understand their historic context.

  • Tour is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes
  • Materials are provided, but bringing your Tanach is recommended
  • Tour is limited to 25-30 participants at a time

FAQ

For your convenience, you may check the FAQ section, which includes information about arrival, parking, kosher food, as well as a link to the source sheet which I hand out at the Met.

Book your reservation now!

Call or text: 929-233-0950                     E-mail: info@torahintermedia.com

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Reviews:

Nachliel put together an interactive and informative program in the MET. It was a great experience to see firsthand some of the artifacts that our biblical ancestors saw, as presented to us in the Tanach. It was especially moving to stand under the Ishtar Gate, the same gate our ancestors entered through as they were exiled from Jerusalem to Babel during first temple period, circa 586 BC.

Jesse Salem, Brooklyn, NY 
Founder of Tanach Study
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Rav Nachliel led my ninth grade Jewish History students on an eye – opening tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Assyrian, Egyptian, and Babylonian wings. It was important to me that my students gain the requisite background knowledge to more deeply understand the Second Temple Period…Rav Nachliel was professional and thorough and provided an enriching and worthwhile learning experience. I highly recommend a museum tour guided by Rav Nachliel.

Mrs. Frieda Cattan
Jewish History Teacher

Magen David Yeshivah Celia Esses High School, Brooklyn, NY 

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Nachliel’s knowledge, energy and understanding of the art was thorough, colorful and rich. Through an intimate knowledge of history as well, he was able to vibrantly relate manifestations of ancient history to modern cultural events. A history lesson through art would have been satisfying enough, but Nachliel’s added touch of historical events as they relate to modern culture, and his willingness to respond to many questions, often tangential, brought the tour to unexpected heights

Ezra and Deborah Safdieh 

Brooklyn, NY

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I went with Nachliel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on several occasions. Nachliel is enthusiastic about Torah and archaeology, explaining Tanach and teachings of Chazal in a very engaging manner, passionately bringing Torah to life through the history and the archaeology that we explored together.Indeed, I too look forward to join him on future programs…

Dr. Nisan Hershkowitz, A president of the New York State Academy of General Dentistry, Brooklyn, NY
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I really liked going to the MET with Nachliel. We saw lots of amazing things together. We should go again soon!

 Talia, age 4

From the Midwives to Carchemish

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Battle of Carchemish. Photo by: Klaus-Peter Simon – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4470680

In honor of this week’s weekly Torah portion – Shemot – I offer two ideas which can be shared and used in the classroom. The first one – namely the one below, can be applied for roughly 5th grade and up. The second is best suited for high school and up.

For the sake of brevity I will assume the reader’s familiarity with the French medieval Biblical and Talmudic commentator Rashi, or Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040 – 1105), and with a commonly known concept called “mida k’neged mida” – or “measure for measure” (which is not “an eye for an eye”).

Translations are from Sefaria.org (Tanach, Holy Scriptures, JTS edition), with added suggestions.

Part 1: The Midwives and The Great House

The story we know goes as follows: A new Pharaoh rose to power, one who did not recognize Joseph (Exodus 1:8-11), and so he schemed to enslave the Hebrews. That was not working too well for him, as they were still increasing in population. He therefore devised a more cunning plan: The midwives should kill the males at birth, faking their deaths, thereby controlling the population growth (ibid, 15-21).

Both ideas shared here deal with this part of the story.

The midwives of course feared God. At great risk to their own lives they did not obey Pharaoh’s command, and were rewarded for this in a very unusual way.

And God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and increased greatly.

And because the midwives feared God, He established households for them. (ibid, 20-21)

At face value, it seems like a fair reward, or measure (mida k’neged mida). The midwives risked their own lives to sustain the households of their people, and God rewarded them in kind with having households of their own.

The Talmud, however, looks at this differently. Rashi presents the Talmudic approach as follows:

Houses (dynasties) of the priesthood and the Levites and of royalty are all termed בתים. “Houses”, as it is said, (I Kings 9:1) “and Solomon built the house of the Lord and the house of the king”: “the house of the Lord” i. e. a dynasty of priests and Levites — from Jochebed (Shifrah); and “the house of the king”, i. e. a royal dynasty — from Miriam (Puah), just as it is stated in Tractate Sotah 11b.

This is all very nice, and from a midrashic point of view, this correlation can be made. But is there a p’shat, or simple reading of the text, that can allow for this “measure for measure”? One that would make sense intuitively, perhaps, to a Hebrew reading this text in the generation of the Exodus?

It appears that there might be one, and this is entirely my own suggestion. Feel free to reject it.

 

The measure for measure attribute of God’s reward is implicit in the source of the command to kill the newborn boys: Pharaoh himself. As you can see above (just do a search for “Pharaoh Etymology”), the word Pharaoh comes from the Egyptian pr-aa or pr-’o. During an online course on Ancient Egypt I heard this explained by David P. Silverman, Ph.D (Eckley Brinton Coxe, Jr. Professor of Egyptology, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Curator of the Egyptian Section, University of Pennsylvania Museum), as the equivalent of saying “Speaker of The House” or “The Kremlin”.

That is to say, the midwives were disobeying “The Great House” – which is dynastic royalty and government. The great risk that they took was rewarded by them having their own Great House – dynasties of kings, priests and levites.

To summarize:

In an effort to explore the simple reading of the text, archaeology and linguistics help us uncover another layer of understanding which was hitherto perceived as purely midrashic.

Part 2: Carchemish and the Evil Scheme

This article is more appropriate for high school students. Its primary focus is textual analysis, in conjunction with history and archaeology.

The Scheme

The scheme to subjugate the Hebrews all started, ostensibly, out of fear of the rapid growth of their population:

A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.

And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us.

Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground/land. (ibid, 8-11)

Without getting into the complicated discussion of who were the Hebrews in Egypt, and the possible understandings of this saga in light of archaeological evidence, I would like to just discuss three words (or more, in other languages):

ועלה מן הארץ

“And rise from/above/over the ground/land”

The ambiguity of the translation shows how difficult it is to understand what the primary concern was, as demonstrated by several commentaries. Nachmanides (ibid, 1:10) sees a correlation with Nebuchadnezzar’s taking control over the cities of Judah, rising “over all the fortified cities in Judah”, or Rezin king of Aram “rising overJerusalem”.

Others suggest it means that the Israelites shall leave Egypt “against our will”. (Rashi, and others)

Whatever it means, it is not good for Egyptian interests of that time.

Carchemish

Fast forward to a later Pharaoh: Necho II.

Pharaoh Necho is famous for his involvement in the death and appointment of two Kings of Judah (II Kings 23:27-37). In that sense, Necho II plays an important role in Jewish History.

Statuette of Necho II in the Brooklyn Museum

While the motives of King Josiah’s opposition of Necho II’s passing through Judah – against the warning of the prophet Jeremiah – are very important to understand, this article is focused on Necho himself, and who he is going to battle.

Bible commentators and thinkers as recently as 1972 (Rabbi Shlomo Rothenberg in his book Toledot Am Olam – though maybe historically inaccurate and perplexing, is recent enough to demonstrate what we are trying to show here), and as early as the Middle Ages (Rabbi David Kimhi or Radak, 1160–1235), understood the enemy to be Assyria.

In his days, Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, marched over/up towards/againstthe king of Assyria to the River Euphrates; (II Kings 23:29)

After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight against (or: in) Carchemish by the Euphrates; and Josiah went out against him. (II Chronicles 25:20)

Image below: Carchemish, at the apex of the fertile crescent. Necho ventures north to Carchemish, passing through the coastline without getting close toe Jerusalem. Josiah challenges Necho as he passes Megiddo, where he thought he had the advantage. Necho kills Josiah, and goes to battler in Carchemish. On his way back, the newly appointed Jehoahaz rebels, Necho exiles him to Egypt and appoints Jehoiakim.

Disclaimer: This map is only to display the ebb and flow of the battle, and not chronology. The battle of Carchemish is commonly accepted to be at 605 BCE.

Image source: generationword.com/

Is there precedent to assuming that Egypt was going to fight Assyria? Of course! They were mortal enemies. And ever since the Kushite 25th Dynasty’s alliance with King Hezekiah against Assyrian King Sennacherib, and their consequent invasion by Esarhaddon, they have been destroyed by, and vassals to, Assyria.

A simple reading of the text only encourages this interpretation. The verse from this week’s Torah portion is one of the several examples which make it plausible to suggest this.

However, as history and archaeology teach us, this is not the case.

In its death throes, Assyria makes a desperate alliance with its mortal enemy: Egypt.

Necho II, following Psamtik I, was part of an alliance with its mortal enemy – Assyria – in a campaign to defeat the uprising of the Neo-Babylonian empire. They were defeated in the famous Battle of Carchemish, by the crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar II, future emperor.

To summarize:

A simple reading of a verse, supported by similar examples and common knowledge, lead us to make assumptions about the meaning of a text. Archaeology can sometimes surprise us, making us revisit what we thought we knew, and see a fresh angle.

 

The Chief Baker and the Chief Cupbearer

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In honor of this week’s Torah Reading, with the Saga of Joseph’s dreams. Joseph is working in the Jail house, and meets two very miserable political prisoners:

“Pharaoh was angry with his two courtiers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker” (Genesis 40:2)

Joseph famously interprets their dreams, and we know how that ends up. Bad for the chief baker, and good for the chief cupbearer.

Almost every kid in a Jewish school will hear this story, and the background to it: Pharaoh was angry, because the negligence of his respective chiefs: The baker allowed a rock to make its way into a baked good, and the cupbearer allowed a fly to get into Pharaoh’s drink.

A few artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art can bring this famous story to life.

Let us start with the background story. Pharaoh was being served a drink, it appears, and a fly somehow made its way into his wine. In the Assyrian relief below, see the scene, find the similarities. Notice how flies were kept out of drinks.

King Ashurnasirpal II wears the royal crown, a conical cap with a small peak and a long diadem. He holds a bow, a symbol of his authority, and a ceremonial bowl. Facing him, a eunuch, a “beardless one,” carries a fly whisk and a ladle for replenishing the royal vessel. [text adapted from the Met website]

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Credit: Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1932, available at the Met, Gallery 401. Image source: http://www.metmuseum.org

All ended well for the chief cupbearer:

“He restored the chief cupbearer to his cupbearing, and he placed the cup on Pharaoh’s hand” (Gen. 40:21)

But the Hebrew is actually slightly different.

וַיִּתֵּ֥ן הַכּ֖וֹס עַל־כַּ֥ף פַּרְעֹֽה – and he placed the cup on top of Pharaoh’s palm, very similar to the depiction above. Could it be that this wasn’t a traditional cup, but something more common at the time?

The “cup” being used in this relief is a Phiale, or libation bowl. You can see one of many examples available at the Met, here.

Next is the unfortunate story of the chief baker. His dream was of bad omen, indeed.

 

When the chief baker saw how favorably he had interpreted, he said to Joseph, “In my dream, similarly, there were three openwork baskets on my head.

In the uppermost basket were all kinds of food for Pharaoh that a baker prepares; and the birds were eating it out of the basket above my head.” (Gen. 40:16-17)
This imagery was an omen for its dreamer losing his head:
In three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale you upon a pole; and the birds will pick off your flesh.” (ibid, 19)
Was it a common thing for Egyptians to balance three baskets on their heads? Sure, it was a dream. But the imagery must have drawn from the time. Lo and behold, I found an Egyptian-like triple-basket: Last November I visited the exhibition Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom at Met. In the gift shop, I saw this basket, presumably meant to look like something from the time period.

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Unfortunately, I did not bother to find out more about it, nor did I purchase one for myself. So sad.

Taharqa, Sennacherib and Hezekiah – The Untold Story

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Cover image: King Taharqa leads his queens through a crowd during a festival (Art by Gregory Manchess) Source: Draper 2008

Sometimes the Bible can be misleading. Sometimes.

I would like to discuss an example which demonstrates how a well-documented story, with rich archaeological remains, overshadows a major story. A story which seems to be trivial, almost meaningless, when one reads through the Biblical account.

I hope that this article inspires the reader, especially if she/he is a Biblical Studies teacher, to give more weight to the broader context and archaeological remains, which illuminate a very important story.

Many people know the famous story of Hezekiah and Sennacherib, described in II Kings 18:13 – 20:37, as well as in Isaiah 36-37, and II Chronicles 32. In short, Sennacherib attacks Jerusalem, devastates the kingdom of Judah, challenges Hezekiah in Jerusalem, but does not succeed. He ends up returning to Assyria and is later murdered by his sons, who escape to neighboring Urartu (“Ararat”), and his son Esarhaddon succeeds him. That’s just about it.

One of my favorite educational resources for the classroom is the Megalim Educational Institute of the City of David, Jerusalem. They have great videos in both English and Hebrew (with and without subtitles). Here is a sample video about the famous Sennacherib Prism:

But what happened after that? The Bible tells us one thing, and history and archaeology tell us much more. This story has such rich archaeological remains, many of which can be visited, seen and touched in Israel, and in museums around the world. The more prominent of these are:

  • The Broad Wall – which is literally underneath the house I grew up in, in the Old City.
  • Hezekiah’s Water Cistern, aka Hezekiah’s Tunnel – should be included in your next visit to Jerusalem, especially if you are with children.
  • The Lachish Reliefs – and the actual site of Lachish – which I talk about in several of my previous articles.
  • LMLK Jug Handles, as well as a personal seal of King Hezekiah. The connection of these artifacts to the narrative has several approaches, and some (Professor Oded Lipschits, TAU) attribute the LMLK jug handles to Ahaz – the first Judean king to voluntarily become vassal to Assyria.

Assyria and the Black Pharaohs

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There is much more to the story. In a trivial looking verse (found in an almost identical verse in Isaiah 37:7), the Bible tells us as follows:

And [the king of Assyria] learned that King Tirhakah (Taharqa) of Kush (Nubia) had come out to fight him; so he again sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying… (II Kings 19:9)

In short, Sennacherib was sidetracked by a skirmish with a nebulous King of Kush, and sent his messengers to Hezekiah saying “It ain’t over yet!” or “I’ll be back!”

But that did not happen. Sennacherib goes back home, and that’s all we ever hear from Assyria in our area. Indeed?

To better understand what is missing from this story, and the impact it had on the region, we need to backtrack and see who Taharqa is, and what is the Kingdom of Kush. I will indulge for a bit in the Biblical appearance of the Kingdom of Kush, or Nubia – modern day Sudan, south of Egypt and along the Nile. I hope that this will spur enough curiosity for the reader to further look into this and convey it to whomever will be willing to hear.

The Rivers of Eden

The name of the first is Pishon, the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where the gold is. The gold of that land is good; bdellium is there, and lapis lazuli

The name of the second river is Gihon, the one that winds through the whole land of Kush. (Genesis 2:11-13)

What we find here is a primal description of the building blocks of civilization. We have the Nile, which is called here Gihon (See Rashi), along which develops the land of Kush. A fascinating discussion would be, why do we need to hear about Kush in such primal a description?

The other land is called Havilah. If it is correct to say that it is the source of Lapis Lazuli, then it would probably be in the area of Afghanistan. However, Lapis Lazuli was a treasured commodity which in ancient times was only available to the powerful and the rich. It was rare, and came from far away – Afghanistan and then there is the mention of the “gold of that land which is good”. Such a strange thing to mention.

So we have Gold, and Kush, given special attention in a primal description of the fall of Man from Eden.

Kush, the man

Kush is one of the sons of Ham, from the three progenitors of the seventy nations, according to Biblical tradition (Gen. 10:5-12). Another fascinating discussion would be to just compare what we know today, from history and archaeology, with the entire Biblical description there. But that is another article for another time.

From these the maritime nations branched out. [These are the descendants of Japheth] by their lands—each with its language—their clans and their nations.

The descendants of Ham: Kush, Mizraim (Egypt), Put, and Canaan.

The descendants of Kush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The descendants of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.

Kush also begot Nimrod, who was the first man of might on earth.

I am tempted to continue the list, because of the fascinating relationships to Canaan, Assyria, Babylon and more. But we have to on point.

Taharqa, Hezekiah and Esarhaddon

When Sennacherib King of Assyria said to Hezekiah “I’ll be back” – he didn’t come back to Jerusalem. But his son, Esarhaddon, came back to the region – big time. Esarhaddon was the first enemy to ever invade Egypt.

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Wall panel depicting soldiers crossing a river floating on inflated animal skins. Assyrians ca 860 BC, Nimrud, northwest palace. British Museum

We will get back to what Assyria did to Egypt. But before that, we need to give the proper attention to Egypt of the time, and how they have to do with the King of Kush.

So what was going on in Egypt? And what does this have to do with Taharqa?

Egypt, leading up to this time, was going through political instability. It is therefore called an “Intermediate” period. This particular period of instability is known as The Third Intermediate Period.

This instability allowed the powerful southern kingdom of Kush, or Nubia, to seize the throne of Egypt. So when the Bible says that “Taharqa King of Kush” came out to fight Sennacherib – he was in fact fighting the adjacent Kingdom of Egypt, under the rule of the Kushites.

Why were they fighting Sennacherib?

The Bible does not tell us much, but archaeology fills in the gaps.

King Hezekiah rebelled against the Assyrian empire, which means that he stopped paying taxes (II Kings 18:7). What we don’t know from the Bible is that Hezekiah not only rebelled by discontinuing his taxes to Assyria. From Egyptian and Assyrian sources, we know that the Egyptian army was led by Nubian crown prince Taharqa (690-664 BCE), who joined the kingdom of Judah against the Assyrians, though the king at the time was Shebitqu (702-690 BC). The confusion as to who was king at the time can be attributed to the fact that the “the existing narrations were drawn up at a date after 690 BC, when it was one of the current facts of life that Taharqa was king of Egypt and Nubia” (Kitchen 2003, 159-60).

Before we continue the story, I would like to show you some amazing things I have seen this past week in an Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibit. You can read more about the exhibit here.

Gold and the Gods – MFA Exhibit

Gold is a very important commodity in the ancient world, and he who has gold, has power. We saw that the Bible mentions “gold that is good” in the land of Havilah as part of the primal description of the development of civilization. While Havilah may be further south of Nubia, or to the east, gold was definitely a hallmark of the power of Nubia.

The Land of Nubia was an important source of gold, and the Nubians were expert craftsmen, making remarkable jewelry which demonstrates a high level of sophistication, skill and ingenuity (based on the words of Yvonne J. Markowitz, Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry). The exhibit offers around 100 pieces, which constitute the richest exhibit of Nubian jewelry outside of Khartoum, and there is much that can be learned from them: Their usage, manufacturing, fashion and style, as well as intercultural influences. For example, we can see that the Nubians adopted, to varying extent, many aspects of the Egyptian culture, burial ritual and religion. Here are some pictures I took at the exhibit:

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Of course, as a Bible Studies teacher, I went there with the hopes of finding something I can hold onto, put into a Biblical context. I went there hoping to see something from Taharqa – and I was not disappointed. Below are three articles which relate to Taharqa:

  1. (bottom) Nuri, gold foil, Napatan period, reign of Taharqa (690-664 BC).
  2. (top left) Statuette of Taharqa himself. This would probably be the inspiration for the National Geographic illustration above. Since there are several other images of Taharqa in different museums, such as the Louvre, or the Brooklyn Museum – I wasn’t so surprised. But the next piece made the entire visit worth it.
  3. (top right) Personal Ring of King Taharqa.

 

The Invasion of Egypt

Hezekiah made a disastrous miscalculation when he decided to rebel against Assyria, but the Egyptian-Nubians made an even more fatal mistake, because their interference in Assyrian affairs would eventually lead to the collapse of their dynasty. While Sennacherib’s war against the Egyptians was the first of its kind, it was short-lived, and as we know from the Biblical account, he turned back home and was assassinated by his sons, and succeeded by Esarhaddon (680-669 BC). But the story did not end there, and in fact, the Nubian involvement in Assyrian affairs had led to the collapse of their dynasty.

Just a few years later, in 674 and 671 BC, Esarhaddon attempted two invasions into Egypt, the first was unsuccessful, but the second one was. Assyria’s victory was commemorated on an alabaster tablet known as Esarhaddon’s Victory Stele (image below). In the stele, it reads:

“I cut down with a sword and conquered…I caught like a fish (and) cut off his head…I conquered Egypt (Musur), Paturi[si] and Nubia. Its king, Taharqa (Tarqú), I wounded five times with arrowheads and ruled over his entire country…” as well as deporting “all Nubians from Egypt”

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Image by Neithsabes – own work, public domain. Https://commons.wikimedia.org/a/index.pho?curid=5527429

But Taharqa was not an easy person to kill, and he lived on, attempting to seize the throne again. This led to more invasions. Esarhaddon’s successful invasion was followed by two more invasions by his son, Ashurbanipal (668-627 BC), which exacted the heaviest damage and destruction on Egypt in its history. These invasions are documented in numerous Assyrian historical texts. After deporting the Nubians (the Assyrians clearly differentiated between the Nubians and the Egyptians), they appointed Nekau I, who would become the progenitor of the Egyptian Native 26th Dynasty, and beginning the Late Period.

To summarize this article. There is always more than meets the eye. A few innocent looking words can hide within them a treasure of information, which may be critical to understanding the entire story. Here, the text and the archaeology merge to add so much more to a story which we previously thought can’t get any better: Assyria taunts Hezekiah and ends up leaving, and they lived happily ever after…or did they?

The broader geopolitical game had dire consequence on Egypt, and consequently on Judah.

Egypt continued to play an important role with the Kingdom of Judah. As Necho II and Psamtik II venture north to aid Assyria against Babylon in the Battle of Carchemish (605 BC), King Josiah of Judah interferes with Necho II, gets killed, and the Egyptians end up interfering with the Kingdom of Judah. After their loss in Carchemish, Babylon took over what Egypt controlled in the area, and thus took control of Judah, leading to its destruction. Even after its destruction, some Jewish renegades escaped to Egypt, and were killed there (Jeremiah ch. 42-44). There were also better times for the Jews of Alexandria in the time of the Talmud, but it relates to who was in charge in Egypt, and how that came to be.

As for Egypt: Once the Assyrians successfully invaded Egypt, it was just a matter of time until the later nascent Empires learned the trick: Persia, Greece and Rome did the same, and brought an end to one of the world’s most powerful and ancient civilizations.

 

Reference:

Kitchen, Kenneth A. 2003. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eardmans.

Gold and the Gods – Exhibition of Ancient Nubia

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Photo is the cover of the official Boston Museum of Fine Arts Exhibition, links below

Ancient Nubia: From the Rivers of Eden to the Assyrian Empire, their power and gold is a significant player in the scheme of things in the Ancient Near East. Gearing up to a visit to a special exhibition in Boston, this is a pre-article.

This Sunday I will be visiting the Boston Museum of Arts. I am looking forward to seeing the exhibit “Gold and Gods – Jewels of Ancient Nubia“, to better understand Tanach.

Kush and Gold

Though not often thought about, this unique and powerful culture, and their gold, is hinted to already from the beginning of the book of Genesis (2:10-14). Quite a strange passage, which describes the Four Rivers emerging from Eden.

Whether there is consensus about the translation of the items mentioned, or of their being where they are said to be – is irrelevant – it is the focus on the Gold which interests me. Why talk about that in such a primordial context?

“A river issues from Eden to water the garden, and it then divides and becomes four branches.

The name of the first is Pishon, the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where the gold is.

The gold of that land is good; bdellium is there, and lapis lazuli.

The name of the second river is Gihon, the one that winds through the whole land of Kush. The name of the third river is Tigris, the one that flows east of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.”

Taharqa, Assyria and the last Kings of Judah

Israel’s involvement with the Assyrian Kingdom is well established and documented, and it lead to the destruction of Samariah and the Ten Tribes. Later, in the time of Sennacherib, there are a few brief passages in II Kings and Isaiah referring to Taharqa, the Nubian (Kushite) Pharaoh of the 25th Dynasty. But it is misleading in its seeming triviality.

The interference of the Nubians with Assyria has devastating consequence upon the land of Egypt and its entire infrastructure, and adds significant context to the story of Ezekiah and Sennacherib.

This is an important culture to understand, and I would like to dedicate the following article to this story, as well as the museum visit.