Identity, including cultural identity, is tied up with what went before, that is, history. All around the world, on all sorts of topics, groups use or seek to use history to define themselves, their cultures, morals, and worth. We see it in India, where members of the Hindutva movement seek to rewrite Indian textbooks to highlight – or perhaps amplify – to role of early Hindus in the cultural and political development of the subcontinent. We see it in the US, where traditional histories are overturned by revisionist histories, themselves subject to overturn by later scholars. Japanese history books have been the subject of battles over issues as disparate as the behavior of the Japanese Army in WWII and the cultural borrowings from China that led to Japanese civilization. We saw it in Saudi Arabia where certain members of religious groups fought (and, honestly, continue to fight) about exploration of and recognition of the Kingdom’s pre-Islamic history and culture.

The Christian Bible, as well as the Jewish Tanakh write of the life of Moses in and his flight from ancient Egypt. Those who hold to Biblical inerrancy have to decide which of several Pharaohs, for instance, ruled at the time of Moses. Biblical scholarship suggests that there were two, but there’s no certainty as to identity. The Pharaohs are never named, so it comes down to interpreting vague and often conflicting comments and inferences. The Quran, equally inerrant, doesn’t name names, either. Inferences suggest several possibilities and ‘possibilities’ implies disagreement.

The newest Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities, Mohammed Ibrahim, finds himself in the midst of the battle for history. Political groups trying to rise from the wreckage of ‘Arab Spring’ are making assertions about history and the Minister, according to this piece from Asharq Alawsat, is having to fight for the primacy of science over cultural modeling. Some in the Egyptian Salafist camp are making assertions that Ramses II was the Pharaoh of Exodus. They have some intellectual supporters (example), but that runs against what archeology finds. The question is still an open one, but it’s a question for which particular answers play particular roles in modern politics.

Egypt’s Antiquities Minister on the Pharaoh of the Exodus
Taha Ali

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs in Egypt, Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim, asserted that he would never allow the analysis of King Ramses II’s mummy to confirm whether or not he was the long-disputed Pharaoh of the Exodus. Ibrahim said: “What is being rumored in this context is utterly non-scientific and not founded on any sort of evidence”.

In an exclusive interview conducted with the minister in his Zamalek-based office in Cairo, Mohammed Ibrahim stated that Ramses II’s mummy had previously been flown to the French capital of Paris during the 1980s to analyze the water within it, and try to treat the artifact. “But to speak now of the mummy’s examination and analysis is a matter I can never allow because Ramses II is not the Pharaoh of the Exodus and we should not build upon wrong assumptions in the first place.”

Ibrahim cited evidence for his argument with verses from the Holy Quran and the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, especially the 14th Chapter. “The scenario and sequence of events clearly show that Ramses II could have never been the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Based on several given facts and not just one piece of information, inferences have been drawn concluding that the Pharaoh of the Exodus ruled toward the end of the 19th Dynasty. The facts confirm that Ramses II’s reign did not witness any state of unrest, contrary to what is widely known about the Pharaoh of the Exodus’s reign. Moreover, Ramses II’s rule was marked by power and construction. Hence, we can’t say that either Ramses II or his successor Merneptah was the Pharaoh of the Exodus.”

April:02:2012 - 10:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
2 Responses to “Fighting over History”
  1. 1
    Solomon2 Said:
    April:02:2012 - 12:50 

    I like to stick to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s motto: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”

    That said, facts are often used to mislead by presenting them in an inappropriate context. Consider the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial: the president is depicted sitting in a wheelchair at death’s door, accompanied by a faithful dog. While strictly true for the last two years of his presidency it is at great variance with the image Americans had of him over the twelve years he served in that office: a man standing at a podium, or if sitting holding a microphone or smiling in conversation with others.

    The likely explanation is that the political agenda of depicting America’s first “disabled” president as disabled was more important than the true feelings Americans had about their president at the time. No doubt FDR would shake in anger, seeing a photograph of his memorial in the newspapers he so detested.

    So “fighting over history” is not just an issue that affects other nations and cultures, but affects us as well. But at the very least us Americans should stick to the facts.

  2. 2
    John Burgess Said:
    April:02:2012 - 14:08 

    @Solomon2: That’s always good advice, but it becomes inoperable when the facts themselves are unknown or unknowable. The it’s ‘elephants (or turtles), all the way down.’

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