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.
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.”