Monday, December 06, 2004

Bring Me the Head of Amen-her-khepesh-ef

We may be hearing a lot soon about Amen-her-khepesh-ef. That is the name of the first-born son of Raamses II, the Pharoah of the Exodus. Amen-her-khepesh-ef's remains, recently excavated in a new tomb discovery in Egypt, have been examined by archaeologists and the world is waiting with bated breath to know if he died in a way consistent with the Tenth Plague, the smiting of the firstborn of Egypt.

So some would have you believe, at least. Tomorrow night there will be a program on the Discovery Channel "Rameses: Wrath of God or Man?" 9-11 PM (ET) that explores the questions.

The magazine I mentioned in an earlier post (U.S. News's "Mysteries of the Bible") is also aware of the issue:

A dramatic test of the veracity of the biblical story could occur when researchers conduct DNA and forensic analysis of the mummified remains of Ramses II's sons. Experts say such tests could determine how each son died and the approximate age of death. What will turn up in an autopsy of Amen-hir-khopshef, Ramses's firstborn son? If it shows he died suddenly as a relatively young man, as other records suggest, it would be consistent with the Exodus account, says [Kenneth] Kitchen. "But if it produces a man who died in his 60s of a lingering illness," Kitchen adds, "then something's amiss."
(Jeffery Sheler, "Revealing Ramses," p. 23, in "Mysteries of the Bible").

Apparently the skull actually suggests that poor Amen-etc. was whacked on the head. It will be interesting to see why, or if, they are sure that he is really the firstborn son of Raamses. How could you be sure? It is a little annoying that the "dramatic" confirmation or disconfirmation of a Biblical story is the only thing that gets the media all geeked up about the Bible.

Maybe Raamses II wasn't the Pharoah of the Exodus. Maybe Amen-etc. wasn't his firstborn son. Maybe the biblical story does not suggest that Amen-etc. died in any particular way at all, at any particular age, but simply at the behest of God. Maybe the historical veridicality of the Exodus narrative is not the most important thing about it. Maybe the story of the Passover has a value that is not amenable to historical disconfirmation.

Well, it sounds like an interesting show. Apparently they have lots of extras, big sets, and tons of special effects. I'll let you know what I think after I see it.

UPDATE: I just saw it; I have to say I'm disappointed. I was only able to see the first and last half hours, but judging by that, it was a disjointed, sensationalized, and cheesy documentary. As far as I can tell, no one was ever sure that the skull in question belonged to Amen-her-khepesh-ef; the strongest statement was that "it could be." The climax of the show was the re-enactment of the death. In the context of a demythologized Exodus, we saw Moses and Amen-her-khepesh-ef duking it out in a marshy Sea of Reeds, with Moses finally getting the upper hand and felling the son of Pharoah with a fatal blow to the head. Pretty poor. Most of the re-enactments were clearly indebted more to DeMille's Ten Commandments than to the Bible or archaeology. The few sensible remarks made on screen, by scholars such as Israel Finkelstein, Kenneth Kitchen, and Alister McGrath, were edited in such a way so as to seem to give support to the highly speculative conclusions of the documentary. The forensic reconstructions of the ancient faces, presented with much fanfare, looked kind of amateurish to me, but I'm no expert in this area. Overall? Much ado about not much.


Anonymous said...

As you rightly noted Edward, the world is excited to hear of any slight mention of any sort that would discredit the Holy Scriptures (the world's greatest book - the Bible). All I am happy about is that, nothing, no matter what any man had ever done, said or will do or say, will change the plan of God revealed in the Scriptures.

The earlier man turn to God truthfully the better.

Thank you.

Isaac I. Oduah

Jeff Crook said...

I've noticed a lot of Discovery channel dramocumentaries lately that have followed this same template. They drag on for two hours, spending five minutes after each commercial break recapping, when there are only 8-10 minutes between the breaks.

Apparently, science and archaeology are just too boring and need glamming up.