Stephen Smuts at Biblical Paths, has posted to his blog an article by Zahi Hawass published in the English edition of Asharq Alawsat in which Hawass, an Egyptian archaeologist and the Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, discusses the fact that the person buried in a tomb discovered several years ago in the Saqqara region, was named “Aper-al” and that this name is an Egyptian form of a Hebrew name
Since this information is relevant to the discussion of a Hebrew presence in Egypt during the time of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten, I will reproduce below Hawass’s article in its entirety:
In my opinion, the Israelite Exodus from Egypt will remain a point of controversy amongst scientists and researchers until the Day of Judgment or until new archaeological evidence is unearthed that is able to settle this issue. However in light of the information currently available to historians and archaeologists, we can do no more than practice moderation and caution.
There have been whispers in the archaeological community following the discovery of the Aper-al tomb in the Saqqara region in the area known as Abwab al-Qotat [Doors of the Cats] by French archaeologist Alain Zivie. Abwab al-Qotat was given its name following the discovery of thousands of mummified cats interred in the tomb. It is well known that ancient Egyptians worshipped the goddess Bastet, which had the head of a cat. The center for the worship of Bastet was located in Tell Basta, which is in the [Egyptian] city of Zagazig, and was formerly known as Bubastis, which was derived from the word ‘Bastet’.
Zivie discovered the tomb by travelling deep underground until he reached the burial chamber which was carved into the rock more than 30 meters underground. Zivie was forced to seek the assistance of French engineers working on the Cairo metro project in order to restore the tomb and strengthen its walls to allow him to safely reach the burial chamber. Zivie therefore discovered the first almost untouched Modern Kingdom tomb in Saqqara.
The discovery of this tomb which took place almost 20 years ago remains an important archaeological event. The reason for this is that the person buried in the tomb was known as “Aper-al” and this is an Egyptianized form of a Hebrew name. Aper-al was the vizier for King Amenhotep III, and later for his son King Akhenaten. Pharaoh Akhenaten was the first ruler to institute monotheism represented by the worship of the sun which he called Aten.
Excavations of this tomb continued for almost 10 years, beginning in 1980 and ending in late 1989. Amongst the artefacts discovered here were several portraits entitled “spiritual father of Aten” as well as “the Priest” and “the first servant of Aten.” This means that Aper-al served as the chief priest of Aten in the Memphis region during the reign of King Akhenaten.
Of course the effects of the news of the discovery of a Hebrew tomb has raised many questions and controversies amongst archaeologists with regards to whether or not a temple for Aten existed in Memphis or not. The portraits found in the Aper-al tomb indicate that such a temple did in fact exist in Memphis, and this is contrary to the tradition accepted by archaeologists which is that monotheism [Atenism] did not exist beyond the city of Tell el-Amrana in central Egypt. Tel-Amrana was the city founded by Akhenaten for his family. Akhenaten swore never to depart the city so long as he lived, and he named it Akhen-Aten meaning the city faithful and loyal to Aten.
In addition to this, there has been prolonged controversy between Torah scholars and archaeologists over the credibility of Aper-al in fact being a Hebrew name. This creates the impression that Hebrews were present in Egypt during the eighteenth dynasty, and that some Egyptianized Hebrews held senior state positions. It is important to emphasize that all the artefacts discovered in the Aper-al tomb, such as the sarcophagus, the mummies, as well as the carvings on the walls of the tomb, are consistent with the Egyptian style of the time. Even Aper-al’s portrait, his cloths, and his jewellery, are purely ancient Egyptian. This is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
As Stephen wrote in his post, “Dr Zahi Hawass errs on the side of caution with regards to discoveries made at the Aper-al tomb in the Saqqara region, and their relationship to the Exodus, and subsequent archaeological conclusions.”
I agree that scholars must be cautious about the conclusions they develop out of this discovery. However, if Aper-al was indeed a Hebrew man and the vizier for King Amenhotep III, and later for his son King Akhenaten, then the discovery may provide a possible connection between the religious reforms of Akhenaten and the Hebrew presence in Egypt.
NOTE: For other studies on the history and archaeology of Egypt, read my post Egypt, The Land of the Pharaohs.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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