An Important Archaeological Discovery: A Seal of Seti I

Parts of the coffin’s lid after an initial cleaning.

 

Image: Anthropoidal Coffin Lid

Credit: Clara Amit/Israel Antiquities Authority

 

An Important Archaeological Discovery (Courtesy of Foxnews.com):

Archaeologists uncovered a Bronze Age ceramic coffin and a golden scarab in Israel’s Jezreel Valley, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Wednesday.

A ring with an Egyptian scarab seal was found with the name of the crown worn by Egyptian pharaoh Seti I, who ruled Egypt in the Late Bronze Age. Seti I was the father of Ramses II and some scholars identify him as the pharaoh in the biblical story of the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt. The seal of Seti I helped the archaeologists date the site back to the thirteenth century B.C.

A clay coffin with an adult skeleton was also found at the site.

“We discovered a unique and rare find: a cylindrical clay coffin with an anthropoidal lid (a cover fashioned in the image of a person) surrounded by a variety of pottery consisting mainly of storage vessels for food, tableware, cultic vessels and animal bones,” IAA excavation directors, Dr. Edwin van den Brink, Dan Kirzner and Dr. Ron Be’eri said in a press release.

It was custom to use these items as offerings for the gods and the artifacts were also used to provide the dead with sustenance in the afterlife, they explained.

Pottery, a bronze dagger and bowl and hammered pieces of bronze were found buried next to the coffin.

“Since the vessels interred with the individual were produced locally, we assume the deceased was an official of Canaanite origin who was engaged in the service of the Egyptian government,” the researchers said. “Another possibility is that the coffin belonged to a wealthy individual who imitated Egyptian funerary customs.”

Only several anthropoidal coffins have previously been uncovered in Israel, they added. The most recent were found 50 years ago in the Gaza’s Deir el-Balah.

“An ordinary person could not afford the purchase of such a coffin,” the researchers continued. “It is obvious the deceased was a member of the local elite.”

The grave sites of two men and two women were also found near the coffin. The discovery confirms Egyptian control of the Jezreel Valley in the thirteenth century B.C.

The discoveries were made during a routine salvage excavation conducted by the IAA prior to the construction of a main pipeline that will convey natural gas to Ramat Gavriel in Migdal Ha-Emek in the North of Israel.

This archaeological discovery is important for two reasons:

First, the seal of Seti I helps archaeologists place the findings in the thirteenth century B.C. This is the time Israel was in Egypt. Scholars believe that Seti I was the pharaoh of the oppression. Since archaeologists have already dated the findings to the thirteenth century B.C., this finding may provide some information about life in Canaan at the time the people of Israel were in Egypt.

The gold scarab.

 

Image: The Seti I Seal

Credit: Clara Amit/Israel Antiquities Authority

 

Second, this discovery may also help to shed light on the social and cultural life of the people living in Canaan during the thirteenth century B.C. As the article says, it is possible that “the deceased was an official of Canaanite origin who was engaged in the service of the Egyptian government.”

Seti I was a pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt. He was the son of Ramesses I and the father of Ramesses II, the pharaoh who ruled Egypt at the time of the Exodus. The dates of Seti’s reign are disputed by scholars. John Bright, in his book A History of Israel dates his reign from 1305-1290 B.C.

The importance of Seti I in Egyptian history is that his reign occurred a few years after the religious reforms of Akhenaten. Akhenaten introduced a form of monotheistic religion focused on the worship of Aten, the sun god. Akhenaten’s reform caused much upheaval in the city-states of Canaan. The social upheaval in Canaan was caused by the Habiru, a group of people living throughout the Fertile Crescent at this time. The Amarna Letters refer to the many problems the Habiru were causing to the kings of the city-states who were under the hegemony of Egypt.

When Seti I became king of Egypt, his main concern was to re-establish an Egyptian presence in Canaan and deal with the problems caused by the Habiru. The task of dealing with the problems in Canaan and the menace posed by the Hittite empire was left to his son Ramesses II, one of the greatest pharaohs of Egypt.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

Bibliography:

John Bright. A History of Israel. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1981.

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6 Responses to An Important Archaeological Discovery: A Seal of Seti I

  1. “Akhenaten introduced a form of monotheistic religion focused on the worship of Aten, the sun god.”

    Having surveyed what has been translated of ANE creation stories, I have been surprised how often scholars compare Genesis 1 to the Enuma Elish at the neglect of the Memphite Theology. The formal similarities with the former seem strained to me, while the latter is the story of a god speaking the world into existence—the possibility of a connection seems strong to me. I hadn’t heard the connection between monotheistic developments in Egypt and the time of the Exodus though.

    Any thoughts on the possibility that Genesis 1 is, in part, a (or derived from a) monotheistic revision of the Memphite Theology?

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    • I have to confess that I am not an expert on Memphite theology. Most of my knowledge comes from reading an old book, Intellectual Adventure of Man by Henri Frankfort. If I remember correctly, in Memphite theology, the creation story reflects a polytheistic background and it is much older than the reform of Akhenaten.

      I doubt that Genesis 1 reflects Memphite theology or the monotheism of Akhenaten. In Genesis 1 the sun is not divine; it is a creation of God. In fact, the sun is never named. It is only called “the greater light.” The sun has no other function than to rule over the day and to be a sign to indicate seasons and days and years. This is not what Memphite theology teaches and this was never the focus of the reform of Akhenaten.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  2. Caleb says:

    This is a great archaeological find in Egyptian history and culture.

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  3. Colin says:

    Claude, thanks for your blogs. I drop in from time to time to bring myself up to speed. Today I saw this article (http://www.simchajtv.com/proof-for-the-biblical-exodus/) and this one (http://phys.org/news/2014-04-world-oldest-weather-bronze-age.html) that link the eruption of Thera with the reign of Ahmose (putting him therefore about about 1580BC) with events like darkness, dead bodies in the nile, and hail. This also links in with the Hyksos being pushed out. This is then seen as linking all this with the Exodus.

    I see you put it with Seti and 13thC BC. What are your thoughts on the earlier dating?

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    • Collin,

      Thank you for your comment. Thank you also for the links.

      I read both articles. The source for Simcha Jacobovici was an article published in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies by Professors Robert Ritner and Nadine Moeller of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. I read their article. Here is one important detail about Ahmose.

      The authors of the article place the eruption of the Santorini volcano around 1620 B.C. They also believe that Ahmose was a witness of the eruption or of a minor eruption that followed the major one. The most conservative date for the exodus is 1446 B.C., almost 200 years after Santorini.

      Most scholars date the exodus in the 13th century B.C. I believe that the 15th century date for the exodus has little archaeological support. So, I do not believe that Santorini has any relation to the events that occurred in Egypt at the time Israel left.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

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