"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pyramids, Prejudices, Egypt..oh my!

So I mentioned that I was reading Walking Through the Bible by an American Jew named Bruce Feiler.  The subtitle is "a journey by land through the five books of Moses" and so far I've traveled with him and his archaeologist friend Avner Goren through parts of Turkey, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt. Currently I am in Cairo getting ready to head to Goshen.  (Isn't it great how I said that as if I'm actually traveling with them?)   I love all the historical tales meshed with modern times plus the archaeological stuff!  I've read 164 pages out of more than 400 so I wanted to jot down a few notes thus far. Most of these are just amusing descriptions or thoughtful observations of the author in his travels.

But first did you know that the largest pyramid has 2,300,000 limestone blocks that if you lined end to end could pave a single-lane road from San Francisco to New York?!  (pg. 157)    Woooooooooooow!  They sure must look bigger in person than they do in picture books!  ;)

So, yeah, I find stuff like that fascinating!  And here are just a few other things so far that have taken my attention.

Upon meeting one of Avner Goren's colleagues and being invited into the historian and "patriarch of biblical scholars," Avraham Malamat's house:

"'Welcome to my home,' he said gesturing grandly and noting that he had 10,500 books in his personal library.  'How many about the Bible?' I asked.  He seemed surprised by the question. 'Ten thousand five hundred.'"   (pg. 94)

Of course!  What other kinds of books are there, right? 

The author's image of archaeologists:  "grown-ups playing in the sand. They're adult versions of sandbox architects, taking materials they find in the ground, arranging them in a certain coherent order, and sprinkling in their own imaginations to create a thriving reality where the rest of us would see nothing, or worse, pave it over and build a mall. They're squabblers at times; absentminded often.  But, at their best, they're sort of inverted prophets. If prophets foretell the future, warning of what might come, archaeologists foretell the past, warning of what already happened."  (pg. 104)

That mall thing kind of got to me!

The author met another archaeologist, Gabriel Barkay, and they discussed the time when biblical archaeology became popular.   When asked how does proving the Bible help faith, Barkay replied:

"'I'm a local Jew,' he said. 'I don't care whether this or that detail is incorrect in the Bible. It doesn't change my attitude toward the Bible, toward religion, toward God. Or toward myself.  But in America there was an idea that the Bible is a kind of machine; if you prove that two of the screws really existed, then the whole machine existed, and if you take out two screws, the whole thing collapses.  But the Bible is not a machine. It doesn't have screws.'" (pg. 106)

Gabi continues, "'Serious people know that some parts of the Bible go well with archaeology, others do not.  So what? I'm not going to find in archaeology, ever, a business card that says "Abraham, son of Terah."  But it doesn't matter. It's not a book of history. It's a book of faith.'"  (pg. 107)

Now that card would be an awesome find! :-)

When he first arrived in Egypt the author admits to his dread.  Growing up Jewish, he had a thought of Egypt being an enemy country. Not because of current events, but rather because of the biblical account from Moses' time when the pharoah enslaved the Israelites.  So he first thinks he is being heckled by people on the streets until he realized the teenagers were offering him cigarettes and asking if he knew Michael Jordan.  He felt so comfortable by the next night that he used public transportation and when he asked for directions, the fifteen people in the van all joined in the conversation and half of them got off the van early in order to walk him to where he needed to go.  "'The biggest surprise about the Middle East,' I declared to friends, 'is how friendly the Arabs are.'"  (pg. 124)

I can so relate, Bruce!  The Syrian Arabs I met were oh-so kind!

While traveling on the famous, life-giving river, the author speaks of his "aversion to the Nile.  This feeling, I was beginning to see, like many I unknowingly carried around within me, stems largely from the Bible, and the deep cultural prejudices I inherited from it as a child.  The Nile may have given rise to the greatest civilization of antiquity, but that civilization, in turn, almost annihilated the Israelites.  In my mind, Egypt was the adversary, the aggressor, the other.  And before I could embrace - or even appreciate - this part of the Bible, I first had to overcome any latent hostility to Egypt."  (pg. 136)

Wow, I wonder how many of us carry around cultural prejudices we maybe developed as children. I know at one time I didn't really care for Germans because I thought of evil Hitler and images I had of Germans being OK with killing Jews simply because they weren't white, blond or blue-eyed.  I wasn't even taught to be this way, but just kind of picked it up somewhere in my mind while reading about Germans and maybe watching The Sound of Music where those evil Germans were after the captain to come fight in their war!  It's amazing how prejudices can form even without us realizing it!

Later in the book the author and his friend Avner were talking after having visited the Egyptian Museum where they saw the wonders of Tutankhamen's tomb.  Bruce asked Avner what made him the most excited about all that they had seen buried with the Egyptian ruler.  Avner didn't say the gold or mask or anything about the artifacts, but "the human touch."  "'This was designed by people, it was built by people.'"

I told him about my conversation with Basem [a Muslim tour guide who had his degree in Egyptology], in which he said he felt distant from ancient Egyptians because they had different beliefs.

"I believe that if I were to come back in that time," Avner said, "I would be able to bridge the gap.  I feel they were people like us, despite their beliefs.  It's like coming to Egypt today.  People in Israel think Egyptians are different from them. Still, it was fun to talk to the driver on the way from the airport. He was very curious about Tel Aviv. He had heard it was a great city.  What is the cost of living there? How are the people there? In spite of the gaps, which are big, we're much closer than people think."

"But what makes you think that?" I said. "In Exodus, Egypt is the enemy."

"Not so fast," he said. "Egypt is not a bad place in the Bible. It's the pharaoh, he's a bad man."

"But I thought you said those were the same thing."

He smiled. "The pharaoh of Joseph was not a bad man. Remember, he saved Joseph from prison and invited his family to live in Goshen.  It was a different pharaoh, four hundred years later, who put the Israelites into bondage. That's when the Bible changes its mind.  That's when Egypt becomes the enemy."  (pgs. 154-155)

And although these Jewish men didn't probably continue with this train of thought,  I can't help but remember the angel of God instructing Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt in order to avoid Jesus' death after Herod's decree that all baby boys be killed in his attempt to get rid of this new Jewish king the wise men were searching for.  (see Matthew 2)

After giving description of the congestion in Cairo and the traffic, the author records Avner's take on the taxis:  "'The only reason these cars have steering wheels is so they have a place to put their horns.'"   (pg. 148)

I can only laugh at this because I remember the horns of Damascus!  I've never heard so much honking!  And I hear Cairo is waaaay worse!

Speaking of their visit to the Egyptian Museum, the author says, "Founded in 1858, the museum outgrew its current facility within months and has never recovered. Allowing one minute for each object, it would take nearly nine months to view its 136,000 artifacts. Forty thousand more objects lie crated in the basement, where many have sunk into the ground, requiring excavations.  Egypt:  where even the museums are archaeological sites."  (pg. 148)

Ha! Loved that last line!

Did you find any of these interesting, impressive, noteworthy, troubling, amusing or do you now know for certain that I am warped and find the weirdest stuff to take the time to share?  Do tell!


Lat said...

I too like to read and hear about archeological stuff.Knowing about the past is fascinating.Remember the Moses documentary post I did?

I read a book on Jerusalem written by a Christian Arab who in the beginning of the book does talk about archeological finds to prove that Jews do not have a sole right to the land and that Arabs have been living there for a pretty long time together with Jews.Found the arguements and learning of the history of the country very interesting and persuasive.

We do seem to have preconceived prejudices about a certain group of people or person given our environment and culture.So we have to bring ourselves out of the box and learn events thru' their eyes which is sometimes not easy though.

Susanne said...

Lat, that book sounds very interesting. Do you recall the name and author? Great point about learning about events through others' eyes. It's difficult at times, yes, but really beneficial in the long run. Thanks for your comment!

sanil said...

This makes me want to go to Egypt. :) You're right, the pyramids must look huge.

"Of course! What other kinds of books are there, right?"

That made me giggle a lot. I definitely have other books, but my Bible/theology section is big. Like, at least the size of all my other books put together. (Um. I guess "half" would have been an easier way to say that. Oh well.) They're so much fun to read! History and theology and sociology all rolled into one!

I know I have inherited racism from some of my relatives. :( I don't actually agree with it, and when my brain can take control I don't feel that way, but in scary situations (or rather, situations those relatives taught me were scary), I have an instinctive gut reaction to be afraid of non-white people. It's hard to completely cut that out, probably partly because I have never really lived in diverse areas and had reason to pay attention. So yeah, unfortunately I would say a lot of us probably have some sort of conditioned prejudice.

Very interesting post! Seems like a good book. :)

Susanne said...

Sanil, I'm glad you liked the part about the books! It was said so matter-of-factly about the 10,500 book library containing 10,500 books about the Bible that it made me smile. :)

Thanks for sharing your own experiences on inherited racism. Well, the first step is admitting it's there so you can make an effort to change, right? I think you are a very inclusive person with your interfaith blog and all. ;-) Thanks much for your comment!

Wafa' said...

" But in America there was an idea that the Bible is a kind of machine; if you prove that two of the screws really existed, then the whole machine existed, and if you take out two screws, the whole thing collapses. But the Bible is not a machine. It doesn't have screws" .
it's like what i said before for those who want to make the Quran a scientific book and so. And i know how is the archaeological discoveries sink deep with people from different religions. i have read so many articles about how some expedition want to prove this story from the Bible or that story.
And we finally end up with a book we can only believe in for what has been discovered and if they turn to be false ones then our books are not true.
A big porblem, i guess.

"But it doesn't matter. It's not a book of history. It's a book of faith.'" well said :)

''is how friendly the Arabs are.'"
Despite all our faults, we are friendly and hospitable especially the Egyptians.

Susanne said...

Wafa', thanks for pointing out what stood out to you from this post. I enjoyed your comments! And I agree about the friendliness and hospitality of the Arabs! :)

Suroor said...

Very interesting post! Thank you, Susie!

Susanne said...

Thanks for reading it, Suroor!