Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Egypt 2: The Mummy Room

The Cairo Museum is a musty old place. It was built in 1902 and it looks it. It has, obviously, had many remodels and some modernization but basically it is the same as it was over 100 years ago. The good news is that Egypt is building a new museum on the Giza Plateau, next to the Great Pyramids; the bad news is that even with the new museum they will not be able to house more than 25% of all the “stuff” they have for people to see. Right now 95% of Egyptian antiquities are in storage and not displayed.

Most of the display cases in the museum are old mahogany with think smudged glass surrounding the priceless artifacts. It smells of old wood and dust, the tiled floors are swept mainly by the feet of the thousands of visitors each day but behind the cases you will find the desert dust accumulating. After touring with our guide for a while we get free time to look at whatever we want. There are a few items I am interested in:
- Ahkenaten: the heretic pharaoh who believed in the ONE god.
- Merneptah Stele: the only etched evidence of Israel in Egypt.
- Coffers: There are many “boxes” or “arks” which were buried with the kings.
- Ushabtis: Little statues buried with the Kings and Wealthy to help them in the afterlife.
- The Silver Coffins: In the 22nd Dynasty the kings built for themselves silver sarcophaguses instead of the gold covered wood. These was actually MORE valuable than King Tut’s gold sarcophagus.
- The Mummy Room …

The Mummy Room is a modern addition. They remodeled one of the old rooms and made it climate controlled for preservation of the bodies. I first look at Hatshepsut who was a female pharaoh in the 18th dynasty. She MIGHT have been the princess who pulled Moses from the Nile. She is famous for being the daughter of a Pharaoh, the wife of a Pharaoh, and the mother of a Pharaoh as well as being the Pharaoh herself while her son grew up. I look at the face of the Greatest Pharaoh of all time, Ramses II or Ramses the Great; I am amazed by a few things. He is a small man. I would judge that he was not more than 5 and a half feet tall. He had a receding hair line and curly hair. He looked like his father, Seti I who was lies next to him and also similar features to his grandfather Ramses I who was also nearby.

These Pharaohs left instructions for the preservation of their body and their eventual burial with their children. Most honored their parents with monuments and riches for them to take into the afterlife hoping for the same from their children. Seventy days of mourning and embalming, paid mourners lined the funeral procession as the body passed along the causeway from the funerary temple to the pyramid or to the Nile river for its journey to the tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The tomb was packed with chariots, games, food, gold, statues for servants, boxes of clothes and jewelry; everything you might need in your journey to the afterlife. The anticipation of eternity.

Amazingly they all achieved a kind of immortality. We can still see them in glass boxes in a climate controlled room in Cairo. But almost every tomb was raided and robbed in antiquity, almost every mummy was cast aside, used as firewood or fertilizer and had little importance until the last 150 years. Their Ka and Ba (Egyptian soul) is somewhere but I don’t believe it will be joined again with their mummified body like they thought it would be. Eternal life is more than your skill at embalming, it is more than the right incantations and charms, and it is definitely more than how much gold you can cover your coffin with. Eternal life is relationship with the ONE God and not being Ra-mses or “child of Ra”.

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