Our oldest son was here over the Christmas holiday. While we’ve been living in Egypt for a little over seven months now, we waited for his arrival to make our fist visit to the Giza Pyramids. After Christmas we headed to Luxor (ancient Thebes) to walk through the history of ancient Egypt.
You cannot imagine the thrill of actually seeing the sphinx up close, the awe of standing next to the 47 meter high pyramids without thinking how very small we are in comparison.
Of course, the awe inspiring structures were contrasted to the ordinariness of those of us milling around snapping photo after photo. Our guides had us stand at a certain vantage point, stick out our hand at a certain angle, and produced a photo that gave the persective that we were placing our hands atop the pyramid, reminiscent of manipulating photographs for the 4H fair digital projects we’ve done over the years.
As my camel bobbled past the sphinx, one man called out to me in English, knowing I was an American, “I love your money!” In my head, I thought, “I know you do,” but how ironic that someone had taught him that phrase. Well, it was the most honest statement I had heard all day!
Seriously though, as we spent four days wandering through the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the Nobles tombs, Hapshepsut’s Temple, Dendara Temple, the ruins of Amenhotep’s temple and Luxor and Karnak temples, I was struck by how much work it must have taken millions of people (most of whom were not slaves) to complete even just one of the many structures we saw and so many more that we didn’t see.
It was also striking how much of the work of these temples was dedicated to embalming! Did you know that a single corpse took 70 days to embalm? Mind you, we were able to see the fetus of one of the ancient Queen that was mummified, proof if it can be believed that this was authentic, that embalming procedures worked. But while all of this by human standards of accomplishment was impressive, I was left with such a feeling of futility and waste that was growing inside of me, with each step through history we took.
The colors, though faded over time and sometimes damaged by smoke and a massive flood of the Nile River in the late nineteenth century, were surprising: I didn’t expect to see colors on the images carved into temple or tombs walls. On most of these structures, every wall was adorned with carvings painted with bright blues and reds. Almost every ceiling was adorned with blue stars. It is mind-boggling to consider how much time it took without any modern tools to build, decorate and be able to utilize these structures!
As I walked on and on (we took 4 days to explore the many tombs, temples and ruins and didn’t see everything) I began to realize that those ancient people spent their lives bringing immortality (in name only!) to the Pharoahs of Egypt. Of course, the saving of their organs to be used in the afterlife seems rather silly to us today. It also strikes me as such a wasteful way to spend so many lives, even if these structures are impressive. Building massive structures, meant to immortalize the accomplishments of a single pharaoh, did not lead them the afterlife they imagined, but their memories are immortalized in that we still visit and learn about them.
My conclusion: I am privileged to walk through this land, explore these Historical sites, to consider both its Biblical and secular history! So many of these structures are a monument to death, longed for immortality, and bringing glory to human endeavors as evidenced by story after story carved in vivid color upon stone. I am struck by the fact that while my life here won’t ever be emblazened on stone (glad I am of that) hopefully, I will leave a legacy of faith in my children or others God places in my path here. I am also grateful that someday I will walk not on dirt surrounded by stone monuments, but on the streets of gold, and bow down not to my own or any other human’s glory but to the glory of the King of Kings!