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Posts Tagged ‘Alan H Gardiner’

Painting of an Egyptian Pharaoh

Egyptian Pharaoh, from a New Kingdom tomb painting. Credit: Jeff Dahl, via Wikimedia

Oxford Egyptologist Sir Alan H. Gardiner once wrote that “What is proudly advertised as Egyptian history is merely a collection of rags and tatters.”

Lately I’ve been writing about the authenticity of the Bible book of Genesis as an historical source. (See “When Did Moses (or Somebody) Write Genesis?“) Many people who consider themselves educated like to sniff that the chronology of ancient Egypt goes back before the Genesis dating of the great deluge at 2370 BCE. Therefore, they claim, Genesis must be fiction.

However, a more in-depth examination of the conventional chronology of Egypt reveals that it rests on fragmentary evidence. In fact, the uncertainties around the conventional Egyptian chronology illustrate the problems that exist in reconstructing the human past in general.

Egyptologist Alan Henderson Gardiner’s book Egypt of the Pharaohs: An Introduction appeared in 1966.  Here is a more complete quote from that work:

Even when full use has been made of the king-lists and of such subsidiary sources as have survived, the indispensable dynastic framework of Egyptian history shows lamentable gaps and many a doubtful attribution. If this be true of the skeleton, how much more is it of the flesh and blood with which we could wish it covered. Historical inscriptions of any considerable length are as rare as the isolated islets in an imperfectly charted ocean. The importance of many of the kings can be guessed at merely from the number of stelae or scarabs that bear their names. It must never be forgotten that we are dealing with a civilization thousands of years old and one of which only tiny remnants have survived. What is proudly advertised as Egyptian history is merely a collection of rags and tatters.

For similar comments by University of Chicago scholar Helen J. Kantor, see my article “How Much Does Archaeology Really Reveal?” Kantor once wrote:

The evidence preserved to us by the passage of time constitutes but a small fraction of that which must once have existed. Each imported vessel from Egypt represents scores of others that have perished… The amount of information that can be extracted from such occasional articles as the scraps of harness from the tomb of Amenhotep II or the dog collar of Mahirper indicates how much has been lost.

For comments from Cambridge Classics scholar Moses I. Finley about the paucity of true documentation of Roman history, see “How Much Do We Really Know About Human History?” In discussing the documentary evidence from Roman history, Finley wrote:

For the whole of antiquity, in sum, what we have at our disposal (apart from Athens) is a scatter of documents from one end of the Mediterranean world to the other, the great majority of them isolated texts without a context …

History is in important and valuable area of study, but the reality is that history and chronology are often tentative and based on fragmentary evidence, regardless of the assertions of those who claim to have the official version of the truth.

ARK — 29 May 2015

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