The Egyptian Scarab

Museum of Biblical History Staff • 02.19.2015

Scarab (3)

Underside of the Museum’s Scarab. It is made of steatite, and was originally green glazed, but the pigment has mostly worn off. In the cartouche to the right is the throne name of Thutmosis III.

One of the smallest items you’ll find in the Museum of Biblical History is only 19/32 of an inch long:  but don’t let that fool you – though it’s small in size, it’s great in historic weight!  It is a scarab made of Egyptian steatite with a tiny inscription on the base that reveals the name of a famous Egyptian pharaoh – Thutmosis III.  Scarabs were popular amulets used through ancient Egypt.  They became popular during the early Middle Kingdom (ca. 2000 B.C.), and symbolized the power of resurrection held by Khepri: the god who would resurrect Re, the sun, every morning.    Scarabs like the one in the Museum often bore an inscription of the name of a pharaoh, or other royal person, and were used as official seals.  Our scarab bears the name “Men Kheper Re,” the throne name of Thutmosis III.  Who was Thutmosis III?  Why is this significant to Biblical history?

To understand its significance, we must first understand Egypt at this time.  For a little over two hundred years (1773-1550 B.C.), Egypt was ruled by foreign rulers known as the “Hyksos.”  Although Egyptologists are unsure where their origins lie, the best evidence suggest that they may have come from the Levant – modern-day Palestine.  What we know is that the Egyptians did not appreciate being under foreign rule; and by 1555, Ahmose began his campaigns against the Hyksos rulers.

The expulsion of the Hyksos marked the beginning of what Egyptologists call the “New Kingdom,” and it saw a vast return to the ancient Egyptian traditions and way of life.  It also saw the rise of the great Ramesside dynasty, and proved to be the peak of Egyptian glory and wealth.  Because the Egyptians did not want to see their country overrun by foreigners as it was during Hyksos rule, their policy towards foreigners also changed.  Up to this point, there was no Egyptian empire, and there was no permanent Egyptian occupation beyond the Sinai Peninsula.  Now, things were different.  They needed to do more than just keep foreigners from invading: they needed to extend the borders of Egypt to make sure this would never happen again!

This was the political situation Thutmosis III was born into.  When he was still a child, he inherited the throne: but because of his youth, his father’s wife Hatshepsut ruled in his place as regent.  When he finally took the throne, he would become what Egyptologists often call the “Empire-builder” of Egypt.  Beginning with the famous Battle of Megiddo (ca. 1480 B.C.), he began several campaigns that expanded the Egyptian borders into the northern Levant (Canaan), and established Egypt as one of the world’s great empires.

Concerning the New Kingdom, Paul Maier writes, “It is tempting, however, to assign Joseph to the time of the Hyksos domination of the Nile delta during the Second Intermediate Period . . ., when such Asiatic rulers might more readily have welcomed Israelites than if native Egyptians had been in charge.  In that case, the later king who ‘did not know Joseph’ (Exodus 1:8) may have come from an Egyptian dynasty that expelled the Hyksos and lauched the New Kingdom or Empire period.” (45)  Is it possible that Thutmosis III, or perhaps another from the same dynasty, may have been this very pharaoh?  The description certainly sounds similar, but there are many questions yet to be answered before a certain answer can possibly be reached: so let’s keep digging

Works Cited

Maier, Paul L. Josephus: The Essential Works. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1994. Print.