See biblical history come alive with CMI’s Egypt tour!
Published: 12 September 2019 (GMT+10)
In a first for CMI, earlier this month we launched our new website for an Egypt tour led by CMI-US CEO Gary Bates and CMI-UK Egyptologist Gavin Cox (details available at creation.com/egypt2020). Why would CMI be interested in bringing supporters from all over the world to travel with us in Egypt? Being in the same office and eavesdropping on all the excited conversations about this upcoming event, I took the opportunity to sit down with Gary Bates and get his thoughts about the tour.
LC: Why an Egypt tour?
GB: Egypt is hugely important when we’re thinking about the early post-Flood history of the Bible. The nation is mentioned 290 times in the first 5 books of the Bible, known collectively as the Torah or Pentateuch. It is the birthplace of the nation of Israel, through the events of the Exodus. Jesus even fled to Egypt with his parents when Herod sought to kill Him, and the local church in Egypt has a rich, proud history of this event.
A couple factors also make Egypt important for understanding ancient history in general. The Egyptians were obsessed with death and the afterlife, and they made huge monuments to prepare them for the ‘next world’ and wrote a lot about their history, so we have a lot more artifacts and know more about them than most other ancient people groups. Everyone knows about the pyramids, but some of the other buildings are simply massive in scale, especially when you consider that they were carved with simple hand tools out of solid rock. But archaeologists reckon that only 20% of it has been uncovered, and a lot of it still lies under the sand. Funds willing, what might be exposed in years to come?
However, when we try to fit Egypt in the Bible’s history of the world, there are issues that a lot of people see as problems for the Bible’s accuracy. As a ministry we often get asked, if the Flood was in 2450 BC, did the pyramids survive the Flood, seeing as conventional dating puts their construction at around 3,200 BC, which is well before the Flood. Even many respected evangelical scholars come to differing views on some of these questions, particularly when it comes to determining the identity of the Pharaohs in Joseph’s day and the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
Some years ago, I studied to try to understand this issue for myself. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel across the world doing ministry with CMI, and after an African ministry tour my wife Fran and I took a trip to Egypt. And to this day it goes down as one of the most remarkable experiences we’ve had. I wrote a comprehensive article trying to explain how all this might fit in a biblical worldview because I was sick and tired of hearing the secular guides provide dates on things that conflicted with biblical dates. But in fairness too, the issue is so complicated that you really find you can’t be dogmatic with some of the answers. In fact, what I learned is that we need to be careful with anyone who says “I’ve solved it all!”
LC: What can participants expect to get with CMI that they wouldn’t from a secular tour company?
GB: Of course, when you take an Egypt tour from a secular company, the sites are being presented to you outside biblical history, and often in a way that contradicts it. I’ve heard some say that the Hebrews were never in Egypt, for example. Being by yourself attempting to reconcile this is difficult, but on this trip, Gavin and I as tour leaders will be there to frame these amazing sites within biblical history, and even more importantly, to help you think through these issues for yourself and present the different possible options. For example, The Ptolemaic Temples like the one at Kom Ombo were built during the intertestamental period (between the Old and New Testaments). We believe that many of the events in this period were referred to in the prophecies of Daniel 11 and the breakup of Alexander the Great’s kingdom after his death.
Gavin Cox has a Master’s in Egyptology, so he qualifies as an expert in this area. And we’ll be presenting some talks in the evenings to help people understand the different options around things like the Pharaohs of Joseph’s and Moses’s day. This is obviously important to us because people respect CMI’s information and our commitment to intellectual integrity and Scripture. So we won’t be playing fast and loose or being dogmatic about things where there just isn’t enough evidence to come down on a particular conclusion.
For instance, earlier I talked about people asking if the pyramids were built before the Flood. Of course, the pyramids could not have survived the Flood. But did you know if you look at the limestone blocks that make up the pyramids, which were quarried in massive pits in Cairo, you can see fossils of shellfish and other marine life? So we would say that not only were the pyramids post-Flood, but that they exist because of the Flood. This is because they were built with limestone—a sedimentary rock that was formed in water.
Another issue is that a lot of people say there is no evidence for the Hebrew nation ever being enslaved in Egypt. But if you understand ancient Egyptian culture, that’s not surprising. They are known for embellishing accounts of their kings’ accomplishments. The pharaohs were living embodiment of their gods. So you wouldn’t expect to find Hebrew slaves memorialized on dedicated Egyptian monuments, especially with the plagues God unleashed on Egypt, humiliating the Egyptian gods and their Pharaoh. It would be like me putting a mention of Richard Dawkins on my headstone when I’m gone.
So what we are seeking to do in this tour is addressing this key issue of biblical history front and center to help people understand the solutions people put forward about Egypt.
LC: What are some of your favorite sites that the tour will be visiting?
We’ll be visiting too many amazing places to mention them all, but they are listed on our Egypt website. Some of the Egyptian building projects are simply amazing. In the Valley of the Kings, there are over 60 tombs cut into solid rock with copper hand chisels. Then the walls were smoothed and plastered and painted. One tomb in particular extends 650 feet underground. Imagine the dust. There was no natural light—just oil candles. The amount of work required was staggering and the conditions must have been abysmal.
Then there’s the Temple of Rameses II south of Aswan on lake Nasser at Abu Simbel. This temple was cut into the side of a limestone mountain. Outside there are four massive seated statues of Rameses, and inside there are massive columns, hallways, and rooms, all excavated out of a mountain, with scenes depicting Rameses’ life history. Next door is a similar one dedicated to his wife Nefertari. Now of course we know much of it was exaggerated. And this is one of the problems we have with Egyptian history; they were masters of disinformation, so we have to view some of what they left us with suspicion.
But most of all, I think people will really enjoy cruising down the Nile, which is a really great experience. When I was there last time, we were on a boat only carrying about 80 people so there was plenty of room. They served fantastic, fresh food. And it was like cruising back in time. You can see the working folks’ tombs cut into the sides of the bank. You can see boys riding donkeys bareback and the fields, and much of it is still subsistence farming. For example, 2500 years ago, Herodotus described lifting machines, most likely based upon the shaduf. It’s a cantilevered system that has a bucket on one end and a counterweight on the other end. It’s used to lift water out of the Nile and empties into a little irrigation canal, and they still use that today to water their crops.
LC: Let’s talk more about the timing issue, because this is something that a lot of people wonder about that’s right at the heart of CMI’s mission.
We definitely disagree with mainstream scholars regarding timing. I actually wrote an article, Egyptian Chronology: framing the issues. And if you read that article, you will see some quotes from even some of the best-known mainstream Egyptologists who all agree that Egyptian chronology is in need of serious revision.
The reason why is because the standard chronology came from an Egyptian priest named Manetho who wrote The History of Egypt in the third century BC. This book contained information about the Pharaohs and when they ruled, but both Christians and secular scholars who study in this area recognize that he was demonstrably wrong on several occasions and that he inflated the chronology in several ways. For years, this was considered the best work on Egyptian chronology, and it still has enormous influence.
But as Christians, we have a chronology, too, that comes from Scripture. We’ve written an article about how the Bible teaches 6,000 years, and about how much our conclusions can differ from that depending on whether you believe in a long or short sojourn (the Hebrew occupation in Egypt), or if you want to use the Septuagint text to have a few extra hundred years to solve a few of the issues.
One important thing to know is that the New Kingdom, which started with the 18th dynasty, around the 1500s BC, is very well-attested to because it is the most recent and the wealthiest of all periods. And we can be fairly confident about those dates within a few tens of years perhaps. We believe the Pharaoh of the Exodus would have been a New Kingdom Pharaoh. I have a favourite contender but I’m not letting on just yet. People will have to come on the trip … haha!
LC: Some people reading this will wonder: Is it safe to travel to Egypt?
It’s as safe as the countries of anybody reading this article. In our Western countries there are incidents every day like shootings etc., but we get complacent about them. But when we hear about things overseas, for some reason we think it is worse. In recent years there have been relatively few incidents in Egypt as their President (a former General and Minister of Defence) has really cracked down and outlawed radical groups. And recently I read an article that many new churches are opening up and existing ones are applying for formal government recognition. CMI is working with a local tour company that have been in business since the 1950s, and they haven’t had a safety incident even once. My wife and I felt completely secure when we were there and we loved the Egyptian people.
We’re putting together a tour with 5-star hotels and boats, all inclusive with meals, tours, and transport within Egypt all provided for the one price, which is an incredible value due to the relative weakness of the Egyptian currency. Western companies were almost double the price. We’ve worked really hard with the company there to put together an incredible tour that will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who choose to come with us.
But even more than seeing all the sights, people who come on this trip will have the chance to fellowship with like-minded Christian creationists from our sister offices around the world, and even CMI staff who are leading the tours. There will be a lot for us to talk about and discuss, and we anticipate this being one of the more special aspects of the trip, particularly as we cruise down the Nile and break bread together.
LC: Any closing thoughts about the trip?
This is obviously something we’ve been working on for a while. It’s a first for CMI and it’s a trip we’re really excited about. We want to ensure that everyone who decides to come will be encouraged and blessed by the experience, as well as getting a really fantastic vacation that is full of faith-affirming material. I know that Fran and I can’t wait to go back.