She Laughed

Sarah in the Tent

There’s an old Yiddish Proverb that says: “Man plans, God laughs.”

Meaning, of course, that no matter how carefully thought out any of our plans may be, it is only God who sees all ends and only God who knows what the best course of action is for us.

In Genesis, despite this truth, we see somewhat of a reversal of this proverb play out.

Let me set the scene. Last time we talked about Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his concubine, Hagar. Hagar, as we saw, had a child, Ishmael. And in time, Sarah had a “miracle child,” a gift from God despite her previously being barren and presently being past childbearing age.

This child was named Isaac, and before he was born, Abraham and Sarah received a visit from three “men.” I put men in quotation marks because, as it turns out, one “man” is, in fact, God, and the two others are angels. Quite the houseparty.

It’s pretty clear that Abraham knows what’s up from the get-go, and since he runs to tell Sarah, we can assume he lets her in on what he’s figured out.

Once Abraham and the … uh … “men” have sat down to eat, Sarah does what we can assume every woman worth her salt learned to do in that sort of pastoral patriarchal society. She sat down behind a conveniently thin tent wall and listened to their conversation.

The conversation went something like this:

“Men”: So, Abraham, where’s Sarah, your wife?

Abraham: [nodding his head towards the tent] Oh, just inside.

God: Well, I’ll be back in nine months, and she’s going to have a kid.

Sarah: [thinking] Snort! Ha, that’s a good one. Yes, let’s give me a kid now that Abraham and I are slowing down a bit.

God: Why did Sarah just laugh and talk about getting older? Is anything too hard for God? I’ll be back in nine months, and she’s. Going. To. Have. A. Kid.

You can just see Sarah’s head swivel in shock and try to peer though the woven sides of the tent. God’s probably sitting there and staring right back at her. At this point, she’s got nothing left to lose. Not only does the whole group know she was listening to their conversation, but, apparently, God can hear her thoughts snarking at them. She decides there’s one way to possibly save face, at this point. After all, she hadn’t spoken aloud. Can’t you just hear her disembodied voice float through the tent wall:

Sarah: I didn’t laugh.

God: [completely unphased] Yes, you did.

And that was that. Sarah wisely bowed out at this point. How do you keep up a “yeah-huh/not-uh” with God? (Hint: You don’t; He knows you’re fudging.)

But here’s the thing in all this. God planned, and Sarah laughed. BUT, Sarah is not punished. We know for a fact that at least one person in the Bible who did something similar did get a bit of comeuppance. Zechariah, in the New Testament, was struck dumb for a time after questioning God, who had given the exact same revelation to him – he would have son in his old age.

Here’s the difference. Zechariah had precedent. The New Testament takes place thousands of years after this point. Zechariah was a priest who knew, likely by heart, every act of God recorded in what is today the Old Testament. The Old Testament is full of families receiving miracle children. And he had the guts to ask just how exactly God planned on making that happen. He was, in effect, saying that God was lying.

Sarah, on the other hand, though she deeply questioned God here, is not throwing all of God’s prior actions back in His face as though they are worthless. She also, it seems, learns quickly, bowing out of the conversation. And we can see that the lesson stuck. Check out Genesis 21: 6-7, right after Isaac is born:

“And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’ She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.” (NKJV)

Further, guess what the name Isaac means? Laughter. Guess who told Abraham and Sarah to name him that?


God plans, man laughs.

What is God leading you towards? What plans does He have for you? Has he led you in any ways that seem impossible? Do you feel His nudge towards something that seems untenable? Don’t laugh, and don’t share your plans with Him instead. Go to Him and see where He wants to take your life.

In the end, you may look back and laugh in disbelief about how far He brought you.

He Sees You

Hagar in the Desert

I wanted to spend today on what undoubtedly will be a shorter post, but one I think is important.

I love the stories of women in the Bible because they are given without caveat. As in, they don’t begin with:

“She was a woman, but look at what she did anyway.” (Ugh)

They don’t even begin with:

“Women often did not have as many rights as men back then, but here’s what she did in spite of that.” (Bleh)

You may be wondering why the second one still gets an bleh from me. Let me explain.

For the past, I don’t know, gazillion years, us women have been reminded by some form of narrator or character comment, before or during nearly every story involving a woman, that this person is a woman. Therefore, we should be more (or less) impressed by her forthcoming accomplishments and story. Or something.

I think we are all aware that there are biological differences between women and men and are all aware of the historical and (in some cases) present differences in the treatment of women and men. I, therefore, tend to find it immensely refreshing when a woman is introduced without caveat. As just, well, a person. Since we all know about such things, it isn’t necessary to lay it out for us once again and then tell us how to react to it. We can analyze it for ourselves.

Hence my love for the stories of women in the Bible. They are just introduced. Boom. Here she is. Another just a person in a long list of just people and their relationships with God.

Amidst the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis, a woman named Hagar gets quite a bit of attention. The gist of her story is this: she was a concubine of Abraham, whom we talked about a couple weeks ago (yes, I know, this polygamy thing gets on my nerves too). Sarah, Abraham’s actual wife, wasn’t happy once Hagar became pregnant and Hagar started showing scorn towards the childless Sarah, even though Sarah was considered her superior (there’s a lot more to this story, check out Genesis for the full picture).

Two times over the next several years, Hagar gets driven out of the household by Sarah. The second time, she’s sent away with her son, Ishmael, and it’s permanent.

There’s a lot of factors to consider here. Firstly, Hagar is probably not always the nicest person, being nasty to Sarah (note, Sarah is also not the nicest person, being horrible in return). Secondly, Hagar’s son, Ishmael, is not the nicest person either. He is shown making fun of his toddler half-brother (Isaac, Sarah’s miracle son) at an evert honoring him, when Ishmael is around sixteen years old.

However, each time Hagar is driven out, desperate, into the desolation of the desert, God finds her.

And that’s the thing about God. We have all had times when we are horrible people and when people are horrible to us. Indeed, we all have situations (you know the ones) that predispose us to be nasty to others. Maybe they bring up feelings of stress, or jealousy, or anger. Some are infinitely more severe than even the one described above. Some are intensely unfair. Some are more minor.

But when we have trust in God, He sees us, regardless. He is not going to turn away from us because of these moments or situations or how we act or react.

“Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” Hagar asks herself after her first encounter with God (Genesis 16:13). In this same verse, she gives God the first name for Him recorded in the Bible. El Roi, “the God who sees me”.

And God indeed sees. He understands her situation deeply. He even sees fit to acknowledge to her that her son is, and will grow up to be, a bit of a jerk.

The key is, that neither Hagar nor her son’s behavior is the point. Despite prior poor decisions, Hagar is willing to trust God, and He knows this. This is what matters to God – not that we behave perfectly all the time (though He wants to teach us to be more and more like Him, like His Son), but that we are willing to come to Him and trust in Him.

God is the God who reaches out, despite everything we have done.

He knows you. He sees you.

And He wants you to reach out in return.

Broken People, Unbroken Promises

From Jacob to Israel

Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, was, a lot of the time, a lame person.

Now, if you need more context as to who this was and why I had that sentence as my intro (obviously meant for some kind of shock value), I’m happy to elaborate.

Jacob was the grandson of Abraham. He had an older twin brother, Esau. Jacob was also renamed Israel by God and had twelve sons. This may have jogged your memory somewhat, as there were twelve tribes in historical Israel.

So, basically, we could consider Jacob, called Israel by God, the forefather of Israel, the people.

And, yes, I am claiming that he was a lame person.

Now, before you click off the page because you fear I’m about to get sacrilegious or something, let me clarify.

Every person on the planet is lame in some capacity. We have all made mistakes. The thing is, that doesn’t matter one iota to God.

And that, my friends, is the very point of this post.

Let’s take a moment to examine Jacob’s life choices.

Firstly, as you may recall, he was a jerk person and managed to trick his father into giving him the firstborn’s blessing, instead of to his older twin.

After that great start to his life, he became a straight-up polygamist. Now, granted, polygamy was common at the time, so, er, I guess you want me to just excuse that one. Also, granted, you may be jumping up and down and saying: “NOW WAIT just a minute! He was tricked into marrying the first one! He didn’t know who she was!”

I’ll just sit here and wait for you to figure out a non-jerk reason as to why he didn’t know who he was marrying until the next morning.

And then I’ll let you ponder the question as to why, after he married a second time and got the wife he wanted, he took two more concubines for good measure.


So, following this exemplary display of domesticity, he went on to favor the firstborn son of his second wife above all his other children, to the point where it got so bad that a bunch of them tried to kill the kid. (In case you don’t know, this is my boy Joseph we are discussing here, so if you want to hear this all from his point of view, read my book when it comes out!)

Now, I will allow that none of Jacob’s choices really appear to be vicious. He does not seem to make these choices with the express purpose of harming anyone. But his choices are all patently selfish. They are all about his wants. And, in being selfish, he harms the lives of many.

Despite this, he ends up quite wealthy, with reams of sons and daughters and livestock and servants. Yet, check out this statement of his in his old age:

“Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life …” (Genesis 47:9)




Get a grip.

But here’s the thing.

I’ve spent all this time showing you how lame of a person Jacob could be.

God knew this. It was no surprise to Him.

 Just as He knows everything about us.

God also knew something else about Jacob. Despite all his shortcomings, Jacob had faith in God. He trusted in Him and believed what God told him. When God gave him specific instructions, Jacob followed them.

And that, to God, was the key.

It is the key, even today.

No matter who we are, what struggles we face – our faults, our mistakes, our poor decisions, our habits – if we call out to God, if we put our faith in Him, He hears us. He has a plan for us that He wants to lead us on. He sent His very own Son to die so that every last one of our shortcomings could be fully overlooked.

 That is how much He wants to hear us, if only we call out to Him and accept what His Son has done for us.

(And God, by the way, once we put our faith in Him, has an interesting habit of making us work through our shortcomings.)

This was God’s promise to Jacob, despite all the lame things he had done or God knew he would do:

“I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac;

the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.

Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth;

you shall spread abroad to the west and the east,

to the north and the south;

and in you and your seed all the families of the Earth shall be blessed.

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go,

and will bring you back to this land;

for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”

(Genesis 28:13-15)

People are broken. It’s the way we are.

God knows this – and He is not broken. He is willing to create unbroken promises with us and create something beautiful from our ashes, if only we reach out to Him.

What future is God calling you to step towards? You do not have to be perfect, because God already has that part covered. He turned Jacob into Israel. Who is God calling you to become?

Just follow Him.

Don’t Stand Still

From Abram to Abraham

Honestly, I feel odd writing this. I almost feel like I’m about to preach a sermon, which is not my training nor is it my intent. I wouldn’t set myself up in that way.

All I want to do is share a little, each week, about something I learned from someone of faith in the Bible – someone whose faith shows us how to hope and pray and follow God, even when times are downright awful or following God in the situation makes absolutely no sense. There are also people worth studying who spent a long time ignoring God – but God still followed after them and found them. Because that’s who He is. We can learn from those people, too. Because no matter our story, God is the Seeker of souls and our Help in trouble.

Given that my initial plan before the advent of COVID-19 (colloquially known as coronavirus) here in the US was to do a series on the patriarchs and the beginnings of the Jewish faith, my plan as of now is to still start with the patriarchs. But we’ll go beyond them, because we can. Because people from all parts of the Bible are worth studying, especially in times like these.

So. Let’s take a look at Abraham. Or, as he was known at the beginning of his life, Abram.

Many of you will have heard of the “Abrahamic Religions.” Three major world religions see this man as their founder – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

However, Abraham – or Abram, rather – was not born Jewish, or Christian, or Muslim. He lived in a place called Ur, in Mesopotamia. At the time the area was influenced by both the Sumerian and Akkadian cultures, who worshipped a pantheon of gods including Ishtar (the only one I’m thinking you may have heard of!). The famous Epic of Gilgamesh also came from these cultures, and the origins of the epic stem from around Abram’s time.

Abram moved with a large portion of his father’s family to Haran, in modern-day Turkey, sometime after his marriage to a woman named Sarai. Why they moved, we don’t know, but since Haran was situated on a trading route, perhaps the family sensed an opportunity.

I’m sure we can all imagine Abram’s surprise when a God he had ostensibly never heard of gave him a nudge. I’m sure we can all imagine how torn he was.

This God was telling him to leave with his wife, and head south to a land called Canaan. He had a great plan for Abram; a great nation would come from him.

And every. Other. Thing. In Abram’s world was screaming at him to not do that.

His family was in Haran – and they’d likely just gambled quite a bit to get there and set up their means of profit. His livelihood was there. His culture was there. His wife, by the way, was barren – no great nation seemed to be on its way.

With no children and no prospects other than that of his family, his life was in Haran.

So why go?

There’s a verse in the Bible that always stuck with me.

“Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

Abram believed God. So he went. Why did he believe? We can’t know his exact reasons. But we can see the results.

Remember God’s promise to build a great nation from Abram? He ended up having a son, Isaac, the next patriarch of the Jewish faith. In 2009, over 13 million people in the world identified as Jewish. And we’re still talking about Abram today, five thousand years later. That’s a pretty good run if I do say so.

By the way – remember how Abram’s name changed to Abraham? God changed it. Abram means “high father.” Pretty good, right? But not as good as the name God gave him: “father of a multitude.”

Where does God want you to go today? Where is the place of growth, either spiritual of physical, that He wants to lead you to? We can see His results, time and time again. He does not fail. Trust Him, and see where He takes you.  

Don’t stand still. God has so much more for you than that.

Faith. Unchained.

A series

For this past week, I have been thinking every day – worrying more like – about where I am going to take my blog.

I mean, I had a plan. I think last week a lot of us had a plan, until we didn’t.

Because #coronavirus.

And the last thing I want to do is seem as though I’m not attending to the optics of a situation which is affecting the world over and which has now been labeled by the World Health Organization as a pandemic.

I mean, I can’t just blindly continue discussing Ancient Egypt and not acknowledging what is happening in the world around us. Entire countries are on lockdown. I don’t want to ignore that.

So, I’ve thought and prayed hard for the last week, and what I’ve come to realize is that the plan I had in mind can work – with some adjustments.

My plan had been to discuss the origins of the Jewish faith by exploring the lives of the patriarchs. This would have been a “sequel”, in a way, to my series on Ancient Egyptian religion. I wanted to be sure to have a series on the the history of the Jewish faith as well.

But, starting a series on faith without acknowledging that we are living in a time when faith, all of a sudden, seems alternately like a very important and very challenging concept, felt wrong.

So, I’ve tweaked my plan a little. I’ll start with the patriarchs, while providing historical context, and then move into other Biblical personages of notable faith. But all of it will circle back around to the idea of:

Faith in God in difficult times – when, dare I say it, it doesn’t seem to make sense.

Why does faith matter? Why should we bother? Especially when it seems everything could be in the process of collapsing around us. In exploring the lives of these individuals, I hope to be able to show the Bible’s answers to these questions.

That, I think, is very relevant to what is happening right now.

I hope you’ll join me next week.

With love and prayer,


The Pharaoh Who Went Rogue

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 7)

Image courtesy of Britannica

So. Everyone, meet Akhenaten.

You may remember him mentioned in a previous blog or two. On first glance, you may notice that he looks a little strange.

This is possibly on purpose – or possibly not. We don’t quite know (as is, of course, usual regarding Ancient Egypt).

Here’s the thing. If you haven’t heard of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, I can bet you’ve heard of his wife.

Meet Nefertiti.

I can also most definitely bet you’ve heard of his son.

Meet Tutankhamun. Also known as King Tut.

What may come as a surprise to you is that Tutankhamun was not born Tutankhamun. He was born Tutankhaten.

Akhenaten. Tutankhaten. If you’re seeing a pattern here, you’re on the right track.

What may further interest you to know is that Akhenaten was not born Akhenaten. He was born Amenhotep IV.

So, let’s get this straight. Amenhotep IV changes his name to Akhenaten and has a kid, Tutankhaten. Later in his life (hint: after dad is dead) Tutankhaten kicks that aten to the curb and changes his name to Tutankhamun.

Akhenaten also got the famous Egyptian damnatio memoriae treatment we’ve talked about, after his death. They removed his name from the king lists and his monuments and statues were destroyed.

What is going on here?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Amarna Period.

Akhenaten started his reign (as Amenhotep IV) in Thebes, the which was Egyptian capital during the New Kingdom, when Akhenaten was Pharaoh.

He started off, as far as we can tell, as a fairly normal pharaoh. The only blip that warned of what was to come were several building projects dedicated to the sun and the sun god, Ra. Which, on the surface, was nothing unusual to the ancient Egyptians.

Then, by Ancient Egyptian standards, things got weird.

In the fifth year of his reign, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten and moved the whole dang Egyptian capital to a blank space of sand 200 miles north, to a place now known as Amarna. And because he was the Pharaoh, everyone followed (likely with one eyebrow raised). And he built a city, fast.

But Akhenaten wasn’t done. Because, at Amarna, he was determined to introduce something to Ancient Egypt that, while not revolutionary, was culturally very foreign.


Yes, you read that right. Akhenaten spent almost the entirety of his reign making Ancient Egypt worship the Aten, the sun disc.

Why is unknown, but if you want to read my suspicions, head to my post on Dating the Joseph Story historically.

Naturally, this didn’t jive well with the Ancient Egyptians, but the worship of the Aten was officially mandated. Throughout this time, known as the Amarna period, tradition was upended as the Pharaoh was no longer associated with Horus and temple styles were completely reworked to feature large open-air areas that celebrated the sunlight. Even the names of many officials during his reign were changed to reflect no mention of the other Egyptian gods (the names of gods were commonly part of Ancient Egyptian names).

Akhenaten also, most believe, completely changed the art style of the time, for some unknown reason. There’s a thought that the stylistic choices were meant to somehow reflect the nature of the Aten. Compare the death mask of King Tut (made in a non-Aten-worshipping society – we’ll get to that) seen above to the statue of Akhenaten. There’s an obvious stylistic difference in the facial features.

At the same time, because we know so little about Ancient Egypt sometimes, everyone is forced to admit that there’s a chance Akhenaten looked like that, but … I sure don’t buy it! After all, there’s art of others during the time period displaying the same oddly exaggerated features. They can’t have all looked like that.


There’s also a bit of mystery surrounding the last years of his reign. Akhenaten co-ruled with another pharaoh (a common practice in Ancient Egypt to ensure the chosen line of succession) in the last years of his reign. This pharaoh is alternately called Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten (yes, there’s that aten again) in historical texts. We don’t have much info on this person, but there’s a theory that Neferneferuaten and Queen Nefertiti are one and the same, and that this is an unusual instance of corulership between a king and queen in the ancient world.

Akhenaten’s mandated religious changes were not popular, as evidenced by the fact that soon after his son Tutankhamun finally became king, Amarna was abandoned as the capital. It was, in fact, dismantled over the ensuing years and used as building material for other projects. In subsequent years, Akhenaten and several successors with direct connections to his reign were erased from the king lists. So much so that historians did not learn of his existence until the 1800s.

So, folks, now you know the story of Akhenaten, the pharaoh who went rogue and left weird blip on the radar of Ancient Egyptian religion.

It also brings to a close (for now) our series on Ancient Egyptian religion. I hope you feel you’ve learned something, and I hope you have enjoyed it!

I will see you next week for the start of a new series – to be revealed!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Appropriately Sphinxlike?

A slight digression from my series on Ancient Egyptian Religion

So, before we move onward with my series on Ancient Egyptian Religion, I wanted to talk about the Great Sphinx, since we talked about the pyramids last week.

Now, the thing is, that if the exact symbolic and religious meaning of the pyramids is a mystery, the Great Sphinx has sometimes been made out to be like, that, times a hundred. On the surface, it seems pretty appropriate that over the millennia, “sphinxlike” has become an adjective meaning “mysterious”.

If you took a lot of Western Civ in school, you may remember that a sphinx as a mythological figure is not exclusive to Egypt, although the Great Sphinx, located near the Great Pyramids at Giza, is definitely the oldest sphinx we have record of. It’s dated to around 2570 BC (during the Old Kingdom). Sphinxes later began appearing in Greek and Mesopotamian storytelling and iconography around 1600 and 1500 BC, respectively. You may remember a sphinx featuring in the Greek tale of the unfortunate Oedipus.

If you watch a lot of “documentary-style” TV, you may also have heard that the symbology, meaning, and indeed the origin of the Great Sphinx is up for debate. I want to clear this up.

Egyptologists are, in fact, pretty darn sure of that circa 2570 BC date, and they’re pretty darn sure that that’s a pharaoh’s face sitting up there on the Sphinx – the Pharaoh Khafre. Now, why Khafre wanted his head up on that statute is a little more of a mystery. There’s far later examples of pharaohs represented as sphinxes, so there may be a connection between the early Egyptian sphinx and the ideas of power or guardianship. (In later Ancient Greece, the sphinx was often seen as a guardian or bearer of knowledge.)

By the time of the Egyptian New Kingdom, the Great Sphinx itself had become the center of a cult which connected it to the sun. The Pharaoh at the time even built a nearby temple for the cult – note that this is around 1000 years after the Great Sphinx was constructed. So, whatever the initial reason for its existence, the Ancient Egyptians continued to consider it important, at least during certain phases of their history.

Here’s the thing, though. If you look it up or watch “documentary-style” TV, you may see a lot more “fringe” types hypothesizing about the meaning and origin of the Sphinx. The idea that had me fooled for a long time (it had been presented to me as fact) says that the Great Sphinx is far older than 2570 BC and dates to Predynastic times (before the Old Kingdom). While this is a fascinating idea, created based on certain water erosion patterns noticeable on the Sphinx, there ended up being no real evidence for the theory when scientists examined the water erosion patterns more thoroughly.

There’s also argument that it’s not Khafre’s face up there, but another pharaoh. Arguments to this effect are based on comparisons between the face on the Sphinx and other representations of pharaohs. However, mainstream Egyptologists are pretty sure it is Khafre.

Further, there are even arguments that the face was changed over time. Suggestions include the original head being that of the jackal-headed god Anubis, which would make the original Sphinx no more than an idol figure.

For a long time, there was even a belief that an ancient Hall of Records was located under the Sphinx. This idea, which, admittedly, is pretty fun, has been propagated in pop culture works.

You may have even heard that Napoleon’s troops are the ones responsible for the missing nose of the Great Sphinx, having shot it off with a cannon for some reason. This would have been around the same time that Napoleon’s troops also found the famous Rosetta Stone, a much more useful accomplishment. In fact, the story of the nose is false – drawings from the time show that the nose was missing long before the Napoleonic Era. Other pieces of the statue, such as the traditional pharaoh’s false beard, which was once attached, have also become detached with time.

So, long story short, “sphinxlike” may have come to mean “mysterious”, but there’s nothing too mysterious about this particular sphinx, especially when compared with other aspects of Ancient Egypt.

Next week we’ll be taking a look at Ahkenaten, The Pharaoh Who Almost Broke Egypt, as we begin to wrap our series on religion.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

A Pyramid Scheme

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 6)

So, I know what you’re asking.

Shouldn’t a post on pyramids be in an “architecture of Ancient Egypt” series instead of a religion series?

Well, yes and no.

I mean, it could be in an architecture series, sure. (In fact, such a series may be coming down the pipeline.)

But –

Can you guess what I’m about to say? If you’ve been paying attention, you might be able to.

Like just about everything else in Ancient Egypt … Say it with me now:

Pyramids had religious significance.

Interestingly, what exactly that significance was is up for debate. In what ways? Let’s find out!

You might remember from my first few posts last fall that pyramids were 1) tombs for the rich and famous and 2) built during the Old and Middle Kingdoms of Ancient Egypt. For reference, the building timeframe is roughly from about 2660 BC to 1760 BC. By the time the New Kingdom was established, the Egyptians had gotten wise to the fact that if you build a giant, unprotected structure over a fantastically rich person’s grave, you basically have only succeeded in hosting a massive free-for-all for grave robbers.

That said, there were a few more scattered attempts at pyramids during the New Kingdom and beyond, but in general, by that time, royal burial rituals had gone underground (literally).

Now, it’s also important to remember that pyramids did not spring from the collective mind of Ancient Egyptian engineers fully formed. Again, if you remember some of my earliest posts, you may remember these pictures:

The first image of the Pyramid of Djoser (also known as the Step Pyramid), dates from the Third Dynasty (around 2660 BC). This is the first known attempt of the Ancient Egyptians to build a pyramid. Obviously, you can see they still had a ways to go.

The second image shows the pyramid known as the Bent Pyramid. This dates to the Fourth Dynasty, around 2600 BC. Engineers started with a 54 degree angle of inclination, and then midway through switched to a 43 degree angle. It’s uncertain whether this was intentional or not. Surely the shallower angle up top helps maintain the structure’s integrity. I’m betting the engineers switched halfway through when they realized their error!

The third image is the coup de grâce of pyramids. This is the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza. It’s also from the Fourth Dynasty, but later than the Bent Pyramid – it was completed around 2560 BC. It’s surrounded by other pyramids (take a look at the featured picture at the top of this post!), and is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It’s also the only one left remotely intact.

Yes, you read that right. It’s not intact. Once upon a time, the Great Pyramid and others in Ancient Egypt were encased in smooth white limestone, often with a gleaming metal cap, called a pyramidion, on top. Over time, it has all been stripped away.

There were many, many other pyramids built during the Old and Middle Kingdoms, and you can see from the dates given above that the Ancient Egyptians mastered the art of pyramid-building relatively quickly. So, the question, then, is: Why? Why did the Ancient Egyptians feel the need to build such structures? Such structures, I might add, as took decades to build.

Like many things in ancient history, there is argument regarding what exactly the Ancient Egyptians intended the pyramid to accomplish from a religious perspective. But, there is no doubt that their construction was fueled by the peoples’ beliefs. So, let’s look at what we do know, as well as some unproven but reasonable theories.

Firstly, pyramids did not stand alone out in the desert. They were surrounded by temples, cemeteries, and often other pyramids. It is clear that many rituals involving many people were performed both in and around a pyramid.

It’s also pretty certain that the Ancient Egyptians viewed the pyramid as a symbol of what they believed was the primordial mound from which the world was created. From this perspective, the pyramid would actually be a symbol of new life. There is also speculation that the pyramid symbolized rays of the sun, shining down on the tomb within. This would explain the (often golden) pyramidion set on top of the pyramid.

Interestingly, pyramids were always built on the western bank of the Nile river. In fact, almost all tombs were located there. This is because the Ancient Egyptian religion associated the setting of the sun in the west with the idea of new life or rebirth. Further, we have three bodies of religious work called the Pyramid Texts, The Coffin Texts, and The Book of the Dead, all used in Ancient Egypt. In short, these were rituals and spells used during funerals. Interestingly, a direct translation of the name for “The Book of the Dead” in Egyptian would be: “Book of Coming Forth by Day.” What seems clear is that the Ancient Egyptians believed a good burial was key to rebirth in the afterlife.

It’s important to note, though, that the Ancient Egyptians did not view the pyramid as the only way to eternal life. Many pharaohs and the wealthy were buried in tombs or other structures, and those same funerary texts have been found associated with those burials.

I wish we had more definitive knowledge of what the Ancient Egyptians believed was the significance of pyramids, but like so many other aspects of Ancient Egyptian history, and ancient history in general, that knowledge has been lost to time. In many ways, the pyramids remain the greatest mystery Ancient Egypt has left behind.

Join me next week, as we go on a slight tangent and talk about the equally mysterious (?) sphinx, often associated with the pyramids.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Hidden Meaning of Color

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 5)

So – after a few weeks away from Ancient Egyptian religion and beliefs, we’re back!

To set this up, I want you to imagine you’re writing a story, and right now, you want to describe a scene. Maybe you mention the weather, or the sunlight. The people standing around, and what they’re doing. Maybe it’s a street scene, so you describe the buildings – how tall they are, how they’re painted.

In my case, the story I was telling was set, of course, in Ancient Egypt. So the buildings are white stone, with painted patterns and murals for decoration. The colors? Oh, green, blue, gold, red – the works. We’ve all seen the movies.

Great, we’ve finished describing the scene – on to the next one!

Except – it turns out we’ve done it all wrong.

In Ancient Egypt, you can’t just haphazardly use blue paint. Or black. Or green. And you better not use red unless you know what you’re doing.

Why? Because, like most things in Ancient Egypt, the color of paint was not just for show. Each color meant and symbolized a spiritual concept – in fact, multiple concepts.

Osiris, depicted here with green skin.

Let’s take a look at what some of the colors meant.

Green: This one you can probably guess – green symbolized life! But, it also symbolized many other concepts in connection with “life”, such as growth, the afterlife, resurrection, and even goodness. This is why images of the “only mostly dead” god of the afterlife, Osiris, often depict him with green skin. There was even a turn of phrase: “do green things”. It meant to act well and positively.

Red: Red was a tricky color. It was commonly used to portray the color of men’s skin and used on amulets, but the god of chaos, Set, who killed Osiris, was associated with red as well. As such, red had connotations completely dependent on the situation. It could signify life and higher power and energy, but was also associated with destruction, danger, evil, and fire. Ancient artifacts and images need to be studied thoroughly for context to understand the meaning of the red used to paint them.

Blue: Blue was highly regarded by Ancient Egyptians. Like green, blue was associated with life. In particular, the Nile River. As such, its connotations included crops, birth, rebirth, offerings, and protection. Since it was the color of the sky, it was also associated with the divine heavens. Thoth, the god of wisdom, was often painted blue to connect the idea of divine wisdom to the idea of life.

The Ibis-headed god of wisdom, Thoth.

Yellow: Yellow and gold were often used in association with the gods. It symbolized the sun, perfection, and eternity. In paintings, women were painted with more yellowish skin, in contrast to the reddish skin of men, to acknowledge their more indoor-based lives.

Black: Like red, the color black had a strong duality. It was associated with the fertile Nile soil which was deposited when the river flooded each year – in fact, the ancient Egyptian name for their country, Kemet, comes from their word for black, kem. However, it was also the color associated with the underworld and a a color, like green, that was associated the Orisis, the god of the afterlife.

White: White was associated with cleanliness, purity, and the sacred. Ritual items tended to be white (alabaster was a favored material) as well as daily clothing, made of undyed linen. Priests often wore only white – even their sandals were white!

I’m sure you can see now what a minefield it can be to “color” Ancient Egypt appropriately! I am constantly amazed at how often the seemingly mundane in Ancient Egypt connects to the sacred or spiritual.

Next week, we’ll continue our discussion of Ancient Egyptian Religion with undoubtedly the most recognizable symbol of Ancient Egypt – the pyramid!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Hair Episode

Or lack thereof

There’s a worrying lack of clarity when it comes to Ancient Egyptian hairstyles, given that there has been a strong stereotype perpetuated that Ancient Egyptians, both male and female, shaved themselves bald. To be frank, it’s even hard to research this topic and find reliable sources. Hearsay, it seems, is king.

Which, I suppose, is not surprising, seeing that a society where everyone was bald is rather sensational. But, I am sorry to have to say, this was not the case.

Now wait! You’re saying. I’ve been lied to my whole life?

Well, yes and no. Some people did shave themselves bald. But the idea that everyone was walking around with no hair on their head is patently inaccurate.

The sidelock of youth, also known as the Horus Lock

This is made more confusing to the average layperson given that anytime the history of shaving or razors is brought up, Ancient Egypt is always mentioned. Because, even if adults didn’t all shave the top of their heads bald, they were shaving addicts when it came to all other areas of the body. Further, you’ve probably seen the traditional image of the Ancient Egyptian child wearing the sidelock of youth, the hairstyle worn by all Ancient Egyptian children. This hairstyle required the entire head of the child to be shaved, except for a single braided section.

However, once adulthood was reached, there were a myriad of hairstyle options to choose from. Priests and priestesses shaved their head as part of their ritual duties, and many men shaved their heads as well. But other men simply kept their hair clipped short. Wigs were another option, and a popular one because the woven structure would not trap desert heat near the head. Note that you did not have to be shaved bald to wear a wig.

Women had many options, including wigs. But, whether their hair was fake or not, it was worn long, at least to the shoulder, though I can’t find evidence that it was ever worn any longer than the mid-back. The Ancient Egyptians were also pros at adding extensions to the hair. Many mummies have been found with natural hair still on their heads, with extensions woven into that. I’d love to show pictures, but given that it could come off as rather grim, I’ll leave you to research it if you’re so inclined. Further, other mummies have been found with a fat-based hair gel on their heads! Henna was also used as a hair dye to cover those pesky greys. The Ancient Egyptians, it seems, were pretty good at making sure you could achieve the hairstyle of your dreams.

If you chose a wig because you wanted to skip all the extension and hair-product-based drama, or because you were going grey or naturally balding, you had a lot of options, especially if you were wealthy. Real human hair was the most expensive material used, but there were also wigs made from materials such as vegetable fiber, wool, or other animal fibers.

We’ve actually found some Ancient Egyptian wigs, or some of their decorative aspects, intact at burial sites, and I’ll leave some images here below.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short three-week journey though Ancient Egyptian fashion! Join me next week as we head back into the world of Ancient Egyptian religion.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)