Biblical 10th Plague Researched

Roundup: Talking About History

Charles M Sennott, The Boston Globe, 23 Nov. 2004

Egypt - Out of the blinding light of a fall morning here in the Valley of the Kings, American archeologist Kent Weeks led the way down a narrow, stone passageway and into the entrance of a tomb.

Weeks peered his flashlight into the enveloping darkness of"the hidden tomb," as he calls it, and pressed on through the damp, winding passages toward what may be his archeological team's most significant find after years of methodical digging, scraping, and brushing.

At the end of a long hallway a human skull rested, propped up in a wooden box, and framed in the bleak light of a bare bulb powered by a generator that rumbled through the stony silence of the tomb.

This skull Weeks believes, and new scientific evidence suggests may be that of the oldest son of Rameses II, the pharaoh who most historians agree was the ruler of ancient Egypt more than 3,000 years ago at the time of the biblical story of the Exodus.

If so, this is the skull of a man who the Hebrew Bible says was killed by the 10th of the horrible plagues God sent to convince pharaoh to free the Hebrew slaves. And if so, it contains an important new piece of forensic evidence: The skull has a depressed fracture on the left hand side which pathologists say clearly occurred at the time of death.

In other words, Weeks's discovery could have profound implications for understanding a biblical narrative that is at the core of Judaism, and part of the foundation of Christianity and Islam. It raises the question as to whether the oldest son of the pharaoh of the Exodus was struck down not by the hand of God, as the Bible says, but by the hand of man. And if that is true, perhaps the 10th plague became a metaphor for the early death that befell the pharaoh's oldest son.

Weeks this fall secured permission from Egyptian authorities to clean and examine this skull and three others that because of their position in the tomb and writing on the walls he believes are also sons of Rameses II. Weeks's team has used the latest scientific techniques in forensics and computer imaging to try to match the skulls to their probable father, Rameses II.

"Careful scientific analysis of the human remains we have found in KV 5 can help us to determine if they are, in fact, the crown prince's," said Weeks, who lives on a houseboat along the Nile at Luxor and who has devoted his life to fulfilling a boyhood dream of becoming an Egyptologist."New technologies are letting Egyptologists explore areas that just a few years ago we thought impossible. They offer methodologies that might help us determine at what point this person was killed and how."

Weeks's archeological work and the forensic study of it are part of a broad movement to understand the Bible and the historical context in which its stories took place by employing not just faith, but science.

Pitting hard questions against long-held assumptions, respected practitioners of biblical archeology are often quick to point out that their intention is not to prove or disprove the Bible, but rather to shed more light on the context in which the biblical stories occurred.

[Editor's Note: The original article is a much longer piece.]

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