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Hollywood vs History: Egypt in the Movies

Posted by Egypt on May 6, 2016

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Egypt owes pop culture a debt.

Every man, woman, and child has marveled at Egypt in print and film. Bring me your most culturally illiterate acquaintance. I dare you! Egyptian lore permeates media’s every vein. From DeMille’s Ten Commandments to Perry’s Dark Horse, it is impossible to avoid the Gift of the Nile. While we’re grateful, pop culture does tend to overstep its mark. Believe us - we were as shocked as you are! Let’s look at several Egyptian ‘facts’ Hollywood perpetuates.

While we’re grateful, pop culture does tend to overstep its mark. Believe us - we were as shocked as you are! Let’s look at several Egyptian ‘facts’ Hollywood perpetuates.

Pay him no mind

In The Mummy and similar media, a red-hot hooking implement is used to remove a brain. Ancient Egyptians removed internal organs to delay putrefaction and scholars assumed brains naturally followed. But Mummy Specialist Dr. Joann Fletcher points out that, hey, delicately removing a brain is kind of hard. Indeed, many 18th dynasty mummies were left with their brain intact.

But Mummy Specialist Dr. Joann Fletcher points out that, hey, delicately removing a brain is kind of hard. Indeed, many 18th dynasty mummies were left with their brain intact.

Where are the statues from film XYZ?

Hollywood sometimes employs what we call 'Egypt Look'. Example:

Pharaoh Seti I depicted in DreamWorks The Prince of Egypt is impossibly industrious. Under his rule stood monuments which, had they truly existed at all, are a hodgepodge of surviving monuments. Film protagonist Moses, Pharaoh's adopted son, accidentally damages a monument in his father's likeness.

His literal horseplay nearly buries a temple housing statues honoring gods Set & Horus under the sand. Moses then flees towards an unidentified city and large sphinx on the horizon.

Tourists associate the word sphinx with Egypt's Great Sphinx located on the Giza Plateau. The Prince of Egypt scores points here for geographical accuracy. Giza was mere miles from ancient Memphis, Seti I's capital.

Everything else is DreamWorks taking creative liberties. Great Sphinx aside, however, there are two monuments which somewhat resemble that Moses desecrates.

The first, incidentally, was built by Moses' on-screen brother, Pharaoh Ramesses II. Ramesses II dedicated a large monument to himself following a great victory, and a second to Queen Nefertari. These are collectively known as the Abu Simbel temples. Horus, flanked by not one but FOUR sixty-nine foot stone Ramesses, overlooks an entrance. Egyptologists concur that the Abu Simbel temples are the quintessential old world monument.

Ancient royalty really was fond of them. Cloning technology would have certainly been abused had it existed amidst their reign. Case in point, the sandstone Colossi of Memnon erected by Pharaoh Amenhotep III in his image. These 'Amenhotwins' tower over the Theban necropolis.

In our opinion, the Colossi and Abu Simbel's grandeur are what films attempt to capture. You can experience both when you book our Grand Egypt tour package!

Broses

Everybody knows Moses' story, even if they are not religious. Moses, son of Israelite slaves, is found adrift in the Nile and raised by Pharaoh's daughter – or was it his wife? In The Prince of Egypt, Seti I grooms Moses as his own after wife, Queen Tuya, recovers the infant. In The Ten Commandments (1956), Bithiah, Pharaoh's daughter saves Moses.

According to Hebrew tradition, Bithiah does indeed rescue Moses, who comes up amongst royalty. But wait! Islamic scripture states Bithiah is Pharaoh's wife. This makes both films simultaneously accurate and inaccurate dependent upon interpretation.

Who was Pharaoh during Moses' time?

Both films agree that Seti I’s reign followed by Ramesses II’s ascendance to the throne occur during Moses’ lifetime. Is this accurate? Ramesses is typically portrayed as the ‘Pharaoh of Exodus’ because the Bible alludes to cities and regions in his name. In reality, no timeline proposed by biblical scholars coincides with either Pharaoh's rule.

Did Slaves Build the Pyramids?

10,000 BC is possibly the worst offender for this. The story goes that a primitive hunting tribe is enslaved by what are apparently ancient Egyptians. We speculate as much because said slavers are building a pyramid using woolly mammoths. Sure, why not. A persistent myth is that Israelite slaves built the pyramids before Moses liberated them. Scripture does not explicitly state that this is the case.

A persistent myth is that Israelite slaves built the pyramids before Moses liberated them. Scripture does not explicitly state that this is the case.

Archeologists recently unearthed many sheep, cattle, and goat bones near pyramid construction sites. This discovery implies that pyramid laborers were well fed. Archaeologist Mark Lehner hypothesizes that skilled laborers worked in shifts. While not exactly slaves, they may have felt a societal obligation to aid in construction. Furthermore, workplace causalities were entombed within proximity of Pharaoh's past.

But whether the pyramids were built by slaves or free men, they remain a wonder of the world. There will always be half-truths in popular media. See for yourself the land that inspired them all! Book an Authentic Nile Cruise or Tour of Egypt for an experienced film can’t provide. 

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