History of the World According to the Movies: Part 2- Ancient Egypt and Near East

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Of course, no post on Ancient Egypt and the Near East would be complete without discussing The Ten Commandments. Of course, we may not be sure that the Exodus happened under the reign of Ramses II or Thutmose III (though Ramses II is a more plausible candidate), or if at all. Yet, we do know that Queen Nefretiri is way overdressed by Ancient Egyptan standards.

History was born with the invention of writing in Mesopotamia in which scribes would record the events taking place on behalf of the king as well as legends relating to their religion and culture. They also were known for ziggurats and The Epic of Gilgamesh one of the first works of literature. Egypt would later follow suit and would later be known as the civilization for hieroglyphics, the Nile, mummification, pharaohs, and the Pyramids. Oh, and that little thing called the Exodus. Then there are the peoples of the Near East like the Sumerians known for writing, inventing the wheel and Gilgamesh, the Phoenicians known for trade, seafaring, purple, and having the first phonetic alphabet, the Akkadians known for a major empire and possibly the Tower of Babel, Assyrians a fierce warrior culture known for their epic beards, the Hittites known for their empire in Turkey, the Philistines, the Caananites, the Old Babylonians known for the Hammurabi Law Code, and the Neo-Babylonians known holding the Jews in captivity as well as the Hanging Gardens. Of course, the two famous civilizations from the Ancient Near East were the Hebrews from the Bible, particularly the Old Testament and the Persians who amassed one of the largest empires at the time as well as are the ancestors of the modern Iranian people (who take great pride being descended from such a glorious people). Movies made in this era are usually epics in the early sword and sandal and biblical genre (at least in the Old Testament, New Testament is for another post), however, many of these films aren’t 100% accurate nor could be. Besides, most of ancient history in this setting was written when real events could be shrouded in myth so it’s difficult to surmise between fact and fiction. Also, archaeological records are incomplete and very few people knew how to read and write at the time. And those literate had to basically write under an autocratic ruler who’d basically slit their throats if they dared say anything bad about him. Nevertheless, genuine ancient historical errors do abound in movies for some reason (meaning they go against the historic record.)

Ancient Egypt:

During the reigns of Ramses II and his family, the Hebrews lived in Egypt as slaves and were forced to build the Pyramids of Giza. (In reality, this notion is false on many levels. For one, the Pyramids of Giza weren’t built by slaves, but paid volunteer workers and during the time of the Old Kingdom and perhaps around the same time as Stonehenge. Thus, it would probably be a rather ancient landmark by the time Moses came around like over a thousand years old to be exact. Second, slavery wasn’t practiced in Egypt until the time of the New Kingdom and by that time, the Egyptians were no longer building pyramids mostly because they were targets of grave robbers. Pharaohs by that time were being buried in elaborate underground tombs instead since why do you think it took over a couple thousand years to find King Tut’s tomb which was discovered like around 90 years ago?)

Ancient Egyptians used curses to punish those who break into the pharaoh’s tomb such as modern day archaeologists. (Actually, if they did, the curses didn’t seem to work. However, they did do something to deter grave robbing which was apparent in Ancient Egypt, which was to stop building pyramids.)

Egyptians resemble Northern and Western Europeans. (Yul Brynner from The Ten Commandments is perhaps the only guy who looks more like an ancient Egyptian than any other Egyptian character in the cast.)

Moses had a chance to become Pharaoh since Nefretiri was in love with him. (For one, many historians are unsure whether Moses was a real historical figure {with Jesus, it’s an entirely different story}. Still, even if he did exist, was raised in the Pharaoh’s household, and was in love with Nefretiri, Moses would’ve had no chance to be Pharaoh since he was not only adopted but also the youngest. Thus, even if Moses were to marry Nefretiri, he’d still have absolutely no chance at being Pharaoh so Ramses didn’t have much competition for the throne. And if he didn’t have any biological brothers or half-brothers to compete with as most movies about Moses imply, then Ramses wouldn’t have to marry Nefretiri because if it was him and Moses, then Ramses was going to be Pharaoh no matter what. Besides, in the Bible, Moses’ mother also lived with the Pharaoh’s family as a nursemaid so Moses grew up knowing that he was a Hebrew. Not to mention, he was most likely raised with Ramses II and we know he got the job and Nefretiri. As a side note, Ramses wasn’t an atheist and it was his granddad who ordered the killing of male Hebrew babies according to scripture.)

Ramses I ordered the killing of male newborn babies. (I highly doubt that any pharaoh would do this seeing that they needed more Hebrew men to do heavy lifting for their building projects and other jobs. Oh, and make babies with the female slaves. Perhaps he did it around the year Moses was born but the slaughter had to stop sometime for he didn’t rule too long.)

No Egyptian men wore makeup or shaved. (All Egyptian men and women wore eyeliner and shaved most of their body hair. Mostly this was done for health reasons and the environment. Also, in The Ten Commandments, it’s unlikely that Moses would have a full head of hair in the beginning as an adult and he’d certainly have eyeliner. I mean he was raised by Egyptians for God’s sake.)

Joshua was a slave in Egypt. (Joshua was Moses’ apprentice when he received The Ten Commandments. However, in the movie The Ten Commandments, Joshua and Moses are depicted at around the same age even though in the Bible, Moses is clearly much older by at least a generation. Thus, though Joshua may have been a slave in Egypt, he most definitely not been shacked up with a slave girl for he would’ve been at least a teenager, maybe even younger than that if he was born around the time. Also, depicting Joshua as a teenager around Exodus would make better sense since Moses was sort of a priest and they did take teenage apprentices {think about the story of Samuel}. Also, there have been teenage commanders in battle like King Tut and Alexander the Great.)

Female Egyptian rulers didn’t wear beards. (They wore a fake one as a symbol of their power as well as show that they were a reincarnation of Horus.)

Imotep is best known for being buried alive because he messed with a Pharaoh’s mistress. (He was an official, priest, and architect who invented the pyramid and modern medicine before Hippocrates. He was also seen as a good chancellor as well as one of the most respected Ancient Egyptians who ever lived who was deified after his death {which was only reserved for Pharaohs} and there are some theories that contend he was the biblical Joseph {the guy with the technicolor dream coat}. Of course, this might be a different Imotep depicted in The Mummy films since the historical one lived 1300 years before this one.)

Akenaten was poisoned by an assassin. (We’re really not sure what he died from. Though Pharaohs had to worry about assassination {mostly from their own relatives} and the Aten religion soon fell out of favor a few years after his death, he could’ve just as easily died from plague or other nasty diseases, which may explain why his tomb was subsequently abandoned with rapidity. However, unlike his son Tutankhamen, he looked pretty average so there’s no evidence he had anything depicted in artistic representations of him.)

Anubis was the god of evil and Ancient Egypt’s Satan. (He wasn’t, not by a long shot. He’s just a god of the dead. Seth was the evil god.)

The Book of the Dead and the Book of Amun-Ra were written on black stone tablets in gold. (Ancient Egyptians wrote their books on papyrus scrolls.)

Hamunaptra was an ancient city in Egypt and nicknamed the “City of the Dead.” (It’s actually in India as a relic of unknown civilization destroyed thousands of years ago.)

There was a mass Egyptian enslavement of Hebrews. (While the Ancient had slaves, it’s uncertain whether they enslaved Hebrews. If they did, they weren’t technically Hebrews yet but Canaanites.)

Ancient Egyptians viewed cats as terrifying demons. (They worshiped them and were among the greatest cat lovers in history.)

Egyptians domesticated camels in the Old Kingdom. (They domesticated them late in the New Kingdom.)

The Ancient Egyptians practiced ritual sacrifice at the time of the Great Pyramid. (This had faded long before the Great Pyramid was built.)

Old Kingdom Egyptians had bronze and iron weapons as well as horses. (Horses and bronze were introduced in Ancient Egypt around 1400 B. C. E. While iron was introduced by the Hittites around 1000 B. C. E.)

Amun-Ra was the Egyptian sun god during the Old Kingdom. (Amun and Ra merged during the Middle Kingdom. The Sun God was Ra during the Old Kingdom.)

Seti won the Battle of Kadesh. (Ramses II actually fought that battle.)

Potiphar was angry at Joseph (son of Jacob) for his wife’s allegations he was trying to rape her while Joseph resisted her advances. (Contrary to Joseph and his Technicolor Dream Coat, Potiphar probably knew that his wife had a habit of making advances to the servants and was kind of a bitch. He probably put Joseph in prison to get him out of the way.)

Ancient Persia:

The Persians gave lesser rights to women. (Actually they treated women rather equally even paying them more in some situations.)

The Persians dressed in Arab clothing and had Arab generals. (They dressed in Persian clothing and had Persian generals.)

The Persians kings saw themselves as gods. (They were Zorastrian and only worshiped one god so Xerxes’ god complex in the 300 movies has no basis in reality since he never saw himself as one.)

Persians had massive orgies and lesbian shows I the kings’ room. (Well, the Bible recounts Xerxes wanting his wife Vashti to show herself naked only to banish her later, but that’s about it.)

Persians beheaded their own people. (I’m not sure that they did. However, they did have very brutal form of capital punishment called scaphism, which was far worse than having your head lopped off. This is according to the Greeks.)

Immortals wore face masks and were soulless monsters. (No, they didn’t and they weren’t.)

Persian Immortals wore black ninja like outfits to battle. (Actually their outfits would’ve been wearing masks, light armor, and outfits of bright colors. They also wore jewelry. Oh, and they also had a full head of hair and funky beards.)

The Persians charged elephants and rhinos at Thermopylae. (They used horses. Seriously, the Persian Empire didn’t extend to Africa. However, it’s said they did use these animals in later battles, just not in Greece.)

Persians were dressed in scantily clad outfits, wore jewelry, shaved their bodies, and looked kind of like Cirque du Soleil rejects as well as kind of gay. They are were also debasing and immoral. (Persian men didn’t look like their representations in 300. Look on the murals. Besides, Xerxes had a full head of hair {as far as we know} and a beard like most ancient Persians did even in the Bible. He also wore a tall hat and elaborate robes, was probably not gay, and didn’t wear a lot of jewelry. He also wasn’t 9 feet tall and if he was bald, you probably wouldn’t know it. As for Persian side, it was a pretty diverse group of ethnicities from the Middle East and Egypt, with diverse religious beliefs {including Judaism}. And as with homosexuality, there was plenty of it in the Spartan army and typical Spartan bridal wear consisted of men’s clothes and a shaved head. Sparta was also known for their enslavement of Helots whose uprising were a common feature in Ancient Greece and was one of the least free city states in Greece unless you were a woman. They also practiced pederasty {yet all Greek city states did to some extent}. And in the Bible, the Persians are depicted as perhaps some of the nicest overlords the Jewish people ever had, if one read Daniel and Esther. So it’s possible that you might have a few Israelites fighting in the Persian Wars. They also didn’t have any slaves and believed in equality.)

Persian Immortals wore shiny masks to hide their horrific faces. (They actually wrapped their faces in cloth so you could see through them. Yet, their shields were only made of wicker. Still, they were called the Immortals because they always maintained the strength of 10,000 men. Whenever an Immortal was killed or wounded, there was always someone to take his place which maintained the cohesion of the unit.)

Persians sent their entire army to Thermopylae. (Xerxes would have done no such thing since he had to rule a large empire back at home. Also, I’m not sure if he would even go to Thermopylae himself though he and Leonidas certainly didn’t meet in person. Yet, he’s said to have been at the Battle of Salamis.)

A Persian weapon of choice was the Khopesh. (It was a Canaanite weapon which hadn’t been used for 1000 years up to that point. This would’ve been the equivalent of sending US paratroopers into Normandy equipped with single shot muskets.)

During the Battle of Salamis, the Persians had a large metal ship that chugs out pitch and a detachment of frogman suicide bombers. (Sorry, but there’s no mention of this in Herodotus nor has there been any archaeological finds. Yet, this makes 300: Rise of an Empire ever the more ridiculous.)

Themistocles killed King Darius at the Battle of Marathon. (King Darius probably wasn’t at Marathon but died well after that of completely natural causes {such as a long illness} four years later.)

Themistocles killed Artemisia during the Battle of Salamis. (She survived the battle and ended up as a trusted adviser to Xerxes, even caring for his illegitimate children. Also, Themistocles ended up joining the Persians, though only after he was exiled to Argos and implicated in a plot with Pausanias by Spartans who didn’t like him. The Persians were the only entity who would take him. So it wasn’t like he betrayed the Greeks, rather the Greeks betrayed him.)

Artemisia and Themistocles shared a moment of unbridled passion. (Contrary to 300: Rise of an Empire, this never happened for Artemisia knew better than to fool around with any man, let alone a Greek.)

Xerxes tried to dissuade Artemisia from pursuing the Greeks during the Battle of Salamis. (Contrary to 300: Rise of an Empire, she advised him against the battle arguing that it was a bad idea to engage the Greeks at sea and was the only one of his allies to do so. Nevertheless, though Xerxes respected her advice, he decided to go through with the naval assault anyway. Thus, it was the other way around. Of course, she was right.)

Artemisia was the Persian naval commander during the Battles of Artemisium and Salamis. (Contrary to 300: Rise of an Empire, she was only a Persian naval commander during the battles. In fact, all the authority she had just consisted of 5 ships she contributed to the Persian force. And she would never be able to command those ships if she wasn’t a queen to begin with.)

Darius invaded Athens because he was annoyed by Greek freedom. (Darius more likely just wanted to add more land to empire and that he was getting sick of the Athenian sponsored revolts in his hometown. Also, Persians didn’t have slaves, unlike the Greeks who did.)

Xerxes burned Athens to the ground. (Contrary to 300: Rise of an Empire, he had no reason to destroy a city of significant strategic value. Many historians have theorized this is just plain Greek propaganda while Herodotus said this was a Persian objective and Xerxes withdrew from the city shortly afterwards. Thus, it’s highly disputed.)

Queen Artemisia was psychotic. (She was just the queen of one of Xerxes’ satraps {provinces} who just happen to take his side during the Greco-Persian Wars. Also, she was even praised by Herodotus for her decisiveness and intelligence despite being Persian and a woman. Of course, he was also from Halicarnassus and she was a legend in his hometown that was ruled by Artemisia’s grandson {where he’d later be exiled}.)

Persian galleys were rowed by slaves. (Ancient Persia didn’t have any slaves.)

The Persians burned every enemy city they encountered. (With the possible exception of Athens, they didn’t. Rather they viewed cities as future vassals to their empire.)

Artemisia’s family was murdered by Greek hopilites and she was held as a sex slave on a Greek ship. (Contrary to 300: Rise of an Empire, she was a princess and was never held as a sex slave. She was queen of Halicarnassus as well as a mother and regent to a young son. Oh, and did I say that her mother was from Crete?)

Old Testament Times:

The Philistines were an uncivilized and an uncultured people. (They may have been the Hebrew enemies in the Bible but they weren’t uncultured by any means and it’s even said in the Bible.)

Jacob had sons by several different women. (The Bible explicitly said he had sons by 4 women with 6 by Leah, 2 by Rachel, 2 by Billah, and 2 by Zilphah. Of course, Rachel was dead by the time Joseph received his coat while Jacob’s other sons needed dance partners in the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. Jacob also had a daughter named Dinah, too. Of course, he should’ve known that his older brothers had wives and concubines.)

Judaism was always monotheistic. (Yes, the early Jews worshiped Yahweh but they had other minor deities until the Babylonian captivity. Also, the Bible does mention that idol worship was prevalent around the time of David, Solomon, and their successors.)

Uriah was a complete asshole who abused his wife. (The Bible says that King David was the bigger asshole since he knocked up the guy’s wife, tried to get Uriah to go home in order to pass him as the kid’s father {which didn’t work}, and had him sent to the front lines where he’d surely be killed. Uriah, on the other hand, was a nice guy as well as very loyal to his king only to be screwed in the process. Not to mention, David also got a lot of other guys killed in the process who basically had nothing to do with the whole Bathsheba thing.)

Early Passover was celebrated in the seder style. (This style wasn’t celebrated until the later rabbinic tradition which was around the time of the Roman Empire. Before then, the typical Passover tradition was sacrificing a lamb.)

Delilah actually loved Samson even though she gave him the haircut of betrayal. (According to the Bible, it’s unclear whether she had any genuine feelings for him.)

Moses wrote the Torah. (Though 4 of the five Torah books are about Moses, it’s more likely they were written at least during the reign of Solomon or the Babylonian captivity.)

Carrying the Ark of the Covenant would make an army invincible. (Let’s just say the Bible says that every time the Hebrews carried it into battle, they were soundly defeated and lost the ark as well without God’s specific direction to do so. The Hebrews were probably glad to get rid of it to get the Lord to stop smiting them.)

Delilah was sent by the Philistines to seduce Samson and deceive him. (According to the Bible, she was already in a relationship with him when the Philistines approached her. Hollywood just can’t miss an opportunity of a good femme fatale love story.)

Joseph received a multi colored coat from his dad Jacob. (Actually, the chances of Joseph having a technicolor dream coat would’ve been unlikely. He probably just received a very fancy coat.)

Nathan slut shamed Bathsheba for committing adultery with King David. (Unlike what David and Bathsheba implies, the Bible doesn’t really say that Bathsheba received any divine punishment whatsoever {or at least any that wasn’t meant for David like her son dying in infancy}. Hell, the next thing we hear about her after the whole thing was that she became the mother of Solomon and later helps secure his succession. And in the Bible, Nathan doesn’t slut shame her or call her out for infidelity. This is because since David is her sovereign king, her husband’s boss, and wanted to sleep with her, Bathsheba was in absolutely no position to refuse. It didn’t matter how she felt about David or whether she was willing or not. If she refused, it might’ve meant prison or death. Or it might’ve meant prison or death for Uriah, too. Any woman in her situation would’ve done the same thing regardless of marital status. Thus, since Bathsheba couldn’t freely consent to adultery, she was not held responsible. Besides, the Bible clearly shows that whole Bathsheba incident was all David’s fault.)

Ancient Mesopotamia and the Near East:

The Akkadians had blood feuds with the Vikings before the pyramids were built. (Of course, you know that this isn’t true when I mention Vikings, especially around 5000 B. C. E.)

Iron swords were available around 5000 B. C. E. (The Iron Age didn’t begin until about 1000 B. C. E.)

Greek warlords regularly commandeered Babylonian forces. (They most likely didn’t though the Babylonians did have a warrior culture in what is now Iraq.)

The Akkadians were a race of deadly assassins. (For God’s sake, they were just people of Akkad known for amassing an empire in the Fertile Crescent created by a ruler named Sargon and his dynasty.)

Memnon was a Greek general. (We’re not sure if this guy ever existed, wherever he’s from.)

Magic black powder was used in the Middle East around 5000 B. C. E. (For God’s sake, why is that in a movie?)

The Scorpion King was a Mesopotamian ruler from 5000 B. C. E.  or an Egyptian ruler around 3000 B. C. E. (There was a real Scorpion king but he was Egyptian who preceded the Pharaoh Menes and lived around 3100 B. C. E. Still, we don’t know much about him.)

The Hittites worshiped Gozer. (Contrary to Ghostbusters, Gozer doesn’t appear on the Hittite deity lists so it’s uncertain.)

The Babylonians had elephant statues. (Elephants aren’t indigenous to the Middle East and it’s unlikely anyone from Babylon ever saw one. Also, refer to Jesus saying about how easier it was for a camel to pass through the eye of an needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. The camel was the biggest animal anyone in the the ancient Near East anyone would’ve seen.)

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