Jesus, Last of the Pharaohs
by Ralph Ellis
(Birmingham, UL, Edfu books, revised Second Edition, 1999)
a Review by Daniel Kolos
It took me some convincing to even look at this title, mostly because of it anachronic title: Jesus was born when Roman emperors called themselves Pharaohs of Egypt.
Fortunately I have read enough books where several good ideas spawned a completely incomprehensible theory and once I recognizes those ideas I was able to say ‘it was worth reading that book.’
Ralph Ellis’s “Jesus, Last of the Pharaohs’ is one of these incomprehensible books written around several ‘good ideas’.
Ellis, unfortunately, makes some terrible factual errors that diminish whatever credibility he had hoped to establish. On page 14, for example, Ellis wrongly identifies the Hyksos capital city of Avaris with Tanis/Zoan. That means he has not read any Egyptian history books since1980. He writes, “Little archaeological evidence of the Hyksos kingdom has been found.” He should have written, “I have done little archaeological research on the Hyksos kingdom….” The Austrian Egyptologist, Manfred Bietak has been digging Avaris (Tel el Daba) since the 1970s and has published extensively on it in both German and English.
Treating ‘Egyptology’ as a person (“Egyptology simply states that…. p. 18), a common failing among those who have a dualistic ‘us vs. them’ attitude, Ellis rightly assigns Yakobaam to the Hyksos, but fails to show that the roots of Abraham go back to Ebla and Mari in Mesopotamia. Rather, he argues that Abraham was more likely a Hyksos, or northern Egyptian pharaoh. (p. 27) By page 73 Abraham is touted as the first Hyksos pharaoh!
On page 33 Ellis claims “there are Egyptian records inscribed on clay tablets.” There are Egyptian records written on Papyrus, carved into stone or even wood, but clay tablets are the products of Mesopotamia, not of Egypt. the best known set of clay tablets are the foreign correspondence sent to Amenhotep III and Akhenaten by Asian kings, known as the Amarna Tablets.
Stretching possibilities is also among Ellis’ failings. He tries to convince himself that the Egyptian throne name, Aasehre (aa-seh-re) becomes the Biblical name Terah. How does he get from there to here? With liberties taken because “Egyptologists are uncertain of the exact pronunciation here.” (p. 33).
Another stretch of imaginative speculation comes on the heels of the last one, where Ellis takes the Egyptian name of the Orion constellation, ‘sah’ or ‘sahu’, and builds a linguistic chain that includes, ‘shah’ ‘sri’, ‘tsar’, ‘caesar’ and the English ‘sir’. Of course, Ellis is English and the English pronunciation of ‘sir’ would sound like ‘sah’ – not exactly a scientific argument!
Other Egyptian words that have come down in history into modern English (but not other languages!) according to Ellis are:
mery (beloved) is now ‘merry’
neb (gold, lord, all) is now ‘nob’ as in noble
djesret (red, red sand) is now ‘desert’
Apophis (the serpent deity that attacks the sun at night) is now ‘Pope’
Time and again, as he shows which Egyptian name corresponds to a Hebrew name from the Torah, Ellis reiterates that “this is not a case of making the names fit.” (p. 38) but then on Page 47 he tries to fit Zaphenath Paneah into Sobemsaf because, Ellis writes, these two names ‘sound similar! On pages 74-75 Ellis claims that “Amenemhet seems to have some similarities with Arphaxad. I fully expect that in another chapter the two will be treated as one and the same.
On a more scholarly matter, Ellis looks at royal names from the last Egyptian historian, Manetho, and makes an attempt to assign them to known male rulers of the late 18th dynasty, forgetting that both Nefertiti and Merytaten may have functioned as fully empowered ‘kings’ following the death of Akhenaten.
OK, so Ellis is a biased researcher and flails in the darkness as far as Egyptology is concerned. But he has several good ideas.
One of his good ideas is that the precessional change from the Age of Taurus to the Age of Aries divided Egypt and caused a theological rift. There are three ancient bull worshipping centers in Egypt, and three Ram-headed divinities butt into history just about 2000 BC. The three bulls are the Mnevis, Apis, and Buchis bulls, using the Greek names assigned to them. These bull cults did not die with the arrival of the ram cults, but often took a minor or less dominant role. The new ram deities were Amun, Khnum and … .
The underlying assumption in this idea is that human beings are subject to the subtle energy changes caused by precessional movement. Since human being are generally sensitive to every kind of energy fluctuation, both gross and subtle, I have no problem acknowledging the possibility that precession of the equinoxes affects our collective unconscious. I see this sensitivity in the establishment and growth of Christianity around the Mediterranean basin two thousand years ago, and sense it now as the Age of Aquarius slowly moves into the Vernal equinox position and people are looking for new direction.
A second good idea Ellis floats in this book is the possibility that the massive volcanic eruption at Santorini-Thera may have occurred as the effectively seen arrival of the Aries constellation at the Spring Equinox, and the worshippers of the old religions would have accused the new ram-worshippers of having angered the gods and caused that enormous explosion. And he sees in that division the reason for the Exodus.
Of course, Ellis does not consider the reverse possibility, that the proponents of the new religion could equally well accuse those hanging on to the old bull cults of angering the gods because they are not willing to embrace the new ones.
Even more clever, Ellis cuts through a hundred years of futile speculation as to who the Hyksos were, and calls a spade a spade: the fact that they were called the ‘shepherd kings’ means that they were ram-worshippers. Knowing the biblical background of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whose wealth rested almost entirely on their vast flocks of sheep, it is not difficult to imagine the Hyksos using a sheep-flock as the base of their own wealth and worshiping the ram as deity.
There are two problems with these ideas, good as these seem to be. First, there is no trace in Egypt of any animosity between bull and ram worshippers. Secondly, Ellis makes another mind-boggling mistake that undermines his entire book: He calls the Hyksos ram-worshippers and the Theban rulers of the fledgling 18th dynasty bull worshippers. (p. 83) Nothing could be further to the historical record: the Hyksos worshipped Seth and Apophis, while the Theban kings worshiped the ram-headed god, Amun. However, there was bull-worship in both Upper and Lower Egypt, see Note 2, below.
The underlying argument, therefore, is flawed. The fact that some of the building blocks of Ellis’ arguments continue to be good hardly saves the book. One of these good blocks is the expose on the exodus. The Hebrews slew the firstborn of the Egyptians and looted their Egyptian neighbors. ‘Neighbors’ might be the key word here, because the Memphite rulers worshipped the Apis Bull, sacred to Ptah.
Ellis claims that the Hyksos received support from somewhere in the South of Egypt. If the Hyksos were really Ram-worshippers, then they would expect help from the Amun worshippers. But it was the Theban King, an Amun worshipper, who eventually defeated the Hyksos and drove them out of Egypt. So Ellis picks up the possibility that the war between the Hyksos kings and the Theban rulers may have been theologically inspired, a civil war between the North and the South, but he has misinterpreted the deities behind this struggle.
On page 87 Ellis makes two anachronistic comments. He claims that the Hyksos looted Egypt ‘for every last coin. The looting comes from the Exodus reference that the Hebrews took things from their neighbors, and he superimposed that biblical comment onto the Hyksos. The ‘coin’ reference may be just a ‘saying’, but there were not coins in Egypt, or, for that matter, anywhere in the world. The second reference is the bad anachronistic pun on the Hyksos capital, Avaris to the much later English word, avarice, which has Latin roots: ‘avarus’ is greed, and ‘avare’ is a wish.
Superimposing Biblical ‘history’ on Egypt presents numerous problems. For example Ellis has Jacob choosing the One god, “and intangible, unnameable(sic), unknowable entity, with no visible countenance that could be copied and worshipped. It was, in essence, the power behind the Sun….” (p. 89)
The ‘intangible’ entity whom only the king could know was actually brought to Egypt by Akhenaten. And the unknowable, hidden god has been Amun, the god of the Upper Egyptians before he was associated with Min as Amun-Min, and then with Ra as Amun-Ra.
Where Ellis picks up on the changes likely brought by the precessional movement, he fails to notice the blossoming of abstract logical thinking that is becoming dominant among Egyptian priests and scribes and how cleverly they conflate the unseen of Amun with the intangible of Aten and create the God of the Hebrews! Yet the Amun version of this deity is still with us, brought by Judaism and Christianity and ends every prayer: Amen!
Another brilliant association Ellis makes is calling Joseph’s many colored coat a ‘priestly stole’. (p. 91) That multicolored allusion can also reflect a multiple personality or multiple talent, the latter of which Joseph seemed to have been endowed with.
Again, Ellis brings a name from Josephus forward and cleverly uses it to associate the Hebrews with Heliopolis when he notes that the Hebrew priest, Onias, has the ‘On’ element in it, the biblical name of Heliopolis, and the sound the ancient Egyptian name Iunu likely had become.
Ellis continues mixing rather dubious history with brilliant insights! He hints that the biblical story of Joseph being sold into slavery and delivered as a slave to Potiphar’s household is a ‘cover’ story for a prince of a suppressed bloodline reaching the royal court, enlisting Potiphar’s aid as an ally and becoming Vizier in the process, biding his and his bloodline’s time until their line would become kings.
Next, Ellis notes that in Genesis 50:2-3, Jacob is embalmed in 40 days and mourned for another 30 before being buried in the fashion of the Egyptians. Ellis calls upon us to see the obvious, that this happened because Jacob and his progeny were Egyptians.
Unfortunately, Ellis trips on his own cleverness in Chapter 5 where he attributes Rachel’s barrenness to her young age. Whereas he is essentially right in thinking that marriages in ancient Egypt were often concluded with pre-pubescent girls, as they often were even in Europe until little over a hundred years ago, he fails to take into consideration the twice seven years Jacob had to work in order to win Rachel as his wife. It seems that Ellis should have looked for another meaning for ‘twice seven’
Next Ellis tackles the ‘problem’ of who were the ‘lepers’ who were expelled from Egypt in a quotation of Manetho by Josephus. Josephus accuses Manetho for calling the Jewish Exodus an exodus of lepers from Egypt. Ellis attributes this name-calling on the theological dispute between the Upper and Lower Egyptians that arose with the beginning of the Age of Aries.
Historical distortion is a difficult task to identify, but Ellis bravely goes where others fear to thread and states that Amenhotep III was the son of Amenhotep II. In this process, he fails to consider the role of Thutmose IV who is traditionally known as the father of Amenhotep III. Ellis is also stuck on the concept of Egyptian kingship being strictly matrilineal, a concept that has been thrown out by decades of scholarly research.
By holding on to this matrilineal concept, Ellis tries to show that Tiye, wife of Amenhotep III, was not a commoner as Egyptologists claim she was, but secretly the matriarch of the ‘other’ bloodline, the line of Jacob and Joseph! How convenient!
Just as I am making snide allusions to Ellis’ incompetence, he, in turn makes similar allusions to scholars who “cannot make the next logical deduction – that Moses was Thutmoses.” The Thutmose Ellis refers to is the firstborn of Amenhotep III, who essentially disappeared after a short career as the favorite son, raised to the position of High Priest of Ptah in Memphis, and made way for prince Amenhotep to gain kingship and eventually become Akhenaten.
Then Ellis makes another of his incredible statements that “Aaron… is a very similar appellation” to Akhenaten, and a paragraph later Ellis has already fused their identity. (p. 117)
Ellis then nearly comes to another brilliant deduction when he writes, “…the only changes the scribes made to the texts* is to blame some of the calamities (of the ten plagues) on a generic term ‘pharaoh’.” Ellis calls this use of ‘pharaoh’ an ‘obfuscation (p. 119) but in the process he completely misses the point that this title was first used by Akhenaten and only after his reign does it become a regular replacement for ‘king’. There were no “Pharaohs” before Akhenaten!
Ellis continues to unravel his purpose that Jesus comes from the bloodline of legitimate Egyptian kings, and, as the King of the Jews he was actually the King of Egypt.
There are simply too many mistakes and too many marriages of disparate facts to take this book seriously. It is nevertheless a good read to see how selective and carefully sanitized information (information taken out of historical context and given new ones) can be used to build a bridge between historical characters. whether or not that bridge can stand on its own, each reader will have to judge anew.
1. on the use of the word ‘pharaoh’
“In 1822, according to Louis-Philippe de Ségur in Histoire Universelle [page 38 (pdf 40)], pharaoh was the common name, not the title, of the Hyksos kings. Here again we have a biblical context, the writer was mentioning Abraham.”
2. On Upper Egypt being ruled by Bull worshippers:
Gustave JEQUIER 1946 Considérations sur les Religions
page 91 :
"Le signe aoun sert à écrire non seulement le nom d'Héliopolis,
mais aussi celui de trois autres villes, Erment, Denderah et Esné. Pour la
première de ces localités, l'explication est aisée, puisqu'elle est nommée
souvent Héliopolis du Sud (2), qu'elle pourrait être ainsi une colonie très
ancienne de la grande métropole religieuse du Delta, et que de plus il doit
y avoir une certaine parenté entre les taureaux sacrés des deux villes,
Mnévis et Boukhis. Esné, aux basses époques, est aussi parfois qualifiée
d'Héliopolis du Sud (3). Quant à Denderah (4), les raisons de cette
homonymie nous échappent, à moins qu'il ne faille la mettre sur le compte de
relations possibles entre le culte de la vache céleste et celui du grand
2 sethe, Urgeschichte, § 146
3 Ibïd., § 142.
4 Elle porte ce nom déjà dans les textes des pyramides, § 1066.
5 Voir à ce sujet les suggestions de capart, dans la Chronique d'Egypte, n°
38, p. 222 sqq.