Top portion of statue believed to be Ramses II, found in Cairo slum. (Image credits: Xinhua/ Rex)

Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. – Exodus 1:11 (ESV)

Just last week a massive quartzite statue of what is likely the Egyptian ruler, Ramesses II was discovered in the modern city of Cairo, which was built over the ancient city of Heliopolis. The surprising discovery was made by archaeologists from Egypt and Germany. The dig had begun in 2012 and was almost finished. They thought the pit would be empty, but instead an amazing discovery was made!

Artifacts found by amazed locals. (Image credits: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/ Reuters)

According to Dietrich Raue from the University of Leipzig, who heads the German team involved in the excavation, although the statue was certainly placed there by Ramsses II, there is still debate on who it depicts. Dr. Ayman Ashmawy, head of the Egyptian team says, “Its [head of statue] discovery in front of the gate of the temple of Pharaoh Ramses II suggests that it is likely him.”

According to National Geographic the statue was found submerged in the ground-water of a working class neighborhood. Khaled al-Anani, Egypt’s antiquities minister, told Reuters, “We found the bust of the statue and the lower part of the head and now we removed the head and we found the crown and the right ear and a fragment of the right eye.”

(Image credits: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/ Reuters)

(Credit: Ibrahim Ramadan, Anadolu Agency, Getty Images)

The surviving pieces of the 26 foot statue have so far not included an inscription bearing the name of Ramesses. Another smaller limestone statue was also found of Pharaoh Seti II; the grandson of Ramesses II. However the remains were discovered close to the remains of a temple that was devoted to him and therefore some suggest that it most likely carved in his likeness. Most of the temple complex was destroyed in the Greco-Roman period. CNN reports that, “Antiquities were plundered and sent to Alexandria or Europe. Other building materials were recycled as Cairo reinvented itself in later eras.”

(Image credits: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)

(Image credits: Khaled Elfiqi/ EPA)

(Image credits: AFP)

In addition to the head, archaeologists removed the larger torso piece and believe that the hips and legs are also nearby. However, Raue states that if the they are close to the houses, they will not be able to retrieve it, since it would be too dangerous. Once pieces are excavated, it is hoped that enough pieces will be recovered for the statue to be restored and placed at the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, which is opening in 2018. Researchers believe that there a lot more ancient remains hidden under the soil in the area of Cairo that is now covered with residential buildings.

(Image credits: Xinhua/ Rex)

(Image credits: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)

National Geographic reminds that, “In 2006, archaeologists discovered one of the largest sun temples in Cairo under a marketplace. It was found to house a number of statues of Ramesses II weighing as much as five tons. One such statue depicted the pharaoh seated and wearing a leopard’s skin, indicating that he might have served as a high priest of Re when the temple was built.” Ramesses worshipped the sun god Re and the city of Heliopolis is so named for the Egyptian sun god.

(Image credits: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/ Reuters)

This find brings to mind the sonnet titled Ozymandias by British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy wrote Ozymandias (which was a Greek name for Ramesses II) in 1818 after it was announced that the British Museum had acquired the now famous head and bust of another Ramesses statue.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said — “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! ‘
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

(Citation: Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias” in Miscellaneous and Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (London: W. Benbow, 1826), 100)

The massive statue found in Cairo also relates to the search for evidence of events recorded in the Bible. Ramesses II is often cited as the leading candidate for the pharaoh of the Exodus. This Ramesses Exodus Theory is largely based on a deduction from a single verse in the Bible (Exodus 1:11 shown at the top of this article), which names ones of the cities built by the Israelite slaves as Ramses (or Raamses). Since Ramesses II built a huge capital city for himself named Ramesses, and no other cities named Ramesses are known, most scholars date the Exodus to the middle of Ramesses’ reign, which under conventional dating was about 1279-1213 BC.

However, there are major problems with this thinking. Chronological information from the Bible points to an Exodus date at least 200 years before Ramesses II.

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the LORD. (1 Kings 6:1)

While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, 300 years, why did you not deliver them within that time? (Judges 11:26)

The verse in 1 Kings would put the Exodus back into the 1400s BC, since many date Solomon’s reign to 970-930 BC (others about 45 years earlier). The verse in Judges puts the Israelites in the land of Canaan for about 300 years at the time of the judge Jephthah, one of Israel’s last judges who lived well over a hundred year before Solomon. When the 40 years of wilderness wanderings are added, it supports the timeframe recorded in 1 Kings 6:1. Other chronological data in the Bible, such as genealogies, also support the timing recorded in 1Kings and argue against a 1250 BC date.

Statues such as the the one recently recovered point to another problem with the Ramesses Exodus Theory. Khaled al-Anani, Egypt’s antiquities minister called Ramesses, “The most powerful and celebrated ruler of ancient Egypt …His successors called him the ‘Great Ancestor.’” According to the Bible, the pharaoh of the Exodus reigned at a time when God sent a terrible judgment on Egypt with the devastation of the Ten Plagues, the loss of their slave force on which the economy depended, and the destruction of what was left of the Egyptian army at the miraculous sea crossing. Egyptian society would have collapsed. Not only are there no signs of any big troubles during the reign of Ramesses II, his was a time of peak power in Egypt.

A statue of Ramesses II in the Cairo Museum.

Ramesses lived a long life and made more statues of himself than any other pharaoh in history. He ruled a vast empire that included Canaan, which also shows no sign of an Israelite conquest of major cities, either in his time or in the decades that followed. As seen in the film and book Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, excavations of the city of Ramesses show no sign of a massive semitic population there. This is the source of the near-universal skepticism about the Exodus account in academia – No Israelites, No calamities, No Conquest of Canaan. In fact when comparing the Bible to the reign of Ramesses, there are at least twenty different factors in the history and archaeology that show he does not fit as the pharaoh of the Exodus.

Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. – Genesis 47:11 (ESV)

However, buried beneath the location of Ramesses is another city, a city several centuries older that was filled with a huge Semitic population and that had a history that matches every step of the Bible’s Exodus story. This appears to be the true setting of the Exodus account, revealing that the Ramesses Exodus Theory may have been the thing preventing recognition of the actual evidence all along.