Excavation at the site of the funerary garden. (Photo Credit: Ed Giles/Getty Images)

For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. – Deuteronomy 11:10 (ESV)

Archaeologists have long believed that funerary gardens were important to the Egyptian people. These gardens are written about and depicted in inscriptions found at the entrances of tombs and on tomb walls. However, archaeologists hadn’t found any physical evidence of a garden. That is until last week when researchers from The Djehuty Project, led by research professor José Manuel Galán, from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), announced they have found a funerary garden on the Dra Abu el-Naga hill in Luxor, Egypt.

Becoming familiar with the customs and lifestyles of ancient Egypt is not only a fascinating study, it can also provide greater context and insight into the biblical period when the Israelites were in Egypt before the Exodus. In this case, the new discovery may actually give greater context to an ancient inscription recently deciphered by Dr. Douglas Petrovich, which may actually reference Asenath, the wife of Joseph and the mother of Manasseh and Ephraim (more on that below).

And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt. – Genesis 41:45 (ESV)

(photo credit: CSIC)

Researchers involved with the excavation hope the discovery of this funerary garden will help shed light on the distinctive period of time when it is thought that Thebes (now Luxor) became the capital of the unified kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt about 4,000 years ago. The funerary garden has been dated to the Middle Kingdom’s 12th Dynasty, which began around 2,000 BC according to conventional dating. It is believed that the Egyptian people began to keep household gardens, so it is not surprising that there was a desire to keep these items close for the afterlife.

José Manuel Galán shared that, “The plants grown there would have had a symbolic meaning and may have played a role in funerary rituals. Therefore, the garden will also provide information about religious beliefs and practices as well as the culture and society at the time of the 12th Dynasty when Thebes became the capital of the unified kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt for the first time. We know that palm, sycamore and Persea trees were associated with the deceased’s power of resurrection. Similarly, plants such as the lettuce had connotations with fertility and therefore a return to life. Now we must wait to see what plants we can identify by analyzing the seeds we have collected. It is a spectacular and quite unique find which opens up multiple avenues of research”.

The garden is raised and split into a grid of 30-square-centimeter beds, arranged with five or seven per row. It has an additional set of beds at the center, with two that are raised higher than the rest. It is thought that shrubs or trees would have been planted here. Eurasia Review reports that, “According to experts, these small beds may have contained different types of plants and flowers…In one corner, the researchers recovered a still upright tamarisk shrub complete with its roots and 30 cm-long trunk, beside which was a bowl containing dates and other fruit which may have been given as an offering.”

(photo credit: CSIC)

Recreation of the funerary garden of what it may have looked like. (photo credit: CSIC)

The small garden was found in a courtyard at the entrance of a Middle Kingdom rock-cut tomb, and measures just 3 meters x 2m (9.8 feet by 6.5). The tomb is dated later than the garden. Attached to the facade of the tomb, which the garden is related to for the time being, a small mud-brick chapel (46cm high x 70cm wide x 55cm deep) with three stelae, or stone tombstones, in its interior was also uncovered.

These memorial markers are dated later than the tomb and the garden, coming from the 13th Dynasty, around the year 1800 BC (conventional dating). One of them belongs to Renef-seneb, and the other to “the soldier (“citizen”) Khememi, the son of the lady of the house, Satidenu.” On each, reference is made to Montu, a local god from ancient Thebes, and to the funerary gods Ptah, Sokar and Osiris.

These finds dating from various times show that this area was sacred for a wide range of worship activities during the Middle Kingdom. According to the researchers, this helps us to understand the high density of tombs in later times as well as the religious symbolism that is found in this area of the necropolis.

Now before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him. Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” He named the second Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” – Genesis 41:50-52 (ESV)

The finds are uncannily reminiscent of one of the inscriptions Dr. Douglas Petrovich has uncovered relating to his proposal that the world’s oldest alphabet was actually an early form of Hebrew. As covered in a previous Thinker Update, this provocative and controversial body of evidence includes an inscription from the early 13th Dynasty using the earliest form of alphabetic script (catalogued as Sinai 376) that Petrovich interprets as saying the following:

“The house of the vineyard of Asenath and its innermost room were engraved, they have come to life.”

The date for Joseph and Asenath according to the evidence highlighted in the film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus was late 12th Dynasty; the same general period as the recent finds near Luxor. It is unknown if Asenath was still living at the time of the inscription mentioning her vineyard or garden. Could the “house” the inscription mentions be the memorial chapel of her funerary garden, complete with an innermost room that was beautified to honor this famous women? The same three words used for “house”, “innermost room”, and “engraved” are used in 1 Kings chapter 8 where it talks about King Solomon’s construction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

We will continue to explore these and other questions in our search for patterns of evidence that match the events recorded in the Bible.