Mosaic in Coptic Cairo portraying pyramids in the background of the flight to Egypt Bill and Kate Cummings
Mosaic in Coptic Cairo portraying pyramids in the background of the flight to Egypt
Bill and Kate Cummings
Our 14-day trip to Egypt started in Cairo, then took us to Upper (southern) Egypt. After sailing north from Aswan, we stopped at sites along the Nile before returning to Cairo. As the trip unfolded, each day provided far more than we anticipated, and each day since our return is highlighted by some recollection of the experience.
During the trip we were well-received by the people. When we visited the historic sites, the guards would offer a warm welcome upon learning that we were American. Tourism is Egypt’s main source of income, with most tourists coming from Spain, Italy, France and Great Britain. Locals aggressively peddled their souvenirs to any tourist, regardless of nationality, but for the most part we felt quite secure. The explanation for the military, the armed guards aboard the boat as we sailed the Nile, and the armed escorts present every time we took a bus was, “They are not here to protect you; they are here to protect tourism.”
When we visited the Nile temples, we were surprised to see the numerous statues and reliefs that were defaced. For thousands of years, people have left their mark on these temples and all for different reasons. Early on, certain pharaohs and their followers would damage depictions of their predecessors, symbolizing death in the afterlife. In the days of temple worship, some defacing resulted from deep grooves carved into the walls and columns by the common people who were not permitted to enter the temples. While gathered around the perimeter, they would repeatedly gouge the surfaces to scrape minute amounts of dust from the structures. This material was then mixed with resin to form amulets. Years later, Christians would make a statement against the pagan practices by ruining the imagery in the temples and carving crosses in conspicuous locations. Occult worshipers would obliterate depictions of animals that they feared through their superstitious beliefs (owls seemed to be frequently targeted). In more modern times, several sites served as housing for the military and today display the names of soldiers, dates of campaigns, and indentations where the structures were used for target practice.
But not all defacing has proved to be negative. During the reign of Emperor Diocletian (AD 284-305) Luxor Temple was incorporated into a Roman legionary fortress. Frescoes showing emperors, their courts and military scenes were painted high on a chamber wall. Rather than destroying the original walls built by pharaohs more than 1,300 years before Christ and the reliefs they contained, the Romans plastered over them and painted on the altered surface. This protected the original section from exposure to the elements. For the past year, these Roman paintings have been on display for visitors and the ancient reliefs remain hidden.
Prompted by a mosaic panel in Coptic Cairo, I tried to recall any illustrations I had seen of the holy family’s flight to Egypt (Matt. 2:13-15) in which the artist had included the pyramids. History placed the pyramids in Giza about 2,000 years prior to the visit by Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Looking for the “flight to Egypt” art, I found that several artists did include the pyramids.
Cairo is known as the city of 1,000 minarets. Whether in a city, in the country or on the Nile, there was rarely a view that didn’t include a mosque. Consequently, there were few occasions that one could not hear the wail of calls to prayer, broadcasted through amplifiers from each minaret. These calls to prayer come five times a day, commencing at sunrise and concluding at 9:00 in the evening.
I couldn’t help but compare this daily, overt expression of faith to our society’s ongoing attempts to silence the message of Christianity. Over the years there have been increased efforts to remove the ten commandments from public view, ban the nativity scene from public locations, silence church bells to avoid noise pollution, limit the height of church steeples to prevent unsightly skylines, eliminate prayer in the name of Christ, and remove the phrase “In God we trust” from our currency. I find it shameful that Allah can be so accepted, tolerated and revered in one country, while the true Savior is routinely debased in another. I can only find solace in knowing that He is in control, regardless of any effort to thwart Christianity.
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