Egypt: A Wonderful Encounter in Luxor

One year has passed since my trip in Egypt (January 2009). I still vividly remember my encounter with this hospitable youth in Luxor. The story I am going to tell is about how I overcame my suspicion and built trust with a stranger.

1st Encounter

That morning I was occupied with the visits to the Valley of the Kings and the Funerary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Then I took a colorful local boat to the east bank where the magnificent Temples of Luxor and Karnak were located. [Note: For more about my tour in Egypt, feel free to read “An Adventure in the Land of the Pharaohs.”]After the bustling morning, I returned to my hotel. Restless, I decided to explore the Mummification Museum and the Luxor Museum situated in the downtown area. Two Egyptian drivers promised to take me to the Mummification Museum in exchange for a small fee. Happily, I jumped on their pony-drawn cart. And off we went! Well, in the middle of the journey, they informed me that they would change the rate and I had to pay more. Of course, I refused to accept this decision and threatened to jump off the cart. I was so ready to jump off the running cart that they were frightened and decided not to change the rate. Hastily, they dropped me off in the middle of nowhere and told me that the Mummification Museum was nearby. I gave them the amount of money that had been agreed upon. They disappeared in the blink of an eye.

The cart drivers who kind of lied to me...

The cart drivers who lied to me… 😦

No tourists or museums were in sight. Filled with anger and fear, I stood in the middle of the unfamiliar square, flipped through my Lonely Planet, and tried to find my way out. The locals passing by stared strangely at me. At that very moment, one young man appeared. Smiling under the bright sun, he tried to introduce me to a nearby hotel owned by “his brother” (I was pretty sure that he earned commissions by recommending tourists to that hotel). Given what I had just been through, it was really a wrong time for him to sell me anything. I angrily refused him and said: “I only want to go to the Mummification Museum.” I must have seemed quite desperate, and he must have taken pity on me, as he did end up leading me through some winding paths to get to the Mummification Museum (I initially thought that he would just point me in the right direction and leave me alone to find my way out).I was so relieved when he finally brought me back onto the main road along the Nile. Even more surprising was that he didn’t ask for baksheesh (a tip) in return (if you’ve been to Egypt, you know how some Egyptians are so into baksheesh). I thanked him briefly and that was when I caught the sight of his dimples when he smiled. Then it dawned on me that he, despite my ostensible anger and suspicion, had been very friendly and helpful along the way. A sudden guilt arose in me. But I decided that it did not matter as I thought that I would not see him again. So I just said goodbye to him (in a nicer tone this time). This was our first goodbye…

2nd Encounter

At the entrance of the Mummification Museum, the guards told me that the museum was having an afternoon break and would not be open until 4pm. To pass the time, I decided to walk slowly along the Nile to another Museum – the Luxor Museum. To my disappointment, the Luxor Museum was also closed until 4pm. When I turned around, I saw that youth again, standing opposite to me, across the road. “What a coincidence!” I thought and tried to find a public seat near the museum so that I could wait until the Museum opened. The seat was on the main road and there were several tourists around so I thought that it was quite safe. He also chose a seat near me and sat down. Then he attempted to strike a conversation with me. Having nothing to do but to wait for the museum to reopen, I replied to his questions. He looked 17 to 19 to me (even though he claimed to be 23). He spoke in broken English (which I could understand a fair bit). I spoke no Arabic at all. We communicated in English with a lot of hand gestures and facial expressions. Somehow, we could understand each other and it was fun!In the middle of our conversation, he said: “Let’s walk around”. I immediately became alarmed and curious if he would follow the footsteps of some Egyptian tour guides who led me to the shops or the hotels that sell merchandise I did not need or want. “No, I have no money, I don’t buy things,” I told him bluntly. “No money, no buy, just walk. I show you the city,” he waved his hands in denial, earnestly. “I have to wait for the museum to open,” I told him. He promised me that he would bring me back to the museum.  “It is not far,” he said. My curiosity about the part of the city he was going to show me arose (Curiosity can be dangerous but I always fail to suppress my curiosity when I travel). Having struggled in my mind, I finally gave in. Anyway, I had nothing to do at that moment. There was no harm following him. He led me to the area where the locals of Luxor lived. Along the way, I started to see Luxor from a different perspective. On the streets, there were women dressed in traditional clothes holding baggages upon their heads, old men sitting in front of the shops, and little children playing around or running under the sun. The whole streets were made even more lively and crowded by the horses, donkeys, ponies, and chickens with their excrements around the corners of the buildings. When we passed by, the people — whether adults or little children — all waved and smiled warmly at me. They treated me like a friend; that, I guess, was because I was with a local then.The boy invited me to his home. His mom welcomed me warmly by offering me hot tea. Suddenly many little children came running to his home to look at me and to say hello to me. They were all very cute and I took pictures of them. Looking at his home, one could guess that they were not materially rich. The house was a bit too small for him, his mother and other members of the family; the walls around the house seemed to be in need of renovations. However, he still told me proudly that his home was beautiful. When he was telling me this, I could not help but notice that the dimples on his lower cheeks deepened a little bit more. Surrounded by the warm and friendly faces of his family members, I had to agree admirably that indeed his home was beautiful. A home is beautiful when one can find the sense of belonging, familiarity, and cosiness that keep one’s heart warm; and I could feel the warmth at his home. After that, just as he had promised, he brought me back to the Luxor Museum. This time I thanked him sincerely for his hospitality, When I walked into the museum, I thought that it was a pity that I would not see him again. This was our second goodbye …

The cute little children at his home

The cute little children at his home

3rd Encounter

When I came out of the Luxor Museum one or two hours later on, I really could not believe my eyes to see that the boy was standing outside of the museum across the street just like he had been in the afternoon. I was wondering if he needed to work or study. Looking at me, he smiled and waved. I smiled back. He led me to his house again. This time his grandparents were there watching TV. His mother was friendly and warm just like the first time I met her. He showed me photos in his house. Then we went to the local night markets, which were loud and vibrant. On the one hand, the markets gave me a sense of familiarity as they reminded me of the pasar malam in Malaysia. On the other hand, they looked exotic since the people were speaking in a totally different language I could barely understand. He walked through all the streets and alleys as if he knew them all by heart (he probably did). It amazed me, since I did not know all the streets and alleys of the Australian suburb I lived in. I just followed him and we talked to each other on and off. He bought me a chocolate in one stall. Then he bought me a bottle of water in another stall. I did not ask for them. When I insisted on paying him back, he would not let me do so. Well, they did not cost too much for tourists but somehow they weighted so much in my hands. You need to know that, since my arrival in Egypt, most of the people I met always helped me to do something in exchange for money. That boy was the only one who offered me hospitality without asking anything in return. I told him that I had to return to Cairo that night. I had to return to my hotel. He accompanied me to my hotel in a local bus. Riding on the local bus was another new experience for me. This time, I really insisted in paying my bus fare despite his initial refusal. I managed to get him to accept it later on. In front of the hotel, he told me that he would come and see me off to Cairo at the Luxor train station that night. Well, he kept his promise. When I arrived at the train station, he had already been waiting for me. This time, I did not see his dimples or his smile. He just waited with me quietly until my train came. I boarded my train and found my compartment. Through the window of my compartment, I could see him stand motionless on the platform. Hiding behind the curtain, I did not have the courage to let him see me. After all the hospitality and friendship he had shown me, I felt sad that I had to leave my new friend behind. I did not offer him any baksheesh even at the very end (which I had given [sometimes involuntarily] to all the people who had helped and wanted from me in Egypt). I could not have repaid his kindness with all my money. Furthermore, I did not want to taint this friendship with money. Instead, I offered up a little prayer in my heart to God that He would repay the kindness of this kind youth and his mother. Firmly closing the curtain behind me, I whispered my third and last goodbye to this boy…


Now whenever I think of Egypt, I will remember this youth. Then I am reminded of the saying, you become great not by what you have but by what you give. This boy looks like a giant to me. If you ever get to see him next time in Luxor, say hi to him for me. Thanks!

Updated on 19 January 2017.

Egypt: An Adventure in the Land of the Pharaohs

If you are interested in how Egypt is imagined in the book of Ezekiel, please read Safwak Marzouk’s book entitled Egypt as a Monster in the Book of Ezekiel and my monograph entitled Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations (pp. 123–182). Below I would like to share with you the image of Egypt from another perspective—through the ancient Egyptian edifices.

Winter. The perfect season to visit Egypt. Before my departure from Israel to Australia at the beginning of 2009, I decided to undertake a journey up the Nile. Due to the reported political instability at that time, I ended up being the only tourist in the organized tour I had signed up for. It was lonely to be the only audience of the different guides during the tour, but the magnificent monuments of ancient Egypt kept me good company.uter1467

A. Cairo

The Giza Pyramids

Ancient Egyptians placed great emphasis on death and afterlife. Dated to the Old Kingdom Period (2575–2134 BCE), the Giza Pyramids near modern day Cairo testify to this obsession. The pyramids functioned as the pharaonic tombs, where the mummified bodies of Pharaoh were preserved, awaiting to be revivified and led into the glorious afterlife. A pyramid was more than a tomb of a king. Alive, the pharaoh was the incarnation of the god Horus. After death, the pharaoh became identified with Osiris, the divine father of Horus. Somehow, the pharaoh was also related to the sun god Ra. As such, each pyramid was also a temple-complex dedicated to the Horus-Osiris-Ra divinity.

Khufu, reigning between 2551 and 2528 BCE, built the largest ever pyramid, which was called Akhet Khufu “the Horizon of Khufu.” Its base length is approximately 230m and its height about 146m. Near this magnificent monument were found 3 queens’ pyramids, boat pits, and a satellite pyramid. The boats could have been connected with Khufu’s transportation to his pyramid or his journey to the Netherworld. Standing on higher ground was the smaller Pyramid of Khafre, who was another son of Khufu (2520–2492 BCE). The smallest of the three Giza Pyramids is the Pyramid of Menkaure, who ruled between 2490 and 2472 BCE.


The Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure (right to left)

The Spinx

In front of Khafre’s Pyramid stands the 20m tall Sphinx, which is a fusion of man and lion sculpted in about 2500 BCE. Some speculate that the Sphinx’s face was carved in Khafre’s likeness, while others perceive it as an image of the sun god. Between the forepaws of the Sphinx was a granite stela set up later in 1401 BCE to record the dream of Thutmose IV. According to the “Dream Stela,” the Sphinx or the sun god appeared in a dream of Thutmose and helped him gain the throne of the Upper and Lower Egypt. The Sphinx’s broken nose remains a mystery. According to a popular belief, Napoleon’s soldiers broke off the nose when using it as a target for rifle practice. An alternative theory is given by the Arab historian El Makrizi (d. 1436 CE):

In our time there was a man whose name was Saim-el-Dahr, one of the Sufis. This man wished to remedy religious matters, and he went to the pyramids and disfigured the face of Abul-Hol [one of the Arabic names of the Sphinx], which has remained in this state from that time to the present. From the time of disfigurement the sand has invaded the cultivated lands of Giza, and the people attribute this to the disfigurement of Abul-Hol (Fakhry, 1961: 159).


B. Luxor

The Valley of the Kings

In the New Kingdom Period (1550–1070 BCE), the growing importance of the Theban god Amun and the robbery of the royal burials probably prompted pharaohs to build their tombs in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes (modern day Luxor). This communal graveyard is situated on the Nile’s western side, which has long been associated by the Egyptians with the sinking sun, death, and afterlife. The famous tomb of Tutankhamun with its glittering golden treasure was discovered inside this valley in 1922. To prevent further deteriorations of the painted walls, no photo is to be taken inside the royal tombs. Luckily, the colourful photos and detailed explanations in Im Tal der Könige: von Grabkunst und Totenkult der ägyptischen Herrscher edited by Kent R. Weeks and illustrated by Araldo de Luca (Augsburg: Weltbild, 2001) helpfully recreate the scenes in the valley tombs and bring them to life.rwyt5815

The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

Mortuary temples of various pharaohs also sprinkle on the west bank of the Nile. Offerings used to be brought to these temples to serve the spirit of deceased kings and to ensure their comfort and rule in the hereafter. The stunning mortuary temple of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut (1473–1458 BCE) at Deir el-Bahari is characterized by ascending ramps, lengthy colonnades, with inner courts built against and into the precipitous mountain cliffs.oaed0886


Osiride statues of Hatshepsut before each pillar line the upper colonnade. The female pharaoh was shown as a male king with a fake beard and without female breasts, wearing the double crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. She holds the crook and flail, which are the pharaoh’s emblems.veib9682

The main temple is dedicated to the god Amun and the pharaoh Hatshepsut, while a Hathor chapel is situated at the southwestern corner of the temple. Hathor is the goddess of fertility, motherhood, and sexual pleasure. She was often depicted as a cow, who gave birth to and protected the pharaohs. In the following relief, the baby Hatshepsut is suckling the milk of the cow-goddess. This scene reflects part of Hatshepsut’s scheme to legitimize her rule as a pharaoh.yhdw4452

Elaborate Hathor-headed columns stand inside the chapel. If you look closely at the heads, you will discover the cows’ ears of the goddess, which represent her docile character.rrwp6032

Throughout Hatshepsut’s reign, her successor Thutmose III was a co-regent and his figure was incorporated as part of the original decoration of Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple. When Thutmose III became the sole ruler, he systematically eliminated Hatshepsut’s names and figures from the mortuary temple. This decoration constitutes an example of the removal of Hatshepsut’s names. Below the winged sun disk three lines give the Horus name, throne name, and given name of King Thutmose III on the right. They were originally balanced by the Horus name, throne name, and given name of Hatshepsut on the left, but these have been chiselled out (Robins, 1997: 129).sgns5690

The Colossi of Memnon

Little remains of the mortuary temple of Amenophis III (1391–1353 BCE) beyond the two immense “Colossi of Memnon” at the entrance. These nearly 18m high quartzite statues of Amenophis III are flanked by small figures of his mother Mutemwia (by his left legs) and his wife Tiye (by his right legs). Following an earthquake in 27 BCE, the northern figure cracked and started to emit a bell-like tone at sunrise. Greek travellers creatively related the sound with the greeting of Memnon (a mythic Ethiopic ruler, who had died in the Trojan War and was then granted immortality by Zeus) to Eos, the goddess of the dawn. Repairs to the statue in the reign of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus (199 CE) silenced the sound forever.vzos6959

Medinet Habu

The funerary temple of Ramesses III (1194–1163 BCE) at Medinet Habu is the best preserved of all the mortuary temples of Thebes. The first pylon is richly decorated with images of the king trampling Egypt’s enemies.chmd0169

Many of the walls and monuments in the temple have left vestiges of bright colours. Here the top register shows the blue-skinned god Amun-Ra wearing the double plumed crown and the pharaoh in the blue khepresh crown (worn in battles and ceremonies); while the lower register shows the deity’s consort Mut and the pharaoh in a kind of headress.htjm2506

Due to the practice of usurpation of the predecessors’ royal monuments, sunk relief, especially royal cartouches, in Ramesses III’s mortuary temple was carved at great depth in order to prevent the recarving of the stone by future kings.wnvb4914

The Transition from the West to the East

The colourful local boats on the Nile take the tourists from the west bank of Thebes or the land of the dead, where royal tombs and mortuary temples are concentrated, to the east bank of Thebes or the land of the living, where divine cult temples such as the Karnak and Luxor temples are found.sphc3430

Karnak Temple

The temple-complex at Karnak contains not only the Great Temple of Amun but also numerous contiguous chapels or temples dedicated to other deities. Because of its religious significance as the palace of Amun, almost all pharaoh attempted to leave some of their marks inside the temple. Cryosphinxes—their rams’ heads symbolizing the god Amun and each holding a small statue of the king between its lion’s paws—line the processional way leading to the first pylon of the temple.lplh8025

In front of the temple’s second pylon, which dates to the time of Sethos I (1306—1290 BCE) stands one of the remaining colossi of Ramesses II (1290—1224 BCE). Between his feet stands the diminutive figure of the princess Bent‘anta.tjfn4418

The second pylon opens into the Great Hypostyle Hall, the most impressive part of the whole Karnak complex. The hall was filled with 134 papyrus columns, symbolizing the primeval papyrus marsh from which, according to the Egyptian mythology, creation begins. Although the hall was initiated by Amenophis III (1391–1353 BCE), the decoration was begun by Sethos I (1306—1290 BCE) and completed by Ramesses II (1290—1224 BCE).mlzt8800

The centre 12 columns are larger (some 21m tall), the remaining 122 along the sides smaller (some 15m tall). Look at the tops of the columns! The centre columns are decorated with open-flower capitals, while the side columns are with closed-bud capitals.xpxm6930

Look how wide each column can be! The diameter of the large column is over three meters.ddrj49631

Beyond the fourth pylon lie the obelisks of Thutmosis I (1504—1492 BCE) and Hatshepsut (1473—1458 BCE), the latter being the larger. Obelisks were the royal gifts to the gods and were erected to record their donors’ piety, jubilees, and other notable events.purm16441

Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple lies in the south of the Theban east bank and, like Karnak, was dedicated to the god Amun, but some argue that the Luxor temple was dedicated to the living Egyptian ruler. Mainly constructed by Amenophis III, it was expanded over the centuries by Tutankhamun, Ramesses II, Nectanebo I, Alexander the Great, and the Romans. The human-headed sphinxes on the processional way linking Luxor to Karnak temples were erected by Nectanebo I (380-363 BCE), probably to replace the ruined New Kingdom examples.avtf54741

Two seated statues of Rameses II (1290—1224 BCE) flanked the two sides of the entrance at the first pylon. The pharaoh wears the double crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt as well as the nemes headress, in front of which is the rearing cobra emblem (uraeus). The walls of the first pylon are decorated with scenes of the pharaoh’s military expeditions, especially his triumphs over the Hittites at Kadesh.nfej76351

Beyond the first pylon lies the peristyle court built by Rameses II (1290—1224 BCE). Seventy four closed-bud columns, along with some remaining statues of the pharaoh, stand in this courtyard.ikfg95331

The peristyle court leads to the imposing colonnade of Amenophis III (1391-1353 BCE). Decorated with its 19m tall open-flower columns, this colonnade served as the architectural prototype for the Great Hypostyle Hall of Karnak. The walls were decorated by Tutankhamun (1333-1323 BCE) and preserve scenes of the great Opet Festival, during which the sacred boats of the Theban gods were brought from Karnak to the Luxor Temple.edkl62701

Within the colonnade sit the added statues of a young Tutankhamun and his consort Ankesenamun.ovcq80921

Beyond the colonnade lies a further court built by Amenophis III featuring double rows of closed-bud papyrus columns. The southern side of the courtyard consists of a hypostyle hall that leads to the inner sanctum (cf.

Alexander the Great took control of Egypt in the 4th century BCE. He built a chapel inside the innermost sanctuary of Amenophis III. On the walls of this chapel, Alexander the Great is depicted as a pharaoh, standing in front of Amun.nkgu80291

Later still, in the 4th to 6th centuries CE, the Romans came and deployed the site as a fortified military encampment and converted the antechamber into a chapel for the Roman imperial cult. The following apse flanked by the Corinthian columns shows the images of the Roman emperors and caesars (cf.

D. Abu Simbel

The Great Temple

The rock-cut temple of Ramesses II lies on the west bank of the Nile at Abu Simbel. The massive facade of the temple is dominated by four seated colossi of Ramesses II, which rise to a height of about 21m. Their location at the ancient border between Egypt and Nubia suggests that the colossi once served to impress the neighboring country of Egypt’s might and power.acjc67471

The pharaoh was carved wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt as well as the nemes headress. Next to the giant statues stand diminuitive figures of his wife Queen Nefertari, his mother Queen Muttuya, and several children. At the bottom of these sculptures are the carved figures of bound captives from Africa and Asia (not shown in this picture, but if you would like to have a look at them, please refer to the amazing pictures in this website:

The entrance to the temple is crowned by two images of the king worshipping the sun god Ra holding the User (sign of power) in one hand and Maat (sign of truth) in the other. This is a clever way to spell out the king’s throne name (User-Maat-Re). See

The top of the facade shows a row of baboons raising their hands to worship the rising sun. htid67241

Inside the temple sit the figures of the deified Ramesses and his companion gods, including Ra-Horakhty of Heliopolis, Ptah of Memphis, and Amun-Ra of Thebes. No photo is allowed for tourists inside the temple, so I have to download this picture from the following website:


Here is one interesting fact about the solar alignment of the temple:

In many ways a fusion of “divine” and mortuary temples, the Great Temple of Abu Simbel was constructed to face eastwards so that the sun’s rays illuminated the structure’s facade each sunrise. First the sunlight lit the row of baboons (symbolic greeters of the sun god) carved along the top of the cliff-face facade, then as the sun rose its rays illuminated the four colossal faces of the king and the central niche statue of Re which formed a rebus of Ramesses’ throne name. Finally, the solar rays entered the temple itself. The temple’s axis was aligned in such a way that twice each year, in February and October, the sun’s rays penetrated some 60m through its inner halls to the very depths of the rock-cut monument where they iluminated the status of the deified Ramesses and his companion gods-though the statue of the chthonic deity Ptah remains in partial shadow (Wilkinson, 2000: 227).

The Small Temple

Close to the Temple of Ramesses II is a smller temple built in honour of Ramesses’ chief consort, Nefertari, and the goddess Hathor, the deity most closely associated with queenship in ancient Egypt. The facade is decorated with six 10m tall statues, with four representing Ramesses II and two representing his queen Nefertari. Smaller figures of the royal children are by the feet of the colossi. Wikipedia says this is the only instance when the Egyptian art shows the king and his consort in equal size.


The ancient temples in Egypt are so numerous that I have not managed to tour through all of them. These stone monuments, however ruined, have remarkably survived in enough pieces after so many centuries to bear witness to the pharaoh’s eagerness to record their glorious military triumphs, their proximity to gods, and even their own deification. I can’t help but bring the scenes preserved in these ancient monuments in comparison with the narrative scenes preserved in the Hebrew Bible. I believe that the ancient Egyptian culture could have influenced the ancient Israelite culture, whether directly or indirectly. However, the ancient Israelite kings in the Hebrew Bible are generally depicted in a rather different light than the pharaohs on the walls. The scribes or editors of the Hebrew Bible did not hesitate to picture their first king Saul as a traitor of their deity, the second king David an adulterer, the third king Solomon a womanizer, who was ultimately responsible for the violent divisions of his own kingdom. Can you think of any Egyptian tradition that is as brutally honest as those preserved in the Hebrew Bible? I would be interested to know the answer. At this stage, it is just interesting to observe two different outlooks on royalty in the preserved traditions, right? (Open for discussion) 😉

E. Bibliography

I am not an Egyptologist, but a tourist. In addition to the websites cited in the text, I have learned some of the aforementioned information from the following resources:

  1. Fakhry, Ahmed, The Pyramids (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961).
  2. Lehner, Mark, The Complete Pyramids (London: Thames & Hudson, 1997).
  3. Reeves, Nicholas; and Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Valley of the Kings: Tombs and Treasures of Egypt’s Greatest Pharaohs (London: Thames & Hudson, 1996).
  4. Robins, Gay, The Art of Ancient Egypt (London: The British Museum Press, 1997).
  5. Weeks, Kent R.; and Araldo de Luca, Im Tal der Könige: Von Grabkunst und Totenkult der ägyptischen Herrscher (Augsburg: Weltbild, 2001).
  6. Wilkinson, Richard H., The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000).

First Composed: 19th January 2017

Last Updated: 17th June 2017