While we’re on the bus, heading to Tahrir Square to visit the Egyptian Museum, let me use the time to introduce the two main guides on this trip, Rabbi/Professor Josh Berman and Migo. By far, the rabbi/professor is better known, at least here in The Land. Several people I know are acquainted with him, and others know him at least by reputation. But even if you’ve never heard of him, a Google search (being careful not to confuse him with several other Josh(ua) Bermans roaming around) will produced this Wikipedia article, which will make reference to his publications, including his most recent book, Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith. You can find articles on-line that he has written, like this one, “The Biblical Origins of Equality,”as well as a bunch of podcasts with him in it. Personally, what I like most about him is that he doesn’t need to be a BIG SHOT, the star of the show. He was more than willing to share center stage with Migo.
Who’s this Migo guy?
But who is this Migo guy? When the good rabbi/professor joined the trip to Egypt in 2020 in the company of many of the world’s leading Egyptologists, who was the local guide? You know the answer. If he’s good enough for James Hoffmeier, he’s good enough for me. Migo, like his colleagues at Shepherd Travel, is a Coptic Christian. He is a trained archaeologist and has been a tour guide for longer than Barbara and I have been in Israel. The general consensus of the thirty-five of us on the trip was that Migo is “a walking encyclopedia,” and, boy, did we need one, as we traveled up and down the Nile River, looking at sites that took our (at least my) breath away.
Consider the following analogy – one that only a very special mind like mine would come up with. You take a typical Israeli youngster, and you get him away from his video games long enough to sit him down to watch the classic movie Casablanca. Our random youth has no English, so he has no idea what anybody is saying. Plus, unless his grandparents came from Morocco, he has never heard of a city by that name. Vichy? He may or may not have seen advertisement for that line of cosmetics. In short, he knows nothing.
Now, add subtitles in the language he understands, spend a little time giving him enough of the background to the story so the plot makes sense, and he might even enjoy the film – assuming he can overcome his built-in prejudice against images in black and white and the fact that it’s not cartoonish. But ramp it up a bit. Let’s deal with a more sophisticated audience, and you start giving them some information about who were the Warner Bros. and their studio’s role in Hollywood. And you explain to the incredulous audience that the motion picture studios, most of which were run by Jews, made it a point to ignore the catastrophic events going on in Europe until after the U.S. entered the war. You can talk about the number of cast members who themselves were European refugees; that the film was shot, not in Morocco, but on a lot in the Warner Brothers studio in Hollywood; that the director had to go to great lengths to hide the fact that Ingrid Bergman was inches taller than Humphrey Bogart, on and on. Each bit of information adds something to one’s understanding and enjoyment.
Now let’s go back to Egypt. Everywhere we went on our trip, we shared the sites with less fortunate folks, who might be seeing what we saw, but that’s it. When was X built, how was it built, for whom as it built, why was it built, what does the funny writing say, what’s meaning does all the artwork convey, why is this, why is that? Those other people weren’t getting the quantity and the quality of the information that Migo would be offering through the microphone on his Whisper set, some of which – at least what I remember – I’ll be sharing with you as we go along.
What’s inside is a lot older
That alone was more than worth the price of admission, but the icing on the proverbial cake, the sprinkles on top of the virtual ice cream cone, was the additional information we got from R/P Berman. That wasn’t on the radar screen for anybody else anywhere near the Nile River. Who else would be explaining how the Torah is influenced by Egyptian culture and, at the same time, functions as a polemic against the political and economic inequality of that same society – a pretty neat trick, if you ask me. But we’ve arrived at the museum. Let’s get off the bus and look around.
When Barbara was in Egypt some six years ago, the new Grand Egyptian Museum was scheduled to open “soon.” Like a lot of building projects all over the world, “soon” became “not-so-soon.” They’re talking about sometime in 2023, but my best medical advice is Don’t hold your breath. We had to be content with the old Egyptian Museum, built over a century ago, but that was OK. After all, what’s inside is a LOT older.
Here we got our first exposure to the rabbi and the tour guide as a team, working off each other. Let me give you one example. Here is a representation of typical Egyptian iconography, a god and a pharaoh meeting face to face. (That’s Migo.) Don’t we get that idea in the Torah, meeting God panim el panim? Guess where they got the expression from? (That’s R. Berman.)
We spent a few hours in the museum, getting to see a lot of their stuff, including mummified crocodiles. You can spend days in there, wandering around on your own. You might get to see more of their vast collection, but you’d understand a lot less. A worthwhile trade-off, say I.
All of a sudden, it was closing time at the museum. You can’t leave this way, you have to go that way, although all ways led to the gift shop. Isn’t that the way it always is? On that note……