Records Foreign Campaign of Pharaoh Who Came to Jerusalem’s Aid
While digging in his field, an Egyptian farmer recently made the discovery of a lifetime, a roughly 2-meter-tall royal stele. The stele, which was discovered near the Egyptian city of Ismailia, 62 miles northeast of Cairo, appears to commemorate a foreign campaign of Apries (r. 589–570 B.C.E.), an Egyptian pharaoh of the 26th Dynasty who is remembered in the Book of Jeremiah as having come to Jerusalem’s aid during the Babylonian siege (Jeremiah 37:5).
The sandstone stele, which includes the cartouche of Apries and 15 lines of hieroglyphic text, stands 2.3 meters tall and is just over a meter wide. The stele was reported to the Egyptian Tourism and Antiquities police shortly after being uncovered and is currently housed in the Ismailia Museum, where Egyptologists are still working to translate the inscription.
According to news reports, the stele was likely erected by Apries during one of his campaigns to the Levant. However, it is not yet known which campaign it records. During his reign, Apries carried out several military expeditions to the Levant, including a campaign against the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon, as well as his famous campaign against the Babylonians during their siege of Jerusalem.
Apries’s campaign against the Babylonians is referenced in the Book of Jeremiah, which says that “the army of Pharaoh had come out of Egypt; and when the Chaldeans who were besieging Jerusalem heard news of them, they withdrew from Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 37:5). However, just as Jeremiah prophesied (37:6–10), once Apries’s army withdrew, the Babylonians returned and Jerusalem fell the following year. Centuries later, the Jewish historian Josephus similarly remembered Apries as the ally of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (Antiquities 10.108–111), who sent his army to defend Jerusalem while it was under siege by the Babylonians.
As the stele is still being translated, we will have to wait and see if it refers to Apries’s Jerusalem campaign. It could also be connected to one of his earlier Phoenician campaigns, which he carried out to protect Egyptian trading interests. Regardless of which campaign the stele commemorates, its translation will shed new light on a tumultuous period in Egyptian history, and possibly even the fall of Jerusalem.
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