Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

Hatshepsut's Expedition to Punt: Its Purpose and Commemoration

by Emmet Sweeney

In my Empire of Thebes (2006), as well as in various other places, I have argued in detail that Hatshepsut, the great female “pharaoh” of the Eighteenth Dynasty, was indeed the Queen of Sheba, who famously visited King Solomon in Jerusalem, and thereby spawned a plethora of romantic myths and legends that have endured to this day. Just as Immanuel Velikovsky argued in 1952 (Ages in Chaos), the mysterious Land of Punt, to which Hatshepsut launched a famous expedition, was truly the land of Israel; and her great funerary monument at Deir el Bahri, to the west of Thebes, contains an actual description of the Queen’s journey to the Holy Land.

A great quantity of evidence points to the identification of Punt with Israel, and this is a point I have already argued in great detail. Conventional scholarship, however, convinced that Punt was a distant land on the southern shores of the Red Sea, assumes that Hatshepsut did not take part in the expedition. According to mainstream Egyptologists, the journey was deemed worthy of commemoration on the queen’s funerary temple precisely because its goal was such a distant and exotic location.

There is much evidence, however, to show that Punt was not far from Egypt at all. Without going into the details here, we should note the following:

(1) An official of the Sixth Dynasty, during the Old Kingdom, casually remarked that he had visited Punt and Byblos eleven times. Quite apart from the fact that this seems to locate Punt beside Byblos, in Lebanon, it also suggests that the mysterious land can have been no great distance from Egypt.

(2) Punt’s proximity to Egypt is also suggested by the apparent importation of incense from the region as early the First Dynasty (see e.g. Breasted, A History of Egypt, p. 127), whilst we know of frequent contact between Punt and Egypt later in the Old Kingdom. Thus son of Khufu (Dynasty 4) had possessed a Puntite slave, (Flinders Petrie, The Making of Egypt, p. 77), and the pharaohs of the Fifth Dynasty organised great trading expeditions to the region. That of Sahure, for example, “brought back 80,000 measures of myrrh, probably 6,000 weight of electrum (gold-silver alloy), besides 2,600 staves of some costly wood, presumably ebony” (ibid.). Trade between Egypt and Punt continued to be vigorous during the Middle kingdom (ibid.).

(3) The claim of the Egyptians that they themselves had originated in Punt would also suggest a not too distant realm (ibid.).

(4) The proximity of the territory is also suggested by the victory lists of Thutmose III, which state that the pharaoh had conquered all the regions of Punt in his first year. We know that in his first year Thutmose III conquered all of Palestine as far as the southern borders of Lebanon, and all of Nubia as far (probably) as the Third Cataract (close to Napata). Neither country is far from Egypt; on the contrary, they are the lands closest to Egypt. Yet, if Thutmose III’s claims have any validity at all, Punt must be identified with one of them!

(5) Again, on the Deir el-Bahri inscriptions and elsewhere, the name Punt is written without the determinative of a foreign land, indicating that the Egyptians considered it in some way connected to their own country.

All of this would suggest that Punt was a region very close to Egypt; a fact which begs the question: Why then would Hatshepsut have immortalised a journey to it in such a grandiose and emphatic way if she did not go there herself? This is a point that cannot be stressed too strongly. At Deir el-Bahri the expedition to Punt is part of a pair of adjacent reliefs; one recording the journey to Punt, the other recording the divine birth of the queen. The expedition to Punt seems thus to have been regarded by Hatshepsut as an event of equal importance to her own birth! This alone would virtually demand that she took part in the trip.

Velikovsky quoted several of the surviving Punt inscriptions which he claimed were the words of the Queen herself, speaking in the first person, describing her journey to Punt. One of these reads:

…a command was heard from the great throne, an oracle of the god himself, that the ways to Punt should be searched out, that the highways to the myrrh-terraces should be penetrated:

“I will lead the army on water and on land, to bring marvels from God’s Land to this god, for the fashioner of her beauty…” (Breasted, Records, Vol. 2, Sec. 285).

Velikovsky states that “It was an oracle or mysterious voice that Queen Hatshepsut heard within her, and she thought it was her god” (Velikovsky, Ages in Chaos, p. 117). He compares this “divine command” to visit Punt with Josephus’ statement that the Queen of Sheba likewise felt a divine command to visit Israel (ibid., pp. 117-8).

Velikovsky goes on to quote another part of the Deir el-Bahri inscriptions which states:

I have led them [the company of the expedition] on water and on land, to explore the waters of inaccessible channels, and I have reached the myrrh-terraces (Breasted, Records, Vol. 2, Sec. 288).

Taken in isolation, this might be interpreted as a personal statement of the queen, and that is certainly how Velikovsky presented it in Ages in Chaos. However, there is a problem; and it is one the critics were only too eager to seize upon. The statement, “I will lead the army on water and on land” and “I have led them on water and on land” are not, as reported on the monument, the words of the queen, but of the god Amon. This is made abundantly clear in the inscriptions, and beyond dispute. Egyptologist David Lorton used this as proof that Velikovsky was involved in deliberate deception, and reiterated the mainstream belief that it proved Hatshepsut did not take part in the expedition.

In fairness to the critics, Velikovsky’s statement that the above words were spoken by Hatshepsut does strike as somewhat disingenuous. Both statements are addressed by Amon to Hatshepsut, on the occasion of the return of the expedition and the presentation to the god of gifts from Punt. Furthermore, the surviving inscriptions certainly do give the impression, as Lorton and John Bimson said, that the Queen did not take part in the expedition.

In order to understand these texts, it is necessary to make a brief summary of what they say, and what the bas-reliefs show.

The first set of inscriptions describe the preparations made for the expedition and the departure from Thebes of the ships. A sacrifice is then made to Hathor, the “Lady of Punt,” who was regarded as patroness of the land the travellers hoped to reach. Next, we see Nehesi, (or Nehsi) the Queen’s ambassador, arriving at the shore of Punt, where he is greeted by Perehu (P’-r-hw), a “Chief of Punt,” and Perehu’s grossly overweight wife, Ity. The Puntites ask the Egyptians why they had “come hither unto to this land, which the people [of Egypt] knew not? Did ye descend upon the roads of heaven, or did ye sail upon the waters, upon the sea of God’s Land? [Or] have you trodden the [pathway of] the Sun-god?” (Breasted, Vol. 2, Sec. 257). After these preliminaries, Nehesi presents the Puntites with gifts, which are laid out on a table and amount to little more than trinkets. We see “strings of beads, bracelets, daggers, axes, and wooden chests” (Arthur Weigall, A History of the Pharaohs: The Twelfth to the Eighteenth Dynasties (1927) p. 315).

Next, the Egyptians and the Puntites are shown loading gifts onto the Egyptian ships, which then depart for their own country. These gifts, which are listed in the final inscription, where they are presented to Amon in the presence of the Queen, are of fabulous wealth, and include “two kinds of oxen; two species of panther, one of which seems to have been tame, being represented as collared and leashed; giraffes; baboons and monkeys; great quantities of panther skins; ostrich feathers and ostrich eggs; living incense trees; costly woods such as ebony; ivory; antimony, to be used as eye-cosmetic; sacks of incense; gold; silver; electrum; lapis-lazuli; malachite; shells; throw-sticks or boomerangs; and so forth” (ibid., p. 317). The queen herself supervised the weighing of the incense and precious metals, and the accompanying inscriptions reads:

Reckoning the numbers, summing up in millions, hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands, thousands and hundreds: reception of the marvels of Punt (Breasted, Records, Vol. 2, Sec. 278).

Some sailors from Punt, including “chiefs of Irem” and “chiefs of Nemaeyu,” accompany the Egyptians back to Thebes, and are witnesses at the presentation of gifts to Amon.

The overall impression then, as presented in the surviving inscriptions and illustrations at Deir el Bahri, is that Hatshepsut sent an expedition of her servants to Punt, who presented the natives with a few trinkets, and who were given, in return, fabulously wealthy treasures, which were transported back to Egypt with the help of Puntite sailors.

The above scenario, accepted by Velikovsky’s critics and by all mainstream Egyptologists, does however strike one as slightly improbable, to say the least; and it becomes even more improbable the further we look into it.

At the presentation of gifts to Amon in Thebes, the deity addresses Hatshepsut in these words:

Welcome, my sweet daughter, my favourite…who makes my beautiful monuments, and purifies the throne of the great cycle of the gods for my dwelling-place, as a memorial of her love!

This ceremony, we remember, took place at Amon’s great temple in Thebes. But why would the god bid Hatshepsut welcome, if she had not been away?

The god continues:

I have given you all countries and all lands that your heart may be glad therein; [for] I have long intended them for you.…I have given you all the Land of Punt, even to the bounds of the territories of God’s Country.

He goes on to say that,

No one had trodden the incense-groves, and the people knew them not: they were heard of [only] from mouth to mouth by rumour [from the time] of the ancestors.

Amon then recounts how the

…wonderful things brought thence [from Punt] under your fathers, the Kings of Lower Egypt, were handed down from one to another; and since the time of the ancestors of the Kings of Upper Egypt who were of old, they have been [received only] as in return for much payment, none having [actually] reached the groves except your messengers (Breasted, Records, Vol. 2, Sec. 287).

Why, we might ask, did earlier rulers of Egypt have to pay for the treasures of Punt; and why were none of the traders sent by those kings permitted to go near the incense terraces? Why the sudden change of heart on the part of the Puntites, who now not only show the Egyptians the sacred and precious myrrh-terraces, but give them as a free gift enormous quantities of incense and other treasures, as well as living incense bushes to transplant in Egypt? The god then drops us a tantalizing hint: he says that he had,

made them [the people of Punt] amiable toward you according to your wishes; they gave you adoration like to a god…

In short, Amon made the Puntites love Hatshepsut; and that is why they showered such gifts on the Egyptians and showed them the secrets of their wealth!

The surviving inscriptions therefore seem to show that Hatshepsut did not take part in the journey to Punt, but that the Puntites were overawed by the Egyptians and transformed by love of their queen -- whom they didn’t even meet.

From all of this, it begins to look as if the Deir el Bahri inscriptions were part of some kind of propaganda exercise, and cannot be seen as recording all events strictly as they actually occurred. The statement for example that the Puntites were surprised at the Egyptians finding their way to Punt, a land which they claimed the Egyptians did not know, is obviously and even outrageously false. It is proved false by the testimony of a multitude of Egyptian sources, which, as we saw, demonstrate familiarity with the country as far back as the Old Kingdom. Furthermore, Amon’s statement that he had given Hatshepsut the land of Punt, as her own possession, is quite simply ridiculous, and recognised as such by everyone. And we surely cannot accept the claim of the inscriptions that the Egyptians gave the Puntites mere trinkets and received in return from them the treasures and the secrets of their own country.

In accordance with this, we would be led to suspect that in reality the Egyptians must have presented gifts of great value to the Puntites, and that an Egyptian leader of great importance, most probably the monarch herself, was present in the expedition. And at least two of the statements of Amon hint strongly in this direction: First of all, we saw how Amon welcomed the Queen to Thebes. This of course could be interpreted as simply a welcome into the temple precinct; and that is how it is normally viewed. Yet it may also -- and more probably -- be seen as a statement of welcome back to Thebes. Again, the claim by Amon that he had made the people of Punt love Hatshepsut, strongly suggests that she was present in the country.

On the return of the expedition a great festival was held. The presentation of the treasures of Punt to Amon was only the first act of a joyous celebration which then moved to the royal palace. The historian is frustrated by his inability to actually witness an event of such splendour. From the tantalizing and all too brief description given at Deir el Bahri we may imagine processions led by the queen herself in all her regalia, surrounded by maidservants and troops, accompanied through the streets of the metropolis by hosts of musicians, singers, and dancers. The whole land rejoiced, we are told, and there is a suggestion that the festival lasted many days. Separate events were held throughout the length and breadth of Egypt. “Why,” wrote Velikovsky, “would the queen create such excitement over the visit [to Punt]…and acclaim it in great festivals, unless she herself were the visitor?” (Ages in Chaos, p. 117). Why indeed! “Would the meeting of some royal messenger,” he continues, “with a chief Paruah have been an event the queen would have wanted to immortalize as a thing ‘that had never happened’?” The implausibility of such a scenario hardly needs to be stressed.

Yet if Hatshepsut did go to Punt, this still leaves us with the problem of explaining why she was so demure in her claims. If she went to Punt, why did she not just say so?

There is, I believe, a fairly straightforward explanation: In travelling to Punt, the Queen of Egypt was paying homage to a foreign land and a foreign king. No ruler of Egypt ever met a foreign monarch in such circumstances -- not at least without some form of reciprocation on the part of the other. Yet Solomon, as far as we know, never visited Egypt. The Queen had to come to him. The ruler of Egypt, one of the mightiest and wealthiest lands on earth, visited the king of Israel and paid homage to him! Now, as I intend to show in a future article, the journey to Punt had a vital propaganda purpose for Hatshepsut, a purpose which involved her claim to divinity and identity with the goddess Hathor -- a legitimization of her claim to the throne. Nonetheless, her journey to that country, to the court of a foreign king, could not be openly portrayed on her funerary monument without some degree of humiliation. In Velikovsky’s words, “The Egyptians would have considered it a dishonor to see a picture of their queen in society as a guest in the house of a foreign ruler” (Ages in Chaos, p. 120). And so, whilst everyone at the time was aware that the Queen had gone to Punt; and the journey (or rather pilgrimage) was celebrated throughout the land upon the Queen’s return, it could not be reported in this way upon her funerary monument. Such a statement would have been beneath the dignity of a woman who claimed, after all, to be the daughter (and actual incarnation) of Amon.

 

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