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Egyptian Curse Figurine, c.1800 BCE

Egyptian_execration_dollFirst extra-biblical reference to Jerusalem (Pre-Israelite)

Date- c.1800 BCE

Current Location- Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, Belgium

Language and Script- Middle (Classical) Egyptian; hieratic

Biblical Verses- Deuteronomy 12-10-14; 27-15-26

General Information-

• A ritual common throughout the Ancient Near East was the practice of cursing, or execrating, one’s enemies by writing their names on a figurine or clay bowl and then smashing it. An Egyptian scribe would begin the text with a standard list, which had accrued through the generations, of enemies who threatened the Pharaoh’s kingdom. This section of the text included the Nubians, Asiatics, Libyans, some of Egypt’s rivals both living and dead, as well as evil spiritual forces. The scribe would next list the specific enemies at whom the curse was aimed. Breaking the figurine or bowl was thought to cast a spell over the enemies by symbolizing their demise. This particular figurine was discovered in Saqqara, the largest necropolis (burial ground) in Egypt, which served the royals and their officials at the capital city of Memphis.

• We know of three series of execration texts, all dated to the Middle Kingdom. One is on bowls from a fortress at Mirgissa in Nubia (c.1870 BCE), another on bowls now in Berlin (c.1850 BCE), and the last on figurines from Saqqara (c.1800 BCE), to which this example belongs.

Relevance to Ancient Israel- This text, which appears in various versions on several figurines, contains the earliest-known mention of Jerusalem (Egyptian- ’wš’mm), later to become the capital of Ancient Israel. In the section devoted to Asiatic peoples, more than two dozen Western Asiatic chieftains and their chiefdoms are named. These include a bevy of other cities that we know of from the Bible, including Ashkelon and Hazor.

Circumstances of Discovery and Acquisition- In the late 1930s, G. Posener, a young French Egyptologist, was working on curse text fragments from a collection at the Cairo Museum. Jean Capart, then director of the Fondation Egyptologique Reine Elizabeth in Brussels, showed him a group of similar clay pieces, which he had purchased from an antiquities dealer for the Museum. Posener spent the next few years thoroughly studying those pieces and published a monograph on them in 1940. The American blockade of Europe during World War II made it impossible for scholars in America to obtain copies until later in the decade.

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