Kerma: the Biblical City
By 2500 BC (during the Old Kingdom period) the kingdom of Kerma
has established its dominance over the North Sudan. During the Middle
Kingdom (2040-1650 BC), Egypt expanded south into Kushite territories
and occupied Mirgissa for sometime.1 In the Second Intermediate
period (1650-1550 BC),2 the kingdom of Kerma expanded
far north into Upper Egypt. However, the Southern boundary of the
kingdom is not known. Judging from the natural products transported
by the Kushites (i.e., the people of Kerma) to Egypt, such as ivory
and ebony, it's conclusive that Kerma controlled regions south of
Khartoum where such items are obtainable.3 Also, Egyptian
wall representations showing individuals with sub-Saharan features
as servants for Kushite sovereigns or as members of ethnic units
serving in the Kushite army,4 indicates the expansion
of the Kerma kingdom to regions south of the Sahara.
Archeology proved Kerma to be one of the first cities in the world.
Its temples and palaces represent some of the largest architectural
projects carried in the ancient world. Its cemetery findings are
evidence to the wealth and prestige of the kingdom. Some of its
royal burials consisted of massive white-plastered mounds, some
reaching 90 meters in diameter.5 Archeological finding
indicate that the Kushite kingdom was connected with trade routs
that reached distant locations such as the Read Sea, the Levant,
and sub-Saharan Africa.
Evidence indicates that the kingdom of "Cush" (or Kush)
mentioned in the Bible Book of Jasher6(i.e. known in
Hebrew as Sefer Ha-Yashar) as part of the story of Moses,
is indeed the archeological kingdom of Kerma. Also, the story of
Moses, which is traditionally dated by historians to Egypt's 18th
Dynasty (1550- 1352 BC) is contemporary with the "Most Ancient Kerma"
time phase.7 The Book gives a good idea of the dominance
of the Kerma kingdom over the Northern and Eastern Sudan in particular:
"So Kikianus king of Cush (Kush) went forth with all the
children of Cush, a people numerous as the sand, and he went to
fight against Aram and the children of the east, to bring them under
subjugation." (Jasher lxxii: 2).
Stela (depicting a Kushite ruler). From Buhen. Kerma / Second Intermediate
Period. Source: Wildung, Dietrich. Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of
This Biblical reference to the Kushite intrusion in Eastern Sudan
is backed by the discovery of sea shells and other items brought
from the Red Sea shorelines in Kerma.8 According to the
story, when Kikianus returns from his military campaigns in the
east, he finds that Balaam, the Egyptian (i.e., the magician who
predicted to the Egyptian king that Moses would attempt to take
his place as king of Egypt), has allied with local rebels and took
over the city of Kush. Consequently, Balaam and his rebels refuse
to allow Kikianus to enter to the city. As a result, Kikianus is
compelled to camp outside the city walls.
After murdering the Egyptian guard for beating the Israelite slave,
Moses escapes from Egypt to Kush. There, in Kush, he encounters"the
camp of Kikianus king of Cush."(Jasher lxxii:23). Afterwards, Moses
decides to join the army of Kikianus in fighting Balaam and his
The Book of Jasher describes the architectural formations conducted
by Balaam and his rebels in strengthening the fortification system
of Kush in preperation of a seig under Kikianus:
"So they (Balaam and the rebels) rose up and raised the
walls of the city at the two corners, and they built an exceeding
strong building. And at the third corner they dug ditches without
number, between the city and the river which surrounded the whole
land of Cush, and they made the waters of the rivers burst from
there." (Jasher lxxii: 8-9)
The excavations of Charles Bonnet in the 1990s uncovered the fortification
walls of Kerma.9 The architectural features of the fortification
wall are strikingly similar to those described in the Biblical passages.
Surrounding, at least, a section of the fortification, Bonnet discovered
a ditch, which has apparently been part of the city's defense system.
Ditches are similarly described in the Biblical passage as being
"dug without number". In case of an attack, the ditch
was flooded with water to prevent the attackers from reaching the
walls as described in the second passages (see: Jasher lxxii: 9).
Descriptions of the city walls being raised "at the two corners"
and the building of "exceedingly strong building" corresponds with
the archeological discoveries of buttresses and bastions flanking
the city gates of Kerma. Also, Bonnet excavations revealed a ditch
immediately in front of the city gate.
The Book of Jasher indicates that on the first day of the war,
the besieging army of Kikianus attacked "opposite of the city gate"
(Jasher lxxii:16) and on the third day they attempted to assault
from "the place of the ditches," (Jasher lxxii:19). Hence, it can
be concluded from the passage that there was a ditch dug in front
of the city gate, as Bonnet excavations have revealed.
the success of the Kushtie army in taking over the city, Kikianus
died. The Book of Jasher describes his burial:
"And they built over
him (Kikianus) an elegant strong and high building, and they placed
great stones below."
The placing of stones around the tomb structure or monument, mentioned
in the passage, is a unique and distinguished feature of the Kerma
burial culture. Stones are typically arranged around the tumulus
to make it look esthetic and grandiose. Particularly interesting
was a royal burial uncovered at Tombos, close to Kerma.10
The grave was originally a long cylinder-shaped superstructure.
Granite rocks were found surrounding the base of the structure.
Within the burials extravegent finds were discovered including items
imported from Egypt. Archeological excavations indicate that the
structure was destroyed probably during the later Egyptian invasion
of Thutmose in 1500 BC, which confirms the Kushite identity of the
desceased. The archietectural elements of the Tombos grave are strikingly
similar to the description of the Kikianus grave in the book of
Jasher. Archeological evidence confirm the setting upon which the
story of Moses was inspired.
According to the Book, the Kushites became fond of Moses and his
strength in battle. As a result, they chose him to succeed Kikianus
as the king of Kush. Thereafter, Moses reigned in Kush for the next
"forty years."(Jasher lxxiii:2).
According toJasher, following the crowning of Moses as king, he
is given Adoniah, the queen of Kush and the former wife of Kikianus,
for a wife. However, Adoniah is Canaanite by ethnicity, not Kushite.
Remembering how Abraham prohibited his servant from marrying a Canaanite
woman, Moses refuses to engage with Adoniah in marital intercourse.
Later in the story, Admoniah conspires with Kushite princes in a
plan to overthrough Moses and crown Menacrus, her son, instead.
Speaking before the Kushite prices Adoniah makes the follwoing remarks:
"Surely you know that for forty years that this man has
reigned over Cush he has not approached me, nor has he served the
gods of the children of Kush. Now therefore hear, O ye children
of Cush, and let this man no more reign over you as his is not of
our flesh. Behold Menacrus my son is grown up, let him reign over
you, for it is better for you to serve the son of your lord , than
to serve a stranger, a slave of the king of Egypt."(Jasher
According to the story, Moses was eventually banished from Kush
without harm. Recent archeological evidence in Nubia revealed strong
archeological evidence for contacts with the Levant contemporary
with the Kerma civilization. Excavations at Qustul and Saras (in
Lower Nubia) uncovered a large number of pottery from Syro-Palestine.11
In Tombos, close to kerma, remains of ceramic and pottery coffins,
which are particularly characteristic of Egyptian burials in Syria-Palestine,
were found.12 It was customary of the Egyptian government
to incorporate Nubian royalty as part of the Egyptian colonial administration.
Hence, the Syro-Palestinian burial traditions found in Tombos may
be understood in the context of a preexisting Canaanite-related
royalty. Hence, the reference made in Jasher to the Canaanite queen
(Adoniah) put more evidence to the hypothesis that Kerma is the
stage were Moses story in the Book of Jasher took place.
In 1500 BC the kingdom of Kerma was sacked by the armies of Thutmose
I. Egyptian records written subsequent to the Egyptian incursion
indicate that two sons of the former king of Kerma allied with a
ruler "North of Kush". Hence, Kerma was not overtaken by the Egyptian
invasion of Thutmose as commonly assumed by historians. Also, recent
archeological excavations reveal the continuation of construction
activities in Kerma following the Egyptian invasion.13
Although the majority of evidence indicates that the Kerma kingdom
was greatly weakened after the Egyptian invasions of 1500 BC, the
precise date for its eventual collapse is unknown.
1 C. Venot, "Le cimetiere MX-TD de Mirgissa",
Cahiers de Recherche de I' Institut de Papyrologie et d'Egyptologie
de Lille, 2 (1974).
2 Stuart T. Smith, Wretched Kush: Ethnic Identities
and Boundaries in Egypt's Nubian Empire (Routledge, 2003) 56.
3 O.G.S. Crawford, and F. Addison, Abu Geili,
The Wellcome Excavations in the Sudan vol.3, (London, New York and
4 For Egyptian representations showing individuals with
sub-Saharan features as servants for Kushite sovereigns see the
presentation on the Tomb of Huy [West Wall: South Side (4)], in
N. de G. Davies, The Theban Tomb Series, vol.4: The Tomb of Huy,
London: Egyptian Exploration Society (1926), pl. XXXVII,
and David O'Connor, Ancient Nubia: Egypt's Rival in Africa
(University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994) 62. Also, for Egyptian
representations showing individuals with sub-Saharan features as
members of ethnic units serving in the Kushite army see image: Painting
from the temple Ramesses II built at Beit el-Wali in Northern Nubia,
The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Nubia Gallery,
15 Oct. 2007, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago,
Nov. 2008 <http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/nubia/nknapnk.html>.
5 Yale University Institute of Human Relations, Peabody
Museum of Natural History, Yale University Dept. of Social and Political
Science, Yale University Publications in Anthropology Section
of Anthropology, (Published for the Department of Anthropology,
Yale University, by the Yale University Press, 1965).
6 J.H. Parry, ed. Sefer Ha-Yashar Or The Book Of
Jasher (Providence University, 2007).
7 Matthieu Honegger, "The Pre-Kerma Period". Sudan
Ancient Treasures: An Exhibition Of Recent Discoveries From The
Sudan National Museum. Derek A. Welsby, and Julie R. Anderson,
eds. (British Museum Press, 2004) 63.
8 Charles Bonnet, "Archaeological Excavations At Kerma
(Soudan): Preliminary report for 1993-1994 and 1994-1995 campaigns,"
Arkamani Sudan Electronic Journal of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Aug. 2001. Nov. 2008 <http://www.arkamani.org/arkamani-library/pre-kerma-and-kerma/prelim_report1.htm>.
9 Bonnet, note 8 above.
10 David N. Edwards, The Nubian Past: An Archaeology
of the Sudan (Routledge, 2004) 102.
11 For the Qustul excavation see: Bruce B. Williams,
The Royal Cemetery L of Qustul, Oriental Institute Nubian
Expedition: Excavation between Abu Simbel and the Sudan Border,
Vol. III, (Chicago: University Press, 1986), and for the Saras excavation
see: A.J. Mills and Nordstrom H.A., "The Archaeological Survey
from Gamai to Dal : Preliminary Report on the Season 1964-1965",
Kush XIV (1966): 1-15.
12 Stuart Tyson Smith, Wretched Kush: Ethnic Identities
and Boundaries in Egypt's Nubian Empire (Routledge, 2003) 145-6.
13 Charles Bonnet, Edifices et rites funeraires de
la necropole de Kerma (Paris, 2000).