Responses to Islamic Awareness

Were Burnt Bricks Used In Ancient Egypt In The Time of Moses,
or is this another of Muhammad's Lofty Tales ?

In this article Elias KarÓm attempts to defend the Qur'an against the charge of historical inaccuracy in Sura 28:38, where Pharaoh orders Haman to bake bricks in order to build a lofty tower. A major problem with this passage, aside from the fact that Haman was the Prime Minister of King Xerxes and had nothing to do with the Pharaohs of Egypt, is that there are few archeological sites in Egypt where we find baked bricks, and we mentioned them in our original article.

Mr. KarÓm could have attempted to get the Qur'an out of this dilemma by pointing out that the Qur'an does not explicitly say that the lofty tower was, in fact, constructed. However, to say this, we must admit that Muhammad was a terrible story-teller. After confounding the Biblical accounts of the Pharaoh of the Exodus, Haman of the Book of Esther, and the Tower of Babel from Genesis, Muhammad completely ruins the story by going off of the plot and recites a number of dire threats and trite comments about God. Muhammad most likely got his material from Genesis 11:3-4:

They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

We continue to assert that the Qur'an makes an historical error when it claims that the Egyptians used baked bricks. Except for some minor ruins at Nebesheh and Defenneh, baked [or burnt] bricks were not used in Egypt before the Roman period (Manual of Egyptian Archaeology, G. Maspero, H. Grevel, p. 4).

Mr. KarÓm cites several sources which claim that the Egyptians knew how to bake bricks and that some examples have been found at sites in Nubia. The strongest argument comes from A. J. Spencer's, Brick Architecture In Ancient Egypt (Aris & Phillips Ltd., UK, 1979, p. 140) - emphasis is ours:

From the foregoing, it must be concluded that burnt brick was known in Egypt at all periods, but used only when its durability would give particular advantage over the mud brick.

The fact that the technique of firing bricks was known throughout Egyptian history is hardly surprising. The Egyptians were a sophisticated people, however, because of the lack of fuel and the availability of cut stone, they rarely used baked bricks. The pre-dynastic Egyptians had evidence, through town walls and houses that were burned during accidental fires, that heat hardens mud bricks. There are several archeological sites such as Tell Edfu, Elephantine, Abydos, and Kom Ombo which provide excellent evidence of the effects of fire on brick work.

Perhaps the closest examples of burnt bricks remotely near the time of Moses are the fired paving tiles (not bricks) in the Middle Kingdom fortress in Nubia, and several New Kingdom tomb friezes and linings of burial chambers.

Paul T. Nicholson and Ian Shaw (Ancient Egyptian materials and technology, Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000) conclude:

One factor inhibiting the use of fired brick has presumably been the added cost of the fuel needed for the firing, as well as the need for a more suitable (and expensive) mortar, which, in the Hellenistic period, was lime (page 79).

Mr. KarÓm's next line of defense is to point out that the ruins at Nebesheh are dated from the Nineteenth Dynasty, which Mr KarÓm claims to be "the period of history in which Moses(P) is associated!". This does not answer the Qur'an's problem. We have two possible scenarios:

1. Rameses II is the Pharaoh of the Exodus

If we assume that Rameses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, we have only the ruins at Nebesheh and Defenneh, mentioned in our first article, which contain baked bricks. These ruins are minor because they do not contain a large number of these bricks. The ruins at Nebesheh was a tomb constructed of red baked bricks, dated to Egypt's Nineteenth Dynasty. W.M. Flinders Petrie tells us:

"This tomb was of Pa-mer-kau, according to the two limestone ushabti found in it; and from a statue in the temple, representing Merenptah, son of Pa-mer-kau, and bearing the cartouche of Ramessu II., it may be dated to the nineteenth dynasty." (W.M. Flinders Petrie, Tanis, Part II, Nebesheh (Am) and Defenneh (Tahpanhes))

Earl Baldwin Smith tells us:

"By the end of the III Dynasty the Egyptians were masters of such essentials of brick architecture as the arch and vault. Kiln-baked brick was almost never used, and a few examples of glazed tile, appearing in a highly developed technique in both the I and III Dynasties, prove that it was not technical ignorance, even at an early date, which kept the Egyptians from developing the possibilities of this method of wall decoration and protection."

Smith continues:

"Although Egypt had an old and fully developed tradition of brick architecture, she never evolved, as did Mesopotamia, a monumental style in this material. While brick continued to be the most common building material throughout Egyptian history, it was used more for practical construction than for important monuments." (Egyptian Architecture as Cultural Expression, American Life Foundation, 1968, page 7.)

Please remember that we need to find a sufficient number of bricks because we are looking for a lofty tower, in spite of the fact that bricks were not used to construct important monuments! Where are these bricks, or for that matter, the lofty tower, Mr. KarÓm? Does any archeological evidence exist to support the Qur'an, or is this another lofty tale, told by Muhammad to the people of Mecca in order to established his legitimacy? Please bring your proof.

2. Rameses II was not the Pharaoh of Exodus

If Rameses II was not the Pharaoh of the Exodus, then the two sites with baked bricks are no longer relevant! Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus? The Bible does not name him but, unlike the Qur'an, the Bible contains historical information.

Ramesses II cannot be the Pharaoh of Exodus according to the Bible. There is debate among Biblical archaeologists concerning the chronology of Moses and the Exodus, but we can safely say that most scholars place the Exodus prior to the reign of Rameses. In Judges 11:26, one of the last Judges, named Jephthah, says that the period of time from the first settlement in Transjordan, during the Conquest, to his own time, is 300 years. I Kings 6:1, tells us that the time from the Exodus to the building the temple by Solomon in 966 BC is recorded as 480 years, which complements the date in Judges. These two passages place the Exodus around 1450 BC, but Ramesses II reigned in the 13th Century (1279 - 1213 BC)!

Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus and when did these events occur? According to one biblical chronology, Moses was born around 1527 BC. In the new chronology of Egypt (A Test of Time: The Bible:- From Myth to History by David M. Rohl), the Pharaoh on the throne of Egypt was Neferhotep I of the 13th Dynasty.

What proof exists to support this claim?

John Fulton, in his A New Chronology says:

The early Christian historian Eusebius in his work 'Evangelicae Preparationis' quotes from a book 'Peri Ioudaion' (Concerning the Jews) by the Jewish historian Artapanus. This work of Artapanus has not survived down to the present but is also quoted in Clement's 'Stromata'. Artapanus, writing in the 3rd century BC, had access to ancient records in Egyptian temples and perhaps even the famous Alexandrian library of Ptolemy I.

Artapanus writes that a pharaoh named Palmanothes was persecuting the Israelites. His daughter Merris adopted a Hebrew child who grew up to be called prince Mousos. Merris married a pharaoh Khenephres. Prince Mousos grew up to administer the land on behalf of this pharaoh. He led a military campaign against the Ethiopians who were invading Egypt; however, upon his return, Khenephres grew jealous of his popularity. Mousos then fled to Arabia to return when Khenephres died and lead the Israelites to freedom. It may be only a Mosaic story with similarities to the biblical account, yet the only pharaoh with the name Khenephres was Sobekhotep IV, who took the name Khaneferre at his coronation. He reigned soon after Neferhotep I of the 13th Dynasty, as mentioned above, the pharaoh in power at Moses' birth!

Josephus in his 'Antiquities of the Jews', with access to very old manuscripts and writing in AD 93, also mentioned Moses' Ethiopian or Kushite war. Here, Moses led an Egyptian army down the Nile valley, past the Third Cataract, deep into Kush (modern Ethiopia). In the British Museum is a stela (page 261, fig. 289) which tells of a 13th Dynasty pharaoh undertaking a campaign south into the region of Kush. That pharaoh is none other than Khaneferre, the step-father of Moses according to Artapanus. He is the only 13th Dynasty pharaoh who is recorded as having campaigned into Upper Nubia or Ethiopia. At Kerma on the Nile an official Egyptian building was found, outside of which was discovered a statue of Khaneferre, so dating this building to the 13th Dynasty. This is many hundreds of kilometres south of the known boundaries of 13th Dynasty Egypt and may have been a governor's residence'. It would have been built to secure Egyptian interests in the area after the military victory of the Egyptians led by Moses, as this was the only Kushite war at that time with Egypt. As Moses was a prince of Egypt and was 40 years old according to the Bible when he fled to Arabia, he could certainly have led this military operation - an Israelite leading an Egyptian army to war! If this part of Josephus' account is true then it adds weight to the rest of his account of the life of Moses and also gives us some firmer evidence of the existence of this charismatic leader!

Clearly the King of Egypt during the time of Moses lived much earlier than the 13th Century (1279 - 1213 BC), which Mr. Karim implies to be the time of Moses.

Another Problem with the Qur'an's Account of Moses

The most amazing quality of the Qur'an is that when Muslims attempt to solve one problem, others come to light! According to Sura 28:8-9, Pharaoh's wife, not daughter, adopted baby Moses. This contradicts the Bible as well as recorded history. To further complicate the issue, Muslim tradition gives Pharaoh's wife the name of Asiyah (Mishkatu 'l-Masabih, xxiv c. 22), which is not an Egyptian name and was most likely unknown during her lifetime!

The Egyptians did not build structures out of baked bricks prior to the Roman period. The two exceptions were noted in this, and in our original, article. If we assume that Rameses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, which is not supported by historical evidence, only two archeological sites in Egypt from this period have baked bricks. These ruins do not contain a sufficient number of bricks to build a lofty tower. If the Pharaoh of the Exodus ruled earlier than the 19th Dynasty, which is most likely, then we have no evidence of baked bricks for this time period. In either case, the Qur'an's account is not supported by historical evidence.

Mr. KarÓm makes the usual ad-hominem attacks, found frequently in Muslim polemics, claiming that the "missionaries" are "twisting historical details" and practice the "deliberate suppression of basic facts". This is an amazing statement coming from a website which is famous for its selective quotations . This is probably not surprising behaviour from those who follow the teachings of Muhammad, a man who actually advocated lying under some circumstances, and excused it for many other occasions.

Mr. KarÓm claims (without citation):

It is believed that the art of brick making was imported into Egypt from Mesopotamia to produce some magnificent monuments.

This is contrary to the archeological evidence! Where are these "magnificent monuments", built of burnt bricks in Egypt Mr. KarÓm? Bring your proof if you are truthful, instead of attacking the honesty and sincerity of others!


The original thesis of this argument still stands. The Qur'an makes a historical error when it claims that the Egyptians used baked bricks to construct royal monuments. Except for some minor ruins at Nebesheh and Defenneh, baked [or burnt] bricks were not used in Egypt before the Roman period. Mr. KarÓm only needs to find archeological evidence for a lofty tower, or a sufficient number of baked bricks required to build a lofty tower. We must remember that, in this passage, Muhammad attempted to convince the people of Mecca that he was a Prophet, in a similar position as Moses. Muhammad confounded several Biblical stories in an attempt to make his point. He also demonstrated his talent for ruining an otherwise interesting tale by not completing the story. In the final analysis, archeology [not quote-mining] gives us the ability to know facts about the past and to judge the historicity of books such as the Qur'an and the Bible, separating facts from lofty tales. Thanks to archeology, we know that the Qur'an does not stand up to historical scrutiny.

Andrew Vargo

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Pharaoh, Haman, Contradictions & The Qur'an

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