THE THIRD INTERMEDIATE PERIOD

As we have seen in the story of Wenamon, the Twenty-first Dynasty started out with Egypt effectively divided. The generals and high priests of Amon following Piankh and Herihor controlled the southern half and the Smendes and his successor ruled the Delta. The northern throne then passed to Psusennes, son of Pinudjem I of Thebes. Nominally the country was then under a single king, although the line of military high priests continued to hold political control in the south. The two houses were closely connected by birth and by marriage, and relations between them were cordial. The dynasty ended around 950 B.C. and was succeeded by the first ruling family of non-Egyptian stock, if we do not count the Hyksos.

The founder of the Libyan or Twenty-second Dynasty had the barbarous (from the Egyptian viewpoint) name of Sheshonk. We have a neat family tree that carries his genealogy back to the Twentieth Dynasty, when his ancestors settled in Egypt. They were Libyans, who called themselves “chiefs of the Meshwesh.” The Meshwesh were one of the Libyan tribes whom Merneptah and Ramses III had defeated, but the particular Meshwesh who became kings of Egypt were thoroughly Egyptianized and had lived in Egypt for generations.

Sheshonk I, as he is known, was one of the more effective leaders Egypt had seen for some time. By sending his son to Thebes as high priest of Amon and army commander, he was able to take control of the southern part of Egypt, and he made the first military incursion into the Levant in over one hundred years. As Shishak, Sheshonk is well known to biblical scholars, for it was he who sacked Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25–26). The only source for this is the Old Testament; “Shishak” did not consider Jerusalem worth mentioning on the great entrance portal he built at Karnak, though he gave a long list of other conquered towns in Palestine. We may therefore conclude that he campaigned there, but precisely where and with what results are unknown, since neither account can be taken literally. Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark is wonderful fun, but there is no mention in either the Egyptian or the Hebrew account of the Ark of the Covenant being taken to Egypt and no reason to suppose that if it had been taken, which it probably wasn’t, it would have been reverently tucked away in a secret tomb at Tanis.

Tanis was one of the major cities of this dynasty, but Bubastis in the Delta, home of the cat goddess Bastet, was equally important. The Twenty-second Dynasty is therefore sometimes called the Bubastite. The other kings are either Osorkons or Takelots; there were several of each, and it’s impossible to tell them apart without a scorecard, unless you are an Egyptologist specializing in this confused period.

By the end of the Twenty-second Dynasty the kingdom was dissolving, back into the small states from which it had arisen. At one point there were four or five people claiming the titles of king. The Twenty-third Dynasty was probably contemporaneous with the Twenty-second, and the Twenty-Fourth consisted of a single king, whose Greek name was Bocchoris. He was the son of a local prince named Tefnakhte, and why he rates a separate dynasty, only heaven and Manetho know; centered in the Delta city of Sais, he certainly never ruled all of Egypt. The only continuity, of an unusual sort, was at Thebes, where a series of women held the office of God’s Wife.

We have seen this title before; it was used by queens during the Eighteenth Dynasty, presumably to refer to their unique relationship with the god Amon. The title appears sporadically during succeeding dynasties, always being held by the king’s wife. We can’t be precisely certain when the situation changed, since identifying holders of the title during the Twenty-second Dynasty is difficult. By the beginning of the Twenty-third Dynasty, however, the God’s Wife of Amon had become an independent power, functioning alongside the male rulers of Thebes. These women were not kings’ wives. All were kings’ daughters; the office was not passed on from mother to daughter but by way of adoption. It is safe to assume, as most scholars have done, that the ladies had no mortal husbands but remained faithful to Amon in body as well as in spirit. Two of their other titles, those of Adorer of the God and Hand of the God, are known from earlier times, but presumably had different implications at this period.

In practical terms, the procedure had a number of advantages. Each new king, what ever his antecedents, sent a (presumably virgin) daughter to Thebes, to be adopted by the current God’s Wife—thus gaining a certain degree of legitimacy and a loyal adherent, who might help to counter the prestige of the high priest. How much political power the God’s Wives actually wielded is questionable, but the office continued unbroken, through changes of dynasty, invasion, and usurpation, until Egypt fell to a conqueror who worshipped other gods than Amon-Re of Thebes.

In the meantime the nation was ripe for invasion, which was just what it got. The Assyrians were coming down, and they were not the only ones. The Egyptians were not as adept in the “mysteries” as the Rosicrucians believed them to have been, and their varied contributions to civilization did not include the Ouija board. But if they had contacted the shade of Thutmose III he would probably have warned his remote successors to watch out for the Asiatics. Thutmose was too long dead; he would have probably been astounded at the direction from which the inevitable conquest finally came.

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