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SAUDI ARABIA: First pharaonic inscription sheds new light on pre-Islamic past

Saudi inscriptionSaudi archaeologists recently discovered the first royal pharaonic inscription on a mountain face near the ancient oasis city of Tayma, evidence, experts say, of the major trade networks that criss-crossed the region thousands of years ago.

The discovery comes on the heels of a major push by Saudi authorities to foster wider appreciation for the Arabian peninsula's pre-Islamic history, which has often been glossed over or ignored in official narratives. In September, the Louvre in Paris wrapped up an exhibition of pre-Islamic Saudi artifacts, most of which had never been displayed before, according to an article in Le Monde at the time (a translation appeared in the Guardian).

The attention on the country's pre-Muslim past has proved controversial in the ultra-conservative kingdom. Some Saudis believe that displaying non-Muslim artifacts, whether Pagan, Jewish or Christian, should be forbidden, even if these artifacts pre-date Islam. In 2009,  the well-known Saudi cleric Mohammad al Nujaimi said such artifacts should be "left in the ground."

But the archeologists are continuing anyway. In 2008, Madain Saleh, an ancient pre-Islamic Nabatean city, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site, despite some local reservations.

"Saudis don't want to run the risk of turning a site into a place of idolatry," the Saudi journalist Sabria Jawhar explained in a piece published last year on the Huffington Post.

"Like most Saudis, I know little of pre-Islamic sites, although occasionally amateur archaeologists come across such places," she wrote. "Frankly, it's gross negligence to destroy or hide these discoveries. The government in recent years has taken positive steps to recover and catalog artifacts, but there's a disagreement with what to do with them once they are found."

The latest find "sheds more light about the role of Tayma as a very important site in the international trade road at that time, not only from Egypt but also Mesopotamia and Syria," Dr. Ali Ibrahim al Ghabban, from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, told Babylon & Beyond.

Tayma, he said, was the mPicture 7ost important economic city in northern Arabia. Even the frankincense that came from the Arabia peninsula was shipped from Tayma to the rest of the world, he said.

The inscription found bears the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses III, who ruled in the 12th century BC, and probably functioned as an ancient road sign to travelers, guiding them on their way to Tayma.

Display won't be an issue for the inscription outside Tayma -- it's carved into the side of a mountain. But the news conference held Sunday at the National Museum sought to cast the discovery as a major archaeological find, indicating a clear effort by authorities to set an example by celebrating Saudi Arabia's pre-Islamic past.

"This is the first royal inscription found, and not just for anyone, for one of the most important kings," said al Ghabban. "This is the past, the history of the country, and we give the same importance to all of it and people understand that this is historical evidence."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Dr. Ali Ibrahim Al Ghabban shows a picture of the first pharaonic inscription found carved into a mountain in northern Saudi Arabia. Credit: Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities

Photo: A close-up of the inscription shows the royal seal of the pharaoh Ramses III. Credit: Arab News

Comments () | Archives (10)

Maybe Moses and his followers were remnants and descendants of Akhenaten monotheistic followers and were chased out of Egypt by later Pharaoh's or at least picked up monotheistic idea's from Akhenaten, considering a relatively short period of time past between reign of Akhenaten and appearance of Moses, Moses surely should have been aware of Pharaoh Akhenaten religious practices even if he wasn't a follower of Akhenaten's faith, it's a possibility!

Roots are very important for all human and animals.
Better the roots better is the pesent life. In islam they have destroyed their roots or they care less or islam is root cause of destruction of past history and soon if this goes on our world will not know the real history of world but only history of mohammed and people will be ashmed of the human civilization. As mohammed gave one thing kill all who don't belive in word allah.

Doesn't it seem more likely that this was a boundary stelae? What does the full inscription say? Ramses II conquered a great deal of the Middle East, including part of what is now Saudi Arabia.

"On the evidence, Zoroastrianism was the first monotheistic religion in the world. The second was the brief Egyptian monotheistic religion that only lasted during the reign of Akhenaten. The third was in the Hebrew kingdom of Judah, during the reign of Hezekiah, but successfully re-instituted during the reign of Josiah."

Does the name Akhenaten mean anything to you? He was an Egyptian king, reputed to be the first true monotheistic worshiper, around 1330 b.c. So, their claim to be first monotheist holds some water in my book.
As far as getting along with others is concern, the Jewish settlers occupying Palestine do a great disservice to the peace process in that part of the world.
What say you, deanblake?

The inability to confront the Arab pagan past, acknowledge it, and know heartfelt that it is past, not present, is an indication of weakenss and lack of faith in Islamic teaching. Mohamud swept the Kabbah clean of idols. Its a done deal. Parallels by doubters, like those who suggest the Jewish Menorah has seven branches representing seven stars that were worshiped by others, fail to understand that roots and current religious belief are different. The former does not impune nor taint the later. Its just name calling by amature pseudo-ethnologists and non-believers. A more realistic historical based Arab Muslim narrative would give Muslims a genuine pride bsed on overcoming their pagan past, not by claiming falsely they are the first monotheists; too prideful, they need a dose of humility and with it comes a reward, better relations with Jews and Christians, and a rededication to their god.

The inscription reads: Ramses III decrees for a good time visit Rachel's Tayma Tavern.

There is at LEAST one good reason why fundamentalist Muslims do not want mention of pre-Islamic religion in Saudi Arabia & elsewhere in the Muslim world.

Because it would expose the fact that certain aspects of Islam are ROOTED in pre-Islamic paganism...Muhammad himself incorporated some of those cultural traditions of his time into his brand of religion.

Saudis and all Semitic people in general already have plenty of pre Abrahamic religious past if they chose to embrace their past positive achievements minus the violent parts, hopefully! Mesopotamia were inhibited by Semitic tribes ever since Akkadian conquered Sumerians and opening the era of total annihilation of populations and cities by victors (not exclusively a Semitic trait do!) until the era of taxation rather than annihilation by Iranians (Persians), this tablet age puts it in time of Babylonia times in a trade routes between Egypt and Yemen and/or Mesopotamia!

Of course, we would all like to hear a little more about the Gods and Goddesses worshipped in pre-Islamic Arabia. Which would explain another report that stated archaeologist working in Arabia are sworn to secrecy. It would appear that they have chosen to selectively release some of their pre-Islamic artefacts, that don't conflict with the beliefs of over a billion people. Arabian artefacts uncovered earlier show the use of the moon and star symbol, seen separately or together, pre-date Islam.

Perhaps knowledge of pre-Islamic Arabia can help Muslims in general to moderate their beliefs and can act as a guard against Islamic extremism of all kinds. It could help foster more respect for other religious beliefs ~ for example a moderate view of Islam would offer non-Muslims equal rights in the Muslim world [see dhimmi ~ as opposed to what Martin Luther King stood for]. Knowledge of Arabia's past might also help Muslims, to more easily put Islam into the context of the modern world.


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