Memphis and Saqqara in Epypt

An alabaster sphinx at Memphis likely representing Pharaoh Ramses II

The current capital of Egypt, Cairo, is located on the east bank of the Nile River. Twenty kilometers (12 miles) south, on the western bank, is the location of a former capital city, Memphis. Memphis is also associated with the huge cemetery of Saqqara (about 6 km long by 1.5 km wide), which stretches north of the city towards Giza (closer to Cairo) still along the western bank of the Nile. Perhaps most famous of the pyramids located at Saqqara is the earliest known stone-built pyramid, the Step Pyramid of Djoser (alt. Zoser. 3rd Dynasty, circa 2686-2613 B.C.) - also said to be the earliest stone structure in the world. Nearby this pyramid is one belonging to Unas, the last king of the fifth dynasty (circa 2494-2345 B.C.). This pyramid was the first to be inscribed with funerary texts (known today as the "Pyramid Texts"). Beyond multitudes of human graves as Saqqara, there are graves and small temples associated with the many gods of Egypt, including burials of other sacred animals including falcons, ibises, baboons, and cats (such as at Bubastis). Use of the graveyard of Saqqara continued until after the time of Christ.

Step Pyramid of Djoser

Biblically, along with Thebes, Memphis is referred to in a manner synonymous with the whole country, since it was a seat of power (both governmental and in regards to their pagan religion). Memphis was most associated with the government as it sat pretty close to the divide between Upper and Lower Egypt (the two kingdoms said to have been unified by the ruler of the first Dynasty). Even during the time periods when the official capital was moved elsewhere in the country (Middle Kingdom), including to Thebes, Memphis remained an important religious and cultural center. Only by 7 B.C. had Alexandria surpassed Memphis as the largest city in Egypt.

A colossal limestone statue, now recumbent, of Ramses II

In Scriptures...

God declares the leaders of Egypt (Memphis) to be deceived:

Isaiah 19:11-13 The officials of Zoan are nothing but fools; the wise counselors of Pharaoh give senseless advice. How can you say to Pharaoh, "I am one of the wise men, a disciple of the ancient kings"? 12 Where are your wise men now? Let them show you and make known what the Lord Almighty has planned against Egypt. 13 The officials of Zoan have become fools, the leaders of Memphis are deceived; the cornerstones of her peoples have led Egypt astray. (NIV)

Well in advance, God warned of His coming judgment through Assyria, even noting that some of the Jews would return to Egypt to die in Memphis.

Hosea 9:3-7a They will not remain in the Lord's land; Ephraim will return to Egypt and eat unclean food in Assyria. 4 They will not pour out wine offerings to the Lord, nor will their sacrifices please him. Such sacrifices will be to them like the bread of mourners; all who eat them will be unclean. This food will be for themselves; it will not come into the temple of the Lord. 5 What will you do on the day of your appointed feasts, on the festival days of the Lord? 6 Even if they escape from destruction, Egypt will gather them, and Memphis will bury them. Their treasures of silver will be taken over by briers, and thorns will overrun their tents. 7 The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand. (NIV)

A statue at Memphis - Where Pharaohs believed themselves to be at-least half gods.
(In early pyramid times, Pharaohs believed themselves to be fully gods)

More than a century later, Jeremiah proclaims that the people of Egypt (Memphis) have "shaved the crown" of Israel's head, alluding to Egypt's defeat of king Josiah by Pharaoh Neco (2 Chronicles 35:20-25).

Jeremiah 2:14-17 Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth? Why then has he become plunder? 15 Lions have roared; they have growled at him. They have laid waste his land; his towns are burned and deserted. 16 Also, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have shaved the crown of your head. 17 Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when he led you in the way? (NIV)

A sarcophagus at Memphis


Jeremiah also noted that Jews had fled to live in Memphis after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. It appears that those who had fled there had learned nothing. They were quite willing to continue in their rebellion against God, the very reason that judgment had come to Israel. Now, in Memphis, they were worshipping the hosts of pagan gods prevalent in that society.

Jeremiah 44:1-13 This word came to Jeremiah concerning all the Jews living in Lower Egypt - in Migdol, Tahpanhes and Memphis - and in Upper Egypt: 2 "This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You saw the great disaster I brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Today they lie deserted and in ruins 3 because of the evil they have done. They provoked me to anger by burning incense and by worshiping other gods that neither they nor you nor your fathers ever knew. 4 Again and again I sent my servants the prophets, who said, 'Do not do this detestable thing that I hate!' 5 But they did not listen or pay attention; they did not turn from their wickedness or stop burning incense to other gods. 6 Therefore, my fierce anger was poured out; it raged against the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem and made them the desolate ruins they are today. 7 "Now this is what the Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Why bring such great disaster on yourselves by cutting off from Judah the men and women, the children and infants, and so leave yourselves without a remnant? 8 Why provoke me to anger with what your hands have made, burning incense to other gods in Egypt, where you have come to live? You will destroy yourselves and make yourselves an object of cursing and reproach among all the nations on earth. 9 Have you forgotten the wickedness committed by your fathers and by the kings and queens of Judah and the wickedness committed by you and your wives in the land of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem? 10 To this day they have not humbled themselves or shown reverence, nor have they followed my law and the decrees I set before you and your fathers. 11 "Therefore, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I am determined to bring disaster on you and to destroy all Judah. 12 I will take away the remnant of Judah who were determined to go to Egypt to settle there. They will all perish in Egypt; they will fall by the sword or die from famine. From the least to the greatest, they will die by sword or famine. They will become an object of cursing and horror, of condemnation and reproach. 13 I will punish those who live in Egypt with the sword, famine and plague, as I punished Jerusalem. (NIV)

Entrance to a pyramid at Saqqara: goes steeply under the ground. Author's son, Scott, in doorway.

A few chapters later Jeremiah even notes that God was going to use the king of Babylon to bring judgment on Egypt, not to mention on the Jews that fled there to escape what He had done in Israel. There's no hiding from God!

Jeremiah 46:13-14 This is the message the Lord spoke to Jeremiah the prophet about the coming of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to attack Egypt: 14 "Announce this in Egypt, and proclaim it in Migdol; proclaim it also in Memphis and Tahpanhes: (NIV)

Jeremiah 46:19 Pack your belongings for exile, you who live in Egypt, for Memphis will be laid waste and lie in ruins without inhabitant. (NIV)

God, through Ezekiel, prophesied the destruction of the idols and images at Memphis too.

Ezekiel 30:13-17 "'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: "'I will destroy the idols and put an end to the images in Memphis. No longer will there be a prince in Egypt, and I will spread fear throughout the land. 14 I will lay waste Upper Egypt, set fire to Zoan and inflict punishment on Thebes. 15 I will pour out my wrath on Pelusium, the stronghold of Egypt, and cut off the hordes of Thebes. 16 I will set fire to Egypt; Pelusium will writhe in agony. Thebes will be taken by storm; Memphis will be in constant distress. 17 The young men of Heliopolis and Bubastis will fall by the sword, and the cities themselves will go into captivity. (NIV)

God certainly fulfilled His word and Memphis fell to not rise again. As for the idols and images, the desolate wasteland of Saqqara and its fallen temples testify to the impotence of these pagan gods and the justice of a Holy God.

Habakkuk 2:18-20 "Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. 19 Woe to him who says to wood, 'Come to life!' Or to lifeless stone, 'Wake up!' Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. 20 But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him." (NIV)


Another view of the fallen colossal of Ramses II with people for perspective

Close-up of hand with cartouche (name of pharaoh)

Entering the Mastaba of Ptah-Hotep, visier to Pharaoh, Fifth Dynasty (24th century)

Another, of many, Mastaba at Saqqara (and ever present postcard vendor too)

Same Mastaba without people

Same Mastaba view from right side (notice remains of a few decorating hieroglyphics on exterior)

View looking south from Saqqara (past step pyramid)
Note two "small" pyramids toward the left at the horizon (see second image below)

Close-up of right view from above

View much farther south of Giza. (Zoom-in of left part of image two-above)
The Bent Pyramid at Dashur is circa 2680-2565 B.C., 4th Dynasty

Inside the burial chambers and passageways (above and below). Note hieroglyphics on wall.