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Open letter to science editors

 

KRONOS Vol. I, Issue 2

A NOTE ON THE LOCATION OF AVARIS
by MARVIN A. LUCKERMAN

Editor's Preface --

The identification of the exact location of the Hyksos capital, Avaris, has remained geographically elusive to archaeologists even of the present time and is still a basically unsettled issue. The problem has occupied Egyptological thought and activity for more than half a century without a totally satisfactory resolution.(1)

Informative material concerning Avaris has come down to us from the Jewish chronicler Josephus who, in turn, was quoting the words of the Egyptian priest Manetho.(2) Yet, for all that, modern scholarship appears steadfastly deadlocked in its ability to arrive at a definitive conclusion. (3) One group of scholars supports Tanis and another Khata 'na-Qantir as the site of the Hyksos capital.(4)

Van Seters, however, has rightly pointed out that "the matter must be considered as more than an academic quibble. The location of Avaris has important implications for an understanding of the Hyksos rule. Unfortunately, while many scholars have debated the virtues of the evidence for a particular location, few have stopped to consider the historical implications of their identification."(5)

These words were published almost a decade ago and Van Seters justly took his colleagues to task on the subject. Nevertheless, had he not ignored Velikovsky's Ages in Chaos, Van Seters would have seen that one scholar, at least, has not only seriously proposed where the site of Avaris is to be found but deliberated on the historical implications of his choice. (6)

In an attempt to tilt the balance of scholarly stalemate, Van Seters opted for Khata 'na-Qantir on the basis of archaeological, literary, and philological data;(7) and while his reasoning seems compelling, it is not indisputable. The latter point, in particular, necessitated his contradicting the etymological conclusions of Gardiner, Labib, and Kees(8) as well as Sethe. (9)

Thus, there is still room for linguistical debate and, in this respect, Velikovsky's argument that el-Arish is the site of Avaris remains a potent one. In addition, then, to Tanis and Khata 'na-Qantir, Egyptologists must earnestly deal with a third contender -- el-Arish -- when searching for the "lost city" of Avaris.

The following intriguing and novel observations by Marvin Luckerman should emphasize the point.

Velikovsky identifies Avaris with el-Arish.(10) It is interesting to note that el-Arish means "the booth" in Arabic, a term which Scripturally denotes "a temporary shelter for cattle (Gen. 33:17), for men (Jonah 4:5), and especially on the battlefield ( II Sam. 11:11; I Kings 20:12,16)."(11) At a first glance, there may seem to be little in common between the Hyksos stronghold, once capable of supporting almost a quarter of a million armed men,(12) and the concept of a desert "booth."

However, it should be borne in mind that when the Islamic Arabs swept out of Arabia in the seventh century A.D. and conquered Egypt, Syria, and Iraq (not too unlike the Hyksos), they did not immediately live in the captured cities but in armed encampments strategically placed in key desert positions.

"The strategy employed by the Arabs in the great campaigns of conquest was determined by the use of desert power, on lines strikingly similar to the use of sea power by modern Empires. The desert was familiar and accessible to the Arabs and not to their enemies. They could use it as a means of communication for supplies and reinforcements, as a safe retreat in times of emergency."(13) Pre-existing cities were used as a base of military operation when suitable while new ones were created when necessary. "These [latter] garrison towns were the Gibralters and Singapores of the early Arab Empire. In them the Arabs built their cantonments and garrison cities and throughout the Ummayad period they remained the main centres of Arab government. These cities -- the Amsar, as they are known in Arab history -- played a vital role in the establishment and consolidation of Arab influence in the conquered lands."(14)

One such Amsar was al-Fustat in Egypt, situated on the east bank of the Nile. The Caliph Omar, fearful of having his troops cut off, was loathe to have his forces cross to the western side of the Nile without a backup fortress. Omar's able commander, Amr ibn al-As, therefore undertook certain military precautions. "The headquarters of the army were pitched near Memphis. Around them grew up a military station, called from its origin Fostat (al-Fustat), or 'the Encampment'. It expanded rapidly into the capital of Egypt, the modern Cairo."(15)

Al-Fustat thus became the first city in Egypt to be founded by its Moslem conquerors. It was also the first place of residence in that country for the Arab governors. The very name of the city implies its original function. "In former times the name al-Fustat was written in various ways, enumerated by the Arab authors, which betray uncertainty as to the true origin of the word. One of the meanings suggested is that of 'tent' . . . [though] it seems likely that this was merely the arabization of the [Greek] word [Fossaton], camp, encampment, used by the bilingual papyri to denote the town."(16)

In regard to the idea that al-Fustat once meant 'tent', it is noteworthy that Lane's Arabic-English dictionary(17) translates the fifth form of the verb 'arasha as meaning 'the pitching of tents' which brings us even closer to the prospect that el-Arish was initially a military encampment like al-Fustat. The foundations of a permanent encampment were established at the latter, sometime in early 643 A.D., after the first siege of Alexandria by the Arabs. Gradually this was transformed into a town which later became the present-day capital of Egypt.

It is now quite simple to point out the similarities between Avaris of the Hyksos and al-Fustat of the Arabs. Since the latter meant military encampment, it can easily be seen how the name el-Arish could come to be applied to the former. Besides, el-Arish was not an insignificant city if one briefly examines its history.

The Islamic general Amr entered Egypt only after the city was brought into submission and "it was at al-Arish that King Baldwin I died in 1118. Yakut states that the town contained a great market and many inns, and that merchants had their agents there. Al-Arish was occupied by Napoleon in 1799; in the following year a treaty was concluded in the town, by which the French were forced to evacuate Egypt."(18)

There is yet one final aspect of significance to the name el-Arish. Without the vowel i we are left with the word Arsh which means "throne." It would, of course, be most appropriate for the capital of the Hyksos to be called a throne city. Since el means the in Arabic, it is not a part of the name proper. Alternatively, the sh is interchangeable with the s as in Shalom and Salaam. This fact is confirmed by the Encyclopedia of Islam which states that the name el-Arish "is found as early as the first centuries of our era in the form of Laris."(19) Furthermore, the letter vav (w or v) is a weak consonant susceptible to being dropped from a word or name in the course of time. It is wholly possible, therefore, that a vav could have once been between the A (ayin) and the r (raysh) in the name Arish thereby making it AV ARIS.

Hence, by this linguistic route, Avaris could have reasonably become (el) -Arish.

REFERENCES

1. See J. Van Seters, The Hyhsos (New Haven, 1966), Chapter 9.
2. Josephus, Against Apion, I, 77-78; I. Velikovsky, Ages in Chaos (Doubleday: Garden City,
3. See A. H. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford, 1964), p. 258.
4. Van Seters, op. cit., p. 128, n. 4.
5. Ibid., p. 127.
6. Velikovsky, op. cit., pp. 86-89, especially the comments on p. 88; also see I. Velikovsky, "Theses for the Reconstruction of Ancient History," Scripta Academica Hierosolymitana (N. Y., 1945), Thesis #20.
7. Van Seters, op. cit., pp. 132-151, especially 149-151; Cp. Velikovsky, A in C, pp. 88-89.
8. Van Seters, Ibid., pp. 149-150, footnotes 84, 85, and 86.
9. Velikovsky, A in C, p. 88, n. 4.
10. Ibid., p. 38, "Already in the days of Manetho the land of [the Hyksos] origin was not known with certainty; but this he did know: 'Some say that they were Arabians'." -- Ibid., p. 56 (emphasis added).
11. E. M. Good, "Booth," The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, I (N. Y., 1962), p. 455 (emphasis
added).
12. A in C, p. 87.
13. B. Lewis, The Arabs in History (Harper Torchbooks: N. Y., 1960), p. 55.
14. Ibid.
15. W. Muir, Annals of the Early Caliphate (London 1883), p. 244 (emphasis added). "This name Cahira, or City of Victory, is of later date.' -- n. 2, Ibid.; Cp. Van Seters, op. cit.,
16. J. Jomier, "al-Fustat," Encyclopedia of Islam, II, new ed. (E. J. Brill: Leiden, 1965) p. 957 (emphasis added).
17. See E. W. Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, Book I (London, 1863-93) (emphasis added).
18 F. Buhl, "al-Arish," Encyclopedia of Islam, I, new ed. (E. J. Brill: Leiden, 1960), p. 630.

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