Jeremiah and the Border Marker of Pharaoh Hophra
Aug 4, 2022
In June 2021 a farmer working in his field near Ismailia, Egypt discovered a sandstone stela carved with ancient writing. It was a border marker of Pharaoh Wahibre also known as Pharaoh Hophra to Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
Not much is known about Hophra from archaeology. Greek historians speak of him, and he is one of only six pharaohs mentioned in the Old Testament. Ismalia is in the same region as Tahpanhes, the city where Jeremiah was when he prophesied about Hophra.
"What was Jeremiah doing in Egypt?" you might ask.
Well, you can bet he didn't want to be there. Shortly before, he had been released from a prison in Jerusalem by one of Nebuchadnezzar's officials. He was given his freedom and the choice to go to Babylon and be taken care of by the official or remain free in Israel to live wherever he pleased. He ended up being taken to the new governor of Jerusalem, Gedaliah.
Jeremiah's peaceful freedom was short-lived. Gedaliah was killed. Then other Jews arrived who pretended they wanted to obey God. They asked Jeremiah to pray for them and give them God's guidance on whether they should flee to Egypt. They were afraid the Babylonians would retaliate for killing Gedaliah.
But they didn't like Jeremiah's answer. Leave it to a true prophet to call out false pretenses and sin. They kidnapped the Jews in Jerusalem, including Jeremiah, and went as far as the cities in the delta region like Tahpanhes.
You might wonder why the Jews took Jeremiah since they didn't like his preaching or his prophesying. Didn't like is actually a mild description. Later, they vowed to never listen to him. Jeremiah was not a young man at this time. Perhaps they didn't want to leave him alone. He may have lived the rest of his life there.
Jeremiah had it rough as a prophet. He lived during a time when no one honored God's words. But Hophra, God said, would be a sign to these wayward Jews that Jeremiah's words were God's words.
And something did happen to Hophra. Jeremiah said the demise of the pharaoh would be a sign the Jews hiding in Egypt would be "consumed by the sword and by the famine" (Jeremiah 44:29-30). Hophra withdrew from a fight with the Babylonians and had to deal with mutiny. Ezekiel called him out as being like a staff of reeds (Ezekiel 29:6-7). Hophra was defeated by the Greeks and met with a civil war at home. He lost his throne to one of his father's generals and Herodotus writes in Histories 2.169, that after being defeated by this general, Hophra was initially treated well, then handed over to the Egyptian people and strangled to death.
It will be interesting when the stela is translated. The opinion is that it was erected during Hophra's military campaigns in the east. The sandstone slab is over 7 feet tall and 3 feet wide which is a lot of room to write. But don't expect an exposé of Hophra's military failures. The Egyptians held to your mom's advice when it came to their histories: if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all.
Image by Jeremy Bezanger courtesy of Unsplash
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