Mycenaean Grave Stela

Simcha Jacobovici is a Canadian filmmaker.  He has his own series on History International called, The Naked Archaeologist1 .  €™Don’t worry – he is neither ‘naked’ nor an ‘archaeologist’.  He is just a filmmaker with a program that has a shock value title.


He doesn’€™t exactly have a high view or conservative bent toward the Bible or of the Christian Faith.  Along with James Cameron (famed producer of Titanic), he produced The Jesus Family Tombprogram -“ one that thoroughly denies Christ’s resurrection.  By the way, the Jesus Family Tomb has been thoroughly refuted by a number of archeologists and other scholars2 .
He also produced a documentary back in 2006 called The Exodus Decoded.   While there are some serious flaws in the program3 as well, there is one discussion that particularly caught my attention.  Jacobovici asserts that Mycenaean Grave Stela may provide some evidence concerning the Parting of the Red Sea.

didyouknowblurbMycenae was a Greek-city state located on the Peloponnesian peninsula in Greece.  In the second millennium BC, it was the major center of Greek culture and a military power. In fact, the period from 1600-1100 BC is referred to as the Mycenaean Era in Greek history.  
The city-state’s prowess extended to economic matters, as it was a major goods merchantthroughout the eastern Mediterranean.  There is mounting evidence that Mycenae and Egypt were major trading partners5 Much of Greek culture emanated from Mycenae â€“ including the legends of Hercules, stories of the Trojan War, accounts of the life and death of Agamemnon.  Mycenae also plays a prominent role in Homer’s Iliad.

This map shows roughly the extent of the Mycenaean Empire at its zenith:

















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The first excavations at Mycenae were carried out in 1841 by Greek archeologist Kyriakos Pittakis.  He located and restored a gate that came to be known as the Lion’s Gate6  Shown here, the sculptured lions may be the earliest known example of a sculptured monument in Europe7.


It was German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann who undertook the first full-fledged excavation in the 1870’s.  Schliemann was convinced Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey had some basis in historical fact.  Mycenae was believed to be key in proving this.

While performing his excavation work, he came across two sets of ancient shaft graves.  Both sets were enclosed within circular walls (note red arrow on diagram below).  The older set (referred to as “Grave Circle B”) dates as far back as 1650 BC. The newer one “Grave Circle A”, was comprised of 6 royal shaft graves.  All totaled, the tomb was the burial location for 19 bodies(including 9 men, 8 women and 2 infants).  Pottery finds and other artifacts in the shaft graves suggest that internments took place here between 1600 and 1400 BC8 .

This image9 shows how Mycenae looks from the air today and how it might have looked back during the Mycenaean Period:


Shaft Grave Inhumations Other Grave Contents10 
I 3 women Gold jewelry, faience pottery (i.e., tiny glazed ceramic jars), ivory pyxis (i.e., jars with carved scenes around outside), silver cups, bronze vessels, clay vases
II 1 man Gold cup, gold diadem, bronze weapons, clay vessels, and faience pottery
III 3 women and 2 infants Gold jewelry, massive gold crowns, (infant remains were covered in gold foil), elaborate embroidery on burial shrouds, amber beaded necklaces, gold seals with hunting scenes, gold scales
IV 3 men and 2 women Gold death masks (i.e., gold masks presumably in the form of the deceased’s face), gold breastplate, gold silver and stone vases, libation vases, decorative weaponry
V 3 men Gold death masks (one of which has become known as the ‘Mask of Agamemnon’), amber beads, decorative weaponry, gold and silver vessels, libation vessels
VI 2 men Gold cups, golden knee bands, bronze weapons and clay vases

The sophisticated and elaborate nature of the graves confirms that these were royal tombs.  Here is a photo11 of the shaft grave area at Mycenae:


digging_icon2Steles are stones or slabs with a sculptured face that are used to commemorate an event or act as a monument.  Schliemann found a number of these covering the shaft graves.  This brings us back to Simcha Jacobovici and his Exodus Decoded program.  He believes that three of these slabs (found in Grave V) appear to be relaying some kind of story:

The conventional thought on this first depiction is that it shows a charioteer chasing a man who holds a club .  The swirls in the picture are considered to be only decorative spiral designs12 .


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 Jacobovici believes this to be something quite different.  First, he notes that spiral designs were often used in ancient Greek culture to depict water.  He also believes that the man being chased has a staff (and not a club).  Finally, he believes that the chariot depicted is Egyptian.

According to Jacobovici, the next stele shows the parting of the Red Sea.  He claims that the circular formations at the bottom are symbolic of whirlpools.  In this scene, the man with the staff has now turned and is raised up.  Jacobovici believes this figure is meant to be a depiction of Moses.  Again, this is definitely up for debate.

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The last stele has a section cut out of it.  This is because it was later used in other construction.  However, its scene completes the story:


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In the final scene, the Exodus Decoded puts forth the argument that the water has enclosed the charioteer and has thrown over the horses, chariot and driver.  The character meant to be Moses however, is still standing.

closeupkeystoneAre these steles compelling evidence for the Exodus?  Most scholars would say no.  The fact that Simcha Jacobovici seems to be one of the few (if not only) proponents of this position is concerning.  Plenty of position pieces have postulated that Simcha was not good at doing his homework on this13 .

I have put this forth here as an item for your consideration.  It may be that the steles predate the time the Exodus would have taken place (some place these steles closer to 1500 BC).  I am not convinced on the early dating though.  I also do believe that it is possible these are nothing more than depictions of hunting scenes.


didyouknowblurbOne last item is worth mentioning here.  Many of the artifacts in the shaft graves were of Egyptian origin.  A Temple was located not that far from the graves that also contained Egyptian items14 .  One item was a scarab belonging to Queen Tiye of Egypt15. The Mycenaean royalty apparently had regular interaction with Egyptian royalty.

The interesting part is that Queen Tiye was married to Amenhotep III.  He was the son of Thutmose IV and grandson of Amenhotep II – the Pharaoh of the Exodus.  We now know that cartouches of both Amenhotep II and Amenhotep III have been found in Mycenae16 .

For this reason, I think there may be something to the idea that the Mycenaeans were familiar with the events that befell Egypt during the Exodus!

Here is a sculpture17 of King Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye.  This is in the Cairo Museum of Egyptian Antiquities.  They had a long, peaceful and apparently wealthy reign over Egypt (roughly 1382-1344 BC).



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