Sphinx Statue Found in Israel Has Historians Baffled

Thus saith the LORD: The labor of Egypt, and the merchandise of Ethiopia, and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine… (Isaiah 45:14)

A Sphinx, inscribed to the Egyptian Pharaoh Mycerinus, who ruled Egypt in 2500 BCE, was unearthed at the Tel Hazor excavation site in northern Israel last month, making headlines for both being found in Israel, as well as it being the first sphinx found anywhere in the world that is attributed to him. (Photo: Félix Bonfils/Wikimedia Commons)

The Tel Hazor excavation site in northern Israel made headlines last month when the discovery of part of an Egyptian sphinx statue was publicized.  The discovery was actually made last August by Shlomit Blecher, manager of the Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin.

The sphinx is inscribed to the Egyptian Pharaoh Mycerinus, who ruled Egypt in 2500 BCE.  He oversaw the construction of three pyramids in Giza, including the one in which he is enshrined.  This, however, is the first sphinx found anywhere in the world that is attributed to him, adding to both its significance and its mystery.

During Mycerinus’s time, there were no relations between Egypt and the Canaanites who ruled in Tel Hazor then.  Archaeologist Amnon Ben Tor, director of the excavation site and a professor at Hebrew University, therefore believes it is unlikely the statue arrived in Israel in Mycerinus’s lifetime.

Ben Tor offered two other options: the statue was brought to Tel Hazor by Canaanite conquerors who plundered Egyptian temples, or perhaps it was a gift from a later Pharaoh to the Canaanite king ruling in Hazor at a time when there were relations between the two powers.  In an interview with NPR, Ben Tor indicated he believed the third option to be most likely.

Tel Hazor is one of Israel’s richest and most significant archaeological sites.  Hazor served as the southern Canaanite capital from 2700 BCE until its destruction in the 13th century BCE.  “Following a gap of some 150 years, it was resettled in the 11th century BC by the Israelites, who continuously occupied it until 732 BC,” said Ben Tor.  At that time, it was destroyed by the Assyrians when they invaded the Northern Kingdom of Israel and exiled the ten tribes there (see 2 Kings 17).

Egypt and Canaan had a checkered history, according to Ben Tor.  During the late 17th and early 16th centuries BCE, Egypt was ruled by a cruel Canaanite dynasty.  Later, however, during the 15th, 14th and 13th centuries BCE, it was Egypt that controlled Canaan.  Be Tor believes that is when the sphinx arrived in Israel.

The statute fragment consists only of the sphinx’s paws and part of its forearms.  The missing head and torso may be somewhere in the vast ruins of Hazor.  Ben Tor explained that the statue was deliberately smashed, as were 10 other Egyptian artifacts found at the site, most likely when rule of the city changed hands.  When that happened, statues representing the previous rulership usually lose their arms and hands in defiance of the deposed leaders.  “This is what happened to this one here. He lost his hands,” Ben-Tor said.

The full statue is estimated to have stood at about 80 centimeters tall (over 2 feet) and and a meter and a half long (6 feet).  The remaining fragment is 60 cm by 60 cm (almost 2 ft by 2 ft).  In addition to the Mycerinus’s name, the inscription on the statue reads “beloved by the divine souls of Heliopolis that gave him eternal life,” indicating that its original location was the temple of Heliopolis, the biblical city of On, north of modern-day Cairo.