Erich Lessing

A carpet of greenery attests to the life-giving powers of the Nile (top) in this view near Beni Hassan, in Middle Egypt. Putative control of Egypt’s waters was crucial to a pharaoh’s perceived status, as both Ramesses and Moses well understood. Ramesses bragged about his triumph over the Hittites at Kadesh on the Orontes River in 1275 B.C.E., in which Hittite warriors were supposedly drowned; Ramesses’ wall relief at Abydos shows the Egyptian army driving the Hittite chariotry into the river. The Book of Exodus also records Pharaoh and his chariots battling a foe at a body of water, but with a very different outcome: “Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea; and his picked officers are sunk in the Red Sea. The floods cover them; they went down into the depths like a stone” (Exodus 15:4–5).