From Slave to Pharaoh: The Black Experience in Ancient Egypt. By DONALD B. REDFORD. Baltimore: JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2004. Pp. ix + 218. $44.95.
With a profound interest in the sources and the story they have to tell, Donald B. Redford brings to his work a lively critical imagination that makes it always fresh. Redford presents us with a discussion of relations between subsaharan Africa and Egypt, featuring prominently the brief, but triumphantly notable Twenty-fifth Dynasty. It deals with much the same subject as Robert Morkot's recent work, The Black Pharaohs: Egypt's Nubian Rulers (London, 2002).
It must be noted that the book's title does not reflect the actual subject well. The rulers of the Twenty-fifty Dynasty had never been slaves, nor were they descended from slaves, as far as we know. While the population of the Nubian Nile Valley had been occupied and colonized for the most part, they also had never been slaves. Slavery existed in Egypt, and it may have been more important than Egyptologists have wanted to admit, and the enslavement of subsaharan Africans also occurred. However, the acquisition of subsaharan Africans to the exclusion of others, the large-scale deportation of Africans to a non-African place, the deliberate cultural creolization, and the systematic social isolation of subsaharan Africans did not happen. Without these elements, the Black experience, as understood in North America, cannot rightly be thrust onto ancient Egypt. Instead, the experience of subsaharan Africans (including Nubians) in relation to Egypt was far more complex, right from the beginning, because Egypt is an African place. To be fair, Redford has recounted enough of the complexity in the relationships to refute the title. The title does not detract from the book, but many readers will not get what they might expect, for it is not an investigation of the lives...
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