Contents Chap­ter Thir­ty-​Eight The southern shore of Lake Mariut, ad 415



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He nodded. That was something. But this was now too...

‘Yes.’

Pe­ter­son tossed the rock ham­mer neg­li­gent­ly away in­to the cor­ner, as though it were noth­ing, what he’d just done to the wall. Then he checked his pock­ets for his car keys and strode to­wards the hole in the wall with such pur­pose that Grif­fin had to jump back out of his way.

I

‘Monothe­ism,’ de­clared Stafford.



‘I beg your par­don,’ frowned Fa­ti­ma.

‘Monothe­ism. That’s the key. Moses was the orig­inal cham­pi­on of the One True God. “Thou shalt have no oth­er gods but me.â€� And what sets Akhen­at­en apart from any oth­er pharaoh?’

‘Monothe­ism?’ sug­gest­ed Fa­ti­ma.

‘Ex­act­ly. Monothe­ism. Be­fore him, Egypt had al­ways had a mul­ti­tude of gods. But un­der Akhen­at­en, ev­ery­thing changed. For him, there was on­ly one God. The sun disc. The At­en. All oth­ers were fab­ri­ca­tions of the hu­man mind and the crafts­man’s art. And he did more than pay lip ser­vice to this idea. He act­ed up­on it. He closed the tem­ples of ri­val gods, par­tic­ular­ly those of Amun, the Aten’s chief ri­val. In fact, he had Amun’s name ex­cised from mon­uments all over Egypt. You’ll ac­knowl­edge that much, I trust?’

‘Ac­knowl­edge it? I wrote a book on the sub­ject.’

‘Good. Now, Manetho – he who claimed that Os­arseph was Moses – based his his­to­ry on the records of the Tem­ple of Amun in He­liopo­lis. And what do you imag­ine the priests of Amun would have thought of Akhen­at­en, the man who’d closed down their tem­ples and ex­cised their God’s name across the land? Do you not think they’d have con­sid­ered him an in­ter­lop­er? His sup­port­ers lep­ers?’ He took an­oth­er swal­low of wine then wiped his mouth, smear­ing dark hairs against his wrist. ‘Good,’ he said, tak­ing si­lence for as­sent. ‘Now, let’s take an­oth­er look at Moses. A He­brew child, we are told, set up­on the Nile in a bas­ket of rush­es, res­cued by the pharao­h’s daugh­ter who gave him the name Moses be­cause it pharao­hâ was He­brew for “drawn outâ€�. But that whole tale has the ring of folk­lore, does­n’t it? Why would a pharao­h’s daugh­ter give a foundling a He­brew name, af­ter all? She would­n’t have known he was He­brew, for one thing. Nor would she have spo­ken He­brew, not least be­cause it did­n’t ex­ist back then. No. The true ex­pla­na­tion is sim­ple. Moses means “sonâ€� in Egyp­tian, and it’s a com­mon part of pharaon­ic names, as in Tut­mo­sis, son of Thoth, or Ramess­es, son of Ra. The foundling myth was mere­ly a ret­ro­spec­tive at­tempt to claim Moses as a born Jew; but the truth is that he was born an Egyp­tian prince.’

‘The Bible says he mur­dered an Egyp­tian sol­dier, does­n’t it?’ frowned Fa­ti­ma. ‘And that he fled to the land of Kush. I can’t re­call Akhen­at­en do­ing that.’

‘You’re nev­er go­ing to get a per­fect match,’ said Stafford. ‘The ques­tion is whether the fit’s close enough. It clear­ly is. And that’s with­out even go­ing in­to the re­mark­able par­al­lels be­tween the doc­trines of Akhen­at­en and Moses.’

‘Which par­al­lels are those ex­act­ly?’

‘I’ll tell you, if you give me a chance.’

‘Please,’ said Fa­ti­ma. ‘Be my guest.’

‘I al­ready am your guest,’ ob­served Stafford, ges­tur­ing grand­ly with his glass, slop­ping wine like blood on­to his bor­rowed gal­abaya. He brushed the droplets ir­ri­ta­bly away, then com­posed him­self to com­plete his the­sis.

II

In­spec­tor Naguib Hus­sein was usu­al­ly good at for­get­ting his po­lice work once he’d closed his front door for the night. Nor­mal­ly, his wife and daugh­ter were a ton­ic to his spir­its. But not tonight, not even as he stooped low for Hus­niyah to throw her arms around his neck so that he could lift her up. He tried not to let her see his anx­iety, how­ev­er, as he car­ried her through the bead cur­tain in­to their kitchen, kiss­ing her sur­rep­ti­tious­ly on her crown, not­ing with a warm stab of pain and pride how springy and black her hair was, the thin pale val­ley of scalp that showed through be­neath.



Yas­mine looked up from her cook­ing, eyes tired, com­plex­ion shiny with vapours. ‘That smells good,’ he said. He tried to pinch a morsel from the pot, but she smacked his hand and made him drop it. They shared a smile. Thir­teen years of mar­riage, and still he could be sur­prised by the fresh­ness of their af­fec­tion. Hus­niyah sat cross-​legged on the floor, a pad of pa­per on her lap, draw­ing pic­tures of an­imals and trees and hous­es. He watched over her shoul­der, prais­ing her skill, ask­ing ques­tions. But soon he fell in­to a rever­ie, brood­ing on the evils of the world, and it was on­ly when Yas­mine touched his shoul­der that he re­al­ized she’d been talk­ing to him. He shook his head to clear it, mus­tered the warmest smile he could. ‘Yes?’ he asked.

‘Some­thing’s on your mind,’ she said.

‘Noth­ing par­tic­ular.’ But he could­n’t pre­vent his eyes from swiv­el­ling to his daugh­ter.

‘Hus­niyah, beloved,’ said Yas­mine gen­tly. ‘Could you please leave us a mo­ment?’ Hus­niyah looked up, puz­zled; but she’d been brought up to be obe­di­ent, so she gath­ered her things and left with­out a word. ‘Well?’ asked Yas­mine.

Naguib sighed. Some­times he wished his wife did­n’t know him so well. ‘We found a body to­day,’ he ad­mit­ted.

‘A body?’

‘A young wom­an. A girl.’

Yas­mi­irl.â€fy"ne’s eyes flashed in­stinc­tive­ly to the bead cur­tain. ‘A girl. How old?’

‘Thir­teen. Maybe four­teen.’

It took Yas­mine an ef­fort to get her next ques­tion out. ‘And she was … mur­dered?’

‘It’s too ear­ly to be sure,’ an­swered Naguib. ‘But prob­ably. Yes.’

‘That makes three in a month.’

‘The oth­er two were down in As­si­ut.’

‘So? Maybe they moved here be­cause things were get­ting too hot down there.’

‘We don’t know how long this one has been there. There’s no rea­son to sus­pect the cas­es are con­nect­ed.’

‘Yet you do sus­pect it, don’t you?’

‘It’s pos­si­ble.’

‘What are you do­ing about it?’

‘Not much,’ he con­fessed. ‘Gamal has oth­er pri­or­ities.’

‘Pri­or­ities that come be­fore find­ing the mur­der­er of three young girls?’

‘With all this ten­sion and ev­ery­thing, he does­n’t think this is the right time …’ Naguib drift­ed lame­ly to a halt. The oth­er side of the cur­tain, Hus­niyah start­ed singing, os­ten­si­bly to her­self, but ac­tu­al­ly so that her par­ents could hear her, be aware of her, pro­tect her.

‘Tell me you’re go­ing to go af­ter who­ev­er did this,’ said Yas­mine fierce­ly. ‘Tell me you’re go­ing to catch them be­fore they kill again.’

For a mo­ment, that wretched mum­mi­fied mess reap­peared in Naguib’s mind, still wrapped in her tarpaulin shroud. Who knew whose face he’d find next time? He met his wife’s eyes di­rect­ly, as he al­ways did on the im­por­tant mat­ters, when he need­ed her to know she could trust him. ‘Yes,’ he promised. ‘I am.’

III


‘Any good?’ asked Omar, lean­ing over from the driver’s seat to check Knox’s pho­tographs on the screen of his cam­era-​phone.

‘Just watch what you’re do­ing, will you?’ said Knox, as Omar crunched the Jeep’s gears again.

‘Huh!’ said Omar. ‘They’re pret­ty dark, aren’t they?’

‘Maybe I should send them to Gaille,’ said Knox. ‘She’ll be able to make some­thing of them, if any­one can.’

‘She’d bet­ter. We need more than that to show the po­lice.’

‘Says the man who did­n’t think we need­ed pho­tographs at all.’ He start­ed com­pos­ing a text mes­sage, not easy as they bumped across the field, with­out even a seat belt to hold him in place. Took the at­tached at poss Ther­apeu­tae site! Light ter­ri­ble. Can you help? All speed ap­pre­ci­at­ed! Love, Daniel. He frowned in dis­sat­is­fac­tion, re­placed Love with Much love then All love and fi­nal­ly All my love. None felt right. Ev­ery­one protest­ed their love these days. The word had been cheap­ened in­to mean­ing­less­ness. He sat there feel­ing ridicu­lous. This was scarce­ly the time to fret over such things, af­ter all. Yet he fret­ted all the same. He stabbed out some oth­er words with his in­dex fin­ger, stared down at them for sev­er­al sec­onds, un­nerved by how plain­tive they sound­ed. But he’d al­ready wast­ed too much time, so he at­tached the pho­tographs and sent them on their way be­fore he could change his mind.

Omar mut­tered a curse, slowed, came to a halt. Knox looked up to see head­lights criss­cross­ing a main road a kilo­me­tre away. ‘What’s the mat­ter?’ he asked.

‘Down there.’

Now Knox saw it, moon­light glow­ing on a pick­up parked by the wood­en bridge. ‘Bol­locks,’ he mut­tered.

‘What now?’

‘There has to be an­oth­er way out. Let’s keep look­ing.’

The en­gine screeched as Omar tried to force it in­to gear. ‘Mine’s an au­to­mat­ic,’ he said with a wince.

‘You want me to drive?’

‘It might be best.’

They switched seats. Knox belt­ed up, thrust the Jeep in­to gear, head­ed off in search of an­oth­er way out. The pick-​up lum­bered af­ter them, ob­vi­ous­ly want­ing to keep them in sight, but stay­ing a wary dis­tance be­hind, be­tween them and the bridge.

Knox crossed a rise, swung around. The mo­ment the pick-​up reap­peared, he floored the ped­al, ac­cel­er­at­ed to­wards it, jolt­ing vi­olent­ly over the rut­ted ground. Omar clutched the door-​han­dle, stamped on imag­inary brakes. But Knox kept his foot to the floor. The pick-​up swung round, aware it was a race for the bridge. He sped past it, but it quick­ly caught up, its en­gine new­er and more pow­er­ful.

‘We’ll nev­er get away,’ cried Omar.

‘Hold tight,’ said Knox, weaving back and forth to...

I

Lily put her hand sur­rep­ti­tious­ly on Stafford’s arm, an ef­fort to calm him down a lit­tle, but he mere­ly shrugged her off, re­filled his wine­glass, and con­tin­ued. ‘Peo­ple have Ju­daism all wrong,’ he de­clared. ‘They read about Abra­ham, Noah, Ja­cob and all those oth­er pa­tri­archs, and as­sume that the Jews ar­rived in Egypt with their be­liefs and prac­tices ful­ly formed, that they re­tained them dur­ing their so­journ, then left with­out be­ing one whit in­flu­enced. But it can’t have been like that. It was­n’t like that. Look dis­pas­sion­ate­ly at Ju­daism and you’ll see that its roots lie in Egypt, specif­ical­ly in the monothe­ism of Akhen­at­en.’



‘That’s quite a claim,’ said Fa­ti­ma.

‘Just look at the cre­ation ac­count in Gen­esis, if you don’t be­lieve me. The no­tion that ev­ery­thing came from the void was an Egyp­tian con­ceit, as was the idea of mankind as God’s flock, craft­ed in His im­age, for whom He made heav­en and earth. There are count­less pas­sages in the Bible stolen vir­tu­al­ly ver­ba­tim from Egypt. Take the Neg­ative Con­fes­sions of the Book of the Dead. gypt. Tak“I have not re­viled the God. I have not sinned against any­one. I have not killed. I have not cop­ulat­ed il­lic­it­ly.â€� Re­place “I have notâ€� with “Thou shalt notâ€� and you have the Ten Com­mand­ments. Psalm Thir­ty-​four is based on an Amar­na in­scrip­tion; Psalm One hun­dred and four is a rewrite of Akhen­aten’s Hymn of the At­en.’

‘A rewrite!’ frowned Fa­ti­ma. ‘They have a few im­ages in com­mon, that’s all.’

‘A few im­ages!’ scoffed Stafford. ‘It’s word for word in places. But even if you won’t al­low me that, you sure­ly can’t dis­pute the sim­ilar­ity of the Bible’s Proverbs to Egyp­t’s Wis­dom texts; or that the so-​called “Thir­ty Say­ingsâ€� are noth­ing but a re­hash of Amen­emope’s “Thir­ty Chap­ter­sâ€�. Grant­ed, on their own, each might con­ceiv­ably be co­in­ci­dence. But they aren’t on their own. They’re part of a pat­tern. The very name He­brew is a cor­rup­tion of the Egyp­tian word ’Ipiru, peo­ple who’ve stepped out­side the law. Jew­ish priest­ly robes are vir­tu­al repli­cas of the cos­tumes of Eigh­teenth Dy­nasty pharaohs. The Ark of the Covenant is al­most iden­ti­cal to an ark found in Tu­tankhamun’s tomb. And, speak­ing of the Ark, dur­ing the Ex­odus the Jews housed it in a great tent called the Taber­na­cle, just like the tent Akhen­at­en lived in when he first set­tled in Amar­na. Tithes were an Egyp­tian prac­tice tak­en up by the Jews. Mag­ic like­wise. Did you know that Egyp­tians wrote down their spells, soaked them in wa­ter, and drank the re­sult­ing brew, pre­cise­ly as ad­vo­cat­ed in the Book of Num­bers? Egyp­tian voodoo dolls are men­tioned in the Psalms. And cir­cum­ci­sion was­n’t orig­inal­ly a Jew­ish prac­tice, you re­al­ize? It was Egyp­tian; they even found a clay mod­el of a cir­cum­cised pe­nis in Akhen­aten’s tomb. “They are in all re­spects much more pi­ous than oth­er peo­ples,â€� claimed Herodotus. “They are al­so dis­tin­guished from them by many of their cus­toms, such as cir­cum­ci­sion, which for rea­sons of clean­li­ness they in­tro­duced be­fore oth­ers; fur­ther, by their hor­ror of swine. In haughty nar­row­ness they looked down on the oth­er peo­ples who were un­clean and not so near to the god as they were.â€� Was he talk­ing about the Jews? No, the Egyp­tians.’

‘The best part of a mil­len­ni­um lat­er.’

‘Atenism was sun-​wor­ship,’ as­sert­ed Stafford, bare­ly break­ing stride. ‘So was ear­ly Ju­daism. Ezekiel, chap­ter eight, talks blunt­ly about wor­ship­pers in the Tem­ple of the Lord ador­ing the ris­ing sun. On Mount Sinai, Moses’ God de­scribes him­self by the Tetra­gram­ma­ton YH­WH: “I am who I am.â€� The Egyp­tian Prisse Pa­pyrus de­scribes an Egyp­tian God as “nk pu nkâ€�. You know what that trans­lates as? Yes. “I am who I am.â€�’

‘The Prisse Pa­pyrus was—’

‘Ev­ery­where you look, there’s com­pelling ev­idence that Ju­daism was orig­inal­ly Egyp­tian, de­rived from Akhen­aten’s monothe­ism. But do you know what the smok­ing gun is? The ab­so­lute, in­con­tro­vert­ible proof?’

‘Go on, then.’

‘The He­brews called the Lord their God Adon­ai. But in an­cient He­brew the “dâ€� was pro­nounced “tâ€�, the suf­fix “aiâ€� was op­tion­al. Yes. That’s right. The He­brews wor­shipped a God called At­en, which means that Moses’ ad­mo­ni­tion to his peo­ple She­ma Yis­rael Adon­ai Elo­henu Adon­ai Echad trans­lates as “Hear, O Is­rael, the At­en is the on­ly God.â€� Re­fute that, Pro­fes­sor. Re­fute that.’

II

‘Oh Lord,’ mut­tered Nathan fee­bly, get­ting out of the pick-​up, star­ing white-​faced down at the creak­ing, lurch­ing wreck­age of the Jeep, the mo­tion­less body of tak­ing,bod­he pas­sen­ger, flung through the wind­screen and now ly­ing on the far bank. ‘Oh heav­en.’



‘Pull your­self to­geth­er,’ scowled Pe­ter­son.

‘Good grief. Good grief. What did you do that for? You made them crash.’

‘They made them­selves crash,’ snapped Pe­ter­son. ‘You un­der­stand? Any­thing that hap­pened here, these peo­ple did to them­selves.’

Nathan pulled his mo­bile from his pock­et. ‘How do I get an am­bu­lance?’

‘Are you crazy?’ de­mand­ed Pe­ter­son. He slapped Nathan sting­ing­ly across his cheek, turned him to face him. ‘Lis­ten,’ he said. ‘For­get am­bu­lances. It’s too late for am­bu­lances.’

‘But I—’

‘I said lis­ten to me. You’re to do ex­act­ly what I tell you. No more, no less. Un­der­stand?’

‘Yes, Rev­erend, but—’

‘Be qui­et and lis­ten,’ yelled Pe­ter­son. ‘This is a hea­then coun­try. The peo­ple here are hea­thens. Don’t you un­der­stand? The po­lice here are hea­thens. The judges. All of them, all hea­thens. They’ll rev­el in the op­por­tu­ni­ty to smear the name of Christ, be­cause that’s what hea­thens do. They smear the name of Christ. Do you want to help hea­thens smear the name of Christ? Is that tru­ly what you want?’

‘No, Rev­erend. Of course not.’

‘Good. Now lis­ten. No one needs to know what hap­pened here. It was an ac­ci­dent, that’s all. Fool­ish peo­ple driv­ing too fast through fields at night. What else did they ex­pect?’

‘Yes, Rev­erend.’

‘Go back to the site. If any­one asks, tell them you drove around for a while but saw noth­ing. Un­der­stand?’

‘Yes, Rev­erend. And you?’



‘Don’t worry about me. Just get out of here.’

‘Yes, Rev­erend.’

Pe­ter­son watched him drive away. That was the trou­ble with kids. Their clay was too soft, not yet fired by the fur­naces of righ­teous con­flict. He’d have to han­dle this all by him­self. He climbed down to the foot of the ditch, keep­ing clear of the worst of the car­nage. He had a cam­era-​phone to re­cov­er.

I

Fa­ti­ma al­lowed a few mo­ments of si­lence to pass be­fore re­spond­ing to Stafford, per­haps so that he might see for him­self just how ug­ly and ex­ces­sive his ve­he­mence had been. Then she said qui­et­ly: ‘Re­fute it? Re­fute what, ex­act­ly?’



Stafford looked con­fused. ‘My the­sis.’

‘But you promised me ev­idence,’ replied Fa­ti­ma, her voice so low that Gaille had to strain to hear her. ‘How can I re­fute this the­sis of yours un­til I’ve heard your ev­idence?’

Stafford looked blankly at her. ‘How do you mean? I’ve just giv­en you my ev­idence.’

‘Re­al­ly?’ frowned Fa­ti­ma. ‘You call that ev­idence. All I’ve heard so far is spec­ula­tion. Well-​in­formed spec­ula­tion, I ad­mit. But spec­ula­tion nonethe­less.’

‘How can you say that?’

â" a�þ€˜My dear Mis­ter Stafford, let me ex­plain some­thing. I do not per­son­al­ly be­lieve in the Bible or its God. But per­haps you do. Per­haps you be­lieve that He cre­at­ed the world in sev­en days, and that those an­imals Noah took aboard his ark were the on­ly ones to sur­vive the flood, and that we speak dif­fer­ent lan­guages be­cause God took of­fence at mankind’s ef­fort to reach the heav­ens by build­ing the Tow­er of Ba­bel? Is that what you be­lieve?’

‘I’ve al­ready said I don’t take the Bible lit­er­al­ly.’

‘Ah. Yet you still be­lieve that we should con­sid­er it as some­how spe­cial, as hav­ing va­lid­ity even when it is con­tra­dict­ed by the his­tor­ical and ar­chae­olog­ical record?’

‘I’m not say­ing that.’

‘I’m glad to hear it. For let me tell you what I think of the Bible. I think it is the folk-​his­to­ry of a par­tic­ular Canaan­ite peo­ple. No more, no less. And I think its his­tor­ical va­lid­ity should be as­sessed as scrupu­lous­ly as any oth­er folk-​his­to­ry, not ac­cord­ed spe­cial treat­ment just be­cause many peo­ple still con­sid­er it sa­cred. You’d agree with that, would­n’t you? As a fel­low his­to­ri­an, I mean?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Now if you want to test folk-​his­to­ry for va­lid­ity, do you know what you must first do? You must dis­card it com­plete­ly from your mind, then in­ter­ro­gate the in­de­pen­dent record un­til you’ve es­tab­lished the truth as far as pos­si­ble, and on­ly then re­fer back to your folk-​his­to­ry to see how well it fits. Any oth­er ap­proach is spe­cial plead­ing. And do you know some­thing?’

‘What?’

‘Do it that way and the Bible falls apart, par­tic­ular­ly the ear­ly books. There’s no ev­idence what­so­ev­er to sug­gest its sto­ries are true. There’s no ev­idence that the Jews ex­ist­ed as a dis­tinct peo­ple in the time of Akhen­at­en, or that they lived in Egypt in any great num­bers, or that they left in some mass ex­odus.’

A flush in Stafford’s cheeks, a cock­tail of al­co­hol and de­fi­ance. ‘So where did those sto­ries come from, then?’

‘Who can say? Many were clear­ly bor­rowed from oth­er, old­er cul­tures. There are rec­og­niz­able traces of the Mesopotami­an Epic of Gil­gamesh, for ex­am­ple. Oth­ers seem to be vari­ations on the same sto­ry, pre­sum­ably be­cause the writ­ers of the Bible want­ed to drum home their moral mes­sage. Man makes covenant with God. Man breaks covenant. God pun­ish­es man. Again and again this same mo­tif. Adam and Eve evict­ed from Eden. Cain ex­iled for mur­der­ing Abel. Lot’s wife turned to salt. Abra­ham flee­ing Egypt. Ba­bel. Noah. Isaac. Ja­cob. The list goes on and on. Be­cause it is­n’t his­to­ry. It’s pro­pa­gan­da. Specif­ical­ly, it’s re­li­gious pro­pa­gan­da, put to­geth­er af­ter the Jews had been de­feat­ed by the Baby­lo­ni­ans to con­vince them that they’d brought their de­struc­tion and ex­ile up­on them­selves by fail­ing in their obli­ga­tions to their God.’

She broke off a mo­ment, sipped wa­ter to moist­en her mouth and throat, forced a smile to re­lease some ten­sion. ‘Do you know some­thing?’ she said. ‘When­ev­er his­to­ri­ans have been able to test folk­lore against known his­to­ry, they’ve dis­cov­ered what one might ex­pect: that it proves rea­son­ably ac­cu­rate for events with­in liv­ing mem­ory, but the fur­ther back one goes, the less re­li­able it be­comes, un­til it bears al­most no re­la­tion to the truth. With one ex­cep­tion. Found­ing myths typ­ical­ly have a seed of truth in them.

‘So let’s ap­ply this to the Jew­ish peo­ple. Their found­ing myth is clear­ly the Ex­odus. The Bible is built around it. So I’m quite pre­pared to ac­ce­po Iâ. Tto ac­cept some sort of flight from Egypt. The trou­ble is, the on­ly ev­idence of such an ex­odus dur­ing the sec­ond mil­len­ni­um BC is that of the Hyk­sos. But the Hyk­sos were a full two cen­turies be­fore Amar­na. So how is it that this mass flight of yours left no im­print? We’re not talk­ing about a few hun­dred peo­ple, re­mem­ber. Not even thou­sands. Ac­cord­ing to the Bible, we’re talk­ing about over half the pop­ula­tion of Egypt. Even al­low­ing for mas­sive ex­ag­ger­ation, don’t you think that some­one would have no­ticed? Do you know, Mis­ter Stafford, there’s a stele record­ing the flight of two slaves from Egypt to Canaan? Two! Yet you’d have us be­lieve that tens of thou­sands of valu­able ar­ti­sans sud­den­ly upped and left, and no one said a word. And don’t you think some­one would have found some trace of their forty years in Sinai? Any trace. Ar­chae­ol­ogists have found set­tle­ments from pre-​dy­nas­tic times, from dy­nas­tic times, from the Grae­co-​Ro­man and Is­lam­ic eras. But from the Ex­odus? Noth­ing. Not a coin, not a pot­sherd, not a grave, not a camp­fire. And it’s not for lack of look­ing, be­lieve me.’

‘Ab­sence of ev­idence is­n’t ev­idence of ab­sence,’ ob­served Stafford.

‘Yes, it is,’ coun­tered Fa­ti­ma. ‘That’s ex­act­ly what it is. Not proof of ab­sence, I grant you. But ev­idence, cer­tain­ly. If the He­brews had spent sig­nif­icant time there, they’d have left traces. No traces means no He­brews. To ar­gue oth­er­wise is sim­ply per­verse. And where we do find ev­idence, it flat­ly con­tra­dicts the bib­li­cal ac­count. You men­tioned Jeri­cho, the city felled by Joshua’s trum­pets. If your the­sis is cor­rect, it should show ev­idence of de­struc­tion cir­ca 1300 BC. But the ar­chae­olog­ical da­ta is con­clu­sive. Jeri­cho was­n’t even oc­cu­pied at that time. It was de­stroyed in the six­teenth cen­tu­ry BC and left vir­tu­al­ly aban­doned through to the tenth.’

‘Yes, but—’

‘The ear­ly Bible is make-​be­lieve, Mis­ter Stafford. It was­n’t even writ­ten un­til af­ter the Baby­lo­ni­an ex­ile, cir­ca five hun­dred BC; over eight hun­dred years af­ter the death of Akhen­at­en.’

‘From records that go back much fur­ther.’

‘Ac­cord­ing to whom? Do you have any of these records? Or are you just as­sum­ing their ex­is­tence? And if they did ex­ist, how would you ex­plain all the anachro­nisms? Camels in Egypt a thou­sand years be­fore they were ac­tu­al­ly in­tro­duced. Cities like Ram­ses and Sais that weren’t found­ed for hun­dreds of years af­ter Akhen­at­en. A land­scape of king­doms that did­n’t ex­ist in the thir­teenth cen­tu­ry BC, yet which maps al­most ex­act­ly on­to the sev­enth and sixth.’

‘What about the par­al­lels be­tween the re­li­gions?’ asked Stafford weak­ly. ‘You can’t de­ny those.’

Fa­ti­ma shook her head dis­mis­sive­ly. ‘Eigh­teenth Dy­nasty Egypt was the great re­gion­al pow­er. Its armies oc­cu­pied Canaan for hun­dreds of years. Even af­ter their oc­cu­pa­tion end­ed, they re­mained Canaan’s key trad­ing part­ner. Their prac­tices and rit­uals were ad­mired and em­ulat­ed just as French and British prac­tices are still vis­ible in for­mer colonies. As for their monothe­ism, have you con­sid­ered the pos­si­bil­ity that it might just be a co­in­ci­dence? Monothe­ism is­n’t com­plex. It’s “my god’s big­ger than your godâ€� tak­en to its log­ical ex­treme. Long be­fore Akhen­at­en pro­claimed the At­en the Sole God, Egyp­tians had done the same for Atum.’

‘Yes, but—’

‘And let’s com­pare the gods them­selves. The At­en en­joys an ex­emse heys an ex­clu­sive re­la­tion­ship with Akhen­at­en. The God of Moses makes His covenant with ev­ery sin­gle Jew. The At­en is no­tion­al and pa­cif­ic, an aes­thete’s God. The God of Moses is venge­ful, jeal­ous and vi­olent. Or take their cre­ation myths. Ac­tu­al­ly, you can’t. The At­en has no cre­ation myth; Gen­esis has two. The God of Moses dwelt in the en­closed Holy of Holies; the At­en was wor­shipped in wide-​open spaces. Read how Moses re­ceived the Ten Com­mand­ments: it could­n’t be clear­er that his God is a vol­cano God. But there are no vol­ca­noes in Egypt or in Sinai.’ She shook her head an­gri­ly. ‘Let me tell you some­thing. You claim that I have my head in the sand be­cause I as­sert there’s no con­nec­tion be­tween Akhen­at­en and Moses. But you’re wrong. All I as­sert is that there’s no ev­idence for such a con­nec­tion. I’m an ar­chae­ol­ogist, Mis­ter Stafford. Bring me ev­idence and I’ll glad­ly en­dorse your views. Un­til then …’ And she gave a dis­mis­sive lit­tle wave of her hand.

Stafford’s jaw clenched tight as wal­nuts in his cheeks. ‘Then it seems we’ll just have to agree to dis­agree,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ agreed Fa­ti­ma. ‘It does.’

II

Pe­ter­son knelt be­side Omar Taw­fiq on the far bank, rough di­amonds of shat­tered glass shin­ing pale blue in the moon­light all around. His head was twist­ed back in a hideous and un­nat­ural po­si­tion, his lac­er­at­ed face cov­ered with both fresh and con­geal­ing blood. Pe­ter­son was so sure he was dead that it gave him a jolt when he opened his mouth sud­den­ly and gasped in air.



The Jeep was ly­ing on its side, screech­ing and groan­ing and hiss­ing, as if it too were in great pain. He squat­ted down to look through the emp­ty frame of the wind­screen. Knox was belt­ed in­to the driver’s seat, slumped against the driver’s door, his hair slick and glis­ten­ing, the bub­bles of blood at the cor­ner of his mouth ex­pand­ing and shrink­ing as he breathed. He opened his eyes, looked at Pe­ter­son with a faint flick­er of recog­ni­tion. Then his gaze went dis­tant and his eyes closed once more.

Pe­ter­son rest­ed his hand on the buck­led bon­net, reached through the va­cant wind­screen, rum­maged around in search of Knox’s mo­bile phone. He pat­ted down his right-​side trous­er pock­et and found on­ly a wal­let, which he left. He strained to reach his left trous­er pock­et, felt some­thing com­pact and hard in­side, though he could­n’t quite get hold of it. He tried to re­lease the seat belt in­stead, pull Knox to­wards him, reach his phone that way, but the catch had jammed and would­n’t come free. He backed away, frus­trat­ed, squat­ted down, think­ing it through.

Se­vere con­cus­sion tend­ed to de­stroy short-​term mem­ory, he knew. As a young man, be­fore find­ing God, he’d fall­en off the roof of a house he’d been break­ing in­to, had come to his sens­es ly­ing on the as­phalt drive, his part­ner-​in-​crime laugh­ing his head off. To this day, he had no mem­ory of what had hap­pened in the twelve hours lead­ing up to his fall. So it was quite pos­si­ble, even prob­able, that Knox would­n’t re­call the crash or the events lead­ing up to it. But what if he did? What if he sur­vived and re­mem­bered ev­ery­thing? So the ques­tion was, was there a sim­ple way to take care both of the cam­era-​phone and of Knox?

Such ques­tions were be­yond the wis­dom of mor­tal man, but that did­n’t make them unan­swer­able. Pe­ter­son knelt at the foot of the ditch and bowed his head in prayer. The Lord al­ways spoke to those with ears to hear. He did­n’t even have to wait long. The num­bers twen­ty and thir­teen be­gan to blaze like bon­fires in his mind’s eye. They could sure­ly on­ly re­fer to Leviti­cus 20:13.

If a man al­solignnly­man al­so lie with mankind, as he li­eth with a wom­an, both of them have com­mit­ted an abom­ina­tion: they shall sure­ly be put to death; their blood shall be up­on them.

So be it. When the Lord spoke with such clar­ity, man’s on­ly task was to obey. He went around to the ex­posed un­der­car­riage. A small pud­dle of diesel had col­lect­ed on the dried-​out mud bank, drip­ping from a hair­line frac­ture in the tank. His 4x4 had a cigarette lighter in its dash. He pushed it in, went hunt­ing for a rock. He found a good­ly chunk of flint, took it back down to the Jeep, ham­mered at the tank un­til the drips of diesel turned to a stream and the pud­dle be­came a pool. He went back up again, tore a strip of pa­per from his car-​hire doc­umen­ta­tion, lit it from the or­ange coils of the cigarette lighter, nursed it back down the slope, dropped it in­to the pool of diesel, leapt back be­fore it could take his eye­brows.

It went up with a vi­olent whoomp like a great or­ange bal­loon launch­ing in­to the night sky. But af­ter its first fu­ri­ous blaze, it burned it­self out, leav­ing soft flames lick­ing at the Jeep’s un­der­car­riage; and though the fab­ric of the ripped seats was smoul­der­ing with a rich black chok­ing smoke, much of it was es­cap­ing through the bro­ken win­dows, suck­ing the fresh air back in.

Pe­ter­son scowled. Even should Knox as­phyx­iate, he’d still need to re­trieve his phone. He knelt once more on the buck­led bon­net, poked his head in­side, brav­ing the in­tense heat. The seat belt was still jammed. He worked fu­ri­ous­ly at the re­lease, tug­ging, jig­gling and push­ing un­til fi­nal­ly it came free. He gave him­self a mo­men­tary respite from the fierce heat and smoke, then went back in, grabbed Knox’s col­lar, hauled him for­wards while reach­ing for his pock­et and—

‘Hey!’

Pe­ter­son guilti­ly let go of Knox, jumped back­wards. Two men in flu­ores­cent yel­low bibs were stand­ing on top of the ditch, spot­light­ing him with their torch­es. The taller scram­bled down, the name Sha­reef em­bla­zoned in a High­ways Main­te­nance badge up­on his chest. He said some­thing in Ara­bic.

Pe­ter­son shook his head blankly. ‘I’m Amer­ican,’ he said.

Sha­reef switched to En­glish. ‘What hap­pened?’

‘I found them like this,’ said Pe­ter­son. He nod­ded at Knox. ‘This one’s still alive. I was try­ing to get him out be­fore the smoke gets to him.’

Sha­reef nod­ded. ‘I help you, yes?’

‘Thank you.’ They hauled Knox out through the wind­screen, over to the bank, laid him gen­tly down. The sec­ond high­way main­te­nance man was car­ry­ing on a fraught con­ver­sa­tion on his mo­bile. ‘What’s go­ing on?’ asked Pe­ter­son.

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