In Cecil B. DeMille’s epic 1956 film The Ten Commandments there is a dramatic scene where Moses is banished from Egypt’s royal court by Pharaoh Seti. As Moses is led out in shackles, Seti proclaims:
Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet, stricken from all pylons and obelisks, stricken from every monument of Egypt. Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of men for all time.
Three millennia later, Egypt is still big on striking names from the record. In April a Cairo court ordered that images of the ousted Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and his wife Suzanne, as well as their names, be removed from all “public squares, streets, libraries and other public institutions around the country.” This is a change every Egyptian would notice as posters and portraits of the Mubaraks are ubiquitous in Egypt. Squares, sports fields, libraries, streets and more than 500 schools bear their names. Historian Sarah E. Bond writes,
The Egyptian Book of the Dead directs those traveling to the underworld to confront the demons that guard the gates by telling them, “Make a way for me, for I know you, I know your name,” before continuing on their journey to the afterlife. Names in Egyptian culture have an innate power, and can be a means of control. When the pharaoh Akhenaton tried to institute his own brand of monotheism, he had the name of the rival god Amon stricken from monuments throughout Egypt.
Like gods, rulers were also vulnerable to such erasures. Queen Hatshepsut, a prolific builder who was a regent for her stepson, Thutmose III, was almost obliterated from history after he ascended the throne in the 15th century B.C. Thutmose, and then his son Amenhotep II, systematically removed her image from monuments, reliefs, statues, cartouches and the official list of Egyptian rulers, perhaps in an effort to underline their own legitimacy.
The Roman world followed the same practice, calling it “damnation memoriae.” Such a decree meant that the name of the damned was scratched from inscriptions, his face chiseled from statues, coins with his image defaced, and frescoes with his likeness painted over.
This was the world in which Jesus lived.
Consider why we do not even have a single picture, portrait, fresco or statue of Jesus dating back to his life. As a Jew, Jesus was part of a religion that banned graven images or representations, in stark contrast with the pagan sensibilities of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians’ basically everyone except the Jews. Given such a milieu, it is no surprise that no such representations exist.
On the other hand, why do you suppose the name of Jesus not only survived but triumphed? From a worldly perspective, there is no reason for this. He didn’t lead armies, reign as a king, write books, pass legislation, invent anything, amass a great fortune, or meet any of the criteria usually associated with greatness. One who knew something about these things explains the unparalleled power of the name of Jesus:
Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I have founded great empires. But upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded his empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for him. I think I understand something of human nature, and I tell you all these were men, and I am a man. None else is like him; Jesus Christ was more than a man…Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame.
One day, at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow (Phil 2:10).
It is impossible to erase his name.
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