Dr. James Coakley Tours Egypt
- June 9, 2021
While many people stayed close to home in January, Dr. James Coakley was crawling through narrow passageways—Indiana Jones-style—to get into the Egyptian pyramids.
The extra effort was worth it. “The tombs were just magnificent … and all the Scriptures that relate to Egypt are popping now because I can visualize the space,” says Coakley, a professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute. Thanks to the delayed start date for the spring semester and a generous grant from the Moody Alumni Faculty Travel Endowment Fund, he was able to tour Egypt from January 6 to 19 with about 10 other scholars and professors who might be interested in leading tours themselves.
“A lot of the customs and cultures that we read about in the Bible are seen on tomb walls and reliefs of palaces and temples,” says Coakley, who teaches Life in Bible Times and has led tours of Israel. For example, one tomb wall pictured the mud brickmaking process, complete with supervisors wielding sticks to make sure the workers made their quota.
After time at the pyramids and historical sites in Cairo, Coakley and the group flew to Luxor, touring religious temples and the Valley of the Kings, including King Tutankhamun’s tomb. As they slowly made their way back up to Cairo, they visited sites like the Middle Kingdom tombs at Beni Hasan, where a painting resembles the experience of Joseph’s family traveling down to Egypt.
Temple walls and tomb reliefs also portrayed activities of daily Egyptian life such as making pottery, hunting, fishing, and preparing food.
Interestingly, Egypt still uses some of the same techniques from ancient days, such as flooding fields for irrigation and using sickles for harvesting crops. “It’s a strange convergence of old and new in a lot of ways,” Coakley says. “You see people on their cell phones, but then they’re riding on a donkey with a cart behind them.”
Egyptian theology of the afterlife was also fascinating. Coakley saw a tomb painting of a Book of the Dead ceremony, in which a person’s heart was being weighed on a scale against a feather of justice. If balanced, the person could enter the afterlife. If the heart was heavier, they would be eaten by a crocodile-like creature.
“What’s interesting is that it’s the heart that’s weighed. The hardening of the heart is a very important Egyptian understanding,” Coakley says. “So when Pharaoh has a hard heart, his whole theological system is in jeopardy because he’s not going to make it with a hard heart.”
“Egypt is a place God was using to teach not only Pharaoh but all the world about who God is,” Coakley explains. “Pharaoh is the most important human figure on Earth at the time of Moses, yet the book of Exodus doesn’t even give his name. But the names of the midwives Shiphrah and Puah were given. Why? Because the text says they feared the Lord.”
Salvation is “all by grace; it’s all by faith and trust. It’s not by works,” Coakley says. The Egyptians needed to submit and have a personal relationship with the God of Israel. Theologically, there is still a future for Egypt, just like there is for Israel. “God’s plan and purposes go beyond those for the Hebrew people; they are for all people,” he adds.
Coakley not only experienced the history and culture of Egypt. “I wanted to get a pulse on what the Christian community is like in Egypt today,” he says. Toward the end of the trip, he was able to have dinner with Ramez Atallah, the general director of the 130-year-old Bible Society of Egypt, and then meet with Moody alumnus Emad Fahmi MA ’19.
Emad, who earned a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Moody online, now lives in New Cairo, working as a cybersecurity analyst engineer for a company based in Dubai. Egypt is 90 percent Muslim, yet Emad teaches Bible at Good News Church, one of a growing network of evangelical churches in Egypt.
According to Ramez Atallah, handing out Bibles can be problematic, but Egypt has 17 Christian bookstores that provide a place for people to work, make contacts, form relationships, and sell Bibles inexpensively. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, “it’s a way for the gospel to spread out,” Coakley says.
Besides Israel, Coakley had been to Jordan, Turkey, Greece, and Italy, but this was his first trip to Egypt. “I sincerely am very grateful for the travel fund and to be able to experience and do this trip. It was fulfilling on so many levels—culturally, historically, biblically, relationally. It was all that I could ever imagine and more,” he says.
To donate to the Moody Alumni Faculty Travel Endowment Fund, contact the Alumni Association at (312) 329-4412, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 820 N. LaSalle Blvd. Chicago, IL 60610-3284.