William Matthew Flinders Petrie – Egyptologist

This is the day that … William Matthew Flinders Petrie was born in England, in 1853.

He was named after his grandfather, Captain Matthew Flinders, famous for his daring circumnavigation of the Australian continent 50 years before.

But young William was more interested in the sands than the sea … in particular, the sands of Egypt. He was to become one of the most renowned Egyptologists of his day, and directed excavations in both Egypt and Palestine.

His interest had been triggered off by a book claiming that the Great Pyramid of Gizeh was a “prophecy in stone” – each ‘inch’ along the various chambers representing a year.

Petrie spent nine months measuring the length and breadth of every corridor and chamber … and “in so doing he proved Piazza Smith (the author of the aforementioned book) wrong” (Archaeological Diggings, June, 1995, page 25). In his book, 70 Years in Archaeology, Petrie even tells of coming across one of these “prophecy numerologists” busy filing away a stone to make the measurement fit with his preconceived notions! (pages 26, 35).

For 46 years Petrie delved into the mysteries of Ancient Egypt. The most important find was the Merneptah Stele at Thebes, once capital of Upper Egypt. “For Bible students the inscription is extremely important,” writes John J. Davis. “It is an official recognition of a people called Israel in extra-biblical documents and is the earliest mention of Israel known to us in such literature” (International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology). Most scholars date this Stele around 1220 BC.

It was he who established the use of pottery to date the various levels of strata. And his book, Palestine and Israel, contained a denunciation of the Higher Critical theories concerning the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

Flinders Petrie was knighted in 1923. He died in Jerusalem on 28 July, 1942.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond the Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.