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From Rupert Murdoch's twitter account (906 retweets, 205 favorites, with a tweet criticising it getting 50 retweets and 56 favorites)

Moses film attacked on Twitter for all white cast. Since when are Egyptians not white? All I know are.

Do modern-day Egyptian people, such as the ones Murdoch claims to know, look like what white people look like?

Did Egyptian people from biblical times (the time at which the exodus is supposed to have happened) look like what white people look like?

  • @DavidMulder Moses film Murdoch was referring to. – Andrew Grimm Nov 29 '14 at 5:04
  • @DavidMulder with "All I know are.", he stated that all Egyptians he knows are white. He implies that current-day Egyptians are white with "Since when are Egyptians not white?". He also implies that 1400BC Egyptians were also white, and therefore it's ok for having an all white cast. – Andrew Grimm Nov 29 '14 at 7:34
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    @DavidMulder I interpreted the question in the middle of the tweet as rhetorical. – Andrew Grimm Nov 29 '14 at 7:51
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    First of all modern Egyptians are not the same as Ancient Egyptians. Majority of modern ones are mostly Arabs with a mix of some other genes. – Andrey Dec 1 '14 at 18:45
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    Firstly, Slave trade and ethnic mixing already existed 4000 years ago, blonde and ginger slaves would have been popular with any rulers. Use common sense on this one. Egypt is on a trade route between africa and the middle east and europe. The ethnic people are a mixed race, similar to : LEBANESE, JEWISH, PHILISTINE, SYRIAN, GREEK, ETHEOPIAN, SUDANESE. mixing with white existed in egyptian times, but most of the power was held by the ethnic locals, who were a cross of the above people. 30+ percent of egyptians are christians, so they aren't arabs, It's a geographical concourse like France. – com.prehensible Dec 6 '14 at 10:23
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Please let me start with a small rant. This tweet is, in my opinion, outright ignorant and quite distasteful:

  1. Assumption that modern Egyptians are the same as Ancient Egyptians. I doubt that he personally knows any Ancient Egyptians.
  2. "All I know are" is not representative sample of population of 80+ million nation.
  3. He drives original complaints to absurdity. The concept of race is rather vague, while you can discuss what skin tone did/do Egyptians have, they surely didn't look like people of Western European descent who portray them in the upcoming movie.

I find that the question of whether any given ethnic group is white or not lacks any scientific merit or any merit actually. The demarcation line between races seems to move rather freely depending on which point one tries to make. Some whites are rather dark skinned and some non-whites have fair skin.

So back to Egyptians, here is a small sample of Egyptian phenotype.

enter image description here

Wikipedia gives excellent summary with links to sources:

In general, various DNA studies have found that the gene frequencies of modern North African populations are intermediate between those of the Horn of Africa and Eurasia, though possessing a greater genetic affinity with the populations of Eurasia than they do with Africa. The present population of the Sahara is Caucasoid in the extreme north, with a fairly gradual increase of Negroid component as one goes south.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA_history_of_Egypt#DNA_studies_on_modern_Egyptians

Definition of Race Categories Used in the US 2010 Census:

“White” refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicated their race(s) as “White” or reported entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Arab, Moroccan, or Caucasian.

http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-02.pdf

The race and ethnicity of Ancient Egyptians has been a controversial topic for a while, again Wikipedia gives a good summary with sources.

It is now largely agreed that Dynastic Egyptians were indigenous to the Nile area. ... In addition, peoples from the Middle East entered the Nile Valley

Stuart Tyson Smith writes in the 2001 Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt that "Any characterization of race of the ancient Egyptians depends on modern cultural definitions, not on scientific study. Thus, by modern American standards it is reasonable to characterize the Egyptians as 'black', while acknowledging the scientific evidence for the physical diversity of Africans.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egyptian_race_controversy#Position_of_modern_scholarship

Now back to the Exodus movie. Regardless of the specific skin tone of Ancient Egyptians, actors of Western European descent bear little resemblance to the actual features of current-day people of that region.

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    "The demarcation line between races seems to move rather freely depending on which point one tries to make. Some whites are rather dark skinned and some non-whites have fair skin." Agreed. A racist who is arguing that the "White Race" is the source of all civilization and so superior will broaden the boundaries to take up the whole Middle East, and maybe even India(!). Whereas when that racist wants to argue against "Muslim" immigration to Europe, the boundary shrinks to exclude them. And whatever the boundary, it ALWAYS includes the racist and the racist is ALWAYS "pure" (or so it seems). – The_Sympathizer Dec 6 '14 at 2:00
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There are three ways of currently trying to define what skin color ancient Egyptians had: History records, DNA and language. All three seem to agree on Egyptians having a darker complexion, however the exact skin color - like it happens with almost any person - is impossible and useless to define in a white-black dichotomy. The conclusion in this answer is absolutely correct, we are using modern cultural definitions where scientific evidence might not be conclusive (or relevant).

What Egyptians said about themselves:

  • Herodotus said Egyptians had black skin and woolly hair, which is how he said the Ethiopians looked too.
  • Aristotle called both the Ethiopians and Egyptians black.
  • The Bible calls both the Ethiopians and Egyptians sons of Ham.
  • The Egyptians saw themselves as belonging to their own race, different from blacks to the south – but also different from all their other neighbours.
  • On the other hand: They called themselves kemet - “black”, though some say it just means they are from the land of black soil (the Nile).
  • They said they came from the land of Punt – a place they drew as having elephants and giraffes.

What the DNA says:

In 2008, S. O. Y. Keita wrote:

"There is no scientific reason to believe that the primary ancestors of the Egyptian population emerged and evolved outside of northeast Africa.... The basic overall genetic profile of the modern population is consistent with the diversity of ancient populations that would have been indigenous to northeastern Africa and subject to the range of evolutionary influences over time, although researchers vary in the details of their explanations of those influences.

What the language says:

That language came to Egypt from Ethiopia about 12,000 years ago. However, the term is not exclusive to the modern country of Ethiopia. According to early Greek writers, Ethiopia was an empire originally situated between Ta-Seti in Lower Kemet and the confluence of the White and Blue Niles.

Ethiopia is the English transliteration of the Greek word "Αιθιοπα" (or Aithiopia) which originates from the Greek word "Αιθιοψ" or "aithiops" which literally means "charred or burnt." "Aithiops" is in fact composed of "αιθιω" (meaning "I burn") and "ωψ" (meaning face or complexion).

Claudius Ptolemy (90 - 168 AD), a Roman citizen who lived in Alexandria, used "Ethiopia" as a racial term. In his Tetrabiblos: Or Quadripartite, he tried to explain the physical characteristics of people around the world saying, "They are consequently black in complexion, and have thick and curled hair...and they are called by the common name of Aethiopians."

2

Modern Egyptians have been depicted in a different answer above.

Ancient Egyptians have been depicted on temple walls, tombs and in other archaeological sites in Egypt. These depictions consistently show the Egyptians as having a tan complexion, straight black hair and black eyes. Examples of this can be found in Rickerby, Stephen. "Original painting techniques and materials used in the tomb of Nefertari." Art and Eternity: The Nefertari Wall Paintings Conservation Project, 1986–1992 (1993): 43-53. This paper shows extensive examples of Egyptian wall paintings and discusses the pigments and colorations involved. Here is a naturalistic fresco from an early New Kingdom tomb:

enter image description here

The ruling class in Egypt from which Ramesses presumably originated may have differed from the common people and been somewhat lighter in skin, but still tan. The mummies from the New Kingdom suggest a relatively light skinned complexion for the Pharoahs. Interestingly enough the statues depicting the same pharoahs look like conventional Egyptians and do not resemble their mummies. The reason for this is unknown. For scholarship on this subject, see for example: Harris, J. E. and Hussien, F. (1991), The identification of the Eighteenth Dynasty royal mummies; a biological perspective. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol., 1: 235–239.

See also ÏURCÛ, FRANK J. "Were the Ancient Egyptians Black or White?." (1989). Center for Online Judaic Studies.

  • 1
    Good point that we have plenty of paintings of ancient Egyptians. The one you've chosen seems to be at the dark end of skin tones shown in the first couple of pages of a Google Images search for "Egyptian Tomb Paintings" google.com/… . The average seems to run pretty close to what you might see on a Southern California beach. – jamesqf Feb 4 '15 at 22:04

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