Previous Next

Table of Contents

Egypt


E’gypt (land of the Copts), a country occupying the northeast angle of Africa. Its limits appear always to have been very nearly the same. It is bounded on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, on the east by Palestine, Arabia, and the Red Sea, on the south by Nubia, and on the west by the Great Desert. It is divided into upper Egypt—the valley of the Nile—and lower Egypt, the plain of the Delta, from the Greek letter Δ; it is formed by the branching mouths of the Nile, and the Mediterranean Sea. The portions made fertile by the Nile comprise about 9582 square geographical miles, of which only about 5600 is under cultivation.—Encyc. Brit. The Delta extends about 200 miles along the Mediterranean, and Egypt is 520 miles long from north to south from the sea to the First Cataract.

Names.—The common name of Egypt in the Bible is “Mizraim.” It is in the dual number, which indicates the two natural divisions of the country into an upper and a lower region. The Arabic name of Egypt—Mizr—signifies “red mud.” Egypt is also called in the Bible “the land of Ham,” Ps. 105:23, 27, comp. 78:51—a name most probably referring to Ham the son of Noah—and “Rahab,” the proud or insolent: these appear to be poetical appellations. The common ancient Egyptian name of the country is written in hieroglyphics Kem, which was perhaps pronounced Chem. This name signifies, in the ancient language and in Coptic, “black,” on account of the blackness of its alluvial soil. We may reasonably conjecture that Kem is the Egyptian equivalent of Ham.

General Appearance, Climate, etc.—The general appearance of the country cannot have greatly changed since the days of Moses. The whole country is remarkable for its extreme fertility, which especially strikes the beholder when the rich green of the fields is contrasted with the utterly bare, yellow mountains or the sand-strewn rocky desert on either side. The climate is equable and healthy. Rain is not very unfrequent on the northern coast, but inland is very rare. Cultivation nowhere depends upon it. The inundation of the Nile fertilizes and sustains the country, and makes the river its chief blessing. The Nile was on this account anciently worshipped. The rise begins in Egypt about the summer solstice, and the inundation commences about two months later. The greatest height is attained about or somewhat after the autumnal equinox. The inundation lasts about three months. The atmosphere, except on the seacoast, is remarkably dry and clear, which accounts for the so perfect preservation of the monuments, with their pictures and inscriptions. The heat is extreme during a large part of the year. The winters are mild—from 50° to 60° in the afternoon shade, in the coldest season.

Cultivation, Agriculture, etc.—The ancient prosperity of Egypt is attested by the Bible as well as by the numerous monuments of the country. As early as the age of the great pyramid it must have been densely populated. The contrast of the present state of Egypt with its former prosperity is more to be ascribed to political than to physical causes. Egypt is naturally an agricultural country. Vines were extensively cultivated. Of fruit trees, the date palm was the most common and valuable. The gardens resembled and fields, being watered in the same manner by irrigation. Egypt has neither woods nor forests. The commonest large trees are the sycamore fig, the acacia and the mulberry, the date palm and the banana. The best-known fruits are dates, grapes, figs, pomegranates, peaches, oranges, lemons, bananas, melons, olives, and mulberries. All kinds of grain are abundant. The gardens produce peas, beans, lentiles, celery, radishes, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. Tobacco, sugar cane, cotton, hemp, and flax are raised. The ancient reed, the papyrus, is nearly extinct.—Encyc. Brit.

Religion.—The basis of the religion was Nigritian fetichism, the lowest kind of nature worship, differing in different parts of the country, and hence obviously indigenous. There were three orders of gods—the eight great gods, the twelve lesser, and the Osirian group. The great doctrines of the immortality of the soul, man’s responsibility, and future rewards and punishments, were taught. Among the rites, circumcision is the most remarkable: it is as old as the time of the fourth dynasty.

Domestic Life.—The sculptures and paintings of the tombs give us a very full insight into the domestic life of the ancient Egyptians. What most strikes us in their manners is the high position occupied by women, and the entire absence of the harem system of seclusion. Marriage appears to have been universal, at least with the richer class; and if polygamy were tolerated it was rarely practiced. There were no castes, although great classes were very distinct. The funeral ceremonies were far more important than any events of the Egyptian life, as the tomb was regarded as the only true home.

Industrial Arts.—The industrial arts held an important place in the occupations of the Egyptians. The workers in fine flax and the weavers of white linen are mentioned in a manner that shows they were among the chief contributors to the riches of the country. Isa. 19:9. The fine linen of Egypt found its way to Palestine. Prov. 7:16. Pottery was a great branch of the native manufactures, and appears to have furnished employment to the Hebrews during the bondage. Ps. 68:13; 81:6; comp. Ex. 1:14.

History.—The ancient history of Egypt may be divided into three portions: the old monarchy, extending from the foundation of the kingdom to the invasion of the Hyksos; the middle, from the entrance to the expulsion of the Hyksos; and the new, from the re-establishment of the native monarchy by Amasis to the Persian conquest.

1. The old monarchy.—Memphis was the most ancient capital, the foundation of which is ascribed to Menes, the first mortal king of Egypt. The names of the kings, divided into thirty dynasties, are handed down in the lists of Manetho,‌ 1‌ and are also known from the works which they executed. The most memorable epoch in the history of the old monarchy is that of the Pyramid kings, placed in Manetho’s fourth dynasty. Their names are found upon these monuments: the builder of the great pyramid is called Suphis by Manetho, Cheops by Herodotus, and Khufu or Shúfu in an inscription upon the pyramid. The erection of the second pyramid is attributed by Herodotus and Diodorus to Chephren; and upon the neighboring tombs has been read the name of Khafra or Shafre. The builder of the third pyramid is named Mycerinus by Herodotus and Diodorus; and in this very pyramid a coffin has been found bearing the name Menkura. The most powerful kings of the old monarchy were those of Manetho’s twelfth dynasty: to this period is assigned the construction of the Lake of Moeris and the Labyrinth. 2. The middle monarchy.—Of this period we only know that a nomadic horde called Hyksos‌ 2‌ for several centuries occupied and made Egypt tributary; that their capital was Memphis; that in the Sethroite nome they constructed an immense earth-camp, which they called Abaris; that at a certain period of their occupation two independent kingdoms were formed in Egypt, one in the Thebaid, which held intimate relations with Ethiopia; another at Xois, among the marshes of the Nile; and that, finally, the Egyptians regained their independence and expelled the Hyksos, who thereupon retired into Palestine. The Hyksos form the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth dynasties. Manetho says they were Arabs, but he calls the six kings of the fifteenth dynasty Phœnicians. 3. The new monarchy extends from the commencement of the eighteenth to the end of the thirtieth dynasty. The kingdom was consolidated by Amasis, who succeeded in expelling the Hyksos, and thus prepared the way for the foreign expeditions which his successors carried on in Asia and Africa, extending from Mesopotamia in the former to Ethiopia in the latter continent. The glorious era of Egyptian history was under the nineteenth dynasty, when Sethi I, b.c. 1322, and his grandson, Rameses the Great, b.c. 1311, both of whom represent the Sesostris of the Greek historians, carried their arms over the whole of western Asia and southward into Soudân, and amassed vast treasures, which were expended on public works. Under the later kings of the nineteenth dynasty the power of Egypt faded: the twentieth and twenty-first dynasties achieved nothing worthy of record; but with the twenty-second we enter upon a period that is interesting from its associations with biblical history, the first of this dynasty, Sheshonk I (Seconchis), b.c. 990, being the Shishak who invaded Judea in Rehoboam’s reign and pillaged the temple. 1 Kings 14:25. Probably his successor, Osorkon I, is the Zerah of Scripture, defeated by Asa. Egypt makes no figure in Asiatic history during the twenty-third and twenty-fourth dynasties; under the twenty-fifth it regained, in part at least, its ancient importance. This was an Ethiopian line, the warlike sovereigns of which strove to the utmost to repel the onward stride of Assyria. So, whom we are disposed to identify with Shebek II or Sebichus, the second Ethiopian, made an alliance with Hoshea, the last king of Israel. Tehrak or Tirhakah, the third of this house, advanced against Sennacherib in support of Hezekiah. After this a native dynasty—the twenty-sixth—of Saite kings again occupied the throne. Psametek I or Psammetichus I (b.c. 664), who may be regarded as the head of this dynasty, warred in Palestine, and took Ashdod (Azotus) after a siege of twenty-nine years. Neku or Necho, the son of Psammetichus, continued the war in the east, and marched along the coast of Palestine to attack the king of Assyria. At Megiddo Josiah encountered him (b.c. 608–7), notwithstanding the remonstrance of the Egyptian king, which is very illustrative of the policy of the Pharaohs in the East, 2 Chron. 35:21, no less than is his lenient conduct after the defeat and death of the king of Judah. The army of Necho was after a short space routed at Carchemish by Nebuchadnezzar, b.c. 605–4. Jer. 46:2. The second successor of Necho, Apries, or Pharaoh-hophra, sent his army into Palestine to the aid of Zedekiah, Jer. 37:5, 7, 11—so that the siege of Jerusalem was raised for a time—and kindly received the fugitives from the captured city. He seems to have been afterwards attacked by Nebuchadnezzar in his own country. There is, however, no certain account of a complete subjugation of Egypt by the king of Babylon. Amasis, the successor of Apries, had a long and prosperous reign, and somewhat restored the weight of Egypt in the East. But the new power of Persia was to prove even more terrible to this house than Babylon had been to the house of Psammetichus, and the son of Amasis had reigned but six months when Cambyses reduced the country to the condition of a province of his empire, b.c. 525.

Image

Pyramids of Gizeh, Egypt.

Image

The Sphinx, Egypt.

(Chronology.—The early history and chronology of Egypt is involved in much uncertainty. Its principal sources are the lists of thirty dynasties of kings given by Manetho, the smaller list of the Turin Papyrus, and the sculptures, paintings and inscriptions on the monuments. There have been lately discovered (1881), in a Coptic convent near Thebes, the ruins of an ancient tomb in which are the mummies of Rameses II and Thothmes III, and others of the great Pharaohs; but no new light has been thrown on the chronology. Till about the time of Solomon, 1000 b.c., there is much uncertainty as to dates.

Exodus.—As far back as history records, there were flourishing empires in Egypt. The chief interest to the Bible student, in the early history of Egypt, is whether it agrees with the statements and chronology of the Bible. Egyptian history is so uncertain as to dates and nothing it contains could count against the Bible chronology; but what is known is reconcilable with the usual dates given in our Bibles, and cannot, at the farthest, ask for longer ages than are given in the Septuagint.

Present Condition.—Egypt is now, as it has been for many centuries, under the government of the Turks. It contained, in 1874, 5,252,000 inhabitants, seven-eighths of whom are Mohammedans. The ancient Egyptians spoke the Coptic language. The modern Egyptians of the upper and middle classes speak Arabic. The native Christians of Egypt, or Copts, are chiefly descended from the ancient Egyptian race, and they rarely intermarry with other races. These speak the Coptic language, a branch of the ancient Egyptian, but spell their words with the letters of the Greek alphabet.—Ed.)