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American Tract Society Bible Dictionary


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A celebrated country in the north of Africa, at the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hebrews called it Mizraim, Genesis 10:6 , and hence it is now called by the Arabs, Mizr. The Greeks and Romans called it Aegyptus, whence Egypt; but the origin of this name is unknown.

The habitable land of Egypt is for the most part a great valley, through which the river Nile pours its waters, extending in a straight line from north to south, and skirted on the east and west by ranges of mountains, which approach and recede from the river more or less in different parts. Where this valley terminates, towards the north, the Nile divides itself, about forty or fifty miles from the seacoast, into several arms, which inclose the so-called Delta. The ancients numbered seven arms and mouths; the eastern was that of Pelusium, now that of Tineh; and the western that of Canopus, now that of Aboukir. As these branches all separate from one point or channel, that is, from the main stream, and spread themselves more and more as they approach the coast, they form with the latter a triangle, the base of which is the seacoast; and having thus the form of the Greek letter, delta, this part of Egypt received the name of the Delta, which it has ever since retained. The prophet Ezekiel describes Egypt as extending from Migdol, that is, Magdolum, not far from the mouth of the Pelusian arm, to Syene, now Essuan, namely, to the border of Ethiopia, Ezekiel 29:10 30:6 . Essuan is also assigned by Greek and Arabian writers as the southern limit of Egypt. Here the Nile issues from the granite rocks of the cataracts, and enters Egypt proper. The length of the country, therefore, in a direct line, is about four hundred and fifty miles, and its area about eleven thousand square miles. The breadth of the valley, between Essuan and the Delta, is very unequal; in some places the inundations of the river extend to the foot of the mountains; in other parts there remains a strip of a mile or two in breadth which the water never covers, and which is therefore always dry and barren. Originally the name Egypt designated only the valley and the Delta; but at a later period it came to include also the region between this and the Red Sea.

The country around Syene and the cataracts is highly picturesque; the other parts of Egypt, and especially the Delta, are uniform and monotonous. The prospect, however, is extremely different, according to the season of the year. From the middle of spring, when the harvest is over, one sees nothing but a gray and dusty soil, so full of cracks and chasms that he can hardly pass along. At the time of the autumnal equinox, the country presents nothing but an immeasurable surface of reddish or yellowish water, out of which rise date-trees, villages, and narrow dams, which serve as a means of communication. After the waters have retreated, and they usually remain only a short time at this height, you see, till the end of autumn, only a black and slimy mud. But in winter, nature puts on all her splendor. In this season, the freshness and power of the new vegetation, the variety and abundance of vegetable productions, exceed every thing that is known in the most celebrated parts of the European continent; and Egypt is then, from one end of the country to the other, like a beautiful garden, a verdant meadow, a field sown with flowers, or a waving ocean of grain in the ear. This fertility, as is well known, depends upon the annual and regular inundations of the Nile. Hence Egypt was called by Herodotus, "the gift of the Nile." See NILE .

The sky is not less uniform and monotonous than the earth; it is constantly a pure unclouded arch, of a color and light more white than azure. The atmosphere has a splendor which the eye can scarcely bear, and a burning sun, whose glow is tempered by no shade, scorches through the whole day these vast and unprotected plains. It is almost a peculiar trait in the Egyptian landscape, that although not without trees, it is yet almost without shade. The only tree is the date-tree, which is frequent; but with its tall, slender stem, and bunch of foliage on the top, this tree does very little to keep off the light, and casts upon the earth only a pale an uncertain shade. Egypt, according, has a very hot climate; the thermometer in summer

standing usually at eighty or ninety degrees of Fahrenheit; and in Upper Egypt still higher. The burning wind of the desert, Simoom, or Camsin, is also experienced, usually about the time of the early equinox. The country is not unfrequently visited by swarms of locusts. See LOCUSTS.

In the very earliest times, Egypt appears to have been regarded under three principal divisions; and writers spoke of Upper Egypt or Thebais; Middle Egypt, Heptanomis or Heptapolis; and Lower Egypt or the Delta, including the districts lying east and west of the river. The provinces and cities of Egypt mentioned in the Bible may, in like manner, be arranged under these three great divisions:

1. LOWER EGYPT The northeastern point of this was "the river of Egypt," on the border of Palestine. The desert between this point, the Red Sea, and the ancient Pelusium, seems to have been the desert of Shur, Genesis 20:1 , now El-Djefer. Sin, "the strength [key] of Egypt," Ezekiel 30:15 , was probably Pelusium. The land of Genesis 47:11 . In this district, or adjacent to it, are mentioned also the cities Pithom, Raamses, Pi-Beseth, and On or Helipolis. In the proper Delta itself, lay Tahapanes, that is, Taphne or Daphne; Zoan, the Tanis of the Greeks; Leontopolis, alluded to perhaps in Isaiah 19:18 . West of the Delta was Alexandria.

2. MIDDLE EGYPT Here are mentioned Moph or Memphis, and Hanes, the Heracleopolis of the Greeks.

3. UPPER EGYPT The southern part of Egypt, the Hebrews appear to have called Pathros, Jeremiah 44:1,15 . The Bible mentions here only two cities, namely, No, or more fully No-Ammon, for which the Seventy put Diospolis, the Greek name for Thebes, the most ancient capital of Egypt, (see AMMON, or No-Ammon, or No;) and Syene, the southern city and limit of Egypt.

The chief agricultural productions of Egypt are wheat, durrah, or small maize, Turkish or Indian corn or maize, rice, barley, beans, cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, and onions; also flax and cotton. The date-tree and vine are frequent. The papyrus is still found in small quantity, chiefly near Damietta; it is a reed about nine feet high, as thick as a man's thumb, with a tuft of down on the top. See BOOK , BULRUSH . The animals of Egypt, besides the usual kinds of tame cattle, are the wild ox or buffalo in great numbers, the ass and camel, dogs in multitudes without masters, the ichneumon, the crocodile, and the hippopotamus.

The inhabitants of Egypt may be considered as including three divisions: 1. The Copts, or descendants of the ancient Egyptians. 2. The Fellahs, or husbandmen, who are supposed to represent the people in Scripture, called Phul. 3. The Arabs, or conquerors of the country, include the Turks, etc. The Copts are nominal Christians, and the clerks and accountants of the country. They have seen so many revolutions in the governing powers, that they concern themselves very little about the successes or misfortunes of those who aspire to dominion. The Fellahs suffer so much oppression, and are so despised by the Bedaween or wandering Arabs, and by their despotic rulers, that they seldom acquire property, and very rarely enjoy it in security; yet they are an interesting race, and devotedly attached to their native country and the Nile. The Arabs hate the Turks; yet the Turks enjoy most offices of government, though they hold their superiority by no very certain tenure.

The most extraordinary monuments of Egyptian power and industry were the pyramids, which still subsist, to excite the wonder and admiration of the world. No work of man now extant is so ancient or so vast as these mysterious structures. The largest of them covers a square area of thirteen acres, and is still four hundred and seventy-four feet high. They have by some been supposed to have been erected by the Israelites during their bondage in Egypt. But the tenor of ancient history in general, as well as the results of modern researches, is against this supposition. It is generally believed that they were erected more than two thousand years before Christ, as the sepulchres of kings.

But besides these imperishable monuments of kings long forgotten, Egypt abounds in other structures hardly less wonderful; on the beautiful islands above the cataracts, near Syene, and at other places in Upper Egypt; and especially in the whole valley of the Nile near Thebes, including Carnac, Luxor, etc. The temples, statues, obelisks, and sphinxes that cover the ground astonish and awe the beholder with their colossal height, their massive grandeur, and their vast extent; while the dwellings of the dead, tombs in the rock occupied by myriads of mummies, extend far into the adjacent mountains. The huge columns of these temples, their vast walls, and many of the tombs, are covered with sculptures and paintings which are exceedingly valuable as illustrating the public and the domestic life of the ancient Egyptians. See SHISHAK . With these are mingled many hieroglyphic records, which have begun to yield their long-concealed meaning to the inquisitions of modern science. Some of these are mere symbols, comparatively easy to understand. But a large portion of them are now found to be written with a sort of pictorial alphabet-each symbol representing the sound with which its own name commences. Thus OSIR, the name of the Egyptian god Soiris, would be represented by the picture of a reed, a child, and a mouth; because the initial sounds of the Coptic words for these three objects, namely, Ike, Si, and Ro, make up the name OSIR. There is, however, great ambiguity in the interpretation of these records; and in many cases the words, when apparently made out, are as yet unintelligible, and seem to be part of a priestly dialect understood only by the learned.

The early history of ancient Egypt is involved in great obscurity. All accounts, however, and the results of all modern researches, seem to concur in representing culture and civilization as having been introduced and spread in Egypt from the south, and especially from Meroe; and that the country in the earliest times was possessed by several contemporary kings or states, which at length were all united into one great kingdom. The common name of the Egyptian kings was Pharaoh, which signified sovereign power. History has preserved the names of several of these kings, and a succession of their dynasties. But the inclination of the Egyptian historians to magnify the great antiquity of their nation has destroyed their credibility. See PHARAOH .

This ancient and remarkable land is often mentioned in Scripture. A grandson of Noah seems to have given it his name, Genesis 10:6 . In the day of Abraham it was the granary of the world, and the patruarch himself resorted thither in a famine, Genesis 12:10 . His wife had an Egyptian handmaid, Hagar the mother of Ishmael, who also sought a wife in Egypt, Genesis 21:9,21 . Another famine, in the days of Isaac, nearly drove him to Egypt, Genesis 26:2; and Jacob and all his household ended their days there, Genesis 39:1-50:26 . After the escape of Israel from their weary bondage in Egypt, we read of little intercourse between the two nations for many years. In the time of David and Solomon, mention is again made of Egypt. Solomon married an Egyptian princess, 1 Kings 3:7 9:1-28 11:43 . But in the fifth year of his son Rehoboam, Judah was humbled at the feet of Shishak, king of Egypt, 2 Chronicles 12:1-16; and for many generations afterwards the Jews were alternately in alliance and at war with that nation, until both were subjugated to the Assyrian empire, 2 Kings 17:1-41 18:21 23:29 24:1-20 Jeremiah 25:1-38 37:5 44:1-30 46:1-28 .

Egypt was conquered by Cambyses, and became a province of the Persian empire about 525 B. C. Thus it continued until conquered by Alesander, 350 B. C., after whose death it formed, along with Syria, Palestine, Lybia, etc., the kingdom of the Ptolemies. After the battle of Actium, 30 B. C., it became a Roman province. In the time of Christ, great numbers of Jews were residents of Alexandria, Leontopolis, and other parts of Egypt; and our Savior himself found an asylum there in his infancy, Matthew 2:13 . Since that time it has ceased to be an independent state, and its history is incorporated with that of its different conquerors and possessors. In A. D. 640, it was conquered by the Arabs; and in later periods has passed from the hands of the caliphs under the power of Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Mamelukes; and since 1517, has been governed as a province of the Turkish empire. Thus have been fulfilled the ancient predictions recorded in God's word, Ezekiel 29:14,15 30:7,12,13 32:15 . Its present population is about two millions.

The religion of Egypt consisted in the worship of the heavenly bodies and the powers of nature; the priests cultivated at the same time astronomy and astrology, and to these belong probably the wise men, sorcerers, and magicians mentioned in Exodus 7:11,22 . They were the most honored and powerful of the castes into which the people were divided. It was probably this wisdom, in which Moses also was learned, Acts 7:22 . But the Egyptian religion had this peculiarity, that it adopted living animals as symbols of the real objects of worship. The Egyptians not only esteemed many species of animals as sacred, which might not be killed without the punishment of death, but individual animals were kept in temples and worshipped with sacrifices, as gods.

"The river of Egypt," Numbers 34:5 Joshua 15:4,47 1 Kings 8:65 2 Kings 24:7 Isaiah 27:12 Ezekiel 47:19 48:28 , (and, according to some, Genesis 15:18 , although in this passage a different word is used signifying a permanent stream,) designates the brook El-Arish, emptying into the southeast corner of the Mediterranean at Rhinocolura.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of the topics are from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary published in 1859.

Bibliography Information
Rand, W. W. Entry for 'Egypt'. American Tract Society Bible Dictionary. 1859.

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