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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary


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Capital of Lower Egypt, on the W. or left bank of the Nile. Hebrew "Νowph " (Isaiah 19:13). "Μowph ," or Memphis (Hosea 9:6). Second only to Thebes in all Egypt; the residence of the kings until the Ptolemies moved to Alexandria. Plutarch makes it mean "the port of good things," the sepulchre of Osiris, the necropolis of Egypt, "the haven of the blessed," for the right of burial was given only to the good. Diodorus Siculus (i. 4) observes, the inhabitants value little this brief life, but most highly the name of a virtuous life after death; they call the houses of the living inns, because they remain in them only a little while, but the sepulchers of the dead everlasting habitations; they are not therefore very careful about their houses, but in beautifying the sepulchers leave nothing undone. "The good" may refer to Osiris, whose sacred animal Apis was here worshipped, and had its burial place the Serapeum, from whence the village Busiris is named, namely, "the abode of Osiris," now Aboo Seer.

"Memphis shall bury them" is a characteristic description, its burying ground extending 20 miles along the Libyan desert's border. Mem means a foundation or wall, and nofre "good"; or mam-Phta "the dwelling of Phta" the god answering to the Greek Hephaestus, Latin Vulcan; or from Menes its founder. Near the pyramids of Gizeh, and ten miles to the S. of modern Cairo; the court of the idol bull Apis. In hieroglyphics called "the city of pyramids." The monuments of Memphis are more ancient than those of Thebes. Menes (compare Minos in Crete, Genesis 10:6; Bochart makes him Mizraim, and thinks Memphis was called Μezri from him, as the Arabs now call it) its founder dates 2690 B.C. (Sir G. Wilkinson), 2717 B.C. (Poole), 2200 or 2300 according to Eratosthenes compare with Dicaearchus. Many of Manetho's dynasties were contemporaneous, not successive.

"Menes" in hieroglyphics is written as the founder of Memphis on the roof of the Rameseum near Gournon in western Thebes, at the head of the ancestors of Rameses the Great; the earliest mention of the name is on a ruined tomb at Gizeh, "the royal governor Menes," a descendant probably of the first Menes, and living under the fifth dynasty. Caviglia discovered the colossal statue of Rameses II beautifully sculptured. Before Menes the Nile, emerging from the upper valley, bent W. to the Libyan hills, and was wasted in the sands and stagnant pools. Menes, according to Herodotus, by banking up the river at the bend 100 furlongs S. of Memphis, laid the old channel dry, and dug a new course between the hills, and excavated a lake outside Memphis to the N. and W., communicating with the river. Thus Memphis was built in the narrow part of Egypt, on a marsh reclaimed by Menes' dyke and drained by his artificial lake. The dyke began 12 miles S. of Memphis, and deflected the river two miles eastward.

At the rise of the Nile a canal still led some of its waters westward through the former bed, irrigating the western plain. The artificial lake at Abousir guarded against inundation on that side. Memphis commanded the Delta on one hand and Upper Egypt on the other; on the W. the Libyan mountains and desert defended it; on the E. the river and its artificial embankments. The climate is equable, judging from Cairo. Menes built the temple of Phta (his deified ancestor Phut, fourth son of Ham, who settled in Libya, Genesis 10:6), the creative power, represented ordinarily holding the Nilometer or emblem of stability combined with the symbol of life, and a scepter, Moeris, Sesostris, Rhampsiuitis, Asychis, Psammeticus, and Amosis successively beautified this temple with gateways and colossal statues (including those of summer and winter by Rhampsinitis).

In the grand avenue to it fights between bulls (not with men, for the bull was sacred) such as are depicted on the tombs were exhibited. The temple of Apis also was here with a magnificent colonnade supported by colossal Osiride statue pillars; through it on state occasions was led a black bull with peculiarly shaped white spots upon his forehead and right side, the hairs on the tail double, and the scarabaeus or sacred beetle marked on his tongue. A gallery, 2,000 ft. long by 20 high and 20 wide, was the burial place of the embalmed sacred bulls. Apis was thought the incarnation of Osiris, who with Isis was the universal object of worship in Egypt. Aaron's calf, and Jeroboam's two calves, were in part suggested by the Egyptian sacred bull, in part by the cherubim ox. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 46:20) alludes to Apis, "Egypt is like a very fair heifer."

Isis had a temple at Memphis, and was buried there. The sacred cubit used in measuring the Nile was in the temple of Serapis. Proteus (a Memphite king), Venus, Ra or Phre ("the sun"), and the Cabeiri too had temples in Memphis. The region of the pyramids (from peram "the lofty"; Ewald translated Job 3:14 built pyramids for themselves"), 67 (Lepsius) in number, or probably fewer as many of the 67 are doubtful, lies wholly W. of the Nile, from a little N.W. of Cairo to 40 miles S. and thence S.W. 25 miles. The Memphite necropolis ranges about 15 miles to Gizeh, including many pyramids of Egyptian sovereigns; the pyramids at Gizeh are the largest and oldest. See Piazzi Smyth, "Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid," on the scientific bearings of this extraordinary and, in his view, divinely planned monument, which has no idolatrous emblem on it, unlike other Egyptian monuments.

The Hyksos or shepherd kings (Genesis 49:24), Shofo and Noushofo, 2500 B.C., he thinks, built the great pyramid under God's guidance, and the cities Salem, of which Melchizedek was shepherd priestking, and Damascus. Isaiah (Isaiah 19:13) foretold, "the princes of Noph are deceived," i.e. the military caste with all the famed "wisdom of Egypt" err in fancying themselves secure, namely, from Sargon, Nebuchadnezzar, and Cambyses, who successively conquered Egypt. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 46:19), "Noph shall be waste and desolate, without inhabitant "(compare Jeremiah 43:10). Ezekiel, 575 B.C. (Ezekiel 30:13; Ezekiel 30:16), "I will destroy the idols and cause their images to cease out of Noph." Half a century afterward (525 B.C.) Cambyses fulfilled it, killing Apis, scourging his priests, opening the sepulchers, examining the bodies, making sport of Phta's image, and burning the images of the Cabeiri (Herodotus, iii. 37). Memphis never recovered. Alexandria succeeded to its importance. So utter was its fall that the very site for a time was unknown. Mariette and Linant brought to light its antiquities, some of which are in the British Museum. Its dykes and canals still are the basis of the irrigation of Lower Egypt. The village Meet Raheeneh now stands where once was its center.

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Memphis'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

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