Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
EGYPT . Habitable and cultivable Egypt consists practically of the broad fan-shaped’ Delta opening on to the Mediterranean, and the narrow valley of the Nile bordered by deserts as far as the First Cataract (beyond which is Nubia, i.e. Ethiopia), with a few oases westward of the valley. Amongst the latter may be counted the Fayyum, which, however, is separated from the river only by a narrow ridge, and is connected therewith by a canal or natural channel conveying the waters of the river to the oasis. The Greek name Aigyptos may perhaps be connected with Hakeptah , a name in vogue during the New Kingdom for Memphis, the northern capital. Egypt was divided anciently into Upper and Lower, the latter comprising the Delta and a portion of the valley reaching above Memphis, while Upper Egypt (the northern portion of which is often spoken of as Middle Egypt) terminated at the First Cataract (Aswan). Each of these main divisions was subdivided into nomes, or counties, varying to some extent at different times, 22 being a standard number for the Upper Country and 20 for the Lower. Each nome had its capital city the god of which was important throughout the nome and was generally governed by a nomarch. The alluvial land of Egypt is very fertile and easy to cultivate. Its fertility is independent of rainfall, that being quite insignificant except along the Mediterranean coast; it depends on the annual rise of the Nile, which commences in June and continues till October. If the rise is adequate, it secures the main crops throughout the country. In ancient times there may have been extensive groves of acacia trees on the borders of the alluvium kept moist by soakage from the Nile; but at most seasons of the year there was practically no natural pasture or other spontaneous growth except in marshy districts.
In this brief sketch it is impossible to bestow more than a glance upon the various aspects of Egyptian civilization. The ancient Egyptians were essentially not negroes, though some affirm that their skulls reveal a negro admixture. Their language shows a remote affinity with the Semitic group in structure, but very little in vocabulary; the writing for monumental and decorative purposes was in pictorial ‘hieroglyphic’ signs, modified for ordinary purposes into cursive ‘hieratic’ and in late times further to ‘demotic’: the last form preserves no traces of the pictorial origins recognizable by any one but a student. The Egyptian, like the old Hebrew writing, cannot record vowels, but only the consonantal skeletons of words. * [Note: Egyptian names in this and other articles by the same writer, if not in their Grecized or Hebraized forms, are given, where possible, as they appear to have been pronounced in the time of the Deltaic Dynasties and onwards, i.e. during the last 1000 years b.c. This appears preferable to a purely conventional form, as it represents approximately the pronunciation heard by the Hebrew writers. The vowels are to be pronounced as in Italian.]
The Egyptian artist at his best could rise to great beauty and sublimity, but the bulk of his work is dead with conventionality, and he never attained to the idea of perspective in drawing. The Egyptian engineers could accurately place the largest monoliths, without, however, learning any such mechanical contrivances as the pulley or the screw. The ‘wisdom of the Egyptians’ was neither far advanced nor profound, though many ideas were familiar to them that had never entered the heads of the nomads and inferior races about them. Their mathematics and astronomy were of the simplest kind; yet the Egyptian calendar was infinitely superior to all its contemporaries, and is scarcely surpassed by our own. The special importance attached by the Egyptians to the disposal and furnishing of the body after death may have been inspired by the preservative climate. From an early time the elaboration of doctrines regarding the afterlife went on, involving endless contradictions. We may well admire the early connexion of religion with morality, shown especially in the ‘Negative Confession’ and the judgment scene of the weighing of the soul before Osiris, dating not later than the 18th Dynasty; yet in practice the Egyptian religion, so far as we can judge, was mainly a compelling of the gods by magic formulÃ¦. The priesthood was wealthy and powerful, and the people devout. The worship of animals was probably restricted to a few sacred individuals in early Egypt, but a degree of sanctity was afterwards extended to the whole of a species, and to almost every species.
1. The History of Egypt was divided by Manetho (who wrote for Ptolemy I. or II.) into 31 dynasties from Menes to Alexander. The chronology is very uncertain for the early times: most authorities in Germany place the 1st Dyn. about b.c. 3300, and the 12th Dyn. at b.c. 2000 1800. These dates, which depend largely on the interpretation of records of astronomical phenomena, may perhaps be taken as the minimum. The allowance of time (200 years) for the dark period between the 12th and the 18th Dyns. seems insufficient: some would place the 12th Dyn. at b.c. 2500 2300, or even a whole ‘Sothic’ period of 1460 years earlier than the minimum; and the 1st Dynasty would then be pushed back at least in equal measure. From the 18th Dyn. onwards there is close agreement.
The historic period must have been preceded by a long pre-historic age, evidenced in Upper Egypt by extensive cemeteries of graves containing fine pottery, instruments in flint exquisitely worked, and in bone and copper, and shapely vessels in hard stone. Tradition points to separate kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt towards the close of this period. Menes, the founder of the 1st Dyn., united the two lands. He came probably from This, near Abydos, where royal tombs of the first three Dyns. have been found; but he built Memphis as his capital near the dividing line between the two halves of his kingdom. The earliest pyramid dates from the end of the 3rd dynasty. The stupendous Pyramids at Gizeh are of Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinus of the 4th Dyn., from which time we have also very beautiful statues in wood, limestone, and diorite. In the 5th Dyn. the relief sculpture on tombs reached its highest excellence. The 6th Dyn. is notable for long inscriptions, both religious texts in the pyramids and biographical inscriptions in the lesser tombs. The first eight Dyns., of which the 7th and 8th are utterly obscure, constitute the Old Kingdom . After the first two Dyns., best represented at Abydos, its monuments are concentrated at Memphis, but important records of the 6th Dyn. are widely spread as far south as the First Cataract, parallel with the growing power and culture of the nomarchs. Expeditions were made even under the 1st Dyn. to the copper and turquoise mines in the peninsula of Sinai, and cedar wood was probably then already obtained from Lebanon by sea. Under the 6th Dyn. Nubia furnished troops to the Egyptian armies from the distant south as far perhaps as Khartum. But at the end of it there was a collapse, probably through insufficient control of the local princes of that time by the nomarch.
In the next period, the Middle Kingdom (Dyns. 9 17), we see the rise of Thebes; but the 9th and 10th Dyns. were from Heracleopolis, partly contemporary with the 11th Dyn., which eventually suppressed the rival house. The monuments of the 11th Dyn. are almost confined to the neighbourhood of Thebes. Under the AmenemhÃ§s and Senwosris of the 12th Dyn., Egypt was as great as it was in the 4th Dyn., but its power was not concentrated as then. The break-up of the old Kingdom had given an opportunity to a number of powerful families to grow up and establish themselves in local princedoms: the family that triumphed over the rest by arms or diplomacy could control but could not ignore them, and feudalism was the result, each great prince having a court and an army resembling those of the king, but on a smaller scale. The most notable achievement of these Dyns. was the regulation of the lake of MÅ“ris by AmenemhÃ§ III., with much other important work for irrigation and improvement of agriculture. Literature also flourished at this period. The traditional exploits of the world-conqueror Sesostris seem to have been developed in late times out of the petty expeditions of Senwosri III. into Nubia, Libya, and Palestine. The 13th and 14th Dyns. are represented by a crowd of 150 royal names: they are very obscure, and some scholars would make them contemporary with each other and with the following. The 15th and 16th Dyns. were of the little-known Hyksos or ‘Shepherd kings,’ apparently invaders from the East, who for a time ruled all Egypt ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 1650). Excepting scarabs engraved with the names of the kings, monuments of the Hyksos are extremely rare. Their names betray a Semitic language: they were probably barbarian, but in the end took on the culture of Egypt, and it is a strange fact that inscribed relics of one of them, Khyan, have been found in places as far apart as at Cnossus in Crete and Baghdad; no other Egyptian king, not even Thetmosi III., has quite so wide a range as that mysterious Hyksos. The foreign rulers are said to have oppressed the natives and to have forbidden the worship of the Egyptian deities. The princes of Thebes, becoming more or less independent, formed the 17th Dyn., and succeeded in ousting the hated Hyksos, now probably diminished in numbers and weakened by luxury, from Upper Egypt. The first king of the 18th Dyn., Ahmosi, drove them across the N.E. frontier and pursued them into Palestine ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 1580).
The 18th Dyn. ushers in the most glorious period in Egyptian history, the New Kingdom , or, as it has been called on account of its far-reaching sway, the Empire, lasting to the end of the 20th Dynasty. The prolonged effort to cast out the Hyksos had welded together a nation in arms under the leadership of the Theban kings, leaving no trace of the old feudalism; the hatred of the oppressor pursued the ‘pest’ far into Syria in successive campaigns, until Thetmosi I., the second successor of Ahmosi, reached the Euphrates. Thetmosi II. and a queen, Hatshepsut ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 1500), ruled for a time with less vigorous hands, and the latter cultivated only the arts of peace. Meanwhile the princes of Syria strengthened themselves and united to offer a formidable opposition to Thetmosi III. when he endeavoured to recover the lost ground. This Pharaoh, however, was a great strategist, as well as a valiant soldier: as the result of many annual campaigns, he not only placed his tablet on the bank of the Euphrates, by the side of that of Thetmosi I., but also consolidated the rule of Egypt over the whole of Syria and PhÅ“nicia. The wealth of the conquered countries poured into Egypt, and the temple of the Theban Ammon, the god under whose banner the armies of the Pharaohs of two dynasties had won their victories, was ever growing in wealth of slaves, lands, and spoil. Amenhotp III. enjoyed the fruits of his predecessors’ conquests, and was a mighty builder. His are the colossi at Thebes named Memnon by the Greeks. The empire had then reached its zenith. Under Amenhotp IV. ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 1370), in some ways the most striking figure in Egyptian history [the latest discoveries tend to show that the king was not more than 14 years old when the great innovation took place. He may thus have been rather a tool in the hands of a reformer], it rapidly declined: the Hittites were pressing into Syria from the north, and all the while the Pharaoh was a dreamer absorbed in establishing a monotheistic worship of Aton (the sun) against the polytheism of Egypt, and more especially against the Theban and national worship of Ammon. He changed his own name to Akhenaton, built a new capital, the ‘Horizon of Aton,’ in place of Thebes, and erased the name and figure of Ammon wherever they were seen. Art, too, found in him a lavish patron, and struck out new types, often bizarre rather than beautiful. But for the empire Pharaoh had no thought or leisure. The cuneiform letters found in the ruins of his newfangled capital at el-Amarna show us his distracted agents and vassals in Syria appealing to him in vain for support against the intrigues and onslaughts of rebels and Invaders. His father Amenhotp III. had carried on an active correspondence with the distant kings of Babylonia, Assyria, and Mitanni in Mesopotamia; but after a few years Akhenaton must have lost all influence with them. Shortly after Akhenaton’s death the new order of things, for which he had striven so long and sacrificed so much, was abolished, its triumph having lasted for but 10 or 15 years. Ammon worship was then restored, and retaliated on the name and figure of the heretic king and of his god.
Although the 18th Dyn. was so powerful and active, and had built temples in Nubia as well as in Syria, the Delta was neglected. Only on the road to Asia, at Heliopolis and Bubastis, have relics been found of these kings. Until Akhenaton’s heresy, their religious zeal was devoted to honouring Ammon. The 19th Dyn., on the other hand, was as active in the Delta as in other parts of Egypt, and although Ammon remained the principal god of the State, Ptah of Memphis and RÃ§ the sun-god of Heliopolis were given places of honour at his side. There is a famous series of reliefs at Karnak of the Syrian war of Seti I. ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 1300); but his son Ramesses II. ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 1290 1220) was the greatest figure in the Dynasty: he was not indeed able to drive back the Hittites, but he fought so valorously in Syria that they could make no advance southward. They were compelled to make a treaty with Pharaoh and leave him master of Syria as far as Kadesh on the Orontes. Ramesses II. was the greatest builder of all the Pharaohs, covering the land with temples and monuments of stone, the inscriptions and scenes upon them in many cases extolling his exploit against the Hittites at the battle of Kadesh, when his personal prowess saved the Egyptian camp and army from overwhelming disaster. Towards the end of his long reign of 67 years disorders multiplied, and his son and successor Mineptah had to face encroachments of the Libyans on his own soil and revolt in his frontier possessions in Palestine. Mineptah, too, was old, but by the fifth year of his reign he was able to boast of peace and security restored to his country. The 19th Dyn. ended, however, in utter confusion, a Syrian finally usurping the throne. In the 20th Dyn. the assaults on Egypt were renewed with greater violence than ever by Libyans from the west and by sea-rovers from the islands and coasts of the eastern Mediterranean. But Setnekht and his son and successor Ramesses III. ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 1200 1165) were equal to the occasion. The latter was victorious everywhere, on sea and on land, and a great incursion from the north, after maiming the Hittite power, was hurled back by the Egyptian king, who then established his rule in Syria and PhÅ“nicia over a wider area than his celebrated namesake had controlled. Ramesses XII. was followed by sons and others of his own name down to Ramesses XII., but all within glorious reigns. Under them the empire flickered out, from sheer feebleness and internal decay.
Egypt now ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 1100) enters upon a new period of history, that of the Deltaic Dynasties . Thebes was no longer the metropolis. The growth of commerce in the Levant transferred the centre of gravity northward. After the fall of the New Kingdom, all the native dynasties originated in various cities of Lower, with perhaps Middle, Egypt. The later Ramessides had depended for their fighting men on Libyan mercenaries, and the tendency of the Libyans to settle on the rich lands of Egypt was thus hastened and encouraged. The military chiefs established their families in the larger towns, and speedily became wealthy as well as powerful; it was from such families of Libyan origin that the later ‘native’ dynasties arose. Dyn. 21 was from Tanis (Zoan); parallel with and apparently subject to it was a dynasty of priest-kings at Thebes. The pitiful report of a certain Unamun, sent from Thebes to obtain wood from Lebanon, shows how completely Egypt’s influence in Syria and the Levant had passed away at the beginning of this dynasty. The 22nd Dyn. ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 950 750) arose in Bubastis, or perhaps at Heracleopolis in Middle Egypt. Its founder, Sheshonk I., the Biblical Shishak, was energetic and overran Palestine, but his successors quickly degenerated. The 23rd Dyn., said to be Tanite, was perhaps also Bubastite. There were now again all the elements of feudalism in the country except the central control, and Egypt thus lay an easy prey to a resolute invader. We find at the end of the 23rd Egyptian Dyn. Pankhi, king of Ethiopia, already in full possession of the Thebaid ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 730). Tefnakht, prince of Sais, was then endeavouring to establish his sway over the other petty princes of the Delta and Middle Egypt. Pankhi accepted the implied challenge, overthrew Tefnakht, and compelled him to do homage. Tefnakht’s son Bocchoris alone forms the 24th Dynasty. He was swept away by another invasion led by Shabako ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 715), who heads the Ethiopian or 25th Dynasty . Shabako was followed by his son Shabitku and by Tahrak. The kings of this dynasty, uniting the forces of Egypt and Ethiopia, endeavoured to extend their influence over Syria in opposition to the Assyrians. Tahrak (Tirhakah) was particularly active in this endeavour, but as soon as Esarhaddon was free to invade Egypt the Assyrian king had no difficulty in taking Memphis, capturing most of the royal family, and driving Tahrak southward ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 670). The native princes were no doubt hostile at heart to the Ethiopian domination: on his departure, Esarhaddon left these, to the number of 20, with Assyrian garrisons, in charge of different parts of the country; an Assyrian governor, however, was appointed to Pelusium, which was the key of Egypt. None the less the Ethiopian returned as soon as the Assyrian host had withdrawn, and annihilated the army of occupation. Esarhaddon thereupon prepared a second expedition, but died on the way. Ashurbanipal succeeding, reinstated the governors, and his army reached Thebes. On his-withdrawal there was trouble again. The Assyrian governor of Pelusium was accused of treachery with Niku (Neko), prince of Sais and Memphis, and PekrÃ»r of Pisapt (Goshen), and their correspondence with Tahrak was intercepted. They were all brought in chains to Nineveh, but Niku was sent back to Egypt with honour, and his son was appointed governor of Athribis. Soon after this failure Tahrak died: his nephew Tandamane recovered Memphis, but was speedily expelled by Ashurbanipal, who advanced up the river to Thebes and plundered it.
Meanwhile the family of Neko at Sais was securing its position in the Delta, taking advantage of the protection afforded by the Assyrians and the weakening of the Ethiopian power. Neko himself was killed, perhaps by Tandamane, but his son Psammetichus took his place, founding the 26th Dynasty . Counting his reign from the death of Tahrak ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 664), Psammetichus soon ruled both Upper and Lower Egypt, while in the absence of fresh expeditions all trace of the brief Assyrian domination disappeared. The 26th Dyn. marks a great revival; Egypt quickly regained its prosperity after the terrible ravages of civil wars and Ethiopian and Assyrian invasions. Psammetichus I., in his long reign of 54 years, re-organized the country, safeguarded it against attack from Ethiopia, and carried his arms into S.W. Palestine. His son Neko, profiting by the long weakness of Assyria, swept through Syria as far as Carchemish on the Euphrates, and put the land to tribute, until the Babylonian army commanded by Nebuchadrezzar hurled him back (b.c. 605). His successors, Psammetichus II. and Apries (Hophra), attempted to regain influence in Syria, but without success. Apries with his Greek mercenaries became unpopular with the native soldiery, and he was dethroned by Ahmasi (Amasis). This king, although he made alliances with CrÅ“sus of Lydia, Polycrates of Samos, and Battus of Cyrene during a reign of 46 years, devoted himself to promoting the internal prosperity of Egypt. It was a golden age while it lasted, but it did not prevent the new Persian masters of the East from preparing to add Egypt to their dominions. Cyrus lacked opportunity, but Cambyses easily accomplished the conquest of Egypt in b.c. 527, six months after the death of Amasis.
The Persian Dynasty is counted as the 27th. The memory of its founder was hateful to the Egyptians and the Greeks alike; probably the stories of his mad cruelty, though exaggerated, have a solid basis. Darius, on the other hand (521 486), was a good and considerate ruler, under whom Egypt prospered again; yet after the battle of Marathon it revolted. Xerxes, who quelled the revolt, and Artaxerxes were both detested. Inaros the Libyan headed another rebellion, which was backed by an Athenian army and fleet; but after some brilliant successes his attempt was crushed. It was not till about b.c. 405 that Egypt revolted successfully; thereafter, in spite of several attempts to bring it again under the Persian yoke, it continued independent for some 60 years, through Dyns. 28 30. At length, in 345, Ochus reconquered the province, and it remained subject to Persia until Alexander the Great entered it almost without bloodshed in 332 after the battle of Issus.
Throughout the Hellenistic (Ptolemaic and Roman) period the capital of Egypt was Alexandria, the intellectual head of the world. Under the Ptolemys, Egypt on the whole prospered for two centuries, though often torn by war and dissension. [In the reign of Philo-metor ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 170) a temple was built by the high-priest Onias for the Jews in Egypt after the model of the Temple at Jerusalem (Josephus, BJ VII. x. 3). The ruins have been recognized by Flinders Petrie at Tell el-Yahudieh.] From b.c. 70 there is a conspicuous absence of native documents, until Augustus in b.c. 30 inaugurated the Roman rule. Egypt gradually recovered under its new masters, and in the second cent. of their rule was exceedingly prosperous as a rich and well-managed cornfield for the free supply of Rome.
2. Egypt in the Bible is Egypt under the Deltaic Dynasties, or, at earliest, of the New Kingdom. This applies not only to the professedly late references in 1 and 2Kings, but also throughout. Abraham and Joseph may belong chronologically to the Middle Kingdom, but the Egyptian names in the story of Joseph are such as were prevalent only in the time of the Deltaic Dynasties. There were wide differences in manners and customs and in the condition of the country and people at different periods of the history of Egypt. In the Biblical accounts, unfortunately, there are not many criteria for a close fixing of the dates of composition. It may be remarked that there were settlements of Jews in Pathros (Upper Egypt) as early as the days of Jeremiah, and papyri indicate the existence of an important Jewish colony at Syene and Elephantine, on the S. border of Egypt, at an equally early date. The OT writers naturally show themselves much better acquainted with the eastern Delta, and especially the towns on the road to Memphis, than with any other part of Egypt. For instance, Sais, the royal city of the 26th Dyn. on the W. side of the Delta, is not once mentioned, and the situation of Thebes (No-Amon) is quite misunderstood by Nahum. Of localities in Upper Egypt only Syene and Thebes (No) are mentioned; in Middle Egypt, Hanes; while on the eastern border and the route to Memphis (Noph) are Shihor, Shur, Sin, Migdol, Tahpanhes, Pi-beseth, On; and by the southern route, Goshen, Pithom, Succoth, Rameses, besides lesser places in the Exodus. Zoan was not on the border routes, but was itself an important centre in the East of the Delta, as being a royal city. There are but few instances in which the borrowing of Egyptian customs or even words by the Hebrews can be traced; but the latter were none the less well acquainted with Egyptian ways. The Egyptian mourning of 70 days for Jacob is characteristic ( Genesis 50:3 ), so also may be the baker’s habit of carrying on the head ( Genesis 40:16-17 ). The assertion that to eat bread with the Hebrews was an abomination to the Egyptians ( Genesis 43:32 ) has not yet been satisfactorily explained. The Hebrews, no doubt, like the Greeks in Herodotus, slew and ate animals, e.g. the sheep and the cow, which Egyptians in the later days were forbidden to slay by their religious scruples. Circumcision was frequent in Egypt, but how far it was a general custom (cf. Joshua 5:9 ) is not clear. Prophecies of a Messianic type were current in Egypt, and one can be traced back to about the time of the Hyksos domination. It has been suggested that in this and in the custom of circumcision are to be seen the most notable influences of Egypt on the people of Israel.
3. Religion . The piety of the Egyptians was the characteristic that struck the Greeks most forcibly, and their stupendous monuments and the bulk of the literature that has come down to us are either religious or funerary. An historical examination of all the phenomena would show that piety was inherent in the nature of the people, and that their religious observances grew and multiplied with the ages, until the Moslem conquest. The attempt will now be made to sketch some outlines of the Egyptian religion and its practices, as they appear especially in the last millennium b.c. The piety of the Egyptians then manifested itself especially in the extraordinary care bestowed on the dead, and also in the number of objects, whether living or inanimate, that were looked upon as divine.
The priests (Egyp. ‘the pure ones’ or ‘the divine fathers’) were a special class with semi-hereditary privileges and duties. Many of them were pluralists. They received stipends in kind from the temples to which they were attached, and in each temple were divided into four phylÃ¦ or tribes, which served in succession for a lunar month at a time. The chief offices were filled by select priests entitled prophets by the Greeks (Egyp. ‘servants of the god’; Potiphera ( Genesis 41:45 ) was prophet [of RÃ§] in On), of which there was theoretically one for each god in a temple. Below the priests in the temple were the pastophori (Egyp. ‘openers,’ i.e. of shrines), and of the same rank as these were the choachytes (Egyp. ‘water-pourers’) in the necropolis. These two ranks probably made offerings of incense and libations before the figure of the god or of the deceased. The priestly class were very attentive to cleanliness, wearing white linen raiment, shaving their heads, and washing frequently. They abstained especially from fish and beans, and were probably all circumcised. The revenues of the temples came from endowments of land, from offerings and from fees. The daily ritual of offering to the deity was strictly regulated, formula) with magic power being addressed to the shrine, its door, its lock, etc., as it was being opened, as well as to the deity within; hymns were sung and sistrums rattled, animals slaughtered, and the altar piled with offerings. On festal occasions the god would be carried about in procession, sometimes to visit a neighbouring deity. Burnt-offerings , beyond the burning of incense, were unknown in early times, but probably became usual after the New Kingdom. Offerings of all kinds were the perquisite of the priests when the god (image or animal) had bad his enjoyment of them. Oracles were given in the temples, not by an inspired priest, but by nods or other signs made by the god; sometimes, for instance, the decision of a god was sought in a legal matter by laying before him a papyrus in which the case was stated. In other cases the enquirer slept in the temple, and the revelation came in a dream. The oracles of the Theban Ammon and (later) of Buto were political forces: that of Ammon in the Oasis of Siwa played a part in Greek history. The most striking hymns date from the New Kingdom, and are addressed especially to the solar form of Ammon (or to the Aton during Akhenaton’s heresy); the fervour of the worshipper renders them henothelstic, pantheistic, or even theistic in tone. Prayers also occur; but the tendency was overwhelmingly greater to magic , compelling the action of the gods, or in other ways producing the desired effect. Preservative amulets, over which the formulÃ¦ had been spoken or on which such were engraved, abound on the mummies of the later dynasties, and no doubt were worn by living persons. The endless texts inscribed in the pyramids of the end of the Old Kingdom, on coffins of the Middle Kingdom, and in the Book of the Dead, are almost wholly magical formulÃ¦ for the preservation of the material mummy, for the divinization of the deceased, for taking him safely through the perils of the under world, and giving him all that he would wish to enjoy in the future life. A papyrus is known of spells for the use of a mother nursing her child; spells accompanied the employment of drugs in medicine; and to injure an enemy images were made in wax and transformed by spells into persecuting demons.
Egyptian theology was very complex and self-contradictory; so also were its views about the life after death . These were the result of the amalgamation of doctrines originally belonging to different localities; the priests and people were always willing to accept or absorb new ideas without displacing the old, and to develop the old ones by imagination in different directions. No one attempted to reach a uniform system, or, if any had done so, none would abide long by any system. Death evidently separated the elements of which the living man was composed; the corpse might be rejoined from time to time by the hawk-winged soul, while at other times the latter would be in the heavens associating with gods. To the ka (life or activity or genius) offerings were made at the tomb; we hear also of the ‘shade’ and ‘power.’ The dead man was judged before Osiris, the king of the dead, and if condemned, was devoured by a demon, but if justified, fields of more than earthly fruitfulness were awarded to him in the under world; or he was received into the bark of the sun to traverse the heavens gloriously; or, according to another view, he passed a gloomy and feeble existence in the shadows of the under world, cheered only for an hour as the sun travelled nightly between two of the hour-gates of the infernal regions. No hint of the Pythagorean doctrine of metempsychosis, attributed by Herodotus to the Egyptians, has yet been found in their writings; but spells were given to the dead man by which he could voluntarily assume the form of a lotus, of an ibis or a heron or a serpent, or of the god Ptah, or ‘anything that he wished.’ Supplies for the dead were deposited with him in the grave, or secured to him by magic formulÃ¦; offerings might be brought by his family on appropriate occasions, or might be made more permanent by endowment; but such would not be kept up for many generations.
As to the deities , the king was entitled the ‘good god,’ was a mediator between god and man as the religious head of the State and chief of the priesthood, and his image might he treated as divine even during his lifetime. A dead man duly buried was divine and identified with Osiris, but in few cases did men preserving their personality become acknowledged gods; such was the case, however, conspicuously with two great scribes and learned men Imhotep, architect of king Zoser of the 3rd dynasty, and Amenhotp, son of Hap, of the time of Amenhotp III. (18th dynasty), who eventually became divine patrons of science and writing: the former was considered to be a son of Ptah, the god of Memphis, and was the equivalent of Asklepios as god of healing. Persons drowned or devoured by crocodiles were accounted specially divine, and Osiris from certain incidents in his myth was sometimes named ‘the Drowned.’ The divinities proper were (1) gods of portions of the universe: the sun-god RÃ§ was the most important of these; others were the earth-god Geb, the sky-god Shoon, and the goddess Nut, with stellar deities, etc. (2) Gods of particular qualities or functions: as Thoth the god of wisdom, Mei goddess of justice and truth, Mont the god of war, Ptah the artificer god. (3) Gods of particular localities: these included many of classes (1) and (2). Some of them had a wide vogue from political, mythological, or other reasons: thus, through the rise of Thebes, Ammon, its local god, became the King of the Gods, and the god of the whole State in the New Empire; and Osiris, god of Busiris in the Delta, became the universal King of the Dead, probably because his myth, shown in Passion Plays at festivals, made a strong appeal to humanity. Around the principal god of a temple were grouped a number of other deities, subordinate to him there and forming his court, although they might severally be his superiors in other localities; nine was the typical number in the divine court, and thus the co-templar deities were called the Ennead of the principal god, though the number varied considerably. Each principal god or goddess, too, had a consort and their child, forming a triad; these triads had been gradually developed by analogy from one group to another, as from that of Osiris, Isis, and Horus described below.
Some of the deities were of human form, as Ptah, Osiris, Etom, Muth, Neith, besides those which were of human origin. Bes, the god of joy and of children, was a grotesque dwarf dancer. Others were in the form of animals or animal-headed canine, as Anubis and Ophois; feline, as Mihos (Minsis) and the goddesses Sakhmis and Bubastis. Thoth was ibis-headed; Horus, RÃ§, and Mont had the heads of falcons. Besides the sacred animal whose head is seen in the representations of the god, there were others which did not affect his normal form, although they were considered as incarnations of him. Thus the bull Apis was sacred to Ptah, Mnevis to Etom, Bacis to Mont; and in addition to the ibis, the ape was, in a more complete sense than these, an embodiment of Thoth. In the late ages most mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes, and several insects were looked upon as sacred, some only in particular localities, others universally, such as the cow sacred to Hathor, Isis, etc., and the cat sacred to Bubastis; after death, the sacred animals were mummified, fully or in part, separately or in batches, according to their size and sanctity.
RÃ§, the sun-god, was the ruler of heaven and the archetype of the living king; other ruling gods, such as Ammon, Suchos the crocodile-god, Mont the war-god, were identified with RÃ§, whose name was then generally added to theirs. The popular Osiris legend was the supreme factor in the Egyptian religion, however, from the 26th Dynasty and onwards. Osiris was the beneficent king of Egypt, slain and cut in pieces by his wicked brother Seth, sought for by his sister-wife Isis, and restored by her magic to life; Isis bore him Horus, who avenged his father by overcoming Seth. The dead Osiris was an emblem of the dead king and of the sun in the night, Horus of the succeeding or reigning king and of the next day’s sun; thus the tragedy and the triumph were ever renewed. Not only dead kings, but also all the blessed dead, were assimilated to Osiris, and triumphed through Horus and his helpers. With the Osiris legend are connected the best features in the Book of the Dead, the remarkable judgment scene, and the negative confession, implying that felicity after death depended on a meritorious life. Seth, once god of several localities and a type of power, as an element of the myth, was the type of darkness and wickedness; and in late times he, together with his animals the ass and the hippopotamus, and Suchos the crocodile-god, were execrated, and his worship hardly tolerated even in his own cities. Ptah the god of Memphis had an uninteresting personality; the inhabitants of that populous capital reserved their emotions for the occasions when Apis died and a new Apis was found, assimilating the former to Osiris and probably the latter to Horus. The dead Apis, which was buried with such pomp and expenditure, was called the Osiris Apis Osirapis or Serapis. With some modification, this Serapis, well known and popular amongst natives and foreign settlers alike, was chosen by Ptolemy Soter to be the presiding deity of his kingdom, for the Egyptians, and more especially for the Greeks at Alexandria. He was worshipped as a form of Osiris, an infernal Zeus, associated with Isis. His acceptance by the Greek world, and still more enthusiastically by the Romans and the western half of the Roman world, spread the Osiris Passion otherwise the Isiac mysteries far and wide. This Isiac worship possessed many features in common with Christianity: on the one hand, it prepared the world for the latter, and influenced its symbols; while, on the other, it proved perhaps the most powerful and stubborn adversary of the Christian dogma in its contest with paganism.
F. Ll. Griffith.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Egypt'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/e/egypt.html. 1909.