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People's Dictionary of the Bible

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Egypt (ç'jĭpt). This is one of the oldest and most remarkable countries in ancient history, famous for its pyramids, sphinxes, obelisks, and ruins of temples and tombs. In early times it reached a high state of culture in art and literature, and is of great interest to Jew and Christian as the early home of the Israelites and of their great lawgiver Moses. Our notice of it must be confined to its relations to Bible events, and to those facts in its history that throw light on the Scripture. In Hebrew, Egypt is called Misraim, a dual form of the word, indicating the two divisions—Upper and Lower Egypt, or (as Tayler Lewis suggests), the two strips on the two sides of the Nile. It is also known as the Land of Ham, Psalms 105:23; Psalms 105:27, and Rahab, "the proud one." Psalms 87:4; Psalms 89:10; Isaiah 51:9. The Coptic and older title is Kemi, or Chemi, meaning black, from the dark color of the soil. The name Egypt first occurs in its Greek form in Homer, and is applied to the Nile and to the country, but afterward it is used for the country only. Egypt is in the northeastern part of Africa and lies on both sides of the Nile. In ancient times it included the land watered by the Nile as far as the First Cataract, the deserts on either side being included in Arabia and Libya. Ezekiel indicates that Egypt reached from Migdol, east of the Suez Canal, to Syene, now Assouan, on the border of Nubia, near the First Cataract of the Nile. Ezekiel 29:10, margin. The length of the country in a straight line from the Mediterranean to the First Cataract is about 520 miles; its breadth is from 300 to 450 miles, and its entire area is about 212,000 square miles. Nubia, Ethiopia, and other smaller districts bordering on the Nile to the south of Egypt, were, at times, under its sway. The country has three great natural divisions: 1. The Delta. 2. The Nile Valley. 3. The sandy and rocky wastes. The Delta is one vast triangular plain, chiefly formed by the washing down of mud and loose earth by the great river Nile and watered by its several mouths, and by numerous canals. The Delta extends along the Mediterranean for about 200 miles and up the Nile for 100 miles. The Tanitic branch of the Nile is on the east of the Delta, and the Canopic branch on the west, though the Delta is now limited chiefly to the space between the Rosetta and the Damietta branches, which is about 90 miles in extent.

Climate.— The summers are hot and sultry, the winters mild; rain, except along the Mediterranean, is very rare, the fertility of the land depending almost entirely upon the annual overflow of the Nile, or upon artificial irrigation by canals, water-wheels, and the shadoof, winds are strong, those from a northerly source being the most prevalent, while the simoon, a violent whirlwind and hurricane of sand, is not infrequent. The soil, when watered, is fertile, and fruits, vegetables, plants, and nuts are abundant. The papyrus reed was that from which paper was made. The reeds have disappeared, as Isaiah predicted. Isaiah 19:6-7. Domestic and wild animals were numerous, including the crocodile and hippopotamus, and vulture, hawk, hoopoe (a sacred bird), and ostrich were common. Flies and locusts were sometimes a scourge. Joel 2:1-11.

Inscriptions.— The hieroglyphic signs on the monuments are partly ideographic or pictorial, partly phonetic. The hieroglyphic, the shorter hieratic, and the demotic alphabets were deciphered by Champollion and Young by means of the famous trilingual Rosetta Stone, discovered in 1799, and the Coptic language, which is essentially the same with the old Egyptian. For a summary of the respective merits of Young and Champollion with regard to the interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphics, see Allibone's Dictionary of Authors, vol. 3, p. 2902. The process of decipherment was, briefly, as follows: the Rosetta Stone had an inscription in three characters, hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek. The Greek, which was easily read, declared that there were two translations—one in the sacred, the other in the popular language of the Egyptians, adjacent to it. The demotic part was next scrutinized, and the groups determined which contained the word Ptolemy. These were compared with other framed symbols on an obelisk found at Philæ, and after a time the true interpretation of these signs discovered, so that scholars can now read most of these hieroglyphic signs with great accuracy.

History.— The ancient history of Egypt has been divided into three periods by leading writers: 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. Manetho enumerates 30 dynasties as having ruled in Egypt before Alexander the Great, probably several of them at the same time, but over separate parts of the country. Manetho was an Egyptian priest who lived in the em of the Ptolemies in the third century b.c. His work (a history of Egypt, written in Greek) is lost, but his list of dynasties has been preserved in later writers. The beginning of the first dynasty in his list is fixed by Lepsius in 3892 b.c., but by Böckh in 5702 b.c. 1. The old monarchy: Memphis was the most ancient capital, the foundation of which is ascribed to Menes, the first historic king of Egypt. 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 Shufu 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. In this period the nomadic horde called Hyksos for several centuries occupied and made Egypt tributary; their capital was Memphis; they constructed an immense earth-camp, which they called Abaris; 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; but finally the Egyptians regained their independence, and expelled the Hyksos; Manetho supposes they were called hyksos, from hyk, a king, and sos, a shepherd. 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 covers the eighteenth to the end of the thirtieth dynasty. The kingdom was consolidated by Amosis, who succeeded in expelling the Hyksos. 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 Soudan, and amassed vast treasures, which were expended on public works. Under the later kings of the nineteenth dynasty the power of Egypt faded: but with the twenty-second we again enter upon a period that is interesting from its associations with biblical history. The first of this dynasty, Sheshonk I., b.c. 990, was 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. The chronology and dates in Egyptian history are very unsettled and indefinite. The two noted authorities on this subject—M. Mariette and Prof. Lepsius—differ over 1100 years in their tables as to the length of dynasties I.,—XVII. and others vary in their computations about 3000 years as to the length of the empire. Some have conjectured that Menes, the founder of Egypt, was identical with Mizraim, a grandson of Noah. Genesis 10:6. So probably the same with Shebek II., who made an alliance with Hoshea, the last king of Israel. Tehrak or Tirhakah fought 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, warred in Palestine, and took Ashdod (Azotus) after a siege of 29 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. 2 Chronicles 35:21. The army of Necho was after a short space routed at Carchemish by Nebuchadnezzar, b.c. 605-4. Jeremiah 46:2. The second successor of Necho, Apries, or Pharaoh-hophra, sent his army into Palestine to the aid of Zedekiah, Jeremiah 37:5; Jeremiah 37:7; Jeremiah 37:11, so that the siege of Jerusalem was raised for a time. There is, however, no certain account of a complete subjugation of Egypt by the king of Babylon. Amosis, the successor of Apries, had a long and prosperous reign, and somewhat restored the weight of Egypt in the East. But Persia proved more terrible than Babylon to the house of Psammetichus, and the son of Amosis had reigned but six months when Cambyses reduced the country to the condition of a province of his empire, b.c. 525.

Egypt and the Bible.— To the Bible-reader the chief points of interest in Egyptian history are those periods when that country came in contact with the patriarchs and the Israelites. The visit of Abraham to Egypt. Genesis 12:10-20. This visit took place, according to the Hebrew (or short) chronology, about b.c. 1920, which would bring it, according to some, at the date of the Hyksos, or Shepherd-kings; others regard this as too late a date, and put it in the beginning of the twelfth dynasty; and his favorable reception is supposed to be illustrated by a picture in the tombs at Beni Hassan (where are many remarkable sculptures), representing the arrival of a distinguished nomad chief with his family, seeking protection under Osirtasen II. Next is the notice of Joseph in Egypt Genesis 37:36. This beautiful and natural story has been shown to be thoroughly in accord with what is known of Egyptian customs of that age. Inscriptions on the monuments speak of the dreams of Pharaoh; the butler's and baker's duties are indicated in pictures; one of the oldest papyri relates the story that a foreigner was raised to the highest rank in the court of Pharaoh; and Dr. Brugsch believes an inscription on a tomb at el-Kab to contain an unmistakable allusion to the seven years of famine in Joseph's time, as follows: "I gathered grain, a friend of the god of harvest. I was watchful at the seed-time. And when a famine arose through many years, I distributed the grain through the town in every famine." The greatest point of interest is, perhaps, the period of oppression of the Israelites in Egypt, and the Exodus. Exodus 1:8-22; Exodus 12:41. Who was the Pharaoh of the oppression, and who the Pharaoh of the Exodus? To this two answers are given by different scholars: 1. Amosis or Aahmes I., the first ruler of the eighteenth dynasty, is identified with the Pharaoh of the oppression, and Thothmes II., about 100 years later, as the Pharaoh of the Exodus, by Canon Cook. 2. That Rameses II., the third sovereign of the nineteenth dynasty, is the Pharaoh of the oppression, and Menephthah the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The question is unsettled, leaning now to earlier date. Rameses II is the Sesostris of the Greeks, who blended him with his father, Sethi I., or Sethos. He ruled 67 years and was the great conqueror and builder, covering his empire with monuments in glory of himself. "His name," says Dr. Ebers, "may be read today on a hundred monuments in Goshen." Among his many structures noted on monuments and in papyri are fortifications along the canal from Goshen to the Bed Sea, and particularly at Pi-tum and Pi-rameses or Pi-ramessu; these must be the same as the treasure-cities Pithom and Rameses, built or enlarged by the Israelites for Pharaoh. Exodus 1:11. Herodotus tells us that a son and successor of Sesostris undertook no warlike expeditions and was smitten with blindness for ten years because he "impiously hurled his spear into the overflowing waves of the river, which a sudden wind caused to rise to an extraordinary height." Schaff says: "This reads like a confused reminiscence of the disaster at the Bed Sea." The chief objection to this view is that it allows less than 315 years between the Exodus and the building of Solomon's temple; but the present uncertainties of the Hebrew and Egyptian chronologies deprive the objection of great weight. After the Exodus the Israelites frequently came into contact with Egypt at various periods in their history. Through an Egyptian, David recovered the spoil from the Amalekites, 1 Samuel 30:11, etc.; Solomon made a treaty with king Pharaoh and married his daughter, 1 Kings 3:1; Gezer was spoiled by Pharaoh and given to Solomon's wife, 1 Kings 9:16; Solomon brought horses from Egypt; Hadad fled thither for refuge, as did also Jeroboam, 1 Kings 10:28; 1 Kings 11:17; 1 Kings 12:2; Shishak plundered Jerusalem and made Judæa tributary, 1 Kings 14:25, and a record of this invasion and conquest has been deciphered on the walls of the great temple at Karnak, or el-Karnak. In this inscription is a figure with a strong resemblance to Jewish features, which bears Egyptian characters that have been translated "the king of Judah." Pharaoh-necho was met on his expedition against the Assyrians by Josiah, who was slain. 2 Kings 23:29-30. Pharaoh-hophra aided Zedekiah, Jeremiah 37:5-11, so that the siege of Jerusalem was raised, but he appears to have been afterward attacked by Nebuchadnezzar. The sway of Egypt was checked and finally overcome by the superior power of Babylonia, and its entire territory in Asia was taken away. 2 Kings 24:7; Jeremiah 46:2. The books of the prophets contain many declarations concerning the wane and destruction of the Egyptian power, which have been remarkably fulfilled in its subsequent history. See Isaiah 19:1-25; Isaiah 20:1-6; Isaiah 30:3; Isaiah 31:3; Isaiah 36:6; Jeremiah 2:36; Jeremiah 9:25-26; Jeremiah 43:11-13; Jeremiah 44:30; Jeremiah 46:1-28; Ezekiel 29:1-21; Ezekiel 30:1-26; Ezekiel 31:1-18; Ezekiel 32:1-32; Daniel 11:42; Joel 3:19; and "the sceptre of Egypt shall depart away." Zechariah 10:11. In the New Testament there are several references to the relations of the Israelites to Egypt as they existed in Old Testament times; see Acts 2:10; Acts 7:9-40; Hebrews 3:16; Hebrews 11:26-27; but the interesting fact in the New Testament period was the flight of the holy family into Egypt, where the infant Jesus and his parents found a refuge from the cruel order of Herod the Great. Matthew 2:13-19. Among the various other allusions to Egypt in the Bible are those to its fertility and productions, Genesis 13:10; Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:5; to its mode of irrigation as compared with the greater advantages of Canaan, which had rain and was watered by natural streams, Deuteronomy 11:10; its commerce with Israel and the people of western Asia, Genesis 37:25; Genesis 37:36; 1 Kings 10:28-29; Ezekiel 27:7; its armies equipped with chariots and horses, Exodus 14:7; Isaiah 31:1; its learned men and its priests, Genesis 41:8; Genesis 47:22; Exodus 7:11; 1 Kings 4:30; its practice of embalming the dead, Genesis 50:3; its aversion to shepherds, and its sacrifices of cattle, Genesis 46:34; Exodus 8:26; how its people should be admitted into the Jewish Church, Deuteronomy 23:7-8; the warnings to Israel against any alliance with the Egyptians, Isaiah 30:2; Isaiah 36:6; Ezekiel 17:15; Ezekiel 29:6; and to the towns of the country. Ezekiel 30:13-18. The records on existing monuments have been found to confirm the accuracy of all these allusions to the customs of the people.

Ruins.—" Egypt is the monumental land of the earth," says Bunsen, "as the Egyptians are the monumental people of history." Among the most interesting ancient cities are:(a) On or Heliopolis, "the city of the sun," ten miles northeast of Cairo, where there was an obelisk of red granite 68 feet high, and erected previous to the visit of Abraham and Sarah to the land of the Pharaohs. Formerly the obelisks of Cleopatra stood here also, but were removed to Alexandria during the reign of Tiberius; and one of them now stands on the banks of the Thames, London, and another in Central Park, New York. Joseph was married at Heliopolis, Genesis 41:45, and there, according to Josephus, Jacob made his home; it was probably the place where Moses received his education, where Herodotus acquired most of his skill in writing history, and where Plato, the Greek philosopher, studied. (b) Thebes "of the hundred gates," one of the most famous cities of antiquity, is identified with No or No-Ammon of Scripture. Jeremiah 46:25; Ezekiel 30:14-16; Nan. 3:8. The ruins are very extensive, and the city in its glory stretched over thirty miles along the banks of the Nile, covering the places now known as Luxor, Karnak, and Thebes. (c) Memphis, the Noph of Scripture. Jeremiah 46:19. "Nothing is left of its temples and monuments but a colossal statue of Rameses II., lying mutilated on the face in the mud." The temples at Karnak and Luxor are the most interesting, the grandest among them all being the magnificent temple of Rameses II. There are ruins of temples at Denderah, Abydos, Philæ, Heliopolis, and at Ipsamboul, 170 miles south of Philæ, in Nubia. Among the noted tombs are those at Thebes, Beni-Hassan, and Osiout, and among the obelisks are those at Luxor, Karnak, Heliopolis, and Alexandria. In a cave near Thebes 39 royal mummies and various other objects were discovered in 1881. Among the mummies was that of Rameses II., the Pharaoh of the oppression, which has been fully described by Maspero. These wonderful ruins attest the magnificence and grandeur, but also the absolute despotism and slavery, of this land in the earliest ages and as far back as before the days of Abraham, and they also attest in the most impressive manner the fulfillment of prophecy. Over 2000 years it has been without "a prince of the land of Egypt," Ezekiel 30:13; and "the basest of the kingdoms." Ezekiel 29:15.

Bibliography Information
Rice, Edwin Wilbur, DD. Entry for 'Egypt'. People's Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​rpd/​e/egypt.html. 1893.
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