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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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E´gypt, the land of Ham, a son of Noah, from whom was derived the ancient native appellation of the country, Chemi. From Mizraim, the second son of Ham, comes the ordinary Biblical name, Mizraim, a word which properly denotes Lower Egypt, as being that part of the country with which the Israelites were nearest and best, if not (in the earlier periods of their history) solely, acquainted. This designation, however, is sometimes used for Egypt indiscriminately, and was by the later Arabs extended to the entire country.

Egypt is the land of the Nile, the country through which that river flows from the Island of Philæ, situated just above the Cataracts of Syene, in lat. 24° 1′ 36″, to Damietta, in 31° 35′ N., where its principal stream pours itself into the Mediterranean Sea. On the east it is bounded by Palestine, Idumaea, Arabia Petraea, and the Arabian Gulf. On the west, the moving sands of the wide Libyan Desert obliterate the traces of all political or physical limits. Inhabited Egypt, however, is restricted to the valley of the Nile, which, having a breadth of from two to three miles, is enclosed on both sides by a range of hills: the chain on the eastern side disappears at Mocattam; that on the west extends to the sea. In lat. 30° 15′, the Nile divides into two principal streams, which, in conjunction with a third that springs somewhat higher up, forms the Delta, so called from its resemblance to the Greek letter . These mountains are interesting, if for no other reason than that they served as the bed whence the materials were obtained out of which were constructed the wonderful buildings for which Egypt is justly distinguished. The superficial extent of Egypt has been estimated at about 11,000 square miles. The soil, which is productive, consists almost exclusively of mud brought down and deposited by the river, whose waters are indispensable every year for the purposes of agriculture to such an extent that the limits of their flow are the limits of vegetation. The Delta owes its very existence to the deposits of the Nile, and but for the waters of this stream, carried over its surface by natural or artificial means, would soon be a desert; it was therefore with propriety, as indeed was the entire country, termed 'the gift of the Nile.' The agency of the stream is the more necessary because rain very seldom falls in Lower Egypt. The land, placed as it is on the confines of Africa and Asia, yet so adjacent and accessible to Europe, in itself a garden and a store-house, may well have held an important position in the ancient world, and can hardly fail, unless political influences are very adverse, to rise to a commanding attitude in modern times. As to the number of its inhabitants, nothing very definite is known. Its fertility would doubtless give birth to, and support, a teeming population. In very remote times as many as 8,000,000 souls are said to have lived on its soil. In the days of Diodorus Siculus they were estimated at 3,000,000. Volney made the number 2,300,000. The present government estimate is 3,200,000, which seems to be somewhat beyond the fact.

Egypt naturally divides itself into two great sections at the apex of the Delta, the country lying south of that point being designated Upper Egypt, that north of it Lower Egypt. Under the Ptolemies, and probably at a very early period, the whole country was divided into thirty-six cantons or provinces, which division was maintained till the invasion of the Saracens. It is now composed of 24 departments, which, according to the French system of geographical arrangement, are subdivided into arrondissements and cantons.

The Nile is never mentioned by name in our translation of the Old Testament; it is always called the river of Egypt, although the word Nile occurs in the original (;; ).

Till within a few years the sources of the Nile and the termination of the Niger were hid in alike mysterious obscurity. The latter has been discovered, but the former, notwithstanding many strenuous efforts and some pretence, remain to reward the enterprise of some more fortunate traveler. The various branches of the Nile have their rise in the highlands north of the equator. The three principal branches of the Nile are—1, the Bahr el Abiad, or White River, to the west, which is now known to be the largest and longest; 2, the Bahr el Azrek, or Blue River, in the center; 3, the Tacazzé, or Abara, which is the eastern branch. The Nile, from its confluence with the Tacazze (17° 45′ north lat.) down to its entrance into the Mediterranean (1200 geographical miles), receives no permanent streams: but in the rainy season it receives wadys, or torrents, from the mountains. The annual overflow of the river, on which the ancients wrote so obscurely, is known to arise from the periodical rains which fall within the tropics. The rich alluvial deposits which the Nile spreads over Nubia and Egypt are mainly derived through the Blue River; the White River, or longest stream, bringing nothing of the kind. Owing to the yearly deposit of alluvial matter, both the bed of the Nile and the land of Egypt are being gradually raised. The river proceeds in its current uniformly and quietly at the rate of two and a half or three miles an hour, always deep enough for navigation. Its water is usually blue, but it becomes of a deep brick-red during the period of its overflow. It is salubrious when drunk, meriting the encomiums which it has so abundantly received. On the river the land is wholly dependent. If the Nile does not rise a sufficient height, sterility and dearth, if not famine, ensue. An elevation of sixteen cubits is essential to secure the prosperity of the country. Such, however, is the regularity of nature, and such the faithfulness of God, that for thousands of years, with but few and partial exceptions, these inundations have in essential particulars been the same. The waters of the stream are conveyed over the surface of the country by canals when natural channels fail. During the overflow the land is naturally inundated, and has the appearance of a sea dotted with islands. Wherever the waters reach, abundance springs forth. The cultivator has scarcely more to do than to scatter the seed. No wonder that a river whose waters are so grateful, salubrious, and beneficial, should in days of ignorance have been regarded as an object of worship, and that it is still revered and beloved.

Well may Egypt have been visited as a granary by the needy in ancient times (; ). Besides corn, the country produced onions, garlic, beans, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, flax, cotton, and wine. The acacia, sycamore, palm, and fig-tree adorned the land; but there was a want of timber. The Nile produced the useful papyrus, and abounded in fish. On its banks lurked the crocodile and hippopotamus. The Egyptian oxen were celebrated in the ancient world. Horses abounded (); hence the use of war-chariots in fight (; Diod. Sic. i. 45), and the celebrity of Egyptian charioteers (; ). The land was not destitute of mineral treasures. Gold mines were wrought in Upper Egypt.

The climate is very regular and exceedingly hot; the atmosphere clear and shining; a shade is not easily found. Though rain falls even in the winter months very rarely, it is not altogether wanting, as was once believed. Thunder and lightning are still more infrequent, and are so completely divested of their terrific qualities that the Egyptians never associate with them the idea of destructive force. Showers of hail descending from the hills of Syria are sometimes known to reach the confines of Egypt: the formation of ice is very uncommon. Dew is produced in great abundance. The wind blows from the north from May to September, when it veers round to the east, assumes a southerly direction, and fluctuates till the close of April. The southerly vernal winds, traversing the arid sands of Africa, are most changeable as well as most unhealthy: they form the simoom or samiel, and have proved fatal to caravans and even to armies. Mosquitoes, locusts, frogs, together with the plague, the small pox, and leprosy, are the great evils of the country.

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Egypt'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​e/egypt.html.
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