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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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Thebes is a name borne by two of the most celebrated cities in the ancient world, Thebes in Bœotia, and Thebes in Egypt. Of the latter it is that we have here to speak in brief, referring those who wish for detailed information to the works of Wilkinson, especially his Modern Egypt and Thebes.

The name Thebes is corrupted from the Tápé of the ancient Egyptian language, the meaning of which appears to be 'the head,' Thebes being the capital of the Thebais in Upper Egypt. It is termed in Scripture No and No-Ammon (;; ). Thebes was situate on both sides of the River Nile, and had canals cutting the land in all directions. It was probably the most ancient city of Egypt, and the residence in very early ages of Egyptian kings who ruled the land during several dynasties. The plain was adorned not only by large and handsome dwellings for man, but by temples and palaces, of whose grandeur words can give but a faint conception. Of these edifices there are still in existence ruins that astound and delight the traveler. The most ancient remains now existing are in the immense temple, or rather cluster of temples, of Karnak, the largest and most splendid ruin of which either ancient or modern times can boast, being the work of a number of successive monarchs, each anxious to surpass his predecessor by increasing the dimensions of the part he added. Osirtasen I, the contemporary of Joseph, is the earliest monarch whose name appears on the monuments of Thebes. On the western shore the chief points of interest are the palace and temple of Rameses II, erroneously called the Memnonium; the temples of Medinet Habu, the statue of Memnon, and the tombs of the kings. On the eastern shore are the temple of Luksor, and the temple of Karnak, already mentioned. 'It is impossible,' says Robinson (Bib. Researches, i. 29), 'to wander among these scenes and behold these hoary yet magnificent ruins without emotions of astonishment and deep solemnity. Everything around testifies of vastness and of utter desolation. Here lay once that mighty city whose power and splendor were proverbial throughout the ancient world.' Yet, like all earthly things, Thebes had her period of death. She sprang up, flourished, declined, and sank. Memphis rose to be her rival when Thebes began to part with her glory. She was plundered by Cambyses, and destroyed by Ptolemy Lathyrus. In Strabo's time the city was already fallen; yet its remains then covered eighty stadia, and the inhabited part was divided into many separate villages, as the ruins now are portioned out between nine hamlets. The period in which Thebes enjoyed the highest prosperity Robinson considers to have been coeval with the reigns of David and Solomon. This, however, appears too late a date. From the passage in Nahum (, sq.), it would seem that in his day (according to Josephus, cir. 750 B.C.) the city had suffered a terrible overthrow—how long previously is not recorded, for we do not know what conquest or what conqueror was here intended by the prophet. The walls of all the temples at Thebes are covered with sculptures and hieroglyphics, representing in general the deeds of the kings who founded or enlarged these structures. Many of these afford happy illustrations of Egyptian history.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Thebes'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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