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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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the one great river of Egypt; constituting, in fact, that country by its alluvial banks. In treating of it we give the ancient as well as the modern accounts, and especially the Scriptural relations. (See EGYPT).

I. Names of the Nile in Scripture. This word, the Νεῖλος, Nilus, of the Greeks and Romans, which is supposed to be of Iranian origin, signifying "dark blue," does not occur in the authorized version of the English Bible, but the river is repeatedly referred to under different names and titles. The Hebrew names of the Nile, excepting one that is of ancient Egyptian origin, all distinguish it from other rivers. With the Hebrews the Euphrates, as the great stream of their primitive home, was always "the river," and even the long sojourn in Egypt could not put the Nile in its place. Most of their geographical terms and ideas are, however, evidently traceable to Canaan, the country of the Hebrew language. Thus the sea, as lying on the west, gave its name to the west quarter. It was only in such an exceptional case as that of the Euphrates, which had no rival in Palestine, that the Hebrews seem to have retained the ideas of their older country. These circumstances lend no-support to the idea that the Shemites and their language came originally from Egypt. With the ancient Egyptians the river was sacred, and had, besides its ordinary name, a sacred name, under which it was worshipped, HAPI, or HAPI-MU, "the abyss," or "the abyss of waters," or "the hidden."

Corresponding to the two regions of Egypt, the Upper Country and the Lower, the Nile was called HAPE-RES "the Southern Nile," and HAPI- MEHIT, "the Northern Nile," the former name applying to the river in Nubia as well as in Upper Egypt. The god Nilus was one of the lesser divinities. He is represented as a stout man having woman's breasts, and is sometimes painted red to denote the river during its rise and inundation, or High Nile, and sometimes blue, to denote it during the rest of the year, or Low Nile. Two figures of HAPI are frequently represented on each side of the throne of a royal statue, or in the same place in a bass-relief, binding it with water-plants, as if the prosperity of the kingdom depended upon the produce of the river. The name HAPI, perhaps in these cases HEPI, was also applied to one of the four children of Osiris, called by Egyptologers the genii of AMENT or Hades, and to the bull Apis, the most revered of all the sacred animals. The genius does not seem to have any connection with the river, excepting indeed that Apis was sacred to Osiris. Apis was worshipped with a reference to the inundation, perhaps because the myth of Osiris, the conflict of good and evil, was supposed to be represented by the struggle of the fertilizing river or inundation with the desert and the sea, the first threatening the whole valley, and the second wasting it along the northern coast. (See § iii, below.)

It will be instructive to mention the present names of the Nile in Arabic, as they may serve to illustrate the Scripture terms. By the Arabs it is called Bahr en-Nil, "the River Nile" the two upper streams being respectively termed Bahr el-A biad, or White Nile, and Bahr el-Azrek, or Blue Nile the word Bahr being applied alike to seas and the largest rivers. The Egyptians call it El-Bahr, or "the river," alone; and term the annual overflow En-Nil, or "The Nile."

1. Shichor, שַׁחֹר שַׁחוֹר שַׁיחוֹר "black." The idea of darkness conveyed by this word has, as we should expect in Hebrew, a wide sense, applying not only to the color of the hair (Leviticus 13:31; Leviticus 13:37), but also to that of a face tanned by the sun (Song of Solomon 1:5-6), and that of a skin black through disease (Job 30:30). It seems, however, to be indicative of a very dark color;- for it is said in the Lamentations, as to the famished Nazarites in the besieged city, "Their visage is darker than blackness" (Job 4:8). That the Nile is meant by Shihor is evident from its mention as equivalent to Yeor, "the river," and as a great river, where Isaiah says of Tyre, "And by great waters, the sowing of Shihor, the harvest of the river (יְאֹר ) [is] her revenue" (Job 23:3); from its being put as the western boundary of the Promised Land (Joshua 13:3; 1 Chronicles 13:5), instead of "the river of Egypt" (Genesis 15:18); and from its being spoken of as the great stream of Egypt, just as the Euphrates was of Assyria (Jeremiah 2:18).

If, but this is by no means certain, the name Nile, Νεῖλος, be really indicative of the color of the river, it must be compared with the Sanskrit Nilah. "blue" especially, probably "dark blue," also even "black," and must be considered to be the Indo-European equivalent of Shihor. The signification "blue" is noteworthy, especially as a great confluent, which most nearly corresponds to the Nile in Egypt, is called the Blue River, or, by Europeans, the Blue Nile. (See SHIHOR).

2. Yeor, יְאוֹר, יְאֹר, is the same as the ancient Egyptian ATUR, AUR, and the Coptic Eiero or laro. It is important to notice that the second form of the ancient Egyptian name alone is preserved in the later language, the second radical of the first having been lost, as in the Hebrew form; so that. on this double evidence, it is probable that this commoner form was in use among the people from early times. Year, in the singular, is used of the Nile alone, excepting in a passage in Daniel 12:5-7, where another river, perhaps the Tigris (comp. 10:4), is intended by it. In the plural, יְאֹרַים, this name is applied to the branches and canals of the Nile (Psalms 78:44; Ezekiel 29:3 sq.; Ezekiel 30:12), and perhaps the tributaries also, with, in some places, the addition of the names of the country, Mitsraim, Matsor, יְאֹרֵי מַצְרִיַח (Isaiah 7:18, A. V. "rivers of Egypt"), יְאוֹרֵי מָצוֹר (Ezekiel 19:6, "brooks of defense;" Ezekiel 37:25, "rivers of the besieged places"); but it is also used of streams or channels, in a general senswhen no particular ones are indicated (see Isaiah 33:21; Job 28:10). It is thus evident that this name specially designates the Nile; and although properly meaning a river, and even used with that signification, it is probably to be regarded as a proper name when applied to the Egyptian river. The latter inference may perhaps be drawn from the constant mention of the Euphrates as "the river;" but it is to be observed that Shihor, or "the river of Egypt," is used when the Nile and the Euphrates are spoken of together, as if Yeor could not be well employed for the former, with the ordinary term for river, nahdr, for the latter. (See STREAM).

3. "The river of Egypt," נְהִר מַצְרִיַם, is mentioned with:the Euphrates in the promise of the extent of the land to be given to Abraham's posterity, the two limits of which were to be "the river of Egypt" and "the great river, the river Euphrates" (Genesis 15:18). (See EGYPT, RIVER OF).

4. "The Nachal of Egypt, נִחִל מַצְרִיַם . has generally been understood to mean "the torrent" or "brook of Egypt," and to designate a desert stream at Rhinocorura, now El-'Arish, on the eastern border. Certainly נִחִל usually signifies a stream or torrent, not a river; .and when a river, one of small size, and dependent upon mountain-rain or snow; but as it is also used for a valley, corresponding to the Arabic wddy, which is in like manner employed in both senses, it may apply like it, in the case of the Guadalquivir, etc., to great rivers. This name has been held by some to signify the Nile, for it occurs in cases parallel with those where Shihor is employed (Numbers 34:5; Joshua 15:4; Joshua 15:47; 1 Kings 8:65; 2 Kings 24:7; Isaiah 27:12), both designating the easternmost or Pelusiac branch of .the river as the border of the Philistine territory, where the Egyptians likewise put the border of their country towards Kanaan or Kanana (Canaan). It remains for us to decide whether the name signify the "brook of Egypt," or whether Nachal be a Hebrew form of Nile. On the one side, may be urged the improbability that the middle radical should not be found in the Indo-European equivalents, although it is not one of the most permanent letters; in the other, that it is improbable that nahar, "river," and nachal, "brook," would be used for the same stream. If the latter be here a proper name, Νεῖγος must be supposed to be the same word; and the meaning of the Greek as well as the Hebrew name would remain doubtful, for we could not then positively decide on an Indo- European signification. The Hebrew word nachal might have been adopted as very similar in sound to an original proper: name; and this idea is supported by the forms of various Egyptian words in the Bible, which are susceptible of Hebrew etymologies in consequence of a slight change. It must, however, be remembered that there are traces of a Shemitic language, apparently distinct from Hebrew, in geographical names in the east of Lower Egypt, probably dating from the Shepherd period; and therefore we must not, if we take nachal to be here Shemitic, restrict its meaning to that which it bears or could bear in Hebrew. (See BROOK); (See RIVER).

5. "The rivers of Cush," נִחֲרְי כוּשׁ, are only mentioned in the extremely difficult prophecy contained in Isaiah 18. From the use of the plural, a single stream cannot be meant, and we must suppose "the rivers of Ethiopia" to be the confluents or tributaries of the Nile. Gesenius, (Lex. s.v. נְהְי makes them the Nile and the Astaboras. Without attempting to explain this prophecy, it is interesting to remark that the expression, "Whose land the rivershave spoiled" (Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 18:7), if it apply to any Ethiopian nation, may refer to the ruin of great part of Ethiopia, for a long distance above the First Cataract in consequence of the fall of the level of the river. This change has been effected through the breaking down of a barrier at that cataract, or at Silsilis, by which the valley has been placed above the reach of the fertilizing annual deposit. But the verb בּ זְאוּ should rather be rendered "have cut up," and refers to the intersection of the alluvial country by the channels of the river. (See CUSH).

6. The Nile is sometimes poetically called a sea, יָם (Isaiah 18:2; Nahum 3:8; Job 41:31; but we cannot agree with Gesenius, Thesaur. s.v., that it is intended in Isaiah 19:5): this, however, can scarcely be considered to be one of its names. (See SEA).

7. By some the Gihon, גַּיחוֹן, one of the rivers of Eden, is thought to have been the Nile; but the boundaries of that locality were far away from Egypt. (See GIHON).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Nile'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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