Egypt had been the bondhouse of Israel. It was there that Israel had grown from a family into a people, which the desert was to transform into a nation. The Exodus out of Egypt was the beginning of Israelitish history, the era from which it dated. Down to the last the kingdom of the Pharaohs exercised upon it an influence more or less profound; the extravagant splendour of Solomon was modelled after that of the Egyptian monarchs, his merchants found their best market on the banks of the Nile, and the last Canaanitish city which passed into Israelitish hands was the gift to him of the Pharaoh. The invasion of the Egyptian king prevented Rehoboam from attempting to reconquer the revolted tribes, and in the days of Assyrian ascendancy it was Egypt that was played off against the Assyrian invader by the princes and statesmen of the west. The defeat of Necho at Carchemish handed Palestine over to the Babylonians, and indirectly brought about the destruction of Jerusalem; even in the age of the Ptolemies Egypt still influenced the history of Israel, and the Jews of Alexandria prepared the way for the Christian Church. For centuries Palestine was the battle-ground of the nations; but it was so because it lay between the two great powers of the ancient East, between Egypt on the one side and Assyria and Babylonia on the other.
Egypt is the creation of the Nile. Outside the Delta and the strip of land which can be watered from the river there is only desert. When the annual inundation covers the fields the land of Egypt exists no more; it becomes a watery plain, out of which emerge the villages and towns and the raised banks which serve as roads. For more than 1600 miles the Nile flows without an affluent; in the spring it falls so low that its channel becomes almost unnavigable; but in the late summer, its waters, swollen by the rains and melted snows of Central Africa, and laden with the fertilising silt of the Abyssinian mountains, spread over the cultivated country, and bring fertility wherever they go.
The waters of the inundation must have been confined by dykes, and made to flow where the cultivator needed them, at a very remote date. Recent discoveries have thrown light on the early history of the country. We find it inhabited by at least one race, possibly of Libyan origin, which for the present we must term pre-historic. Its burial-places are met with in various localities in Upper Egypt. The members of the race were not acquainted with the use of metals, but they were expert artificers in stone and clay. Stone was skilfully carved into vessels of different forms, and vases of clay were fashioned, with brightly polished surfaces. Sometimes the vases were simply coloured red and black, or adorned with patterns and pictures in incised white lines; at other times, and more especially in the later tombs, they were artistically decorated with representations of men and animals, boats, and geometrical patterns in red upon a pale drab ground.
The pre-historic race or races had already reached a fair level of civilisation -- neolithic in type though it may have been -- when a new people appeared upon the scene, bringing with them the elements of a high culture and a knowledge of working in metals. These were the Pharaonic Egyptians, who seem to have come from Babylonia and the coasts of southern Arabia. Cities were built and kingdoms were founded on the banks of the Nile, and the older population was forced to become the serfs of the new-comers, to cultivate their fields, to confine the Nile within artificial boundaries, and to carry out those engineering works which have made the valley of the Nile what it is to-day.
The Pharaonic Egyptians are the Egyptians of history. They were acquainted with the art of writing, they mummified their dead, and they possessed to a high degree the faculty of organisation. The gods they worshipped were beneficent deities, forms of the Sun-god from whom their kings derived their descent. It was a religion which easily passed into a sort of pantheistic monotheism in the more cultivated minds, and it was associated with a morality which is almost Christian in its character. A belief in a future world and a resurrection of the flesh formed an integral part of it; hence came the practice of embalming the body that it might be preserved to the day of resurrection; hence too the doctrine of the dead man's justification, not only through his own good works, but through the intercession of the Sun-god Horus as well. Horus was addressed as |the Redeemer;| he had avenged the death of his father Osiris upon his enemy Set, the lord of evil, and through faith in him his followers were delivered from the powers of darkness. Horus, however, and Osiris were but forms of the same deity. Horus was the Sun-god when he rises in the morning; Osiris the Sun-god as he journeys at night through a world of darkness; and both were identical with Tum, the Sun-god of the evening. The gods who watched over the great cities of Egypt, some of which had been the capitals of principalities, were identified with the Sun-god in these his various forms. Thus Ptah of Memphis became one with Osiris; so also did Ra, the Sun-god of Heliopolis, while in those later days when Thebes rose to sovereign power its local god Amon was united with Ra.
Along with this higher and spiritual religion went -- at least in historical times -- a worship of sacred animals. The anomaly can be explained only by that mixture of races of which archaeology has assured us. Beast-worship must have been the religion of the pre-historic inhabitants of Egypt, and just as Brahmanism has thrown its protection over the superstitions of the aboriginal tribes of India and identified the idols of the populace with its own gods, so too in ancient Egypt a fusion of race must have brought about a fusion of ideas. The sacred animals of the older cult were associated with the deities of the new-comers; in the eyes of the upper classes they were but symbols; the lower classes continued to see in them what their fathers had seen, the gods themselves. While the Pharaonic Egyptian adored Horus, the older race knew of Horus only as a hawk. If we may trust Manetho, the Egyptian historian, it was not till the beginning of the Second historical dynasty that the sacred animals of popular worship were received into the official cult.
The Pharaonic Egyptian resembled in body and character the typical native of Central Egypt to-day. He was long-headed, with a high and intellectual forehead, straight nose, and massive lower jaw. His limbs were well-proportioned and muscular, his feet and hands were small. He belonged to the white race, but his hair and eyes were black, the hair being also straight. His artistic and intellectual faculties were highly developed, he was singularly good-tempered and light-hearted, averse to cruelty, though subject at times to fits of fanatical excitement and ferocity. At once obstinate and industrious, he never failed to carry out what he had once taken in hand. The Nile valley was reclaimed for the use of man, and swamp and jungle, the home of wild beasts and venomous serpents, were turned by his labours into a fruitful paradise.
By the side of the long-headed Egyptian of the ruling classes we find in the age of the earlier dynasties a wholly different type, of which the famous wooden statue now in the Cairo Museum, and commonly known as the |Shekh el-Beled,| may be taken as an illustration. Here the skull is round instead of long, the lips and nostrils are thick and fleshy, the expression good-humoured rather than intellectual. The type is that of a portion of the lower classes, and disappears from the monuments after the fall of the Sixth dynasty. After that epoch the races which inhabited Egypt were more completely fused together, and the rounded skull became rare.
Egyptian history begins with Menes, the founder of the united monarchy, and of the First historical dynasty. Our glimpses of the age that preceded him -- the age of the followers of Horus, as the Egyptians termed it -- are few and scanty. Egypt was divided into several kingdoms, which were gradually unified into two only, those of the north and the south. The northern kingdom was symbolised by the snake and papyrus, the southern kingdom by the vulture and aloe. The vulture was the emblem of Nekheb, the goddess of the great fortress whose ruins are now called El-Kab; and it is probable that the city of Nekhen, which stood opposite it on the western bank of the Nile, was once the capital of the south. However this may be, when Menes mounted the throne he was hereditary ruler of This, a city which adjoined the sacred burial-place of Osiris at Abydos, and of which Girgeh is the modern successor.
Menes made himself master of the north, and so united all Egypt under one rule. He then undertook and carried through a vast engineering work, one of the greatest the world has ever seen. The Nile was turned aside out of its old channel under the Libyan cliffs into a new channel to the east. The dyke which forced the river from its old course still remains, and two or three thousand years before the bed of the valley had risen to its present level the destruction of the dyke would have meant the return of the Nile to its former path. North of the dyke English engineers have found that the alluvial soil bears witness to interference with the natural course of the river of a far-reaching kind, and its long straight course resembles that of a canal rather than of the naturally winding stream of the Nile.
On the embankment thus won from the waters Menes built his capital, which bore the two names of Men-nefer or Memphis, |the Beautiful Place,| and Ha-ka-Ptah or AEgyptos, |the Temple of the Double of Ptah.| On the north side of it, in fact, stood the temple of Ptah, the local god, the scanty remains of which are still visited by the tourist. In front of the shrine was the sacred lake across which, on days of festival, the image of the god was ferried, and which now serves as a village pond.
Menes was followed by six dynasties of kings, who reigned in all 1478 years. The tombs of the two first dynasties have been found at Abydos. Menes himself was buried on the edge of the desert near Negada, about twenty miles to the north of Thebes. His sepulchre was built in rectangular form, of crude bricks, and filled with numerous chambers, in the innermost and largest of which the corpse of the king was laid. Then wood was heaped about the walls and the whole set on fire, so that the royal body and the objects that were buried with it were half consumed by the heat. The mode of burial was peculiar to Babylonia. Here, in an alluvial plain, where stone was not procurable, and where the cemeteries of the dead adjoined the houses of the living, brick was needful instead of stone, and sanitary considerations made cremation necessary. But in the desert of Egypt, at the foot of rocky cliffs, such customs were out of place; their existence can be explained only by their importation from abroad. The use of seal-cylinders of Babylonian pattern, and of clay as a writing material, in the age of Menes and his successors, confirms the conclusion to which the mode of burial points. The culture of Pharaonic Egypt must have been derived from the banks of the Euphrates.
That Menes should have been buried at Negada, and not, like the rest of his dynasty, in the sacred necropolis of his mother-city, is strange. But we are told that he was slain by a hippopotamus, the Egyptian symbol of a foe. It may be, therefore, that he fell fighting in battle, and that his sepulchre was erected near the scene of his death. However that may be, the other monarchs of the first two dynasties were entombed at Abydos, The mode of burial was the same as in the case of Menes.
The objects found in the tombs of Menes and his successors prove that the culture of Egypt was already far advanced. The hieroglyphic system of writing was fully developed, tools and weapons of bronze were used in large quantities, the hardest stones of the Red Sea coast were carved into exquisitely-shaped vases, plaques of ivory were engraved with high artistic finish, and even obsidian was worked into vases by means of the lathe. As the nearest source of obsidian to Egypt that is known are the islands of Santorin and Melos in the AEgean Sea, there must have already been a maritime trade with the Greek seas. Art had already reached maturity; a small dog carved out of ivory and discovered in the tomb of Menes is equal to the best work of later days. Finally, the titles assumed by the Pharaohs are already placed above the double name of the king, and the symbols employed to denote them are the same as those which continued in use down to the end of the Egyptian monarchy.
The first six dynasties are known to Egyptologists as the Old Empire. Kings of the Fourth dynasty, Khufu, Khafra, and Menkaura, built the great pyramids of Giza, the largest of which is still one of the wonders of the world. Its huge granite blocks are planed with mathematical exactitude, and, according to Professor Flinders Petrie, have been worked by means of tubular drills fitted with the points of emeralds or some equally hard stone. It was left for the nineteenth century to re-discover the instrument when the Mont Cenis tunnel was half completed. The copper for the bronze tools employed by the workmen was brought from the mines of Sinai, where the Egyptian kings had kept an armed garrison for many generations; the tin mixed with the copper must have come from India and the Malayan Peninsula, or else from Spain and Britain.
While the Fifth and Sixth dynasties were reigning, exploring expeditions were sent into the lands of the Upper Nile. The two dynasties had sprung from the island of Elephantine, opposite Assuan; it was, therefore, perhaps natural that they should take an interest in the country to the south. One expedition made its way into the land of Punt, to the north of Abyssinia, and brought back a Danga dwarf, whose tribal name still survives under the form of Dongo. Later expeditions explored the banks of the Nile as far south as the country of the Dwarfs, as well as the oases of Libya.
The Old Empire was followed by a period of decline. Egypt was overrun by barbarians, its kings lost their power, and the whole land suffered decay. The pyramid tombs of the Old Empire were entered and despoiled; the bodies of the monarchs within them were torn to pieces, and the precious objects that had been buried with them were carried away. As the power of the kings diminished, that of the great landowners and nobles increased; a feudal aristocracy grew up, which divided Egypt between its members, and treated the royal authority with only nominal respect. Memphis ceased to be the capital, and a new dynasty, the Ninth, was founded by the feudal prince of Herakleopolis, now Ahnas, south of the Fayyum. For a time the Tenth dynasty succeeded in reducing its rebellious vassals to obedience, but the princes of Thebes steadily grew in strength, and at length one of them seized the throne of the Pharaohs and established the Eleventh dynasty. Thebes became the capital of the kingdom, and under the Twelfth dynasty was the capital of an empire.
Once more Egypt revived. The power of the aristocracy was broken, and the local princes became court officials. Temples were built, and engineering works undertaken all over the country. The ancient temple of Ra at Heliopolis was restored, and two obelisks, one of which is still standing, were planted in front of it. The depression west of the Nile, now known as the Fayyum, was drained of its waters, and by means of embankments transformed from a pestiferous marsh into fertile fields. The Nile was brought to it by a river-like canal, and the supply of water regulated by locks. Fresh exploring expeditions were sent to the Somali coast and elsewhere. The gold-mines of Hammamat were worked in the eastern desert, and Egypt became the California or Australia of the ancient world. The eastern frontier was defended against the Asiatic tribes, while campaign after campaign was carried on in the south, resulting in the conquest of the Sudan.
The Thirteenth dynasty came to an end in the midst of internal troubles. The short reigns of the kings of the dynasty that followed show that the line of the Pharaohs was again becoming feeble. It closed in disaster and overthrow. Hordes of invaders poured into Egypt from Asia and overran the whole country. They are known as the Hyksos or Shepherds, and the greater part of them were of Semitic descent. For 669 years they ruled the valley of the Nile in three dynasties, and the recollection of their hated sway never faded from the Egyptian mind. At first they burned and plundered, then they established themselves in Memphis and Zoan, and from thence governed the rest of the country. But they soon submitted to the influence of Egyptian culture. The conquered people took their conquerors captive, and the Hyksos kings became veritable Pharaohs. The manners and customs, the writing and titles of the native monarchs were adopted, and, in course of time, even the language also. The court was filled with native officials, the cities and temples were restored, and Egyptian learning was patronised. One of the few Egyptian treatises on mathematics that have come down to us is dedicated to a Hyksos sovereign. It was only in religion that the new rulers of Egypt remained foreign.
They continued to worship a form of the Semitic Baal, who was invoked under the Hittite name of Sutekh. An attempt to impose his worship upon the native Egyptians led to the war of independence which ended in the expulsion of the stranger. Apophis III., of the Seventeenth dynasty, sent messengers to Skenen-Ra, the prince of Thebes, bidding him renounce Amon of Thebes for the god of his suzerain. Skenen-Ra resisted, and a long war followed, which, after lasting through five generations, resulted in the complete triumph of the Egyptians. The Hyksos were driven back into Asia, and the prince of Thebes was acknowledged the Pharaoh of an united Egypt (B.C.1600).
It was while the Hyksos kings were reigning that Abraham visited the Delta. Their court was held at Zoan, now San, close to the Asiatic frontier, and on the frontier itself stood their fortress of Avaris, which served at once to bar the way from Asia and to overawe the conquered Egyptians. The Pharaoh of Joseph was probably Apophis III. If so, the Hebrew vizier would have witnessed the outbreak of the war of independence towards the close of the long reign of the Hyksos king. It may be that the policy which transferred the soil of Egypt from the people to the king and the priests gave its first impulse to the movement.
The Eighteenth dynasty founded an Egyptian empire. Its kings carried the war into Asia, and planted the boundaries of Egyptian dominion on the banks of the Euphrates. Thothmes III. (B.C.1503-1449) made Canaan an Egyptian province, dividing it into districts, each under a governor or a vassal prince, who was visited from time to time by a royal commissioner. Carriage roads were constructed, with posting inns at intervals along them where food and lodging could be procured. The country east of the Jordan equally obeyed Egyptian rule. The plateau of Bashan was governed by a single prefect; Ammon and Moab were tributary; Edom alone retained its independence, thanks to its barren mountains, and inaccessible ravines. Thebes, the capital of the dynasty, was adorned with splendid buildings, and all the wealth and luxury of Asia was poured into it. Thothmes established zoological and botanical gardens, where the strange plants, birds, and animals he had collected in his campaigns could be preserved. His immediate predecessor, Queen Hatshepsu, had already revived the exploring expeditions of earlier centuries. An exploring fleet had been sent by her to Punt, the land of frankincense, and it returned home with rarities of all kinds, including apes and giraffes. The history of the expedition and the treasures it brought back were depicted on the walls of the temple built by the queen at Der el-Bahari, after the design of the architect Sen-Mut.
The authority of Egypt was not extended to the Euphrates only. Cyprus sent tribute to the Pharaoh, the coasts of Asia Minor, perhaps also of Greece, were harried, and the Sudan was conquered as far south as Berber, if not Khartum. Under Amen-hotep III., the grandson of Thothmes III., the empire underwent still farther extension. Egyptian temples were erected on the banks of the Upper Nile, and Napata, the future capital of Ethiopia, was built at Gebel Barkal, beyond Dongola.
In Asia, Mitanni was the first neighbour of Egypt that had maintained its independence. Assyria and the Mesopotamian prince of Singar or Shinar had paid tribute to Thothmes III.; so, too, had the Hittite king, and even Babylonia had been forced to acquiesce sullenly in the annexation by Egypt of her old province of Canaan, and to beg for gifts of gold from the Egyptian mines. But Mitanni was too powerful to be attacked. Her royal family accordingly married into the Solar race of Egypt. One of her princesses was the mother of Amen-hotep III.; another was probably the mother of his son and successor, Amen-hotep IV.
Amen-hotep IV. was one of the most remarkable monarchs that have ever sat upon a throne. His father died while he was still a boy, and he was brought up under the Asiatic influences of his mother Teie. But he was a philosopher by nature rather than a king. The purpose of his life was to reform the religion of Egypt, to replace it, in fact, by a pantheistic monotheism, the visible symbol of which was the solar disk. For the first time in history a religious persecution was entered on; the worship of Amon, the god of Thebes, was proscribed, and his very name erased from the monuments. Amen-hotep changed his own name to Khu-n-Aten, |the glory of the solar disk,| and every effort was made to extirpate the state religion, of which he was himself the official head. But the ancient priesthood of Thebes proved too strong for the king. He left the city of his fathers, and built a new capital farther north, where its ruins are now known as Tel el-Amarna. Here he lived with the adherents of the new creed, and here he erected a temple to the god of his worship and a stately palace for himself.
Along with the reformation in religion had gone a reformation in art. The old conventionalised art of Egypt was cast aside, and an attempt was made to imitate nature, exactly, even to the verge of caricature. The wall and floor paintings that have been discovered at Tel el-Amarna are marvels of realistic art. Plants and animals and birds are alike represented in them with a spirit and faithfulness to nature which is indeed astonishing. Like the houses of his followers, the palace of the king was adorned with similar frescoes. But it was also decorated with a lavish profusion of precious materials; its walls and columns were inlaid with gold and bronze and precious stones, statues almost Greek in their type stood within it, and even its stuccoed floors were covered with costly paintings. Roads were made in the desert eastward of the city, where its wealthier inhabitants took their morning drives, and the king occupied the earlier part of the clay in giving lectures or sermons on the articles of his faith.
The archives of the empire had been transferred from Thebes to the new capital. Among them was the foreign correspondence, written upon clay tablets in the cuneiform characters, and (for the most part) in the language of Babylonia. We have learnt from it that the Babylonian language and script were the common means of intercommunication from the Euphrates to the Nile in the century before the Exodus. It proves how long and how profound must have been the influence and rule of Babylonia in western Asia. Throughout the civilised world of Asia the educated classes were compelled to learn a foreign writing and language, and when the empire passed from Babylonia to Egypt, Egypt itself, whose script and literature went back to immemorial times, was forced to do the same. The correspondence was active and far-reaching. There are letters in it from the kings of Babylonia and Assyria, of Mitanni and Cappadocia, as well as from the Egyptian governors in Canaan. Even Bedawin shekhs take part in it, and the letters are sometimes on the most trivial of subjects. It is clear that schools and libraries must have existed throughout the civilised East, where the Babylonian characters could be taught and learned, and where Babylonian literature and official correspondence could be stored up. Among the tablets found at Tel el-Amarna are some fragments of Babylonian literature, one of which has served as a lesson-book, and traces of dictionaries have also been discovered there.
The religious reforms of Khu-n-Aten resulted in the fall of the dynasty and the Egyptian empire. The letters from Canaan, more especially those from the vassal-king of Jerusalem, show that the power of Egypt in Asia was on the wane. The Hittites were advancing from the north, Mitanni and Babylonia were intriguing with disaffected Canaanites, and the Canaanitish governors themselves were at war with one another. The Pharaoh is entreated to send help speedily; if his troops do not come at once, it is reputed, they will come too late. But it would seem that the troops could not be spared at home. There, too, civil war was breaking out, and though Khu-n-Aten died before the end came, his sepulchre was profaned, his mummy rent to pieces, and the city he had built destroyed. The stones of the temple of his god were sent to Thebes, there to be used in the service of the victorious Amon; and the tombs prepared for his mother and his followers remained empty. In the national reaction against the Asiatised court and religion of Khu-n-Aten, the Canaanitish foreigners who had usurped the highest offices were either put to death or driven into exile, and a new dynasty, the Nineteenth, arose, whose policy was |Egypt for the Egyptians.|
Ramses I. was regarded as the founder of the Nineteenth dynasty. His reign was short, and he was followed by his son Seti I., who once more led his armies into Asia and subdued the coast-land of Syria. Seti was succeeded by his son Ramses II., who died at a great age after a reign of sixty-seven years (B.C.1348-1281), and whose mummy, like that of his father, is now in the Cairo Museum. He set himself to restore the Asiatic empire of Thothmes. But the Hittites barred his way. They had established themselves at Kadesh on the Orontes, and a long war of twenty-one years ended at last in a treaty of peace in which the two combatants agreed to respect from henceforth the existing boundaries of Egypt and Kadesh. Egypt was left with Palestine on both sides of the Jordan, a possession, however, which it lost soon after Ramses' death. The treaty was cemented by the marriage of the Hittite princess with the Pharaoh.
Ramses II. was the great builder of Egypt. Go where we will, we find the remains of the temples he erected or restored, of the cities he founded, and of the statues he set up. His architectural conceptions were colossal; the temple of Abu-Simbel, hewn out of a mountain, and the shattered image of himself at Thebes, are a proof of this. But he attempted too much for the compass of a single reign, however long. Much of his work is pretentious but poor, and indicative of the feverish haste with which it was executed.
Among the cities he built in the Delta were Ramses and Pithom. Pithom, or Pa-Tum, is now marked by the mounds of Tel el-Maskhuta, on the line of railway between Ismailia and Zagazig; it lay at the eastern extremity of Qoshem or Goshen, in the district of Succoth. Like Ramses, it had been built by Israelitish labour, for the free-born Israelites of Goshen had been turned into royal serfs. None had suffered more from the revolution which overthrew the Asiatised court of the Eighteenth dynasty and brought in a |new king which knew not Joseph.|
They had been settled in the strip of pasture-land which borders the Freshwater Canal of to-day, and is still a place of resort for the Bedawin from the east. It lay apart from the cultivated lands of the Egyptian peasantry, it adjoined the desert which led to Asia, and it was near the Hyksos capital of Zoan. Meneptah, the son and successor of Ramses II., tells us that from of old it had been given by the Pharaohs to the nomad shepherds of Asia; and after the departure of the Israelitish tribes the same king is informed in a letter from one of his officials that the deserted district had been again handed over to Bedawin from Edom. This was in the eighth year of the king's reign, three years later than that in which the Exodus must have taken place.
For 400 years the Israelites had been |afflicted| by the Egyptians. But while the Eighteenth dynasty was in power their lot could not have been hard. They still remained the free herdsmen of the Pharaoh, feeding their flocks and cattle on the royal demesne. During the reign of Khu-n-Aten, indeed, their own Semitic kinsmen from Canaan held the chief offices of state, and the Pharaoh was endeavouring to force upon his subjects a form of monotheism which had much in common with that of Israel. The language of the hymns engraved on the walls of the tombs at Tel el-Amarna reads not unfrequently like the verses of a Hebrew Psalm.
The national reaction which found its expression in the rise of the Eighteenth dynasty swept away the power and influence of Asia, and brought back the gods and religion of Egypt. The Semites who had absorbed the government of the country were expelled or slain; their weaker brethren, the Israelites in Goshen, were enslaved. Egypt became for them a house of bondage, and they had to toil under the lash of the taskmaster at the cities and temples which the Pharaoh built. Ramses held his court at Zoan, like the Hyksos of old days, but it was to keep guard over the Asiatic frontier, not to be in touch with a kindred people in Canaan. Canaan itself was conquered afresh, and the Canaanitish captives -- the |mixed multitude| of the Bible -- assisted the Israelites in erecting the monuments of their conqueror.
Nevertheless, the people multiplied. The memory of the Hyksos invasion had not passed away, and the Pharaoh and his subjects alike feared the possibility of other invaders from Asia being joined by their disaffected kinsfolk in Egypt itself. That their fears were justified is shown by what happened less than a century later. When the Nineteenth dynasty fell in the midst of civil war, a Canaanite, Arisu by name, seized the throne and made himself master of Egypt. Ramses determined to prevent such a catastrophe by destroying as many as possible of the male children of the Hebrews. The men were worn down in body and mind by constant labour, the children were not allowed to live.
Egyptian testimony confirms the statement of Scripture that this policy was actually carried out. A hymn of victory addressed to Meneptah alludes to |the Israelites| to whom |no seed| had been left. But the policy was ineffectual. The opportunity came at last when the serfs could fly from their enforced labour and escape into the wilderness.
It was in the fifth year of Meneptah (B.C.1276). Egypt was threatened by formidable enemies. The Libyans advanced against it by land, the nations of the Greek seas attacked it by water. Achaeans came from the north, Lycians from Asia Minor, Sardinians and Sicilians from the islands of the west. The Delta was overrun by swarms of barbarians, who pitched their tents in front of Belbeis at the western end of the land of Goshen. Plague after plague descended upon the Egyptians, and the freedom of his serfs was wrung from the Pharaoh. They fled by night, carrying with them the spoil they had taken from their masters, only to find that the gate of the great line of fortification which protected the eastern frontier of Egypt was closed against them. Meneptah had repented of his act, and a squadron of six hundred chariots was sent in pursuit of the fugitives.
But a violent wind drove back the sea from the shallows at the southern extremity of the forts, and enabled the Israelites to cross them. While their pursuers were following in their footsteps, the dropping of the wind caused the waters to return upon them, and chariots, horses, and men were alike overwhelmed. The Israelites were saved as it were by miracle, and the Pharaoh lost his bondsmen.
But Egypt also succeeded in repelling the storm of invasion which had fallen upon it. The Libyans and their northern allies were annihilated in a decisive battle, their king, Murai, fled from the field, and a countless amount of booty and prisoners fell into the hands of the victorious Egyptians. Canaan, however, was lost, with the exception of Gaza, which defended the road from Egypt, and was still garrisoned by Egyptian troops. But Gaza, the Calais of Egypt, was not destined to remain long in their power. Already the coast-road was made dangerous by the attacks of Philistine pirates from Crete; and it was not long before the pirates took permanent possession of the southern corner of Palestine, and established themselves in its five chief towns. The Egyptian domination in Asia had passed away for ever.
After Meneptah's death the Nineteenth dynasty soon came to an inglorious end. Civil war distracted the country, and for a time it obeyed the rule of a foreign chief. Then came the rise of the Twentieth dynasty, and a third Ramses restored the prestige and prosperity of his kingdom. But once more the foreign invader was upon its soil. The nations of the north had again poured southward, partly by land, partly by sea, greedy for the wealth that was stored in the cultured lands of the Oriental world, and eager to find new settlements for an expanding population. Greek traditions spoke of the movement as a consequence of the Trojan war, and delighted to dwell on the voyages of its heroes into unknown seas, of the piratical descents to which it led, and of the colonies which were planted by it. The Philistine occupation of southern Palestine was one of its results.
As in the time of Meneptah, the Libyans took part with the northern tribes in the assault upon Egypt, and Sardinians and Sicilians followed behind them. But the main bulk of the invaders came from the Greek seas. The Danaans take the place of the Achaeans, and the Philistines are among their allies. The invaders had swept through western Asia, plundering and destroying as they marched, and bringing in their train contingents from the countries through which they passed. Hittites, Mitannians, and Amorites all followed with them, and the motley host of men and ships finally reached the Egyptian frontier. Here, however, they were met by the Pharaoh. The battle raged by sea and land, and ended in a triumph of the Egyptians. The invaders were utterly overthrown, their ships burned, their kings and leaders made captive. Egypt was once more saved from destruction, and Ramses III. was free to develop its resources and repair the damage that had been done.
First came a campaign in Canaan and Syria, the object of which was not to acquire territory, but to teach the Asiatic that there was once more an army in Egypt. The Egyptian forces seem to have gone as far as Hamath; at all events, they occupied southern Palestine, capturing Gaza, Hebron, and Jerusalem, and made their way across the Jordan into Moab. Another campaign carried the Egyptian troops into Edom, where they burned the |tents| of the Bedawin, and for the first and last time in history planted the Egyptian standard on the slopes of Mount Seir. Ramses now turned to the internal administration of his country, and the copper-mines of Sinai, like the gold-mines of the eastern desert, were worked with fresh vigour. The spoil won from the northern invaders made the Pharaoh the richest monarch of the age. Temples were built, and endowed with lavish generosity, and the priesthood must have grieved when he died at last after a reign of thirty-three years.
He was followed by a line of feeble princes. The high-priests of Amon at Thebes usurped their power, and finally dispossessed the last of them of the throne. A new dynasty arose in the Delta. In the south the government was practically in the hands of the Theban high-priests. With a divided kingdom the strength of Egypt passed away.
It was restored by a foreigner, Shishak I., the captain of the Libyan mercenaries. The Pharaoh whose daughter was married by Solomon must have been the last king of the old dynasty. Perhaps he sought to strengthen himself against his enemies in Egypt by an alliance with his powerful neighbour. At all events, the King of Israel allowed his army to march through Palestine as far as Gezer. The Egyptians flattered themselves that they had thereby asserted their old claim to sovereignty over Palestine, but the substantial gainer was the Israelitish monarch. He won the last independent Canaanite city without effort or expenditure, and was allowed to marry into the Solar race.
Shishak had no need of Israelitish alliances. On the contrary, Solomon was connected by marriage with the dethroned dynasty, and the power of Israel, if unchecked, was a menace to his own kingdom. But while Solomon lived he was afraid to move. He kept at his court, however, an Israelitish rebel, who might prove useful when the time came. Hardly was Solomon dead when Jeroboam returned to his native country, and the kingdom of David was sundered in twain. Shishak seized the opportunity of striking a blow at what remained of it. With contemptuous impartiality he overran the territories of both Judah and the revolted tribes, but it was Judah which suffered the most. The unfinished fortifications of Jerusalem were stormed, the treasures accumulated by Solomon carried to the Nile, and the King of Judah compelled to acknowledge himself the vassal of Shishak. Judah never recovered from the blow: had it not been for the Egyptian invasion, and the consequent loss of its hoarded wealth, it might have been able to suppress the rebellion of Jeroboam, and to reduce all the tribes of Israel once more under one sceptre. The names of the captured cities of Palestine are still to be read on the walls of the temple of Karnak.
Shishak's successors of the Twenty-second dynasty did not inherit his military vigour and skill. The central authority grew gradually weaker, and Egypt again fell back into the condition from which he had rescued it. The tribes of the Sudan could no longer be hindered from attacking the enfeebled land, and Ethiopian princes made their way to Memphis, carrying back with them to their capital of Napata the spoil and tribute of a defeated and disunited people. At last the Ethiopian raids changed into permanent conquest, and a negro dynasty -- the Twenty-fifth -- sat on the throne of Menes.
But the kings who belonged to it, Shabaka and Taharka, were vigorous, and for a short while there was peace in the valley of the Nile. Assyria, however, had already arisen in its strength, and was claiming the empire over western Asia which had belonged to Babylon in the dawn of history. The states of Palestine endeavoured in vain to play off Assyria against Egypt. Again and again the Egyptian armies were defeated on the borders of Canaan, and Taharka was saved from invasion only by the disaster which befell Sennacherib during his siege of Jerusalem. But the respite was only momentary. Asia at last submitted to the dominion of Nineveh, the King of Judah became an Assyrian vassal, and Esar-haddon, the successor of Sennacherib, was now ready to march against the land of the Nile. In B.C.674 he entered the Delta and scattered the forces of the Ethiopians. But two more campaigns were needed before the country was thoroughly subdued. At last, in June B.C.670, he drove the Egyptian forces before him in fifteen days from the frontier to Memphis, twice defeating them with heavy loss and wounding Taharka himself. Three days later Memphis opened its gates, and Taharka fled to Egypt, leaving Egypt in the hands of the Assyrian. It was divided among twenty satraps, most of whom were Egyptians by birth.
Two years, however, were hardly past when it revolted, and while on the march to subdue it Esar-haddon fell ill, and died on the 10th of Marchesvan or October. But the revolt was quickly suppressed by his successor Assur-bani-pal, and the twenty satrapies restored. It was not long, however, before the satraps quarrelled with one another, intrigued with Taharka, and rebelled against their suzerain. Headed by Necho of Sais, they invited the Ethiopians to return; but the plot was discovered, and Necho and his fellow-conspirators sent in chains to Nineveh. Sais, Mendes, and other cities of northern Egypt were sacked, and Taharka, who had advanced as far as Thebes and even Memphis, fled to Ethiopia and there died. Meanwhile Necho had been pardoned and loaded with honours by the Assyrian king; his son, who took an Assyrian name, was made satrap of Athribis, near the modern Benha, and the satraps of the Delta henceforward remained faithful to their Assyrian master. But another Ethiopian prince, Tuant-Amon, made a last attempt to recover the dominion of his fathers. Thebes received him with acclamation, and Memphis was taken without difficulty. There the satrap of Goshen came to pay him homage on behalf of his brother-governors in the north.
His triumph, however, was short-lived. Assur-bani-pal determined to inflict a terrible punishment on the rebel country, and to reduce it to subjection once for all. Thebes had been the centre of disaffection; its priesthood looked with impatience on the rule of the Asiatic, and were connected by religion and tradition with Ethiopia; on Thebes and its priesthood, therefore, the punishment had to fall. The Ethiopian army retreated to Nubia without striking a blow, and Egypt was left defenceless at the mercy of the Assyrian. The Assyrian army entered Thebes, the No or |City| of Amon, bent on the work of destruction. Its temple-strongholds were plundered and overthrown, its inhabitants carried into slavery, and two obelisks, seventy tons in weight, were sent as trophies to Nineveh. The sack of Thebes made a deep impression on the Oriental world; we find it referred to in the prophecies of Nahum (iii.8).
Egypt now enjoyed peace, but it was the peace of exhaustion and powerlessness. Psammetikhos had succeeded his father Necho, who had been put to death by Tuant-Amon. He was a man of vigour and ability, and he aimed at nothing less than sovereignty over an united and independent Egypt. His opportunity came in B.C.655. The Assyrian empire was shaken to its foundations by a revolt of which Babylonia was the centre and which had spread to its other provinces. For a time it was called on to struggle for bare existence. While the Assyrian armies were employed elsewhere, Psammetikhos shook himself free of its authority, and, with the help of Greek and Karian mercenaries from Lydia, overcame his rival satraps and mounted the throne of the Pharaohs. Once more, under the Twenty-sixth dynasty, Egypt enjoyed rest and prosperity; the administration was re-organised, the cities and temples restored, and art underwent an antiquarian revival. Psammetikhos even dreamed of recovering the old supremacy of Egypt in Asia; the Assyrian empire was falling into decay, and Egypt was endeavouring to model its life after the pattern of the past. After a long siege Ashdod was taken, and the control of the road into Palestine was thus secured.
But the power of the Twenty-sixth dynasty rested upon its Greek mercenaries. The kings themselves were, it is probable, Libyans by descent, and the feelings of the native priesthood towards them do not seem to have been cordial. Their policy and ideas were European rather than Egyptian. Necho, the son and successor of Psammetikhos, cleared out the old canal which united the Red Sea with the Nile, and did all that he could to encourage trade with the Mediterranean. An exploring fleet was even sent under Phoenician pilots to circumnavigate Africa. Three years were spent on the voyage, and the ships finally returned through the Straits of Gibraltar to the mouths of the Nile. Meanwhile, the Pharaoh had marched into Palestine. Gaza was captured, and the Jewish king, Josiah, slain in his attempt to bar the way of his unexpected enemy. Jerusalem surrendered, and a nominee of the Egyptians was placed upon its throne.
The Asiatic empire of the Eighteenth dynasty was thus restored. But it lasted barely three years. In B.C.605 the Egyptians were defeated by Nebuchadrezzar under the walls of Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Asia passed into the possession of the Babylonians. Once more Palestine became a shuttlecock between the kingdoms of the Nile and the Euphrates. Trusting to the support of Egypt, Zedekiah of Judah revolted from his Babylonian master. His policy at first seemed successful. The Babylonian army which was besieging Jerusalem retired on the approach of Psammetikhos II., who had succeeded his father Necho, and the Jewish statesmen again breathed freely. But the respite lasted for only six years. The Babylonian troops returned with increased strength; the Egyptians retreated to their own country, and Jerusalem fell in B.C.588, one year after the death of the Egyptian king.
His son Hophra or Apries had made a vain attempt to rescue Zedekiah. His fleet had held the sea, while his army marched along the coast of Palestine and occupied Tyre and Sidon. But the fall of Jerusalem obliged it to retire. The dream of an Asiatic empire was over, and the Pharaoh had more than enough to do to defend himself against his own subjects. They saw with growing impatience that the power and wealth of the Greek mercenaries continually increased. The native army had already deserted to Ethiopia; now the priests complained that the revenues of the temples were sacrilegiously confiscated for the support of the foreigner. In B.C.570 discontent reached a head; civil war broke out between Hophra and his brother-in-law Ahmes or Amasis, which ended in the defeat of Hophra and his loss of the crown.
But Amasis found the Greeks more indispensable than ever, and they were loaded with favours even more than before. They were moved to Memphis that they might be close to the king, and at the same time overawe the native Egyptians, and Amasis himself married a Greek wife. The invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadrezzar in B.C.567 showed that the policy of Amasis had been a wise one. The Babylonians were unable to penetrate beyond the eastern part of the Delta; the Greek troops fought too well. The limits of the Babylonian empire were permanently fixed at the frontiers of Palestine.
That empire, however, was overthrown by Cyrus, and it was easy to see that the conqueror who had proved so irresistible in Asia would not allow Egypt to remain at peace. Amasis prepared himself accordingly for the coming storm. Cyprus was occupied, and therewith the command of the sea was assured. The maritime policy of the Twenty-sixth dynasty was an indication of Greek influence; in older days the sea had been to the Egyptian a thing abhorred.
Kambyses carried out the invasion which his father, Cyrus, had planned. Unfortunately for the Egyptians, Amasis died while the Persian army was on its march, and the task of opposing it fell to his young and inexperienced son. The Greek mercenaries fought bravely, but to no purpose: the battle of Pelusium gave Egypt to the invader, Memphis was taken, and the Pharaoh put to death. In the long struggle between Asia and Egypt, Asia had been finally the victor.
The Egyptians did not submit tamely to the Persian yoke. Kambyses indeed seemed inclined to change himself into an Egyptian Pharaoh; he took up his residence at Memphis and sent an expedition to conquer the Sudan. But under Darius and his successors, whose Zoroastrian monotheism was of a sterner description, there was but little sympathy between the conquered and their conquerors. Time after time the Egyptians broke into revolt, once against Xerxes, once again against Artaxerxes I., and a third time against Artaxerxes II. The last insurrection was more successful than those which had preceded it, and Egypt remained independent for sixty-five years. Then the crimes and incompetence of its last native king, Nektanebo II., opened the way to the Persian, and the valley of the Nile once more bowed its neck under the Persian yoke. Its temples were ruined, the sacred Apis slain, and an ass set up in mockery in its place.
A few years later Egypt welcomed the Macedonian Alexander as a deliverer, and recognised him as a god. The line of the Pharaohs, the incarnations of the Sun-god, had returned in him to the earth. It was not the first time that the Egyptian and the Greek had stood side by side against the common Persian foe. Greek troops had disputed the passage of Kambyses into Egypt. The first revolt of Egypt had saved Greece from the impending invasion of Darius, and postponed it to the reign of his feebler son, and during its second revolt Athenian ships had sailed up the Nile and assisted the Egyptians in the contest with the Persians. If Egypt could not be free, it was better that its master should be a Greek.
Alexander was followed by the Ptolemies. They were the ablest of his successors, the earlier of them being equally great in war and in peace. Alexandria, founded by Alexander on the site of the village of Rakotis, became the commercial and literary centre of the world; thousands of books were collected in its Library, and learned professors lectured in the halls of its Museum. An elaborate fiscal system was devised and carefully superintended, and enormous revenues poured into the treasury of the king. As time passed on, the Ptolemies identified themselves more and more with their subjects; the temples were rebuilt or restored, and the Greek king assumed the attributes of a Pharaoh. The Jews flocked into the country, where special privileges were granted to them, and where many of them were raised to offices of state. A rival temple to that of Jerusalem was built at Onion near Heliopolis, the modern Tel el-Yahudiya, or |Mound of the Jews,| and the books of the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. A copy of the Septuagint, as the Greek translation was called, was needed for the Alexandrine Library.
Egypt, once the house of bondage, thus became a second house of Israel. It gave the world a new version of the Hebrew Bible which largely influenced the writers of the New Testament; it gave it also a new Canon which was adopted by the early Christian Church. The prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled: |The Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord.|
In the course of centuries, however, the monotheistic element in Egyptian religion had grown clearer and more pronounced in the minds of the educated classes. The gods of the official cult ceased to be regarded as different forms of the same deity; they became mere manifestations of a single all-pervading power. As M. Grebaut puts it: they were |the names received by a single Being in his various attributes and workings.... As the Eternal, who existed before all worlds, then as organiser of the universe, and finally as the Providence who each day watches over his work, he is always the same being, reuniting in his essence all the attributes of divinity.| It was the hidden God who was adored under the name whatever the latter might be, the God who is described in the texts as |without form| and |whose name is a mystery,| and of whom it is said that He is the one God, |beside whom there is no other.| In Ptah of Memphis or Amon of Thebes or Ra of Heliopolis, the more educated Egyptian recognised but a name and symbol for the deity which underlay them all.
Along with this growth in a spiritual conception of religion went, as was natural, a growth in scepticism. There was a sceptical as well as a believing school, such as finds its expression in the festal Dirge of King Antef of the Eleventh dynasty. Here we read in Canon Rawnsley's versified translation --
|What is fortune? say the wise.
Vanished are the hearths and homes,
What he does or thinks, who dies,
None to tell us comes.
Eat and drink in peace to-day,
When you go, your goods remain;
He who fares the last, long way,
Comes not back again.|
A curious work of much later date that has come down to us is in the form of a discussion between an Ethiopian cat and the unbelieving jackal Kufi, in which the arguments of a sceptical philosophy are urged with such force and sympathy as to show that they were the author's own. But such scepticism was confined to the few; the Egyptian enjoys this life too much, as a rule, to be troubled by doubts about another, and he has always been distinguished by an intensity of religious belief.
With his religion there were associated ideas and beliefs some of which have a strangely Christian ring. He was a believer in the resurrection of the body; hence the care that was taken from the time of the Third dynasty onwards to preserve it by embalmment, and to place above the heart the scarab beetle, the symbol of evolution, which by its magical powers would cause it to beat again. Hence, too, the long texts from the Ritual of the Dead which enabled the deceased to pass in safety through the perils that encompassed the entrance to the next world, as well as the endeavour to place the corpse where it should not be found and injured.
The Egyptian believed also in a Messiah. Thus, in a papyrus of the time of Thothmes III., we read that |a king will come from the south, Ameni the truth-declaring by name.... He will assume the crown of Upper Egypt, and will lift up the red crown of Lower Egypt.... The people of the age of the Son of Man will rejoice, and establish his name for all eternity. They will be far from evil, and the wicked will humble their mouths for fear of him. The Asiatics will fall before his blows, and the Libyans before his flame.|
Even the conception of a son who is born of a virgin and a god is met with in the temples of Hatshepsu at Der el-Bahari, and of Amenophis III. at Luxor. Here Amon-Ra is said to have |gone to| the queen, |that he might be a father through her. He made her behold him in his divine form, so that she might bear a child at the sight of his divine beauty. His charms penetrated her flesh, filling it with the odours of Punt.| And the god is finally made to declare to her: |Amen-hotep shall be the name of the son that is in thy womb. He shall grow up according to the words that proceed out of thy mouth. He shall exercise sovereignty and righteousness in this land unto its very end. My soul is in him, and he shall wear the twofold crown of royalty, ruling the two lands like the sun for ever.|
Religious dogmas did not weaken the firm hold the Egyptian had upon morality. His moral code was very high. Even faith in Horus the |Redeemer| did not suffice by itself to ensure an entrance for the dead man into the fields of Alu, the Egyptian Paradise. His deeds were weighed in the balance, and if they were found wanting, he was condemned to the fiery pains of hell. Each man, after death, was called upon to make the |Negative Confession,| to prove that he had not sinned against his fellows, that he had not oppressed or taken bribes, had not judged wrongfully, had not injured a slave or overtasked the poor man, had not murdered or stolen, lied or committed adultery, had not given short weight or robbed the gods and the dead, had made none to |hunger| or |weep.| Only when all the questions of the awful judges in the underworld had been answered satisfactorily was he allowed to pass into the presence of Osiris and to cultivate the fields of Alu with his own hands.
This was the last trial demanded from the justified Egyptian, and it was a hard one for the rich and noble who had done no peasants' work in this present life. Accordingly, small images of labourers were buried with the dead, and it was supposed that their |doubles| or shadows would assist him in his labours. The supposition rested on a theory which ascribed to all things, whether animate or inanimate, a double or reflection which corresponded to the thing itself in every particular. It was like a shadow, except that it was invisible to mortal eyes, and did not perish with the object which had projected it.
The |double| was called ka, and the ka of a man was his exact representation in the other world, a spiritual representation, it is true, but nevertheless one which had the same feelings, the same needs, and the same moral nature as himself. It thus differed from the ba or |soul,| which flew away to the gods on the dissolution of the body. It was, in fact, the Personality of the man.
From the outset the Pharaonic Egyptians were a nation of readers and writers. Nothing is more astonishing than the way in which the simplest articles of daily use are covered with inscriptions. Even the rocks on the river-bank are scribbled over by the generations who once passed beside them. Already in the time of Menes the hieroglyphic system of writing was fully developed, and before the end of the Third dynasty a |hieratic| or running hand had been formed out of it. The more cumbrous and picturesque hieroglyphics were reserved for engraving on wood or stone or metal, or for the sacred texts; the ordinary book was written in hieratic. The papyrus which grew in the marshes of the Delta was the writing material, and in spite of its apparently fragile character, it has been found to last as long as paper. When its use was at last discontinued in the tenth century of our era, the cultivation of the papyrus ceased also, and it became extinct in its ancient home. Tradition, however, asserted that leather had been employed by the scribe before papyrus, and in the time of Pepi of the Sixth dynasty a description of the plan of the temple of Dendera was discovered inscribed on parchment. Even in later ages leather was sometimes employed.
Egyptian literature covered a wide field. Two of the oldest books that have come down to us are the wise sayings of Qaqemna and Ptah-hotep, the first of whom lived under the Third, the second under the Fifth dynasty. They are moral treatises like the Proverbs of Solomon or the Discourses of Confucius. Ptah-hotep already laments that men were not as they had been. He had reached the age of a hundred and ten years, and had fallen upon degenerate days. Perhaps he was right, for it would seem that the examination system had already been introduced for the disposal of official posts. Ptah-hotep's style, too, is involved and elaborate; he writes for a blase circle of readers who can no longer appreciate simplicity.
The historical novel was an Egyptian invention. Several of the works that have survived are examples of it. But light literature of every kind was much in fashion. A tale written for Seti II. when he was crown-prince contains an episode which closely resembles the history of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, and the reign of Ramses II. produced a sarcastic account of the misadventures of a tourist in Canaan, the object of which was to ridicule the style and matter of another writer. Poetry -- heroic, lyrical, and religious -- flourished, and a sort of Egyptian Iliad was constructed by the poet Pentaur out of a deed of personal prowess on the part of Ramses II. during the war with the Hittites.
Reference has already been made to the work on mathematics that was composed when the Hyksos were ruling Egypt. A century or two later a work on medicine was written, a copy of which is known as the Ebers Papyrus. It shows that medicine has not advanced very rapidly since the age of the Eighteenth Egyptian dynasty. Diseases were already carefully diagnosed and treated, much as they are to-day. The medical prescriptions read like those of a modern doctor; we have the same formulae, the same admixture of various drugs.
The Egyptians were not only a people of scribes and readers, they were also a people of artists. They had the same power as the Japanese of expressing in a few outlines the form and spirit of an object; their drawing is accurate, and at the same time spirited. It is true that their canon of perspective was not the same as our own, but the greater difficulties it presented to the artist were successfully overcome. Their portraits of foreign races are marvellously true to life, and their caricatures are as excellent as their more serious drawings. It was in statuary, however, that the Egyptian artist was at his best. The hardest of stones were carved into living likenesses, or invested with a dignity and pathos which it is difficult to match. Such at least was the case with the statuary of the Old Empire, before the conventionalised art of a later day had placed restrictions on the sculptor and stifled his originality. The great statue of King Khaf-Ra of the Fourth dynasty, seated on his throne with the imperial hawk behind his head, is carved out of diorite, and nevertheless the sculptor has thrown an idealised divinity over the face, which we yet feel to be a speaking likeness of the man. The seated scribe in the Museum of Cairo, with his high forehead, sparkling eyes, and long straight hair divided in the middle, has a countenance that is the very ideal of intellectuality, and in the wooden figure of the |Shekh el-beled,| we have an inimitable portrait of the sleek and wealthy bourgeois as he walks about his farm. All these statues are older than the Sixth dynasty.
In disposition the Egyptian was remarkably kindly. He was affectionate to his family, fond of society, and, alone among the nations of antiquity, humane to others. His laws aimed at saving life and reclaiming the criminal. Diodoros states that punishments were inflicted not merely as a deterrent, but also with a view towards reforming the evil-doer, and Wilkinson notices that at Medinet Habu, where the artist is depicting the great naval battle which saved Egypt from the barbarians in the reign of Ramses III., he has represented Egyptian soldiers rescuing the drowning crew of an enemy's ship.
The Pharaoh derived his title from the Per-aa or |Great House| in which he lived, and where he dispensed justice. The title thus resembles that of the |Sublime Porte.| Next to him, the priests were the most powerful body in the kingdom; indeed, after the close of the struggle between Khu-n-Aten and the priesthood of Thebes the latter obtained more and more power, until under the kings of the Twentieth dynasty they were the virtual rulers of the state. They stood between the labouring classes and the great army of bureaucracy which from the days of the Eighteenth dynasty onward carried on the administration of the kingdom. The labouring classes, however, knew how to defend their own interests; the artisans formed unions and |went on strike.| Curious accounts have been preserved of strikes among them at Thebes in the time of Ramses III. The free labouring population must be distinguished from the slaves, who were partly negroes, partly captives taken in war. The greater part of the latter were employed on the public works. The mines and quarries were worked by criminals.
At home the well-to-do Egyptian was artistic in his tastes. The walls and columns of his house were frescoed with pictures, and his furniture was at once comfortable and tasteful. Chairs and tables are of patterns which might well be imitated to-day, and the smallest and commonest articles of toilet were aesthetically and carefully made. Nothing can exceed the beauty of the jewellery found at Dahshur, and belonging to princesses of the Twelfth dynasty. Precious stones are so exquisitely inlaid in gold as to look like enamel, and are formed into the most beautiful of designs; small forget-me-nots, for example, alternate with plain gold crosses on one of the coronets, and the workmanship of the pectoral ornaments could hardly be equalled at the present day. In dress, however, the Egyptian was simple; his limbs were not overloaded with jewellery, and he preferred light and muslin-like linen, which was kept as scrupulously clean as his own person.
But he was fond of social entertainments, and Egyptian cookery and confectionery were famous throughout the world. Table and guests alike were adorned with fragrant flowers, and musicians and singers were called in to complete the banquet. The house was surrounded by a garden, if possible, near the river. It was open to the air and sun. The Egyptian loved the country, with its fresh air and sunshine, as well as its outdoor amusements -- hunting and fishing, fowling and playing at ball. Like his descendants to-day, he was an agriculturist at heart. The wealth and very existence of Egypt depended on its peasantry, and though the scribes professed to despise them and to hold the literary life alone worth living, the bulk of the nation was well aware of the fact. Even the walls of the tombs are covered with agricultural scenes. In one of them -- that of Pa-heri, at El-Kab -- the songs of the labourers have been preserved. Thus the ploughmen sing at the plough: |'Tis a fine day, we are cool, and the oxen are drawing the plough; the sky is doing as we would; let us work for our master!| and of the reapers we read: |In answering chant they say: 'Tis a good day, come out to the country, the north wind blows, the sky is all we desire, let us work and take heart.| The best known, however, of the songs, is that sung by the driver of the oxen who tread out the corn, which was first deciphered by Champollion --
|Thresh away, oxen, thresh away faster,
The straw for yourselves, and the grain for your master!|
Such were the Egyptians and such was Egypt where the childhood of Israel was passed. It was a land of culture, it was a land of wealth and abundance, but it was also a land of popular superstition and idolatry, and the idolatry and culture were too closely associated in the minds of the Israelites to be torn apart. In turning their backs on the Egyptian idols, it was necessary that they should turn them on Egyptian civilisation as well. Hence it was that intercourse with Egypt was forbidden, and the King of Israel who began by marrying an Egyptian princess and importing horses from the valley of the Nile, ended by building shrines to the gods of the heathen. Hence, too, it was that the distinctive beliefs and practices of Egypt are ignored or disallowed. Even the doctrine of the resurrection is passed over in silence; the Pentateuch keeps the eyes of the Israelite fixed on the present life, where he will meet with his punishment or reward. The doctrine of the resurrection was part of the faith in Osiris, Isis, and Horus, and Yahveh of Israel would have no other god beside Himself.
Moreover, the Israelites saw but little of the better side of the Egyptians. They lived in Goshen, on the outskirts of northern Egypt, where the native population was largely mixed with foreign elements. When they first settled there the Pharaoh and his court were Asiatic or of Asiatic descent. And in later days the rise of a purely native government meant for them a bitter bondage and the murder of their children. Between the Israelite and the Egyptian there was hostility from the first; Joseph began by confiscating the lands of both peasant and noble; the natives revenged themselves by reducing his kinsfolk to a condition of serfdom, and the last act in the drama of the Exodus was the |spoiling of the Egyptians.|