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Ancient Egypt

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Sphinx and Pyramids of Egypt

Ancient Egypt (Egyptian: Kemet; Coptic: Ⲭⲏⲙⲓ, Kīmi; Hebrew: מצרים, Miẓrāīm; Greek: Αίγυπτος, Aígyptos; Latin: Ægyptus) was an ancient civilization located in eastern North Africa which began about 4,200 years ago when Mizraim, son of Ham, led his tribe from the failed city-state of Babel to the Nile River. Ussher calculates that this happened in the summer of 1816 AM (2188 BC). He cites Constantinus Manasses as stating that "the Egyptian state lasted sixteen hundred and sixty-three years," and works backward from the conquest of Egypt by Cambyses, king of Persia and relative of Cyrus.[1]

Within the long sweep of Egyptian history, certain events or epochs have been crucial to the development of Egyptian society and culture. One of these was the unification of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt sometime in the 2nd millennium BC. The ancient Egyptians regarded this event as the most important in their history, comparable to the "First Time," or the Creation of the Universe. With the unification of the "Two Lands" by the legendary, if not mythical, King Menes (perhaps identifiable with Mizraim), the glorious Pharaonic Age began. Power was centralized in the hands of a god-king, and, thus, Egypt became the first organized society.

The ancient Egyptians were the first people of antiquity to act on a belief in life after death, preserving the bodies of certain high officials through mummification. They were the first to build in stone and to fashion the arch in stone and brick. Even before the unification of the Two Lands, the Egyptians had developed a plow and a system of writing. They were accomplished sailors and shipbuilders. They learned to chart the heavens in order to predict the Nile flood. Their physicians prescribed healing remedies and performed surgical operations. They sculpted in stone and decorated the walls of their tombs with naturalistic murals in vibrant colors. The legacy of ancient Egypt is written in stone across the face of the country from the pyramids of Upper Egypt to the rock tombs in the Valley of the Kings to the Old Kingdom temples of Luxor and Karnak to the Ptolemaic temples of Edfu and Dendera and to the Roman temple to Isis on Philae Island.[2]

Chronology

Main Article: Egyptian chronology

The chronology (timeline) of ancient Egypt is the least settled of the great powers of the ancient Near East. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, most historians studying ancient Egypt professed no difficulty accepting king lists and other records and artifact dates to construct a chronology extending backward in time far in advance of the Global Flood. By so doing, these historians traditionally have asserted that the Egyptian state has existed longer than the amount of time that the Bible suggests has passed since the Flood. These same historians have also asserted that various characters from the Old Testament, namely Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, could not have had any reliable synchrony with the history of ancient Egypt, if they existed at all.

Yet the evidence supporting such a great age for the Egyptian state was highly dubious at best. Moreover, an increasing body of evidence now suggests that the history of ancient Egypt is shorter, by several millennia, than most scholars have previously supposed.[3]

More recent research now strongly supports the original conclusion that James Ussher[1] reached from his study of ancient sources, including the Bible: that the history of Egypt does not extend further back than the Global Flood, and that definite synchronies with Old Testament history do exist. The evidence does not support the original synchronies that Ussher made, but instead suggests new ones.

Biblical Synchrony

Israel in Egypt by Edward Poynter. 1867
Main Article: Biblical Synchrony

The first five books of the Bible, written by Moses, never mention any Pharaoh by name. Sadly, Egyptian records do not speak reliably of contact with the Israelites. For example, the Exodus of Israel is an important epochal event in the history of the people of Israel. Yet testimony to this event from the Egyptian historical record has been remarkably lacking. Nor does any monument give specific credit to Joseph, the Hebrew viceroy who saved Egypt, and the ancient Near East, from a famine that could have destroyed that civilization almost a millennium before its actual conquest.

Sadly, much of the historical record of ancient Egypt is not a dispassionate record of events but instead is propaganda. Defeats usually go unrecorded, and the Exodus was the worst defeat that any civilization of that era suffered. Not only did more than two million slaves escape, but also—and worse—the reigning Pharaoh lost his first-born son, and then lost his entire army in a futile pursuit of the fleeing Israelites.

The first Pharaoh named in the Bible was Shishak, who plundered Jerusalem in the reign of Rehoboam, the first king of Judah. The specific identity of this Shishak remains a mystery even today. Ussher identified him as "Sefonchis," largely from Manetho's records.[4] Traditional Egyptologists identified him as Sheshonq I, founder of the Twenty-sixth or Libyan Dynasty. Recent research has identified other candidates for Shishak, usually from dynasties older than the Twenty-sixth.

The authors of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles recorded the names of three other Pharaohs: So, Necho, and Hophra. Of these, the identities of two (Necho II and Apries) are settled.

The Pharaoh of Moses

Using the timeframe of the Exodus we can align it with certain events. While this is not definitive, it intersects the Biblical timeline to the Egyptian timeline and the people appearing in Egypt's records.

From Scripture, we read the setting in the "land of Rameses" (Genesis 47:11) but not the "rule of Rameses". The Pharaoh Rameses II reigned too late in history to be a viable choice. He lived within 100 years of King David and post-dates Moses by several centuries. Rameses is a name derived for worship and also pre-dated the namesake Pharoah by many centuries. Here it designates a geographic area. Rameses II and Moses never met.

If we back-date the Exodus account into the time of Joseph, we find Memphis dominated by the Hyksos kings. These were Canaanite rulers so would have found favor with Joseph, also a Canaanite. Some time after this, the new Pharaohs in Thebes removed the Hyksos and took over the city, ruling Thebes and Memphis together. This is where we pick up the account where a new king rose up over Egypt, one that "knew not Joseph" (Ex 1:8). This began the New Kingdom and the 18th Dynasty.

When reading the Exodus account, it is clear that Pharaoh and Moses are co-located in the same city. Goshen is traditionally placed north of Memphis near modern-day Cairo. Moreover, Memphis is directly opposite the Red Sea facing the shores of Midian, where Thebes is too far south to be a reasonable destination for the Israelites. As Rameses ruled in Thebes, this is another evidence that he and Moses never met.

While the Pharaoh of Moses may not have a name in Scripture, we know that he belonged to the 18th Dynasty, which threw out the Hyksos kings and enslaved the Hebrews for some 400 years. This places Moses in the fifteenth century BC near the most interesting and famous Pharaohs of Egypt.

Neferu-Ra, daughter of Tutmoses-I, was rumored to have pulled a child from the Nile. Various sculptures show her with a child named Semnut (who some believe to be Moses). An image of Semnut depicts him with distinctly Semitic features, not Egyptian ones. He was an architect and wise advisor. Neferu-Ra married Tutmoses-II, but he did not last very long. Tutmoses III was too young to take the throne. Neferu-Ra changed her name to Hatshepsut and rather than take a role of regent for Tutmoses III, became Pharaoh herself. Her architect and vizier Semnut, would have grown up alongside her stepson Tutmoses III but would have had the Pharaoh's favor. He eventually became a prince in his own right. Some have suggested that Hatshepsut had Tutmoses III locked away. She reigned for twenty years and then suddenly she and Semnut vanished. Her reign ended abruptly and in shame. The Scripture records that Moses killed an Egyptian and fled with Pharaoh attempting to take his life for it (Ex 2:15). Later when Tutmoses-III died, he was succeeded by Amenhotep II, who would have been in power when Moses returned.

The following timeline provides context:

  • Hatsepshut rules twenty years, disappears
  • Tutmoses-III seizes the throne
  • Moses kills an Egyptian, flees with Pharaoh trying to kill him
  • Tutmoses-III rules thirty years, dies while Moses in exile (Ex 2:23)
  • Amenhotep-II comes to power, in place when Moses returns (he is not a first-born)
  • Moses returns to Egypt after forty years
  • Amenhotep-II dies at the Red Sea in tenth year of rule
  • Succeeded by Tut-Moses-IV, also not a first-born

Ancient conquests

Cameo of Nebuchadnezzar in the Florence Museum

Nebuchadnezzar II was the first foreign ruler to conquer Egypt. He did this after he had sacked Jerusalem in 586 BC. After he died, the Babylonian civilization that he led fell into decline.

The next foreign rulers of Egypt were the Persians, under Cyrus the Great and his various generals, including Cambyses II. Eventually the Persian Empire declined as well, and Alexander the Great conquered the known world, including Egypt. Alexander built Alexandria, which became Egypt's capital for several centuries.

When Alexander died, the empire that he built split into four parts. One of these was a newly independent Egypt under the ruling family of Ptolemy I Soter, the first of the Ptolemaic kings. While this family ruled Egypt, its kings all took the name Ptolemy, but each of its queens took the name Cleopatra. The last of the Ptolemaic kings was Cleopatra VII, who famously made alliances, both diplomatic and romantic, with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony of Rome. In 30 BC Antony fought a civil war with Augustus and lost, and after that both he and Cleopatra VII committed suicide in Alexandria.

Thereafter Egypt became a Roman province and remained one for more than six centuries, first as part of the Roman Empire and then as part of the Byzantine Empire.

Arab conquest

The Arab conquest of 641 by the military commander Amr ibn al As was perhaps the next most important event in Egyptian history because it resulted in the Islamization and Arabization of the country, which endure to this day. Even those who clung to the Coptic religion, a substantial minority of the population in 1990, were Arabized; that is, they adopted the Arabic language and were assimilated into Arab culture.

Although Egypt was formally under Arab rule, beginning in the ninth century hereditary autonomous dynasties arose that allowed local rulers to maintain a great deal of control over the country's destiny. During this period Cairo was established as the capital of the country and became a center of religion, learning, art, and architecture. In 1260, the Egyptian ruler, Qutuz, and his forces stopped the Mongol advance across the Arab world at the battle of Ayn Jalut in Palestine. Because of this victory, Islamic civilization could continue to flourish when Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, fell to the Mongols. Qutuz's successor, Baybars I, inaugurated the reign of the Mamluks, a dynasty of slave-soldiers of Turkish and Circassian origin that lasted for almost three centuries.

Turkish conquest

In 1517 Egypt was conquered by Sultan Selim I and absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. Since the Turks were Muslims, however, and the sultans regarded themselves as the preservers of Sunni (see Glossary) Islam, this period saw institutional continuity, particularly in religion, education, and the religious law courts. In addition, after only a century of Ottoman rule, the Mamluk system reasserted itself, and Ottoman governors became at times virtual prisoners in the citadel, the ancient seat of Egypt's rulers.

Ancient Egyptian Mythology

Main Article: Egyptian mythology

Egyptian mythology refers to the characteristics of animism, fetishism and magic that dominated ancient Egypt. A sense of monotheism is present within Egyptian mythology. Ra the "One or One One" is a lot like what "the Muslim means today when he says, 'There is no god but God.'"[5] The monotheism is not the same as what Christianity would believe in. There was a point at which the Sun-god had no "no counterpart, no offspring, and no associate" but the ancient theologians of Egypt later allow Osiris to usurp the "position of the god of the day;".[5] The concept of one god within Egyptian mythology actually has to do with an overarching god of many gods. Complexities of this grand Egyptian polytheism of hundreds of cult-gods and sacred animals are found in the relationship between the natural world and divine will. This resulted in "local spirits" manifesting in accord with the "magico-religious ritual"[6] sociology of ancient Egypt much like pixies or fairies capture the Western mind. There also underlies all of ancient Egyptian mythology a political theocratic system where by rulers attempt to usurp divine powers into their own political will. Coupled with Babylonian influence it is considered the root of modern astrology. The stars, sun, moon, seasons, weather, etc were all revered within ancient Egypt. This is because man was, as is still true today, dependent upon nature. During the ancient near east, society depended heavily upon agriculture. Crops would or would not grow based on water that at times would or would not flood the lands. Ancient Egypt culture was seen dependent upon those many interconnected natural elements each seen as a unique divine force or god. The superior forces became deified by Egyptians and likewise those deities were personified within kingships such as Pharaoh. So intimate was the relationship between god and man within Egyptian society that some of the most revered rulers were seen to have a genealogical connection with the divine. A history formed into an Egyptian canon of writings, essentially mythology that is very much intertwined with nature and humanity as it is with the divine.[2][7]

Horus the Aged, Ra, and Osiris were names which the Egyptians gave to the sun at different times in their history; the sun was their god 'One', and they never faltered in their allegiance to him, and in this respect they may be said to have been monotheists.[8]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pgh. 52
  2. 2.0 2.1 "A Country Study: Egypt." Library of Congress, Federal Research Division, November 8, 2005. Accessed November 19, 2008.
  3. Jaroncyk, Ron. "Egyptian History and the Biblical Record: A Perfect Match?" Creation Ministries International, January 23, 2007. Retrieved June 25, 2007.
  4. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 475, 486
  5. 5.0 5.1 E. A. Wallis Budge, From Fetish To God In Ancient Egypt (Dover Publications 1988), pg. 5
  6. E. A. Wallis Budge, From Fetish To God In Ancient Egypt (Dover Publications 1988), pg. 9
  7. Ancient Egypt: The Mythology
  8. E. A. Wallis Budge, From Fetish To God In Ancient Egypt (Dover Publications 1988), pg. 8