I. Ancient Egypt

1. The Land

The name is derived from the Greek Aigyptos, which is a possible, but not a probable, derivative from one of the native names of Memphis; the Semitic names, Hebrew, Mizraim, Babylonian, Mizri, Assyrian, Muzur, all go back to a common root. The etymology of both sets of names is uncertain. The native name was Kemet (km-t)
2. Extent, Boundaries and Divisions

Egypt has a superficial area scarcely equal to that of Belgium; shaped like a fan with a disproportionately long handle-the Nile valley, which averages only about ten miles in width. From the dawn of its history it was divided into two parts, indicated in the title of the kings, "lord of Upper and Lower Egypt," the point of division being somewhat south of Cairo. In ancient times each of these parts was divided into twenty-two nomoi, districts, recognized for administrative purposes, but their origin is to be found in tribal limits. The union of the two parts into one kingdom was ascribed to Menea, the first king, and it marked the actual beginning of Egyp tian history. The arable ground was formed by the silt brought down by the Nile, and its fertility was due to the same agency. This is particularly true of the northerly portion, the Delta, though the removal of a few inches of the surface renders the ground sterile. Within historic times the land along the coast has been gradually sinking. For merly the Nile discharged into the Mediterranean and the Red Sea by seven mouths, only two of which now remain, the others being represented by canals. On the west of Egypt is the Libyan desert, from which the sands blow over the arable land at certain seasons. On the east also it is desert in the southerly portion; at the northeast the (former) Bitter Lakes represent an old arm of the Red Sea to the north of which was a series of garrison towns intended to guard against the incursions of the Bedouin.

3. Climate and Products

Upper Egypt is a land of almost perpetual sunshine; storms and rain occur near the coast. The preservation of the antiquities of the land is due to this circumstance, as the dry sand is a great conserver of even the fragile papyrus. The fertility of the soil is due to irrigation by the Nile under natural conditions or when artificially impounded. Reference is made to this fertility (Gen. xiii. 10), and to artificial irrigation (Deut. xi. 10) in the Old Testament. The seasons are reckoned as three: beginning with the inundation (about July 20), spring, and harvest, the last begin ning toward the end of March. The fauna of ancient Egypt was very varied, as is evident from the pictures on tomb walls and in the variety of animal forms utilized for the hieroglyphic writing. The camel and horse were imported late: the horse (I Kings x. 28) was introduced apparently by the Hykaos. It was used principally in war, with the chariot,and was depicted as a hieroglyphic sign after the New Kingdom only. The camel (Gen. xii. 16; Ex. ix. 3: J passages) is not mentioned till the Greek period. The ass has always been the burden bearer. The flora was luxuriant, but not greatly varied, being mainly restricted to the staples,


making Egypt the "granary" of the ancient world. The storage of grain products is mentioned in Gen. xli. 35, and is familiar from the remains of the "store city" Pithom (Ex. i. 11) discovered by Naville, and from the representations upon tomb walls. The latter depict structures like a haycock with an aperture at the top through which the grain was thrown. The usual Oriental method of threshing was by the feet of cattle (Deut. xxv. 4), and winnowing was done with shovel and fan (Isa. xxx. 24). Various articles of vegetable food used in Egypt are mentioned in Num. xi. 5. The papyrus which furnished the writing material of antiquity also flourished, but wood was scarce. Objects as large as a sarcophagus had to be made by joining pieces with wooden dowels, a process in which the Egyptian acquired great skill. Minerals known to the Egyptians were gold and iron, from the region of Syene and the south, copper or bronze from Sinai and Cyprus, and silver in smaller quantities by foreign import. Silver was scarcer and more highly valued than gold. Building stone was abundant and varied-limestone in the north, granite in the south, and sandstone between.

2. The People: No theory of the origin of the people has found general acceptance, except that the ruling class came from Asia, but whether by way of Nubia, the Red Sea and Koptos, or Suez, is disputed. It has been contended that the language points to an.original Semitic stock, that the mythology indicates a Babylonian parentage, and that the racial features point southward. It is


CCEL home page
This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at
Calvin College. Last modified on 08/11/06. Contact the CCEL.
Calvin seal: My heart I offer you O Lord, promptly and sincerely