EGYPT | <Region
(See also wiki article Ancient_Egypt
Introduction | history | religion | social organisation - institutions | in the bible
Modern Egypt lies at the NE. corner of Africa and has an area of about 400,000 square miles. The inhabitable and cultivable part of Egypt, excluding Sinai and the oases to the west of the Nile, only amounts to some 12,000 square miles, and was undoubtedly less in Pharaonic times. Egypt proper has always consisted only of that part of the Nile Valley between the Mediterranean Sea in the north and the 1st Cataract (Assuan) in the south that could be reached by the annual Nile flood and the fertile alluvium it deposited. The name Egypt is derived from the Greek Aigyptos from Egyptian Hutkaptah, a name of Memphis ; the principal ancient names of the land were To-meri (Timuris) and Kernel 'The Black Land.'
Egypt is composed of two distinct portions: Lower Egypt comprising the broad, fan-shaped Delta and a small part of the valley to the S. of Memphis; and Upper Egypt, the narrow valley proper. In early times Upper Egypt appears to have been subdivided at Assiut, and even earlier the effective southern boundary seems to have been Jebel Silsileh, about 45 miles N. of Assuan. Each of the two main divisions was divided into a varying number of nomes or provinces, the standard numbers being 22 and 20 in Upper and Lower Egypt respectively.
Egypt has been formed by the action of the Nile, which in rainy periods roughly corresponding to the Ice Ages in Europe, gouged out a deep valley, and in the intervening inter-pluvials deposited deep layers of gravels and alluvium on the floor of the valley. The alluvium is about 30 feet in average depth and until very recently was accumulating by about 3 inches a century. The deposition of the alluvium thus began about 8000 BC and it was not until this process had continued for several thousand years that the valley floor could have been fit for occupation and exploitation by Man. Apart from the Mediterranean coast, rainfall is very slight? one or two inches per annum at Cairo, and practically nil S. of Cairo. Since the Nile receives no tributaries between Atbara (below the 5th Cataract) and the sea, the whole country is dependent on the river and wells for its water, the principal source being the annual inundation which brought both water and fertility to the soil. Egypt is equally deficient in other natural resources; its timber is useless for building, industrial or artistic purposes; it has no minerals except gold in the eastern desert and copper in Sinai. Its principal resources are the Nile mud, the basis of agriculture and an inexhaustible source of supply of mud-brick, and building stone from the cliffs?excellent limestone from Cairo to a point S. of Luxor, sandstone in the extreme south, and granite and other igneous rocks at the Cataracts.
The racial type of the Egyptians cannot be exactly defined. It is probable that the original population was composed of small groups and tribes attracted to the Nile valley by the gradual desiccation of the Sahara. The Ancient Egyptians were thus basically Hamitic in type, but essentially mixed. In modern Egypt there is a small Arab element in the population, and a rather greater negroid strain, especially in the south, but even the latter was not appreciable in Pharaonic times until after about 1500 BC.
1. The History of Egypt.
- The division of Egyptian history into thirty-one dynasties from the time of Menes, the founder of the 1st Dynasty, until the accession of Alexander the Great was the work of Manetho, an Egyptian priest who lived in the time of Ptolemy I. and II., who wrote in Greek a history of Egypt of which only a summary and the framework survive. The division into dynasties has proved to be approximately correct and has been adopted as a convenient tool, but Manetho's dates, especially those of the early dynasties, are less reliable. The Egyptians did not use era dates: in the earliest historical times each year was named after some important event, a system that was quickly succeeded by dating the events of each reign by the biennial cattle census. For the greater part of Egyptian history dating was by the regnal years of each king. By combining the evidence of Manetho, the surviving regnal years, the native king-lists and synchronisms with kings and events in neighbouring lands it is possible to draw up a loose chronological framework to part of which some precision can be given by astronomical data. The Egyptian civil year was of 365 days : it was supposed to commence on the first day of the annual rise of the Nile (19th July, Julian) on which day also occurred the heliacal rising of Sothis (Sirius). The discrepancy of a quarter of a day between the inaccurate civil year and the correct astronomical year produced a cycle of 1456 years, the Sothic Cycle. When native references to the rising of Sothis exist, events can be dated within a margin of error of four years. In this way it is possible to date the beginning of the 12th Dynasty to 1991 BC. and by dead reckoning to assign the beginning of the llth Dynasty to approximately 2133 BC. Before this time there are no known Sothic dates and no absolute precision in dating is possible. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the 1st Dynasty is to be put much earlier than 3000 BC. and some modern authorities put it as low as 2850 BC.
It is now customary to group the dynasties into a number of periods: the Proto-dynastic or Archaic Period (Dyns. 1 and 2, 3000-2780 BC.); the Old Kingdom (Dyns. 3-6, 2780-2254 BC.); the First Intermediate Period (Dyns. 8-11, 2254-1991 BC.); the Middle Kingdom (Dyn. 12, 1991-1778 BC. ; the latter half of Dyn. 11, from 2040 BC., would properly belong to this period); the Second Intermediate Period (Dyns. 13-17, 1778-1573 BC.; in part contemporaneous and including the Hyksos 15th and 16th dynasties, approximately 1674-1567 BC.); the New Kingdom (Dyns. 18-20, 1573-1085 BC.); the Late Period (Dyns. 21-31, 1085-332 BC., including the 25th (Ethiopian) Dynasty, 751-664 BC., and the 26th (Saite) Dynasty, 664-525 BC.). Before the 1st Dynasty is the Predynastic Period, a long prehistoric period before the introduction of writing, for which no calendar dates can be presented, but it is highly unlikely that any predynastic cultures in the Nile Valley proper are to be dated much earlier than about 4500 B.C.
Historical Outline. - In Upper Egypt three Predynastic cultures have been found, i.e. people living on the valley floor or at its edges and subsequent to the prehistoric peoples of the Old Stone Age whose artefacts have been found on the river terraces. These three cultures are generally called Badarian, the earliest, Naqada i. (Amratian), and Naqada II. (Gerzean). They lived in settlements or villages, which in Naqada II. at the latest at times were genuine walled towns with mud-brick houses. Their dead were buried in cemeteries separate from the settlements. All had some knowledge of copper and practised agriculture. They made excellent handmade pottery, some of which had painted decoration which in Naqada i. shows the influence of early Iran, and in Naqada n. that of Sumer. They clearly had a belief in some form of after-life, and their principal deity may have been the mother-goddess. These cultures are found in Upper Egypt only (and Naqada II. in Lower Nubia also). In the Fayum, at Merimde on the western edge of the Delta, and at El Omari slightly to the S. of Cairo, other predynastic sites have been found: these are entirely different from the Upper Egyptian series, they are much more primitive and do not know copper.
At the end of predynastic times a new, but not necessarily numerous, racial element entered Egypt, bringing with it influences from Sumer, notably the cylinder seal, the idea of writing, and certain architectural and artistic forms and techniques: these newcomers, however, were not Sumerians. Almost simultaneously the predynastic Upper Egyptian kingdom under Menes defeated Lower Egypt and thus united Egypt and founded the 1st Dynasty. Little detail is known of the political history of Proto-dynastic Egypt but it was clearly a time of very rapid development in the arts of civilization and most of the permanent features of Egyptian culture soon show themselves. Writing and written records develop slowly, the 365-day civil calendar was introduced, metal was exploited on a larger scale, magnificent stone vessels were produced, the first experiments were made in the use of stone for building, the royal tombs of the 1st Dynasty at Sakkara show a superb and exciting architecture, trading or exploring parties reached at least as far south as the 2nd Cataract, and timber was imported from Syria.
With the 3rd Dynasty we begin the Old Kingdom. The change is epitomized by the Step Pyramid at Sakkara, the tomb of Zoser first king of the 3rd Dynasty, and the first monumental building to be made of stone. There was rapid cultural and economic progress and a peak of power and prosperity is reached in the 4th Dynasty with its colossal pyramids, superb statuary and its very highly centralized and materialistic organization. The 5th Dynasty is marked by the triumph of the solar cult of Re of Heliopolis, but by a decline in the size and quality of pyramids : at the end of the dynasty first appear the Pyramid Texts. The 6th Dynasty saw the first systematic attempts to explore and trade in Africa, at least as far as the 3rd Cataract, but progressively declined as the power and position of the king deteriorated, as decentralization increased the powers of the monarchs and as economic distress provoked eventually some form of social upheaval; all these factors, combined with infiltration of Asiatics into the Delta, led to the complete collapse of the regime.
The story of the First Intermediate Period is very largely that of the struggle between the princes of Herakleopolis (Dyns. 9-10) with the princes of Thebes who ultimately formed the llth Dynasty. The Delta was under Asiatic control. After a protracted civil war, the Thebans triumphed and Egypt was once more united (2040 BC.). In spite of war and artistic decline, there was a high level of material prosperity and some of the most remarkable of all Egyptian literary works were written. Osiris finally triumphed as god of the dead and heaven, in a sense, was democratized.
The 11th Dynasty ended in civil war and confusion. The new ruling family was composed of remarkable and energetic kings who ruled for 200 years and raised Egypt to her second period of greatness, the Middle Kingdom. Nubia was conquered as far as the 2nd Cataract but the 12th Dynasty is essentially a peaceful era. Only one military expedition in Syria-Palestine is known, but Egyptian political and economic influence was paramount. Internally there was energetic exploitation of natural resources, vast and imaginative irrigation schemes were initiated towards the end of the dynasty, and the power of the provincial nobles was broken. This is the classical period of Egyptian language and literature; a very high standard was achieved in jewellery, royal statuary, and relief.
The Second Intermediate Period is very largely the story of the gradual decline from the prosperity of the Middle Kingdom, the obtaining of power by Semitic intruders known collectively as the Hyksos or Shepherd Kings, and Egyptian attempts to regain their independence. After the 12th Dynasty, the country split into two kingdoms, one in the Delta (Dyn. 14) of which little is known, and one over all Upper Egypt (Dyn. 13) which maintained its independence and a large measure of prosperity for about 100 years. The Hyksos infiltrated into the Delta as small groups of Semites. By 1720 they had occupied Avaris (the later Tanis) which became their capital, and by 1674, when their main (15th) dynasty was founded, they controlled all Egypt and Nubia. This wide domain was not long maintained ; Nubia became independent, and the princes of Thebes (Dyn. 17) waged a long and eventually successful war of liberation. Several important innovations, including the horse, chariot, and composite bow, were introduced into Egypt in the later stages of the Hyksos Period.
The first years of Ahmose I., first king of the 18th Dynasty and founder of the New Kingdom, were occupied by the final stages of the expulsion of the Hyksos. After a brief interval to reorganize and regain control over Nubia, Egypt set out on a policy of expansion in Asia. This policy, after the peaceful interlude of the reign of Queen Hatshepsut, reached its peak in the seventeen successive Asiatic campaigns of Tuthmosis III. as a result of which Egyptian control extended from the Euphrates in the north to beyond the 4th Cataract in the south. But the political situation in Asia was changing; the growing power of Assyria and the Hittites forced Egypt and Mitanni to reverse their traditional policies and conclude an alliance. At this critical moment Egypt was ruled by supine kings and was disrupted by the attempts of Akhenaten to introduce a form of monotheism, the worship of the Aten or Sun's Disk. Ceaseless pressure and intrigues by the Hittites in Syria and infiltration by the ffabiru or 'Aperu from the east into Palestine eventually undermined the whole Egyptian position in Syria-Palestine with no noticeable Egyptian reaction. Akhenaten's religious reform failed; after his death the country reverted to the old ways, and the prime concern of the last king of the dynasty, Haremhab, was the restoration of internal law and order.
The new ruling family that formed the 19th Dynasty originated in the Delta, and it was to the eastern Delta that eventually they transferred their capital. A determined attempt was made to reassert Egyptian supremacy in Asia, but the drawn battle of Kadesh (1286 BC.) between Ramesses II. and the Hittites led to a stalemate, and in 1270 BC. a treaty of alliance was concluded. The Hittite alliance was dictated by the rise of Assyrian power and the growing menace of the Peoples of the Sea who, in the reign of Merenptah, made their first attack on Egypt, only repulsed after it had almost reached Memphis.
The 19th Dynasty collapsed after a brief period of weakness and confusion and Ramesses III. of the 20th Dynasty was almost immediately confronted with the necessity to deal with the final attacks of the Sea Peoples, who by now had destroyed the Hittite Empire. The Sea Peoples were eventually defeated after six years' struggle, but Egypt had exhausted herself in the process and the remainder of the dynasty is a sorry tale of increasing economic distress, weak kings, and growing priestly power and intrigues. Already a few years before the death of Ramesses XI., the 21st Dynasty was ruling independently in the Delta with capital at Tanis and eventually ruled over the whole land. The 21st Dynasty in turn was overthrown by the descendants of Libyan mercenaries who had been settled in the region of Herakleopolis and had acquired great power and authority. The outstanding figure of the 22nd Dynasty was its first king, Sheshonk I. (Shishak) who conducted a successful campaign in Palestine, but the latter years of the dynasty were times of civil war and the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th Dynasties were in part contemporary.
Egypt thus fell an easy prey to the Ethiopian king, Piankhi, who by 730 BC. had control of the Thebaid. At first the Ethiopians seem to have thought in terms of a protectorate rather than of direct rule but the intrigues and ambitions of local princes forced their hand, and Piankhi and his successor, Shabaka, were eventually forced to occupy and rule the whole land. The foreign policy of the 25th Dynasty was dominated by the threat from Assyria : the aim was clearly to establish some sort of buffer on the eastern frontier, but the kings were curiously parochial with little understanding of the international situation and all too often were in their Sudanese capital of Napata when most urgently needed in Egypt. The most active was Taharka (Tirhakah), but he was outmanoeuvred and defeated by Esarhaddon and forced to flee. When the Assyrians withdrew, Taharka returned, but was again surprised and defeated by Ashurbanipal (669 BC.). Taharka's successor, Tanut-amon, regained possession of Egypt but foolishly returned to Napata and was there when the final Assyrian attack developed, culminating in the sack of Thebes (664 BC.).
The Assyrians left the control of Egypt in the hands of a group of princes of whom the leader, Psammetichus, gradually made himself independent of Assyria and founded the 26th Dynasty under whom Egypt for 140 years enjoyed a final period of relative power and prosperity. The power of the dynasty rested primarily on a picked body of Greek mercenaries, the encouragement of Greek traders, and the building of a powerful navy and mercantile marine. Internally, efforts were made to foster a nationalistic spirit by a conscious archaism, an interest in archaeology, and a deliberate emphasis on those things, such as animal worship, which were peculiarly Egyptian. The apparent inconsistency of the foreign policy of the dynasty, as reflected in the Bible narrative, is in reality the outcome of a deliberate policy of maintaining the balance of power and creating a buffer against the strongest power in Asia: it is this that explains why Egypt first supported Assyria against Babylon, and, after the fall of Assyria, Babylon against the Persians; Egyptian naval and economic power were the principal and potent weapons in the application of this policy. The only exception was Apries (Hophra) a young hot-head who, for no obvious reason except perhaps opportunism, challenged Babylonia but failed to prevent Nebuchadnezzar from capturing Jerusalem. Some of the Jews who escaped from the sack of Jerusalem fled to Egypt and formed colonies in various places, the best known being the Jewish military colony at Elephantine (c 586-399 BC.). But Egypt could not withstand Persia indefinitely and in 525 BC. Cambyses defeated Psammetichus III. and Egypt fell under direct Persian rule (Dyn. 27). At first Persian rule, especially under Darius I., a wise and moderate ruler, was mild, but the excessive harshness of the later kings provoked constant and unsuccessful native revolts until the successful rebellion of Amyrtaeus in 404 BC. Thereafter for 63 years Egypt had a precarious and uneasy independence (Dyns. 28-30) until in 341 BC. the Persians once more conquered the country (Dyn. 31). The second Persian dynasty came to an end with the victory of Alexander the Great at Issus (332 BC.), when Egypt automatically became part of the Macedonian Empire.
After 332 BC. the history of Egypt is that of the Hellenistic world. Under the Ptolemies Alexandria became the capital and the intellectual centre of the world. The country on the whole was prosperous, though prone to native revolts. The government and administration were Greek, but the native cults were encouraged as a matter of deliberate policy. Behind the facade of active temple building the old Egypt and the old gods were slowly dying, only the cults of Osiris, Isis, and later the mystery religions having any real life. The defeat of Cleopatra (30 BC.) brought Egypt under Roman rule and for long she was very prosperous and the granary of the ancient world.
2. Egyptian Religion.
The ancient world was particularly impressed by the piety of the Egyptians, the multiplicity of their gods and their strange forms, and the mystery of their temples and priests: hence there was a tendency to read far more into the religion than really existed. Four points are characteristic: (a) conservatism?a belief, however primitive, was rarely completely abandoned, but was maintained no matter how contradictory it might appear when compared with other and later ideas ; (b) parochialism?an emphasis on local cults ; a man's loyalties were more to his local god than to the state god ; this in part explains the great number of gods, the similarity of the attributes of many, and the ease with which syntheses and syncretisms were effected; (c) mildness?Egyptian religion is singularly lacking in fanaticism or excess of any sort; (d) the family ?the human side of the god, the family organization of the principal gods in a temple, the domestic nature of the daily cult. There was no general dogma or system, no Sacred Book but plenty of religious books, no theological treatises and hence no heresy hunts. The basis of religion in Egypt was not belief but cult, and particularly the local cult; the essentials were ritual purity, and manual and oral perfection in the celebration of the ritual.
The earliest gods were probably nature gods, animals and birds, who were essentially localized and speedily partially or completely anthropomorphized: they were the natural outcome of primitive man's love, fear or reverence of forces or beings that were useful or good, that were powerful or harmful, or that were beyond his understanding. Also early were certain inanimate objects, whose origin is still uncertain but may have been due to purely local conditions. The cosmic gods, the forces of nature such as sun, moon, wind, and storm, were a somewhat later development; they were of a higher order, universal in character but speedily localized, and had either human or animal form. Animal gods always had a special place in Egypt, and in late times, possibly as a reaction to foreign domination, were particularly popular. Sometimes all of a species were worshipped in a locality: sometimes it was only one animal, distinguished by special markings, who was worshipped, tended, mummified, and buried; such for instance were the famous bulls. Apis of Heliopolis, Mnevis of Memphis, Buchis of Armant. Genii or familiar spirits were not infrequent, and from time to time, especially in the New Kingdom, foreign gods were introduced into the pantheon. A few human beings were sometimes deified, but their cult was usually shortlived and local; the two most notable exceptions were Imhotep, architect and chief minister of Zoser (Dyn. 3) who when deified was regarded as son of Ptah, and as a god of wisdom and medicine, later identified with Asklepios; and Amenophis son of Hapu, a famous minister and executive of Amenophis in. (Dyn. 18) who enjoyed a wide reputation as a god of wisdom. The special position of the king as a god is discussed below.
Three theological systems in particular must be mentioned. The first, Heliopolitan, postulated primeval chaos from which, self-engendered; emerged Atum, who produced from himself Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture). The union of this couple produced Geb (earth) and Nut (sky), from whom were born Osiris, Seth, Isis, and Nephthys. These formed the Ennead. Later a Little Ennead, an artificial creation, was also formed. The Heliopolitan theology dominates Egyptian temple ritual from the 5th Dynasty onwards. The Hermopolitan system was the Ogdoad, or Company of Eight. From chaos emerged the primordial gods, created by the voice of Thoth as four frogs (male) and four snakes (female) who represented Night, Darkness, Mystery, and Eternity. They created at Hermopolis an egg from which appeared the Sun who conquered his enemies, created men, and organized the world. According to the Memphite system, Ptah was the supreme god who made eight other Ptahs who were all embodied in him;thus Atum was his thought, Horus his heart, Thoth his tongue. This system was probably formulated in the first half of the Old Kingdom to enhance the prestige of Memphis, the early dynastic capital, in order to combat the growing power of the solar cult. It is an intellectual system with little popular appeal; creation was an intellectual act, markedly different from the grosser concepts of the other cosmologies. Its essential feature is the Creative Word, an early formulation of the doctrine of the Logos. Although this system had no hold on the popular imagination, there is evidence to suggest that it always had an appeal to a small intellectual elite in the temples, and remarkable references to the idea of the creative word are to be found in the Graeco-Roman temples.
Entirely distinct is the Aten cult introduced by Akhenaten towards the end of the 18th Dynasty. It is differentiated above all by its intolerance and exclusive-ness, in its abolition of all the old gods and the substitution for them of the worship of a single god, the Aten or Sun's Disk, and more particularly the life-giving power of the sun. It is a mistake to seek to detect foreign, still less Semitic, influences in Atenism: for all its revolutionary nature it is resolutely Egyptian and the seeds of such a cult already existed in Egypt. It is doubtful whether the movement was purely religious; it is far more likely that Akhenaten used religion for political ends?by abolishing the old gods and setting up a single new god with universalistic characteristics and with peculiarly close attachments to the king, he broke the menacing political power of the priesthood, created a new focus of loyalty to the throne by very closely linking the Aten with the person of the king, and simultaneously presented a single god that could be worshipped equally well by Egyptian, Syrian, and Nubian, all the peoples of the Egyptian Empire. The new religion necessitated a new type of temple witi. courts and sanctuary open to the sky and all rites celebrated in the open air. Unfortunately, Akhenaten failed to supply a teaching or an ethic ; he swept away the old gods, he abolished the old funerary beliefs with their moral ideals and sanctions, and created nothing in their place. Atenism is frankly amoral; nobles profess veneration for Aten because it pleased the king who rewarded them. Because Atenism failed to fill the vacuum it had created and did not provide the people with a way of life, it did not take hold on the mass of the people, and failed.
Worship was of two kinds: the ordinary daily cult celebrated within the temples, and the great festivals which were mainly processional both inside and outside the temple. There were three daily services, at dawn, noon, and sunset. The morning service was the most elaborate and was essentially a religious dramatization of events of daily life: the god was awakened by a morning hymn, and then the officiant entered the sanctuary alone, disrobed the god, performed an elaborate toilet, and offered the god a meal. After the service and after theco-templar gods had been similarly awakened, dressed and fed, there was a reversion of the divine offerings within the temple to the royal ancestors, and then a second reversion outside the temple to the priests. There was no congregational worship; the king alone, or his deputy, entered the sanctuary and performed the ritual by himself. Sacrifice bore no implication of atonement but symbolized the destruction of enemies or evil forces. The great calendar festivals were very numerous, varying in length from a single day to a whole month, and involved processions to other temples, either in the same town or in distant towns ; they were the occasions of great popular rejoicings and participation in free food and drink. Some festivals included dramatic performances somewhat like mystery plays.
The religious system described so far was the state religion, the only aspect that is sufficiently documented in the records. It is probable that this religion left the vast mass of the people largely untouched ; except at the popular festivals, the mass of the people had little direct contact with the state cult, though its ceremonies were conducted for their benefit. Nevertheless, special provision was made at the outer doors of the temple enclosure for private prayer, petition, devotion, and offering. The religion of the mass of the people was probably concentrated on much simpler, elemental, folk-type gods and genii; thus the patroness of the necropolis workers at Thebes was the great peak that towers at the end of the Valley of the Kings and who was personified and worshipped as Ta-dehenet, 'The Peak.'
The cultus temple of the New Kingdom and later periods was shut off by massive walls which enclosed, in addition to the temple proper, a sacred lake, magazines, store-houses, abattoirs and administrative offices, and quarters for the priests on duty. The temple was in essence the house of the god, and the idea of house or home was always present, though naturally centuries of architectural development obscured this. The temple also to a very real extent was alive: at the dedication ceremony and at the annual renewal on New Year's Day the temple, all its reliefs and all statues underwent the ceremony of Opening the Mouth by virtue of which the temple and all in it was filled with permanent, latent life. The temple itself was a steady progress from the brilliant sunlight of the outer court, through the increasing gloom and mystery of one or more hypostyle halls (lit only by restricted clerestory lighting) to the pitch darkness of the sanctuary. The effect of mystery and darkness was enhanced by a slight but progressive raising of the floor level and a marked lowering of roof levels the nearer one approached the sanctuary.
In the Old Kingdom there was no professional priesthood: the King was in theory the sole officiant and the various cults were celebrated by duly delegated lay nomarchs and officials. Professionalism and the hereditary principle gradually grew through the need to ensure the continuity of the funerary cult. In the Middle Kingdom there was a considerable increase in professionalism, but a fully professional priesthood did not emerge until the New Kingdom. Many priests were pluralists; all could engage in secular activities and many combined religious duties with the highest secular offices. The temple priesthood was divided into four companies or phylae (increased to five in Ptolemaic times) each of which served in rotation for a month at a time. There was a complicated organization : the senior grade was the prophet (Egyptian, ' servant of the god ') divided into four classes ; the high priest was usually the first prophet, but in certain priesthoods bore a special title. Other important grades were 'father of the god' and 'lector' whose exceedingly important role was to ensure the literal accuracy of the recitation of the ritual. The ordinary priest was a wab, 'pure one.' Priests could marry, engage in commerce and trade, and indulge in almost any secular activity. Payment was in kind, and appointment and installation in the higher grades at least was the direct act of the king. The strongest emphasis was laid on the ritual purity of the priests: thewhole body, including the head, was shaved, circumcision may have been essential, and the normal dress was white linen. No priest of whatever grade could enter the temple or celebrate the ritual without first purifying himself either in the sacred lake or from some other source of purified water. There were also lay-priests, and from the New Kingdom onwards lay fraternities appear to have been linked with certain temples. The temples were great centres of learning and attached to the temple was the 'house of life,' a scriptorium for the copying of religious and learned works, astronomer priests who watched and recorded the hours, doctors, and scribes. Women normally acted as musician-priestesses, but in special circumstances could hold higher ranks. The strictly limited and very important office of 'God's Wife of Amun,' first introduced in the 18th Dynasty, was confined to certain ladies of blood royal and was in essence more political than religious.
The world has always been impressed by the importance laid by the Egyptians on their funerary beliefs and on preparations for death and the after life. This interest was not due to any morbid outlook but is explained by the paradox that the intense preoccupation of the Egyptians with preparations for death was due to their passionate desire to live. It was not physical death that the Egyptian feared, but the ultimate disaster of the ' second death,' i.e. the destruction of the last thing in which the soul (Bd) of the dead could find shelter, food and drink, for without these he would die. The soul was conceived as being able to leave the corpse and tomb by day, but needed to return at night for shelter and sustenance. The basis of funerary practice was therefore the overriding necessity to make that permanent provision for the soul on which survival depended. For this reason in Egypt the dead were far more afraid of the living than the living were of the dead, for it was the acts or omissions of the living that could most easily cause the second death.
From predynastic times onwards the provision for death was of the utmost importance, and almost at the same time survival and the preservation of the material body became ever more closely linked. The first attempts at mummification are attested at least as early as the 2nd Dynasty, but mummification was not in fairly general use until the Middle Kingdom. Mummification at its best consisted of the removal of the brain and the contents of the abdomen and thorax (the heart was left in the body); the corpse was then dehydrated by being surrounded with raw natron. At the end of this process the abdomen was packed with linen or other substances soaked in resin, and the body was wrapped in linen bandages in a long and complicated process ; sometimes amulets were inserted at appropriate points in the bandages. When mummification was complete, the mummy was stood upright on a heap of sand at the entrance to the tomb and the final rites were performed, including the Opening of the Mouth, which restored the vital functions to the body. The tomb of the private individual was normally decorated with scenes of daily life and with offering scenes ; since over these the Opening of the Mouth was probably performed, they were capable of serving the needs of the dead, but special provision was made for the endowment of mortuary priests and for the regular celebration of the funerary cult. The standard period of mummification was 70 days, 40 days for the dehydration, 30 days for bandaging.
In the Old Kingdom funerary practices were linked to the conception of a solar hereafter ; there was even a solar judgment of the dead. The triumph of the worship of Osiris in the First Intermediate Period entailed that thereafter it was the Osirian hereafter that prevailed. No man could hope to attain that hereafter without first passing a trial before Osiris and a court of forty-two assessors. The dead man had to make a Denial of Sin (the misnamed Negative Confession) to the gods, and his heart was weighed in the balances against a feather, the symbol of truth, justice; if he failed to pass the test, he was devoured by a monster. In theory the judgment implied a very high ethical ideal; in practice the ideal was nullified because of the emphasis on the correct recital of the Denial of Sin, and the increasing use of magical practices which made it easy to escape the consequences of the most sinful life.
3. Social Organization and Institutions.
The Egyptian conception of the state and the cosmos was a static one. The world order was one instituted in all perfection at the moment that the first god-king brought kingship to the earth. It is significant that when Re, the first god-king, came to earth he brought with him his daughter Maat, goddess of truth and justice. This conception of truth and justice, brought to earth at the very foundation of the earth, is central to the whole Egyptian way of life. Gods, king, and men were all equally bound by the law and in theory could not break it. It is this central idea of truth, justice, that goes far to explain the essential mildness and humanity of the Egyptian social order. In Egypt there was no Utopian thought; in so far as the Egyptian thought of a better future, he considered that he lived in a world that had fallen short of a perfection instituted once and for all at the dawn of time, and thus he was constantly looking back over his shoulder, so to speak, hoping to return to a past Golden Age.
At the centre of Egyptian society stood the king, Pharaoh. He was in a very real sense a god, immensely elevated and remote from ordinary men, but a veritable good shepherd, as the texts repeatedly declare, and Father of his people. He was the living Horus, the last of the divine kings. But Horus was the son of Osiris, who had avenged his murdered father, and whose claim to his father's throne had been upheld by a divine court of law. Thus every king on dying became Osiris, but in life he was the living Horus who had a legal title to the throne as a result of the verdict of the gods, as the dutiful son of his father, and by virtue of celebrating the cult of the royal ancestors. In theory the king was the source of all activity : he initiated legislation, he was the sole officiant in every temple, he led his people in all activities of peace and war. His health and prosperity automatically entailed the prosperity of Egypt and her people. In practice, of course, the king delegated most of his religious, military, and social duties, but he always remained the genuine mainspring.
In the Old Kingdom society was essentially amateur, any man could be delegated to perform any type of duty in temple, on field of battle, on expeditions to quarries or for trade, or in the administration. In the New Kingdom society was organized on a more rigidly professional basis but still one man could play many parts. The chief minister of the king was the vizier, who apart from daily audience with the king, was responsible for finance, taxation, the administration and execution of justice, and a host of other duties. Under him was a vast organization of governors, administrators, inspectors, and a very large and efficient civil service of scribes. The professional army was the creation of the New Kingdom: it was then organized, in the field, in four divisions, and was composed of chariotry (the elite), the infantry, and mercenaries. The Egyptian as a whole was not warlike and the native element was conscript. The mass of the people were simple, unlettered peasants working in the fields, with a smaller proportion engaged in minor industries, quarries, etc. A system of corvee entitled the state to call on every man, unless specially exempted by law, to perform any manner of duties in times of national emergency. Slavery as an institution is exceptionally difficult to define and isolate in Egypt: in the Old Kingdom slavery did not exist, every man was free, but economic distress at the end of the Old Kingdom certainly produced a kind of serfdom. In the New Kingdom most slaves were prisoners obtained in the wars of empire, but as power and prosperity declined the number of native slaves increased and so did the institution of voluntary servitude.
The position of women in Egypt was extraordinarily free and high. A woman was free and respected, there was no system of purdah, and she was not veiled. Shecouid reign as sovereign, she could buy, sell, and inherit property, and engage in commerce on her own. Her rights in marriage and divorce, which was recognized, were strictly safeguarded; it is not known if there was any special marriage ceremony. Contrary to popular belief, brother-sister marriage, except in the royal family, was relatively rare.
4. Egypt in the Bible.
Egyptian records are con-spiciously lacking in direct reference to events and persons familiar in the Bible narratives. Israel is mentioned once only in an inscription of the fifth year of Merenptah (c 1219 BC.) in the words 'Israel is destroyed, its seed does not exist.' The visit of Abraham is probably to be assigned to the first hundred years of the 12th Dynasty (c 2000-1900 BC.). It is known that parties of Semites were in Egypt at this time: a tomb in Middle Egypt depicts the visit of thirty-seven Semites in the reign of Amenemhet II.; a 13th Dynasty papyrus preserves the names of seventy-seven slaves of whom forty-eight are Asiatic, some of the Semitic names being directly related to those of the patriarchal family; the same papyrus throws much light on the prison system.
The story of Joseph, the Sojourn in Egypt and the Exodus raises serious problems of chronology for which no precise solution is yet possible. It is certain that the immediate background of the Biblical narrative is Ramesside Egypt to which all the local colour applies. A conservative appreciation of the facts suggests that the entry of Joseph into Egypt should be placed at an undefined point in the Hykos Period (probably after 1700 BC.) and that the most probable date of the Exodus is in the latter half of the reign of Ramesses 11. (1290-1223 BC.).
Topographical details in the Bible indicate a familiarity with the eastern Delta; Upper Egypt is virtually unknown except for No (Thebes) and Syene (Elephantine Assuan). Many of the towns mentioned can be identified with reasonable certainty.
Many attempts have been made to identify a variety of linguistic influences and borrowings from Egypt in the OT, and it has been suggested, for reasons difficult to justify, that portions of Psalm 104 are influenced by Akhenaten's Hymn to the Aten. There is no reason to doubt that there may have been borrowings, but in all oriental languages there must have been many common expressions and ways of thinking, and it would be unwise to press them too far. Similarly, some stress has been laid on the supposed influence of Egyptian Messianic literature. It is true that there are 'Messianic' works of a kind, but the works in question were exclusively political in purpose : it is doubtful whether these works had any serious influence on the Hebrews.
The well-known Teaching of Amenemope (c Dyn. 20-21) has aroused much interest because of its remarkable resemblance to passages in the Book of Proverbs, especially Pr.22.17-24.22, and it has been suggested that these passages are a direct, and somewhat imperfect, translation from the Egyptian. The resemblances are striking, but there are very great difficulties in such a theory, principally because of the extreme difficulty of the text of Amenemope, its frequent use of non-Egyptian idioms and ideas, and its employment of an unusually large proportion of Semitic loan-words. A recent study has therefore suggested that the Teaching of Amenemope is itself a translation from an Aramaic original. This raises the problem of a proto-Proverbs and other difficulties, and the only wise course is to conclude that a satisfactory solution has not yet been found. [Article: Dictionary of the Bible, J.Hastings, 2nd Ed., T&T.Clark, 1963 - H.W.F.]