Egypt in the Bible

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In Semitic languages Egypt was known under the names of Musr, Misr, Misri, the Hebrew form being Misraim, of which the termination is regarded by some as the regular dual ending used to designate at the same time both parts, Upper and Lower, of the country. Genesis 10 is commonly understood to enumerate the various peoples which made up the population of Egypt: Ludim, Anamim, Laabim, Nepthuim, Phetrusim, Chasluim, and Capthorim. Some of these names have not yet been satisfactorily identified. The Anamim (Anu of the Egyptian texts) appear to be the remnant of early settlers who, driven back by newcomers, roamed in the desert above the second cataract; the Phetrusim (southerners) inhabited the neighborhood of Thebes; the Capthorim and Chasluim are late invaders established on the Mediterranean shore. Egypt first appears in the Bible as a land of plenty, whither Abraham resorts at a time of famine (Genesis 12), and whither Jacob, in similar circumstances, sends his sons for buying wheat (Genesis 37-50). The whole family soon moved there at the bidding of Joseph. Historians usually date this migration at the time of the Hyksos rule. There, in the “land of Gessen,” located by some near the mouth of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, by others half-way up that same channel, by others still south of Memphis, in the Fayum district, they increased and multiplied; and from there, after a long period of persecution which is supposed to have taken place following the overthrow of the Hyksos by native princes, they left at God’s bidding, under the leadership of Moses, for the Promised Land. The disaster which overcame Pharao’s army at the Red Sea apparently affected only a relatively small corps of Egyptian troops; texts need not be pressed to mean the whole military force of Egypt.

For many centuries decadent Egypt claimed possession of Palestine. This overlordship, however, was merely nominal, so that the Hebrews were fortunate in having only local Chanaanite chieftains with whom to contend. A long and hard struggle at last won for them independence under the strong hand of David. The city of Gazer, however, remained in the hands of the Pherezites (Jos., 16); its capture, in the beginning of the reign of Solomon, by Psibkhannu II, whose daughter became Solomon’s wife, brings back the Egyptians into direct contact with Israel. Gazer was given to Solomon as his wife’s dowry. Obviously the prince of Tanis considered Palestine as part of his kingdom, and the Hebrew king as a vassal. With the latter he maintained friendly commercial relations (3 Kings 10); yet the Egyptian ruler had given shelter and a bride of the blood royal to the young Edomite prince, Adad, and did not discountenance the latter’s attempt to wrest his kingdom from Solomon’s hand (3 Kings 11). To Psibkhannu’s successor, Sheshenk I (Sesac of the Bible), the first Egyptian king whose proper name is given in Scripture (Pharao, Egypt., per o,a, the great house, is a generic title), Jeroboam fled from the wrath of. Solomon (3 Kings 11), and, according to the Greek text, was later on married to the queen’s own sister. Five years after Roboam’s accession, Sesac, who probably wished to profit by the political division of Israel, in order to assert his suzerainty, invaded Palestine and ransacked Jerusalem (3 Kings 14; Inscription of Karnak). Whether “Zara the Ethiopian,” whose attempt against Palestine is recorded only in 2 Par., 14, was an Egyptian king (Osorkon I or Osorkon II) is still a moot question.

Save for an obscure allusion to an alliance between Joram, king of Israel (851-842), and the reigning Pharao, Egypt does not appear again on the scene of Biblical history until the last years of the Northern Kingdom, when Osee, the last king of Israel, in order to prevent being engulfed in the ever-growing torrent of Assyrian invasion, called on the help of Sua, probably the future Shabaka, founder of the XXVth Dynasty, then a high officer in the Egyptian Empire (4 Kings 17). But leaning on Egypt was leaning on a broken reed; and after the fall of Samaria, despite the oft-repeated warnings of the prophets, there existed in Jerusalem for more than a century a strong party favoring an Egyptian alliance. King Josias, who opposed this policy, was mortally wounded on the battlefield of Mageddo, whilst endeavoring to block, it appears, the advance of Nechao II against the young Babylonian Empire, just risen (609 B.C.) on the ruins of the vanquished Assyrian Kingdom (4 Kings 23). Neither did this calamity, nor the conqueror’s meddling with the internal affairs of Jerusalem and the heavy tribute levied by him on Jerusalem (4 Kings 23), not even Nechao’s subsequent defeat by Nabuchodonosor (Jer., 46), prevent the stubborn pro-Egyptian politicians of Jerusalem from reckoning on the help of Egypt when the Babylonians laid siege to the Holy City. True, Hophra (589-570) made a military demonstration in the direction of Gaza (Jer., 47); but his troops were defeated, and Jerusalem, left to its plight, succumbed in 586. Many Judeans then and thereafter sought a new country in Egypt (4 Kings 25) and even compelled Jeremias to follow them (Jer., 43). After the collapse of the Chaldean Empire Egypt, now but a shadow of its former greatness, fell into the hands of the Persian king Cambyses (525) and, two centuries later (332), of Alexander the Great. Palestine was a dependency of the kingdom of the Ptolemies, first from 320 to 222; it suffered much in the hostilities between Antiochus III the Great and Ptolemy IV Philopator who plundered the Temple; but in consequence of the defeat of the king of Syria, the country, after a few years of Syrian rule, reverted to Egypt until it was definitely conquered by Antiochus (198). The Book of Daniel and those of the Machabees contain many references to the struggle of the Lagidre and the Seleucidre for its possession. During the last three centuries before the Christian era Egypt, and especially Alexandria, became a great center of Jewish population; to this fact the world is indebted for the Greek translation of the old Hebrew Scriptures. Relations between Palestine and Egypt, particularly after the Roman occupation, were easy and frequent; and thus it is not surprising to see the Holy Family seek refuge in Egypt from the mad fury of Herod (Matthew 2).

MLA Citation

  • “Egypt in the Bible”. New Catholic Dictionary. Saints.SQPN.com. 11 June 2010. Web. 24 July 2014. <http://saints.sqpn.com/egypt-in-the-bible/>