Egypt in the Old Testament

Though Egypt is one of the earliest countries in recorded history, and as regards its continuous civilization, yet it is a late country in its geological history and in its occupation by a settled population. The whole land up to Silsileh is a thick mass of Eocene limestone, with later marls over that in the lower districts.

It has been elevated on the East, up to the mountains of igneous rocks many thousand feet high toward the Red Sea. It has been depressed on the West, down to the Fayum and the oases below sea-level. This strain resulted in a deep fault from North to South for some hundreds of miles up from the Mediterranean.

This fault left its eastern side about 200 ft. above its western, and into it the drainage of the plateau poured, widening it out so as to form the Nile valley, as the permanent drain of Northeast Africa. The access of water to the rift seems to have caused the basalt outflows, which are seen as black columnar basalt South of the Fayum, and brown massive basalt at Khankah, North of Cairo.

The Nile Valley

The gouging out of the Nile valley by rainfall must have continued when the land was 300 ft. higher than at present, as is shown by the immense fails of strata into collapsed caverns which were far below the present Nile level. Then, after the excavations of the valley, it has been submerged to 500 ft. lower than at present, as is shown by the rolled gravel beds and deposits on the tops of the water-worn cliffs, and the filling up of the tributary valleys--as at Thebes--by deep deposits, through which the subsequent stream beds have been scoured out.

The land still had the Nile source 30 ft. higher than it is now within the human period, as seen by the worked flints in high gravel beds above the Nile plain. The distribution of land and water was very different from that at present when the land was only 100 ft. lower than now.

Such a change would make the valley an estuary up to South of the Fayum, would submerge much of the western desert, and would unite the Gulf of Suez and the Mediterranean. Such differences would entirely alter the conditions of animal life by sea and land. And as the human period began when the water was considerably higher, the conditions of climate and of life must have greatly changed in the earlier ages of man's occupation.

Earliest Human Remains

The earliest human remains belonging to the present condition of the country are large paleolithic flints found in the side valleys at the present level of the Nile. As these are perfectly fresh, and not rolled or altered, they show that paleolithic man lived in Egypt under the present conditions.

The close of this paleolithic age of hunters, and the beginning of a settled population of cultivators, cannot have been before the drying up of the climate, which by depriving the Nile of tributary streams enfeebled it so that its mud was deposited and formed a basis for agriculture. From the known rate of deposit, and depth of mud soil, this change took place about 10,000 years ago.

As the recorded history of the country extends 7,500 years, and we know of two prehistoric ages before that, it is pretty well fixed that the disappearance of paleolithic man, and the beginning of the continuous civilization must have been about 9,000 to 10,000 years ago. For the continuation of this subject see the section on "History" below.


The climate of Egypt is unique in the world. So far as solar heat determines it, the condition is tropical; for, though just North of the tropic which lies at the boundary of Egypt and Nubia, the cloudless condition fully compensates for higher latitude. So far as temperature of the air is concerned, the climate is temperate, the mean heat of the winter months being 52 degree and of the summer about 80 degree, much the same as Italy.

This is due to the steady prevalence of north winds, which maintain fit conditions for active, strenuous work. The rainlessness and dry air give the same facility of living that is found in deserts.

Related places

BAAL-ZEPHON was a shrine on the eastern site of the head of the Red Sea, a few miles South of Ismailiyeh; no trace is now known of it (Ex 14:2).

CUSHIM or Ethiopians were a part of the Egyptian army of Shishak and of Usarkon (2 Ch 12:3; 16:8). The army was in 4 brigades, that of Ptah of Memphis, central Egypt; that of Amen of Thebes, Southern Egypt and Ethiopia; that of Set of the eastern frontier (Sukkim); and that of Ra, Heliopolis and the Delta.

COSHEN was a fertile district at the west end of the Wady Tumilat, 40 to 50 miles Northeast of Cairo. It was bounded by the deserts on the North and Southeast, and by the Egyptian city of Bubastis on the West. Its area was not over 100 square miles; it formerly supported 4,000 Bedouin and now about 12,000 cultivators.

LUBIM, the Libyans who formed part of the Egyptian army as light-armed archers, from very early times.

MIGDOL is the name of any tower, familiar also as Magdala. It was applied to some watchtower on the West of the Red Sea, probably on the high land above the Serapeum.

No is Thebes, in Assyrian Nia, from the Egyptian Nu, "the city." This was the capital of the XIIth Dynasty, and of the XVIIth-XXIst Dynasties. Owing to the buildings being of sandstone, which is not of much use for reworking, they have largely remained since the desolation of the city under Ptolemy X. The principal divisions of the site are: (1) Karnak, with the temple of the XIIth Dynasty, built over by all the successive kings of the XVIIIth Dynasty, and enlarged by Seti I and Rameses II, and by Shishak, Tirhakah, and the Ptolemies. The whole temple of Amon and its subsidiary temples form the largest mass of ruins that is known. (2) Luqsor, the temple to commemorate the divine birth of Amenhotep III (1440 BC), added to by Rameses II. (3) The funerary temples, bordering the western shore, of the kings of the XVIIIth to XXth Dynasties. These have mostly been destroyed, by the unscrupulous quarrying done by each king on the work of his predecessors; the only temple in fair condition is that of Rameses III, which is left because no later king required its material for building. (4) The great cemetery, ranging from the splendid rock halls of the Tombs of the Kings, covered with paintings, down to the humblest graves. For any detailed account see either Baedeker's or Murray's Guides, or Weigall's Guide to Antiquities.

NOPH, the Egyptian Men-nofer, Greek Memphis, now Mitraheny, 12 miles South of Cairo. This was the capital from the foundation at the beginning of the dynasties. Thebes and Alexandria shared its importance, but it was the seat of government down to the Arab invasion. In Roman times it was as large as London North of the Thames. The outlying parts are now all buried by the rise of the soil, but more than a mile length of ruins yet remains, which are now being regularly worked over by the British School. The heart of the city is the great metropolitan temple of Ptah, nearly all of which is now under 10 feet of soil, and under water most of the year. This is being excavated in sections, as it is all private property. At the north end of the ruins is the palace mound, on which has been cleared the palace of Apries (Hophra). Other temples have been located, as well as the foreign quarter containing early Greek pottery and the temple of Proteus named by Herodotus (see Memphis, I, II, III).

PATHROS is the usual name for Upper Egypt in the prophets. It is the Egyptian Pa-ta-res, "the south land."

PIBESETH is the Egyptian Pa-Bast, Greek Bubastis, at the eastern side of the Delta, the city of the cat-headed goddess Bast. The ruins are still large, and the temple site has been excavated, producing sculptures from the IVth Dynasty onward.

PITHOM is the Egyptian Pa-Tum, the city of the Sun-god Tum or Atmu, who was worshipped on the East of the Delta. The site has remains of the fortress of Rameses II, built by the Israelites, and is now known as Tell el-Maskhuta, 11 miles West of Ismailia.

RAAMSES is the other city built by the Israelites, now Tell Rotab, 20 miles West of Ismailia. A wailed camp existed here from early times, and the temple of Rameses was built on the top of the older ruins. A large part of the temple front is now at Philadelphia, excavated by the British School.

SIN is the Greek Pelusium, Assyrian Siinu, Arabic Tineh, now some desolate mounds at the extreme East coast of Egypt.

SUCCOTH was the district of "booths," the eastern part of the Wady Tumilat. It was written in Egyptian Thuku and abbreviated to Thu in which form it appears as a Roman name. The people of Succoth were Sukkim, named in the army of Shishak (2 Ch 12:3).

SYENE, Hebrew Heb: Seweneh, modern Aswan, the southern border town of Egypt at the Cataract. The greater part of the old town was on the island of Elephantine. There the Jewish papyri were found, and that was probably the Jewish settlement with the temple of Yahu. The town on the eastern bank--the present Aswan--was of less importance.

TAHPANHES, TEHAPHNEHES, Greek Daphnae, Arabic Tell Defeneh. This was the first station on the Syrian road which touched the Nile canals, about 10 miles West of Kantara on the Suez Canal. It seems to have been founded by Psammetichus about 664 BC, to hold his Greek mercenaries. The fort, built by him, abounded in Greek pottery, and was finally desolated about 566 BC, as described by Herodotus. The fort and camp have been excavated; and the pavement described by Jeremiah (chapter 43), as opposite to the entrance, has been identified.

ZOAN, Greek Tanis, Arabic San, is about 26 miles from the Suez Canal, and slightly more from the coast. The ruins of the temple are surrounded by the wall of Pasebkhanu, 80 ft. thick of brickwork, and a ring of town ruins rises high around it. The temple was built in the VIth Dynasty, adorned with many statues in the XIIth and XIIIth Dynasties, and under Rameses II had many large granite obelisks and statues, especially one colossus of the king in red granite about 90 ft. high. It is probable that the Pharaoh lived here at the time of the Exodus.


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.