Page images

Moses. When Joseph was created grand vizier or prime minister of Egypt, Pharaoh “ gave him to wife, Asenath, the daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On” or Heliopolis. All the circumstances of the case plainly show that the king was then disposed to do Joseph the highest honor : and the sound policy of this distinguished alliance is apparent from the passages already cited from the Greek historians. The sudden and extraordinary, elevation of a stranger, over the heads of the hereditary administrators of public affairs, might have proved a dangerous experiment. The introduction of Joseph, therefore, into their own priestly order by marriage, was probably the best, if not the only expedient, calculated to allay their envy and prejudices, and to secure their cordial support and co-operation.

It is worthy of remark also, that, throughout this whole period from Abraham to Moses, the Scripture represents Egypt as an entire kingdom under one monarch, and not as distributed into a number of petty independent sovereignties, as most modern historians, from the imperfect traditions detailed by the Greeks, would lead us to believe. That Egypt might, in after times, have been thus temporarily divided among several tyrants or competitors for the throne, or that the powerful nobles or military commanders might, during the reign of a weak prince or the minority of a young one, or at any other favorable crisis, have seized upon the crown and shared its honors among them, is very probable, and will account for the stories found in many writers about the confusions of ancient Egypt. Domestic feuds and animosities may have commenced at or soon after the exodus of the Israelites. At any rate, the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, centuries later, when predicting the desolation of Egypt by the Babylonians, speak of internal commotions and divisions as the principal cause of her deplorable weakness, and of her forty years' endurance of the most dreadful calamities ever inflicted upon a conquered enemy. “And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians; and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbor; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom.” Is. 19: 2. “ And I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities among the cities that are laid waste shall be desolate forty years: and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through the countries.” Ezek. 29: 12. We must not confound the early with the later history of Egypt.

. Nor are we to forget that, however much of error or fiction may have found its way into their historical statements, the more intelligent and travelled Greeks, with one voice, assigned to Egypt both the remotest antiquity and the highest wisdom and learning. Herodotus says that the Egyptians were the wisest of all nations, and that they were never beholden for any thing to the Grecians; but on the contrary, that Greece had borrowed largely from Egypt. All the Hebrew records support the Grecian evidence for the extreme antiquity and pre-eminent wisdom of the Egyptians. Thus, Isaiah, in denouncing the divine judgments against this people: “Surely the princes of Zoan (or Tanis) are fools, the counsel of the wise counsellors of Pharaoh is become brutish: how say ye unto Pharaoh, I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings? Where are they? Where are thy wise men ?” Is. 19: 12.

I transcribe the following paragraph from Warburton, chiefly as furnishing a curious specimen of a kind of reasoning which is always convenient to the system-maker, and in the main abundantly satisfactory to the general reader. “This superior nobility of the priests of On or Heliopolis seems to have been chiefly owing to their higher antiquity. Heliopolis, or the city of the Sun, was the place where that luminary was principally worshipped; and certainly, from the most early times: for Diodorus tells us that, the first gods of Egypt were the sun and moon :' the truth of which, all this laid together remarkably confirms. Now if we suppose, as is very reasonable, that the first established priests in Egypt were those dedicated to the sun at On, we shall not be at a loss to account for their titles of nobility. Strabo says, they were much given to astronomy; and this too we can easily believe: for what more likely than that they should be fond of the study of that system, over which their god presided, not only in his moral but in his natural capacity ? For whether they received the doctrine from original tradition, or whether they invented it at hazard, which is more likely, in order to exalt this their visible god, by giving him the post of honor, it is certain they taught that the sun was in the centre of its system, and that all the other bodies moved round it, in perpetual revolutions. This noble theory cạme with the rest of the Egyptian learning into Greece, being carried thither by Pythagoras; who, it is remarkable, received it from Enuphis, a priest of Heliopolis, and, after having given

the most distinguished lustre to his school, it sunk into obscurity, and suffered a total eclipse throughout a long succession of learned and unlearned ages; till these times relumed its ancient splendor, and immovably fixed it on the most unerring principles of science.”

As to the very accommodating hypothesis or rather conjecture, that the Egyptian professors may have “invented at hazard” the sublime astronomical doctrine, taught in Greece by their accomplished pupil Pythagoras—a doctrine which never obtained currency among the Greeks—which subsequently, and after the lapse of more than twenty centuries, was revived by Copernicus, and finally demonstrated by Newton-the philosophers are heartily welcome to all the capital they can make of it. They must concede, at the least, that the Egyptian sages were shrewd and lucky guessers; and that their inventions at hazard were not always to be despised. With all becoming deference, however, to great names, and to superior erudition, I should venture to reverse the order; and to assume that their orthodox astronomical faith was grounded upon real science: and that the science preceded the popular superstition, and gave rise to it. When or how they acquired this wonderful science, which we are only just beginning to learn-whethey they derived it from Noah, and he from the father and first great teacher of mankind-or whether some gifted Galileo or Newton among themselves was its happy author-it were bootless to speculate. It is much easier to account for its ultimate and total disappearance-even long before the superstition which it generated had, in any degree, relaxed its ghostly dominion over the popular mind. The science itself may never have passed the limits of the sacerdotal colleges and royal observatories where it was studied and cherished; while the superstition was diffused among all ranks and embraced by the whole people.

The science, moreover, may have become obsolete or been lost among its privileged guardians and depositaries prior even to the dissolution of their priestly order. These may have neglected their high vocation as teachers and students—as has often happened in similar corporations since—from indolence, from the absence of all external stimulus or exciting motive, or from luxurious habits of self-indulgence: and thereafter, they may have been content with the results, the tables, rules, formulæ and calculations, already provided by their more diligent and faithful predecessors. They might continue to know

the fact, and to believe the theory of the true solar system; just as multitudes of modern gownsmen know and believe, without being able to advance a single step towards the actual demonstration. At any rate, the science must have perished beneath the desolating sweep of the Persian invader, who madly sought to bury, in the ruins of the temple and the palace, the religion, the learning, the arts and the glory of Egypt. The superstition, indeed, survived the rage, the fire and the sword of the ruthless victor. But the light of science was utterly extinguished; and its votaries were silenced forever. The later Greeks had ample opportunities to witness all the revolting absurdities of the Egyptian idolatry; while they could hear only a faint traditionary whisper of that splendid intellectual inheritance which had once adorned, enriched and exalted the Egyptian name above every other in the ancient world.

But, inasmuch as the bigoted Persians destroyed or rather annihilated all the written records, the libraries, books, archives, chronicles, annals - all the scientific apparatus and collections—which had been accumulating undisturbed for two thousand years; we, forsooth, are not to believe that the Egyptians ever possessed either literature or science! And we should, no doubt, be equally incredulous about Egyptian art, were it not for the still living and still speaking witnesses in every part of the land, upon either bank of the mysterious Nile, from the cataracts to the Mediterranean. But for these stubborn monuments, we should very logically conclude, that the present half-human Copts are fair specimens of Pharaoh's wise men—the instructors of Moses and Cecrops, of Solon and Pythagoras! And we are the more especially predisposed to favor this mode of reasoning, since it is everywhere gravely asserted, that the East is unchangeable, and has never changed; —that habits, manners, usages, all things remain just as they were a score of centuries ago. So that whatever a galloping traveller or fashionable tourist happens to encounter or to espy, is incontinently jotted down as a veritable fac simile of what existed in the days of Abraham or Solomon ;-as if invariable uniformity and absolute stability were predicable of regions which have undergone more revolutions, reverses, exterminating wars and plagues of all sorts—political, moral, religious and physical—than any other portions of the globe. It is time that this folly were rebuked, and that its abettors were sent to school.

I have said more of Egypt than my argument strictly demands. To show that Egypt was always civilized, and never otherwise—without claiming for it any extraordinary excellence or superiority—was abundantly sufficient to sustain the proposition which I have essayed to demonstrate.* Incidentally, I have adverted to a few particulars which seem to indicate a very high order and degree of civilization. And much more, tending to the same result, might easily be adduced. Ever since the temporary occupancy of Egypt by the French, under Napoleon, the ruins of her pristine grandeur have been a study for the most profoundly learned, sagacious and philosophical antiquarians of Europe. They have not only visited the several remarkable localities, but have patiently, perseveringly and laboriously explored, investigated, deciphered, measured, compared, classified_until they have become familiar with the aspect, features, magnitude, proportions and style of those marvellous creations, which have resisted and survived the convult sions and the Vandalism of a hundred generations; and which

* Bryant indeed maintains, that the Mizraim, with their brethren the sons of Phut, migrated to their place of allotment, the Upper Egypt, a long time before the rebellion at Babel ; that they there led a simple, rude, half-savage kind of life for several ages; that they were at length conquered and civilized by their brethren the Cuthites (the Titanic brood, as he styles them), after they had been driven from Babyloniaetc.-His authorities, Diodorus Siculus among them, do not seem to warrant his hypothesis. But if admitted to be true, it would not invalidate our theory in the slightest degree. It would merely change a little the order of events. It would show that the first settlers in a part of Egypt had greatly degenerated for a season: and that they were afterwards instructed and reclaimed by a colony direct from the fatherland—the original seat and fountain of civilization. Should all our facts and reasoning about Egypt be questioned or rejected, still our main position remains impregnable and unaffected. It can never be demolished, until it be proved that there was a time when civilization was unknown, and nowhere existed; or when all the inhabitants of our globe were savages. The philosophy which traces the civilized up to the savage state, or which deduces the former from the latter, demands this: and nothing less will meet the demand. Otherwise, the whole affair is a mere “controversia verbi.”

« PreviousContinue »