Page images
PDF
EPUB

and diffuse them through the building. Over the portal of the building we may imagine the statue of their sun-god, here represented by a hawk-headed monster; for the sharpeyed hawk was considered a good emblem of their deity. “Enter; and the dark temple opens and contracts successively into its outermost, its inner and innermost hall; the Osirides (sculptured figures] in their placid majesty support the first; the wild and savage exploits of kings and heroes fill the second ; and in the furthest recess of all, underneath the carved figure of the sun-god and beside the solid altar, sat in his gilded cage the sacred hawk, or lay couched on his purple bed the sacred black calf, Mnevis or Urmer, each a living, almost incarnate, representative of the deity of the. temple. Thrice a day, before the deified beast, the incense was offered, and once a month the solemn sacrifice. Each, on his death, was duly embalmed and deposited in a splendid sarcophagus. One such mummy calf is still to be seen at Cairo. The sepulchres of the long succession of deified calves at Heliopolis corresponded to those of the deified bulls at Memphis.”

We are able thus to judge of the situation of Joseph in Egypt, and of the influences at home and abroad throughout the nation, over which, as executive, he was now fully installed. Idolatry, with its whisperings of reason for its origin; with its appeals from outward objects—the sun-god warming and vivifying all nature; with its gorgeous temples of most imposing architecture and splendid worship; with its priests embodying the learning of the country, and jealous of all other learning and other worship;—such were the outside influences upon Joseph. At home was the wife, brought up at On, and bound by all early associations, by her education, and by all the ties of filial affection, to the religion of her father, whose name itself, Poti-pherah, Be

1 Stanley.

longing to Rah, or the sun, seemed to make fidelity to him and her religion synonymous. Then also his patron Pharaoh, and the courtiers, and all his associates throughout the kingdom exercising public or silent influences ;-everything indeed, at home or abroad, was of a nature to draw off the young man from his allegiante to God.

Yet he seems to have been unswervingly faithful to Jehovah. He was also so far from disclaiming his origin that he gave Hebrew names to the two sons born to him during his honors, calling the first MANASSEH, "Forgetfulness," and the second EPHRAIM, Fruitfulness," "For God,” he said, “hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction."

CHAPTER XXI.

THE NILE,-LIFE? OR DEATH ? PLENTY ; then famine ; seven years of each ; such had I been the announcement to the Egyptians! The news of this interpretation of the dreams was carried quickly all over the country, and was variously received. The reverence for the monarch was universal ; and every one believed also that the dreams had some special meaning: but the interpretation had been hidden from their wise men ; and notwithstanding the king's decision, there were doubters every where respecting the judgment of this young man, a stranger, one of a different religion, and, moreover, just taken from a prison where he had been placed on a heinous charge. The community wished to doubt; for although no one could object to the prospect of seven years of plenty, that of such a subsequent famine was so appalling to every one's mind as to create almost a determination not to believe in

the possibility of such a thing. Indeed, although there were traditions of very frightful famines, one of such continuance had probably never yet been known, and seemed to be scarcely within the range of possibilities; people tried to believe it utterly impossible.

Yet such determination, and also forced conviction when this could be attained, left in the minds of even the most resolved, a restless, anxious feeling, a nervousness and a watching that showed to themselves that their protestations against belief were not solidly built. All knew, however, that one part of the prediction must soon be put to the test by the nature of the next rising of the Nile; and for this all waited now with the deepest interest. When the swelling of the stream did commence, the rise was watched by every one as it had never been watched before. Terrible in the minds of all was the thought of the famine—a famine for seven years : the possible plenty was little regarded in the comparison with such subsequent possible horrors ; in every one's anticipations those latter seven years were already, as in the dream, blasting all sense of comfort in any anticipations respecting the preceding ones.

In order that the reader may better see what a horror there could be in such expectations, he will here be presented with an account of a famine in A. D. 1199, by an eyewitness, Abdallatif, a learned physician of Bagdad, at that time a resident in Egypt.

It may be proper to say now that the valley of the Nile is six hundred miles long by an average of nine miles in width, except at the lower end, where the mountains which bound it retire on either side, and the stream, then branching into three channels, sweeps along in what is called the Delta, a vast extent of perfectly level country more permeated by moisture than that above.

It is singular that the two great mysteries of Egypt,—the language of the hieroglyphics and the sources of the Nile, should have yielded their secrets to persevering research at periods so near to each other, one in 1822, the other within a few years ; for the origin of the river, which Nero tried in vain to discover by means of his centurions, and which continued to defy scrutiny from that down even through Mehemet Ali's all-powerful rule, has been discovered by English explorers; first by Speke and Grant in 1862, and then more fully by S. W. Baker, accompanied by his wife, in 1864. The former discovered the great lake Victoria Nyanza, and Baker the adjoining, still larger lake, Albert Nyanza, both lying at the equator, and by the mountains adjoining them and confluents, giving rise to this so long mysterious stream. The river is fed by them in a full and pretty regular flow, till it is joined by the Blue Nile in about 15° and the Abara about lat. 17° N. These two latter streams are the causes of the periodical overflow. They rise in the mountains of Abyssinia, which in summer are deluged with rains; and from being,—the former an innavigable stream, and the latter scarcely more than a dry channel,—they become immediately rivers of great dimensions, pouring down the accumulations of water and earth from the interior of that country. Mr. Baker says, “At that season the White Nile [from the lakes] is at a considerable level, although not at its highest ; and the sudden rush of water descending from Abyssinia into the main channel, already at a fair level from the White Nile, causes the annual inundation in Lower Egypt.”

The rise in this lower part of the stream commences about the middle of June, and continues increasing through July. In August begins the general overflowing of Egypt, which is regulated by means of sluices made in the banks (for the banks are higher than the rest of the valley); and soon the country resembles a vast lake, with only at intervals specks like islands, at spots where the villages are built. The flood finally remains stationary for twelve days, and then begins to subside; and toward the end of October the river has returned within its banks. As soon as the waters have subsided sufficiently, the grain is scattered over the wet ground, and without further labor, if the flood has been sufficient, it soon changes the whole aspect of the country into smiling verdure, a forerunner of most ample agricultural wealth. If the rise of water is up to sixteen cubits, the inhabitants know that a sufficiency for comfort has been secured; a rise to eighteen cubits gives them supply enough for two years, even after the government duties have been paid ; if it reaches nineteen cubits, the subsidence will be too late for the proper sowing-time and a scarcity ensues. All below sixteen cubits is followed more or less by scarcity; and the suffering is greater in the same proportion as the scantiness of the flood is short of this.

The reader is probably aware that rains are almost unknown in Egypt, and that if they do come, it is in quantities scarcely sufficient to wet the ground for a few minutes. The life of all the inhabitants is involved in the simple fact of the sufficient rise of this river.

We can very well imagine then, the deep interest with which the Nilometer, a column near the ancient Memphis, graduated for showing the rise or fall of water, is watched; and the eagerness with which the official reports made from it, are received throughout the country; the nervousness at certain critical parts of the flood; and the universal joy or universal despair, according as the river decides.

In the first stages of its rise, a green scum with aquatic mosses and vegetable fibres is seen on the surface; and it is a bad sign if these are not borne quickly away by the force of the current washing out the nooks of the shores ; still worse, if the water begins to assume a green tinge, and has a bad odor, showing decomposition in its sluggish depths. In the year 1199 it became insufferable to taste and smell, and all who could do so had recourse to water

« PreviousContinue »