Egypt as Symbol of the World: Can We Escape It?

Egypt was already old by the time the sons of Jacob settled there. Indeed, their ancestor Abraham could very well have seen the great pyramids of Gizeh when he went down to Egypt (Gen. 12:10ff.), which in his time were already 500 years old. Its proud and cultured civilization lived along the narrow banks of the Nile, or in its fertile delta, for all else in Egypt is barren desert. The Nile has two tributaries, the “Blue Nile,” which runs out of Ethiopia, and the “White Nile” which flows from the Sudan. They merge at modern day Khartoum, and from there the Nile winds its way north through the vast Nubian Desert, occasionally tumbling over falls (or cataracts; there are six of them) in its descent. Because the Nile runs south to north, the Egyptians considered the river valley south of the Delta as “upper” Egypt while the delta region in the north was considered “lower” Egypt, just opposite to how we northern-oriented European types see things. Traces of Egyptian culture first sprang in the Delta region at the end of the fifth millennium B.C. Their astronomers discovered the solar calendar consisting of 365 days a year in 4241 B.C., no small feat considering the fact that the rest of the world stuck to inaccurate lunar calendars until the time of Julius Caesar. During the fourth millennium a Kingdom developed in upper Egypt, and when the two kingdoms merged at the end of the millennium, time was calculated by dynasties. The kings, or “Pharaohs” (i.e., “Great House,” the title of his government was given to the king himself) governed from Memphis located at the point where the Delta began so that they could control both Upper and Lower Egypt.

It is not in our interest to rehearse the history of the kingdoms and dynasties. What is important for us here is that we find Jacob’s descendents in Egypt during the last great age, that of the New Kingdom. This was the age of empire. The Egyptians possessed a well-organized army and were learned in war by virtue of their battles with the Hyksos, an invading group of Asiatics, among whom the Israelites prospered (mid 18th to mid 17th centuries). Now they set their sights on the African lands to the south and the lands north along the Mediterranean Sea. There were two great dynasties, the 18th and 19th. The 18th dynasty reached its height during the middle of the 15th century, and if we take I Kings 6:1 at face value, Thutmosis III (1490 1436), the 18th dynasty’s most famous ruler, may very well have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Many scholars, however, reject this 15th century date and place the Exodus in the second great dynasty of the New Kingdom, the 19th. Seti I (1305 1290) would then have been the Pharaoh of the oppression and his famous son Raamses II (1290 1224) the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

Whichever Pharaoh, we must not lose sight of the vast and ancient culture that threatened to suck the life out of Israel at her very infancy. The Israelites were simple, poor, homeless Asiatic nomads without a history, wandering about a land famed from the beginning of time for its temples and palaces with great columned halls, armies and ships rich with the spoils of war and trade. Egypt was already 18 or 19 dynasties into her history when she faced her little foe. On the dark side, it was a land steeped in magic, by which means the dead were expected to escape all manner of hardship in the life beyond. That the magicians could duplicate the powers of God to such a degree in this eerie spiritual climate was no surprise to the Hebrews. God placed Israel into the very heart of earthly power and spiritual darkness, a place that enslaves and devours. Egypt symbolizes the world, and everyone is born into it, but can we escape it? On the tombstone of Grigori Savvich Skovorada, an 18th Century ancestor of the Russian mystic and philosopher Vladimir Soloviev, the epitaph is written,

The world tried to capture me,
But it did not succeed.

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