Nile the one great river of Egypt; constituting, in fact, that country by its alluvial banks. In treating of it we give the ancient as well as the modern accounts, and especially the Scriptural relations. SEE EGYPT.
I. Names of the Nile in Scripture. — This word, the Νεῖλος, Nilus, of the Greeks and Romans, which is supposed to be of Iranian origin, signifying "dark blue," does not occur in the authorized version of the English Bible, but the river is repeatedly referred to under different names and titles. The Hebrew names of the Nile, excepting one that is of ancient Egyptian origin, all distinguish it from other rivers. With the Hebrews the Euphrates, as the great stream of their primitive home, was always "the river," and even the long sojourn in Egypt could not put the Nile in its place. Most of their geographical terms and ideas are, however, evidently traceable to Canaan, the country of the Hebrew language. Thus the sea, as lying on the west, gave its name to the west quarter. It was only in such an exceptional case as that of the Euphrates, which had no rival in Palestine, that the Hebrews seem to have retained the ideas of their older country. These circumstances lend no-support to the idea that the Shemites and their language came originally from Egypt. With the ancient Egyptians the river was sacred, and had, besides its ordinary name, a sacred name, under which it was worshipped, HAPI, or HAPI-MU, "the abyss," or "the abyss of waters," or "the hidden." Corresponding to the two regions of Egypt, the Upper Country and the Lower, the Nile was called HAPE-RES "the Southern Nile," and HAPI- MEHIT, "the Northern Nile," the former name applying to the river in Nubia as well as in Upper Egypt. The god Nilus was one of the lesser divinities. He is represented as a stout man having woman's breasts, and is sometimes painted red to denote the river during its rise and inundation, or High Nile, and sometimes blue, to denote it during the rest of the year, or Low Nile. Two figures of HAPI are frequently represented on each side of the throne of a royal statue, or in the same place in a bass-relief, binding it with water-plants, as if the prosperity of the kingdom depended upon the produce of the river. The name HAPI, perhaps in these cases HEPI, was also applied to one of the four children of Osiris, called by Egyptologers the genii of AMENT or Hades, and to the bull Apis, the most revered of all the sacred animals. The genius does not seem to have any connection with the river, excepting indeed that Apis was sacred to Osiris. Apis was worshipped with a reference to the inundation, perhaps because the myth of Osiris, the conflict of good and evil, was supposed to be represented by the struggle of the fertilizing river or inundation with the desert and the sea, the first threatening the whole valley, and the second wasting it along the northern coast. (See § iii, below.)
It will be instructive to mention the present names of the Nile in Arabic, as they may serve to illustrate the Scripture terms. By the Arabs it is called Bahr en-Nil, "the River Nile" — the two upper streams being respectively termed Bahr el-A biad, or White Nile, and Bahr el-Azrek, or Blue Nile — the word Bahr being applied alike to seas and the largest rivers. The Egyptians call it El-Bahr, or "the river," alone; and term the annual overflow En-Nil, or "The Nile."
1. Shichor, שַׁחֹר שַׁחוֹר שַׁיחוֹר "black." The idea of darkness conveyed by this word has, as we should expect in Hebrew, a wide sense, applying not only to the color of the hair (Le 13:31,37), but also to that of a face tanned by the sun (Song 1:5-6), and that of a skin black through disease (Job 30:30). It seems, however, to be indicative of a very dark color;- for it is said in the Lamentations, as to the famished Nazarites in the besieged city, "Their visage is darker than blackness" (4:8). That the Nile is meant by Shihor is evident from its mention as equivalent to Yeor, "the river," and as a great river, where Isaiah says of Tyre, "And by great waters, the sowing of Shihor, the harvest of the river (יאֹר) [is] her revenue" (23:3); from its being put as the western boundary of the Promised Land (Jos 13:3; 1Ch 13:5), instead of "the river of Egypt" (Ge 15:18); and from its being spoken of as the great stream of Egypt, just as the Euphrates was of Assyria (Jer 2:18).
If, but this is by no means certain, the name Nile, Νεῖλος, be really indicative of the color of the river, it must be compared with the Sanskrit Nilah. "blue" especially, probably "dark blue," also even "black," and must be considered to be the Indo-European equivalent of Shihor. The signification "blue" is noteworthy, especially as a great confluent, which most nearly corresponds to the Nile in Egypt, is called the Blue River, or, by Europeans, the Blue Nile. SEE SHIHOR. 2. Yeor, יאוֹר, יאֹר, is the same as the ancient Egyptian ATUR, AUR, and the Coptic Eiero or laro. It is important to notice that the second form of the ancient Egyptian name alone is preserved in the later language, the second radical of the first having been lost, as in the Hebrew form; so that. on this double evidence, it is probable that this commoner form was in use among the people from early times. Year, in the singular, is used of the Nile alone, excepting in a passage in Da 12:5-7, where another river, perhaps the Tigris (comp. 10:4), is intended by it. In the plural, יאֹרַים, this name is applied to the branches and canals of the Nile (Ps 78:44; Eze 29:3sq.; 30:12), and perhaps the tributaries also, with, in some places, the addition of the names of the country, Mitsraim, Matsor, יאֹרֵי מַצרִיַח (Isa 7:18, A. V. "rivers of Egypt"), יאוֹרֵי מָצוֹר (19:6, "brooks of defense;" 37:25, "rivers of the besieged places"); but it is also used of streams or channels, in a general senswhen no particular ones are indicated (see Isa 33:21; Job 28:10). It is thus evident that this name specially designates the Nile; and although properly meaning a river, and even used with that signification, it is probably to be regarded as a proper name when applied to the Egyptian river. The latter inference may perhaps be drawn from the constant mention of the Euphrates as "the river;" but it is to be observed that Shihor, or "the river of Egypt," is used when the Nile and the Euphrates are spoken of together, as if Yeor could not be well employed for the former, with the ordinary term for river, nahdr, for the latter. SEE STREAM.
3. "The river of Egypt," נהִר מַצרִיַם, is mentioned with:the Euphrates in the promise of the extent of the land to be given to Abraham's posterity, the two limits of which were to be "the river of Egypt" and "the great river, the river Euphrates" (Ge 15:18). SEE EGYPT, RIVER OF.
4. "The Nachal of Egypt, נִחִל מַצרִיַם. has generally been understood to mean "the torrent" or "brook of Egypt," and to designate a desert stream at Rhinocorura, now El-'Arish, on the eastern border. Certainly נִחִל usually signifies a stream or torrent, not a river; .and when a river, one of small size, and dependent upon mountain-rain or snow; but as it is also used for a valley, corresponding to the Arabic wddy, which is in like manner employed in both senses, it may apply like it, in the case of the Guadalquivir, etc., to great rivers. This name has been held by some to signify the Nile, for it occurs in cases parallel with those where Shihor is employed (Nu 34:5; Jos 15:4,47; 1Ki 8:65; 2Ki 24:7; Isa 27:12), both designating the easternmost or Pelusiac branch of .the river as the border of the Philistine territory, where the Egyptians likewise put the border of their country towards Kanaan or Kanana (Canaan). It remains for us to decide whether the name signify the "brook of Egypt," or whether Nachal be a Hebrew form of Nile. On the one side, may be urged the improbability that the middle radical should not be found in the Indo-European equivalents, although it is not one of the most permanent letters; in the other, that it is improbable that nahar, "river," and nachal, "brook," would be used for the same stream. If the latter be here a proper name, Νεῖγος must be supposed to be the same word; and the meaning of the Greek as well as the Hebrew name would remain doubtful, for we could not then positively decide on an Indo- European signification. The Hebrew word nachal might have been adopted as very similar in sound to an original proper: name; and this idea is supported by the forms of various Egyptian words in the Bible, which are susceptible of Hebrew etymologies in consequence of a slight change. It must, however, be remembered that there are traces of a Shemitic language, apparently distinct from Hebrew, in geographical names in the east of Lower Egypt, probably dating from the Shepherd period; and therefore we must not, if we take nachal to be here Shemitic, restrict its meaning to that which it bears or could bear in Hebrew. SEE BROOK; SEE RIVER. 5. "The rivers of Cush," נִחֲרי כוּשׁ, are only mentioned in the extremely difficult prophecy contained in Isaiah 18. From the use of the plural, a single stream cannot be meant, and we must suppose "the rivers of Ethiopia" to be the confluents or tributaries of the Nile. Gesenius, (Lex. s.v. נהי makes them the Nile and the Astaboras. Without attempting to explain this prophecy, it is interesting to remark that the expression, "Whose land the rivershave spoiled" (ver. 2, 7), if it apply to any Ethiopian nation, may refer to the ruin of great part of Ethiopia, for a long distance above the First Cataract in consequence of the fall of the level of the river. This change has been effected through the breaking down of a barrier at that cataract, or at Silsilis, by which the valley has been placed above the reach of the fertilizing annual deposit. But the verb בּ זאוּ should rather be rendered "have cut up," and refers to the intersection of the alluvial country by the channels of the river. SEE CUSH.
6. The Nile is sometimes poetically called a sea, יָם (Isa 18:2; Na 3:8; Job 41:31; but we cannot agree with Gesenius, Thesaur. s.v., that it is intended in Isa 19:5): this, however, can scarcely be considered to be one of its names. SEE SEA.
7. By some the Gihon, גַּיחוֹן, one of the rivers of Eden, is thought to have been the Nile; but the boundaries of that locality were far away from Egypt. SEE GIHON.
II. Course, General Description, and Characteristics of the Nile. —
1. This great river, or rather its principal branch the White Nile (for its upper streams consist of several branches), according to one of the latest discoveries, has its origin in the northern end of the lake Victoria Nyanza, a point which is about 150 miles south of the equator. The southern end of the lake is situated close on the 3° south latitude, which gives to the Nile a length, in direct measurement, of above 2300 miles, or more than one eleventh of the circumference. of our globe. The lake is known to have only one feeder of importance on its eastern side, viz. the Kidette River, and none on the western. It is about 3° east of the Mountains of the Moon, and' the issue of the Nile from Victoria Nyanza presents the appearance of a small cascade, which was named by the late captain Speke '"Ripon Falls," — after the nobleman who presided over the Royal Geographical Society when his expedition was planned. According to Sir Thomas Baker, however, who visited that region in 1864, the real source of the White Nile is another lake called the Albert Nyanza, about 100 miles north-west of the Victoria Nyanza. Mr. Stanley, the exploring correspondent of the N. Y. Herald, claims to have determined that the true source of the Nile is the Chambesi, while according to others it is lake Tanganyika, still farther south. It thus appears that the ancient problem as to the origin of the Nile is not yet fully determined. The Hindûs call the source of the Nile Amara, the name of a district north-east of the Nyanza, which leads us to suppose that the ancient Hindûs must have had some communication with both its northern and southern ends (Speke's Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile, p. 466, 467, etc.). Great, however, as is the body of water of this the longer of the two chief confluents, it is the shorter, the Bahr el-Azrek, or Blue River, the Astapus of the ancients, which brings down the alluvial soil that makes the Nile the great fertilizer of Egypt and Nubia. The Bahr el-Azrek rises in the mountains of Abyssinia. and carries down from them a great quantity of decayed vegetable matter and alluvium. The two streams form a junction at Khartum, now the seat of government of Sudan or the Black Country under Egyptian rule. The Banrel-Azrek is here a narrow river, with high, steep mud banks like those of the Nile in Egypt, and with water of the same color; and the Bahr elAbiad is broad and shallow, with low banks and clear water. Farther to the north another great river, the Atbara, rising, like the Bahr el-Azrek, in Abyssinia, falls into the main stream, which for the remainder of its: course does not receive any other tributary. Throughout the rest of the valley the Nile does not greatly vary, excepting that in Lower Nubia, through the fall of its level by the giving way of a barrier in ancient times, it does not inundate. the valley on either hand. From time to time its course is impeded by cataracts or rapids, sometimes extending many miles, until at the First Cataract, the boundary of Egypt, it surmounts the last obstacle. Below Syene it continues its course for 500 miles, until a little below Cairo the river divides itself into two branches, one flowing to Rosetta, the other to Damietta, containing between them the present Delta, at the apex of which was "the land of Goshen," where Jacob and his family had their settlement. Above the Delta its average breadth may be put at from half a mile to three quarters, excepting where large islands .increase the distance. In the Delta the branches are .usually narrower. Ancient authors speak of five, seven, and occasionally of innumerable mouths of the Nile; but the '"septem ostia Nili," mentioned by Virgil (AEneid, 6:800) and other Roman writers, seven centuries after Isaiah (11:15) had prophesied respecting "the seven streams of the river," show that it was commonly recognized as having seven mouths at its exit to the Mediterranean Sea. The names of these are as follows:
(1) The Canopic; (2) Bolbitine, at Rosetta; (3) Sebenitic; (4) Mendesiah; (5) Saitic; (6) Phanitic, at Damietta; (7) the Pelusiac, which is the most eastern mouth of the seven.
As regards the geological formation of the river's bed, for several hundred miles, from the inner boundaries of the Delta to within a short distance of the First Cataract, the silt and sand rest on what is known as the "marine" or nummulitic limestone. Over this there is a later formation of the tertiary, which contains marine deposits and forests of dicotyledonous. trees. Underneath, the limestone rests on a sandstone of permian or triassic age; the sandstone rests, in turn, on the famous breccia de verde of Egypt; and the breccia on a group of azoic rocks, consisting' of gneisses, quartzes, mica-schists, and clay-slates, which surround the red granite of Syene '(Hugh Miller's. — Test. of the Rocks, p. 412, 413). The bed of the Nile is cut through these layers of rock, which in some places confine it on both sides, and even obstruct its course, causing the formation of rapids and cataracts. For scarcely have the waters of the White Nile, which come from the very heart of Africa to the westward, become confluent with those of the Blue Nile, which flows down from the mountains of Abyssinia to the eastward, when their united torrent is opposed by the sands and rocks of the great Sahara desert, and from that point the Nile flows along a devious course of 2300 miles until it reaches the Mediterranean Sea, without receiving a single tributary. Thus it diffuses fertility and life over vast districts, always expanding its waters, and never receiving any accession to them from the heaven above or the earth beneath; so that when it reaches Cairo the bulk and volume of its tide is scarcely one half of that which foams amid the rocks and cataracts of Syene (Osburn's Mon. Hist. of Egypt, 1:3).
In Upper Egypt the Nile is a very broad stream, flowing rapidly between high, steep mud banks, that are scarped by the constant rush of the water, which from time to time washes portions away, and stratified by the regular deposit. On either side rise the bare yellow mountains, usually a few hundred feet high, rarely a thousand, looking from the river like cliffs, and often honeycombed with the entrances of the tombs which make Egypt one great city of the dead, so that we can understand the meaning of that murmur of the Israelites to Moses, "Because [there were] no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?" (Ex 14:11). Frequently the mountain on either side ῥapproaches the river in a rounded promontory, against whose base the restless stream washes, and then retreats and leaves a broad bay-like valley, bounded by a rocky curve. Rarely both mountains confine the river in a narrow bed, rising steeply on either side from a deep rock-cut channel through which the water pours with a rapid current. Perhaps there is a remote allusion to the rocky channels of the Nile, and especially to its primeval bed wholly of bare rock, in that passage of Job where the plural of Yeor is used. "He cutteth out rivers (יאֹרַים) among the rocks, and his eye seeth every precious thing. He bindeth the floods from overflowing" (Ex 28:10-11). It must be recollected that there are allusions to Egypt, and especially to its animals and products, in this book, so that the Nile may well be here referred to, if the passage do not distinctly mention it. In Lower Egypt the chief differences are that the view is spread out in one rich plain, only bounded on the east and west by the desert, of which the edge is low and sandy, unlike the mountains above, though essentially the same, and that the two branches of the river are narrower than the undivided stream. On either bank, during Low Nile, extend fields of corn and barley, and near the river- side stretch long groves of palm-trees. The villages rise from the level plain, standing upon mounds, often ancient sites; and surrounded by palm- groves, and yet higher dark-brown mounds mark where of old stood towns, with which often "their memorial is perished" (Ps 9:6). The villages are connected by dikes, along which pass the chief roads. During the inundation the whole valley and plain are covered with sheets of water, above which rise the villages like islands, only to be reached along the half- ruined dikes. The aspect of the country is as if it were overflowed by a destructive flood, while between its banks, here and there broken through and constantly giving way, rushes a vast turbid stream, against which no boat could make its way, excepting by tacking, were it not for the north wind that blows ceaselessly during the season of the inundation, making the river seem more powerful as it beats it into waves. The prophets more than once allude to this striking condition of the Nile. Jeremiah says of Pharaoh-Necho's army, "Who [is] this [that?] cometh up as the Nile [Yeor], whose waters are moved as the rivers? Egypt riseth up like the Nile, and [his] waters are moved like the rivers; and he saith, I will go up, [and] will cover the land; I will destroy the city and the inhabitants thereof" (Exodus 46:7, 8). Again, the prophecy "against the Philistines, before that Pharaoh smote Gaza," commences, "Thus saith the Lord; Behold, waters rise up out of the north, and shall be as an overflowing stream (nachal), and shall overflow the land, and all that is therein; the city, and them that dwell therein" (Exodus 47:1, 2). Amos, also, a prophet who especially refers to Egypt, uses the inundation of the Nile as a type of the utter desolation of his country. "The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works. Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? and it shall rise up wholly as the Nile (כָּאֹר); and it shall be cast out and drowned, as [by] the Nile (כַּיאוֹר מַצרִיַם) of Egypt" (Ex 8:7-8; see 9:5). Of old the great river must have shown a more fair and busy scene than now. Boats of many kinds were ever passing along it, by the painted walls of temples, and the gardens, that extended around the light summer pavilions, from the pleasure-galley, with one great square sail, white or with variegated pattern, and many oars, to the little papyrus skiff, dancing on the water, and carrying the seekers of pleasure where they could shoot with arrows, or knock down with the throw-stick the wild-fowl that abounded among' the reeds, or engage in the dangerous chase of the hippopotamus or the crocodile. In the Bible the papyrus-boats are mentioned; and they are shown to have been used for their swiftness to carry tidings to Ethiopia (Isa 18:2).
2. The most remarkable and distinctive peculiarity of the Nile is its annual overflow, which is the great: source of Egypt's fertility, and the failure of which necessarily causes famine: for Egypt may be truly termed "a land without rain," as was noted by Zechariah (Zec 14:17-18), though occasional showers are known to fall in Lower Egypt.' The country is therefore devoid of the constant changes which make the husbandmen of other lands look always for the providential care of God. "For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, [is] not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst [it] with thy foot, as a garden of herbs: but the land, whither e go to possess it, [in] a land of hills and valleys; [and] drinketh water of the rain of heaven; a land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God [are] always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year" (De 11:10-12). The cause of the inundation was the occasion of great perplexity to the ancients; but it is now ascertained beyond all dispute to be the periodical rain of the tropics, the same cause which produces the inundations of the Indus and the Ganges. According to Herodotus (2:19), the Nile begins to increase about the summer solstice, and continues to rise for a hundred days, and then decreases for the same time; and continues low all the winter until the return of the summer solstice. This is confirmed by the reports of modern travelers. According to Pococke, the Nile began to rise at Cairo, A.D. 1714, June 30; A.D. 1715, July 1; A.D. 1738, June 20. "So precisely is the stupendous operation of its inundation 'calculated," says Bruce, "'that on the 25th of September, only three days after the autumnal equinox, the Nile is generally found at Cairo to be at its highest, and begins to diminish every day after." At the Cataracts, however, the first rise is perceived somewhat earlier, about the end of May or the beginning of June, which led Seneca to say that "the first increase of the Nile was observable about the islands of Philae." In proportion as we get farther south, we find the inundation commences earlier, so that at Khartum, according to some, it is said to begin "early in April." In the beginning of the inundation the waters of the Nile acquire a green, slimy appearance, occasioned by the vast lakes of stagnant water left by the annual overflow on the broad sand-flats of Nubia. These, having stagnated in the tropical sun for more than six months, are carried forward by the new inundation, and once more forced into the river. The continuance of this state seldom exceeds three or four days. The sufferings of those who are. compelled to drink the water in this stage are very severe. Ten or twelve days elapse before the development of the last and most extraordinary change in the waters of the Nile, when it assumes the perfect appearance of a river of blood, which the Arabs call the Red Nile. It is not, however, like the green mixture, at all deleterious, as the Nile water is never more wholesome or refreshing than during this period of the inundation. "Perhaps," says a modern traveler, from whom we have already quoted, "there is not in nature a more exhilarating sight, or one more strongly exciting to confidence in God, than the rise of the Nile. Da. by day and night by night its turbid tide sweeps onward majestically over the parched sands of the waste, howling wilderness. There are few: impressions I ever received, upon the remembrance of which I dwell with more pleasure, than that of seeing the first burst of the Nile into one of the great channels of its annual overflow. All nature shouts for joy. The men, the children, the buffaloes, gambol in its refreshing waters, the broad waves sparkle with shoals of fish, and fowl of every wing flutter over them in clouds. Nor is this jubilee of nature confined to the higher orders of creation. The moment the sand becomes moistened by the approach of the fertilizing waters, it is literally alive with insects innumerable. It is impossible to stand by the side of one of these noble streams, to see it every moment sweeping away some obstruction to its majestic course, and widening as it flows, without feeling the heart expand with love, joy. and confidence in the great Author of this miracle of mercy."
As all the wealth of the country may be said to depend on the inundation of the river, which Herodotus has condensed in this terse definition, "Egypt is the gift of the Nile," it is of the utmost importance to the inhabitants to register the periodical rise and fall of the overflow. This has been done for ages by means of an instrument termed a "Nilometer," or "Niloscope." Several Arabian authors mention that this was originally set up by Joseph during his regency in Egypt. The measure of this instrument was sixteen cubits, that being the height of the increase of the Nile necessary to the fruitfulness of the country. Herodotus mentions a column in a point of the Delta, which served in his time as a nilometer, and there is still one of the same kind in a mosque at the same place. In the Bibliotheque Imperiale at Paris there is an Arabic treatise on nilometers, entitled Neil fi alnal al Nil, in which all the inundations of the Nile are described, from the first year of the Hegira to the 875th (A.D. 620-1495). "On the point of the island of Rhoda," observes Mr. Bruce, "between Ghizeh and Cairo, near the middle of the river, is a round tower enclosing a neat well or cistern lined with marble. The bottom of this well is on the same level with the bottom of the Nile, which has free access to it through a large opening like an embrasure. In the middle of the well rises a thin column of eight faces of blue and white marble, of which the foot is on the same plane with the bottom of the river. This pillar is divided into twenty peeks of twenty-two inches each. Of these peeks the two lowermost are left without any division, to stand for the quantity of sludge which the water deposits there. Two peeks are then divided, on the right hand, into twenty-four digits each; then on the left, four peeks are divided into twenty-four digits; then on the right four, and on the left another four; again four on the right, which completes the number of eighteen peeks from the first division marked on the pillar, each peek being twenty-two inches. Thus the whole, marked and unmarked, amounts to something: more than thirty-six feet English." As soon as the inhabitants at Cairo perceive the mixture of the rain-water from the tropics with the Nile at that city, they begin to announce the rise of the river, having then five peeks of water marked on the nilometer. When the whole eighteen peeks are filled, all the land of Egypt is fit for cultivation. Several canals are then opened, which convey the water to the desert, and hinder any further stagnation in the fields. Prof. Lepsius has discovered some inscriptions in a temple at Semne, near the Second Cataract, which record the mode by which the ancient Egyptians were accustomed to register the annual overflow. Writing to Ehrenberg and Bockh of Berlin from Philse, he observes: "The highest rise of the Nile in each year at Semne was registered by a mark, indicating the year of the king's reign, cut in the granite, either on one of the blocks forming the foundation of the temple, or on the cliff, and particularly on the east or right bank, as best adapted for the purpose. Of these markings eighteen still remain,. thirteen of them having been made in the reign of Moeris [a Pharaoh of the twelfth dynasty, according to Lepsius, who lived between the times of Abraham and Joseph], and five in the time of his next two successors. . .The record is almost always in the same terms, short and simple: Ra en Hapi em rempe, signifying mouth or gate of the Nile in the year'. . . And then follows the year of the reign, and the name of the king. It is written in a horizontal row of hieroglyphics, included within two lines, the upper line indicating the particular height of the water, as is often specially stated. The earliest date preserved is that of the sixth year of the king's reign, and he reigned forty- two years and some months. The next following dates are the years 9; 14, 15, 20, 22, 23, 24, 30, 32, 37, 40, 41, and 43. Of the remaining dates, that only of his two successors is available; all the others which are on the left bank of the river have been moved from their original place by the-rapid floods which have overthrown and carried forward vast masses of rock. The mean rise of the river recorded by the marks on the east bank during the reign of Mteris is sixty-two feet six inches (English) above the lowest level of the water in the present day, which, according to the statements of the most experienced boatmen, does not change from year to year, and therefore represents the actual level of the Nile, independently of its increase by the falls of rain in the mountains in which its sources are situated. The mean rise above the lowest level at the present time is thirty- eight feet eight inches; and therefore in the time of Moeris (nearly 2000 years B.C.) the mean height of the river at the cataract of Semne, during the inundation of the Nile, was twenty-three feet ten inches above the mean level in the present day" (Verhandlungen der Konigl. Preuss. Akad. der Wissenschaften, 1844). The inundations of the Nile are very various, and when deficient or excessive by even a few feet cause great damage and distress. The rise of the river during a good inundation is about forty feet at the First Cataract, about thirty-six at Thebes, gradually decreasing until at the several mouths it does not reach above four feet. If the river at Cairo attain to no greater height than eighteen or twenty feet, the rise is scanty; if only to two or four more, insufficient; if to twenty-four feet or more, up to twenty-seven, good; if to a greater height, it causes a flood. Sometimes the inundation has failed altogether, as was, doubtless the case in the seven years' famine during the viceroyalty of Joseph. A hieroglyphic record of a famine in Egypt prior to the descent of the Israelites has been discovered on a tomb at Thebes, and deciphered by Dr. Birch of the British Museum. The person entombed states that he was governor of a district in Upper Egypt, and is represented as saying, "When in the time of Sesertesen I the great famine prevailed in all the other districts of Egypt, there was corn in mine." Bunsen supposes that this is a record of the "seven years' famine;" but, independent of the reign of Sesertesen I not agreeing with the time of Joseph's viceroyalty according to Biblical chronology, the fact of there being corn in Upper Egypt during "the great famine" sufficiently disproves its identity with that memorable "dearth" recorded in Scripture, which:was in all lands, and over all the face of the earth, while in all the land of Egypt there was bread." There is mention in the Chinese annals of a famine which "lasted seven years," during the reign of the emperor Ching-tang, who was on the throne at the time of the descent of the Israelites to Egypt, and which very probably refers to the "seven years"' famine mentioned in Scripture (History of China, by Martinus, Couplet, and Du Halde). There is a record also of a "seven years'" famine in Egypt during Saracenic times, in the reign of the Khalifeh El-Mustansir billah, when the rise of the Nile was not sufficient to produce the crops of the country. It was probably to the inundations of the river that the Egyptian priest referred in his conversation with Solon when he told him that "there had been many inundations before" the one special deluge of which Solon had made mention (Plato, Timenus, ch. v).
As the river Nile, especially during the inundation, is always impregnated with alluvium, which it deposits on the soil at the rate of nearly five inches in a century. an attempt has been made by some of the skeptical school to show that man has been a denizen of this earth for many thousand years prior to the time which Scripture allows. Some excavations having been made at the suggestion of Mr. Leonard Horner — who does not appear to have assisted in person, or even to have been in the country — at the foot of the colossal statue of Rameses II in the area of Memphis, he concluded, from the rate at which such deposits are annually formed, that some specimens of pottery brought up from a depth of thirty-nine feet proved the existence of men upon earth long anterior to the time of Adam, observing, "If there be no fallacy in ray reckoning, this fragment of pottery, found at a depth of thirty-nine feet, must be held to be a record of the existence of man 13,371 years before A.D. 1854, In the boring at Bessousse fragments of burned brick and pottery were brought up from a depth of fifty-nine feet." The late baron Bunsen considered that this discovery "established the fact of Egypt having been inhabited by men who made use of pottery about 11,000 years before the Christian aera" (Egypt's Place in Univ. Bist.vol. ii, p. xii). The most distinguished writers have, however, decided against this conclusion. Sir Gardner Wilkinson observes that "as there is no possibility of ascertaining how far the statue stood above the reach of the inundation when first put up, we have no base for any calculation." Champollion, the father of Egyptology, wrote, "I have demonstrated that no Egyptian monument is really older than the year 2200 before our sera." Sir Charles Lyell, in his recent work on The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man, tells us that if such borings were made where an arm of the river had been silted up, the fragments of pottery and brick might be very modern; and he considers that "in every case where we find monuments buried to a certain depth in mud, as at Memphis and Heliopolis, it represents the eera when' the city fell into such decay that the ancient embankments were neglected, and the river allowed to inundate the site of the temple, obelisk, or statue." "An old indigo planter" relates his experience in a letter to the Athenceum (No. 1509) respecting the deposit of pottery in the bed of the Ganges: "Having lived many years on its banks, I have seen the stream encroach on a village, undermining the bank where it stood, and deposit, as a natural result, bricks, pottery, etc., in the bottom of the stream. On one occasion I am certain that the depth of the stream where the bank was breaking was above forty feet; yet in three years the current of the river drifted so much that a fresh deposit of soil took place over the debris of the village, and the earth was raised to a level with the old bank." What took place on the Ganges might have equally occurred on the Nile. The fact also that the Grecian honeysuckle was unexpectedly discovered on some of these supposed pre-Adamite fragments together with the supposition that burned brick is a certain indication of Roman times, completely sets aside the arguments which infidelity would fain draw from any discovery supposed to be hostile to the supremacy of God's Word.
With reference to the qualities of the water from the Nile, all antiquity acknowledges its excellence; and the Egyptians drink it without ever being injured by the quantity, except during the brief season at the commencement of the overflow to which we have already referred. Plutarch is unable to explain why it should be the most pleasant and nutritive water in the world, though he confesses that it was so; and he tells us that the priests refrained from giving it to the sacred bull Apis on account of its fattening properties. It has also been held that the Nile gave fecundity, not only to the soil which was watered by it, but to all living things which partook of it; whence it happened, as some suppose, that the Egyptian women very frequently bore twins and' even more. Aristotle (Hist. Anim. 7:4) says, "they give birth to three or four children at a time, nor is this of rare occurrence." And Pliny (Nat. Hist. 7:3) observes, "that' three born at a birth is undoubted; though to bear above that number is considered as an extraordinary phenomenon except in Egypt." The peculiar sweetness of the water is due to the purifying influence of the mud with which it is at all times charged; but which readily settles or is removed by filtration. So valuable are the properties of the Nile water esteemed by the inhabitants that they frequently preserve it in sealed vases, and drink it when it is old with the same pleasure that we do old wine. There is an anecdote of Pescennius Niger, who, when his soldiers in Egypt complained of wanting wine, exclaimed, "What! do you long for wine, when you have the water of the Nile to drink?" It is recorded of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, B.C. 285-247, when he married his daughter Berenice to Antiochus, king of Syria, that he used to send her water from the Nile, which alone she was able to drink.
III. Divine Honors paid to the Nile. — Considering the immense importance of the Nile in every point of view, it was not unnatural for the ancient Egyptians to regard the river in very much the same light as that in which the Ganges is viewed by the Hindûs. Heliodorus (Ethiop. lib. ix) tells us that the Egyptians paid divine honors to the river, and revered it as the first of their gods; for he adds, "They declared him to be the rival of heaven, since he watered the earth without the aid of clouds or rain." The god of the Nile, according to Osburn, was an impersonation of Nu or Noah. His name was written in the hieroglyphics hp-mu. and on the most ancient monuments hp-ro-mu, signifying "the waters whose source is hidden." This name often occurs in monuments of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, where he is represented as a fat man of different colors, with a cluster of water-plants on his head, and holding in his hands stalks and flowers, or water jars, indicative of the inundation. In a representation at Phile he is termed "the father of the fathers of the gods." He was often represented with the Nile issuing from his mouth. On the tomb of Pharaoh Rameses III there is a device in which the river in its three different stages is represented. Three figures, one of larger size than the other two, are painted in colors-blue, green, and red-with the river flowing from the mouth of the chief one into the mouths of the others, and thence on to the ground, showing that this god underwent three different impersonations at the three states of the Nile, which were colored accordingly, so that the deity was worshipped in a different image at each change of the river. The principal festival of the Nile was at the summer solstice, when the inundation was considered to have commenced; at which season, in the dog days, by a cruel and idolatrous custom, the Egyptians sacrificed red-haired persons, principally foreigners, to Typhon, the peculiar god of the dog-star, who was worshipped chiefly at Heroopolis, Busiris, etc., by burning them alive, and scattering their ashes in the air for the good of the people (Plutarch, His et Osir. 1:383). Hence Bryant sagely conjectures that these victims may have been chosen from among the Israelites during their sojourn in Egypt! SEE NILUS.
IV. Scriptural Prophecies respecting the Nile. — In addition to the numerous incidental allusions noticed above, various incidents in the history of Israel of an ominous character are mentioned in Scripture as having happened in connection with the Nile. The seven well-favored and ill-favored kine of which Pharaoh dreamed, in the dream which Joseph interpreted, are said to have come up out of the river (Ge 41:1-3).
Pharaoh's dream is a most lively figure, representing things exactly conformable to the state of the country, enriched as it was by the inundation of the Nile; and without this the beasts would have had no grass to feed them, much less to fatten them. The banks of the river are enlivened by the women who come down to draw water, and, like Pharaoh's daughter, to bathe, and by the herds of kine and buffaloes which are driven down to drink and wash, or to graze on the grass of the swamps. It was into this river that the male children of the Israelites were cast by command of the cruel king who had recently ascended the throne, and who "knew not Joseph" (Ex 1:22). The mother of Mosesthid her child in an ark of bulrushes, which she laid in the flags by the river's brink, beside which Pharaoh's daughter came to bathe, when her maidens are represented as walking along the bank, and thus the child was preserved. Two of the plagues which God inflicted upon the Egyptians were intimately connected with the waters of the Nile which they esteemed so precious (Ex 7:17-18; Ex 8:1-3). Nearly a thousand years later in Israel's history Isaiah was inspired to foretell judgments upon Egypt and the Nile: "The Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord,... and the river shall b. wasted and dried up, . the paper reeds by the brooks shall wither and be no more. The fishers also shall mourn, and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish" (Isa 19:4-8). Though history shows how truly the prophecy respecting the Egyptians being given over into the hands of cruel lords (the word is in the plural number, lords, though the adjective rendered crutel is singular) was accomplished in the twelve petty tyrants who ruled in Egypt, according to Herodotus, about a century after the time of Isaiah, the expression may also be understood to denote the decay of Egypt's strength by metaphors taken from the decrease of the river Nile, upon the overflowing of which the plenty and prosperity of the country depended. Thus the king of Egypt is described (Eze 29:3) as "a dragon lying in the midst of many waters," and boasting of his strength, as his predecessor did in the days of Moses, "My river is my own," etc.; which was fulfilled in the person of Pharaoh-hophra (mentioned in Jer 46:28), or Apries (as he was called by the Greeks), who profanely boasted, as Herodotus (2:169) tells us, that "there was no God who could cast him down from his eminence." In the Thebaid crocodiles are found, and during Low Nile they may be seen basking in the sun upon the sand-banks. "The paper reeds" are said in the prophecy to grow by the "mouth of the brooks," i.e. by the side of the brooks; expressed elsewhere (Ge 41:3; Ex 2:3) by "the brink of the river," when referring to the Nile. Paper was an invention of the Egyptians, and was first made of a reed that, grew upon the banks of the Nile, as Ovid (Metamorph. i) describes it
"—Papyriferi septemflua flsmina Nili."
The monuments of the early dynasties represent the Nile as a stream bordered by flags and papyrus-reeds, the covert of innumerable wild fowl, and bearing on its waters the flowers of the various-colored lotus. At the present time there are scarcely any reeds or water-plants to be seen in Egypt-the papyrus having become extinct, and the lotus being now unknown-as the prophet distinctly foretold they should be "no more." When it is recollected that the water-plants of Egypt in Isaiah's time and much later were so abundant as to be a great source of revenue to the country, the exact fulfillment of his predictions is a valuable evidence of the truth in reference to "the sure word of prophecy." We have seen likewise how Isaiah foretold the failure of the fisheries; and although this was doubtless a natural result of the wasting of the river, its cause could not have been anticipated by human wisdom. "The Nile," says Diodorus Sicullus (lib. i), "abounds with incredible numbers of all sorts of fish," which once formed a main source of "revenue" (Isa 23:3), as well as sustenance to the inhabitants of the country. The Israelites in the desert looked back with regret to the fish they had left behind them. "We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely, but now our soul is dried away, and there is nothing at all beside this mamna before our eyes" (Nu 11:4-5). The fisheries of Egypt have long ceased to be of the productive nature they once were, in accordance with the prophetic announcement that "the fishers should mourn and all the anglers should lament" for their lost trade.
There is one more prophecy in Isaiah respecting the Nile, the fulfillment of which is still in the future: "When Jehovah shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people which shall be left from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from the islands of the sea, he will utterly destroy the tongue (or bay, Jos 15:2,5) of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dryshod" (Isa 11:11-15). Notwithstanding that R. Kimchi and others have understood this of the Euphrates, it is clear from the context, as well as from a comparison of the parallel passages (Isa 19:5; Isa 23:3), that none other than the river Nile can be intended. As by "the tongue of the Egyptian sea" must be meant the bay of the Mediterranean Sea into which the Nile, and not the Euphrates, empties itself, so a prophecy specifying a river with "seven streams" must necessarily point to that famous river, which in ancient and modern times alike has been recognized as the "sevenmouthed Nile." Now, as for a long period past, there are no navigable and unobstructed branches but the two that Herodotus distinguishes as in origin works of man. This change was prophesied by Isaiah: "And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up" (Isa 19:5).
The prophets not only tell us of the future of the Nile; they speak of it as it was in their days. Ezekiel likens Pharaoh to a crocodile, fearing no one in the midst of his river, yet dragged forth with the fish of his rivers, and left to perish in the wilderness (Eze 29:1-5; comp. 32:1-6). Nahum thus speaks of the Nile, when he warns Nineveh by the ruin of Thebes: "Art thou better than No-Amon, that was situate among the rivers, [that had] the waters round about it, whose rampart [was] the sea, [and] her wall [was] from the sea?" (Na 3:8). Here the river is spoken of as the rampart, and perhaps as the support of the capital, and the situation, most remarkable in Egypt, of the city on the two, banks is indicated. SEE NO- AMMON. But still more striking than this description is the use. which we have already noticed of the inundation, as a figure of the Egyptian armies, and also of the coming of utter destruction probably by an invading force.
In the New Testament there is no mention of the Nile. Tradition says that when our Lord was brought into Egypt his mother came to Heliopolis. See Ox. If so, he may have dwelt in his childhood by the side of the ancient river which witnessed so many events of sacred history, perhaps the coming of Abraham, certainly the rule of Joseph, and the long oppression and deliverance of Israel their posterity.
See in addition to the works named above, Oedmann, Saml. 1:113 sq.; Lenz, De Nilo (in the Comment. philol. ed. Ruperti et Schlichthorst, Brem. 1794); Hartmann, Geogr. van Africa, 1:75 sq.; Ukert, Geogr.von Africa, 1:97 sq.; Le Pere, id. xviii, i, p. 555 sq.; Beke, Sources of the Nile (Lond. 1860); Werne, Source of the White Nile (ibid. 1849); Baker, Basin of the Nile (ibid. 1866); McCulloch, Gazetteer, s.v.; Smith's Dict. of Class. Geog. s.v.; Appleton's New Amer. Cyclopaedia, and the recent works there cited.