Thursday, April 13, 2017

Gen Eds 10c: Ancient Egypt

This is the third post in the Classical Civilizations" unit of my World History series. The first two were India and China.

This is part of my "General Education in a Nutshell" series. The series consists of ten subjects you might study in a general education or "liberal arts" core at a university or college. The first topic in the overall series was philosophy. So far in the world history section:
1. For some 3000 years, Egypt was the dominant civilization around the Mediterranean Sea. From about 3400BC until Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332BC, Egypt was unsurpassed in the Mediterranean part of the world.

The first real dynasty of Egypt took place around 3100BC under king Menes, who set up his capital in the area that would later come to be known as Memphis. However, even before him there was a northern and southern kingdom. [1] The movie The Scorpion King, although completely unhistorical, no doubt took its inspiration from a king named Scorpion who in 3200 unsuccessfully tried to conquer the northern kingdom from the south.

The oldest known hieroglyphics come from the time of Menes, and it was during this time that some of the most enduring aspects of Egyptian culture were being formed. For example, the king of Egypt (the Pharaoh) was thought to be like a god and associated with the god Horus. The yearly flooding of the Nile provided natural irrigation.

2. The five hundred years of the Old Kingdom (2686-2181BC) was the time during which the pyramids were build. These were funerary monuments for the kings of the third dynasty. The first pyramid was the "step pyramid" of Djoser, built about 2630. It was the first major stone building in the world. The Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the seven wonders of the world was build by Khufu or Cheops in Greek in the 2500s. Two more pyramids were also built.

The third and fourth dynasties were the golden age. From the fifth to the sixth dynasty, the rise of a priestly class drained the resources that before belonged to the king, and the building of pyramids became a significant economic burden.

3. The "First Intermediate Period" saw the disintegration of a united kingdom for a period of about a hundred years (2181-55BC). There were several kings one after the other until Mentuhotep, a king ruling from Thebes in the south, reunited Egypt. Thus began the eleventh dynasty and the Middle Kingdom.

4. The Middle Kingdom dates from 2055-1786BC and runs from the eleventh to the twelfth dynasty. Pyramids returned. The practice of co-regents so that a successor was in place began. The last ruler of the twelfth dynasty was the first female ruler of Egypt. This is about the time of Abraham.

5. A "Second Intermediate Period" (1786-1567BC) erupted after the end of the twelfth dynasty. Around 1650, the Hyksos invaded and ruled from the northern part of Egypt (Lower Egypt). There is no real agreement on who the Hyksos were. Some think they were Semitic. Others think they were Indo-European.

If you try to align this part of Egyptian history with Genesis, then it would seem that the Pharaoh before whom Joseph appeared as a Hyksos king. Meanwhile, the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt in 1570, and the Pharaoh who knew not Joseph may have been a New Kingdom king.

6.  The New Kingdom (1567-1085BC) began when Ahmose I reunified Egypt under an 18th dynasty. At one point the Egyptian empire stretched from Nubia in the south to the Euphrates River in the east. There were a number of powerful queen rulers during this period, including Queen Hatshepsut (1503-1482BC).

One of the most intriguing episodes during this period is the rule of Akhenaton (1379-62BC), otherwise known as Amenhotep IV. (His wife Nefertiti is also well known) He disbanded the priests of Amon-Re and instituted the worship of only one God, Aton, another sun god. He built a new capital in Middle Egypt at a place called Amarna, and the Amarna letters are a collection of letters from his reign.

Tutankhamen (1361-52BC) is well known today because this child emperor's tomb was discovered intact in 1922. He was the child of Akhenaton. Not long after their deaths, their names were expunged from all records and traditional Egyptian religion was restored. The capital returned to Thebes.

7. Many locate the time of Moses with the reign of Ramses II (1304-1237BC), and you can see the letters MSES in Ramses' name. It is interesting to wonder about the interplay of Akhenaton's henotheism and the henotheism of the Israelites. [2]

Funerary Temple of Ramses III
The 19th and 20th dynasties were the Ramesside period. All the New Kingdom rulers except Akhenaton were buried in the Valley of the Kings in Thebes. The last king of the twentieth dynasty, Ramses III, had a magnificent funerary temple.

8. A "Third Intermediate Period" (1085-664BC) followed the end of Ramses III's rule. During this period, there was no strong central king, but local rulers vied for power. Shishak, who began the 22nd dynasty around 945BC, is mentioned in the Old Testament as a king who came and plundered the Jerusalem temple built by Solomon (1 Kings 14:25).

The Assyrians came through Egypt in 671 and destroyed Memphis. Egypt became part of the Persian empire in 525BC. The Greeks took it over in 332BC and it was then ruled by the Ptolemies. Finally, the Romans took over after the death of Cleopatra in 31BC.

Next Week: History 10d. Ancient Mesopotamia

[1] The southern part of Egypt was known as Upper Egypt and the northern part Lower Egypt because the Nile is the most famous river in the world that flows from south to north. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for Egypt, mizraim, is a "dual" noun, indicating two things.

[2] Henotheism is the belief that there is only one legitimate God to worship, even though other gods may also exist. Monolatry similarly refers to the worship of only one God, even though other gods may also exist.


No comments: