The Importance of Egyptian History
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D, 1981
Transcribed and edited by David Sielaff, July 2003
Read the accompanying Newsletter for July 2003
One of the most significant Gentile nations on earth, as far as the Bible is concerned, was and is Egypt. It was once a powerful and influential government. Anyone traveling to Egypt and viewing its ruins, today, will find out that fewer than 10% of the ruins still remain. When you look at these ruins you find that they were amazing feats of energy and expertise going into building the ancient monuments and temples of ancient Egypt. One is awestruck by the grandeur that once graced that country.
We went with 51 other people to the Middle East and what a profitable trip it was in helping us to comprehend the past history of the countries we visited. Even to realize what is prophesied to occur in the next few years ahead of us is very important to every one of us.
We spent some time there in Upper Egypt, that is in the southern part, and also in northern Egypt in the delta region. We were able to see many things that some of us have wanted to look at for a long time. None of us was disappointed. It was a trip that was absolutely beautiful and very informative.
Egypt had a prominent part to play in the history of the Old Testament and its prophecies. It soon again will have that same type of role to play according to the Bible, if we look at the scriptures very carefully. In fact, the Bible says that coming in the future, in Isaiah 19 verse 23, speaking about a time when Christ Jesus is back here on this earth, the time when the Kingdom of God will be fulfilled here.
"In that day there shall be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptian shall serve with the Assyrians."
The Assyrians were up north of Israel in Mesopotamia. The Egyptians were down south of Israel in the Nile River valley. This verse says there will be a highway between those two countries and exactly where will it go? It will go right through Israel. In fact it is geographically in the middle between Mesopotamia and the Nile River in Egypt. Going on,
"In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land."
In the past Assyria and Egypt have often been enemies of ancient Israel or modern Israel, but they will not be in the future when Jesus Christ is back here on this earth. They will be a blessing along with Israel.
In this discussion on the importance of Egyptian history I will show that if you want to know Egyptian history, concentrate on biblical history, the history of Palestine, of Israel, because it is in the central part of that area of the world. The ancient Medieval scholars used to say that Jerusalem or Israel was the navel of the world, the center of the world. That is what the Bible is saying here, Israel is in the middle between these powerful nations. In the future Israel will be a third with Egypt and Assyria,
"Whom the Lord of Hosts shall bless, saying, "Blessed be Egypt, my people, and Assyria, the work of my hands, and Israel, my inheritance."
So you see, there are the three-thirds making up the whole, right in the central part of the world. Israel will be controlling it later on, along with Egypt and Assyria, once these Gentile nations learn their lesson.
The Importance of History
I have said a long time ago, and many scholars have said this too, that if you want to understand the present and even the future, you had better understand the past, because our present situation is highly dependent upon the foundational historical events by which we have arrived at the place we are at the present time. That is why the study of history is very important. I have been very blessed, I feel, to be able to study history and to teach history in England for many years and also here in the United States, as well as producing many writings on history.
Let me tell you we are just beginning to scratch the surface on the history of the past. We can all have a part in the restoration of major truths of the Bible dealing with history, dealing with geography, dealing with doctrine or whatever. We are just on the threshold of something very, very big and very great. The Bible says there will be a restoration of all things prior to the 2nd coming of Christ. Peter called it the "restitution of all things" (Acts 3:21). I do not have any doubt that there will be a great deal of knowledge emerging very shortly. It already has started, but it will come very shortly and we will see some of these things with our own eyes. They will come out of the Middle East.
Modern people will be able to say that there is nothing new under the sun. The people of ancient times were able to do as much as we are able to do today except they directed their energies in a different way than we do at present. One of these days we will find that these prophecies in Isaiah and other places will be fulfilled and that Egypt plays a very prominent part along with Assyria and certainly with Israel in the middle of the world.
It is important that we understand the history of Egypt. There are several prophecies in the Old Testament about Egypt. The history of the nation of Israel with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the 12 tribes, have prominent connections with Egypt. You might say that the nation of Israel had its infant development in the nation of Egypt and by coming out from Egypt in the Exodus under the hand of Moses, the nation of Israel was finally born. After 40 years of wandering in the Wilderness they went into the land of Canaan. They had a great experience behind them up to that time. That experience was primarily Egyptian. That is why it is very important to understand Egyptian history for that reason alone. Egypt has given a tremendous amount of prestige and power and social customs and politics to Israel. Not all of it has been bad. Some of their experiences have been good. Of course, there has been some bad as well.
The Challenge of Egyptian History
The way to come to a proper knowledge of the history of Egypt, in my view, is to first of all to be certain that we understand what was happening in Palestine, in the land of Canaan from the time of the flood of Noah right on through until historical times come along which we can be pretty well assured of. If you can understand the history of central Palestine, and Isaiah said Israel is placed in the middle of everything, then we should be able to understand what is happening on the flanks of Israel. 1
We have lots of ruins and lots of ancient records that have come down to us about ancient Egypt, but many scholars today who study ancient Egypt (and Mesopotamia for that matter, but we will concentrate on Egypt) are not quite sure how to place some of these ancient records. They are unsure when the kings, the Pharaohs, actually reigned and whether some of them were reigning contemporaneously with one another, that is one reigning in lower Egypt at a place called Memphis or in upper Egypt in a place called Thebes. They is no absolute certainty about this, though many people feel they have a general outline of the under-standing of Egyptian history.
I will go into some Egyptian history which might be a little technical. Pay close attention to it. I think I can give a general understanding of Egyptian history as understood by the ancient records that scholars evaluate, and I will also be able to correlate some of those ancient records in Egypt by looking primarily at the biblical revelation.
The Key to Egyptian History, the Bible
What I want to call your attention to first of all is what happened in Palestine. Let me repeat this because it is very important to the comprehension of ancient Egyptian history. If a person can understand and recognize what was happening in central Palestine, then the history of Egypt can be understood. I mean where Jerusalem is, and Samaria and Galilee and areas like that, from the time of the flood of Noah coming down to the time of Abraham. Of course, Abraham was the first one introduced into the land of Canaan from a biblical point of view. Then he had Isaac, his son, who lived in Palestine. Then Isaac had Jacob and Esau. Jacob had 12 sons, the sons of Israel. They grew up in Palestine. Remember how they all had to go to Egypt at the time that Joseph was down there, and they became very great in Egypt.
Egypt at the time of Joseph must have been very powerful. Indeed, we know absolutely that it was. Remember the dream that Joseph had. There were going to be 7 full years when they would have lots of crops and harvest them, and they were to take some of the crops and put them in silos. This was done because there were going to be 7 lean years as well, when probably the Nile River would not overflow and the people would be in destitution as far as getting food was concerned. The wisdom of Joseph, with God’s Spirit directing him, enabled Pharaoh and the rest of the Egyptians to put aside enough food for the 7 years of plenty to be able to carry them over in the 7 years when there was not very much.
You know who was down there at the time of all of this? The Israelites, the 12 nations of Israel were beginning at this time. Joseph had a part in all of this. He sat next to Pharaoh right at that time. It says that all the people of the world, because of the great drought that took place during that 7 years, had to come up to Egypt and buy grain and help Egypt in their building of monuments.
"And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended. And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.
And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, ‘Go unto Joseph; what he says to you, do.’ And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt. And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.
As a result of those actions, guided by Joseph, Egypt was the number one country in all the earth in the central Eurasian and African areas. Clearly at the time of Joseph there must have been great enterprises going on at that time.
We know that the Israelites began to greatly expand their population in Egypt. They stayed there for some 200 years, and then came out by a great Exodus from Egypt and then into the land of Canaan. Maybe I am going a little ahead of myself here, but I am just introducing this to show you that the biblical revelation can be the major key to help us straighten out the overall understanding of Egyptian history. Once that overall understanding of Egyptian history is made clear, then the prophecies dealing with Egypt and other countries surrounding Israel will make better sense to us, not only from the sense of understanding the past, but also understanding the present and the near-future that you and I are coming into.
Make a Chart
I have already given you the key to Egyptian history, but now I will elaborate on it just a little bit. If any of you are really interested in history and the history of Egypt, here is what I suggest you do.
Take a sheet of paper and then draw a line at the top of that paper all the way across and say that that line represents the time of the flood of Noah. Then draw a central line down the middle of the page, carrying it down to the bottom. To the left of that central line right at the top put "Palestine" or "Israel" or "the People of God" near the top. Information from the Bible and the history of Israel will be on the left, and the history of Gentile nations will be on the right.
You should let the Bible be the key to understanding of Mesopotamia up north or Egypt in the south, by taking the nation of Israel or what was happening in Palestine, and put down all of the general history from the time of the flood down to the time of Alexander the Great about 330 B.C. This is a little bit technical, but from then on it becomes pretty clear what was happening in the Middle East. We have plenty of historical records from that time.
If you go before the time of Alexander the Great and go farther back and approach the flood of Noah, it is very confusing and historians are not absolutely sure which direction to take on some issues. Once you get Israel in the middle, remember that it is centered between Mesopotamia and Egypt. The people of Israel will come in contact with Assyria up north and with Egypt in the south. If you can understand the central history of Israel, you will be able to comprehend events generally in Egypt and also Assyria. It is very clear if we take this matter into account.
What you should do then is to take the history of Palestine as the Bible gives it to us. Who was the first one (as far the Bible is concerned) of importance to go down to Palestine? He left Ur of the Chaldees, left his father’s country, and went on down with his wife Sarah and with him his nephew Lot. I am talking about Abraham. This is introduced in Genesis chapter 12 about 1,800 years before the birth of Christ.
Abraham in Palestine
What was happening in Palestine at this time? Was there a major central government in Palestine? The answer is absolutely no. There were little cities here and there scattered around. Abraham could go from one area to another and he did not need to have a passport with him. He could just raise up an altar wherever he wanted to. It seemed like the land was open and free. They had property boundaries and things like that, but no central government of any kind. Abraham could go from Haran in the north (Genesis 11:31–32, 12:4–5), to Shechem (Genesis 12:6), to Beersheba in the south (Genesis 21:14, 31–33, 22:19). He could build an altar in Bethel (originally called Luz, Genesis 12:8, 13:3, 28:19). He could even live in Hebron (Genesis 13:18, 23:2, 19, 35:27). He could go where he wanted to go. He came into contact with the Canaanites that is quite true (Genesis 12:6, 13:7, 24:3, 37), but they were in villages and little cities here and there scattered around.
Even the archaeology of the time showed that the cities of Palestine in the time of Abraham were very, very small and they did not have any centralized government at all. You can detect this very easily if you just study Genesis chapters 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17, those areas and times dealing with Abraham. You will see that there was no central government. Most people were pastoral. They had their sheep, their goats, their camels and things like that. The city-states had a little bit of government here, a little bit of government there, but not too much going on.
Abraham in Egypt
What happened after Abraham got into the land of Palestine? He stayed there just a few years and a great famine came along. So what did Abraham have to do? This is the first mention of Egypt. Abraham went down to the land of Egypt. We do not know how long he stayed down there, but somewhere around 5, 7 or 10 years, something of that nature, because he was back in Palestine when he is 86 years of age.
Notice something. He went to Egypt to escape the famine in Palestine. Why was that? Because the River Nile in Egypt was not influenced by the same weather patterns that Palestine had. Abraham stayed there with Lot for a few years. When he came out he possessed great riches. Is it not interesting also that Abraham, a nobody going from area to area in Palestine, when he got to Egypt he was able to go directly to Pharaoh and speak with him. Who ever heard such a thing?
If there was a vast nation of say a million people in Egypt at the time of Abraham and if they had a vast government, you would think it would have been most difficult for a shepherd coming out of Palestine to get an audience with the Pharaoh. But Abraham met with Pharaoh. That shows that Egypt was not that big either. Do you see the point I am showing here?
What you can do here is over on the right of this piece of paper you have Israel in the center. Now you have Abraham down there underneath, the time of Abraham. Put Egypt over on the right and say "able to meet Pharaoh without too much difficulty." You get the idea here that Egypt was not as big and powerful as it became later on. That gives you a hint.
Abraham with Lot come out of Egypt and they settle back in Palestine. The story goes on. The city-state system continued in Palestine without any central government at the time of Isaac, and then Jacob comes along. Jacob goes up north to obtain a wife and comes back with two wives and two concubines. But it is interesting that he still was able to travel, even in the time of Jacob, the 3rd generation from Abraham, without crossing national boundaries of any kind.
Do you know when the first national boundary that we have any record of in the Bible comes along? It is when Jacob leaves Laban, his relative up north and he got the two daughters of Laban and came down to Palestine with Rachel and Leah, his wives. The first national boundary is when Laban saw that his boundary gods, as he called them, or boundary stones had been taken away. They were in Rachel’s baggage. He did not know that. When Laban finally caught up with Jacob as he was leaving Mesopotamia to go down into Palestine, they had a little argument, and finally settled it when Laban said, we will make a cairn of stones, a little pile of stones and write on it that everything north of this territory is mine and everything south of this territory, Jacob, is yours.
Laban got the north part of the territory and Jacob got the south part of the territory. Since that very day the north part of that has been known as "Laban’s Land" or we call it today, Lebanon. You might say that national boundaries began to be established in Palestine about the time of Jacob. What happens in Jacob’s time? Jacob has 12 sons.
One of those sons was Joseph. Joseph was very wise as we know. Jacob was able to go with his 12 sons throughout Palestine wherever they wanted to go. We finally find some of the sons of Jacob way up in north Palestine in southern Galilee in a place called Dothan. Joseph goes to meet these brothers and tells them a dream he had that one of these days the sun and the moon and the 11 stars would bow before him. He was the 12th star. They interpreted this, in symbol of course, as meaning that Jacob (his father) was the sun, the moon being Rachel, his mother (who was dead at this time, but the symbol still holds) and the 11 stars meant the other 11 brothers who all would bow before Joseph one day. They did not like it.
They found a camel train coming from the north part from Damascus, no doubt on the way to Egypt and they sold Joseph into slavery. Joseph was taken to Egypt. He stayed there about 13 years and you know the story of Joseph. He was falsely accused of committing adultery with Potiphar’s wife. 2 That was wrong, Joseph had not done that. Two years after he was accused of that and put in the dungeon, he was brought out of that dungeon and made to sit, in one day, next to Pharaoh. The reason for this was because of the dream that Pharaoh had of 7 fat cattle and 7 lean cattle. Joseph told him what they had to do for Egypt to survive, and not only that, but the entirety of the world.
Joseph was then told by Pharaoh, there is no man more wise than you. You are a wise man. The Spirit of God is within you, so now I want you to get busy and construct all the silos so we can begin to gather all the extra harvest so that when the lean years come, we will have enough not only to give to the Egyptians but also the rest of the people in the world. That is exactly what happened.
The interesting thing is that at the time of Joseph, all of the world finally had to come to Egypt to buy grain. Not only that, when people find a country that is very prosperous, the most prosperous country in the world, do you know what this does with scholars and craftsmen and people who have knowledge in other areas of the world? Almost always they come to the region where there is prosperity, where a country is leading the world, more or less. Look at the United States of America today or Great Britain in the last century. In the last 50 years when things happened in Europe that were not very good, all types of people flocked into the United States, top scholars, top craftsmen, people who knew what they were doing. Do you know what happened to the United States, along with our own natural people we had here? We developed into the strongest nation that the world has ever seen up to now.
The same thing happened in the time of Joseph. All the top people from around the world came into Egypt. At that time great monuments must have been built in Egypt. There can hardly be any doubt that this is the case.
I want to show you how wise Joseph was. During the time when the 7 years of plenty were taking place, all the land was harvesting the crops, that is quite true. But when the first year of the drought began and there was no more food, how many people would there have been in Egypt? We do not know, but let’s put a number on it. Let’s say 1 million (we do not know), but that is possible.
When you have 1 million people out of work because they cannot work on the farms, what is the thing to do? Joseph was very wise. He told people, we are going to build monuments and things like that in honor of God, in some cases, Who was the one to reveal all of this in order to save the world. All types of monuments began to be built.
One thing I learned, and I learned this very carefully down in Egypt, almost none of those monuments in ancient Egypt were built by slaves. They were built by people who wanted to build them, there is hardly any doubt. The artistry that went into some of those monuments is absolutely fantastic. They had to be built by people who wanted to do them. They no doubt gathered artists from all over the world at the times of prosperity, and the time of Joseph was a time of great prosperity in Egypt. It has to be.
They brought these people in, gave them grain to eat, and to keep them from twiddling their thumbs, he put people to work. If people have nothing to do, there will be rebellion, disturbance, and all sort of difficulties. Joseph was very wise. He put the people to work building grand edifices, buildings and things like that, throughout all of Egypt. This lasted until the Israelites left Egypt at the time of the Exodus.
One thing is for certain, the Bible makes it clear that from the time of Joseph up until the Exodus period about 200 and some years, that period of time must have been very prosperous for Egypt. Many things that we see in Egypt today must have been built in the time of great prosperity. No question about it at all.
Slavery and Exodus
But then what happens? Joseph dies. Then others die and then the Israelites begin to get greater in power and numbers. It says that a new Pharaoh comes along,"a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph" (Exodus 1:8). What it means in the actual Hebrew is, he did not recognize Joseph. Do you know what this Pharaoh did? He took the descendants of Joseph, the Israelites, and he made slaves out of them. They had to build bricks. They built them with straw. Then to make sure that they would be under greater servitude, Pharaoh even took the straw away. When you start to make people slaves they get edgy. They do not like it. They want to get out.
Disturbances began to occur in the country, especially when Moses was called to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. What happened before the Israelites left Egypt? Ten major plagues occurred that practically wiped out Egypt from a high degree of prosperity that Egypt experienced from the time of Joseph down to the Exodus. Those 10 plagues absolutely devastated Egypt.
Do you know what the last plague was? It was killing Pharaoh and most of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. That meant that all of the people who ruled Egypt, the prosperous people, the business people, the army, plus all of the plagues that had gone on before, it just reduced Egypt down to nothing.
The Bible says that Egypt was left in desolation, going from a period of high prosperity in just a matter of weeks or certainly no more than months.
"And Pharaoh's servants said unto him, ‘How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God: know you not yet that Egypt is destroyed?’"
The Israelites went into the Mount Sinai region, stayed there for a short while and then they were told by God that they would have to wander 40 years in the wilderness. They wandered for those 40 years and then went to the land of Canaan. Even 40 years later Moses said that Egypt was still devastated,
"I speak not with your children which have not known, and which have not seen the chastisement of the Lord your God, his greatness, his mighty hand, and his stretched out arm, And his miracles, and his acts, which he did in the midst of Egypt unto Pharaoh the king of Egypt, and unto all his land; And what he did unto the army of Egypt …, and how the Lord hath destroyed them unto this day."
They finally conquered most of the land of Canaan. But I will tell you something that is most interesting. You have this piece of paper, you have the line of the flood at the top. You have the line in the middle going down with Israel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and on the side you can put Egypt, what was happening there, then come down to the Exodus and draw a horizontal like line. What happened there at the Exodus was that devastation came into Egypt, devastation that wiped it out.
The Time of Judges in Israel
Then the Israelites went into the land of Canaan. They conquered the land, partially. From that time down to the time of King Saul, a period of about 300+ years, you read hardly of anything occurring in Egypt of any importance, or anything occurring up in Mesopotamia and Assyria of any importance. But you know what you do find occurring in the Bible? That was the period of the Judges. If you want to read of great chaos going on in the world, in economics, in government (or lack of government), of difficulties, read that pathetic story in the Bible during the time of the Judges.
It is quite true that God allowed certain judges to come up like Samuel, Jephthah and Othniel, and others to rescue Israel from their enemies from time to time, it was a time of chaos, but it was a time when there was no real united nation, even of Israel.
If Egypt would have been powerful or influential at that time, there would have been some reference to that in the book of Judges. Do you know there is not one mention of current affairs in Egypt in the entire period? The 2 or 3 times that Egypt is mentioned, it refers to the past time of the Exodus, with no contemporary information that Egypt had any prominence, power or even contact with the people of Israel, not one word. Do you know what that shows? It shows that Palestine during the some 300 years of the Judges was also in economic chaos, with social disturbances, in difficulty, and not a united nation. It also shows that Egypt must have been in the same condition as Israel. Indeed, if you want to carry it up to Assyria and Mesopotamia, it must have been the same thing there.
The United Kingdom
Then what happens? King Saul finally comes along at the time of Samuel. He is crowned king over Israel and unites the country. After King Saul comes King David. He extends the boundaries of Israel down to Egypt and up to the River Euphrates. 3 He becomes very powerful at the end of his 40 years of reign. So powerful was he that at the end of his reign he was able to attract all types of artisans, builders, laborers and material to prepare to build the great Temple of God at Jerusalem. We have this in the Bible, do we not? Put that down in the middle part of this paper of what is happening in Palestine.
As soon as David dies, then who comes on? His son Solomon. Solomon was noted for being a rich man, richest in all the world. He built the great Temple of God and many, many other structures throughout Israel. Israel was very powerful as a united nation at that time. The great Temple of God in Jerusalem was filled with gold and silver and precious woods and furniture. It says"all the kings of the world came up to hear Solomon in his great wisdom." 4 Even the Queen of Sheba came up from the Egyptian area.
But if Israel was very great and powerful at that time, you would think also that maybe Egypt had come back to a great power as well as Assyria. What happens when one nation becomes powerful; and if it is in the central region of the world, it tends to bring up others economically as well. This is the general principle. If a major nation goes down to rock bottom, everything else goes to rock bottom. When ancient Rome fell, all of Europe went down with it. All of North Africa went down with it. When another nation comes up in Europe, like Great Britain, all of the other nations seem to be brought up with it. It is normal. At the time of David, and particularly that of Solomon, great wisdom and riches for 80 years were in Palestine. The same thing is reflected in Egypt.
After Solomon dies the Kingdom of Israel breaks into two. At this time in Egypt — read it in Isaiah 19 — which speaks of Egypt at that time also breaking up into several kingdoms. It says,
"The burden of Egypt. Behold, the Lord rides upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. 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."
Even in Egypt, it seems that what was happening in central Palestine by Israel splitting into two nations, the Kingdom of Israel up north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south, the same thing was happening in other areas of the world. It is most remarkable how things seem to dovetail around Israel, around central Palestine.
After about 200 and some odd years the northern 10 tribes of Israel were taken captive by the Assyrians up north. That left only the Jews and those associated with them around Jerusalem. From around 721 B.C.E. onward, that was all that was in Palestine, the Jews and other Israelitish peoples that gathered around Jerusalem. About 130 years later, around 586 B.C.E. even the Jews were taken captive up to Babylon (not to Egypt). But at the time we read of Judah being taken captive, there were Pharaohs mentioned in the Bible that we can identify with certain Pharaohs in Egyptian history. We can begin to gain a good knowledge of what was happening in Egypt from the ancient records that we have available.
Then after Judah was taken captive we find the Persians taking over, and then after the Persians, finally the Greeks come along at the time of Alexander the Great. Then we can know generally what happened in Egypt from that time forward.
Suggestions for Study
I have just given you a very brief overview. What you have to do, and this takes a lot of effort, you must fill in all the history of that central region called Palestine, dealing with Israel. Then go over on the side and meticulously, not only with biblical references, but with references in the historical records, ancient monumental records and archaeological records, try to fill in what was happening in Egypt, or if you go up north, in Assyria, or Babylon, or places like that, and see if it dovetails in with the central teaching about Israel. Once you do that you will find that the Bible can be the main key to straighten out ancient Egypt.
All too briefly, I want to give you something here that will put you on the right track in understanding ancient Egyptian history. All you have to do is take a chronological trip down to Egypt and see these ancient monuments that come from certain periods of time and if you can dovetail them into the biblical time periods, it will not only make Egypt plainer, but it will make the Old Testament and the history of Israel more comprehendible.
Manetho’s Dynastic List
Here is what the ancient records have brought down to us from about the 3rd century before the birth of Christ. A man called Manetho, a priest of Egypt, wrote in Greek the history of ancient Egypt. He said that from the first period of recorded history, from a king known as Menes, supposedly the first recorded king of ancient Egypt, from Menes’ time down to Alexander the Great, about 332 B.C.E., there were 31 different dynasties.
The word "dynasty" means a particular house or a family of kings or pharaohs. The 1st Dynasty was of one family and there were several pharaohs in that dynasty. Then that family died out or married into some other and then a 2nd Dynasty came along, and so many kings ruled there. Then a 3rd Dynasty and a 4th, and Manetho carries it all the way down from the first pharaoh, Menes of the 1st Dynasty, to the time of Alexander the Great, 31 dynasties total in ancient Egypt.
The interesting thing about this is that the first two dynasties was a time when Egypt was not very powerful, obviously. They were just repopulating the earth after the flood, if we take the biblical reports into account. There are not many records from those first two dynasties. Do you know where Manetho, this Egyptian priest put the first two dynasties? He said they had their authority and their government at a place called Thebes, near Abydos, which is in Upper Egypt. That is where Egypt had its beginning, according to Manetho. The ancient biblical name for this region was Pathros. If a person would go to Ezekiel 29, Ezekiel himself says the place where Egypt sought its nativity was in Pathros.
"And I will bring again the captivity of Egypt, and will cause them to return into the land of Pathros, into the land of their habitation [birth]; and they shall be there a base kingdom."
Again we see that the Bible can help us understand Egyptian history better.
The 3rd Dynasty and the 4th, 5th and 6th dynasties were all, according to the ancient records, pyramid building dynasties. The 1st and the 2nd dynasties were not. It started out with a minimal type of pyramid building of a different type than we think of when the word "pyramid" is mentioned. The first pyramid is called the Step Pyramid of Zozer from the 3rd Dynasty. It was not a straight up and down pyramid. It goes in steps finally coming up to more or less of a peak.
There is a most interesting thing in the ancient records about this Zozer. It says that in his time the River Nile failed to come up for 7 years — not 8 years, not 9 years, not 6 years, not 5 — but 7 years. Have you ever read anything in the Bible about 7 years that they did not have any food in Egypt, 7 lean years? You have it in Genesis 41 at the time of Joseph.
Joseph and Zozer phonetically almost sound alike. (I am not identifying the two necessarily, but it is close to a biblical correlation.) At the time of Joseph, in the 7 lean years when people had no agriculture to work at, he would put them to building things, monuments to God. The Great Pyramid was built in the 4th Dynasty by Cheops. It was supposed to be built by a shepherd. You know who were noted for being shepherds, do you not? People in Palestine. There could have been Israelites at the time, helping Cheops to build the Great Pyramid.
Other pyramids were built after that, all the way up to the 6th Dynasty. When the 6th Dynasty comes to an end, all of a sudden Egypt seems to go into complete oblivion, into a sudden dark age. That blends in perfectly well with the Exodus period. Before the Exodus the 10 plagues came along and just about wiped out Egypt. Interestingly, when the 7th and the 8th dynasties proceeded after that, there are hardly any records of them. The records that are available show that the land of Egypt was torn up in chaos, invaders coming from the east. The great pyramid time had ended. That fits in beautifully from the time of Joseph down to the Exodus period.
Those pyramids were built no doubt in the time when the Israelites were in Egypt. However, most scholars would not agree with this. They would say that is much, much too late. I want to tell you this, in this brief survey I am giving, it might even sound ridiculous to say that, if you have studied ancient Egyptian history. We need a book on this subject, I realize that we do, with maps and diagrams and things like that, and a full co-relationship between Egyptian history and the biblical history mentioned. We will get this book out one of these days, 5 and I do not think people will be laughing so much at that, when they can finally see some co-relationships.
The Bible is Key
What I am giving you in this lecture is just a brief, brief survey of what was happening in history. But I contend most strongly that the biblical revelation is the key to the understanding of Egyptian history as well as it is to understanding Assyrian and Babylonian history. This is because once you master the central area of Palestine, you can then have the others. The 3rd, the 4th, the 5th, the 6th dynasties were pyramid building dynasties. The 7th and 8th dynasties were time of great oblivion, hardly anything going on. This continued on to the 9th and the 10th dynasties.
With the 11th and the 12th dynasties located in Thebes in Upper Egypt (not down near Cairo, but in Upper Egypt), during that time great engineering works were going on. People have wondered if that was possibly in the time of King Solomon when things were happening up in Israel? Well it might be, but the thing is, this time of chaos, the 7th and 8th dynasties could dovetail very well with the Judges period of chaos and difficulty in central Palestine. The interesting thing is that soon after the 12th Dynasty of great glory, then great chaos comes along again. The 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th dynasties were a time when Hyksos or people of the desert were coming into Egypt. It could be that we have parallel dynasties, I do not know exactly. 6
But when you come to the 18th and 19th dynasties you have times there which could parallel very well with the time of King Solomon. The 20th to the 25th Dynasty, there are difficulties, showing several kingdoms in ancient Egypt. That is exactly what Isaiah 19 says that Egypt was like at that time. When you come to the 26th Dynasty, Pharaoh Necho is mentioned in the ancient records. Pharaoh Necho is also mentioned in Jeremiah and in the book of Kings. So we can then dovetail that very well indeed. From there on down to the time of Alexander the Great, there is no problem with the understanding of Egyptian history.
So when you take all these 31 dynasties that Manetho mentioned, and get the dynasties where pyramids were being built, when great monuments and temples were being constructed and a great deal of wisdom literature was coming out, in other words when society and culture was at a high level. Try to dovetail that with biblical events that we are assured occurred when certain things were recorded. Then when you have times in ancient Egypt mentioned by Manetho of great difficulty, a dark age, invaders coming from other places and so forth, it will dovetail with the biblical period.
Remember this, Isaiah 19 speaks about"kingdom against kingdom" in ancient Egypt. Some of the dynasties are at different areas. The first two dynasties were at Thebes. That was near Abydos in Upper Egypt. The 3rd, 4th and 6th dynasties were at Memphis. That was in the Delta near Cairo. The 5th Dynasty was at Elephantine way up the River Nile. Some of these dynasties that are mentioned by Manetho the Priest could have been contemporaneous to one another and not successive to each other.
In actual fact if you will see Psalm 105:30, it says that at the time of the Exodus from ancient Egypt there were kings, in the plural, pharaohs in the plural in ancient Egypt. But we meet with only one pharaoh in the book of Exodus, but there were other pharaohs at that time as well. We might find that there were contemporaneous dynasties. In actual fact it looks very plain that the 5th Dynasty and the 6th Dynasty mentioned by Manetho were not successive to one another but they were contemporaneous with each other. They existed alongside one another at the same time.
Once you get that into account then you can deflate some of these dynasties of Egypt instead of making them go way back to 3,000, 4,000 B.C.E. They fit right into the biblical period in most cases without any problem.
It looks very plain that the 7th Dynasty and the 8th Dynasty, which was a time of chaos and dark age in ancient Egypt, could very well parallel dynasties 13, 14, 15 and 16. You might say, how could that be? The thing is that we need a book on this subject, and some have been written already that have started to straighten out some of these things. What we have to do is to see if that parallels with the time of the Judges. And it does marvelously well, as a matter of fact.
Then take the 11th and 12th dynasties which are very similar in some ways with what was happening in the 3rd and 4th and 6th dynasties which were at Memphis in the north. Do you know where the 11th and 12th were? They were at Thebes in the south. So you see, perhaps even they could be contemporaneous with some of these northern dynasties at that time. Then we come to Dynasty 17, that is the time of the Hyksos when they were expelled from ancient Egypt. Then followed the mighty and powerful 18th Dynasty and the 19th Dynasty successive to that. These could parallel very well the time of King Solomon. Things were actually produced in the 18th Dynasty in ancient Egypt that appear, the buildings for example, to look very similar in design and architecture to what was occurring in Palestine at the time of King Solomon.
What we have to do then is to realize that the Bible does say that there were kings or different pharaohs in different parts, no doubt, of Egypt at various times. In Isaiah 19 it speaks about Egypt as a united country, that is true, but it had various kingdoms in that united country.
To this very day we have Great Britain, called the United Kingdom. Since the last part of the 18th century Wales and Scotland and Ireland and England, all kingdoms of their own anciently, collectively became known as the United Kingdom. But you could still talk about the Kingdom of Scotland, you could talk about the people in Wales and they have the ancient kings of Ireland. That goes back many years. But you have a united nation with various areas of that united nation with their own traditions, with their own simple governments to a certain extent, collaborating with a central main government. In the case of the United Kingdom it would be in Whitehall, in London.
That is not a precise parallel, I know. But it gives you an idea of what could have been happening in Egypt at some of these times. Some of these dynasties mentioned by Manetho could be contemporaneous with one another, and they could blend in very well with the overall biblical revelation.
To make a long story short and to come down to our time right now, history can help us understand prophecy. This is a most important thing. What we should do is get the history of central Palestine in mind. Let the Bible be our guide on that. On the side we can then put down information about Egypt, we can put down information about Assyria and Babylon, and let the Bible, which we consider as God’s word, be the general guide it will then be the main key to help us understand the past as far as Egypt and these other nations are concerned. Once that is the case, then we can look at prophecies that Isaiah wrote, Jeremiah wrote, Ezekiel wrote and the 12 Minor Prophets wrote about a future Egypt. They wrote about things to occur at the end of the age, about a period of time just before the Kingdom of God emerges on earth. They were written in the language of the 8th or 7th or 6th centuries B.C.E., that is quite true. But speaking of our time today, once we get the history of Egypt straightened out, with the Bible being the key, we will then have the basis to comprehend what the prophecies of Israel and Assyria and Egypt are for the future.
What will happen with Egypt, must be based upon the history. History is the basis for the present and for the future. I hope that all of you will appreciate the history of ancient Israel as the central key, but also Egypt and other countries, and with God’s blessing and help to each of us, we can all gather in as much understanding as we can on these things because I tell you there will come a reinstitution of events and knowledge and understanding. Understanding of prophecy will be increased.
I cannot help but believe that we are just on the threshold of understanding many new things of ancient history which will help illumine our present and also the future. Let us keep our eyes on the Middle East. Keep our eyes on history. Keep our eyes on the biblical revelation, because it is as up-to-date today as it ever has been. If we hope to understand the next few years in advance of us, let us understand the last few thousand in Israel, in Assyria, in Babylon and let us not forget Egypt, one of the most grand and beautiful countries you will ever want to see.
If you want to see periods of time, mentioned no doubt in the Bible, in which the people of God in some cases, help to build beautiful and wonderful monuments, some of them bad as time went on, some of them very, very good. Take a trip to ancient Egypt and you will see what the glory of man can be with God backing him up and what the future of man can be if we can only learn to solve our problems and learn to love one another, start respecting each other and apply the principles of Jesus Christ.
When the great millennium comes, we will have that in our grasp. Egypt and Assyria will be a third with Israel (Isaiah 19:24). I look forward to that time.
Ernest L. Martin, 1981
Edited by David Sielaff, June 2003
2 Potiphar was, "an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian" (Genesis 39:1).
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