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The Story of Nations, George Rawlinson with the collaboration of Arthur Gilman, T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1890

George Rawlinson (1812-1902) is well known in historical circles. He was professor of ancient history at Oxford University.  His main publications included a translation of the History of Herodotus, as well as volumes in this series of books that presented ancient history to a wider, though educated audience. These volumes tended to have more scholarly texts with fewer illustrations. Yet from the outset there is a high level of moralism.  For example regarding the Pyramid builders:
"It is by a just Nemesis that the kings have in a great measure failed to secure the ends at which they aimed, and in hope of which they steeled their hearts against their subjects' cries.  They have indeed handed down their names to a remote age: but it is as tyrants and oppressors.  They are world-famous, or rather world-infamous.  But that preservation of their corporeal frame which they especially sought, is exactly what they have missed in attaining.
Let not a monument give you or me hopes
Since not a pinch of dust remains of Che“pes,
says the doggerel of the satire of Byron; and it is the absolute fact that while thousands of mummies buried in common graves remain untouched even to the present day, the very grandeur of the pyramid builders' tomes attracted attention to them, caused the monuments to be opened, the sarcophagi to be rifled, and the remains inclosed in them to be dispersed to the four winds of heaven" (pp. 85-86).  

While the author goes on to praise the architectural precision of the construction, there is a clear moral message in the passage.


pyramids
Figure 10 (page 87). This image conveys the size and impressiveness of the pyramids, as well as the desolation of the surrounding desert.  

Figure 11 (page 107).  This obelisk is all that remains of a temple complex. obelisk

Besides the pyramids one of the most enduring symbols of ancient Egypt is the Obelisk.  The word obelisk is taken from the Greek obeliskos which is the diminutive of the Greek word obelos for needle. The monument ends with a pyramid atop a tall thin four sided shaft. In antiquity they were made from a single piece of stone.  They are supposed to symbolize the sun god Re.  During the reign of the "heretic" king Ankhenaten it was said to be a petrified ray of the sun disk.  Many ancient Egyptian monuments can be found in Rome, and modern examples grace many other cities as well.

The ruler Ursutasen in The Story of Nations is now known as Sensuret I, the second pharaoh of the 12th dynasty who ruled from 1971 - 1926 BC.  He is well known for his building programs throughout Egypt and Nubia, including the temple of Re-Atum in Heliopolis.  This city was the center of the cult of the sun. He erected two obelisks there.  One remains and is the oldest example standing in Egypt.  As Rawlinson states, the ruler issued a decree to build the temple:
"It is determined to execute the work ; his majesty chooses to have it made.  Let the superintendent carry on in the way that is desired ; let all those employed upon it be vigilant ; let them see that it is made without weariness ; let every due ceremony be performed ; let the beloved place arise." Then the king rose up, wearing a diadem, and holding the double pen; and all present followed him.  The scribe read the holy book, and extended the measuring cord, and laid the foundations on the spot which the temple was to occupy.  A grand building arose ; but it has been wholly demolished by the ruthless hand of time and the barbarity of conquerors.  Of all its glories nothing now remains but the one taper obelisk of pink granite, which rises into the soft sleepy air above the green cornfields of Matariyeh..." (pp. 106-107).

The author of this book clearly has sympathy for the temple complex. Yet he did find that the construction of the temple complex, while technically astounding, was in some way immoral.  It appears that the pyramid was regarded as a personal monument, and therefore indicative of vanity.  In contrast a temple, at least to some degree, could be appreciated as public, at least to a Victorian understanding of the concept.  Yet to the average inhabitant of ancient Egypt it is likely that both structures would have been appreciated in the same light.  It is doubtful if just anyone would be able to gain access to the temple.  In contrast, the burial chamber of the pyramid would be more democratic, as it would not be accessible to anyone. To the ancients the Pharaoh was a connection between humans and gods, and it probably appeared natural that he should be honored.  Indeed, it is almost certain that the average ancient Egyptian felt considerable national pride in the fact that the ruler was so powerful.  Whatever the case for social mores in antiquity, however, scholars cannot but color their writings with their personal prejudices that must be influenced by the social conventions of the time.

The story of Abraham going to Egypt is given detailed treatment in this book.  To escape a famine Abraham travels to Egypt, but he disguises the relationship with his wife and we read in the Bible that the ruler took Abraham's wife as his wife. This is clearly a dubious decision on the part of Abraham, but as the book states this, "...is a craft not unnatural in the Oriental, but certainly far from commendable" (p. 127).  This action brought plagues upon the house of the ruler, and when the Pharaoh discerned the cause:
"The Pharaoh sent for Abraham, reproached him with his deceit, pointed out the ill consequences which had followed, and, doubtless in some displeasure, required him to take his wife and depart. The famine was at an end, and there was no reason why he should linger.  Beyond reproach, however, Pharaoh inflicted no punishment.  He "commanded his men concerning Abraham ; and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had" (p. 130).  

The last part of this passage is in italics because the author notes that this was not the only entrance of the Hebrews into Egypt.  The story of Abraham did not apply to one person or a small household alone, but to wider movements of peoples.

Ussher notes that the date of the famine was 1921 BC,(10) a date that fits in within the range found by modern scholarship. This date is not noted specifically by Rawlinson. Some archaeologists suggest, on the basis of surveys, that there were many settlements in cultivable valleys along the route of travel to Egypt in the 21st century BC, but that by the 19th century BC they were abandoned and generally not rebuilt in later periods.(11)  Modern scholarship suggests that the time of the patriarchs should be placed in the early second millennium BC, or the Middle Bronze Age.  Willian Foxwell Albright suggests that:
"If we accept the probable hypothesis of some connection between the Hebrew entrance into Egypt and the Hyksos movement, and add three or four generations, we arrive at a date somewhere between 1900 and 1750 B.C. for Abraham's migration.  The Patriarchal Age of Hebrew history would then fall somewhere in the latter part of the Middle Bronze Age in Palestine and during the late Middle Empire and the Hyksos period in Egypt." (12)

(10) Ussher does not detail how he arrived at this date.
(11) Glueck, N. (1955). “The Age of Abraham in the Negeb,” Biblical Archaeology 18, pp. 2-9.
(12) Albright, W.F. (1940).  From the Stone Age to Christianity.  Johns Hopkins: Baltimore, p. 150.

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