II. THE NEW CHRONOLOGY.

But all investigators were not so docile as Wilkinson, and there soon came a new train of scientific thought which rapidly undermined all this theological chronology. Not to speak of other noted men, we have early in the present century Young, Champollion, and Rosellini, beginning a new epoch in the study of the Egyptian monuments. Nothing could be more cautious than their procedure, but the evidence was soon overwhelming in favour of a vastly longer existence of man in the Nile Valley than could be made to agree with even the longest duration then allowed by theologians.

For, in spite of all the suppleness of men like Wilkinson, it became evident that, whatever system of scriptural chronology was adopted, Egypt was the seat of a flourishing civilization at a period before the "Flood of Noah," and that no such flood had ever interrupted it. This was bad, but worse remained behind: it was soon clear that the civilization of Egypt began earlier than the time assigned for the creation of man, even according to the most liberal of the sacred chronologists.

As time went on, this became more and more evident. The long duration assigned to human civilization in the fragments of Manetho, the Egyptian scribe at Thebes in the third century B. C., was discovered to be more accordant with truth than the chronologies of the great theologians; and, as the present century has gone on, scientific results have been reached absolutely fatal to the chronological view based by the universal Church upon Scripture for nearly two thousand years.

As is well known, the first of the Egyptian kings of whom mention is made upon the monuments of the Nile Valley is Mena, or Menes. Manetho had given a statement, according to which Mena must have lived nearly six thousand years before the Christian era. This was looked upon for a long time as utterly inadmissible, as it was so clearly at variance with the chronology of our own sacred books; but, as time went on, large fragments of the original work of Manetho were more carefully studied and distinguished from corrupt transcriptions, the lists of kings at Karnak, Sacquarah, and the two temples at Abydos were brought to light, and the lists of court architects were discovered. Among all these monuments the scholar who visits Egypt is most impressed by the sculptured tablets giving the lists of kings. Each shows the monarch of the period doing homage to the long line of his ancestors. Each of these sculptured monarchs has near him a tablet bearing his name. That great care was always taken to keep these imposing records correct is certain; the loyalty of subjects, the devotion of priests, and the family pride of kings were all combined in this; and how effective this care was, is seen in the fact that kings now known to be usurpers are carefully omitted. The lists of court architects, extending over the period from Seti to Darius, throw a flood of light over the other records.

Comparing, then, all these sources, and applying an average from the lengths of the long series of well-known reigns to the reigns preceding, the most careful and cautious scholars have satisfied themselves that the original fragments of Manetho represent the work of a man honest and well informed, and, after making all allowances for discrepancies and the overlapping of reigns, it has become clear that the period known as the reign of Mena must be fixed at more than three thousand years B. C. In this the great Egyptologists of our time concur. Mariette, the eminent French authority, puts the date at 5004 B. C.; Brugsch, the leading German authority, puts it at about 4500 B. C.; and Meyer, the latest and most cautious of the historians of antiquity, declares 3180 B. C. the latest possible date that can be assigned it. With these dates the foremost English authorities, Sayce and Flinders Petrie, substantially agree. This view is also confirmed on astronomical grounds by Mr. Lockyer, the Astronomer Royal. We have it, then, as the result of a century of work by the most acute and trained Egyptologists, and with the inscriptions upon the temples and papyri before them, both of which are now read with as much facility as many medieval manuscripts, that the reign of Mena must be placed more than five thousand years ago.

But the significance of this conclusion can not be fully understood until we bring into connection with it some other facts revealed by the Egyptian monuments.

The first of these is that which struck Sir Walter Raleigh, that, even in the time of the first dynasties in the Nile Valley, a high civilization had already been developed. Take, first, man himself: we find sculptured upon the early monuments types of the various races--Egyptians, Israelites, negroes, and Libyans--as clearly distinguishable in these paintings and sculptures of from four to six thousand years ago as the same types are at the present day. No one can look at these sculptures upon the Egyptian monuments, or even the drawings of them, as given by Lepsius or Prisse d' Avennes, without being convinced that they indicate, even at that remote period, a difference of races so marked that long previous ages must have been required to produce it.

The social condition of Egypt revealed in these early monuments of art forces us to the same conclusion. Those earliest monuments show that a very complex society had even then been developed. We not only have a separation between the priestly and military orders, but agriculturists, manufacturers, and traders, with a whole series of subdivisions in each of these classes. The early tombs show us sculptured and painted representations of a daily life which even then had been developed into a vast wealth and variety of grades, forms, and usages.

Take, next, the political and military condition. One fact out of many reveals a policy which must have been the result of long experience. Just as now, at the end of the nineteenth century, the British Government, having found that they can not rely upon the native Egyptians for the protection of the country, are drilling the negroes from the interior of Africa as soldiers, so the celebrated inscription of Prince Una, as far back as the sixth dynasty, speaks of the Maksi or negroes levied and drilled by tens of thousands for the Egyptian army.

Take, next, engineering. Here we find very early operations in the way of canals, dikes, and great public edifices, so bold in conception and thorough in execution as to fill our greatest engineers of these days with astonishment. The quarrying, conveyance, cutting, jointing, and polishing of the enormous blocks in the interior of the Great Pyramid alone are the marvel of the foremost stone-workers of our century.

As regards architecture, we find not only the pyramids, which date from the very earliest period of Egyptian history, and which are to this hour the wonder of the world for size, for boldness, for exactness, and for skilful contrivance, but also the temples, with long ranges of colossal columns wrought in polished granite, with wonderful beauty of ornamentation, with architraves and roofs vast in size and exquisite in adjustment, which by their proportions tax the imagination, and lead the beholder to ask whether all this can be real.

As to sculpture, we have not only the great Sphinx of Gizeh, so marvellous in its boldness and dignity, dating from the very first period of Egyptian history, but we have ranges of sphinxes, heroic statues, and bas-reliefs, showing that even in the early ages this branch of art had reached an amazing development.

As regards the perfection of these, Lubke, the most eminent German authority on plastic art, referring to the early works in the tombs about Memphis, declares that, "as monuments of the period of the fourth dynasty, they are an evidence of the high perfection to which the sculpture of the Egyptians had attained." Brugsch declares that "every artistic production of those early days, whether picture, writing, or sculpture, bears the stamp of the highest perfection in art." Maspero, the most eminent French authority in this field, while expressing his belief that the Sphinx was sculptured even before the time of Mena, declares that "the art which conceived and carved this prodigious statue was a finished art--an art which had attained self-mastery and was sure of its effects"; while, among the more eminent English authorities, Sayce tells us that "art is at its best in the age of the pyramid-builders," and Sir James Fergusson declares, "We are startled to find Egyptian art nearly as perfect in the oldest periods as in any of the later."

The evidence as to the high development of Egyptian sculpture in the earlier dynasties becomes every day more overwhelming. What exquisite genius the early Egyptian sculptors showed in their lesser statues is known to all who have seen those most precious specimens in the museum at Cairo, which were wrought before the conventional type was adopted in obedience to religious considerations.

In decorative and especially in ceramic art, as early as the fourth and fifth dynasties, we have vases, cups, and other vessels showing exquisite beauty of outline and a general sense of form almost if not quite equal to Etruscan and Grecian work of the best periods.

Take, next, astronomy. Going back to the very earliest period of Egyptian civilization, we find that the four sides of the Great Pyramid are adjusted to the cardinal points with the utmost precision. "The day of the equinox can be taken by observing the sun set across the face of the pyramid, and the neighbouring Arabs adjust their astronomical dates by its shadow." Yet this is but one out of many facts which prove that the Egyptians, at the earliest period of which their monuments exist, had arrived at knowledge and skill only acquired by long ages of observation and thought. Mr. Lockyer, Astronomer Royal of Great Britain, has recently convinced himself, after careful examination of various ruined temples at Thebes and elsewhere, that they were placed with reference to observations of stars. To state his conclusion in his own words: "There seems a very high probability that three thousand, and possibly four thousand, years before Christ the Egyptians had among them men with some knowledge of astronomy, and that six thousand years ago the course of the sun through the year was practically very well known, and methods had been invented by means of which in time it might be better known; and that, not very long after that, they not only considered questions relating to the sun, but began to take up other questions relating to the position and movement of the stars."

The same view of the antiquity of man in the Nile valley is confirmed by philologists. To use the words of Max Duncker: "The oldest monuments of Egypt--and they are the oldest monuments in the world--exhibit the Egyptian in possession of the art of writing." It is found also, by the inscriptions of the early dynasties, that the Egyptian language had even at that early time been developed in all essential particulars to the highest point it ever attained. What long periods it must have required for such a development every scholar in philology can imagine.

As regards medical science, we have the Berlin papyrus, which, although of a later period, refers with careful specification to a medical literature of the first dynasty.

As regards archaeology, the earliest known inscriptions point to still earlier events and buildings, indicating a long sequence in previous history.

As to all that pertains to the history of civilization, no man of fair and open mind can go into the museums of Cairo or the Louvre or the British Museum and look at the monuments of those earlier dynasties without seeing in them the results of a development in art, science, laws, customs, and language, which must have required a vast period before the time of Mena. And this conclusion is forced upon us all the more invincibly when we consider the slow growth of ideas in the earlier stages of civilization as compared with the later--a slowness of growth which has kept the natives of many parts of the world in that earliest civilization to this hour. To this we must add the fact that Egyptian civilization was especially immobile: its development into castes is but one among many evidences that it was the very opposite of a civilization developed rapidly.

As to the length of the period before the time of Mena, there is, of course, nothing exact. Manetho gives lists of great personages before that first dynasty, and these extend over twenty-four thousand years. Bunsen, one of the most learned of Christian scholars, declares that not less than ten thousand years were necessary for the development of civilization up to the point where we find it in Mena's time. No one can claim precision for either of these statements, but they are valuable as showing the impression of vast antiquity made upon the most competent judges by the careful study of those remains: no unbiased judge can doubt that an immensely long period of years must have been required for the development of civilization up to the state in which we there find it.

The investigations in the bed of the Nile confirm these views. That some unwarranted conclusions have at times been announced is true; but the fact remains that again and again rude pottery and other evidences of early stages of civilization have been found in borings at places so distant from each other, and at depths so great, that for such a range of concurring facts, considered in connection with the rate of earthy deposit by the Nile, there is no adequate explanation save the existence of man in that valley thousands on thousands of years before the longest time admitted by our sacred chronologists.

Nor have these investigations been of a careless character. Between the years 1851 and 1854, Mr. Horner, an extremely cautious English geologist, sank ninety-six shafts in four rows at intervals of eight English miles, at right angles to the Nile, in the neighbourhood of Memphis. In these pottery was brought up from various depths, and beneath the statue of Rameses II at Memphis from a depth of thirty-nine feet. At the rate of the Nile deposit a careful estimate has declared this to indicate a period of over eleven thousand years. So eminent a German authority, in geography as Peschel characterizes objections to such deductions as groundless. However this may be, the general results of these investigations, taken in connection with the other results of research, are convincing.

And, finally, as if to make assurance doubly sure, a series of archaeologists of the highest standing, French, German, English, and American, have within the past twenty years discovered relics of a savage period, of vastly earlier date than the time of Mena, prevailing throughout Egypt. These relics have been discovered in various parts of the country, from Cairo to Luxor, in great numbers. They are the same sort of prehistoric implements which prove to us the early existence of man in so many other parts of the world at a geological period so remote that the figures given by our sacred chronologists are but trivial. The last and most convincing of these discoveries, that of flint implements in the drift, far down below the tombs of early kings at Thebes, and upon high terraces far above the present bed of the Nile, will be referred to later.

But it is not in Egypt alone that proofs are found of the utter inadequacy of the entire chronological system derived from our sacred books. These results of research in Egypt are strikingly confirmed by research in Assyria and Babylonia. Prof. Sayce exhibits various proofs of this. To use his own words regarding one of these proofs: "On the shelves of the British Museum you may see huge sun-dried bricks, on which are stamped the names and titles of kings who erected or repaired the temples where they have been found.... They must... have reigned before the time when, according to the margins of our Bibles, the Flood of Noah was covering the earth and reducing such bricks as these to their primeval slime."

This conclusion was soon placed beyond a doubt. The lists of king's and collateral inscriptions recovered from the temples of the great valley between the Tigris and Euphrates, and the records of astronomical observations in that region, showed that there, too, a powerful civilization had grown up at a period far earlier than could be made consistent with our sacred chronology. The science of Assyriology was thus combined with Egyptology to furnish one more convincing proof that, precious as are the moral and religious truths in our sacred books and the historical indications which they give us, these truths and indications are necessarily inclosed in a setting of myth and legend.[264]


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The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the University of Georgia or the University System of Georgia.