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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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The great river of Egypt frequently referred to in the Bible. The Authorized Version everywhere renders the word employed, "ye' or," by "river." "Ye' or" has no Semitic etymology (as, e.g. , Lagarde and Fr. Delitzsch have claimed), but is a transliteration of late Egyptian "yoor," earlier "y(e?)tor" = "river." The plural is used of the branches of the Nile in the delta (seven large branches in antiquity, and many small canals), to which especially Isaiah 7:18 and Ezekiel 29:3 (alluding to their defensive value comp. Isaiah 33:21 , 37:25 ) refer. Only in Daniel 12:5,6 , 7 the expression is used of the Tigris. In Job 28:10 it refers apparently in some technical sense to mines.

That Egypt's existence depended exclusively on the Nile and its yearly inundations in summer (caused by the spring rains in the mountains of Abyssinia) is indicated in Genesis 41:2 that it furnished even all the drinking-water is shown by Exodus 7:18,21 , 24, and Psalm 78:44 . Therefore the Prophets used the symbolical threat against Egypt, "I will make the rivers dry" (Ezekiel 30:12 similarly Isaiah 19:6 ), to express complete annihilation. The great volume of water is referred to in Amos 8:8 and Jeremiah 46:8 and the abundance of fish, in Ezekiel 29:3 (comp. Numbers 11:5 ).

The ancient Egyptians were acquainted with little more than one-half of the long course of the Nile the primitive view was that its sources were in the rocks of the first cataract, and that one branch, the Nile proper, flowed north through Egypt, the other south through Ethiopia to the Indian Ocean. The tears of Isis or the blood of Osiris was the origin ascribed to it in mythology. As a god, the Nile (Ḥ o' pi) was worshiped in the form of a blue or green, androgynous, fat figure, bringing water, fowl, and fish. Hymns, prayers, and statues show that Egypt was correctly considered as "a gift of the Nile." As the number of cubits required for a sufficient rise in summer, the ancient writers mostly mention sixteen (for Memphis?) always, however, dikes, canals, and irrigating-machines had to assist agriculture (comp. Deuteronomy 11:10 on the hard work of the Egyptian peasants in irrigating their fields).

The identification of the Nile with the River Gihon flowing out of paradise (Genesis 2:13 ) is very old, being found in Ecclus. (Sirach) 26:27, in Josephus, and in many later writers. By modern critics generally this identification is understood to be due to a confusion of Ethiopia and Babylonia caused by the ambiguous name Cush .

E. C. W. M. M.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Nile'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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