EGYPT'S NILE A Description of the Egypt's Nile and the Heavens as Seen From the Land of Egypt.
To really grasp the problems faced by calendar makers in Egypt and the situation that confronted Moses and Joshua as they led Israel from this land, it will be helpful to pick up some background material from two sources. One by Emil Ludwig entitled The Nile, describes the effect of the river on the people living along its banks.
The other by G. Norman Lockyer entitled The Dawn of Astronomy contains a wealth of detail on the astronomical aspects of Egypt's temples. The value of his research into an understanding of man's past is only beginning to be realized. Part of the prodding of this generation has come from writings by Gerald S. Hawkins, who forcibly presents ancient man (1500 B.C.) as very qualified to understand eclipses, mathematics, computers and what have you.
Quotes from The Nile First a number of quotes from Emil Ludwig in his widely read book, The Nile.
"Suddenly, though the sky is clear blue, there is a rumble of distant thunder. All the thousands of men and women emcamped in the river bed rush out, carrying their tents and their household goods with them to take flight, A confused clamor arises — El Bahr! The river!... A thousand miles downstream hourly telegrams warn the engineer how far the river has travelled, how high it is, and how muddy. A moving wall, the river approaches, fifteen hundred feet wide, pouring downward in brown waves, full of trees, bamboo, and mud, and so it hurries past. "... Already rain is on its heels, and together they call forth buds... the leaves immediately afterwards — they seem to unfold before one's very eyes." (Page 104.) Thus the Blue Nile begins its rush to the sea as it did in the days of Osiris at places the rise of the Nile is more gradual, at others a spectacular event. What causes the Nile to flood in summer and when does it reach its peak?
The time and the height attained are not the same each year. The seven years of famine in Egypt were seven low years, not years with no water at all. Rainfall in Egypt was not involved in this famine for it does not normally rain in Egypt.
"But the rain is the real mother of the Blue Nile, the mountains are its father... If Abyssinia bore no alps, if these alps were not volcanoes, and if the wind did not break against them, to send the rain streaming from the sky, there would be no stream on earth to 'hurry snakewise to the plain,' carrying with it metallic detritus from the mountains to fertilize the desert a thousand miles away." (Page 101.) This richest of all lands is the area given by Pharaoh to Joseph and his brethren. The eastern portion of this delta provided grazing for their cattle.
"For a hundred and fifty days, the wave of the Nile has been travelling from the equator to Cairo; it has flowed through thousands of miles, more than thirty degrees of latitude. Is it going simply to pour into the sea like a wave of any of the thousand rivers which link the earth to the sea? Nature's last stroke pours fresh vitality, for the last time, into the Nile's creative power: just above its mouth, it divides." (Page 437.)
Prior to the arrival of the river, hot dry winds threaten Egypt. The harvest must be completed before this. time. Priest astronomers who knew the "day" for the arrival of the flood could promise the people a proper planting and harvest time, plus some relief from the hot dry days. Ludwig describes the rainless climate of Egypt and the rise of the river:
"The wholesome dryness (of Egypt) is troubled only in spring by the Chamsin, the hot south-east wind which suddenly darkens the earth... suddenly raises the temperature of the air to over 118° F., the water to nearly 80, drying up the lungs of men and of plants... annual rainfall figures: at the source of the. Blue Nile in the Abyssinian Alps, over 50 inches... in Upper Egypt, 0; in Cairo, 1.2; in Alexandria, 6 (inches)." (Page 318.) Yet the rise of the Nile is not the same year after year. "In close succession — in 1904 and 1908 — one flood was twice as high as the other." (Page 103.) Who could predict the rise of the Nile? Pharaoh Zoser in the time of Joseph knew that "only God can know" and he entrusted the future of his kingdom and his own future to the man who interpreted a dream of seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. The height of the Nile rise was a matter of life and death to Pharaoh's nation.
"For three to four months, from June to September, (the Nile) rises 13 to 14 ells in Upper Egypt, 7 to 8 in the Delta. In these hundred days, the virile river takes possession of the expectant land, then, every inch a god, withdraws into the unknown, leaving behind only the symbolic priest, who represents it and guards its temples. Thus, as a god, it has been worshipped by all men dwelling on its banks, by all who have conquered it, down to our own day." (Page 325.)
"Today that secret (of what makes the Nile rise) is the secret of the monsoons that break against the Alps of Abyssinia. No one knows their strength, nor can anyone reckon in advance the conditions of cloud-formation; hence neither the volume of the Ethiopian rain nor the force of the flood rolling down the Blue Nile at the Atbara can be known.... Once it is there, we can measure the flood exactly and distribute it... but so could the Pharaohs men knew the numbers 'and prayed for 16 ells: that is the high flood, and that is the meaning of sixteen 'children' on the statue of the bearded Nile in the Vatican. Pliny expressed this with Roman terseness: '12 ells mean hunger, 13 sufficiency, 14 joy, 15 security, 16 abundance.'" (Pages 326, 327.) Why did the children of Israel worship "the golden calf" so readily while Moses was in the mount receiving the Ten Commandments? Does the following cast any light on the subject?
"Sometimes, during the anxious period of drought just before the flood, Pharaoh came in person up the Nile to Silsileh, where the river seems to vanish in the narrows between the rocks. There he sought to propitiate the Nile god with gifts, particularly a white ox, and if he threw a roll of papyrus with magic formulas into the water, the river was certain to rise again from the earth." (Page 396.) It is a commonly accepted belief that the Nile rose on a certain day and we are led to accept a simple picture of a river flooding one day and then slowly tapering off. A study of the problem shows a river that rose at a different day For every point a long its course, and that day was by no means the same one each year. Once the river began to rise it continued that rise for three months. Thus the high point of rise was in September not the June 21 date of the solstice and rise of Sirius. (Century by century Sirius rises later, today's date being July 19.)
"Of the three Egyptian seasons, Nili, Shitwi, and Sefi — flood, winter, and summer — summer and flood merge, for though the flood sets in from June on, it reaches its height only at the beginning of September." (Page 335,) So firm is the belief of the historians in the validity of Egypt's history that another quote from Ludwig is urgent. Did Egypt's calendar begin a first cycle in the days of Zoser or 1460 years earlier? Or did Egyptian astronomers enjoy our modern pastime of figuring backwards?
We must not forget the principle used in our own time of setting some remote arbitrary date in the past as a starting point. "The Renaisance scholar Joseph Justus Scaliger suggested in 1582 that all dates be referred to an arbitrary initial date, January 1, 4713 B.C., which he chose in connection with his work on early chronology. The date thus reckoned is known as the Julian day... in honor of his father... and not to be confused with the Julian calendar." (Page 47 of Introduction to Astronomy by Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin. The choice of 3113 B.C. by the Mayas is possibly of similar origin.)
Quoting again from The Nile by Ludwig:
"For aeons these sons of the desert must have observed the stars, seeing that, a thousand years before the first Pharaoh, they had already invented the calendar. It has been proved that they possessed it in the year 4236 before our era. Since they divided the year into three parts, Flood, Seedtime, and Harvest, and into twelve months of thirty days each, a few *days remained over every year, which had accumulated in five hundred years to such an extent that the Flood season actually fell in harvesttime. To eliminate this error, that is, to bring the whole year round to its starting-point again, it would take 1460 years; and in the epochs of Egyptian history, this 'wandering year' first arrived in 2776 under Pharaoh Zoser, who built the step-pyramid, then again in 1316 under a successor of Ikhnaton, and still in time to find the Pharaohs in the Nile valley, but the third time the wandering year came round, it encountered Ptolemy, the greatest mathematician of his time, in 144 A.D.; the fourth time it met Mamelukes, and there was still two centuries to wait for General Bonaparte." (Page 406.) The above quote begins cycles in 4236, 2776, 1316 B.C. and also in 144 A.D. If the 1460 year Sothic cycle began in Pharaoh Zoser's time, the previous 1460 years were merely a chronologer's effort to run the calendar backwards before his time.
Will modern Egypt really solve its problems with the new Aswan High Dam and the older Aswan Dam? What of the problem of "no rain'' and a "plague" in the millennium on an Egypt that does not want to follow the lunar-solar calendar and come up to "keep the Feast of Tabernacles"? How has the idea of damming the Nile actually worked so far?
"And little devils actually co-operate... to frustrate a great idea... First, the storage-water has no silt. and yields smaller crops... for the first time since thousands of years, the fellah has to manure the soil of Egypt... The land that was kept healthy by its dryness breeds insects when it perpetually lies under water; new diseases such as bilharziasis, rise from the widened Nile like Egyptian plagues, and from a thousand mouths rises the cry: 'No more dams! No more water!'" (Pages 336, 7.)
The Dawn of Astronomy by Lockyer The following quotations from The Dawn of Astronomy by G. Norman Lockyer point out the relationships of the heavens, the Egyptian calendar and Egyptian agriculture.
"In Egypt the year was always, as it is now, associated with the rise of the river." (Page 225.) "The great difficulty experienced in understanding the statements generally made concerning the Nile rise is due to the fact that the maximum flood, is, as a rule, registered in Cairo upwards of 40 days after the maximum at Aswan." (Page 240.) Thus we see that the year was associated with the rise of the river, but that the further downstream a city was, the later the rise would be.
"If the solstice had been taken alone, the date of it would have been the same for all parts of the valley... it was chiefly a matter of the arrival of the Nile flood, and the date of the commencement of the Nile flood, was, by no means, common to all parts of Egypt," (Page 240,)
"In the 1878 flood... the river rose in the most abnormal fashion... the wheat was sown too late, and got badly scorched by the hot winds of March and April... the modern Egyptians still hold to the old months for irrigation 30th Misra is the last safe date for sowing maize in the delta." (Page 242.) A successful agricultural year would depend upon a calendar successfully tied to the tropical year. Various authorities give the length of the Egyptian year at 360, 365, and 365! days. If they had used the solstice alone, the length of the year would have been close to our Gregorian year, 365.2425. Instead, the Egyptians chose the heliacal rising of the star, Sirius, which, due to the precession of the equinoxes and its declination, gave a 365! day year. The exact length of the sidereal year is 365.2563604; the precessional movement affected the declination as well as the Right Ascension of each star.
"The Sirius year, like the Julian, was about 11 minutes longer than the true year, so that in 3000 years we should have a difference of about 23 days." (Page 253.) The sidereal year, 365.2563604 days, was about 9 minutes and 13 seconds longer than the Sirius year due to the precessional factor.
"During 3000 years of Egyptian history the beginning of the year was marked by the rising of Sirius, which took place nearly coincidentally with the rise of the Nile and the summer solstice... the commencement of the inundation was later as the place-of observation was-nearer the mouth of the river... Of the three coincident, or nearly coincident, phenomena, the rise of the Nile, the summer solstice, and the rising of Sirius, they at first chose the last." (Page 249.) An additional complicating factor was the taboo on adding intercalary days or months, as the Jewish calendar today does, or as we do with Roman calendar by by adding a February 29th every four years.
"Each Egyptian king, on his accession to the throne, bound himself by an oath before the priest of Isis, in the temple of Ptah at Memphis, not to intercalate either days or months, but to retain the year of 365 as establish by the Antiqui. The text of the Latin translation… cannot be accurately restored; only thus much can be seen with certainty." (Page 248.) The Egyptian king was thus bound by oath not to observe a lunar-solar calendar, but to observe a purely solar calendar of whole days.
There was a 360-day work year plus "a 'little month' of 5 days... interpolated at the end of the year between Mesori of one year and Thoth of the next." But apparently there was no additional "February 29th" every four years.
"They had a vague year (365 days) in the Sirius year (365.25 days), so related, as we have seen, that the successive coincidences of the first of Thoth in both years took place after an interval of 1460 years. Now, for calendar purposes... the easiest way would be to conceive of a great year or Annus Magnus, consisting of 1460 years, each day of which would represent four years in actual time... to consider everything. to take place on the first of Thoth in each year... as the cycle swept onward, the date would sweep backward among the months of the great Sacred Year until its end." (Page 257.) Compare this with the system of the Mayas where a 365-day year was observed in conjunction with a 260-day year, making a great cycle of 52 (365-day): years or 73 (260-day) years. There should be further study of the Maya and Egyptian calendars, of their similar pyramids, and of their similar hieroglyphs.
It is obvious that the Egyptians recognized an astronomical year of 365¼ days, tied to the heliacal rising of Sirius.
"Now it is clear, that if the Egyptians really worked in this fashion this calendar system… is good only for groups of four years. Now, a system that went no further than this would be a very coarse one. We find, however, that special precautions were taken to define which year of the four was in question. Brugsch, indeed, shows that a special sign was employed to mark the first year of a series of four," (Page 259.) Thus we have the Egyptians setting up a 360-day work year, followed by a five-day period of festivities, yet understanding that their year was one quarter day short of the astronomical Sirius year. The first day of Thoth was gradually moving backward in the seasons, one day in four years, 25 days in a century, a full revolution in the year to its original position in 1460 years, which is termed a Sothic cycle.
The astronomer in Egypt thus made his calculations on the basis of the Sirius year of 365.25 days while the king was bound to follow a 365-day year. The priest-astronomer was thus able to hold his position of authority over the king of Egypt. The beginning of the calendar year moved gradually backward through the seasons, yet everyone who cared to might observe the rising o1f Sirius in the east on about June 21 (Gregorian date).
But there are two other complicating factors.
"The heliacal rising of the star would not take place on the same day for the whole of Egypt, the difference between Thebes and Memphis (because of their latitudes), amounting to about 4 days; and, further still, the almost constant mists in the-mornings in the Nile valley prevent accurate observations of the moment of rising." (Page 247.) The Egyptians had aligned their calendar with the summer solstice, the rise of the Nile, and the heliacal rising of Sirius. Astronomers in the Tigris-Euphrates valley, however, were concerned with the equinox.
"The Euphrates and Tigris rise at the Spring Equinox — the religion was equinoxial. The temples were directed to the east. The Nile rises at a solstice — the religion was solstitial and the solar temples were directed no longer to the east. (Page 229.) Rather their direction was toward the northeast for the summer solstice. Our next step will be to determine the method Moses and Joshua used to side step the confusion of Egypt.
* Six hours is the actual length of time involved in the Sothic cycle. A 5¼ day remainder would give a 70-year cycle.