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Lecture II-2 Egypt and Israel

Lecture II-2 Egypt and Israel - September 13 Egyptians and...

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September 13: Egyptians and Hebrews Last time we talked about the earliest civilizations which would contribute to the western tradition: the city-states of ancient Mesopotamia, in terms which generally held valid from 5000 BC down to about 500 BC. Let me remind you of a few fundamental points about Mesopotamian society. Mesopotamia was well-suited to the development of early agriculture due to its physical setting, particularly the presence of rivers running through broad plains, allowing irrigation. However, the very evenness of the plains and the openness of the land to many surrounding areas meant that it never formed a natural political unit. Rather, there were many separate city-states, and many outside peoples who could invade, so that the history of the era is a story of a series of unstable empires which rise and collapse in fairly rapid succession. In a lot of ways, this very instability pushed the leading classes of Mesopotamia to develop new ways of holding people together, which are the roots of many features of modern society; ideology, in particular, built on military success, on an alliance between kings and temples, and on lawgiving; also means of administration and record-keeping through the development of writing and mathematics. Now, to the southwest of the Fertile Crescent, in the northeast corner of Africa, a different set of physical conditions prevailed. In Egypt, the Nile river is noted for very predictable, regular flooding due to the dramatic differences in dry and wet seasons in central Africa. As a result, Egypt is defined by a narrow strip of extremely fertile land running through the middle of practically uninhabitable desert. Here they had an advantage over the Mesopotamians; because the water for their agriculture came from the
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Nile Floods rather than rainfall or irrigation, they were able to farm much more productively without having to worry about weather or invest in the scale of canal- digging and maintenance that Sumerians and Babylonians did. Egypt was unified almost a thousand years before Sargon I created the first empire in Mesopotamia. In contrast to Mesopotamia, Egypt’s political history is dominated by unity and stability rather than disunity and instability. Prior to the land’s conquest by Persians in 525 BC, Egyptians priests and scribes recorded a history of 26 successive dynasties; this long history was divided into Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, and New Kingdom periods, each followed by an “intermediate period” in which Egypt was temporarily divided. Compare this to Mesopotamia, which was never unified for more than 100 years at a time under any empire. In all, the average Egyptian had a life that was far more predictable and stable than that of the average Mesopotamian. You knew when the most important event of the year would happen, the flooding of the Nile: you knew what kind of a crop you could expect to get from your land. You knew who ruled the land, and you knew that there was
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Lecture II-2 Egypt and Israel - September 13 Egyptians and...

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