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Reference: Nile


The celebrated river of Egypt. It takes this name only after the junction of the two great streams of which it is composed, namely, the Bahr el Abiad, or White River, which rises in the mountains of the Moon, in the interior of Africa, and runs northeast till it is joined by the other branch, the Bahr el Azrek, or Blue river, which rises in Abyssinia, and after a large circuit to the southeast and southwest, in which it passes through the lake of Dembea, flows northwards to join the White river. This Abyssinian branch has in modern times been regarded as the real Nile, although the White River is much the largest and longest, and was in ancient times considered as the true Nile. The junction takes place about latitude sixteen degrees north. From this point the Nile flows always in a northerly direction, with the exception of one large bend to the west. About thirteen hundred miles form the sea it receives its last branch, the Tacazze, a large stream from Abyssinia, and having passed through Nubia, it enters Egypt at the cataracts near Syene, or Essuan, which are formed by a chain of rocks stretching east and west. There are here three falls; after which the river pursues its course in still and silent majesty through the whole length of the land of Egypt. Its average breadth is about seven hundred yards. In Lower Egypt it divides into several branches and forms the celebrated Delta; for which see under EGYPT. See also a view of the river in AMMON.

As rain very seldom falls, even in winter, in Southern Egypt, and usually only slight and infrequent showers in Lower Egypt, the whole physical and political existence of Egypt may be said to depend on the Nile; since without this river, and even without its regular annual inundation's, the whole land would be but a desert. These inundation's, so mysterious in the view of ancient ignorance and superstition, are caused by the regular periodical rains in the countries farther south, around the sources of the Nile, in March and later. The river begins to rise in Egypt about the middle of June, and continues to increase through the month of July. In August it overflows its banks, and reaches its highest point early in September; and the country is then mostly covered with its waters, Am 8:8; 9:5; Na 3:8. In the beginning of October, the inundation still continues; and it is only towards the end of this month that the stream returns within its banks. From the middle of August till towards the end of October, the whole land of Egypt resembles a great lake or sea, in which the towns and cities appear as islands.

The cause of the fertility which the Nile imparts lies not only in its thus watering the land, but also in the thick slimy mud which its waters bring down along with them and deposit on the soil of Egypt. It is like a coat of rich manure; and the seed being immediately sown upon it, without digging or ploughing, springs up rapidly, grows with luxuriance, and ripens into abundance. See EGYPT.

It must not, however, be supposed that the Nile spreads itself over every spot of land, and waters it sufficiently without artificial aid. Niebuhr justly remarks, "Some descriptions of Egypt would lead us to think that the Nile, when it swells, lays the whole province under water. The lands immediately adjoining to the banks of the river are indeed laid under water, but the natural inequality of the ground hinders it from overflowing the interior country. A great part of the lands would therefore remain barren, were not canals and reservoirs formed to receive water from the river, when at its greatest height, which is thus conveyed everywhere through the fields, and reserved for watering them when occasion requires." In order to raise the water to grounds, which lie higher, machines have been used in Egypt from times immemorial. These are chiefly wheels to which buckets are attached. One kind is turned by oxen; another smaller kind, by men seated, and pushing the lower spokes from them with their feet, while they pulled the upper spokes towards them with their hands, De 11:10.

As the inundations of the Nile are of so much importance to the whole land, structures have been erected on which the beginning and progress of its rise might be observed. These are called Nilometers; that is, "Nile measures." At present there is one, one thousand years old and half in ruins, on the little island opposite Cairo; it is under the care of the government, and according to it the beginning and subsequent progress of the rise of the Nile were carefully observed and proclaimed by authority. If the inundation reached the height of twenty-two Paris feet, a rich harvest was expected; because then all the fields had received the requisite irrigation. If it fell short of this height and in proportion as it thus fell short, the land was threatened with want and famine of which many horrible examples occur in Egyptian history. Should the rise of the water exceed twenty-eight Paris feet, a famine was in like manner feared. The annual rise of the river also varies exceedingly in different parts of its course, being twenty feet greater where the river is narrow than in Lower Egypt. The channel is thought to be gradually filling up; and many of the ancient outlets at the Delta are dry in summer and almost obliterated. The drying up of the waters of Egypt would involve its destruction as a habitable land to the destruction as a habitable land to the same extent; and this fact is recognized in the prophetic denunciations of this remarkable country, Isa 11:15; 19:1-10; Eze 29:10; 30:12.

The water of the Nile, although during a great part of the year turbid, from the effects of the rains above, yet furnishes, when purified by settling, the softest and sweetest water for drinking. Its excellence is acknowledged by all travelers. The Egyptians are full of its praises, and even worshipped the river as a god.

The Hebrews sometimes gave both to the Euphrates and the Nile the name of "sea," Isa 19:5; Na 3:8. In this they are borne out by Arabic writers, and also by the common people of Egypt, who to this day commonly speak of the Nile as "the sea." It is also still celebrated for its fish. Compare Nu 11:5; Isa 19:8. In its waters are likewise found the crocodile or leviathan, and the hippopotamus or behemoth. See EGYPT, and SIHOR.

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dark; blue, not found in Scripture, but frequently referred to in the Old Testament under the name of Sihor, i.e., "the black stream" (Isa 23:3; Jer 2:18) or simply "the river" (Ge 41:1; Ex 1:22, etc.) and the "flood of Egypt" (Am 8:8). It consists of two rivers, the White Nile, which takes its rise in the Victoria Nyanza, and the Blue Nile, which rises in the Abyssinian Mountains. These unite at the town of Khartoum, whence it pursues its course for 1,800 miles, and falls into the Mediterranean through its two branches, into which it is divided a few miles north of Cairo, the Rosetta and the Damietta branch. (See Egypt.)

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Not so named in the Bible; related to Sanskrit Nilah, "blue." The Nile has two names: the sacred name Hapi, or Hapi-mu, "the abyss of waters," Hp-ro-mu, "the waters whose source is hidden"; and the common name Yeor Aor, Aur (Atur): both Egyptian names. Shihor, "the black river," is its other Bible name, Greek Melas or Kmelas, Latin Melo, darkened by the fertilizing soil which it deposits at its overflow (Jer 2:18). The hieroglyphic name of Egypt is Kam, "black." Egyptians distinguished between Hapi-res, the "southern Nile" of Upper Egypt, and Hapi-meheet, the "northern Nile" of Lower Egypt. Hapi-ur, "the high Nile," fertilizes the land; the Nile low brought famine. The Nile god is painted red to represent the inundation, but blue at other times. An impersonation of Noah (Osburn). Famine and plenty are truly represented as coming up out of the river in Pharaoh's dream (Genesis 41). Therefore they worshipped it, and the plague on its waters, was a judgment on that idolatry (Ex 7:21; Ps 105:29). (See EGYPT; EXODUS.)

The rise begins at the summer solstice; the flood is two months later, after the autumnal equinox, at its height pouring through cuttings in the banks which are higher than the rest of the soil and covering the valley, and lasting three months. (Am 8:8; 9:5; Isa 23:3). The appointed S.W. bound of Palestine (Jos 13:3; 1Ch 13:5; 2Ch 9:26; Ge 15:18). 1Ki 8:65 "stream" (nachal, not "river".) Its confluent is still called the Blue river; so Nilah means "darkblue," or "black." The plural "rivers" is used for the different mouths, branches, and canals of the Nile. The tributaries are further up than Egypt (Ps 78:44; Ex 7:18-20; Isa 7:18; 19:6; Eze 29:3; 30:12). "The stream (nachal) of Egypt" seems distinct (Isa 27:12), now "wady el Arish" (where was the frontier city Rhino-corura) on the confines of Palestine and Egypt (Jos 15:4,47, where for "river" should stand "stream," nachal)).

Smith's Bible Dictionary suggests that nachal) is related to the Nile and is that river; but the distinctness with which nachal) is mentioned, and not as elsewhere Sihor, or "river," Ye'or, forbids the identification. "The rivers of Ethiopia" (Isa 18:1-2), Cush, are the Atbara, the Astapus or Blue river, between which two rivers Meroe (the Ethiopia meant in Isaiah 18) lies, and the Astaboras or White Nile; these rivers conjoin in the one Nile, and wash down the soil along their banks from Upper Egypt, and deposit it on Lower Egypt; compare "whose land (Upper Egypt) the rivers have spoiled" or "cut up" or "divided." The Nile is called "the sea" (Isa 19:5), for it looks a sea at the overflow; the Egyptians still call it El Bahr "the sea" (Na 3:8). Its length measured by its course is probably 3,700 miles, the longest in the world. Its bed is cut through layers of nummulitic limestone (of which the pyramids of Ghizeh are built, full of nummulites, which the Arabs call "Pharaoh's beans"), sandstone under that, breccia verde under that, azoic rocks still lower, with red granite and syenite rising through all the upper strata at the first cataract.

Sir Samuel Baker has traced its (the White Nile's) source up to the Tanganyika, Victoria, and Albert Nyanza lakes, filled with the melting snows from the mountains and the periodical equatorial heavy rains. The Hindus call its source Amana, the name of a region N.E. of the Nyanza. The shorter confluent, the Blue river, is what brings down from the Abyssinian mountains the alluvial soil that fertilizes Egypt. The two join at Khartoom, the capital of Soodan, the black country under Egypt's rule. The Atbara falls into the main stream further N. The river thenceforth for 2,300 miles receives no tributary. Through the breaking down of a barrier at Silsilis or at the first cataract, the river is so much below the level of the valley in lower Nubia that it does not overflow on the land. On the confines of Upper Egypt it forms two cataracts, the lower near Syene. Thence it runs 500 miles onward. A short way below Cairo and the pyramids it parts into two branches, bounding the Delta E. and W. and falling into the Mediterranean. Always diffusing its waters, and never receiving any accession of water from sky or tributary, its volume at Cairo is but half what it is at the cataract of Syene.

The water is sweet, especially when turbid. Stagnant waters left by the overflow in Nubia's sandy flats are carried into the Nile by the new overflow, thus the water is at first a green shiny color and unwholesome for two or three days. Twelve days later it becomes red like blood, and is then most wholesome and refreshing; and all living beings, men, beasts, birds, fish, and insects are gladdened by its advent. Egypt having only a little rain (Zec 14:17-18) depends on the Nile for its harvests; see in De 11:10-12 the contrast to the promised land, where the husbandman has to look up to heaven for rain instead of looking down, irrigating the land. with watercourses turned by the foot as in Egypt (a type of the spiritual state of the two respectively), and where Jehovah's eyes are upon it from the beginning to the end of the year. The waters reach their lowest in nine months groin their highest point in the autumn equinox; they remain stationary for a few days and then begin to rise again.

If they reach no higher than 22 ft. at the island Rhoda, between Cairo and Ghizeh, where a nilometer is kept, the rise is insufficient; if 27, good; if more, the flood injures the crops, and plague and murrain ensue. The further S. one goes, the earlier the inundation begins; at Khartoom as early as April. The seven years' famine under Joseph is confirmed by the seven years' famine in the reign of Fatimee Khaleefeh El-Mustansir bi-'llah, owing to the failure of water. The universal irrigation maintained, even during the low season of the Nile, made the results of failure of its waters more disastrous then than now. The mean rise above the lowest level registered at Semne, near the second cataract, in Moeris' reign, 2000 B.C., was 62 ft. 6 inches, i.e. 23 ft. 10 inches above the present rise which is 38 ft. 8 inches (Lepsius in the Imperial Dictionary) The average rate of deposit in Egypt now is four and a half inches in the century.

But other causes were at work formerly; the danger of inferences as to man's antiquity from such data is amusingly illustrated by Homer's (Philippians Transac. 148) inference from pottery found at a great depth that man must have lived there in civilization 13,000 years ago, which Bunsen accepted! Unfortunately for the theory the Greek honeysuckle was found on some of it. The burnt brick still lower, on which he laid stress, was itself enough to have confuted him, for burnt brick was first introduced into Egypt under Rome (see Quarterly Revue, April, 1859). Champollion holds no Egyptian monument to be older than 2,200 B.C. In Upper Egypt bore yellow mountains, a few hundred feet high, and pierced with numerous tombs, bound the N. on both sides; this gives point to Israel's sneer, "because there were no graves in Egypt hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?" (Ex 14:11).

In Lower Egypt the land spreads out on either side of the Nile in a plain bounded E. and W. by the desert. At the inundation the Nile rushes along in a mighty torrent, made to appear more violent by the waves which the N. wind, blowing continually then, raises up (Jer 46:7-8). Two alone of the seven noted branches of the mouth (of which the Pelusiac was the most eastern) remain, the Damietta (Phanitic) and Rosetta (Bolbitine) mouths, originally artificial (Herodotus ii. 10), fulfilling Isa 19:5 and probably Isa 11:11-15; Eze 30:12. The Nile in the numerous canals besides the river itself formerly "abounded with incredible numbers of all sorts of fish" (Diodorus Siculus i.; Nu 11:5). These too, as foretold (Isa 19:8-10), have failed except about lake Menzaleh. So also the papyrus reeds, from whence paper receives its designation, flags, reeds, and the lotus with its fragrant and various colored flowers, have almost disappeared as foretold (Isa 19:6-7), the papyrus boats no more skim its surface (Isa 18:2).

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The Greek name of the river, of uncertain derivation. The Egyptian name was Hopi, later Yer-'o, 'Great River,' but the Hebrew generally designates the Nile by the plain Egyptian word for 'river,' Ye'




(blue, dark), the great river of Egypt. The word Nile nowhere occurs in the Authorized Version but it is spoken of under the names of Sihor [SIHOR] and the "river of Egypt."

See Sihor

Ge 15:18

We cannot as yet determine the length of the Nile, although recent discoveries have narrowed the question. There is scarcely a doubt that its largest confluent is fed by the great lakes on and south of the equator. It has been traced upward for about 2700 miles, measured by its course, not in a direct line, and its extent is probably over 1000 miles more. (The course of the river has been traced for 3300 miles. For the first 1800 miles (McClintock and Strong say 2300) from its mouth it receives no tributary; but at Kartoom, the capital of Nubia, is the junction of the two great branches, the White Nile and the Blue Nile, so called from the color of the clay which tinges their waters. The Blue Nile rises in the mountains of Abyssinia and is the chief source of the deposit which the Nile brings to Egypt. The White Nile is the larger branch. Late travellers have found its source in Lake Victoria Nyanza, three degrees south of the equator. From this lake to the mouth of the Nile the distance is 2300 miles in a straight line --one eleventh the circumference of the globe. From the First Cataract, at Syene, the river flows smoothly at the rate of two or three miles an hour with a width of half a mile. to Cairo. A little north of Cairo it divides into two branches, one flowing to Rosetta and the other to Damietta, from which place the mouths are named. See Bartlett's "Egypt and Palestine," 1879. The great peculiarity of the river is its annual overflow, caused by the periodical tropical rains. "With wonderful clock-like regularity the river begins to swell about the end of June, rises 24 feet at Cairo between the 20th and 30th of September and falls as much by the middle of May. Six feet higher than this is devastation; six feet lower is destitution." --Bartlett. So that the Nile increases one hundred days and decreases one hundred days, and the culmination scarcely varies three days from September 25 the autumnal equinox. Thus "Egypt is the gift of the Nile." As to the cause of the years of plenty and of famine in the time of Joseph, Mr. Osburn, in his "Monumental History of Egypt," thinks that the cause of the seven years of plenty was the bursting of the barriers (and gradually wearing them away) of "the great lake of Ethiopia," which once existed on the upper Nile, thus bringing more water and more sediment to lower Egypt for those years. And he shows how this same destruction of this immense sea would cause the absorption of the waters of the Nile over its dry bed for several years after thus causing the famine. There is another instance of a seven-years famine-A.D. 1064-1071.--ED.) The great difference between the Nile of Egypt in the present day and in ancient times is caused by the failure of some of its branches and the ceasing of some of its chief vegetable products; and the chief change in the aspect of the cultivable land, as dependent on the Nile, is the result of the ruin of the fish-pools and their conduits and the consequent decline of the fisheries. The river was famous for its seven branches, and under the Roman dominion eleven were counted, of which, however, there were but seven principal ones. The monuments and the narratives of ancient writers show us in the Nile of Egypt in old times a stream bordered By flags and reeds, the covert of abundant wild fowl, and bearing on its waters the fragrant flowers of the various-colored lotus. Now in Egypt scarcely any reeds or waterplants --the famous papyrus being nearly, if not quite extinct, and the lotus almost unknown--are to he seen, excepting in the marshes near the Mediterranean. Of old the great river must have shown a more fair and busy scene than now. Boats of many kinds were ever passing along it, by the painted walls of temples and the gardens that extended around the light summer pavilions, from the pleasure,valley, with one great square sail in pattern and many oars, to the little papyrus skiff dancing on the water and carrying the seekers of pleasure where they could shoot with arrows or knock down with the throw-stick the wild fowl that abounded among the reeds, or engage in the dangerous chase of the hippopotamus or the crocodile. The Nile is constantly before us in the history of Israel in Egypt.

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NILE, the river of Egypt, whose fountain is in the Upper Ethiopia. After having watered several kingdoms, the Nile continues its course far into the kingdom of Goiam. Then it winds about again, from the east to the north. Having crossed several kingdoms and provinces, it falls into Egypt at the cataracts, which are waterfalls over steep rocks of the length of two hundred feet. At the bottom of these rocks the Nile returns to its usual pace, and thus flows through the valley of Egypt. Its channel, according to Villamont, is about a league broad. At eight miles below Grand Cairo, it is divided into two arms, which make a triangle, whose base is at the Mediterranean Sea, and which the Greeks call the Delta, because of its figure ?. These two arms are divided into others, which discharge themselves into the Mediterranean, the distance of which from the top of the Delta is about twenty leagues. These branches of the Nile the ancients commonly reckoned to be seven. Ptolemy makes them nine, some only four, some eleven, some fourteen. Homer, Xenophon, and Diodorus Siculus testify, that the ancient name of this river was Egyptus; and the latter of these writers says, that it took the name Nilus only since the time of a king of Egypt called by that name. The Greeks gave it the name of Melas; and Diodorus Siculus observes, that the most ancient name by which the Grecians have known the Nile was Oceanus. The Egyptians paid divine honours to this river, and called it Jupiter Nilus.

Very little rain ever falls in Egypt, never sufficient to fertilize the land; and but for the provision of this bountiful river, the country would be condemned to perpetual sterility. As it is, from the joint operation of the regularity of the flood, the deposit of mud from the water of the river, and the warmth of the climate, it is the most fertile country in the world; the produce exceeding all calculation. It has in consequence been, in all ages, the granary of the east; and has on more than one occasion, an instance of which is recorded in the history of Joseph, saved the neighbouring countries from starvation. It is probable, that, while in these countries, on the occasion referred to, the seven years' famine was the result of the absence of rain, in Egypt it was brought about by the inundation being withheld: and the consternation of the Egyptians, at witnessing this phenomenon for seven successive years, may easily be conceived. The origin and course of the Nile being unknown to the ancients, its stream was held, and is still held by the natives, in the greatest veneration; and its periodical overflow was viewed with mysterious wonder. But both of these are now, from the discoveries of the moderns, better understood. It is now known, that the sources, or permanent springs, of the Nile are situated in the mountains of Abyssinia, and the unexplored regions to the west and south-west of that country; and that the occasional supplies, or causes of the inundation, are the periodical rains which fall in those districts. For a correct knowledge of these facts, and of the true position of the source of that branch of the river, which has generally been considered to be the continuation of the true Nile, we are indebted to our countryman, the intrepid and indefatigable Bruce. Although the Nile, by way of eminence, has been called "the river of Egypt," it must not be confounded with another stream so denominated in Scripture, an insignificant rivulet in comparison, which falls into the Mediterranean below Gaza.