Greetings to all,
I hope you have had a good week, and I hope too that you will enjoy the weekend before us.
This week we began our unit on Egypt, and first considered the influence of geography on the formation of their civilization. I wanted to ask the following of the students:
1. What is the central feature of Egyptian geography, and why might this promote civilization?
2. What about Egyptian geography might influence it towards strong centralized government?
3. How might Egyptian geography have influenced their religion?
I do not believe geography exercises an absolute authority over humankind. We are always left with choice & responsibility for those choices. Having said that, we should not neglect the impact our surroundings may have upon us. I do also stress to the students that the heart of any civilization is not its surroundings, resources, etc., but what it worships. What a civilization worships is, in its turn, often reflected in its architecture. With that in mind, I anticipate us taking a hard look at the pyramids next week.
To whom can I speak today?One’s fellows are evil;The friends of today do not love.To whom can I speak today?The gentle man has perished,But the violent man has access to all.To whom can I speak today?No one remembers the past;No one at this time does good in return for good.Death stands before me todayLike the recovery of a sick man,Like going outside after being confined.
Like the fragrance of myrrh,Like sitting under the shade on a breezy day.Death stands before me todayAs a man longs to see his house,After he has spent many years in captivity.
- The extremes may have led to Egypt’s focus on ‘Ma’at,’ or keeping things in balance. When one lives in between stark images of life and death constantly, it should not surprise us to see an inordinate focus on the concept of “balance.” Keeping the order of things (ma’at) was the central job of the pharaoh, and of course this is a semi-divine task. No problem per se for the Egyptians, as in their mind the pharaoh’s were divine, or perhaps semi-divine, themselves. When we look at the Exodus in a little bit we should keep in mind that among other things, God exposes Pharaoh’s complete inability to maintain “ma’at.” God uses the plagues as a means to free His people, but also a message to the Egyptians to come join the Israelites. Pharaoh’s inability to maintain harmony and balance gets decisively exposed.
- The relative sameness and flatness of Egypt contributed to the political centralization of Egypt. Egyptian society could not exist without fair and equitable distribution of the Nile floodwaters, and this would have required executive oversight. But it may also have psychologically contributed to the eventual rigidity of thought that eventually overtook Egypt from about 1800 B.C. onward.
With this emphasis on Ma’at we get confronted with a very different way of thinking, and a very different set of priorities. A president who wanted to look successful in his memoirs would probably highlight the great changes he brought to America. In Egypt, Pharaoh’s “memoirs” focused on how they kept things exactly the same, in just the proper proportion (for those interested one can read this post on Ma’at and Pharaoh Userkaf).
Towards the end of the week we began our look at Thutmose III and the Battle of Meggido. We will continue that next week as well examine the Book of the Dead and the monotheistic Pharaoh Ikhneton.