Egypt’s 40 year Desolation–When?
8 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: “Here I am bringing upon you a sword, and I will cut off from you earthling man and domestic animal. 9 And the land of Egypt must become a desolate waste and a devastated place; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah, for the reason that he has said, ‘To me the Nile River belongs, and I myself have made [it].’ 10 Therefore here I am against you and against your Nile canals, and I will make the land of Egypt devastated places, dryness, a desolated waste, from Mig′dol to Sy·e′ne and to the boundary of E·thi·o′pi·a. 11 There will not pass through it the foot of earthling man, nor will the foot of domestic animal pass through it, and for forty years it will not be inhabited. 12 And I will make the land of Egypt a desolate waste in the midst of desolated lands; and its own cities will become a desolate waste in the very midst of devastated cities for forty years; and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and disperse them among the lands.”
13 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: “At the end of forty years I shall collect the Egyptians together out of the peoples among whom they will have been scattered, 14 and I will bring back the captive group of the Egyptians; and I will bring them back to the land of Path′ros, to the land of their origin, and there they must become a lowly kingdom. 15 Lower than the [other] kingdoms it will become, and it will no more lift itself up over the [other] nations, and I will make them so few as not to have the [other] nations in subjection.
A few questions, now:
1.When did this forty-year period most likely begin? What major defeats did Egypt undergo in its Late Period?
2.When did this forty-year period most likely conclude? Are there any historical sociopolitical regime upheavals coinciding with extant Biblical cues?
First we tackle question 1. We know Yahweh had already promised Egypt as spoil to Nebuchadnezzar II. When was this prophecy made and when did this neo-Babylonian conquest of Egypt occur?
The prophecy was made in…well, actually Ezekiel edited his prophecy. Note:
Jehovah now tells Ezekiel to set his face against Egypt and its Pharaoh and to prophesy against them. “My Nile River belongs to me, and I—I have made it for myself,” brags Pharaoh. (29:3) Pharaoh, and the Egyptians who believe in him, will also have to know that Jehovah is God, and the lesson will be administered by a 40-year desolation. Ezekiel here inserts some information actually revealed to him later, in 591 B.C.E. Jehovah will give Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar as compensation for his service in wearing down Tyre. (Nebuchadnezzar took very little spoil at Tyre, since the Tyrians escaped with most of their wealth to their island city.) In a dirge, Ezekiel makes known that Nebuchadnezzar will despoil the pride of Egypt, and “they will also have to know that I am Jehovah.”—32:15.
si book, Ezekiel (bold type added by me)
So, by 591 B.C.E this prophecy had been promulgated.
Now, how was the conquest to occur? At whose hand?
3 “This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said, ‘I will also spread over you my net by means of a congregation of many peoples, and they will certainly bring you in my dragnet. 4 And I must abandon you on the land. Upon the surface of the field I shall hurl you. And on you I will cause all the flying creatures of the heavens to reside, and off you I will satisfy the wild beasts of the whole earth. 5 And I will put your flesh upon the mountains and fill the valleys with the refuse of you. 6 And I will cause [the] land to drink up your discharged matter, from your blood, upon the mountains; and streambeds themselves will be filled up from you.’
7 “‘And when you get extinguished I will cover [the] heavens and darken their stars. As for [the] sun, with clouds I shall cover it, and [the] moon itself will not let its light shine. 8 All the luminaries of light in the heavens—I shall darken them on your account, and I will put darkness upon your land,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah.
9 “‘And I will offend the heart of many peoples when I bring the captives from you among the nations to lands that you have not known. 10 And at you I shall certainly cause many peoples to be awestruck, and their kings themselves will shudder in horror at you when I brandish my sword in their faces, and they will have to tremble every moment, each one for his own soul, on the day of your downfall.’
11 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said, ‘The very sword of the king of Babylon will come upon you. 12 I shall cause your crowd to fall by the very swords of mighty ones, the tyrants of [the] nations, all of them; and they will actually despoil the pride of Egypt, and all her crowd must be annihilated. 13 And I will destroy all her domestic animals from beside many waters, and the foot of earthling man will no more muddy them, nor will even the hoofs of a domestic animal muddy them.’
14 “‘At that time I shall make their waters clear up, and their rivers I shall make go just like oil,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah.
15 “‘When I make the land of Egypt a desolate waste and the land is desolated of its fullness, when I strike down all the inhabitants in it, they will also have to know that I am Jehovah.
So: Egypt’s desolation was to occur at the hand of Babylon, specifically by Nebuchadnezzar–after the fall of the mainland city of Tyre. Chronology places Tyre’s fall not long after the sack of Jerusalem.
It was also sometime after the fall of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. that Nebuchadnezzar began the siege against Tyre. During this siege the heads of his soldiers were “made bald” from the chafing of the helmets and their shoulders were “rubbed bare” from carrying materials used in the construction of siegeworks. As Nebuchadnezzar received no “wages” for serving as Jehovah’s instrument in executing judgment upon Tyre, He promised to give him the wealth of Egypt. (Eze 26:7-11; 29:17-20; see TYRE.) One fragmentary Babylonian text, dated to Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year (588 B.C.E.), does, in fact, mention a campaign against Egypt. (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. Pritchard, 1974, p. 308) But it cannot be established whether it relates to the original conquest or a later military action.
As to question 2, there were several notable sociopolitical upheavals during the Saite period/26th dynastic era of Late Egypt. Babylon, Persia, even Alexander of Macedon all had their suzerainty over Egypt at one time or another. Important to note, however, that the end of the 40 years would not likely be marked by pomp and fanfare. Egypt’s sacerdotal history-writers, as ever, would attempt to censor any period clearly showing a breach in the apotheosis of their demigod monarchs.
“After the fall of Assyria in 612 B.C., the major foreign threat to Egypt came from the Babylonians. Although Babylonia had invaded Egypt in 568 B.C. during a brief civil war, both countries formed a mutual alliance in 547 B.C. against the rising threat of a third power, the Persian empire—but to no avail. The Persians conquered Babylonia in 539 B.C. and Egypt in 525 B.C., bringing an end to the Saite dynasty and native control of Egypt.”
At Ezekiel 29:1-16 a desolation of Egypt is foretold, due to last 40 years. This may have come after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Egypt. While some commentaries refer to the reign of Amasis (Ahmose) II, the successor of Hophra, as exceedingly prosperous during more than 40 years, they do so primarily on the testimony of Herodotus, who visited Egypt over a hundred years later. But as the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1959, Vol. 8, p. 62) comments on Herodotus’ history of this period (the “Saitic Period”): “His statements prove not entirely reliable when they can be checked by the scanty native evidence.” The Bible Commentary by F. C. Cook, after noting that Herodotus even fails to mention Nebuchadnezzar’s attack on Egypt, says: “It is notorious that Herodotus, while he faithfully recorded all that he heard and saw in Egypt, was indebted for his information on past history to the Egyptian priests, whose tales he adopted with blind credulity. . . . The whole story [by Herodotus] of Apries [Hophra] and Amasis is mixed with so much that is inconsistent and legendary that we may very well hesitate to adopt it as authentic history. It is by no means strange that the priests should endeavour to disguise the national dishonour of having been subjected to a foreign yoke.” (Note B., p. 132) Hence, while secular history provides no clear evidence of the prophecy’s fulfillment, we may be confident of the accuracy of the Bible record.
So from what details can be gleaned from an attentive perusal of Ezekiel’s prophecy (and basic arithmetic to recalibrate against Berossus’/Ptolemy’s figure of 587/586 for Jerusalem’s downfall), we arrive at a plausible approximation: Nebuchadnezzar struck out on a successful campaign of conquest against Egypt late in his reign (c. 588 B.C.E), conquering it within a few years–say, by 585 B.C.E. (Egypt’s Pharaoh at that time was Amasis II–mythologized by Herodotus’ parroting the Egyptian priests’ stories.) 40 years of desertion and desolation lay upon Egypt, whereafter (but not immediately thereafter) in 525 B.C.E., another transfer of power occurred, this time at Pelusium (a coastal city on the Eastern extreme of the Nile delta, far away from any of the major former population centres of the Upper Nile). In 525 B.C.E. Cambyses II tool control of Egypt, for it was there for the taking. Not even priests’ tales could mar the self-evident truth any longer: Egypt was a ‘lowly kingdom’ indeed. The sun had set on the last of the Pharaohs.