"World history" is the true story of thought, ideas, culture, language, wars, governments, and economic systems throughout all of mankind's history. This includes billions of people over thousands of years. Every source is available to us, including the Bible. Everything mankind has ever written, invented, observed, conquered and destroyed is part of "World history." For example, we will study how Carthage was built into a power, and how it was then forever destroyed by its enemies from Rome.
Our course will place a special emphasis on aspects of World history that continue to be influential today, such as world religions and cultural conflicts; we will link what happened in ancient times to what is happening today. We are the product of our past. We will make use of the Bible, which is the greatest history book ever written.
American history covers only about 400 years; World history concerns over 5000 years, going back to the first evidence of recorded events. Our class covers the material in a course on Western Civilization or European history, and we cover far more too. We will learn about Islam and Hinduism and all the forces that continue to shape our world to this day. One cannot fully understand the attack on the United States known as "9/11" (it occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, destroying the World Trade Center), the violence in the Middle East, or the hostility between India and Pakistan without learning World history.
We will consider how mankind progressed in understanding the unseen -- such as truth and gravity and God. In mathematics, mankind progressed from the discovery of geometry (Greeks) to the concept of "zero" (Indians) to calculus (English). In economics, mankind progressed from wage and price controls (Romans) to the "invisible hand" of the free market (Scottish), which then unleashed enormous prosperity. Government progressed from rulers who claimed to be gods (Egyptians), to monarchs (Middle Ages), to constitutional republics (United States). World history spans from pre-Christian to Christian. What are we progressing towards now? We will learn to use history to predict the future.
Do not be misled by thinking that ancient peoples were dumb or boring because they lacked the technology of modern society. The Egyptians, for example, cleverly built the massive pyramids using techniques that no one to this day can figure out or duplicate. In 2600 B.C., they constructed the pyramid of Khufu containing 6 million tons of stone extending to a height of 481 feet. The workmanship was superior to anything we do today: the rock base was virtually flat, not varying in elevation by more than a half-inch; its orientation is precisely aligned with the points of a compass; its stones were perfect fits. Inside was a chapel, a causeway, and a temple. It baffles engineers and architects to this day. We would not be able to duplicate it even now, with all our technology, and no one knows how the Egyptians were able to build these intricate structures 4600 years ago. Many other cultures, from Mesopotamia to Greece to Rome to India to China, invented things and discovered knowledge that no single person today is smart enough to duplicate. Can you build a well-functioning wheel, or make paper?
A word about terminology: "B.C" means "Before (the birth of) Christ" and "A.D." means Anno Domini (Latin for "in the year of our Lord") or simply "After (the birth of) Christ." The "1st century B.C." means the 1st century before Christ, counting backwards, which are the years 100-1 B.C. The "6th century B.C." is thus 600-501 B.C. The 20th century (A.D.) included the years A.D. 1901-2000. Because A.D. means "in the year of our Lord," the truly proper form is to put the date after the A.D., as in A.D. 2014. Dates are based on the birth of Christ, and it is wrong to erase Christ from the annotation, as school textbooks do with "BCE" for "Before the Common Era" and "CE" for "Common Era." To convert from a public school textbook, remember that BCE = B.C. and CE = A.D.
World history divides into four sections: Ancient History (Creation-A.D. 500), the Middle Ages (A.D. 500-1500), the Pre-Modern Era (A.D. 1500-1900), and the Modern Era (A.D. 1900-Current). The Renaissance (A.D. 1300-1600), including the Reformation, overlaps with the Middle Ages and Pre-Modern Era. Note that dates are not precise in this course: the further back in time we go, the less we know about the actual dates of key events. For events before about 1000 B.C., most estimated dates are actually plus or minus a few hundred years.
Let us begin.
Introduction to Ancient History
Ancient history is everything before about A.D. 500 or 600, when every major religion except Islam had been established. Ancient history created civilization and achieved many of the greatest intellectual breakthroughs of all time. Literature, drama, mathematics, philosophy, language, etc., were all created and developed during ancient history, which is why this "classical" time period is emphasized so much in education today.
When did mankind first begin? There is no reliable evidence of man existing before 3500 B.C. The oldest writing was a pictographic tablet called a "cuneiform" (pronounced kyu-NEE-uh-form) dated to perhaps 3400 B.C. from Sumer (SOO-mur) in Southern Mesopotamia (where Iraq is today). Cuneiform looks like chicken-scratches featuring wedge-like or arrow-shaped characters. Although cuneiform was a primitive writing style, it continued in use until shortly before the birth of Christ. Originally pictographs (e.g., to write "foot", you would draw a foot), cuneiform expanded to 600 stick-based symbols or figures, with each one developing multiple meanings (e.g., the symbol for "foot" also developed the meanings of "to go" or "to stand," depending on the context). For those who "text message" on cell phones, notice how a key can have multiple possible letters and how the cell phone resolves the ambiguity and forms words depending on how the letters fit together to form a word. Cuneiform had only 600 symbols, but their multiple meanings were resolved by seeing how they fit together to form sentences. Notice that cuneiform was not an alphabet or western-style script; the oldest script-based language is from the Indo-Aryan language, and an example dating back to 1550 B.C. has been discovered in the Sinai.
Historians feel that spoken language originated in southeastern Europe near the Black Sea, not far from the Ararat mountain range cited in the Bible in connection with Noah. Using population estimates, we know that about 300 million people existed in the world at the time of Christ, and extrapolating backwards yields only one family in the year 3300 B.C. The oldest trees do not predate this time; the oldest sequoias, which never die of old age, are no older than 2000 B.C.
No "civilization" has been found that is older than about 3000 B.C. By "civilization" we mean an order and hierarchy in the way of life. Some type of political system or government is usually necessary to have a civilization. A structure similar to a city or town is necessary to bring together people, jobs, buildings or religious centers. Usually there are different classes of people, such as rich and poor. An agricultural surplus is also needed: enough food to feed the people so that some workers could spend time in jobs other than farming. In a nutshell, a civilization must have cities, skilled (non-farming) workers, social and government institutions, writing to maintain records such as property ownership, and advanced technology. Memorize the oldest dates for the ancient civilizations:
|Name||Time of existence|
|Mesopotamia (Mes-uh-puh-tay-mee-uh)||3500 – 500 B.C., when conquered by Persia|
|Egypt||3100 – 525 B.C., when conquered by Persia|
|Indus (IN-dus) Valley||beginning in 2900 B.C.|
|China||beginning in 2200 B.C.|
|Mexican Olmec (AWL-mek)||1200 – 300 B.C., the earliest known American civilization|
|Peru (South America)||900 B.C.|
History books speculate about "prehistory", which is the period prior to written records (i.e., before 3400 B.C.). But there is no reason to think that man existed for thousands of years without ever expressing himself in written form. But in case you are asked on a standardized test, historians describe the period of time known as "prehistory" as the "Stone Age." They divide the Stone Age into two time periods: "Paleolithic" and "Neolithic". The Paleolithic Age is older, when man supposedly relied on hunting and picking nuts and fruit to supplement his diet. The Paleolithic Age was followed by the Neolithic Age, which consisted of the rise of agriculture. The "Neolithic Revolution" means the "Agricultural Revolution," when farming became dominant. The dates of these ages are controversial, and historians have a bias for giving them older dates than archaeology actually proves.
After the Stone Age came the Bronze Age, beginning in 3500 B.C., when copper and/or bronze tools were used. That was followed by the Iron Age, which began in Turkey around 2200 B.C. and later spread to other regions. As its name suggests, people during this period used iron for tools.
Ancient civilizations are often called "classical civilizations," particularly when they produced great intellectual advances as Ancient Greece did. For example, "Classical Indian Civilization" refers to Ancient India, which lasted from 300 B.C. to A.D. 500.
Two of the oldest towns are the biblical town of Jericho, located in Palestine (on the "West Bank" of the Jordan River, between Israel and Jordan today), and Catal Huyuk, located in modern-day Turkey. Jericho was famous for its high city walls to protect against attack.
The ancient world was the source of the most basic aspects of life that we still use today, such as marriage and the seven-day week in the calendar. The Bible remains the best written explanation for these and many other aspects of the ancient world. Notice that all four civilizations discussed in this lecture arose in or near what we now call the "Middle East."
So where did civilization begin? In a region known as Mesopotamia, which is Greek for "land between the rivers." The "rivers" are the Tigris and Euphrates, located in Western Asia. Where, exactly? Civilization began in fertile areas of Iraq northeast of the desert, known as part of the "Fertile Crescent." It extends along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea (including modern Israel, Lebanon and Syria) and through the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that run southeast into the Persian Gulf (see the next page for the map). These rivers deposited silt in the surrounding land, creating rich alluvial soil. Today the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are not far from the location of present-day Iraq.
Genesis 2:8-14 describes the beginning in Mesopotamia as follows: "Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. ... A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. ... The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates." Using the ages mentioned in the Bible and counting backwards, biblical scholars have dated this as about 6000 years ago, or about 4000 B.C. This is about 500 years before our earliest record of ancient writings, which is what one might expect; it wouldn't take long for man to start writing messages, but the oldest messages are unlikely to be "extant" (still existing today).
In the fourth millennium before Christ, between about 3500 and 3000 B.C., cities began to sprout their own political and economic systems. Both of these developments occurred in southern Mesopotamia. The first such city (that we know of) was called Sumer, and its occupants were the Sumerians.
We owe a great deal to the achievements of the Sumerians. They developed the first system of writing (the cuneiform), the first codes of law and the first "city-state" (essentially a nation consisting only of a large city). Their inventions were marvelous: the seed plow, the sailboat, and the potter’s wheel. (Distinguish "cuneiform" symbols from "ideograms", which show ideas with symbols such as arrows for war, from "phonograms", in which symbols represent sounds).
Most workers in Mesopotamia were farmers, but some devoted their time to trade. They had a calendar based on the moon to aid the farmers, and they developed a mathematical system using base 12. They were extraordinary inventors, creating complex systems of irrigation and discovering the plow, the cart and the wheel, and used bronze (a mixture of copper and tin) to make good farming tools. Both men and women owned private property, had slaves, and were ruled by a king.
They built cities known as Eridu, Lagash, Ur, Uruk, Isin, Kish, just to name a few. They were smart, and developed Akkadian as their language. One interesting aspect of Akkadian is that it lacks any tense forms such as past or future tense. The verbs expressed the manner of an action rather than its time.
By 3000 B.C. the people had built major canals to channel water, and roads on which to travel. Shepherds had dogs to help them tend the sheep, just as we use today to help herd sheep together. Each city was surrounded by a moat and a wall of brick, with as many as 900 towers inside the city. Soldiers watched people entering and exiting the city, and chariots and wagons carried people and goods within the city. By 3000 B.C. mankind had already built a mini-version of Manhattan, without the automobile and steel skyscrapers. But Mesopotamia (unlike Egypt and China) was not protected by geography, and constantly faced invasion by foreigners.
Do not think there was anything primitive about these ancient cities. They had shipping, fishing, brewers and bakers. They spun wool and traded fine jewelry. They discovered the Pythagorean Theorem, though it was later named after a Greek. In 2500 B.C., the queen of Ur, which was a prominent city, lived in a palace that featured harps and many servants. Slavery existed, but it was typically confined to domestic work in the cities rather than hard labor on a farm. Slaves were given a minimum standard of living and often had the opportunity to rise to freedom through diligent work.
Temples were everywhere. But the people also built stepped mountains known as ziggurats, with a temple on top, and the Bible tells how they tried to build one higher and higher. A massive ziggurat at Ur that is described in Genesis 11:1-9 as the Tower of Babel led to hundreds of different languages (a division which may have also led to different ethnic groups) in the world. As we shall learn in this course, language is a central part of a society that has much to do with its success or failure. Societies with useful and powerful languages prospered; those with difficult-to-use and weak languages failed.
Genesis Chapter 10 places the roots of modern mankind in Noah and his three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. The term "Semitic" means "pertaining to the descendants of Shem," and includes Assyrians, Chaldeans, Aramaeans, Sabaeans, and Hebrews (now known as Jews). Semitic languages include Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic. Semitic religions include Judaism, Christianity and Islam. One of Noah's descendants was Abram, who later changed his name to Abraham to reflect his covenant with God.
Both the Bible and many independent sources describe a Great Flood (or "Deluge"), having an estimated date of about 3300 or 3000 B.C. Very little of any history, including writings and civilization, has survived from before that time. The biblical account of the Flood is at Genesis 5-8, describing an ark having reasonable dimensions similar to modern ocean steamships. A non-biblical Sumerian (from Sumer in Mesopotamia) account of the Flood was found in the last hundred years, and that account was apparently written about 1600 B.C. Even better, a cuneiform tablet from Babylon was found dating from 3000 B.C., which also described a massive flood in great detail. There are many other ancient accounts of a massive flood found in most other cultures around the world. Fossils and limestone (the result of ocean sediment) are found today on mountaintops and land worldwide at all altitudes. Independent accounts of a great flood can be found in ancient works of China, India, Britain (Druid) and American Indians, all having striking similar details. Recently two scientists at Columbia University published a widely praised book, entitled "Noah's Flood," which proved that the Flood did occur. This book concludes that the biblical Flood "is surely a true story of the permanent destruction of a land and its people ...." Yet no public school textbook ever mentions a massive flood.
Civilization prospered in Sumeria, and wars soon broke out. The northwest (Akkad) was constantly fighting the southeast (Sumer), and eventually an Akkadian warrior named Sargon conquered Mesopotamia. Sargon was the first person in recorded history to create an empire or multi-ethnic state, from 2334 to 2279 B.C. His empire included the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and also part of what is Turkey today. The capital of his empire was Agade in Akkad. But like many military rulers, his empire collapsed when he died. He did not have a civil (non-military) form of government to pay his soldiers and sustain his empire. Instead, he could only survive as long his soldiers continued to capture and loot. Once the empire stopped expanding upon his death, it collapsed. At the time, the city of Ur in Sumer was the leading city.
The Sumerians established many of the things that define civilization today: buildings, engineering, legal codes, written language and a military. The Sumerians also had literature: in 2000 B.C., they wrote "The Epic of Gilgamesh," considered to be oldest fictional story ever written. The Epic of Gilgamesh was based on a real person who ruled a city-state in Sumer. He struggles with religious issues in the form of multiple gods, and the story seems to draw on some of the wisdom of the Bible. This non-biblical source also describes a great flood.
Each civilization or culture had its inventions. We can thank Mesopotamia (probably Ur) for inventing the wheel in about 3500 B.C., which is the single greatest invention of all time. It is used for much more than transportation. The wheel is essential to manufacturing and even pre-digital watches. No Native American civilization had the wheel until the Europeans brought it to them.
The death of Nebuchadnezzar II signaled the end of the Babylonian empire, which then fell into decline. It was inevitable that Babylon itself would be conquered. Cyrus the Great was the King of Persia (the ancient name for Iran) (539-530 B.C.), who conquered Asia Minor for the Persians, including the territories of Assyria, Babylonia, Palestine and Syria. His kingdom was known as the Achaemenid (ə-kē'mə-nĭd) (or Persian) empire. He freed the Hebrews and ended the Babylonian Exile, allowing the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple. The tomb of Cyrus the Great still exists at Pasargadae, the town that was the capital of his empire but which is now in ruins in present-day Iran.
More than a thousand years later, during the Islamic conquest of Iran, the Muslims planned to destroy this tomb because it is contrary to their religion. However, the possibility that the tomb was somehow built to honor the mother of King Solomon, a respected prophet in Islam, justified preserving the tomb to this day, and it is inscribed today with the following verse of the Qur'an (Koran): "Qabr-e Madar-e Sulaiman" which means the tomb of the mother of Solomon.
The Hebrews rebuilt Jerusalem's walls and temple, but did not restore the magnificence the city had under Solomon. The Hebrews remained under Persian rule until Alexander the Great conquered the Persians around 330 B.C. Later, when the Roman Empire rose to power, Palestine became a province to Rome, until Palestine rebelled and Rome retaliated by destroying the temple in A.D. 70, again dispersing the Jewish people to distant lands.
For what do we owe the ancient Hebrews? The concept of monotheism: one and only one God. The Hebrews established the covenant of loyalty between God and His chosen ones. Part of the covenant was the promise of a future Messiah to save the people from their sins, and Jewish people debate today whether the Messiah was supposed to establish a kingdom on earth. Later some Jewish people accepted Jesus as the Messiah, while some did not. The moral code by which the Hebrew people strove to live was set forth in the Ten Commandments, which were carved in stone and kept in the sacred Ark of the Covenant as described repeatedly in the Bible (see, e.g., Exodus 25:9-10). Highly specific requirements of daily life are also set forth in the Torah (the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Old Testament). The authorities on Jewish law are known as "rabbis", but there is no single, centralized religious authority on Judaism like a pope. Next to the Bible, the most authoritative Jewish work is the Talmud, which is a collection of writings by rabbis.
Ancient Egypt was a spectacular civilization located in the fertile Nile Valley. Ancient Egypt existed from about 3000 B.C. up until Alexander the Great conquered it in 332 B.C. The Nile is the greatest river in the world, and is unique in flowing south-to-north, emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. It floods with regularity each year (unlike the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), providing plentiful water for farming. Situated in a desert, Egypt developed irrigation techniques that led it to be called an "hydraulic empire."
What is special about Egypt? Well, for starters, it is the oldest stationary civilization that remains in existence. Geography helped protect it against invaders. To its east and west are deserts, to the north is the Mediterranean Sea and to the south is the rest of Africa. Dividing Egypt in half is the great and mighty Nile. Egypt is self-sufficient with natural resources such as plentiful clay and stone and the ability to trade for timber with nearby Lebanon and copper from Sinai. Just as the unique, closed-in geography of the island of Manhattan has encouraged the development of a powerful economy in New York City, the landscape of Egypt enhanced its independence. Even when conquered, the civilization does not shift anywhere, thanks to the natural boundaries.
Ancient Egypt was always ruled by a "pharaoh" or king, who was considered to be a god and absolute owner and dictator of the country. He was worshiped by the people.
The Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks and British all conquered and ruled Egypt at some point. In that respect, the story of who ran Egypt is the history of the greatest world powers ever. But Egypt did not have native rule between 341 B.C., when the Persians conquered the last Pharaoh (Nectanebo II), until A.D. 1952, when the native Egyptian president Nasser overthrew a British constitutional monarchy.
The Three Kingdoms
Ancient Egypt is divided into three periods: the Old Kingdom (3100-2200 B.C.), the Middle Kingdom (2100-1650 B.C.) and the New Kingdom (1550-700 B.C.). The peak in power of ancient Egypt was 1567-1085 B.C.
The Old Kingdom is known for its security and prosperity, free from foreign invaders. A unique Egyptian kingship developed during this period, and they built the great pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Giza (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) under the reign of Pharaoh Khufu or Cheops (pronounced KEE-aps). The pyramids protected and preserved pharaohs for what they expected in the after-life, and were tremendous engineering feats that cannot be duplicated even today.
The Middle Kingdom was a period during which Egyptian religion extended beyond the kings to the nobles and ordinary citizens. Pharaohs began to share power with local distinguished persons. The pharaohs were strong during this period and promoted trade by digging the Great Canal, which connected the Nile River to the Red Sea. The Middle Kingdom is best known for its cultural achievements, such as literature and artwork. During this period the Egyptians were also successful in draining parts of the Nile delta in Lower (northern) Egypt. Trade expanded, but civil war plagued the Middle Kingdom just as it was a problem in the Old Kingdom.
The New Kingdom followed a period of foreign rule for a century by the Hyksos (HIK-sohs) (from 1650 to 1580 B.C.), who were Semitic peoples invading Egypt from across the Sinai Peninsula. The Hyksos adopted much of Egyptian culture, including calling themselves pharaohs. The Hyksos introduced the horse and chariot into Egypt. Afterward, the Egyptians extended their empire along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean into Mesopotamia, primarily under the rule of the great warrior Thutmose III. A dynasty from Upper Egypt began this period of the New Kingdom, and it extended throughout Syria, Palestine and, to the south, Nubia. Also, the pharaohs constructed large buildings and massive cities.
After the New Kingdom ended in 700 B.C., Egypt went into a decline and was subsequently conquered by the Persians in 525 B.C.
Here is a brief review of the famous Egyptian rulers. The first was Menes (or Mena). In 3100 B.C. he was already king of southern Upper Egypt, and he united it with northern Lower Egypt (note that lower Egypt is closer to the sea-level of the Mediterranean, north of Upper Egypt, as shown on the map). We know his name because Egyptian men, not women, wore make-up and his name was found on palettes used to apply make-up.
Though Menes is called the first "pharaoh" (Egyptian ruler), actually that term was not used until the 18th Dynasty, 1539-1292 B.C. (Egypt was organized by "dynasties", where one family, including descendants, controlled the country.) The term "pharaoh" signifies the Egyptian custom claiming that its ruler was a god, similar to the sky god Horus and the sun gods Re, Amon and Aton. The pharaoh was considered to be the preserver of a god-given order, called ma'at. Even after death the pharaoh supposedly retained divine status and magical powers. This was a theocracy (rule by a god).
The Egyptian people were divided into separate levels or classes. The highest level consisted of the priests and nobles, below them were the peasants, and below the peasants were the slaves (which included the Hebrews until Moses led them out in the Exodus). Women were respected in their role of child-rearing and managing household finances, and there were two Egyptian queens: Queen Ahhotep and Queen Hatshepsut. Queen Ahhotep ruled in the Middle Kingdom and helped liberate Egypt from the Hyksos. Her mummy was discovered in A.D. 1859, and her tomb contained many military artifacts honoring her. Queen Hatshepsut served in the place of her young son who was heir to the throne, and she ruled for 15 years until her death in 1458 B.C. She is known for expanding trade. Women were also included in the gods (goddesses) that Egyptians worshiped. More generally, rights of dynasty were inherited through the mother's side, making Egypt a "matriarchal" society.
The most famous pharaoh was Pharaoh Ramses II, who served during the New Kingdom. Slavery first became widespread during the New Kingdom, probably using Hebrews as slaves. The Hebrew Exodus occurred under Ramses II, making him the last great pharaoh in the New Kingdom.
Modern discoveries shed new light on the Egyptian culture. In A.D. 1922, Howard Carter discovered in the Valley of the Kings the untouched tomb of Tutankhamen, a young pharaoh surrounded by magnificent gold and other artifacts. These have been presented in museums ever since. Tutankhamen ruled from 1361 to 1352 B.C., but very little is known about his reign.
Egyptians invented mummification, which began in the 4th Dynasty. It took the Egyptians a long time to develop this art, but they ultimately succeeded to perfection. Without going into all the gory details, it consists of removing the internal organs from a body after death, treating the body with resin, and then wrapping it tightly in linen bandages. You should consider becoming a doctor if you have an interest in this!
Religion: The ancient Egyptians worshiped many gods, often inspired by animals or aspects of nature such as the sun. Only nobles could aspire to an afterlife, and only the king himself could become unified with Osiris, a legendary king who represented the forces of agriculture. A pharaoh was considered to be a sun god, and eventually monotheism (one all-powerful god) became popular in Egypt, with the sun god Aton commanding all Egyptians' attention. That religious view subsequently lost out to the more powerful religions of Christianity and Islam. Today Egypt is 90% Sunnite Muslim, and the remainder mostly Christian (Copts).
The Christian Copts trace their ancestors directly to the ancient Egyptians. Unlike the Muslims in Egypt, who consider themselves Arabs, the Christian Copts do not consider themselves to be Arabs and the Christian Copts still use ancient Egyptian surnames. They cite the sojourn by Jesus' family in Egypt to escape Herod, and the proselytizing in Egypt by Saint Mark the Evangelist, who wrote the Gospel and was martyred at Alexandria, Egypt. He is considered the first leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, followed by an unbroken line of 117 successors to the present Pope Shenouda III.
Language: The Egyptians developed a written language consisting of hieroglyphics, which are pictographs. It originated around 3100 B.C. It was written on papyrus as a kind of paper; papyrus is a thin parchment constructed from reeds near the Nile river. No one could fully understand hieroglyphics until the discovery of the "Rosetta Stone" by Napoleon's troops in 1799 near the seaside town of Rosetta, located in northern Egypt. It sits in the British Museum today, and consists of a slab of black basalt inscribing a royal decree to the king Ptolemy V, dating from 196 B.C. The Stone contains the inscription of the same message in three different ancient languages: once in Greek, once in Demotic (a simple form of hieroglyphics used from 700 B.C. to A.D. 400), and once in hieroglyphic. This enabled the Frenchman Jean Francois Champollion to determine what the hieroglyphic characters mean, and build a dictionary that could be used to translate other works written in hieroglyphics.
Egypt's complex, picture-based language probably hindered its growth. The picture-based language was not as easy to use as the alphabet-based Phoenician language later adopted by the Greeks and Romans. How would one express Christian concepts like salvation, faith, hope and redemption in hieroglyphics? That would be very difficult to do.
Science: A magnificent city named "Alexandria" was created by Alexander the Great in Egypt in 334 B.C., and it became a cultural center for many centuries. Eventually it grew to be second only to Rome in size and wealth, but declined over a thousand years later after Islamic conquerors established Cairo as the capital of Egypt. Alexandria was best known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Alexandria is also known for the Library of Alexandria, then the largest in the world.
In A.D. 100, while Alexandria was still a great city, Ptolemy (pronounced "tah-luh-mee") was born there and was named after the long line of Egyptian kings. He wrote magnificent works on astronomy, optics, geography, mechanics and geometry. He is best known for his complex theory that placed planet Earth at the center of universe, since all things appeared to fall towards Earth as the apparent center. The Ptolemaic system was the prevailing view until Copernicus proposed the sun as the center of the solar system over 1000 years later.
Culture: Egypt used slaves as most ancient cultures did. Women in Egypt were powerful, holding the right to own property, divorce their husbands, manage businesses and even become priestesses. It was possible for poor people to rise to the upper class through talent and hard work. Taxes were a burden. The government claimed ownership of one-fifth of all produce (Genesis 47:24). The society had some moral values, such as the royal advice that "more acceptable is the character of one upright of heart than the ox of the evildoer." Feeding the poor, taking care of the disadvantaged, and avoid bribes in administering justice were respected. For travel, Egyptians cruised the Nile River by using the currents downstream and the Etesian winds to propel sailboats upstream. For architecture, Egyptians used the pyramid and colonnaded temples like the one Karnak, preferring this style as later copied by the Greeks.
Trade and Inventions: Egypt was not as advanced as Mesopotamia in trade and inventions. Egypt's trade did improve during the New Kingdom and established some commerce with Sumer then. Egyptians invented our 365-day solar calendar, based on 12 months of about 30 days each. But we owe our "base 60" system for our clock (60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour) to Mesopotamia. Egyptians lacked money, and relied on primitive barter (selling a good in exchange for a different good in return). The Egyptian Old Kingdom lacked the wheel; the pyramids were built without use of the wheel!
- This course uses a variety of translations for the Bible, this time using the "NIV" version.
- See, e.g., http://www.searchgodsword.org/enc/isb/view.cgi?number=T2631
- Ryan & Pitman, "Noah's Flood" (Simon & Schuster, NY: 1998), p. 251.