Damien F. Mackey
“If Neb-2 had conquered Egypt, it would have been his greatest conquest in the minds of everyone at the time. Not only would he and his Babylonian successors have left record of it, but other historians of the time and later would have referred to it, as they did to the actual conquest of Egypt by the Persian, Cambyses-2, 37 years after Neb-2’s death”.
Jim Reilly, who has recently attempted an overall revision of the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian dynastic histories (http://www.displaceddynasties.com/), will initially appear to support a common view (like the above) that there is virtually no historical evidence for a conquest of Egypt by Nebuchednezzar II the Chaldean, despite the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel telling of its devastating and long-lasting effects upon Egypt.
Only one piece of evidence apparently exists for this: Babylonian Chronicle BM 33041.
“In the 37th year of Nebuchadrezzar, King of Babylon, he went to Mizraim [Egypt] to make war. Amasis, King of Mizraim, collected [his army] and marched and spread abroad”.
Reilly will introduce the anomalous situation as follows in his Volume 1 – Nebuchadnezzar and the Egyptian Exile: http://www.displaceddynasties.com/volume-1.html
Chapter 1: Nebuchadnezzar’s Wars
Rise of Nebuchadnezzar
The Egyptian Holocaust
In 564 B.C. a foreign army invaded Egypt, laying waste the country. Tens of thousands died. Thousands more, primarily the skilled and educated elite, priests and artisans alike, were taken captive and deported. A minority escaped into the surrounding desert, among them the ruling pharaoh. Only a small remnant survived.
The physical structures of the country were also decimated. Temples and tombs were destroyed and looted. Cities were burned. From Migdol in the eastern Delta to Syene near Elephantine south of Thebes, 500 miles upriver on the Nile, the country was ravaged.
It was, quite literally, a holocaust.
Twenty years passed as the land languished, raped of its treasure by garrisons left behind by the foreigners. No pharaoh ruled to restore order. Another twenty years saw limited rebuilding and the gradual renewal of religious and political life. Temples were repaired. Training began for a new generation of priests and artisans.
The few traumatized survivors of the exile, now old, had only a vague recollection of the
days when the priests were taken away and the population vanished. They told tales about the _š_, “the devastation”.
The name of the invader, familiar to even the most casual student of ancient history, was Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, at the time the dominant power in the ancient Near East.
Only one problem surfaces in connection with this unprecedented act of genocide and material destruction. Without exception, historians categorically deny it ever happened. ….
Whilst Jim Reilly’s efforts to account for this glaring problem within the context of his somewhat complex revision are commendable – but not in accordance with my own, which involves an identification of Nebuchednezzar II with the great Ashurbanipal:
Book of Daniel – merging Assyrians and Chaldeans
whose massive conquest of Egypt no historian would doubt – what is striking is the stark contrast between the general puzzlement of the historians over this matter (as mentioned above), on the one hand, and, as Reilly proceeds in his article, the fulsome testimonies of the contemporary Hebrew prophets, on the other.
Here is the relevant section from Reilly’s article:
In the traditional history the Egyptian king on whom Zedekiah relied in vain must be the
fourth king of the Sa_te dynasty, Ha’a’ibre Wahibre, known to the Greeks as Apries.
According to this history Necho died in 595 B.C., two years after Zedekiah was installed
as king, and for the balance of Zedekiah’s reign Egypt was ruled by Necho’s son Psamtik
II (595-589 B.C.) and then by Ha’a’ibre Wahibre (589-570 B.C.). Psamtik II and Apries
must have been powerful kings to tempt Zedekiah to withhold tribute from Nebuchadrezzar. Sadly they have left no monuments commemorating their struggles with Babylon. ….
While the Egyptian king was unable to prevent the fall of Jerusalem, he did open Egypt’s borders to receive Judaean refugees. The available safe harbor in Egypt appealed to the remnant that survived in Judah. When Gedaliah, soon after his appointment as governor,
was murdered by Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, a Judaean of royal blood and an officer of the king, fear of reprisal from Babylon made an Egyptian sojourn seem even more inviting. Against the advice of Jeremiah the Jewish remnant fled to Egypt. The majority settled in the fortress city of Tahpanhes (tell Defenneh – modern Daphnae) on the eastern edge of the Egyptian delta. It is in this context that we hear for the first time of an impending Babylonian attack on Egypt.
Invasion of Egypt
According to Jeremiah
The first clear statement of the impending disaster comes from Jeremiah, the reluctant refugee:
In Tahpanhes the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: While the Jews are watching, take some large stones with you and bury them in clay in the brick pavement at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes. Then say to them, This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I will send for my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and I will set his throne over these stones I have buried here; he will spread his royal canopy above them. He will come and attack Egypt, bringing death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and the sword to those destined for the sword. He will set fire to the temples of the gods of Egypt; he will burn their temples and take their gods captive. As a shepherd wraps his garment around him, so will he wrap Egypt around himself and depart from there unscathed. There in the temple of the sun (Heliopolis) in Egypt he will demolish the sacred pillars and will burn down the temples of the gods of Egypt. (Jer. 43: 8-13)
Jeremiah supplies no specific date for the Babylonian invasion. For the refugees in Tahpanhes he provides a single clue: first the death of the pharaoh Apries; then the invasion.
‘This will be the sign to you that I will punish you in this place,’ declares the Lord, ‘so that you will know that my threats of harm against you will surely stand.’ This is what the Lord says: ‘I am going to hand Pharaoh Hophra (Wahibre in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) king of Egypt over to his enemies who seek his life, just as I handed Zedekiah king of Judah over to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the enemy who was seeking his life.’ (Jer. 44: 29-30)
As mentioned earlier, Wahemibre Necao (610-595 B.C.) was succeeded briefly by Psamtik (II) (595-589 B.C.) and then by Ha’a’ibre Wahibre (589-570 B.C.). This Wahibre, called Apries by the Greek historians, the fourth king of the Sa_te dynasty and the object of Zedekiah’s misplaced trust, must be the Pharaoh Hophra alluded to by Jeremiah. This, of course, if the traditional Egyptian chronology is accurate. The invasion must therefore postdate the end of Wahibre’s reign in 570 B.C. Since a fifth king, Ahmose-sa-Neith (Amasis), succeeded Wahibre and ruled Egypt for 44 years, the invasion must have occurred early in his reign.
The 586 B.C. Babylonian invasion of Judah was the prototype for what was about to happen in Egypt. Jeremiah warns the Jewish refugees: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: ‘You saw the great disaster I brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Today they lie deserted and in ruins…. Why bring such great disaster on yourselves?’ ” (Jer. 44:2,7) He predicts for the Jews in Egypt the same threefold curse – “sword, famine, and plague” – that earlier decimated their homeland. (Jer. 44: 12; cf. Ezek. 5:12) Very few of the Jewish refugees would escape death. (Jer. 44: 27) Memphis, the Egyptian capital, is likened to Jerusalem. “Pack your belongings for exile you who live in Egypt, for Memphis will be laid waste and lie in ruins without inhabitant” (Jer. 46: 19) The largely mercenary army defending Egypt would flee the onslaught:
Announce this in Egypt, and proclaim it in Migdol; proclaim it also in Memphis and Tahpanhes: Take your positions and get ready, for the sword devours those around you. Why will your warriors be laid low? They cannot stand, for the Lord will push them down. They will stumble repeatedly; they will fall over each other. They will say, Get up, let us go back to our own people and our native lands, away from the sword of the oppressor. (Jer. 46: 14-16)
The anticipated destruction would be immense; the depopulation of the country almost total. From the Nile Delta five hundred miles upriver to Thebes the Babylonian army would plunder and destroy. But in Egypt, as in Judah earlier, a remnant of the poorest of
the land would survive. Others would flee to neighbouring countries and return later.
The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “I am about to bring punishment on Amon god of Thebes, on Pharaoh, on Egypt and her gods and her kings, and on those who rely on Pharaoh. I will hand them over to those who seek their lives, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and his officers. Later, however, Egypt will be inhabited as in times past,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 46:25-26)
In the case of Judah, Jeremiah had predicted a seventy-year exile. (Jer. 25:12; 29:10)
He leaves the length of the Egyptian exile unspecified. “Later” is all he will say. For more specific information on the invasion, and the nature and duration of the exile, we depend on Ezekiel.
According to Ezekiel
Ezekiel is more graphic as well as more specific in his description of the anticipated invasion. He is also less concerned with the Jewish refugees than was Jeremiah. His words are directed toward the native Egyptian population:
With a great throng of people (i.e. the Babylonian army) I will cast my net over you, and they will haul you up in my net. I will throw you on the land and hurl you on the open field. I will let all the birds of the air settle on you and all the beasts of the earth gorge themselves on you. I will spread your flesh on the mountains and fill the valleys with your remains. I will drench the land with your flowing blood all the way to the mountains, and the ravines will be filled with your flesh. (Ezek. 32: 3-6)
There is no ambiguity concerning the pervasiveness of the destruction. No part of Egypt would escape. The slaughter would proceed from Migdol in the northeastern corner of the Delta in the north of Egypt, to Syene, modern Assuan, in the south. There is no mistaking the language of the prophet. In the aftermath of the invasion the whole of Egypt would lie deserted and in ruins. “Egypt will become a desolate wasteland.” “I will make the land of Egypt a ruin and a desolate waste from Migdol to Aswan, as far as the border of Cush.” (Ezek. 29: 9-10) Included in the carnage were the neighbours and commercial allies of Egypt. This was no mere border skirmish as many critics claim. ….
A sword will come against Egypt, and anguish will come upon Cush. When the slain fall in Egypt, her wealth will be carried away and her foundations torn down. Cush and Put, Lydia and all Arabia, Libya and the people of the covenant land will fall by the sword along with Egypt. This is what the Lord says: The allies of Egypt will fall and her proud strength will fail. From Migdol to Aswan (Syene) they will fall by the sword within her, declares the Sovereign Lord. They will be desolate among desolate lands, and their cities will lie among ruined cities. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I set fire to Egypt and all her helpers are crushed. (Ezek. 30: 4-8)
Ezekiel adds to Jeremiah’s list of conquered cities. We can clearly follow the path of destruction through representative towns of the Egyptian Delta southward to Thebes.
This is what the sovereign Lord says: I will put an end to the hordes of Egypt by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. He and his army – the most ruthless of nations – will be brought in to destroy the land. They will draw their swords against Egypt and fill the land with the slain. I will destroy the idols and put an end to the images in Memphis. I will lay waste Upper Egypt, set fire to Zoan (Tanis) and inflict punishment on Thebes. I will pour out my wrath on Pelusium, the stronghold of Egypt, and cut off the hordes of Thebes. I will set fire to Egypt; Pelusium will writhe in agony. Thebes will be taken by storm; Memphis will be in constant distress. The young men of Heliopolis and Bubastis will fall by the sword and the cities themselves will go into captivity Dark will be the day at Tahpanhes when I break the yoke of Egypt There her proud strength will come to an end She will be covered with clouds and her villages will go into captivity (Ezek. 30: 10-11; 13)
And what fate befell pharaoh? Ezekiel’s language is figurative and vague on that account, but he appears to say that the pharaoh escaped both death and capture. His throne was lost but his life was spared, at least for the time being.
Son of man (God speaking to Ezekiel), set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt. Speak to him and say:
‘This is what the Lord God says: I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams You say, “The Nile is mine, I made it for myself.” But I will put hooks in your jaws and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales. I will pull you out from among your streams, with all the fish sticking to your scales. I will leave you in the desert, you and all the fish of your streams. You will fall on the open field and not be gathered or picked up. I will give you as food to the beasts of the earth and birds of the air. (Ezek 29:2-5)
“I will pull you out” from among your streams is better translated “I will drive you out (lit. cause you to leave)” from among your streams. Pharaoh would be driven from the Nile delta into the desert, possibly into the western oasis or southward into Ethiopia.
There in exile he would die.
The Forty Year Exile
How long did the devastation last? Jeremiah says only that Egypt would recover.
Ezekiel sets specific limits.
I will make the land of Egypt a ruin and a desolate waste from Midgol to Aswan, as far as the border of Cush. No foot of man or animal will pass through it; no one will live there for forty years. I will make the land of Egypt desolate among devastated lands, and her cities will lie desolate forty years among ruined cities. And I will disperse the Egyptians among the nations and scatter them through the countries. (Ezek. 29: 10-12)
The desolation that followed the invasion of Egypt was of long duration – a forty-year hiatus in the normal political life of the nation. There was for Egypt as there was for Judah, an exile, which left the land bleak and barren. For Judah the exile ended by degrees with a succession of returns of exiled Jews under Cyrus and his Persian successors. ….