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time, that the tillage of Goshen alone could not possibly have required the labor of all: why then might they not have been sent out of Goshen to make bricks also? The other inscription, too, it must not be forgotten, expressly describes them as "captives brought by his majesty to build," &c. It certainly was for the interest of their Egyptian oppressors, who alleged their number as a reasonable ground of apprehension to scatter them in small bodies over all Egypt, as much as possible. At this day, that degraded caste, the Fellahs, are gathered in troops from the remotest provinces of Egypt to execute any great public work.
Thirdly. It is objected, that all these laborers have not beards. Certainly, however, beard is to be found on some, and we think its absence on others is easily explained, on the ground that they were probably a degraded class of Egyptians. How they came to be mingled with Israelites in servile work we think we can show beyond question, when we come to speak of that "great rabble," who accompanied the Hebrews at the exode.
Another objection remains to be considered. There are those who, while they readily admit that the picture represents Jews servilely employed in making brick, yet doubt whether the painting was designed to delineate the particular act of servitude specified in the Scriptural history of the bondage. The ground of their doubt is this; that from the general absence on the monuments of every thing that could reflect on the Egyptian national character, there is reason to believe that mortified pride, after the triumphant exode of the Israelites, caused the Egyptians studiously to obliterate every sculpture which could recall the fact that such a race as Israel ever was oppressed in Egypt, and sigDaily redeemed from that oppression by their God. Consequently it is thought this history of a part of that oppression would not have been permitted to remain.
To this objection there are, as it seems to us, two satisfactory answers. Conceding that monuments which could recall the mortifying history of the virtual triumph of Israel in the exode were destroyed, the destruction was of public monuments. No sculptured story or painting of the acts of any Egyptian king would be left to perpetuate the record of shame. The mutilations that have been found thus far are on public national memorials. The cartouch of a monarch, for instance, is obliterated, when the remembrance of him would reflect no credit on Egypt: but private tombs were not mutilated in this mode. Roschere's tomb was no public memorial; its representation of Jews making brick was doubtless founded on fact, but was introduced incidentally merely to testify to his own importance as overseer of public works. Strictly private, it was not disturbed.
But another and conclusive answer to our minds is this. It is conceded that these are Jews working, that they are greatly degraded, and are making brick. Now the representation must have been founded on facts. We ask, then, at what period except during the oppressive tyranny of the bondage, does our historical knowledge of the connection between the Jews and Egyptians afford the slightest intimation or probability that they were likely to be thus degraded and employed? Certainly not before the king "who knew not Joseph;" for the Jews then were in favor with the ruling powers :—certainly not afterward, until the lapse of a period long posterior to this, when Shishak conquered Rehoboam. There was then, if these be representations of Jews at all, no period but that of the bondage to which the picture could apply. On the whole, the result of the best examination we have been able to bestow on the subject, tends to produce a belief that Rosellini is correct in his application of the picture to the Jews in bondage; and if we err, we are happy in being able to say that we do it in company with such men as Rosellini, Hengstenberg, Osborn, and Kitto.
Moses was committed to an "ark of bulrushes, daubed with
slime and pitch."
Nothing is easier than to object, on the part of those who conclude that the habits and customs of all times, and of all people, must of necessity have been precisely similar to those with which only they are familiar. They have never seen a boat of bulrushes, and therefore there never was one. Just such a boat as is here described is to this day built and used in Abyssinia; and the locality is worthy of note, because Isaiah (xviii. 2) refers to Ethiopia as sending "vessels of bulrushes upon the waters." Such objectors would probably deny the former existence of the wicker coracles of the ancient Britons.
The original word, translated bulrushes, is gome. It is found in three other places in Scripture. From Job viii. 11. and Isaiah xxxv. 7, compared with Isaiah xviii. 2, we gather that it was a plant growing in moist situations, and used for the construction of boats. From Theophrastus, we learn that the plant used for this purpose on the Nile was the Cyperus Papyrus, though Wilkinson thinks it was the Cyperus Dives; the learned have, therefore, long concurred in the opinion that the cyperus, in some form, was the plant gome. It is not, strictly speaking, a rush, as our translation would imply, but one of the family of sedges. The root is about the thickness of a full-sized man's wrist, and more than fifteen feet long, and so hard that all kinds of utensils were made of it. The stem is about six feet long, surmounted by a cluster of little spikes, which are weak, and hang down like a plume, and are applied to no useful purpose. The stem, however, was eaten raw, roasted or boiled, and furnished materials for boats, sails, mats, clothes, beds, and books. Paper was made of it before the time of Alexander the Great, as some of the papyri found at Thebes and elsewhere show.
Herodotus and Pliny, both inform us that boats were made of it. In Egypt, and in Egypt only, was this plant applied to the many useful purposes we have enumerated; and as far as we can learn, it was not used for vessels out of Egypt, except, and that possibly at a later day, in Ethiopia. With Ethiopia, the history of the Israelites had no connection. It is, therefore, evidence of the author's acquaintance with Egypt at a very early period, that he constructs this boat for Moses, of the papyrus.
The slime here mentioned, may have been asphaltum or mineral pitch; for from various sources, we know the ancient Egyptians had bitumen; but as this slime was mingled with pitch (vegetable rosins), we suppose it may have been simply the mud or slime of the Nile which, to this day, possesses peculiarly adhesive properties. A modern writer tells us, that this slime is wonderfully tenacious; and when dry, adheres like pitch: hence, with a little straw or stubble, it needed but to be sun-dried to make bricks, which even yet remain. The natives now, when they are to descend the stream with a heavy cargo, build a wall of this mud on the gunwales or sides of their boats; and permitting it to dry, are not afraid to load the vessel until the water rises above the wood-work of the boat. The slime will bear the washing of the stream, when the boat is floating in mid-channel down the river. If, however, contrary winds cause rough water, accidents sometimes happen from the washing away of the slime, and the boat founders. This slime, mixed with pitch and suffered to become hard, would therefore have made a perfectly watertight lining for the bulrush-boat of Moses.