Egyptian Text: The Inundation

Joy over the Inundation

They tremble, that behold the Nile in full flood. The fields laugh and the river-banks are overflowed. The god’s offerings descend, the visage of men is bright, and the heart of the gods rejoiceth.

Pyramid Tex circa 2500 BCE. The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, Adolf Erman, Ed. Aylward M. Blackman, Translator. Methuen & Co, London, 1926

I love this text for the sense of real excitement it communicates over what, before the 1960s Aswan Dam was the annual Nile flood. I love the image of the fields laughing. From field, to the people, to the gods, everyone’s heart is light as the Nile overflows its banks.

The indentation of the Nile valley was understood as a gift. Of the earth. Of the universe itself, to use modern language. While farmers outside of the Nile river valley prayed for rain, Egyptian farmers lived in the security of self-watering fields. The primary crop was emmer for their favorite breads, and barley for less important breads, and for beer. While there was plenty of strenuous work involved in Egyptian farmers taking advantage of the annual flood, the inundation will have underpinned the Egyptian people’s sense of self, which in turn will have underpinned their relationship with their daily bread.

There is a world of difference between seeing oneself managing a gift – the waters of the Nile —and seeing oneself as suffering punishment for an ancestral sin.

Contrast the Pyramid Text, “Joy Over the Inundation,” with this from the King James translation of the the Hebrew bible. The Genesis vision is a dystopian one in which, a mistake by our ancestors dooms us to struggle to the end of time to eke a living from an unforgiving land.

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

King James Translation, Genesis, from Book 3

I want us to feel our way to a sense of bread as Egyptians would have felt it. To do so, I think it helps to begin with their joyful greeting of the Spring flood, a gift from their gods, in contrast to the brutal, horrific punishment bestowed by the Jewish god on its people — eking life from an unforgiving land.

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