Egypt had been the bondhouse of Israel. It was there that Israel had grown from a family into a people, which the desert was to transform into a nation. The Exodus out of Egypt was the beginning of Israelitish history, the era from which it dated. Down to the last the kingdom of the Pharaohs exercised upon it an influence more or less profound; the extravagant splendour of Solomon was modelled after that of the Egyptian monarchs, his merchants found their best market on the banks of the Nile, and the last Canaanitish city which passed into Israelitish hands was the gift to him of the Pharaoh. The invasion of the Egyptian king prevented Rehoboam from attempting to reconquer the revolted tribes, and in the days of Assyrian ascendancy it was Egypt that was played off against the Assyrian invader by the princes and statesmen of the west. The defeat of Necho at Carchemish handed Palestine over to the Babylonians, and indirectly brought about the destruction of Jerusalem; even in the age of the Ptolemies Egypt still influenced the history of Israel, and the Jews of Alexandria prepared the way for the Christian Church. For centuries Palestine was the battle-ground of the nations; but it was so because it lay between the two great powers of the ancient East, between Egypt on the one side and Assyria and Babylonia on the other.
Egypt is the creation of the Nile. Outside the Delta and the strip of land which can be watered from the river there is only desert. When the annual inundation covers the fields the land of Egypt exists no more; it becomes a watery plain, out of which emerge the villages and towns and the raised banks which serve as roads. For more than 1600 miles the Nile flows without an affluent; in the spring it falls so low that its channel becomes almost unnavigable; but in the late summer, its waters, swollen by the rains and melted snows of Central Africa, and laden with the fertilising silt of the Abyssinian mountains, spread over the cultivated country, and bring fertility wherever they go.
The waters of the inundation must have been confined by dykes, and made to flow where the cultivator needed them, at a very remote date. Recent discoveries have thrown light on the early history of the country. We find it inhabited by at least one race, possibly of Libyan origin, which for the present we must term pre-historic. Its burial-places are met with in various localities in Upper Egypt. The members of the race were not acquainted with the use of metals, but they were expert artificers in stone and clay. Stone was skilfully carved into vessels of different forms, and vases of clay were fashioned, with brightly polished surfaces. Sometimes the vases were simply coloured red and black, or adorned with patterns and pictures in incised white lines; at other times, and more especially in the later tombs, they were artistically decorated with representations of men and animals, boats, and geometrical patterns in red upon a pale drab ground.