Page images


Egypt's Place in Universal History. An Historical Investigation, in

five books. By C. C. J. Baron Bunsen, D.Ph., D.C.L., and D.D. Translated from the German by CHARLES H. COTTRELL, Esq., M.A.; with Additions by SAMUEL BIRCH, LL.D. Vol. V. London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1867.


In the long annals of mankind, there appears now and then a name which makes the whole world debtor. More commonly, we find men who, by a certain brute force of will, turn the current of its life, and impress themselves, or at least their eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, indelibly upon its succeeding

Of this latter class was John Calvin. Of the former was and is Christian Carl Josias Bunsen. With our hand upon his last volume, the English edition of which appears as the posthumous work of both author and translator, it seems to us that human immortality never found a nobler illustration. The work which survives testifies to the surviving soul. These five volumes suggest a design so magnificent; reveal a learning so wide, so varied, and so accurate; the plan of their publication suggests a faith in humanity so sincere, a faith in Truth, his God, so unwavering, - that the study of them is at once a satisfaction and an inspiration.

When Bunsen began to work, Goodwin, Le Page Renouf, and Dr. Hincks were busy in England; Chabas, De Rougé, and Devéria, in France; Brugsch, Duemichen, Lauth, Lepsius, and Pleyte, in Germany: with a corps of assistants in each country, employed as translators or transcribers. No sooner did one of these men complete any section of his work, than it was published, or copied and sent to the others, that each might have the advantage of the labors of all. In especial, Lepsius and Bunsen exchanged papers, and published their great works in sections, that all possible light might be furnished by both at each advancing step. There was never a finer example of true communion in scholarship: each man fired

with the zeal of knowledge, emulous only as to who should serve most; differing each from the other to the end, as to some important particulars, but never losing, through all, the sense of brotherhood and active trust; and each holding back the results of his own work, till he had examined that of the other.

Still greater obstacles to a popular knowledge of this book than the severe study it requires, may be found in the extent of acquisition demanded to make the reading of it profitable, and the great cost of the volumes themselves. Men may learn to study in time; they may grow in patience with a plan necessarily cumbersome; they may kindle into admiration, and acquire general learning, so as to fit themselves for appreciation: but there is no hope that the cost of these volumes will greatly diminish. That the Messrs. Longman should have been willing to furnish a font of hieroglyphic characters, at a cost such as is usually assumed only by foreign governments, seems somewhat like a miracle, and shows a generous zeal which this author was entitled to kindle.

No books ever published contain ampler learning of the sort that clergymen ought to acquire; none bear more directly, or with more telling force, on the modern debate as to the historic value of our Scriptures: yet they are books which it is hopeless to suppose that more than one clergyman in five hundred will ever glance over, much less study or possess.

In this country, we suppose, no man exists who is qualified to criticise them adequately. Is any qualified by knowledge of the great geologic convulsions which have prepared the globe for the habitation of man, he will fail, perbaps, in knowledge of the distribution of races, and of the philologic suggestions to be found in their own names, and those of their earliest localities. Should he fortunately be familiar with philologic ground, he may fail in intimate acquaintance with those remains of ancient literature which bear all the more truly, because indirectly, upon the great problems to be solved. Should he have mastered these, he must turn his

attention to the sacred books and traditions of all Central Asiatic nations ; our own Scripture must be set over against the Zend, the Vendidad, and the Vedas; and the absence of all tradition of a deluge in China and Egypt accounted for. Should he find himself competent to this problem, a severer one confronts him: he must arm himself with a special knowledge of the Semitic languages; and, when these have become familiar as his mother tongue, he must be prepared for a hieroglyphic or hieratic text, and not shrink from an investigation of the modern Coptic. Nor can he proceed without the widest general culture : for the history of Phoenicia must be ransacked for suggestive points ; and rare mathematical and astronomical knowledge is required, that he may examine for himself all previous deductions as to the duration of cycles, the various means employed for the correction of the Julian year, and the possible origin of the various phases of Astral worship. Above all, he must be a man with his eyes wide open, who shall readily perceive the significance of all the small facts, daily coming into notice, upon the great problems to be solved. If we are to be gov. erned by the estimate which Bunsen puts upon the labors of his English reviewers, in his fifth volume, England has produced no man better fitted for this work than the critics of our own country; but we need not be so governed, for, of the fairness of the few reviews that have appeared, common sense is a sufficiently competent judge.*

So far as Bunsen's reviewers have produced any effect upon the popular mind, it has probably been the creating of a certain distrust of Bunsen, founded upon the great difference between his estimate of the period required for the evolution of human civilization, and what is ordinarily called “ Biblical

* It is interesting to observe, that the same fond love of patient labor over minute details, which tends to make women eminent observers in astronomy, has already produced one Egyptologist, — Miss Corbaux. We find her, in 1855, writing an Introduction to a work on the so-called Exodus Papyri, by the Rev. J. D. Heath; and, although she started with a false theory, which vitiated her results, Baron Bunsen gives her candid praise, as the first English author who has entered upon the discussion of this subject, and as having intuitively seized, in her starting point, one of the most important problems to be solved.

chronology.” It wou'll be well if we could get rid of this Biblical chronology at the outset. Surely, very little scholarship is required to show, that the Bible actually of itself makes no pretension to chronologic accuracy; and that the system which goes by its name, and has so long been active in manacling clergymen and oppressing scholars, is only a mass of Rabbinical corruptions, still further vitiated by the well-meant, but most dishonest, efforts of Eusebius and other early Christians, to force the whole records of the race into a certain conformity with a few numerical suggestions in the body of Holy Writ. Wherever Bunsen finds a numerical statement in the Scripture, however, discrepant with actual facts, he expects to find an honest basis for the number, and looks for it.* It was as if by inspiration that he lighted in the beginning upon the period of “ 21,000 years for the nutation of the ecliptic," as the proper field in which to work out his problem, — certainly not too large, when we consider that Dr. Birch has found the evidences of highly advanced civilization lying beneath the mud of the Delta, at a depth where the successive accretions of 11,000 years must have hidden them; and, if it is proper to judge of the age of long-buried lacustrine cities by the thickness of such over-deposits, why not admit the evidence when it relates to the manufacture of glass or the weaving of cloth? The 4,000 years of the Biblical chronology, Bunsen thinks an accurate measure of the beginning of national history on earth; or, what is equivalent, the beginning of our consciousness of continuous existence.

In the “ Journal of Sacred Literature" for October, 1859, the author assumes a positive knowledge of early Egyptian history; the self-complacency of which shows him absolutely unable to appreciate the slow accumulative processes of Bunsen's investigations, and clinches the objections to his state

* A remarkable instance of this is to be found in the 215 years which the Jewish people were supposed to have passed in Egypt, -a numeration which he conclusively proves to refer to the period of their oppression, which they could not be supposed likely to forget, and beside which the pleasant memory of the long period of prosperous residence faded into thin air.

ments, regarding the residence in Egypt, with the childish wonder, that, in the many attempts to reconstruct the extinct dynasties of Egypt, the statement in Isaialı, that the Assyrian oppressed Israel without cause" should have been so strangely neglected! The passage (Isa. lii. 4), as it actually stands in the English version, gives some color to the reviewer's evident inference, that it was in Egypt that the Assyrian oppressed Israel: “For thus saith the Lord God, My people went down aforetime into Egypt, to sojourn there; and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause."* Surely there is no tolerable Hebrew scholar who will not admit, that, in the original, these two clauses have only this to do with each other, - that they are the separate stages of a climactic statement: once that unhappy people had been oppressed in Egypt; later, the Assyrian oppressed them without cause.t

The "Dublin Review" for February, 1860, if not as incompetent, is still more unfair. “In reference to the authenticity and credibility,” it says, “ of the remains now ascribed to Manetho, Baron Bunsen does not hesitate to say, that the numbers of Manetho have been transmitted to us quite as correctly as the canon of Ptolemy.” Now, nothing is more evident throughout the five volumes of Bunsen's work than the constant effort of the author to correct the text of Manetho from Eratosthenes, the papyri, and the monuments. So far as we can judge, Manetho fell into hopeless chronological confusion, by attempting to give the sum of the regnal years in each dynasty, without regard to the orderly succession of reigns. To reduce the exaggeration thus resulting within the likeliest limits, is Bunsen's main object, so far as chronology is concerned; for he believes Manetho to have had access to the royal registers.

* The whole difficulty lies in the punctuation, and the absence of a proper rhetorical inflection.

† Smith's Bible Dictionary, which echoes this criticism of the “Journal," manifests a personal hostility to Bunsen, which vitiates the conclusions in what should be some of the most valuable articles in that valuable book.

See below, p. 323.

« PreviousContinue »