BROOK OF EGYPT, THE [ISBE]
BROOK OF EGYPT, THE
- (nachal = "a flowing stream," "a valley"; best translated by the oriental word wady, which means, as the Hebrew word does, both a stream and its valley).
The Brook of Egypt is mentioned six times in the Old Testament (Nu 34:5; Josh 15:4,47; 1 Ki 8:65; Isa 27:12); once, Gen 15:18, by another word, nahar. The Brook of Egypt was not an Egyptian stream at all, but a little desert stream near the borderland of Egypt a wady of the desert, and, perhaps, the dividing line between Canaan and Egypt. It is usually identified with the Wady el 'Arish of modern geography.
The Brook of Egypt comes down from the plateau et Tih in the Sinai peninsula and falls into the Mediterranean Sea at latitude 31 5 North, longitude 33 42 East. Its source is at the foot of the central mountain group of the peninsula. The upper portion of the wady is some 400 ft. above the sea. Its course, with one sharp bend to the West in the upper part, runs nearly due North along the western slope of the plateau. Its whole course of 140 miles lies through the desert. These streams in the Sinai peninsula are usually dry water-courses, which at times become raging rivers, but are very seldom babbling "brooks." The floods are apt to come with little or no warning when cloudbursts occur in the mountain region drained.
The use of the Hebrew word nachal for this wady points to a curious and most interesting and important piece of archaeological evidence on the critical question of the origin of the Pentateuch. In the Pentateuch, the streams of Egypt are designated by an Egyptian word (ye'or) which belongs to Egypt, as the word bayou does to the lower Mississippi valley, while every other stream mentioned, not except this desert stream, "the Brook of Egypt," is designated by one or other of two Hebrew words, na chal and nahar. Each of these words occurs 13 times in the Pentateuch, but never of the streams of Egypt. The use of nahar in Ex 7:19 in the account of the plagues is not really an exception for the word is then used generically in contrast with ye'or to distinguish between the "flowing streams," neharoth, and the sluggish irrigation branches of the Nile, ye'orim, "canals" (compare CANALS) (Isa 19:6; 33:21), while ye'or occurs 30 times but never of any other than the streams of Egypt. There is thus a most exa ct discrimination in the use of these various words, a discrimination which is found alike in the Priestly Code (P), Jahwist (Jahwist), and Elohim (E) of the documentary theory, and also where the editor is supposed to have altered the documents. Such discrimination is scarcely credible on the hypothesis that the Pentateuch is by more than one author, in later than Mosaic times, or that it is by any author without Egyptian training. The documentary theory which requires these instances of the use of these various words for "river" to have been recorded by several different authors or redactors, in different ages and all several centuries after the Exodus, far away from Egypt and opportunities for accurate knowledge of its language, seems utterly incompatible with such discriminating use of these words. And even if the elimination of all mistakes be attributed to one person, a final editor, the difficulty is scarcely lessened. For as no purpose is served by this discriminating use of words, it is evidently a natural phenomenon. In every instance of the use of ye'or, one or other of the usual Hebrew words, nachal or nahar would have served the purpose of the author, just as any foreign religious writer might with propriety speak of the "streams of Louisiana," though a Louisianian would certainly call them "bayous." How does the author come to use ye'or even where his native Hebrew words might have been used appropriately? Why never, where its appropriateness is even doubtful, not even saying ye'or for nachal of the "Brook of Egypt"? It is not art, but experience, in the use of a language which gives such skill as to attend to so small a thing in so extensive use without a single mistake. The only time and place at which such experience in the use of Egyptian words is to be expected in Israel is among the people of the Exodus not long subsequent to that event.
M. G. Kyle