What Happened to Egypt’s Pharaohs?

Ancient Egypt was a magnificent civilization, until it suddenly vanished in the sixth century B.C.

The winds of revolution sweeping Egypt today aren’t the first that have ravaged that nation.

Most history textbooks open with a description of ancient Egypt as a towering civilization that, for more than a millennium, led mankind’s intellectual, political and cultural advancement. Each year, millions of visitors marvel at the pyramids jutting from Egypt’s dunes, at the mummified remains of the ancient pharaohs, and at Egypt’s mountains of other artifacts and relics—all testimony to the power the civilization once held.

But perhaps the most striking facet of Egyptian history is its precipitous fall.

Modern-day Egyptians, after all, are not descended from those ancient societies that constructed the Giza Pyramid Complex, the Great Sphinx, and other momentous structures. They have no connection to the early dynastic peoples that pioneered new frontiers in science, mathematics and art, and that once dominated the civilized world. Today’s Egypt is inhabited and ruled by Arabs; before that it was under British control; before that it was controlled by various Muslim peoples, including the Ottomans; before that it was the Romans; before that the Greeks; and before that the Persians.

Egypt has resurfaced intermittently in the past 2,500 years of world history, but always as the territory of a foreign nation or empire. What happened to ancient Egypt—the unique and independent civilization established by the pharaohs, the nation that once reigned over mankind? That Egypt has clearly vanished.

Don’t you wonder why?

Who Were Native Egyptians?

There is a great deal of confusion among historians about the race of native Egyptians. Archeological evidence, ancient Egyptian art and hieroglyphics indicate the presence in ancient Egypt of both Semitic (Caucasian) people and Negroid peoples (including various shades of brown).

In the 19th and 20th centuries, when artifacts were uncovered indicating the presence of black pharaohs, prejudiced historians and scientists generally downplayed the notion that a great Nubian civilization had once existed in Egypt. Today, however, many Egyptologists recognize that the indigenous peoples of ancient Egypt originated from the same racial strain as their counterparts in Africa.

In February 2008, the National Geographic cover story spotlighted the substantial historical and archeological evidence indicating the presence of a predominantly black civilization in early Egypt: “Only in the past four decades have archaeologists resurrected their story—and come to recognize that the black pharaohs didn’t appear out of nowhere. They sprang from a robust African civilization that had flourished on the southern banks of the Nile for 2,500 years, going back at least as far as the first Egyptian dynasty” (emphasis mine throughout).

Moreover, scientists have also investigated the remains of the early Egyptians, including their dna, bone structure and teeth, and concluded that early Egyptians are of the same racial strain as the black people of Africa. Even the historical record indicates early Egypt was settled, at least partially, by people of black skin. Among the ancient historians who recognized this fact was Herodotus, the fifth-century Greek who referred to the ancient Egyptians as “melanchroes,” meaning black-skinned.

The science indicating the presence of a black civilization in Egypt supports the biblical account of the origins of the early Egyptians. In the book of Psalms, for example, mostly written around the 10th century b.c., the psalmists often recall the history of the Israelites in Egypt. In Psalm 105:23, for example, King David writes, “Israel also came into Egypt; and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham.” In Psalm 78, Asaph remembers God besieging the Egyptians with plagues, writing that God “smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham” (verse 51).

At the time of King David, Egypt was known as the “land of Ham.” The Bible clearly reveals Ham as Noah’s son, the husband of a black woman and the father of the black race. More specifically, the Bible indicates that the ancient Egyptians descend from Ham’s son Mizraim (Genesis 10:6). The Hebrew word everywhere used in the Old Testament for Egypt is Mizraim. In fact, the Revised Standard Version identifies “the sons of Ham” in Genesis 10:6 as “Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.”

So when it comes to ancient Egypt, science and the Bible agree: Early Egypt, like the rest of Africa, was largely comprised of blacks, descended from Ham, father of the black race!

But what of the wealth of archeological evidence, especially art, that clearly reveals the presence in ancient Egypt of a Semitic people?

The White Egyptians

Once again we must turn to God for the answer. Any person who has read the first five books of the Bible will recall Egypt’s prominent role in the events surrounding the development of ancient Israel. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Jacob’s 12 sons and their descendants—the Bible reveals that all these men lived in Egypt at some point in their lives, and played a crucial role in early Egyptian history.

In other words, Abraham and his descendants—all Caucasian—had a decisive presence in and influence over ancient Egyptian civilization!

Consider Abraham. In Genesis 12, Abram relocates from Chaldea to Canaan. When a famine arises in Canaan, Abram is told to move to Egypt. During his stint in Egypt, which could have been a few years, Abram had extensive contact with the pharaoh and the upper echelon of Egypt. For example, verse 16 says that the pharaoh “entreated Abram well … and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.”

Hailing from the land of Chaldea, which was known for its advanced understanding of science and mathematics, Abraham—as Jewish historian Josephus recorded—was an exceptional scientist, mathematician and astronomer. He even shared this knowledge with his Egyptian friends. Josephus recorded, “For whereas the Egyptians were formerly addicted to different customs … Abram conferred with each of them …. [He] communicated to them arithmetic, and delivered to them the science of astronomy; for, before Abram came into Egypt, they were unacquainted with those parts of learning …” (Antiquities, I, viii, 2).

Abram had a powerful influence on Egypt. In fact, in the 20th century b.c., Abram was largely responsible for equipping ancient Egypt with the knowledge that resulted in Egypt’s emergence as the intellectual giant of the time!

A little more than two centuries later, Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph ended up living in Egypt. The Bible reveals that he too had a decisive influence on ancient Egyptian civilization. The fascinating story of Joseph’s journey from being thrown in a pit by his brothers and then sold into slavery to eventually become a prominent figure in Pharaoh’s household appears in Genesis 37 through 40.

In Genesis 41, Pharaoh rewards Joseph for interpreting his dream. He promises Joseph, “Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. … And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt” (verses 39-46).

Read the whole passage—it’s remarkable. Basically, the pharaoh gave Joseph, an Israelite, the keys to the Egyptian empire!

Joseph became part of the royal family of Egypt. And in the years following his promotion as vice president, it was Joseph’s leadership—particularly his economic policies—that made Egypt the wealthiest and most powerful empire on Earth.

In Genesis 44 though 47, we read of how Joseph’s 12 brothers and his father, Israel, relocated to Egypt and settled in its most fertile region, the land of Goshen. Under Pharaoh’s protection and living on the Nile delta, these families expanded rapidly. As the Israelites’ numbers quickly rose, they made vital contributions to Egyptian civilization, with some, thanks to Joseph’s good word, even taking up positions within Egypt’s government. Evidence suggests the Israelites helped Egypt with some of its largest building projects. In fact, some research compellingly suggests that Job (Khufu in Egyptian, Cheops in Greek), an Israelite, was the mastermind behind the construction of the Great Pyramid.

In the 15th century b.c., when it came time for the Israelites to depart Egypt, it is estimated that they numbered between 2 and 3 million. Truly, Israel at this point was a nation living within a nation, a people within a people. This explains why Egyptian historical records show the existence of both white and black people in the nation.

Truly, the history of ancient Egypt is phenomenal. Thanks largely to God’s presence in its history—from the knowledge originally taught the Egyptians by Abraham, to the financial prowess and quality leadership of Joseph, to the labor, organization and farming practices of the Israelites—ancient Egypt emerged as the magnificent civilization we know it to have been.

So then—what happened?

Egypt’s Sudden Disappearance

The 10 plagues and the annihilation of the Egyptian army during the Exodus of the Israelites in the 15th century b.c. left Egypt demoralized and debilitated, politically and culturally. It did, however, recover much of its former glory; the dynasties of the pharaohs were perpetuated, and Egypt reemerged as a regional force and a civilization rich in culture and material possessions.

It wasn’t until the sixth century b.c. that Egypt fell from the heights of global prominence—never to return. Its demise began early in that century when it tangled with the Babylonian armies of King Nebuchadnezzar. Within a few decades, Egypt was being attacked by the Persians—the inheritors of the Babylonian Empire—and had fallen completely. When Pharaoh Psamatik iii died after battling the Persians in the battle of Pelusium in 525 b.c., wrote George Rawlinson, “thus perished … the last of the long line of pharaohs, which commencing with Menes … had ruled Egypt, as a great independent monarchy, for not less than 20 centuries” (History of Ancient Egypt).

Despite periodic insurrections by native Egyptians, the ancient Egyptian civilization never fully recovered from the Persian invasion. Beginning in the sixth century b.c., tides of foreigners began to settle in Egypt: Seafaring Greeks sailed in from the Aegean, Jews came from Jerusalem, and Syrians from the northern Levant. Within a couple of centuries, Egypt was a cauldron of races. In the fourth century b.c., Persia’s grip on Egypt slipped, and the reins passed from Persia to Greece, first to Alexander the Great, then Ptolemy and the Ptolemaic Dynasty.

Around 30 b.c., Egypt fell under the control of the Romans, where it remained until the early seventh century, when the Muslim conquest of Egypt began. Between the 7th and 19th centuries, Egypt was ruled by various Muslim governments, including the Ottoman Turks. By the end of the 19th century, Egypt was controlled by Britain, which in the early 20th century turned it over to the Arabs.

As this survey of Egypt’s history shows, Egypt never fully recovered from the Babylonian and Persian invasions of the sixth century b.c. It never again existed as an independent, world-ruling power!

A Base Nation

The key to understanding events in Egypt in the sixth century b.c.—and to understanding Egypt’s disastrous fall from global prominence—is found in the book of Ezekiel.

In chapters 29 and 30, we read of God sending the Prophet Ezekiel to deliver a crucial message to Egypt. “Set thy face against Pharaoh king of Egypt,” God instructs Ezekiel, “and prophesy against him, and against all Egypt” (Ezekiel 29:2). The biblical record shows that Ezekiel was dispatched to Egypt in the early sixth century, and that he delivered his message to Pharaoh Apries (Hophra in Hebrew), the fourth king of the 26th dynasty of Egypt.

Under the rule of Apries, Egypt was a powerful, influential civilization. In fact, Egypt’s presence was so impressive, Apries, like his forefathers, thought himself king of the world, as powerful as God Himself. Pharaoh Apries considered the Nile River, the source of Egypt’s material greatness, to be his own creation, and he declared himself the god of the Nile.

Drunk on arrogance, Apries had lost sight of Egypt’s history with God and the Israelites. So God dispatched Ezekiel to warn Apries of where his egotism was leading and to tell him that God would expose and destroy him, and that in Egypt’s devastation the world would learn the ultimate source of Egypt’s power. In verse 3, God tells Ezekiel: “Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.”

God was going to show Pharaoh Apries exactly who created the Nile and gave Egypt all its power. In verse 4, God tells the pharaoh, “I will put hooks in thy jaws, and I will cause the fish of thy rivers to stick unto thy scales, and I will bring thee up out of the midst of thy rivers, and all the fish of thy rivers shall stick unto thy scales.” God said He would expose Pharaoh Apries as a fraud—much like He had exposed the gods of Egypt during the 10 plagues nearly a thousand years earlier!

God continues His warning in verses 8-10: “Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will bring a sword upon thee, and cut off man and beast out of thee. And the land of Egypt shall be desolate and waste; and they shall know that I am the Lord: because he hath said, The river is mine, and I have made it. Behold, therefore I am against thee, and against thy rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia.”

In verse 19, Ezekiel even reveals to Apries that he would be attacked by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. In scripture after scripture of chapters 29 and 30, God warns the pharaoh that Egypt’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonians and Persians would be so disastrous that it would never fully recover!

Then, in verse 15, God makes a prophecy that would change Egypt forever. Regarding Egypt’s future after the destruction, He says explicitly: “It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations.”

God couldn’t have been clearer: He promised that after the sixth century b.c., Egypt would never again be a major ruling power!

Prince of Egypt

In addition to Ezekiel 29:15, another scripture is key to understanding Egypt’s sudden demise in the sixth century, specifically the sudden disappearance of Egypt’s ruling dynasty of native pharaohs.

Although Egypt would eventually recover from the damage inflicted by the Babylonians and the Persians, God says in Ezekiel 30:13 that “there shall be no more a prince of the land of Egypt ….”

This, as Bible commentaries explain and historical records confirm, is an explicit prophecy that after its destruction in the sixth century b.c., Egypt would never again be governed by a native prince!

This astounding scripture explains the sudden disappearance of Egypt’s ancient pharaohs!

In the early sixth century, Pharaoh Amiries was overthrown by Amesis, a commoner who was not from the line of the pharaohs. After Amesis, Egypt was ruled by Pharaoh Pamaitic iii. After the defeat of the Egyptian armies in the battle of Pelusium in 525 b.c. and the death of Pamaitic iii, the Egyptian monarchy became Persian. After the Persian conquest, the Greeks dominated Egypt beginning with Alexander the Great in the fourth century b.c. When Alexander died, Egypt was ruled by Ptolemy, who established a Greek dynasty of pharaohs. That dynasty ended in 30 b.c., when Egypt fell into Rome’s orbit. Truly, from the sixth century b.c., a native Egyptian has never—not once—ruled over Egypt!

Stunning Prophecies

Take a moment and think on these stunning prophecies.

For nearly 2,000 years before the sixth century b.c., Egypt was not only a regional force, but a pulsating civilization. Culturally and intellectually, ancient Egyptian mathematicians, scientists and astronomers were on the vanguard of innovation; agriculturally, ancient Egypt exported grains throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean; the ancient Egyptians constructed edifices that 4,000 years later still dazzle engineers. Politically, Egypt’s ruling class was the most enduring and impressive monarchy in the world.

Then, all of a sudden in the sixth centuryb.c., Egypt vanished as a world power—and never reclaimed its position! Why? Because, as we discovered in Ezekiel 29 and 30, God said that after the sixth century b.c., Egypt would remain the “basest of kingdoms,” a nation still alive, yet incapable of “exalt[ing] itself any more above the nations.”

Today, each of these prophecies has been fulfilled, and we have 2,500 years of recorded history to prove it.

Truly, Egypt has played a pivotal role in human history—as a living testament to the existence of God!