Theodor Nöldeke And The Fertility In Ancient Egypt

M S M Saifullah, Muhammad Ghoniem, Bassam Zawadi & ʿAbdullah David

© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.

First Published: 1st November 2005

Last Updated: 25th February 2014

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Assalamu ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:

1. Introduction

In what has been hailed as a "classic" article by Theodor Nöldeke that was published in Encyclopædia Britannica in 1891 and reprinted several times since, it was claimed that Prophet Muhammad was "ignorant" of everything outside of Arabia. This was the reason for his "confusing" the name Haman during the time of Pharaoh, which, in fact, was originally in the biblical story of Esther set in Persia. Nöldeke also made another claim of an error in Sūrah Yūsuf (12:49) concerning what he believed to be an explicit Qur'anic reference to Egyptian fertility. According to Nöldeke:

In addition to such misconceptions there are sundry capricious alterations, some of them very grotesque, due to Mohammed himself. For instance, in his ignorance of everything out of Arabia, he makes the fertility of Egypt - where rain is almost never seen and never missed - depend on rain instead of the inundation of the Nile (xii. 49).[1]

Agreeing with Nöldeke, Alphonse Mingana asserts:

The ignorance, too, of the author of the Qur'ân about everything outside of Arabia and some parts of Syria makes the fertility of Egypt, where rain is never missed, for the simple reason that it is seldom seen, depend on rain instead of on the inundation of the Nile. (Sūrat Yūsuf, xii.49).[2]

This claim is also repeated by Christian apologists. For example, ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi says:

... a reference is made to the drought that Egypt suffered for seven continual years during the time of Joseph, and to the surplus that would replace this barrenness. It says that in the year of plenty they will have rain [the word succoured in Arabic means 'to be relieved by rain']; as if Egypt's fertility is based on rain. This contradicts reality, for rain is very scarce in Egypt, and it plays no role in that country's irrigation, which is obtained solely from the annual flooding of Nile.[3]

Not surprisingly, these claims are also repeated by Christian missionaries on the internet.

The allegations of Nöldeke, Mingana and its derivative by ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi rest on the word yughāth which they have interpreted as "rain". How accurate is their understanding of the word yughāth? Is the meaning of the word confined to rain only or does it perhaps have a wider semantic range? In this paper, we would like to critically engage the claims of Nöldeke, Mingana and ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi, who have said that the Prophet made the fertility of Egypt depend on rain. We will also demonstrate the ancient Egyptian practices described in this particular Qur'anic narrative do indeed have a precedent in ancient Egyptian records.

2. ‘Fertility’ In Ancient Egypt

Let us examine the foundational claim made by Nöldeke whereby he asserts that rain is almost never seen and is never missed in ancient Egypt. In this section we will briefly deal with the commentary of verse 12:49 and the evidence of rainfall in ancient Egypt. This verse deals with the last part of the interpretation of the King's dream by Joseph.

This verse has been translated by various scholars as follows:

Then will come after that (period) a year in which the people will have abundant water, and in which they will press (wine and oil). [Qur'an 12:49] [Yusuf Ali]

Then, after that, will come a year when the people will have plenteous crops and when they will press (wine and oil). [Pickthal]

Then there will come after that a year in which people shall have rain and in which they shall press (grapes). [Shakir]

Then thereafter there shall come a year wherein the people will be succoured and press in season. [Arberry]

The claims of Nöldeke, Mingana and ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi that the Prophet made the fertility of Egypt depend on rain is based on their understanding of the word yughāth, underlined in red, and, subsequently, their isolated interpretation of the verse. By using various translations, the Christian missionaries have claimed that the translators have ‘interpreted’ the word to mean rain and claimed that it is derived from the trilateral root gh-y-th. However, it is surprising that they omitted the translation of the Qur'an by Muhammad Asad as it puts their argument in a very uncomfortable position. As for the phrase yughāth un-nās in Qur'an 12:49, Asad translates it as "the people will be delivered from all distress" and in the footnote he adds ‘Or: "will be granted rain"’ by adding:

– depending on whether one connects the verbal form yughāth with either of the infinitive nouns ghayth ("rain") or ghawth ("deliverance from distress"). Although the crops of Egypt depend entirely on the annual Nile floods, the water-level of the river is, in its turn, contingent upon the quantity of rainfall at its upper reaches.[4]

The combination of Asad's translation and the commentary should caution one who is looking into the linguistic aspects of the word yughāth. In fact, the issue here is lexical rather than translation. The Arabic-English Dictionary Of Qur'anic Usage says concerning the two roots gh-y-th and gh-w-th, which are connected to the word yughāth.

Considering the uncertainty surrounding w and y when they function as radicals, there is a connection and a degree of overlapping between this root [i.e., gh-y-th] and the root gh-w-th (q.v.)...[5]

The lexicon adds further by saying:

yughāth [imperf. pass. v.] to be relieved [with rain and pasture] (12:49)[6]

In other words, yughāth could mean "rain" or "deliverance" depending upon which root is used to translate it. Since the two roots gh-y-th and gh-w-th have a connection and overlap, the word yughāth has a more comprehensible meaning. However, the missionaries, who, in order to ‘prove’ the views of Nöldeke, Mingana and ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi, went on to claim that yughāth originated from gh-y-th – a root which occurs three times in the Qur'an.[7] It is important to note that the Qur'anic verse above in no way states, indicates or implies that fertility in ancient Egypt was dependant on rain!

THE MEANING OF YUGHĀTH - USING THE QUR'AN TO INTERPRET THE QUR'AN

Does the word yughāth in the verse interpreted by Nöldeke and Mingana explicitly mean rain, or, does the Qur'an use this term in a more comprehensive sense? Clearly, in isolation, the verse 12:49 in the Qur'an does not give any specific indication of what yughāth is and how it is to be translated, thereby resulting in a multitude of meanings in its translation. Furthermore, the two roots gh-y-th and gh-w-th, from which yughāth is supposed to have derived, have a connection and degree of overlap, which not only makes classification of the word yughāth difficult, but also makes it harder to pin-point exactly what the word means without looking at the context. In order to look into this issue carefully, let us use the first principle of exegesis of the Qur'an - using the Qur'an to interpret the Qur'an. That is, what is given in a general way in one place in the Qur'an is explained in detail in another place. What is given briefly in one place is expanded in another. The word ‘yughāth’ in the Qur'an occurs twice,[8] viz., in verses 12:49 (mentioned above) and 18:29. As for the latter, it says:

Say, "The truth is from your Lord": Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it): for the wrong-doers We have prepared a Fire whose (smoke and flames), like the walls and roof of a tent, will hem them in: if they implore relief, they yughāthū [shall be helped] bi-mā’in [with water] like melted brass, that will scald their faces, how dreadful the drink! How uncomfortable a couch to recline on! [Qur'an 18:29]

The above verse points to the fact that yughāth is understood to mean "help" or "relief". Furthermore, the word yughāth is clearly distinguished from water [mā’in - a word also used elsewhere for rain in the Qur'an] in the same verse. Interestingly, the above verse also offers insights into the variations of the verb yughāth for various kinds of help.[9] For example, if we read the verse 18:29 once again, we see that it uses the word yastaghīthū [ask for help], which is placed next to yughāthū [shall be helped].

Say, "The truth is from your Lord": Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it): for the wrong-doers We have prepared a Fire whose (smoke and flames), like the walls and roof of a tent, will hem them in: if they yastaghīthū [implore relief], they yughāthū [shall be helped] bi-mā’in [with water] like melted brass, that will scald their faces, how dreadful the drink! How uncomfortable a couch to recline on! [Qur'an 18:29]

Likewise, in verse 8:9, tastaghīthūna, a variation of the verb yughāth, is used to mean to "sought help of".

When ye tastaghīthūna [sought help of] your Lord and He answered you (saying): I will help you with a thousand of the angels, rank on rank. [Qur'an 8:9]

Similarly, the use of istaghāthahu ("ask him for help") in verse 28:15, and yastighīthāni ("they [both] invoked for help") in verse 46:17, show that the verb yughāth and its variation in the Qur'an are used to mean to "help", "relief" or "succor". Therefore, it may be concluded by using the principle of using the Qur'an to explain the Qur'an that the usage of yughāth in verse 12:49 most likely means to provide succor, or relief. To investigate the origins of the word yughāth, let us look into the books of various types of Qur'anic exegeses.

THE POLYSEMY OF YUGHĀTH

The word yughāth is a passive verbal form that may be derived either from the three-letter roots, viz., gh-y-th meaning "to rain", or gh-w-th meaning "deliverance" or "rescue". This was pointed out by the renowned grammarians and linguists such as al-Zamakhsharī, al-Thaʿālibī and others in their commentary of the passage concerning verse 12:49 in the Qur'an. Let us discuss a few of them below.

Al-Zamakhsharī (d. 538 AH / 1142 CE)

He says in his Al-Kashshāf concerning the root of the word yughāth:

{fīhi yughāth un-nās} derived from al-ghawth or al-ghayth. It is said: The countries have been ghuyithat, if it has rained. And there is also the saying amongst the Arabs ‘ghithna what we want’.

Al-Rāzī (d. 606 AH / 1209 CE)

He says in his Tafsīr al-Kabīr:

{fīhi yughāth un-nās wa fīhi ya‘sirūn} It cannot be known except via revelation. Ibn al-Sukayt said: "It is said that God ghaath the countries with ghaythiha ghaythan if He sent down to it ghayth [i.e., rain] and the earth ghuyithat tughaath, and His saying {yughāth un-nās} means they receive rain. And it is also possible from their saying: Aaghāthahu allah if He saved him from anguish or grief. It means that He saves the people from the anguish of infertility.

Al-Thaʿālibī (d. 875 AH / 1470 CE)

He says in his tafsīr:

{yughāth un-nās} it may be derived from al-ghayth [i.e., rain], which corresponds to the opinion of Ibn ‘Abbās and that of the majority. It may also be derived from aghāthahum allāh [Allāh delivered them], from which al-ghawth [deliverance] is derived. {wa fīhi ya‘sirūn} The majority of the mufassirūn say it comes from pressing plants such as olives, grapes, sugar canes, sesame, and radish; Egypt is a country where many plants are pressed.

Tafsīr al-Nasafī (d. 710 AH / 1310 CE)

He says in his tafsīr:

... {fīhi yughāth un-nās} is derived from al-ghawth [i.e., deliverance / rescue] meaning that those among them who cry out for deliverance are answered, or it may be derived from al-ghayth meaning that they receive rain. We say ghīthat al-bilād when it rains over the country. wa fīhi ya‘sirūn [and during which they press] grapes, olives, sesame from which they take drinks and balms...

Ibn Kathīr (d. 774 AH / 1372 CE)

He says in his tafsīr of the Qur'an:

After that, he conveyed them the good news that after the drought there will be a year where people receive rain [yughāth un-nās]; the country will then grow cultures and the people will resume pressing oil and wine as they used to do. Some people even said that this includes squeezing milk. ‘Alī Ibn Abī Talhah reported on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbās that wa fīhi ya‘sirūn means "to milk".

From the above discussion, it is amply clear that the understanding of the word yughāth is quite broad. In a wider sense, yughāth means "to deliver" or "to rescue". In a narrower sense, it means "to send rain". Nevertheless, water or rain being the source of life, the etymological relation between rain and deliverance is rather evident, as pointed out by the above-mentioned scholars. As for the missionaries, their determination to prove that yughāth must only mean ‘rain / seasonal rain’ resulted in them subscribing to conspiracy theories such as al-Thaʿālibī “may have had an agenda behind his rather unorthodox exegesis of the term yughathu”. Given the fact that al-Zamakhsharī, who came about 350 years before al-Thaʿālibī, also gave a similar linguistic explanation for the word yughāth, this absurd conspiracy theory can be discarded.

EVIDENCE OF RAINFALL IN ANCIENT EGYPT

Nöldeke, Mingana and ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi had claimed that rain in Egypt was so rare that it was almost never seen. However, scholars of Egyptology have identified several (moist) intervals of increased precipitation during which rain was comparatively plentiful. The first such period is dated c. 9200 – c. 6000 BCE where accelerated wadi activity is observed. Another wet phase began in the Neolithic Period c. 5000 BCE where there were more frequent gentle rains, and, after another period of dryness, sporadic heavy and protracted rains are observed in the Pre-Dynastic period c. 4000 BCE – c. 3000 BCE. Based on historical and archaeological documents, abundant desert wadi vegetation persisted until the 5th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom Period c. 2350 BCE. From c. 2350 BCE onward, the level of aridity closely matches that of the present Egyptian climate.[10] Such intervals of increased precipitation cannot be underestimated. B. G. Trigger comments,

At the maxima of precipitation, the northern Red Sea Hills supported tree cover and grazing land, while trees and wild grasses also grew in the wadis on both sides of the Nile and fish lived in the pondings along these wadis (Murray 1951; W. A. Fairservis, personal communication). During such periods, these upland areas and wadi systems, as well as the Nile Valley itself, supported considerable numbers of elephant, giraffe, rhinoceros, ostrich, wild ass and cattle, as well as antelope, gazelle, ibex and deer. That the adjacent deserts had become far more habitable than they are today during the period that saw the rise of Egyptian civilization vitiates the suggestion that an increase in population, resulting from climatic deterioration on the neighbouring steppes, played a major role in encouraging the development of civilization in the Nile Valley (Butzer 1971, p. 594). The moister climate appears to have facilitated the movement of human populations into and through the desert and this, in turn, may have encouraged more communication and more rapid cultural exchange in the Sahara.[11]

These intervals of rainfall during the Pre-Dynastic times appear to have helped the agricultural processes of the ancient Egyptians which would have been critical to the initial development of agricultural economy in the area of the Nile Valley.[12]

The claims of Nöldeke, Mingana and ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi can also be countered by the fact that the ancient Egyptians had words for rain and they took protective measures to minimize its impact on their architecture. Figure 1 shows the hieroglyphs for rain, rainbow, etc. The determinative for the rain is interesting. It shows rainfall at an angle.

Figure 1: Hieroglyph entries for "Rain", "Rainbow", etc.[13]

With regard to their architecture, there is ample evidence that architects of pyramids in the Middle Kingdom considered it advisable to take precautions against rainstorms. The lion waterspouts in Egypt are better known from the temples of the Hellenistic period. However, they existed as early as the Old Kingdom. Ahmed Fakhry reported of a temple of King Sahure of 5th Dynasty, c. 2480 BCE, at Abusir:

Rain falling on the roof was carried out by lion-headed gargoyles, which projected well beyond the eaves, and fell into open channels cut in the pavement.[14]

The architects of the pyramids of the Middle Kingdom rulers considered it advisable to take precautions against rainstorms, for the head of a lion waterspout "which drained the broad roofs of the temple" of Senwosret I was found among the ruins at Lisht.[15] The Middle Kingdom pyramid of Senwosret II (i.e., Sesostris II) differed in many aspects from its predecessors. Around the base of the pyramid was built

... a shallow trench filled with sand, the purpose of which was to absorb rain-water flowing off the face of the pyramid. Such a trench, Petrie estimated, could easily hold the volume of water resulting from the heaviest downpour likely to occur in Egypt.[16]

It appears likely that Senwosret II took precautions lest his pyramid met the same catastrophe that befell the pyramid of Amenemhet I.[17] It is worth remembering that the biblical scholars date the entry of Joseph in Egypt to the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1674-1553 BCE), a time when the Hyksos ruled Egypt. This means that for about a millenium before the appearance of Joseph in Egypt, the rulers of ancient Egypt took precautions to prevent their monuments from damage due to rainfall. Such a practice of protecting the architecture continued in later times too. From the New Kingdom Period, on the Medinat Habu temple of Rameses III at Thebes, Wilkinson noted that:

The head and the forepart of several lions project, at intervals, from below the cornice of the exterior of the building, whose perforated mouths, communicating by a tube with the summit of the roof, served as conduits for the rainwater which occasionally fell at Thebes. Nor were they neglectful of any precaution that might secure the paintings of the interior from the effects of rain, and the joints of the stones which formed the ceiling being protected by a piece of metal or stone, let in immediately along the line of their junction, were rendered impervious to the heaviest storm.[18]

The waterspouts were also described by Hölscher at the mortuary temple of Rameses III.

The drainage of rain water from one terrace to another and finally to the outside was a matter of special importance. Very large waterspouts, shaped like the forepart of a lion, form a conspicuous feature of the exterior walls of the temple.[19]

Wilkinson adds that at Thebes, located in the south of Egypt, which formed part of the Upper Egypt, showers fall annually, on an average of four to five in a year. In every eight or ten years heavy rains fill the torrent beds of the mountains, which run to the banks of the Nile.[20] There is also evidence of minor rainfall anomalies (i.e., when the presence of rain would otherwise be unexpected) in the northern foothills of Tibesti where two generations of vegetated dunes dating to c. 1600 – c. 350 BCE and c. 90 – c. 650 CE are known to have existed. In the Siwa Oasis located in Northern Egypt, vegetated mounds dating to c. 2450 – c. 1880 BCE, c. 1210 – c. 1100 BCE and c. 70 BCE – c. 560 CE are known to have existed. Butzer notes that these appear to be associated with winter or spring rains in the westerlies.[21]

An extremely important set of texts preserved at Thebes in the tombs of four upper-Egyptian viziers form the mid-18th Dynasty (New Kingdom Period) include a copy of the King's instructions to his vizier and the necessary duties and procedures that would be required from the vizier on him taking up office. Scholars date these texts to the late Middle Kingdom Period or even earlier, however, they are also representative of the duties and tasks required of a vizier during the early New Kingdom period. In his capacity as a civil servant the vizier was required to perform a number of duties in keeping with his office, and, being the most powerful person in ancient Egypt after the Pharaoh, these varied administrative functions were of critical important for the smooth running of central government. Reports regarding the material resources of the country were made on a frequent basis to the vizier and they included information on the rise and fall of the Nile and the occurrence of rainfall in any part of Egypt.[22] Contrary to the assertions of Nöldeke and Mingana that rain was "never missed", it is clear from the discussion that rain was not such an immeasurably rare event in Egypt. Ancient Egyptians had words for rain, the rainfall was recorded and they incorporated certain features in their architecture to prevent the damage that would otherwise occur to their structures due to rain. Let us close this section with a quote from Alix Wilkinson's The Garden In Ancient Egypt.

The climate of Egypt has not altered great since the Middle Kingdom, but the area covered by deserts has increased. Rain was evidently not totally absent, since the Egyptians had words for rain, and they built gutters and spouts on temples.[23]

THE MEANING OF YUGHĀTH - A SUMMARY

We have seen that by using the Qur'an to interpret the Qur'an, the word yughāth is understood to mean "help" or "rescue". Furthermore, this word is derived from two roots gh-y-th and gh-w-th, which have a connection and degree of overlap, which makes the word yughāth to have a more comprehensible meaning. In a wider sense, yughāth means "to deliver" or "to rescue". In a narrower sense, it means "to send rain". Nevertheless, water or rain being the source of life, the etymological relation between rain and deliverance is rather evident, a point that appears to have escaped Nöldeke, Mingana and ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi.[24] Ancient Egyptians had words for rainfall and kept reports of it. Moreover, they also took measures to protect their archaeological structures from damage due to heavy downpour.

Given the evidence of rainfall from ancient Egypt, how can one interpret the word yughāth in Qur'an 12:49? The majority of the commentators of the Qur'an take it to mean ‘rain’. Given the evidence that ancient Egypt did receive heavy downpours from time to time, such an interpretation is valid. But there exists another valid interpretation. Does the rain have to fall on people's head to provide relief from famine? It is surprising that Nöldeke, Mingana and ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi divorced inundation of the Nile from rainfall. In fact, the inundation and rainfall are closely related. The inundation, i.e., the annual flooding of the Nile in Egypt, was triggered by sudden monsoon downfalls on the Ethiopian Plateau, the source of the Blue Nile, and to a lesser extent by those around Lake Victoria and the Ruwenzori mountains where the White Nile originates, as any geologist would attest.[25] One should not naïvely assume that rain should fall on people's heads in order for it to be beneficial. On the contrary, many of the earlier civilizations that thrived next to the major rivers of the world, where flooding due to heavy precipitation at the source on a yearly basis, renewed the fertility of soil along the river's course for a new crop to be grown.

The word yughāth, meaning "to deliver" or "to rescue", is very appropriate in the case of inundation. In ancient Egypt, a satisfactory level of inundation was vital for all types of agriculture. Egyptians wanted a flood without a disaster, which was not so high that it would flood areas of habitation, and not so low that insufficient new soil and moisture would be deposited. So, only the right amount of inundation would "deliver" or "rescue" the Egyptians without causing them and their crops any harm. It is interesting to note that the verse 12:49 also mentions that the ancient Egyptians were able to press, suggesting that their relief spanned over an extended period of time in which they were able to plant, grow and harvest crops as well as press them. This could have been possible by a satisfactory level of inundation over an extended period - sustained by rains at the source of the Nile. And Allah knows best.

3. Pressing Of Wine & Oil In Ancient Egypt

Both Nöldeke and Mingana claimed ignorance of the Prophet - the implied author of the Qur'an - when it came to the events outside of Arabia. In this section we would like to establish an important point showing that the author of the Qur'an was aware of the events in ancient Egypt. The example would be from the same verse, i.e., 12:49, which Nöldeke and Mingana claimed that the Prophet made the fertility of ancient Egypt depend on rain.

The last part of the interpretation of the King's dream by Joseph in verse 12:49 deals with the Egyptians "pressing" after seven years of hardship. This part of the interpretation of King's dream by Joseph is not mentioned in the biblical book of Genesis. One might ask the question as to how "pressing" is related to the King's dream and if Egyptians did press, what was it? The answer for the latter question, as we have seen earlier, was already given by the Qur'anic commentators with some examples. The examples for "pressing" were grapes (for wine), olives, sesame, etc. (for oil) and some even said it also includes to milk. Are these interpretations correct from the viewpoint of ancient Egyptian history? Let us examine them briefly.

PRESSING OF WINE IN ANCIENT EGYPT

The history of wine in Egypt is an ancient one. The earliest evidence for the grape are seeds from Pre-Dynastic settlements of Tell Ibrahim Awad and Tell el-Fara'in (Buto) in the Nile Delta.[26] While the presence of grape does not necessarily suggest the practice of wine production, however, the earliest indication of Egyptian wine comes from the beginning of the First Dynasty (c. 3000 BCE).[27] The first appearance of the hieroglyph of what is commonly identified as possibly a wine-press occurs at this time.[28]

The wine-making facilities were primarily owned by the King or members of his family, with little record to date, of the private ownership of vineyards.[29] Wine was largely produced for royalty, the upper classes and the funerary requirements of the élite[30] although on special occasions, common people, who brewed and drank beer,[31] also enjoyed wine.[32] Wine was also considered to have divine qualities and was extensively used in religious rituals.[33]

The most accessible and informative evidence on Egyptian wine-making comes from a substantial number of artistic records that depict details of wine production. According to Lerstrup, to date, wine-making scenes survive in twenty-nine tombs and one temple from the Old Kingdom.[34] Out of them the most informative are those from Saqqara [Figs. 2(b) and 3]. Lerstrup also notes that in the surviving record, there are eight Middle Kingdom tombs containing vintage scenes.[35]

(a)

(b)

Figure 2: (a) Grape harvest and wine pressing. A gardener waters the vines. Theban tomb of Khaemwase, 18th Dynasty. (b) Extracting the last drops of juice for wine-making. Tomb of Mereruka at Saqqara, 6th Dynasty.[36]

Figure 2(a) depicts a wine-making scene in the New Kingdom Period, from left to right, shows harvesting of grapes, watering of vines and treading. Figure 2(b) from 6th Dynasty (i.e., the Old Kingdom Period) shows pressing of the sack to extract the juice for wine-making.

Figure 3: Wine-making scene in the 5th Dynasty tomb of Ptahhotep at Saqqara. The pictures shows (from left to right) picking, treading and squeezing the lees.[37]

A more complete wine-making scene is shown in Fig. 3 from the 5th Dynasty in the Old Kingdom Period. It shows, from left to right, picking of grapes, treading and finally squeezing of the lees.

PRESSING OF OIL IN ANCIENT EGYPT

Oil was an important material in both funerary rituals as well as the daily life of people in ancient Egypt. At the most mundane level, oil was the fuel used in lamps, which served as lighting in houses as well as illuminating tombs and mines. Oil and fat served as the bases for many of the Egyptians' perfumes and ointments.

Some oils were considered sacred. Oil which daily lessened the pain and healed wounds was supposed to provide extensive power over this life when used in ritual anointing. It was believed in ancient Egypt that with regards to its use on the deceased that oil "united the limbs, joined the bones and assembled the flesh", hence preventing bodily decay which made existence in the next world ineffective.[38] Jars of oil would be included in the burial equipment, while little stone tablets with depressions for oil were sometimes placed in the burial chambers of tombs in the Old Kingdom Period. The ointments derived from oil bases served not only in mummification of Egyptian Kings and their family but also in daily temple ritual and in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony.[39] This demonstrates the paramount importance of oil and ointments in ancient Egypt.

Texts dating as far back as the Old Kingdom mention the god Shesmu,[40] who was sacred to both the oil and wine press. A set of so-called "Seven Sacred Oils" are recorded in the royals tombs as early as the 1st Dynasty.[41] In the 5th Dynasty tomb of Iymery at Giza, both oil and wine pressing scenes are illustrated and are very similar in appearance.[42] The oil pressing scene is accompanied by a depiction of a row of jars, each inscribed with the name of one of the so-called "Seven Sacred Oils" (Fig. 4), also known as mrht.

Figure 4: Scene of pressing of unguents in the 5th Dynasty tomb of Iymery at Giza. Note the jars labelled for the "Seven Sacred Oils" to the right and inscription mentioning the pressing of mrht.[43]

As one can see in Figure 4, the components inside a cloth bag are wrung out to extract the oil. This technique of torsion pressing might have been used to produce scented ointments and perfumes in conjunction with the techniques such as enfleurage and maceration.[44]

An interesting relief, which has been a subject of debate among Egyptologists,[45] is from the 11th Dynasty tomb of Bakt III at Beni Hasan (Fig. 5). This may show oil pressing with a more advanced press containing a wooden framework. Two accompanying vignettes illustrate stages prior to pressing. These represent grinding or mashing of the raw material and the placement of mash in the bag.

Figure 5: Scene of pressing from the 11th Dynasty tomb of Bakt III at Beni Hasan.[46]

Another interesting evidence of Egyptians pressing perfumes comes from Ptolemic times. Figure 6 shows a relief depicting the extraction of the essence of lillies using a simple torsion press.

Figure 6: Extracting the essence of lillies. Ptolemaic relief.[47]

Ancient Egyptians pressed various kinds of oils. Some of the more important oils pressed were castor, balanos, safflower, linseed, olive, tiger nut, etc.[48]

MILKING OF CATTLE IN EGYPT

The earliest firm evidence for the use of cattle as providers of milk from Egypt dates to the 4th millennium BC. Cows being milked and nursing calves are frequently depicted throughout the Dynastic Period,[49] and artists often showed regard for the cows' feelings.

Figure 7: Man milking a cow who sheds a tear as she loses the milk intended for the calf tied to her leg. Sunk relief on the sarcophagus of Queen Kawit. From the temple of Mentuhotep II in Deir al-Bahari, West Thebes. 11th Dynasty.[50]

Figure 7 shows a cow shedding a tear at the removal of the milk while the calf is denied its meal.

SOME POSSIBLE INTERPRETATIONS

Earlier we had asked the question as to how "pressing" is related to the King's dream. From the evidence that we have seen, it appears that both wine and oil, which were pressed in ancient Egypt, were closely connected to the rulers of Egypt. The primary ownership of the wine-making facilities belonged to the King or members of his family; wine was largely produced for royalty, the upper classes and the funerary requirements of the élite. As for the oil and ointments derived from oil bases, they were used in mummification of Egyptian Kings and their families and also in daily temple ritual and in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony.

The seven years of severe famine during the time of Joseph might have left Egyptians with only grains and cereals to survive on. Vineyards, oil-producing plants and much of the cattle must have perished. As soon as the Egyptians were "delivered" either by inundation of the Nile or by rainfall after seven hard years, as suggested by the word yughāth, they not only grew the regular crops but also those related to producing wine and oil. The production of the latter marked the return of normal life in ancient Egypt.

It is worthwhile pointing out that evidence shown here pre-dates the time of Joseph. This is to show that the techniques of pressing wine and oil as well as the domestication of cattle for milk production were well-established in Egypt even before the time of Joseph.

4. Conclusions

Nöldeke and Mingana have claimed that Prophet Muhammad was ignorant of everything outside of Arabia. To support their argument they cited what they believed to be an explicit Qur'anic reference (Yusuf 12:49) to Egyptian fertility, the example of the Prophet making the fertility of ancient Egypt rest upon rain. This claim was also made by ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi. Their contention rests on their understanding of the word yughāth as rain, and the unessesary narrowing of its semantic range that excludes a more comprehensive interpretation. The word yughāth also means "to deliver" or "to rescue". Since water or rain is the source of life, one can clearly see the etymological relation between rain and deliverance - a point that appears to have escaped Nöldeke, Mingana and ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi. Contrary to their unsubstantiated assertions that rain was a rare event in Egypt and "never missed", we have shown conclusively that there were time periods in ancient Egyptian history where rain was comparatively plentiful. Egyptians had words for rain and they incorporated certain features into their architecture to prevent the damage of structures due to rain. Also, regular official reports were made to the vizier regarding the material resources of the country; these reports included information on the rise and fall of the Nile and the occurrence of rainfall in any part of Egypt.

The verse also mentioned that after the Egyptians were delivered, they would "press". The exegetes of the Qur'an had suggested that it means the Egyptians would press wine and oil. Some exegetes even suggested that "pressing" includes milking. It appears that there is a close connection between "pressing" and rulers of ancient Egypt. As we have seen, both wine and oil formed an important part of royal life and in funerary rituals. The interpretation of King's dream by Joseph must have surely alleviated the latter's concerns.

And Allah knows best!

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References & Notes

[1] Theodor Noldeke, "The Koran", Encyclopædia Britannica, 1893, Volume 16, Adam And Charles Black: Edinburgh, p. 600. This article was reprinted many times with slight modifications. T. Nöldeke (J. S. Black [Trans.]), Sketches From Eastern History, 1892, Adam and Charles Black: London & Edinburgh, pp. 30-31; N. A. Newman, The Qur'an: An Introductory Essay By Theodor Nöldeke, 1992, Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute: Hatfield (PA), p. 9; Also see Theodor Nöldeke, "The Koran" in Ibn Warraq, The Origins Of The Koran: Classic Essays On Islam's Holy Book, 1998, Prometheus Books, p. 43; Also Theodor Nöldeke, "The Koran" in C. Turner (Ed.), The Koran: Critical Concepts In Islamic Studies, 2004, Volume I (Provenance and Transmission), RoutledgeCurzon: London & New York, p. 77.

[2] Rev. A. Mingana & A. S. Lewis (Eds.), Leaves From Three Ancient Qur'âns Possibly Pre-‘Othmânic With A List Of Their Variants, 1914, Cambridge: At The University Press, p. xiv. Also reprint in A. Mingana, "Three Ancient Korans" in Ibn Warraq, The Origins Of The Koran: Classic Essays On Islam's Holy Book, 1998, op. cit., p. 79.

[3] ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi, Is The Qur'an Infallible?, 1995, Light of Life: Villach (Austria), p. 26.

[4] M. Asad, The Message Of The Qur'an, 1984, Dar al-Andalus: Gibraltar, p. 344, footnote 48.

[5] E-S. M. Badawi, M. A. Abdel Haleem, Arabic-English Dictionary Of Qur'anic Usage, 2008, Handbook of Oriental Studies, Brill: Leiden, Boston, p. 681.

[6] ibid. Also see H. E. Kassis, A Concordance Of The Qur'an, 1983, University of California Press: Berkeley & Los Angles (CA), p. 481. Under the root *GH Y TH, the concordance says:

GHĀTHA vb. - to succour, to aid (with rain)

impf. pass. (yughāthu)

12:49 (49) thereafter there shall come a year, wherein the people will be succoured

[7] Muḥammad Fu'ād ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Al-Muʿahjam al-Mufahris li al-Fādh al-Qur'ān al-Karīm, 1997, Dār al-Fikr, Beirut (Lebanon), p. 644.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid., p. 642 and p. 644.

[10] K. W. Butzer, Environment And Archaeology: An Ecological Approach To Prehistory, 1971, Second Edition, Aldine-Atherton Press: Chicago (NY), p. 584.

[11] B. G. Trigger, "The Rise Of Egyptian Civilization" in B. G. Trigger, B. J. Kemp, D. O'Connor & A. B. Lloyd (Eds.), Ancient Egypt: A Social History, 1983, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK), p. 9.

[12] ibid., p. 14.

[13] R. Hannig, Die Sprache Der Pharaonen Großes Handwörterbuch Ägyptisch - Deutsch (2800-950 v. Chr.), 2000, Verlag Philipp Von Zabern: Mainz, p. 1016.

[14] A. Fakhry, The Pyramids, 1961, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, p. 174.

[15] W. C. Hayes, The Scepter Of Egypt: A Background For The Study of The Egyptian Antiquities In The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, 1953, Part I: From The Earliest Times To The End Of The Middle Kingdom, Harper Brothers in Co-operation With The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 185.

[16] I. E. S. Edwards, The Pyramids Of Egypt, 1985, Viking, p. 225.

[17] ibid., pp. 217-218 for the fate of pyramid of Amenemhet I.

[18] J. G. Wilkinson, Topography Of Thebes, And General View Of Egypt, 1835, John Murray: London, p. 75.

[19] U. Hölscher, The Excavation Of Medinat Habu - Volume III, The Mortuary Temple Of Ramses III: Part I, 1941, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, p. 21. Also see pp. 22, 26 and 49.

[20] J. G. Wilkinson, Topography Of Thebes, And General View Of Egypt, 1835, op. cit., p. 75, see footnotes.

[21] "Climatic History" in K. A. Bard (Ed.), Encyclopedia Of The Archaeology Of Ancient Egypt, 1999, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Books Ltd: UK, pp. 195–198; Also see W. C. Hayes, Most Ancient Egypt, 1965, The University Of Chicago Press: Chicago (NY), p. 23.

[22] W. C. Hayes, "Egypt: Internal Affairs From Tuthmosis I To The Death Of Amenophis III" in I. E. S. Edwards, C. J. Gadd, N. G. L. Hammond & E. Sollberger (Eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History: Volume 2, Part 1: The Middle East And The Aegean Region c. 1800–1380 B.C., 1973, Third Edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK), pp. 355–356; Also see J. E. Manchip White, Ancient Egypt: Its Culture And History, 1970, Dover Publications, Inc.: Mineola (NY), pp. 47–50.

[23] A. Wilkinson, The Garden In Ancient Egypt, 1998, The Rubicon Press: London, p. 36.

[24] This has been pointed out by Mustafa al-A‘zami. See M. M. al-A‘zami, The History Of The Qur'anic Text From Revelation To Compilation: A Comparative Study With The Old And New Testaments, 2003, UK Islamic Academy: Leicester (UK), p. 307.

[25] E. Strouhal, Life In Ancient Egypt, 1992, Cambridge University Press, p. 92. For more information on inundation please see "Inundation" in I. Shaw & P. Nicholson, British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt, 1995, British Museum Press: London, p. 141; "Nile", in D. B. Redford (Ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, 2001, Volume II, Oxford University Press: Oxford (UK), pp. 543-551; J. J. Janssen, "The Day The Inundation Began", Journal Of Near Eastern Studies, 1987, Volume 46, No. 2, pp. 129-136.

[26] Gerrit-Jan de Roller, "Archaeobotanical Remains From Tell Ibrahim Awad, Seasons 1988 And 1989" in E. C. M. van den Brink (Ed.), The Nile Delta In Transition; 4th - 3rd Millennium B.C., 1992, Tel Aviv, pp. 111-115, especially p. 113 for grape seed; U. Thanheiser, "Plant-Food At Tell Ibrahim Awad: Preliminary Report", in in E. C. M. van den Brink (Ed.), The Nile Delta In Transition; 4th - 3rd Millennium B.C., 1992, op. cit., pp. 117-121, especially p. 119 for grape seed; U. Thanheiser, "Untersuchungen zur Landwirtschaft der vor- und Frühdynastischen Zeit in Tell-el-Fara‘in - Buto", Ägypten Und Levante, 1991, Volume II, pp. 39-45.

[27] T. G. H. James, "The Earliest History Of Wine And Its Importance In Ancient Egypt" in P. E. McGovern, S. J. Fleming & S. H. Katz, The Origins And Ancient History Of Wine, 1997, Gordon and Breach Publishers: Amsterdam, p. 198.

[28] W. M. F. Petrie, Social Life In Ancient Egypt, 1923, Constable & Company Ltd., p. 102; M-C. Poo, Wine And Wine Offering In The Religion Of Ancient Egypt, 1995, Kegan Paul International: London & New York, p. 6.

[29] T. G. H. James, "The Earliest History Of Wine And Its Importance In Ancient Egypt" in P. E. McGovern, S. J. Fleming & S. H. Katz, The Origins And Ancient History Of Wine, 1997, op. cit., p. 204; M. A. Murray, N. Boulton & C. Heron, "Viticulture And Wine Production" in P. T. Nicholson & I. Shaw (Eds.), Ancient Egyptian Materials And Technology, 2000, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge (UK), p. 578.

[30] M-C. Poo, Wine And Wine Offering In The Religion Of Ancient Egypt, 1995, op. cit., pp. 27-29; P. Tallet, "Quelques Aspects De L'Économie Du Vin En Égypte Ancienne, Au Nouvel Empire" in N. Grimal & B. Menu (Eds.), Le Commerce En Égypte Ancienne, 1998, Institut Français D'Archéologie Orientale, pp. 240-267.

[31] "Alcoholic Beverages" in I. Shaw & P. Nicholson, British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt, 1995, op. cit., pp. 22-23; M-C. Poo, Wine And Wine Offering In The Religion Of Ancient Egypt, 1995, op. cit., p. 29; For a decent introduction to beer in Egypt see J. Geller, "From Prehistory To History: Beer In Egypt" in R. Friedman & B. Adams, The Followers Of Horus: Studies Dedicated To Michael Allen Hoffman 1944-1990, 1992, Egyptian Studies Association Publication No. 2 & Oxbow Monograph 20, pp. 19-26.

[32] M-C. Poo, Wine And Wine Offering In The Religion Of Ancient Egypt, 1995, op cit., p. 29; L. H. Lesko, "Egyptian Wine Production During The New Kingdom" in P. E. McGovern, S. J. Fleming & S. H. Katz, The Origins And Ancient History Of Wine, 1997, op. cit., p. 218.

[33] K. A. Kitchen, "The Vintages Of The Ramesseum" in A. B. Lloyd (Ed.), Studies In Pharaonic Religion And Society In Honour Of J. Gwyn Griffiths, 1992, Egyptian Exploration Society: London (UK), p. 113; M-C. Poo, Wine And Wine Offering In The Religion Of Ancient Egypt, 1995, op. cit., pp. 29-30.

[34] A. Lerstrup, "The Making Of Wine In Egypt", Göttinger Miszellen, 1992, Volume 129, p. 61.

[35] ibid.

[36] H. Wilson, Egyptian Food And Drink, 1988, Shire Publications Limited: Aylesbury (UK), p. 29.

[37] M. A. Murray, N. Boulton & C. Heron, "Viticulture And Wine Production" in P. T. Nicholson & I. Shaw (Eds.), Ancient Egyptian Materials And Technology, 2000, op. cit., p. 585. The original can be seen in D. J. Brewer, D. B. Redford & S. Redford, Domestic Plants And Animals: The Egyptian Origins, 1994, Aris & Phillips Ltd.: Warminster (UK), p. 57.

[38] "Oil" in M. Lurker, The Gods And Symbols Of Ancient Egypt: An Illustrated Dictionary, 1986 (Reprint), Thames and Hudson: London, p. 91.

[39] M. Serpico & R. White, "Resins, Amber And Bitumen" in P. T. Nicholson & I. Shaw (Eds.), Ancient Egyptian Materials And Technology, 2000, op. cit., p. 461. As for the Opening of the Mouth ceremony see "Opening Of The Mouth" in M. Lurker, The Gods And Symbols Of Ancient Egypt: An Illustrated Dictionary, 1986 (Reprint), op. cit., p. 91.

[40] "Seshmu" in M. Lurker, The Gods And Symbols Of Ancient Egypt: An Illustrated Dictionary, 1986 (Reprint), op. cit., p. 109.

[41] "Oil" in I. Shaw & P. Nicholson, British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt, 1995, op. cit., p. 210.

[42] C. R. Lepsius, Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien: nach den Zeichnungen der von seiner Majestät dem Koenige von Preussen Friedrich Wilhelm IV nach diesen Ländern gesendeten und in den Jahren 1842-1845 Ausgeführten Wissenschaftlichen Expedition, 1849-59, Volume II, Nicolaische Buchhandlung: Berlin, Plates 49 and 53.

[43] ibid., Plate 49.

[44] M. Serpico & R. White, "Resins, Amber And Bitumen" in P. T. Nicholson & I. Shaw (Eds.), Ancient Egyptian Materials And Technology, 2000, op. cit., p. 461.

[45] The scene in this relief is quite ambiguous as it could be either for pressing wine or oil, and hence difference of opinions. For example, Tallet opines that this scene represents pressing of "cooked wine"; See P. Tallet, "Le Shedeh: Étude D'un Procédé De Vinification En Égypte Ancienne", Bulletin De L'Institut Français D'Archéologie Orientale, 1995, Volume 95, pp. 459-492.

[46] P. E. Newberry, Beni Hasan: Part II, 1893, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd: London, Plate VI. The text is on p. 48.

[47] H. G. Fischer, "The Early Publication Of A Relief In Turin", Göttinger Miszellen, 1988, Volume 101, p. 33. It was reproduced by L. Manniche in An Ancient Egyptian Herbal, 1989, British Museum Publications Limited, p. 48.

[48] M. Serpico & R. White, "Oil, Fat And Wax" in P. T. Nicholson & I. Shaw (Eds.), Ancient Egyptian Materials And Technology, 2000, op. cit., pp. 391-405; D. J. Brewer, D. B. Redford & S. Redford, Domestic Plants And Animals: The Egyptian Origins, 1994, op. cit., pp. 41-46.

[49] D. J. Brewer, D. B. Redford & S. Redford, Domestic Plants And Animals: The Egyptian Origins, 1994, op. cit., p. 85.

[50] E. Strouhal, Life In Ancient Egypt, 1992, op. cit., p. 138; Also in D. J. Brewer, D. B. Redford & S. Redford, Domestic Plants And Animals: The Egyptian Origins, 1994, op. cit., p. 85.

Refutation Of External Contradictions In The Qur'an