Memphis (Jeremiah 46)

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Illustration: Ancient Memphis, Egypt 268 B.C.

In proclaiming God’s condemnation of Egypt, Jeremiah called for heralds to announce a message of judgement in Memphis. This city (from Men-neferu, meaning “the goodness endures”) was situated on the Nile at the border between Upper and Lower Egypt. It was founded by Menes, the first king of the united “Two-Lands”, and was sacred to the god Ptah. Its fortunes changed through the centuries, but it remained throughout an important city and religious centre:

  • Memphis, the capital of the Old Kingdom, was the location of the great temple of Ptah.
  • It served as a Hyksos royal city during the time that Lower Egypt was under the control of these foreign rulers (eighth century B.C.)
  • It was a favourite residence of New Kingdom pharaohs (sixteenth-eleventh centuries B.C.), many og whom built temples, palaces or other buildings there. Memphis served as a military base for campaigns against Syria-Palestine for the great warrior-pharaoh of this time, Thutmose III (1479-1425 B.C.). Syrian and Phoenician merchants and mercenaries arriving during the New Kingdom period built temples there to Baal, Astarte and other Canaanite deities.
  • The city was the centre for the cult of the “Apis bulls”, which were believed to be living representatives of the god Ptah. Whenever one of these bulls died, it was embalmed and buried in a tomb called the Serapaeum. The shrine benefited from the attation of pharaoh Shishak, who took an enormous amount of plunder from Israel. He constructed a mortuary and embalming house (ca. 910 B.C.) for the Apis bull at Memphis-
  • As Egypt weakened, Memphis fell into the hands of a variety of foreign rulers. The city was captured by the Ethiopian Pi-Ankhy (ca. 717 B.C.); by the Assyrian Esarhaddon (671 B.C.) and Ashurbanipal (666 B.C.); and by Persian Cambyses (525 B.C.). Memphis sometimes served as the headquarters for foreign rulers. For example, Ptolemy I, founder of the Greek dynasty that ruled Egypt after the conquests of Alexander the Great, made it his capital city.
  • Jewish refugees entered the city after the Babylonian destruction og Jerusalem (587 B.C.; Jeremiah 44:1).
  • The Christian emperor Theodosius ordered the temples of Memphis destroyed in A.D. 395, and the city was dismantled during the Arab period (after A.D. 642), after which al-Fustat and Cairo were constructed on the same or a nearby site. Archaeological remains include many temples, two colossal statues of Rameses II, a large necropolis (elaborate ancient cemetery), palaces and nearby clusters of pyramids.


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