Flooding of the Nile as depicted in 1848

“Statues of Memnon at Thebes, during The Inundation”, a lithography from 1848 by Scottish artist David Roberts. It appeared in Roberts book on the Nile region entitled “Egypt & Nubia” published in London the same year.

The flooding of the Nile has been an important natural cycle in Nubia and Egypt since ancient times. It is celebrated by Egyptians as an annual holiday for two weeks starting August 15, known as Wafaa El-Nil. It is also celebrated in the Coptic Church by ceremonially throwing a martyr’s relic into the river, hence the name, The Martyr’s Finger (Coptic: ⲡⲓⲧⲏⲃ ⲛⲙⲁⲣⲧⲏⲣⲟⲥ, Arabic: Esba` al-shahīd). The flooding of the Nile was poetically described in myth as Isis‘s tears of sorrow for Osiris when killed by his brother Set. (source wikipedia)

For a similar rite see my post on the Venetian holiday “Lo Sposalizio del Mare” (the Marriage to the Sea) here.

A covenant to keep the forces of chaos at bay

The book of Jeremiah in the Hebrew Testament discusses at large an ecological crisis around 600 BCE in the so called “Fertile Crescent” (a region encompassing today’s southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, and parts of Turkey and Iran). According to Michael S. Northcott in his book “A moral Climate” the crisis was brought about by agricultural over-exploitation of the land. The book of Jeremiah can thus be regarded as another climate narrative. The peoples of the Fertile Crescent were river peoples, their culture thrived on the waters of three rivers: Euphrat, Tigris and Nile. The ocean on the other hand was “seen as the primeval source of chaos, and this perhaps presents a cultural memory of prehistory in which the oceans had covered far more of the land than they have since the end of the last ice age,” writes Northcott. “For Jeremiah, the covenant that Yahweh made with the Israelites after their release from slavery in Egypt was therefore a cosmic covenant in which human work on creation ought to recognise the sustaining creative powers of the Lord of the earth in keeping the forces of chaos at bay:

Do you not fear me? says the Lord;
Do you not tremble before me?
I placed the sand as a boundary before the sea,
a perpetual barrier which it can not pass;
though the waves toss, they can not prevail,
though they roar, they can not pass over it.
[Jeremiah 5:22]”

In this passage from the ancient text, the sand on the beach is seen as the creative invention of the deity to keep the ocean where it belongs and the land with it’s human habitats where it belongs. It’s part of a greater deal, so to speak. In 600 BCE the ocean did not rise over the beach. In the present however, humans have not only begun to destroy beaches worldwide by extracitivist exploitation, the seas also rise. How do we then read the current situation from a Jewish, Old Testament perspective?

The new Alexandria skyline

In an effort to protect the city of Alexandria against coastal erosion, the local government plants thousands of concrete tetrapods along the remaining beach. This creates a bizarre, futuristic urban landscpae, unlike anything we know:

The images are from a German TV report from September 4. 2022. Find the video here.

Thanks to Annette Possmann for the lead.