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The Nile Bride sacrifice is a big myth, says Egyptologist
Published in Daily News Egypt on 03 - 10 - 2008

CAIRO: The ancient Egyptian custom of offering a virgin as a sacrifice to the river Nile every year to instigate a flood is a big historical error, Egyptology researcher Bassam El Shammaa told Daily News Egypt.
"The myth of Arous El Nil (Bride of the Nile) has tarnished the image of ancient Egyptians who by nature hated violence and were only content to see blood at the altar, El Shammaa said.
According to some versions of history, this Egyptian custom was practiced until the Islamic conquest of Egypt when Caliph Omar Ibn El Khattab banned the pagan ritual.
According to Egyptian historian Al Maqrizi (1364-1442) in his "El Khutat El Maqrizia (The Maqrizian Plans), when the Arab armies led by commander Amr Ibn El Aas entered Egypt, Egypt's Copts requested to uphold the annual ritual prior to the time of the flood.
When Ibn El Aas referred the request to the Caliph, the latter sent a letter to Al Mokawkas, the last Coptic governor of Egypt, and asked him to throw the letter in the Nile instead.
Containing words of supplication to God to bring about the flood, the letter's benediction was said to have caused the Nile to increase its volume overnight to 16 cubits, a miracle that persuaded Egyptians to renounce the ancient custom, claimed Al Maqrizi.
El Shammaa, however, doubts the authenticity of this story.
"That the Copts had approached Ibn El Aas to ask him to sacrifice a bride isn't in line with Christian belief which bans all such pagan customs. How many Egyptians were found mummified after Christianity spread in Egypt? None, he argued.
Observing the details of the account, El Shammaa notes the contradiction between the fact that the Copts had explained to Ibn El Aas that each year Egyptians sacrifice a slave and the fact that this slave is taken by force from her parents and thrown into the Nile at a specific location in the river.
"Since when do slaves have parents? he asks. "The Nile location referred to is none other than the Island of Phaela, the only Coptic site on the Nile with a church and the closest point to the Nile's First Cataract, which made the island ideal for measuring the water level.
"With a Coptic church on it, the island could not have been a scene for such a sacrifice because Christians shunned all pagan practices. The Caliph Omar Ibn El Khattab responding by asking Al Mokawkas to throw the letter as a gift to Nile also contradicts the behavior of a conservative Muslim ruler.
"Besides it's illogical for the Nile to rise to 16 cubits overnight. The process takes a much longer time.
According to El Shammaa, there isn't a morsel of evidence in ancient Egyptian records to suggest that people sacrificed a virgin.
Pling, the Greek historian, explained that the ancient Egyptians offered crocodiles wrapped in colorful attire to the Nile.
A papyrus known by the name of 'Anastasia' embodied the holy songs that were chanted to the Nile prior to the flooding, says Al Shammaa.
It said: "Blessed flooding, to you we offer sacrifices like buffalo, oxen and birds, to you we offer the gazelles that were hunted at the mountainside, for you we set fires and burn incense.
"There is no mention whatsoever of a virgin or any human sacrifice, which should encourage research on where that myth began, he continued.
The myth, however, has its sources, he explained.
The first is the Greek historian Plutarch who first invented it. Repeated by many Greeks, it told the story of a king known as Egyptos who offered his daughter as a sacrifice to the Nile to avoid the gods' wrath.
After he did that he committed suicide by throwing himself in after her. Since then, Plutarch said, the Egyptians began to sacrifice a virgin every year.
El Shammaa says that there was no Egyptian king called Egyptos, adding that this is a mythical character with no basis in reality.
There is also evidence that the tourists who came to Egypt in the 17th and 18th centuries witnessed celebrations during the flooding of the Nile where a clay bride was offered to the river.
When they inquired about it, they were told that Egyptians had replaced the real virgin with a clay model.
"The myth must have spread this way to attract tourists, says El Shammaa.


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