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A Third Intermediate Period

Argh. I've had to spend three days doing the historical research necessary to write the next three or four lines of my thesis. The trouble arises from the fact that the post-Empire, pre-Persian era of Egypt turns out to be much more complicated than had been known before fairly recently. Jan Assmann's book, The Mind of Egypt, has a chapter dedicated to the period, and, to put it in a nutshell, the Egyptian order went a bit cockeyed in the 21st Dynasty. "And it was all downhill from there..." as the cliché goes.

To summarize the mess, with the 21st Dynasty, Egypt entered into a situation which, for all effective intents, saw the High Priest and the cult of Amon set itself up as an independent authority from the Pharaoh. Assmann's reading of this is that Herihor set up a "direct theocracy" in Thebes, in which the priests were conceived as servants of the Hidden God, Whose Name No One Knows. Taken together with the recent cultic emphasis on divination through the consultation of cult statues, and Assmann takes this as an instance of a "theology of will" given political form, ala. Israel. I think that Assmann is wrong on this, but it's an interesting challenge finding the language to correct him, as he has pointed-out something uniquely odd and unexpected.

Only somewhat less odd, but just as unexpected, is the revelation that Egypt apparently went through (or perhaps, was subjected to) a feudal age of sorts from the 22nd through 26th Dynasties, during which it was under the control of Libyan rulers. This is odd for the simple reason that Egypt had never been feudal in its structure... ever. Unlike the case of post-Roman, Western Europe, there had been no "feudal stage", followed by "absolute monarchy", followed by "nationalism/democracy/what-have-you". Feudalism, in the sense of a landed, territorial, hereditary aristocracy, had simply never existed in the Nile Valley below the Third Cataract. Neither had absolute monarchy, for that matter; Pharaoh was not a ruler appointed by God by divine birthright. Pharaoh was a god, and the son of god. But I digress...

Feudalism was apparently imposed upon the existing Egyptian order, and I can only expect to find that Egyptians themselves were less than happy about the situation. I can't imagine that such a structure would have mediated the Egyptian experience of order too well. Though the period doesn't seem to have been as thoroughly chaotic as the 1st Intermediate Period, or as humiliating as the 2nd, I expect that the locals weren't long after wishing for a new Pharaoh to come along, return things to "normal", and maybe slaughter a few foreigners.

In any event, this is turning out to be a lot of work for a few sentences...

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