A History of Ancient Egypt
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"The range of recent revisions, particularly chronological, and the ever increasing amount of archaeological material demanded a new synthesis. Here it is, both lively and well written." Le Quotidien de Paris.
From the Inside Flap
Nicolas Grimal recounts the political, cultural and economic history of the Egyptians within the framework of an intricate and well-argued chronology. At a time when the vast accumulation of information from ancient Egypt is becoming almost too diverse for a single mind to encompass, he has managed to transform - without disguising current gaps in knowledge - disparate sources of evidence and the findings of many different disciplines into a coherent historical sequence. This is in itself a considerable achievement: it has also provided the means of presenting one of the most scholarly and at the same time most readable histories ever written of a civilization whose mysteries and achievements have fascinated the West for well over two millennia.
For the paperback edition a section of further reading in English has been prepared by Kent R. Weekes, Professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.
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The chapters on the Old and New Kingdom were particularly strong - the interrelationship of politics and religion were very clearly written. The chaptes on the first and second intermediate periods and the Middle Kingdom were more diffucult for me to follow, although that may be more a function of my lack of familiarity than the fault of the author. All in all, an excellent introduction, certainly accessable for the lay reader.
Grimal starts his history from millions of years ago (Eph. 4:18).
The text of the Bible concerning the impact Joseph and the Israelites had on Egypt (Genesis 41-47) is not taken into account (p. 6).
Grimal says “there is no surviving Egyptian source describing the Exodus,” although he said one pharaoh (Merneptah) may have died in pursuit of the Hebrews (p. 258-9). Maybe the Egyptians kept no record of it was because they were totally humiliated.
Ironically, Grimal carries on the image Egypt has in the Bible, which is the godless place where God’s people came from to reach the Promise Land (Deuteronomy 17:16, 1 Kings 11:1,2, Isaiah 31:1, 1 John 2:15).
The book's great strength is its readability and continuity. While other histories of Egypt often get bogged down in archeological details, Grimal's work connects the dots in a smooth and engaging narrative style. It may be that he occasionally glosses the fine points to provide continuity, but having read more detailed texts (Oxford History of Ancient Egypt), I believe his book provides a clearer picture for the beginner.
This is not to say that the book lacks accuracy but scholars of Egyptian history will no doubt have their difficulties with some of Grimal's details. The book was first published in 1988 and, as such, is slightly out of date. Grimal also tends to use Greek names for most pharaohs as well many place names ie. Cheops instead of Khufu for the builder of the great pyramid. This can be a little confusing to the inexperienced reader if they have previously encountered other variants.
While the book covers the major political events in ancient Egypt, the inclusion of chapters explaining the Egyptian system of religious beliefs, funerary practices and a long description of the temple complexes at Karnak provide much needed background. The plates (all black and white) in the book are adequate, although often the maps lack detail. For the interested reader I would recommend "Le Description de L'Egypte", put out by Benedikt Taschen Verlag. This book, a beautiful collection of paintings, architectural drawings and maps, produced by a team commissioned by Napoleon, fills in many of the visual details missing in Grimal's work.
I would strongly recommend "A History of Ancient Egypt" to the casual reader, interested in Egyptian history, who does not want to be swamped with details. For the more scholarly it includes a brief glossary, a chronology of dynasties, an extensive bibliography, annotated suggestions for further reading and a fairly detailed index. Because of this it might also be useful as an introductory text in Egyptology, but given its age and narrative style, it will likely not be the first choice of experienced Egyptologists.