Not so named in the Bible; related to Sanskrit Nilah, "blue." The Nile has two names: the sacred name Hapi, or Hapi-mu, "the abyss of waters," Hp-ro-mu, "the waters whose source is hidden"; and the common name Yeor Aor, Aur (Atur): both Egyptian names. Shihor, "the black river," is its other Bible name, Greek Melas or Kmelas, Latin Melo, darkened by the fertilizing soil which it deposits at its overflow (Jeremiah 2:18). The hieroglyphic name of Egypt is Kam, "black." Egyptians distinguished between Hapi-res, the "southern Nile" of Upper Egypt, and Hapi-meheet, the "northern Nile" of Lower Egypt. Hapi-ur, "the high Nile," fertilizes the land; the Nile low brought famine. The Nile god is painted red to represent the inundation, but blue at other times. An impersonation of Noah (Osburn). Famine and plenty are truly represented as coming up out of the river in Pharaoh's dream (Genesis 41). Therefore they worshipped it, and the plague on its waters, was a judgment on that idolatry (Exodus 7:21; Psalm 105:29). (See EGYPT; EXODUS.)
The rise begins at the summer solstice; the flood is two months later, after the autumnal equinox, at its height pouring through cuttings in the banks which are higher than the rest of the soil and covering the valley, and lasting three months. (Amos 8:8; Amos 9:5; Isaiah 23:3). The appointed S.W. bound of Israel (Joshua 13:3; 1 Chronicles 13:5; 2 Chronicles 9:26; Genesis 15:18). 1 Kings 8:65 "stream" (nachal, not "river".) Its confluent is still called the Blue river; so Nilah means "darkblue," or "black." The plural "rivers" is used for the different mouths, branches, and canals of the Nile. The tributaries are further up than Egypt (Psalm 78:44; Exodus 7:18-20; Isaiah 7:18; Isaiah 19:6; Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 30:12). "The stream (nachal) of Egypt" seems distinct (Isaiah 27:12), now "wady el Arish" (where was the frontier city Rhino-corura) on the confines of Israel and Egypt (Joshua 15:4; Joshua 15:47, where for "river" should stand "stream," nachal)).
Smith's Bible Dictionary suggests that nachal) is related to the Nile and is that river; but the distinctness with which nachal) is mentioned, and not as elsewhere Sihor, or "river," Ye'or, forbids the identification. "The rivers of Ethiopia" (Isaiah 18:1-2), Cush, are the Atbara, the Astapus or Blue river, between which two rivers Meroe (the Ethiopia meant in Isaiah 18) lies, and the Astaboras or White Nile; these rivers conjoin in the one Nile, and wash down the soil along their banks from Upper Egypt, and deposit it on Lower Egypt; compare "whose land (Upper Egypt) the rivers have spoiled" or "cut up" or "divided." The Nile is called "the sea" (Isaiah 19:5), for it looks a sea at the overflow; the Egyptians still call it El Bahr "the sea" (Nahum 3:8). Its length measured by its course is probably 3,700 miles, the longest in the world. Its bed is cut through layers of nummulitic limestone (of which the pyramids of Ghizeh are built, full of nummulites, which the Arabs call "Pharaoh's beans"), sandstone under that, breccia verde under that, azoic rocks still lower, with red granite and syenite rising through all the upper strata at the first cataract.
Sir Samuel Baker has traced its (the White Nile's) source up to the Tanganyika, Victoria, and Albert Nyanza lakes, filled with the melting snows from the mountains and the periodical equatorial heavy rains. The Hindus call its source Amana, the name of a region N.E. of the Nyanza. The shorter confluent, the Blue river, is what brings down from the Abyssinian mountains the alluvial soil that fertilizes Egypt. The two join at Khartoom, the capital of Soodan, the black country under Egypt's rule. The Atbara falls into the main stream further N. The river thenceforth for 2,300 miles receives no tributary. Through the breaking down of a barrier at Silsilis or at the first cataract, the river is so much below the level of the valley in lower Nubia that it does not overflow on the land. On the confines of Upper Egypt it forms two cataracts, the lower near Syene. Thence it runs 500 miles onward. A short way below Cairo and the pyramids it parts into two branches, bounding the Delta E. and W. and falling into the Mediterranean. Always diffusing its waters, and never receiving any accession of water from sky or tributary, its volume at Cairo is but half what it is at the cataract of Syene.
The water is sweet, especially when turbid. Stagnant waters left by the overflow in Nubia's sandy flats are carried into the Nile by the new overflow, thus the water is at first a green shiny color and unwholesome for two or three days. Twelve days later it becomes red like blood, and is then most wholesome and refreshing; and all living beings, men, beasts, birds, fish, and insects are gladdened by its advent. Egypt having only a little rain (Zechariah 14:17-18) depends on the Nile for its harvests; see in Deuteronomy 11:10-12 the contrast to the promised land, where the husbandman has to look up to heaven for rain instead of looking down, irrigating the land. with watercourses turned by the foot as in Egypt (a type of the spiritual state of the two respectively), and where Jehovah's eyes are upon it from the beginning to the end of the year. The waters reach their lowest in nine months groin their highest point in the autumn equinox; they remain stationary for a few days and then begin to rise again.
If they reach no higher than 22 ft. at the island Rhoda, between Cairo and Ghizeh, where a nilometer is kept, the rise is insufficient; if 27, good; if more, the flood injures the crops, and plague and murrain ensue. The further S. one goes, the earlier the inundation begins; at Khartoom as early as April. The seven years' famine under Joseph is confirmed by the seven years' famine in the reign of Fatimee Khaleefeh El-Mustansir bi-'llah, owing to the failure of water. The universal irrigation maintained, even during the low season of the Nile, made the results of failure of its waters more disastrous then than now. The mean rise above the lowest level registered at Semne, near the second cataract, in Moeris' reign, 2000 B.C., was 62 ft. 6 inches, i.e. 23 ft. 10 inches above the present rise which is 38 ft. 8 inches (Lepsius in the Imperial Dictionary) The average rate of deposit in Egypt now is four and a half inches in the century.
But other causes were at work formerly; the danger of inferences as to man's antiquity from such data is amusingly illustrated by Homer's (Philippians Transac. 148) inference from pottery found at a great depth that man must have lived there in civilization 13,000 years ago, which Bunsen accepted! Unfortunately for the theory the Greek honeysuckle was found on some of it. The burnt brick still lower, on which he laid stress, was itself enough to have confuted him, for burnt brick was first introduced into Egypt under Rome (see Quarterly Revue, April, 1859). Champollion holds no Egyptian monument to be older than 2,200 B.C. In Upper Egypt bore yellow mountains, a few hundred feet high, and pierced with numerous tombs, bound the N. on both sides; this gives point to Israel's sneer, "because there were no graves in Egypt hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?" (Exodus 14:11).
In Lower Egypt the land spreads out on either side of the Nile in a plain bounded E. and W. by the desert. At the inundation the Nile rushes along in a mighty torrent, made to appear more violent by the waves which the N. wind, blowing continually then, raises up (Jeremiah 46:7-8). Two alone of the seven noted branches of the mouth (of which the Pelusiac was the most eastern) remain, the Damietta (Phanitic) and Rosetta (Bolbitine) mouths, originally artificial (Herodotus ii. 10), fulfilling Isaiah 19:5 and probably Isaiah 11:11-15; Ezekiel 30:12. The Nile in the numerous canals besides the river itself formerly "abounded with incredible numbers of all sorts of fish" (Diodorus Siculus i.; Numbers 11:5). These too, as foretold (Isaiah 19:8-10), have failed except about lake Menzaleh. So also the papyrus reeds, from whence paper receives its designation, flags, reeds, and the lotus with its fragrant and various colored flowers, have almost disappeared as foretold (Isaiah 19:6-7), the papyrus boats no more skim its surface (Isaiah 18:2).