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February 15 , 2011

The Pillar of Fire: Israel in Bondage


Wheresoever I turn my eyes, I realize that I am in mighty Egypt; for everywhere I behold grandeur and glory, excellency and perfection. Every object illustrates the power, munificence, and taste of the imperial princess who now sits on the throne of the Pharaohs, and the splendor of whose reign has raised Egypt above the mightiest empires of the earth. And all that I behold recalls the ancient glory, my dear mother, of our own land, the once princely Palestina and Phœnicia,—twin kingdoms which of old gave conquerors, and rulers, and laws to Egypt, under the short but brilliant dynasty of her Shepherd Kings! But, though fading with age, Phœnicia still lives in the beauty, pride, and power of her daughter Egypt. I will not lament over the waning glory of my own dear land, my royal mother, while I can see it revived here with increased magnificence. Phœnicia is not dead while Egypt lives. Every ruin in my own kingdom is restored with augmented beauty and splendor on the green plains of this land of the shining River, whose fountain-head is underneath the throne of Thoth, far in the southern sky. How shall I describe what I behold? Every new object enchants me, and moves my soul with a fresh pleasure. I am intoxicated, not with wine, but with the splendor of art and scenes of beauty, and with manifestations of human glory and power hitherto inconceivable. I have heard my royal father describe the glory of Salem in Palestine, under the princes of the dynasty of Melchisedec, with its gorgeous temples to the Sun, and its palaces of marble, its hanging gardens, and noble terraces overlooking its flower-enamelled valleys; but the cities of Egypt surpass this Syriac magnificence. In coming hither, across the Levantine seas, from Syria, I seem to have crossed to the shores of that mystic world where dwell the sacred divinities, rather than only to another land of the plane of the earth; for Egypt, compared with the kingdom of Phœnicia seems truly the land of the blessed. What far-famed warriors! what stately priests, clothed with power from the gods! what superb princes! what a majestic queen! what grace and dignity in the virgins of the Sun! what a stupendous system of worship! what mighty mausoleums, both tomb and temple, rising like mountains hewn into solid triangles everywhere over the illimitable plain! What a land of verdure and of flowers!—land of gardens and palaces, obelisks and fountains, fanes and altars, sphinxes and gigantic statues!—land, comprising all that can delight the heart or take captive the sense!
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