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Joseph to the confidence of Pharaoh, the opinion of his ministers was asked as to the expediency of the measure.*
His edicts appear to have been issued in the form of a firmán, or written order, like the Hot e' Sheréef, "handwriting of the Descendant of the Prophet" (or the Turkish Sultan), and like the royal commands in all Oriental countries; and from the expression used by Pharaoh in granting power to Joseph, we may infer that the people who received his order adopted the same Eastern mode of acknowledging their obedience and respect for the sovereign, now shown to a firmán; the expression in the Hebrew being, "according to thy word shall all people kiss" (be ruled), and evidently alluding to the custom of kissing the signature attached to those documents. They were also expected to "bow the knee‡" in the presence of the monarch and chiefs of the country, and even to prostrate themselves to the ground, as Joseph's brethren did before him.
Causes of ordinary occurrence were decided by those who held the office of judges; and the care with which persons were elected to this office is a proof of their regard for the welfare of the community, and of their earnest endeavours to promote the ends of justice. None were admitted to it but the most upright and learned individuals; and, in order to make the office more select, and more readily to obtain persons of known character, ten only were chosen from each of the three citiesThebes, Memphis, and Heliopolis; a body of men, says Diodorus, by no means inferior either to the Areopagites of Athens, or to the senate of Lacedæmon.
These thirty individuals constituted the bench of judges; and at their first meeting they elected the most distinguished among them to be president, with the title of Arch-judge. His salary was much greater than that of the other judges, as his office was
* Gen. xli. 38, "And Pharaoh said unto his servants (ministers), Can we find such a one as this is?" Gen. 1. 7, "The elders of his (Pharaoh's) house." And Isaiah, xix. 11, "The wise counsellors of Pharaoh."
† Gen. xli. 40.
Gen. xli. 43. The word abrek, TN, is very remarkable, as it is used to the present day by the Arabs, when requiring a camel to kneel and receive its load, and is derived from rúkbeh, the "knee." Hence, too, báraka, a "blessing," from "kneeling" in prayer.
more important, and the city to which he belonged enjoyed the privilege of returning another judge, to complete the number of the thirty from whom he had been chosen. They all received ample allowances from the king, in order that, possessing a sufficiency for their maintenance and other necessary expenses, they might be above the reach of temptation, and be inaccessible to bribes; for it was considered of primary importance that all judicial proceedings should be regulated with the most scrupulous exactitude, sentences pronounced by authorized tribunals always having a decided influence, either salutary or prejudicial, on the affairs of common life. They felt that precedents were thereby established, and that numerous abuses frequently resulted from an early error, which had been sanctioned by the decision of some influential person; and for this reason they weighed the talents, as well as the character, of the judge.
The first principle was, that offenders should be discovered and punished, and that those who had been wronged should be benefited by the interposition of the laws, since the least compensation which can be made to the oppressed, and the most effectual preventive of crime, are the speedy discovery and exposure of the offender. On the other hand, if the terror which hangs over the guilty in the hour of trial could be averted by bribery or favour, nothing short of distrust and confusion would pervade all ranks of society; and the spirit of the Egyptian laws (as Diodorus shows) was not merely to hold out the distant prospect of rewards and punishments, nor simply threaten the future vengeance of the gods, but to apply the more persuasive stimulus of present retribution.
Besides the care taken by them that justice should be administered according to the real merits of the case, and that before their tribunals no favour or respect. of persons should be permitted, another very important regulation was adopted, that justice should be gratuitously administered; and it was consequently accessible to the poor as well as to the rich. The very spirit of their laws was to give protection and assistance to the oppressed, and everything that tended to promote an unbiassed judgment was peculiarly commended by the Egyptian sages.
When a case was brought for trial, it was customary for the arch-judge to put a golden chain round his neck, to which was suspended a small figure of Truth, ornamented with precious
The goddess of Truth and Justice.
stones. This was, in fact, a representation of the goddess who was worshipped under the double character of Truth and Justice, and whose name, Thmei, appears to have been the origin of the Hebrew Thummim-a word, according to the Septuagint translation, implying "truth," and bearing a further analogy in its plural termination. And what makes it more remarkable is that the chief priest of the Jews, who, before the election of a king, was also the judge of the nation, was alone entitled to wear this honorary badge; and the Thummim, like the Egyptian figure, was studded with precious stones of various colours. The goddess was represented "hav
438. The goddess of Truth, "with her eyes closed." Thebes,
ing her eyes closed," purporting that the duty of a judge was to weigh the question according to the evidence he had heard, and to trust rather to his mind than to what he saw, and was intended to warn him of that virtue which the Deity peculiarly enjoined: an emblematic idea, very similar to "those statues at Thebes of judges without hands, with their chief or president at their head having his eyes turned downwards," signifying, as Plutarch says, "that Justice ought neither to be accessible to bribes, nor guided by favour and affection."
It is not to be supposed that the president and the thirty judges above mentioned were the only house of judicature in the country; each city, or capital of a nome, had no doubt its own "County court," for the trial of minor and local offences; and it is probable that the assembly returned by the three chief cities resided wherever the royal court was held, and performed many of the same duties as the senates of ancient times. And that this was really the case appears from Diodorus mentioning the thirty judges and their president, represented at Thebes in the sculptures of the tomb of Osymandyas.
The president, or arch-judge, having put on the emblem of Truth, the trial commenced, and the eight volumes which contained the laws of the Egyptians were placed close to him, in order to guide his decision, or to enable him to solve a difficult question, by reference to that code, to former precedents, or to the opinion of some learned predecessor. The complainant stated his case. This was done in writing; and every particular that bore upon the subject, the mode in which the alleged offence was committed, and an estimate of the damage, or the extent of the injury sustained, were inserted.
The defendant then, taking up the deposition of the opposite party, wrote his answer to each of the plaintiff's statements, either denying the charge, or endeavouring to prove that the offence was not of a serious nature; or, if obliged to admit his guilt, suggesting that the damages were too high, and incompatible with the nature of the crime. The complainant replied in writing, and the accused having brought forward all he had to say in his defence, the papers were given to the judges; and if no
witnesses could be produced on either side, they decided upon the question according to the deposition of the parties. Their opinion only required to be ratified by the president, who then proceeded, in virtue of his office, to pronounce judgment on the case; and this was done by touching the party who had gained the cause with the figure of Truth. They considered that this mode of proceeding was more likely to forward the ends of justice, than when the judges listened to the statements of pleaders; eloquence having frequently the effect of fascinating the mind, and tending to throw a veil over guilt, and to pervert truth. The persuasive arguments of oratory, or those artifices which move the passions and excite the sympathy of the judges, were avoided; and thus neither did an appeal to their feelings, nor the tears and dissimulation of an offender, soften the just rigour of the laws. And while ample time was afforded to each party to proffer or to disprove an accusation, no opportunity was given to the offender to take advantage of his opponent, but poor and rich, ignorant and learned, honest and dishonest, were placed on an equal footing; and it was the case, rather than the persons, upon which the judgment was passed.
The laws of the Egyptians were handed down from the earliest times, and looked upon with the greatest reverence. They had the credit of having been dictated by the gods themselves, and Thoth (Hermes, Mercury, or the Divine Intellect) was said to have framed them for the benefit of mankind.
The names of many of the earliest monarchs and sages, who had contributed to the completion of their code, were recorded and venerated by them; and whoever, at successive periods, made additions to it, was mentioned with gratitude as a benefactor of his country.
Truth or justice was thought to be the main cardinal virtue among the Egyptians, inasmuch as it relates more particularly to others; prudence, temperance, and fortitude being relative qualities, and tending chiefly to the immediate benefit of the individual who possesses them. It was, therefore, with great earnestness that they inculcated the necessity of fully appreciating it; and falsehood was not only considered disgraceful,