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Littell's Living Age/Volume 140/Issue 1803/The Religion of the Ancient Egyptians

< Littell's Living Age‎ | Volume 140

"Oh Egypt! Egypt! Of thy religion fables only will remain, which thy disciples will understand as little as they do thy religion. Words cut into stone will alone remain telling of thy pious deeds. The Scythian, or the dweller by the Indus, or some other barbarian will inhabit thy fair land."

Such was the prophecy of Hermes Trismegistus, too literally fulfilled concerning the religion of the nation which Herodotus considered to be "by far the best-instructed people with whom he was acquainted, since they, of all men, store up most for recollection" — the people who "of all men were most attentive to the worship of the gods," and "most scrupulous in matters of religion" — the people from whose pantheon he gladly acknowledges that "almost all the gods came into Greece." The crowning glory of the wisdom of King Solomon was that it "excelled the wisdom of Egypt."

Of their love of learning and reverence for religion we have abundant proof in their writings on the papyrus of the Nile and the "fine linen of Egypt;" and in the "words cut into stone" on the walls of temples, on the tombs of kings and queens, of priests and priestesses, of noble men and fair women. Every temple had its library attached. On the walls of the library at Dendera is sculptured a catalogue raisonné of manuscripts belonging to the temple. The exhortations to follow learning are unceasing: "Love letters as thy mother. I make its beauty to appear in thy face. It is a greater possession than all honors."[1]

And so we, descendants of the "barbarians," the thought of whose appearance on the banks of the Nile sent such a shiver to the heart of the cultured priest, are able to spell out the religion of the Egyptians; and, unsealing the lips of the dead, bid them speak for us their "sermons in stones."

The interest which attaches to the religion of ancient Egypt is due partly to the proof it gives that our Father — who is, as a Vedic hymn calls him, "the most fatherly of fathers "— fed the souls and spirits of his children when they "hungered and thirsted after righteousness" in the remotest ages of the world; and partly to the light it sheds upon the Mosaic conception and idea of the Divine Being and man's relation to him.

On this account it may be well to bear in mind the extreme antiquity of the Egyptians and the state of their civilization during the serfdom of the Israelites. A pyramid at Sakkárah, near Thebes, has a royal title on the inner door to the fourth king of the first dynasty. If this inscription be correct, then the pyramid was built from five to seven hundred years before the great pyramid of Cheops, and was two thousand years old in the time of Abraham. Of this pyramid we may say, as King Amenemha said of a palace he was building, "Made for eternity, time shrinks before it."

During the period of the slavery of the Israelites, Egypt was already in its decadence, and its religion had lost much of its original purity. We possess books of travels, moral treatises, letters, sacred hymns, and novels, some written before and some during this period. Moses was "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," and the influence of this learning is felt in the Pentateuch.

The dry climate and the sand of Egypt have preserved the monuments, the papyri, and the frescoes, which appear fresh as the day on which they were painted. M. Mariette describes his penetrating into one of the sealed sepulchral chambers at Memphis and finding, on the thin layer of sand which covered the floor, the footprints of the workmen who, thirty-seven hundred years before, had laid the Apis mummy in its sarcophagus and closed, as they believed, the door of perfect fitting stone forever.

We shall consider (1) the idea of God, (2) the effect of this idea upon the life of the people, (3) the conception of the future life.

I. The manifold forms of the Egyptian pantheon were nothing, says the late E. Deutsch,[2] but religious masks of the sublime doctrine of the unity of the Deity communicated to the initiated in the mysteries. "The gods of the pantheon were," says M. Pierrot, "only manifestations of the One Being in his various capacities."[3] M. Maspero[4] and other scholars have arrived at the same conclusion.

The following hymn occurs on two papyri in the British Museum. It represents the thought prevalent in Egypt at the time of the Exodus, and is the work of Enna, the well-known author of the "Romance of the Two Brothers" and other works. The hymn was translated some years ago by Maspero.[5] A translation has also been offered by Canon Cook in "Records of the Past."[6] I select portions which express the unity of the Godhead:—

Hail to thee, 0 Nile!
He causeth growth to fulfil all desires,
He never wearies of it.
He maketh his might a buckler.[7]
He is not graven in marble[8]
As an image bearing the double crown.
He is not beheld:[9]
He hath neither ministrants nor offerings:
He is not adored in sanctuaries:
His abode is not known.
No shrine is found with painted figures (of him).
There is no building that can contain him![10]
There is no counsellor in thy heart![11]
Every eye is satisfied with him.[12]
         *          *          *
Unknown is his name in heaven,
He does not manifest his forms!
Vain are all representations of him.

On this hymn Canon Cook makes the note, sufficiently remarkable as coming from the editor of the "Speaker's Commentary:" "The whole of this passage is of extreme importance, showing that, apart from all objects of idolatrous worship, the old Egyptian recognized the existence of a supreme God, unknown and inconceivable; the true source of all power and goodness."

This one God is moreover the creator: "He has made the world with his hand, its waters, its atmosphere, its vegetation, all its flocks, and birds, and fish, and reptiles, and beasts of the field."[13] "He made all the world contains, and hath given it light when there was as yet no sun."[14] "Glory to thee who hast begotten all that exists, who hast made man, and made the gods also, and all the beasts of the field. Thou makest men to live. Thou hast no being second to thee. Thou givest the breath of life. Thou art the light of this world."[15]

But although God be the creator, yet he is "self-created:" "His commencement is from the beginning. He is the God who has existed from old time. There is no God without him. No mother bore him, no father hath begotten him. God-goddess created from himself. All gods came into existence when he began."[16]

Many of the hymns speak the mystery of his name: "Unknown is his name in heaven:" "Whose name is hidden from his creatures: in his name which is Amen" (hidden, secret).[17] Therefore the Egyptians never spoke the Unknown Name, but used a phrase which expressed the self-existence of the Eternal: "I am One Being, I am One." The expression is found in the "Ritual of the Dead," where Lepsius translates it: "Ich bin Tum, em Wesen das ich eines bin;" and he refers to the similarly constructed sentence: "I and my Father are one."[18] E. Deutsch renders it, "I am He who I am." The original is Nuk-pu-Nuk. Plutarch[19] tells us of the veil which overhung the temple of Neith at Sais: "I am that was, and is, and is to be; and my veil no mortal hath yet drawn aside." The name Neith means "I came from myself."[20] In one of the magical texts there is a chapter entitled: "To open the Place of the Shrine of the Seat of Neith." "I am the seat of Neith, hidden in the hidden, concealed in the concealed, shut up in the shut up, unknown I am knowledge."[21]

At the town of Pilhom, God was worshipped under the name of "the Living God," which Brugsch considers to correspond with the meaning of the name Jehovah; and the serpent of brass, called kerch (the polished), was there regarded as the living symbol of God.[22]

These passages are sufficient to establish the fact stated in the letter of Jamblichus to Porphyry that the Egyptians "affirm that all things which exist were created, and that he who gave them being is their first Father and Creator."[23]

The Egyptians felt that which we all Feel, that no name can express all that God is. Nevertheless, they tried to realize God by taking some natural object which should in itself convey to their minds some feature in God's nature, so that from the well-known they might grope after if happily they might find the unknown. This became a necessity for the priests in the religious teaching of the people. Therefore in the sun they saw God manifested as the light of the world, in the river Nile they saw the likeness of him whom no temple can contain, whose form cannot be graven in marble, whose abode is unknown. The more fully they felt the infinite nature of God, the more would they seek in nature for symbols, and in flights of inspiration for names, to express the yearnings of their souls after God. Hence they called God Pthah when he speaks, and when by his word he becomes creator; they called him Thoth when he writes the sacred books, and "manifests truth and goodness;" they called him Osiris when he manifests all that is best and noblest in man's nature, and taking upon him the nature of man becomes the god-man. All the deities were regarded as manifestations of the great Creator, the Uncreated, the Father of the universe.[24] This is expressed in the hymn: "Hail to thee! Lord of the lapse of time, king of gods! Thou ofmany names, of holy transformations, of mysterious forms."[25] This idea of one God expressed in many names is given by Aristotle: "God, though he be one, has many names, because he is called according to states into which he is continually entering anew."[26] The same idea is found in several passages of the Rig-Veda: "That which is one the wise call it in divers manners; they call it Agni, Yama, Indra, Varuna."[27] "Wise poets make the beautiful-winged, though he be one, manifold by words."[28]

Nevertheless, as in Greece and in In dia, so also in ancient Egypt, the symbols became in the popular mind actual gods, and the people degenerated into gross idolatry. It is an instance of the descent from the worship of the invisible attributes of God. They "changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible men, and to birds, and four- footed beasts, and creeping things … and they changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator."[29] This is unfortunately the aspect in which the Egyptian Pantheon has presented itself to mankind for many centuries.

                             After these appeared
A crew, who under names of old renown,
Osiris, Isis, Orus, and their train,
With monstrous shapes and sorceries abused
Fanatic Egypt and her priests, to seek
Their wandering gods disguised in brutish forms
Rather than human.[30]

We possess the account of a brilliant effort made by Amenophis the Fourth (1500 b.c.) to abolish all worship except that of the sun. He assumed the name of "Glory of the solar disk," and changed the capital city so that the architecture might not suggest the popular polytheism. Lepsius explored the ruins of the new city, and found the walls decorated with peculiar floral designs, and with hymns to the sun. This reformation, however, lasted only for one generation, and then passed away.[31] We find the influence of this religious revolution on the stele of a hymn to Osiris (eighteenth dynasty), for wherever the one name of the deity Amen occurs, it has been chiselled out; but it is restored under his successors.

A striking picture is given of King Pianchi Mer-Amon entering the temple of Ra, the sun. "He purified himself in the heart of the cool lake, washing his face in the stream of the heavenly waters in which Ra laves his face. Then he proceeded to the sandy height in Heliopolis, making a great sacrifice before the face of Ra at his rising, with cows, milk, gum, frankincense, and all precious woods delightful for scent. He went in procession to the temple of Ra … then the chief priest offered supplications to ward off calamity for the king, girded with the sacred vestments. He then purified him with incense and sprinkling, and brought to him garlands from the Temple of Obelisks.[32] The king ascended the flight of steps to the great shrine to behold Ra in the Temple of Obelisks. The king stood by himself, the great one alone, he drew the bolt, he opened the folding doors, he saw his father Ra in the Temple of Obelisks. Then he closed the doors, and set sealing clay with the king's own signet, and enjoined the priests, saying: 'I have set my seal; let no other king whatever enter therein.' Then he stood, and they prostrated themselves before his majesty."[33]

The conception of the unity of the Godhead did not prevent the Egyptians from thinking of God as very near to them. He is their Father, and they "sons beloved of their Father." He is the "Giver of life;" "Toucher of the hearts, Searcher of the inward parts, is his name." "Every one glorifies thy goodness, mild is thy love towards us; thy tenderness surrounds our hearts; great is thy love in all the souls of men." One lamentation cries "Let not thy face be turned away from us; the joy of our hearts is to contemplate thee. Chase all anguish from our hearts." "He wipes tears from off all faces." "Hail to thee, Ra, Lord of all truth whose shrine is hidden; Lord of the gods: who listeneth to the poor in his distress: gentle of heart when we cry to thee. Deliverer of the timid man from the violent; judging the poor, the poor and the oppressed. Lord of mercy most loving: at whose coming men live; at whose goodness gods and men rejoice. Sovereign of life, health, and strength."[34] "Speak nothing offensive of the great Creator, if the words are spoken in secret: the heart of man is no secret to him that made it. … He is present with thee though thou be alone."[35]

As we might expect from so lofty a conception of God, their hearts broke forth into joyous hymns of praise: —

<poem> Hail to thee, say all creatures: Salutation from every land: To the height of heaven, to the breadth of the earth: To the depths of the sea: The gods adore thy majesty. The spirits thou hast made exalt thee, Rejoicing before the feet of their begetter. They cry out welcome to thee: Father of the father of all the gods: Who raises the heavens, who fixes the earth. Maker of beings. creator of existences, Sovereign of life, health, and strength, chief of the gods: We worship thy spirit, who alone hast made us: We, whom thou hast made, thank thee, that thou hast given us birth; We give to thee praises for thy mercy towards us.[36]

II. Such was the idea of God and his relation to man held by the ancient Egyptians; and, as we might expect, it drew forth in them "lovely and pleasant lives."

The three cardinal requirements of Egyptian piety were love to God, love to virtue, love to man.[37] "I was a wise man upon earth," says an ancient Egyptian, "and I ever loved God." On one of the tombs at Thebes a king sums up his life: "I lived in truth, I fed my soul with justice. What I did to men was done in peace; and how I loved God, God and my heart well know." The Rosetta stone records of Ptolemy Epiphanes: "He was pious towards the gods, he ameliorated the life of man, he was full of generous piety, he showed forth with all his might his sentiments of humanity. He distributed justice to all like God himself." Thus was the modern king a worthy successor of the ancient.

Love of truth and justice was a distinguishing characteristic of the Egyptians. God is invoked: "Rock of Truth is thy name."[38] In an inscription at Sistrum a king addresses Hathor, goddess of truth: "I offer to thee the truth, 0 goddess! for truth is thy work, and thou thyself art the truth."[39] Thoth is the god who "manifests truth and goodness." The high priest in every town, who was also the chief magistrate, wore round his neck a jewelled jewel, which bore on one side the image of Truth, and on the other sometimes the image of Justice sometimes of Light. When the accused was acquitted the judge held out the image for him to kiss.[40] The image of Justice is represented with the eyes closed and without hands, to signify that the judge should never receive any bribe with his hands to "blind his eyes withal." So also, in the scene of the final judgment, Osiris wears round his neck the jewelled Justice and Truth, the heavenly pattern of the earthly copy, for justice and truth are eternal in the heavens. This jewel was adopted apparently by the Jewish high priest after the flight from Egypt. No English translation has been offered for the strange words Urim and Thummim, but the LXX. translated them "Truth and Light." Truthfulness was an essential part of the Egyptian moral code; and when, after death, the soul enters the Hall of the Two Truths, or Perfect Justice, it repeats the words learned upon earth: "0 thou great God, Lord of truth! I have known thee. I have known thy name. Lord of truth is thy name. I never told a lie at the tribunal of truth."[41]

The honor due to parents sprang naturally from the belief in God as "our Father which art in heaven." We constantly find inscriptions on the tombs such as the following: "I honored my father and my mother; I loved my brothers. I taught little children. I took care of orphans as though they had been my own children."[42] In letters of excellent advice addressed by an old man of one hundred and ten years of age to a young friend — which form the most ancient book in the world, dating 3000 B.C. — he says: "The obedience of a docile son is a blessing. God loves obedience. Disobedience is hated by God. The obedience of a son maketh glad the heart of his father. A son teachable in God's service will be happy in consequence of his obedience, he will grow to be old, he will find favor."[43] This is the earliest appearance of the "first commandment with promise "(Eph. vi. 2), the obedience to God and man which was the "essence of Hebraism."

The moral code of the Egyptians was exceedingly elaborate. It consisted of forty-two commandments or heads under which all sins might be classed. This code was the ideal placed before men on earth; it was the standard of perfection according to which they would be judged in heaven. Some of them are of local interest only, but most belong to the eternal laws of right and wrong written on the tables of the heart. Men were taught from childhood, as children are nowadays taught their catechism, that they must appear in the presence of the Divine Judge, and say: "I have not privily done evil to my neighbors. I have not afflicted any, nor caused any to weep. I have not told lies.[44] I have not done any wicked thing. I have not done what is hateful to the gods. I have not calumniated the slave to his master. I have not been idle.[45] I have not stolen. I have not committed adultery. have not committed murder." And so on.

But their commandments were positive as well as negative. On the tombs we find the common formula: "I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, shelter to the stranger."[46] In the lamentation at funerals, the mourners see the deceased entering the presence of the Divine Judge, and they chant the words: "There is no fault in him. No accuser riseth up against him. In the truth he liveth, with the truth he nourisheth himself. The gods are satisfied with all that he hath done. … He succored the afflicted, he gave bread to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, he sheltered the outcast, his doors were open to the stranger, he was a father to the fatherless."[47] This was the principle of the final judgment announced by the Son of Man to whom "all judgment is committed," some four thousand years afterwards among the hills of Palestine.

This tenderness for suffering humanity is characteristic of the nation. Gratefully does a man acknowledge in his autobiography (4000 b.c.): "Wandering I wandered and was hungry, bread was set before me: I fled from the land naked, there was given me fine linen."[48] It is a glory to a man that "the poor shall make their moan at the door of his tomb." An inscription on a tomb at Beni-Hassan, written about 2500 b.c., reads: "I have not oppressed any widow. No prisoner languished in my days. No one died of hunger. When there were years of famine I had my fields ploughed. I gave food to the inhabitants, so that there was no hungry person. I gave the widow equal portions with the married. I did not prefer the rich to the poor."[49] On a wall of the temple of Karnak there is sculptured the earliest known extraditionary treaty. It is between Rameses the Second and a Khetan prince. The last clause provides that political fugitives are to be sent back, with the following humane provision for their personal safety: "Whoever shall be delivered up, himself, his wives, his children, let him not be smitten to the death; moreover, let him not suffer in the eyes, in the mouth, in the feet; moreover, let not any crime be set up against him." This treaty was engraven for the Khetan prince on a silver tablet. In a volume of maxims we read: "Maltreat not an inferior. Let your wife find in you her protector, maltreat her not. Save not thine own life at the cost of another." On the tomb of a man at El-Kalb (4000 b.c.) it is recorded that he "never left home with anger in his heart."[50]

III. It was the opinion of Herodotus that the "Egyptians were the first people who affirmed the immortality of the soul."[51] No satisfactory explanation has been given of the silence of the Pentateuch on the immortality of the soul. No definite expression of the belief appears in the Hebrew Scriptures until the time of the Babylonish captivity, when the Jews came into contact with the Persians, who held it as a fixed article of faith. Certain it is that no nation kept more prominently before their minds the reality of the other world and the final judgment than did the ancient Egyptians. Birth into this world they called death into the land of darkness, death they spoke of as birth into the manifestation of light.[52]s

There are a large number of papyri found in the tombs laid beside and upon the mummy, which are known as the "Book or Ritual of the Dead." The most complete of these books, the Turin papyrus, consists of one hundred and sixty-five chapters, each with a title of its contents, and with rubrics in red ink explanatory of its use; the whole being illustrated by descriptive vignettes. Generally we find only a few chapters, either in papyrus leaves or cut into the hard black granite or the pure alabaster sarcophagus. There is an unknown variety of texts, apparently expressing the doctrine prevailing at the time in that part of Egypt where it was written. The oldest are the most valuable, as they are the purer, and show the various additions which have been made in the way of paraphrase and explanation, and which have become in process of time incorporated as part of the text. Some chapters of the book declare that they were written by God himself, and that they reveal his will and the divine mysteries to man. One chapter, the sixty-fourth, states that it was written by the "finger of the god Thoth," the "manifester of truth and goodness;"[53] therefore the book was regarded as hermetic or inspired. It says of itself: "There is no book like it; man hath not spoken it, neither hath ear heard it."[54]

The "Book of the Dead " describes the passage of the deceased through the other world into the presence of the Eternal Judge, Osiris.

The story of Osiris is one of great interest. He is said to have been a divine being, who in ancient times descended to earth and took upon him the form and nature of man. A being perfectly good, he ameliorated mankind by persuasion and by good deeds. But at length he was killed by Typhon the Evil One. His wife Isis went through the world in search of him, asking the little children if they had seen her lord. He was raised to life again; and he made his son Horus his avenger on the Evil One. It is this sacrifice which Osiris had once accomplished in behalf of man on earth, which makes him the protector of man in the other world, the invisible place. The god-man becomes not only the guide of the deceased through the other world; he also clothes him with his own divine nature, so that throughout the books the deceased is described as Osiris M. or N., for he has put on, and become identified with, Osiris; and he sits on the throne of justice, the Judge Eternal. Finally he is represented as the mediator between God and man, and is thus at once the representative man and the savior of mankind.[55]

In one of the hymns to Osiris, his praise is sung as he walks the heaven in holiness and overthrows the impure upon earth. He judges the world according to his will; then his name becomes hallowed, his immutable laws are respected, the world is at rest, evil flies away, there is peace and plenty upon the earth, justice is established, and iniquity purged away.

The national hymn of Egypt was the Maneros, which was the passionate cry of Isis to Osiris.[56]

The soul on entering the realms of the dead addresses the Divine Being: "0 thou Hidden One! Hidden where thou hast the praises of all in Hades (Amenti), who livest in power, covered with a precious veil — in purity!"[57] Then he prays for admission. Choirs of glorified spirits support the prayer. The priest on earth speaks in his turn, and implores the divine mercy. Then Osiris encourages the deceased to speak to his Father, and enter fearlessly into Amenti. Nevertheless, before the soul can enter, he must be purified, "cleansed from all stain of evil which is in his heart." Then and then only may he pass through the darkness, and be manifested into light," and hear the voice of welcome: "Come, come in peace."[58] But the Egyptians felt that no man could become pure enough to enter into the presence of the All-Pure, and therefore they described the soul as putting on Osiris. Under the shelter of that divine vesture the "deceased was protected by the mystery of the Name from the ills which afflicted the dead."[59] The soul then enters, and is amazed at the glory of God which he now sees for the first time. He chants a hymn of praise, and passes on his way.

Space will not permit me to follow the soul on its passage. The Turin papyrus has been translated by Dr. Birch in Bunsen's Egypt." "One chapter is entitled: "Of Escaping out of the Folds of the Great Serpent," and tells how the deceased defies, and in the strength of Osiris escapes, the Evil One. A curious series of chapters follows, describing the "Reconstruction of the Deceased," or the new and glorified body which is given him. Several chapters relate to the "Protection of the Soul." By virtue of repeating one of these the soul "goes forth as the day. His soul is not detained in corruption (Karneker)," a passage which is equivalent to the Hebrew verse: "Thou wilt not abandon my soul in Sheol, neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption."[60] A parallel passage occurs in a later chapter (155), "Hail, O Father Osiris! Thou dost not corrupt, thou dost not turn to worms. Thou dost not decay. … I am! I am! I grow! I grow! I wake in peace. I am not corrupted."

One of the most interesting chapters (125) is entitled: "Going into the Hall of the Two Truths, and Separating a Person from his Sins when he has been made to see the Faces of the Gods." Several copies of this chapter are exhibited on the stairs leading from the lower to the upper Egyptian rooms of the British Museum. The vignettes explain the chapter. At the entrance to that Hall of Justice the deceased is received by the god of truth. He finds himself in the presence of forty-two assessors, or avenging deities, corresponding to the forty-two commandments. Before each of these he kneels in turn, and confesses: "I have not committed murder, theft, falsehood," etc. Then he pronounces the formula of the final judgment: "I have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, sheltered the outcast, and been a father to the fatherless." He is then placed in one scale of a balance; in the other scale is placed the eyeless and handless image of Justice. This is the supreme moment in the soul's existence. In the Turin papyrus the scene is painted with a minuteness of detail suited to its importance: the guardian angel watches the scale which holds the soul; Horus watches the weight. Anubis, guardian of the dead, watches the image of Justice; while Thoth, stile in hand, records the result on a tablet.

The soul is then conducted by Thoth bearing the tablet into an inner chamber, where Osiris is seated. Osiris pronounces judgment; and according as the soul which has been weighed in the balance is found true or found wanting, it passes to the realms of bliss or to the regions of purifying fires.

In this trial scene the deities are sometimes depicted interceding as mediators, and offering sacrifices on behalf of the soul. There is a tablet in the British Museum in which the deceased is shown in the act of placing the gods themselves on the altar as his sin-offering, and pleading their merits.[61]

Joyfully does the "Book of Respirations," or " Book of the Breath of Life," salute the soul: "Come, Osiris N. Thou dost enter the hall of the two goddesses of truth! Thou art purified from all sin, from all crime. Hail, Osiris N.! Thou being very pure dost enter the lower heaven. The two goddesses of justice have purified thee in the great hall. Thou art justified forever and ever!" "0 ye gods who dwell in the lower heaven, hearken unto the voice of Osiris N. He is near unto you. There is no fault in him. … He liveth in the truth, he nourisheth himself with truth. The gods are satisfied with what he hath done. Let him live! Let his soul live!"[62]

That which strikes one most in the one hundred and twenty-fifth chapter is the profound insight that every work shall be brought into judgment, and every secret thing whether it be good or evil. It is the voice of conscience which accuses or excuses in that solemn hour, for no accuser appears in the hall; the man's whole life is seen by himself in its true light, all is "laid bare before Him with whom we have to do;" perfect justice is meted to every man, and yet at the last moment "mercy seasons justice," for the judge is Osiris the god-man.

The rubric that follows this chapter states that it was to be repeated on earth with great solemnity. The worshipper must be "clad in pure linen, and shod with white sandals, and anointed with fragrant oil, because he is received into the service of Osiris and is to be dressed in pure fine linen forever." This reminds us of the Apocalyptic vision: "To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints."[63]

Constantly did the Egyptian look forward to the day of final judgment. It was the most important day of his existence: he called it, with significant brevity, "the day" — dies illa — the day in which he hoped to be "justified," or, as he expressed it, "found true in the balance." It was the supreme moment of escape from the death and darkness of this world into the life and light of the other world: then, not till then, should he "behold the face of God." Therefore death had for him no terror; it was a law, not a punishment;[64] it was a release from the company of the fellow-spirits imprisoned in the body. Sometimes a perfect representation of a mummy was seated at the Egyptian banquets; sometimes it was carried round to each guest in turn: "Gaze here, drink and be merry, for when you die such shall you become."[65] The object of this custom was to teach men "to love one another, and to avoid those evils which tend to make them consider life too long when in reality it is too short."[66] In a festal dirge King Antuf (eleventh dynasty) sang: "The gods who were aforetime rest in their tombs; the mummies of the saints are enwrapped in their tombs. They who build houses, and they who have no houses, behold what becomes of them. … No man returns thence. Who tells of their sayings? who tells of their doings? who encourages our hearts ? Ye go to the place whence none return. … Feast in tranquillity, seeing that there is no one who carries away his goods with him. Yea, behold, none who goes thither comes back again."[67] There is a sadness, a profound melancholy, in the "death in life" of the ancient Egyptians, which perhaps justifies the curious remark of Apuleius: "The gods of Egypt rejoice in lamentations, the gods of Greece in dances."

The Egyptian had a reverence for his body — the casket in which the precious jewel of the soul "lodged as in an inn" for so many years — and so he built sumptuous tombs, and adorned them with frescoes and inscriptions, and called them his "everlasting home."[68] Saneha, in his autobiography (2000 b.c.), says: "I built myself a tomb of stone. His Majesty chose the site. The chief painter designed it, the sculptors carved it. … All the decorations were of hewn stone. … My image was carved upon the portal of pure gold. His Majesty caused it to be done. No other was like unto it."[69]

These tombs were often sadly desecrated. We read, for instance, of a commission appointed by Rameses the Ninth to inspect the tombs of the "royal ancestors" at Thebes. Their report has been translated by M. Chabas. It states that some of the royal mummies were found lying in the dust; their gold and silver ornaments and the treasures had been stolen. It also mentions a tomb "broken into from the back, at the place where the stela is placed before the monument, and having the statue of the king upon the front of the stela with his hound Bahuka between his legs. Verified this day, and found intact."[70] Such is the report of three thousand years ago. Some years ago M. Marietta discovered the mummies of the tomb of this very king, and the broken stela bearing upon its face a full-length bas-relief of the king with the dog Bahuka between his legs, his name engraved upon his back.[71] It was often difficult to find the tomb in the necropolis. In the "Tale of Setnau" we read: "He proceeded to the necropolis of Coptos with the priests of Isis and with the high priests of Isis. They spent three days and three nights in searching all the tombs, and in examining the tablets of hieroglyphic writing, and reading the letters engraved upon them, without discovering the burial-places of Ahura and her son Merhu."[72]

Before the body was laid in the tomb it was embalmed by the "physicians of Egypt." It is by no means certain why the body was embalmed and preserved with so much care. Sir G. Wilkinson thinks that it intimated a belief in its resuscitation, but there is no proof in their writings of this belief.[73] The most probable solution is the idea that as the soul was purified in the other world so the body should be purified and prevented from putrefying in this world. So carefully are the mummies preserved that if a piece of mummy be macerated in warm water, it will recover the natural appearance of flesh, and if it be then exposed to the action of the air it will putrefy."[74]

On the way to the tomb the funeral procession halted on the shore of the sacred lake of its nome or department; and the scene of the Hall of the Two Truths was acted with an awe-inspiring solemnity. Forty-two judges stood to hear if any one on earth accused the dead as his own conscience was then accusing him in the hidden world. If an accusation was made and substantiated, the sentence of exclusion from burial was pronounced, even if the dead were the Pharaoh himself.

Such is a general outline of some few of the characteristics of the religion of the ancient Egyptians. It opens up a considerable number of questions of extreme interest touching its influence on the earlier religion of Israel from the time when Abraham "came near to enter into Egypt," during the period when "Israel abode in Egypt," first as guests then as slaves, until they were led forth by the hand of Moses, the fair child brought up in the house of Pharaoh, the man "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." In later ages Egypt still stood forth as the source of wisdom and learning whence flowed the culture of Greece; and still later the highest culture and most brilliant thought of the Christian Church came from the schools of Alexandria, the new capital of the old country."[75]

The Egyptian religion, unaltered by the Persians, the Ptolemies, or the Romans, was of all ancient religions the most obstinate in its resistance to Christianity. The priests of the Temple of Osiris at Philæ — "he who sleeps at Philæ" — opposed the edict of Theodosius in a.d. 379; and that so successfully that we find from the votive tablets they were in possession so late as 453 a.d. At length, however, the day came when the chants in honor of the resurrection of Osiris gave way to chants in honor of the risen Christ; and the great temple was dedicated to the martyr St. Stephen. "This good work," says a Greek inscription, "was done by the God-beloved Abbot Theodore." But the day of vengeance came, and the Christian in his turn was driven forth by the triumphant Moslem, and the Christian Church is now extinct in Nubia.

In the claim which Egypt has upon our affections let us never forget that it welcomed as guest the patriarch to whom three great religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, trace back their spiritual origin, "our forefather Abraham;" and that it was the home in which the infant Saviour of the world, lying in his mother's arms, found a refuge, and the highest significance was given to the words: "Out of Egypt have I called my son."

NotesEdit

  1. G. Maspero, Le Genre Epistolaire chez les Anciens Egyptiens, p. 48. Paris, 1872.
  2. Lit Rem. P. 178.
  3. Dict. d'Arch. Egypt., art. "Religion." Paris, 1875.
  4. Hist. Anc. des Peuples de 1'Orient, cap. i. Paris, 1876.
  5. Hymne au Nil. Paris, 1868. Lauth offers a fine translation in "Moses der Ebräer."
  6. Vol. iv., p. 105.
  7. Cf. Ps. xviii. 2.
  8. Cf. Acts xvii. 29.
  9. Cf. St. John i. 18.
  10. Cf. I Kings viii. 27.
  11. Cf. Isa. xi. 13, 14.
  12. Cf. Ps. xvii. 15.
  13. Hymn to Osiris. Paris Stelé. Transl. by Chabas.
  14. Mélanges Egypt. i. 118, 119. Chabas.
  15. Leeman, Monuments du Musée des Pays-Bas, ii. 3.
  16. Ibid. ii. 74. Chabas.
  17. The incommunicableness of the name of the Divine Being was the truth at which Jacob arrived after the night's hard wrestling: "Why askest thou after my name?"
  18. έγώ καί ό Πατήρ ΈN εσμέν.
  19. De Isid. et Os., c. 9.
  20. Athene is supposed to have had her origin in the Egyptian Neith. An inscription is said to exist in a temple of Athene: "I am all that was, and is, and shall be." Monier Williams, Indian Wisdom, p. 145, n.
  21. Records of Past, vi. 123.
  22. Cong. of Orient. London.
  23. De Myst. i. 4.
  24. Hymne au Soleil dans le xv. chap. du Rituel, par Lefébre.
  25. Chabas, Rev. Arch., O.S. xiv. 80.
  26. De Mundo, c. vii. init.
  27. R. V. i. 164. 46.
  28. R. V. x. 114. 5.
  29. Rom. i. 23-25. See also Plutarch in De Is. et Osir., c. lxxi.
  30. Paradise Lost, i. 476-482.
  31. Brugsch, Histoire d'Egypte, p. 118.
  32. One of the obelisks which then stood before the porch still exists.
  33. Records of Past, ii. 98.
  34. Ibid. ii. 131.
  35. Goodwin, Cambridge Essays.
  36. Records of Past, ii. 133
  37. Keim, Jesus v. Nazara, ii. 157.
  38. Brugsch, Saï an Sinsin. Berlin. 1851.
  39. Edwards, One Thousand Miles up the Nile, i. 191.
  40. Chabas has an interesting paper on Egyptian justice in Mélanges Egypt, iii. a ff.
  41. Ritual.
  42. Die ägyptische Gräberwelt. Von H. Brugsch. Leipzig, 1868.
  43. Goodwin, Cambridge Essays, 1868.
  44. The ninth commandment of the Jewish Decalogue is a particular form of this great law.
  45. They had a contempt for idleness. "God loathes idle hands" (Hymne au Nil). "Ra, the giver of food, destroys all place for idleness" (Ritual, xv. 20n). In one of the "Letters" we read: "Why is thy heart volatile as the chaff before the wind? Give thy heart to something worthy of a man's doing. Give not thy heart to pleasure. Idleness is unprofitable. It is of no service to a man in the day of account. His work is found wanting when weighed in the balance. Such is the man whose heart is not in his business, whose eye scorns it," etc. — Goodwin, Essays.
  46. Brugsch gives a series of interesting inscriptions in Die ägypt. Gräberwelt.
  47. Henricus Brugsch, Saï an Sinsin, sive Liber Metempsychosis veterum Ægypt. Berlin, 1851. Rev. Arch. xiv. année, p. 194.
  48. Chabas, Les Papyrus Hiératiques de Berlin, révits d'il y a quatre mille ans. 1863.
  49. H. Brugsch, Die ägypt Gräberwelt. This reference to famine is interesting. During the early dynasties, the officer in charge of the public granaries is entitled "master of the house of zaf," food. The name given to Joseph signifies "Food of the living:" Zaphnath-paanach.
  50. Deutsch, Lit. Rem. P. 179.
  51. ii. 123.
  52. The dying words of Edward the Confessor were the "hope that he was passing from the land of the dead into the land of the living."
  53. Champollion found a doorway in the Rameseum at Thebes adorned with figures of Thoth as god of letters, and Saf with the title Lady President of the Hall of Books. Lettres Egypt. xiv. Paris, 1868.
  54. This resembles Lao-tse's description of the law: "You look and you see it not, it is colorless; you listen and you hear it not, it is voiceless; you desire to handle it, you touch it not, it is formless." — Stanislaus Julien, Lao-tse-King.
  55. Aug. Mariette Bey, Notice des Monum. à Boulaq, 1872, pp. 1055 sq. I may notice here that Osiris, Isis, and Horus form one of those triads which are found in most great theologies: "Le point de depart de la mythologie égyptienne est une triade." (Champollion, Lettres, xi.) Isis the mother with Horus the child in her arms — the merciful who would save the worshipper from Osiris the stern judge — became as popular a worship in Egypt in the time of Augustus, as that of the Virgin and Child in Italy and Spain to-day. Juvenal mentions that the painters of Rome almost earned a livelihood by painting the goddess Isis.
  56. Brugsch. Die Adonisklage, p. 24.
  57. Henr. Brugsch, Saï ane Sinsin, sive Liber Metempsychosis veterum Ægypt. Berlin, 1851.
  58. For the Christian parallel see Newman's "Dream of Gerontius."
  59. Dr. Birch in Zeitschrift für ägyptische Schprache, Ap. 1869, p. 51. It is to this that Jamblichus refers when he says that the "Egyptians affirm the way to heaven is the name of God which penetrates through all the world" (De Myst. viii. 5).
  60. Ps. xvi. 10.
  61. Sharps, Egypt. Myth. and Egypt. Christianity.
  62. Saï an Sinsin. Records of the Past, iv. 121.
  63. Revel. xix. 8.
  64. "Mors lex non pœna est." — Cicero.
  65. Herod. ii. 78. Lucian, Essay on Grief.
  66. Plutarch, De Is. 15.
  67. Records of the Past, iv. 118.
  68. άιδίους οίκους προσαγορεύουσιν. — Diodor. i. 51.
  69. Goodwin's translation in Records, vi. 133.
  70. Mélanges Egypt., 3me série, 1870.
  71. Trans. Bib. Arch. Soc. IV., i. 172.
  72. Records, iv. 547.
  73. Prichard, E. Myth. 198.
  74. Pettigrew, Hist. of Egyptian Mummies.
  75. Some curious details of Egyptian ritual are still extant in the various Churches of Christendom, such as the ring which the Egyptian put on his wife's finger in token that he entrusted her with his property; the feast of candles at Sais, which survives in Candlemas; the keys of St. Peter find their counterpart in the high priest of Thebes, who bore the title, "keeper of the two doors of heaven."