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Lecture 10: The Place of Egyptian Religion in the History of Theology

IN the preceding lectures I have endeavoured to bring before you the more salient points in the religion of the ancient Egyptians, in so far as they illustrate their conception of the divine. But we must remember that all such descriptions of ancient belief must be approximate only. We cannot put ourselves in the position of those who held it; our inherited experiences, our racial tendencies, our education and religious ideas, all alike forbid it. If the Egyptians of the Theban period found it difficult to understand the ritual of their own earlier history, and misinterpreted the expressions and allusions in it, how much more difficult must it be for us to do so. The most ordinary religious terms do not bear for us the same meaning that they bore for the Egyptians. The name of God calls up other associations and ideas; the very word “divine” has a different signification in the ancient and the modern world among Eastern and Western peoples. In fact, the more literal is our translation of an old religious text, the more likely we are to misunderstand it.

And yet in one sense we are the religious heirs of the builders and founders of the Egyptian temples. Many of the theories of Egyptian religion, modified and transformed no doubt, have penetrated into the theology of Christian Europe, and form, as it were, part of the woof in the web of modern religious thought. Christian theology was largely organised and nurtured in the schools of Alexandria, and Alexandria was not only the meeting-place of East and West, it was also the place where the decrepit theology of Egypt was revivified by contact with the speculative philosophy of Greece. The Egyptian, the Greek, and the Jew met there on equal terms, and the result was a theological system in which each had his share. In Philo, we are told, we find Moses Platonising; but the atmosphere in which he did so was that of the old Egyptian faith. And what was true of the philosophy of Philo was still more true of the philosophy of Alexandrine Christianity.

You cannot but have been struck by the similarity of the ancient Egyptian theory of the spiritual part of man to that which underlies so much Christian speculation on the subject, and which still pervades the popular theology of to-day. There is the same distinction between soul and spirit, the same belief in the resurrection of a material body, and in a heaven which is but a glorified counterpart of our own earth. Perhaps, however, the indebtedness of Christian theological theory to ancient Egyptian dogma is nowhere more striking than in the doctrine of the Trinity. The very terms used of it by Christian theologians meet us again in the inscriptions and papyri of Egypt.

Professor Maspero has attempted to show that the Egyptian doctrine of the Trinity was posterior to that of the Ennead.1 Whether this were so or not, it makes its appearance at an early date in Egyptian theology, and was already recognised in the Pyramid texts. Originally the trinity was a triad like those we find in Babylonian mythology. Here and there the primitive triads survived into historical times, like that of Khnum and the two goddesses of the Cataract. But more frequently the trinity was an artificial creation, the formation of which can still be traced. Thus at Thebes the female element in it was found in Mut, “the mother” goddess, a title of the supreme goddess of Upper Egypt; while Khonsu, the moon-god, or Mentu, the old god of the nome, became the divine son, and so took a place subordinate to that of the local god Amon. Sometimes recourse was had to grammar, and the second person in the trinity was obtained by attaching the feminine suffix to the name of the chief god. In this way Amon-t was grammatically evolved from Amon, and even Ra-t from Ra. Elsewhere an epithet of the god was transformed into his son; at Memphis, for example, Imhotep, “he who comes in peace,” a title of Ptaḥ, became his son and the second person in the trinity. Other members of the trinity were fetched from neighbouring cities and nomes; Nit of Sais had Osiris as a husband, and Sekhet of Letopolis and Bast of Bubastis were successively regarded as the wives of Ptaḥ.

The triad consisted of a divine father, wife, and son. It was thus a counterpart of the human family, and belonged to the same order of ideas as that which explained the creation of the world by a process of generation. This was the cosmology of Heliopolis, and it is probable that to Heliopolis also we must ascribe the doctrine of the Trinity. At any rate the doctrine seems to have been solar in its origin. As Tum, the god of sunset, was identical with Khepera, the sun of the morning, and Ra, the sun of the noonday,—all three being but one god under diverse forms,—so the divine father was believed to engender himself in the person of the divine son, and the divine mother to be one with the divine father and son. The divine essence remained necessarily the same, whatever might be the forms or names under which it displayed itself; and the name, it must be remembered, had for the Egyptian a separate and real existence. The father became the son and the son the father through all time, and of both alike the mother was but another form. It was eternal fatherhood, eternal motherhood, and eternal generation. The development of the doctrine was assisted by that identification of the Egyptian deities with the sun-god which ended in solar pantheism, as well as by the old theory of the ka, of a personality distinguishable from that to which it belonged, identical with that of which it was the double, and yet at the same time enjoying an independent existence of its own.

With the spread of the Osirian form of faith the doctrine of the Trinity became universal throughout Egypt. The organisation of the faith had included the reduction of the cycle of divinities connected with Osiris into a trinity. Thoth and Anubis, Nebhât and Set, were separated from him, and henceforth he was made the head of a triad, in which Isis was the second person, and Horus, the avenger of his father, was the third. How completely the father and son were merged together may be seen from a hymn to Horus which has been translated by Chabas2

“The gods are joyous at the arrival of Osiris,

the son of Horus, the intrepid,

the truth-speaking, the son of Isis, the heir of Osiris. The divine chiefs join, him,

the gods recognise the omnipotent child himself …

the reign of justice belongs to him.

Horus has found his justification, to him is given the title of his father;

he appears with the atef-crown by order of Seb. He takes the royalty of the two worlds,

the crown of Upper Egypt is placed upon, his head.

He judges the world as he likes,

heaven and earth are beneath his eye,

he commands mankind—the intellectual beings, the race of the Egyptians and the northern barbarians.

The circuit of the solar disc is under his control;

the winds, the waters, the wood of the plants, and all vegetables …

Sanctifying, beneficent is his name …

evil flies afar off, and the earth brings forth abundantly under her lord.

Justice is confirmed by its lord, who chases away iniquity.

Mild is thy heart, O (Osiris) Un-nefer, son of Isis;

he has taken the crown of Upper Egypt; for him is acknowledged the authority of his father in the great dwelling of Seb;

he is Ra when speaking, Thoth when writing; the divine chiefs are at rest.”

Here Osiris is identified with Horus, and so becomes the son of his own wife.

The Egyptian trinity has thus grown out of the triad under the influence of the solar theology, and of the old conception of a personality which possessed a concrete form. Once introduced into the Osirian creed, it spread with it throughout Egypt, and became a distinguishing feature of Egyptian theology. Along with the doctrines of the resurrection of the body and of a judgment to come, it passed into the schools of Alexandria, and was there thrown into the crucible of Greek philosophy. The Platonic doctrine of ideas was adapted to the Egyptian doctrine of personality, and the three persons of the trinity became Unity, Mind, and Soul—absolute thought, absolute reason, and absolute energy.3

But while, on the one hand, there is continuity between the religious thought of ancient Egypt and the religious thought of the world of to-day, there is also continuity, on the other hand, between the religion of Egypt and that of primitive Babylonia. In the course of these lectures I have more than once pointed to the fact: the Pharaonic Egyptians were of Asiatic origin and they necessarily brought with them the religions ideas of their Eastern home. As we come to know more both of early Babylonian civilisation and of the beginnings of Egyptian history, we shall doubtless discover that the links between them are closer than we at present imagine, and much that is now obscure will become clear and distinct. Meanwhile there is one link which I cannot pass over. Astro-theology once played a considerable part in the religion of the Egyptians. In the historical age it has lost its importance; the stars have been identified with the official deities, who have accordingly absorbed their individual attributes; but echoes of the worship formerly paid to them are still heard in the Pyramid texts. Saḥu or Orion is still remembered as a mighty hunter, whose hunting-ground was the plain of heaven, and whose prey were the gods themselves. When he rises, it is said in the Pyramid of Unas, “the stars fight together, and the archers patrol” the sky which drops with rain; the smaller stars which form his constellation pursue and lasso the gods as the human hunter lassoes the wild bull; they slay and disembowel their booty, and boil the flesh in glowing caldrons. The “greater gods” are hunted “in the morning,” those of less account at mid-day, the “lesser gods” “at evening, and Saḥu refreshes himself with the divine banquet,” feeding on their bodies and absorbing “their magic virtues.” “The great ones of the sky” launch “the flames against the caldrons wherein are the haunches of the followers” of the gods; the pole-star, “who causes the dwellers in the sky to march in procession round” Orion, “throws into the caldron the legs of their wives.”4 We are transported to the cannibal's kitchen of some African chieftain, such as that represented on a curious stela found in Darfûr, and now in the museum of Constantinople. The whole description takes us back to a period in the history of Egypt long anterior to that of the Pyramids, when the Pharaonic invaders were first beginning to mingle with the older population of the land and become acquainted with its practices. In the days of Unas the real meaning of the expressions handed down by theological conservatism had been forgotten, or was interpreted metaphorically; but they remained to prove that the age when Orion was still an object of worship superior to the gods of heaven was one which went back to the very dawn of Pharaonic history. The cult of the stars must have been brought by “the followers of Horus” from their Asiatic home.5

The fame of Orion was eclipsed in later days by that of Sopd or Sirius. But this had its reason in the physiographical peculiarities of Egypt. The heliacal rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, that is to say, its first appearance along with the sun, corresponded with the rise of the Nile in Upper Egypt, and accordingly became a mark of time, and the starting-point of the solar year. Its importance therefore was great, not only for the calendar, but also for those agricultural operations upon which the very existence of Egypt depended. We need not wonder, accordingly, if with the settlement of the Pharaonic Egyptians in the valley of the Nile the worship and name of Orion fell more and more into the background, while that of Sirius became pre-eminent. How far back the pre-eminence of Sirius reaches may be gathered from the fact that the twentieth nome of Northern Egypt—that of Goshen—derived its name from a combination of the mummified hawk of Horus and the cone which, as Brugsch first showed,6 represents the shaft of zodiacal light that accompanies the rising of Sirius before the dawn of day. Sopd or Sirius is thus identified with the dead Horus who presided over Nekhen in Upper Egypt, and preceded Osiris as the god of the dead.7

Of the other stars and constellations we do not know much. The Great Bear was called “the haunch of beef,” and was at times identified with Set, and made the abode of the souls of the wicked. Not far off was the hippopotamus, which Brugsch would identify with Draco; while among other constellations were to be found the Lion and the Horus-hawk, as well as a warrior armed with a spear.

All over the world the more prominent stars and constellations have received names. But it is only the more prominent and brilliant among them of which this is true. So far as we know, the only people who have ever systematically mapped out the heavens, dividing the stars into groups, and giving to each group a name of its own, were the Babylonians; and it was from the Babylonians that the constellations as known to Greeks and Romans, to Hindus, or to Chinese, were ultimately derived. The inference, therefore, is near at hand, that the primitive Egyptians also were indebted for their map of the sky to the same source. And the inference is supported by more than one fact.

On the one side, the names of several of the constellations were the same among both Babylonians and Egyptians. Of this the Twins, Aquarius, or the Family, are examples, while it can hardly be an accident that Orion in both systems of astronomy is a giant and a hunter. “The Bull of heaven” was a Babylonian star, and Jupiter bore the Sumerian name of Gudi-bir, “the Bull of light”; in the Pyramid texts also we have a “Bull of heaven,” the planet Saturn according to Brugsch, Jupiter according to Lepsius. Still more striking are the thirty-six Egyptian decans, the stars who watched for ten days each over the 360 days of the ancient Egyptian year, and were divided into two classes or hemispheres, those of the day and those of the night.8 Not only did the early Chaldæan year similarly consist of 360 days; it too was presided over by thirty-six “councillor” stars, half of which were above the earth, while the other half were below it.9 Such a coincidence cannot have been accidental; the Babylonian and Egyptian decans must have had the same origin.

But there was yet a further parallelism between the stellar theology of Egypt and that of Babylonia. In both countries the worship of the stars passed into an astro-theology. The official gods were identified with the planets and fixed stars, and the stellar cult of the people was thus absorbed into the State religion. But whereas this astro-theology was characteristic of Babylonia, it has done little more than leave its traces on the historical religion of Egypt. Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars were identified with Horus under different forms, and Mercury with Set, while Venus became “the bark (za)10 of the phœnix” or soul “of Osiris.” Sirius was made the star of Isis, Orion the star of Osiris. But, like the cult of the stars itself, this astro-theology belongs to a far-off age in Egyptian history. It is the last faint reflection of a phase of religious thought which had passed away when the monumental records first begin.

It is the same with a curious echo of ancient Babylonian cosmology, to which Prof. Hommel has drawn our attention. The old Babylonian Epic of the Creation begins with the words—

“At that time the heaven above was not known by name,

the earth beneath was not named,

in the beginning the deep was their generator,

the chaos of the sea was the mother of them all.”

The lines are the introduction to a story of the Creation of which they form an integral part. On the walls of the Pyramid of Pepi I. we read again almost the same words. Pepi, it is said, “was born of his father Tum. At that time the heaven was not, the earth was not, men did not exist, the gods were not born, there was no death.”11 But here the words have been introduced without connection with the context; they cohere neither with what precedes nor with what follows them, and are evidently nothing but an old formula torn from the cosmogony to which they once belonged, and repeated without a clear understanding of what they really meant. The phrases are found again in the later religious literature of Egypt, embedded in it like flies in amber or the fossils in an old sea-beach.12 To recover their original meaning we must betake ourselves to the clay tablets of Assyria and Babylonia, and the cosmological theories of early Chaldæa. They presuppose that story of a creation out of the chaos of the deep which was indigenous in Babylonia alone.

This deep, which lay at the foundation of Babylonian cosmology, was symbolised in the temples by a “sea” across which the images of the gods were carried in “ships” on their days of festival. In Babylonia such “seas” had a reason for their existence. The Persian Gulf, it was believed, was the cradle of Babylonian culture; it was also the source of that cosmogony which saw in the deep the “mother” of all things. That it should have its mimic representatives in the temples of the country was but natural; it was from the “deep” that the gods had come, and the deep was still the home of the culture-god Ea.13

In Egypt, on the other hand, the sea was out of place, nay more, it was altogether unnatural. If water were needed, the sacred Nile flowed at the foot of the temple, or else there were canals which conducted the waters of the river through the temple lands. There was no primeval deep to be symbolised, no Persian Gulf out of which the culture-god had risen with the gifts of civilisation. If the gods desired to sail in their barks, it was reasonable to suppose that they would do so on the Nile or its tributary canals. And yet the supposition would be wrong. The gods had indeed their sacred “ships” as in Babylonia; but, as in Babylonia, it was on an artificially-constructed lake that they floated, and not, as a rule, on the river Nile. Could anything indicate more clearly the origin of the religious beliefs and practices of the Pharaonic Egyptians? Like the brick tombs of the Old Empire, with their recessed panels and pilasters, it points to Babylonia and the cosmological theories which had their birth in the Babylonian plain.14

The religion of ancient Egypt is thus no isolated fact. It links itself, on the one hand, with the beliefs and religious conceptions of the present, and, on the other hand, with those of a yet older past. But it is a linking only; Egyptian religion is no more the religion of ancient Babylonia than it is modern Christianity. In Egypt it assumed a form peculiar to itself, adapting itself to the superstitions and habits of the earlier inhabitants of the land, and developing the ideas which lay latent within it. It was characterised by the inexorable logic with which each of these ideas was followed to its minutest conclusions, and at the same time by the want of any attempt to harmonise these conclusions one with the other, however inconsistent they might be. It was also characterised by a spirit of creativeness; the Egyptian created new religious conceptions because he was not afraid to follow his premisses to their end.

But he was intensely practical. Abstractions as such had little attraction for him, and he translated them into material form. The symbolism of his system of writing favoured the process: even such an abstract idea as that of “becoming” became for him a “transformation” or “change of outward shape.” In spite, therefore, of the spirituality and profundity of much of his theology, his religion remained essentially materialistic. The gods might indeed pass one into the other and be but the manifold forms under which the ever-changing divine essence manifested itself, but this was because it was one with nature and the infinite variety which nature displays. Even the supreme god of Khu-n-Aten incorporated himself at it were in the visible orb of the sun.

The incarnation of the deity accordingly presented no difficulty to the Egyptian mind. It followed necessarily from the fundamental principles of his creed. The divinity which permeated the whole of nature revealed itself more clearly than elsewhere in that which possessed life. Egyptian religious thought never quite shook itself free from the influences of the primitive belief that life and motion were the same. Whatever moves possesses life, whatever lives must move;—such was, and still is, one of the axioms of primitive man. And since the deity manifested itself in movement, it could be recognised in whatever was alive. Man on the one side became a god in the person of the Pharaoh, the gods on the other side became men who had lived and died like Osiris, or had ruled over Egypt in the days of old. Even the ordinary man contained within him a particle or effluence of the divine essence which could never die; and the bodily husk in which it was incarnated could, under certain conditions, acquire the properties of that divinity to which it had afforded a home. That the divine essence could thus assume an individual form, was part of the doctrine which saw, in the manifold varieties of nature, the manifestations of a “single god.” The belief in the incarnation of the deity was a necessary consequence of a materialistic pantheism. And it mattered little whether the incarnation took place under a human or under an animal shape; the human and the animal god had alike been a heritage from elements which, diverse though they may have been in origin, combined to form the Egyptian people, and both the man and the beast were alike living and therefore divine. The beast was more mysterious than the man, that was all; the workings of its mind were more difficult to comprehend, and the language it spoke was more unintelligible. But on that very account it was better adapted for the symbolism which literature and education encouraged, and which became an essential part of the texture of Egyptian thought.

If, then, we would understand the conception of the divine formed by the educated Egyptian of the historical age, we must remember the characteristics of Egyptian thought which lay behind it. Materialism and symbolism constituted the background of Egyptian religion. The one presupposed the other, for the symbol presented the abstract idea in a material and visible shape, while the materialism of the Egyptian mind demanded something concrete which the senses could apprehend. The conception of the ka, with which Egyptian religion begins, is characteristic of Egyptian religious thought up to the last. It is like the “materialised spirits” of modern spiritualism, spirits which are merely matter in an etherialised form. The Egyptian gave not only shape but substance to his mental and spiritual creations; like the “ideas” of Plato, they became sensuous realities like the written symbols which expressed them. Not only were the name and the thing never dissociated from one another, the name was looked on as the essence of the thing, and the name included its expression in both sound and writing. The bird which represented the idea of “soul” became in time the soul itself.

This very fact assisted in spiritualising Egyptian religion. Ideas and their symbols interchange one with the other; the ideas, moreover, develop and pass out of one form into another. The identification, therefore, of the abstract and the concrete, of ideas and substantial existence, made a pantheistic conception of the universe easy. The divinity clothed itself in as many forms as there were symbols to express it, and these forms passed one into the other like phases of thought. The Egyptian was the first discoverer of the term “becoming,” and the keynote of his creed was the doctrine of transformation.

Transformation, it must be remembered, is not transmigration. There was no passage of an individual soul from body to body, from form to form; the divine essence permeated all bodies and forms alike, though it manifested itself at a given moment only under certain ones. It was in this power of manifestation that the transformation consisted. Had the Egyptian not been fettered by his materialistic symbolism, he would doubtless have gone further and concluded that the various manifestations of the divinity were subjective only—existing, that is to say, only in the mind of the observer; as it was, he held them to be objective, and to possess the same substantial reality as the symbolic pictures by which they were denoted.

With all this, however, there was no severe literalism in the interpretation of the symbol. Whatever may have been the case at the outset, the symbol was as much a metaphor in the historical ages of Egyptian history as are the metaphors of our own language. When the Egyptian spoke of “eating” his god, he meant no more than we do when we speak of “absorbing” a subject.15 The Pyramid texts are full of such faded and forgotten metaphors; the Egyptian was conservative above all other men, and the language of religion is conservative above all others. Doubtless, in some cases, he was the victim of the symbols and metaphors he used; but in this respect he does not stand alone. Where he has no rival is in the magnitude of the part played in his religion by the symbol and its logical development.

It was just this symbolism which enabled him to retain, on the one hand, all the old formulæ with their gross materialism and childlike views of the universe, and, on the other hand, to attain to a conception of the divine being which was at once spiritual and sublime. For Egyptian religion, as we find it in the monuments of the educated classes before the decay of the monarchy, was, in spite of its outward show of symbols and amulets, full of high thoughts and deep emotions. I cannot do better than quote the words in which it is described by one of its least prejudiced students, Professor Maspero:16 “When we put aside the popular superstitions and endeavour solely to ascertain its fundamental doctrines, we soon recognise that few religions have been so exalted in their principles. The Egyptians adored a being who was unique, perfect, endowed with absolute knowledge and intelligence, and incomprehensible to such an extent that it passes man's powers to state in what he is incomprehensible. He is ‘the one of one, he who exists essentially, the only one who lives substantially, the sole generator in heaven and earth, who is not himself generated.’ Always the same, always immutable in his immutable perfection, always present in the past as in the future, he fills the universe without any form in the world being able to give even a feeble idea of his immensity; he is felt everywhere, he is perceived nowhere.

“Unique in essence, he is not unique in person. He is father because he exists, and the force of his nature is such that he is eternally begetting, without ever growing weak or exhausted. He has no need to go outside himself for this act of generation; he finds in his own bosom the material of his perpetual fatherhood. Alone in the plenitude of his being he conceives his offspring; and as in him there can be no distinction between conception and birth, from all eternity ‘he produces in himself another self.’ He is at once the divine father, mother, and son Conceived of God, born of God, without separating from God, these three persons are God in God, and, far from dividing the primitive unity of the divine nature, they all three combine to constitute his infinite perfection.

“Doubtless the mind of the uneducated classes could neither understand nor rise to such lofty heights. Human intelligence supports with difficulty so pure an idea of an absolute being. All the attributes of divinity—his immensity, his eternity, his independence—place him at an infinite distance from ourselves; to comprehend and participate in them, we must make him think as we think, we must lend him our passions and subject him to our laws. God must take upon him, with human nature, all the weaknesses that accompany it, all the infirmities under which it labours; in a word, the Word must become flesh. The immaterial god must incarnate himself, must come to the land of Egypt and people it with the gods, his children. Each of the persons of the primitive trinity thus became independent and formed a new type, from which, in their turn, other lower types emanated. From trinity to trinity, from personification to personification, that truly incredible number of divinities was soon reached, with forms sometimes grotesque and often monstrous, who descended by almost insensible degrees from the highest to the lowest ranks of nature. The scribes, the priests, the officials, all the educated world, in fact, of Egyptian society, never professed that gross paganism which caused Egypt to be called with justice ‘the mother of superstitions.’ The various names and innumerable forms attributed by the multitude to as many distinct and independent divinities, were for them merely names and forms of one and the same being. ‘God, when he comes as a generator, and brings to light the latent forces of the hidden causes, is called Ammon; when he is the spirit who embodies all that is intelligent, he is Imhotep; when he is he who accomplishes all things with art and verity, he is Phthah; when he is God good and beneficent, he is Osiris.’ What the scribe means by these words is the mysterious infinite which animates the universe, the eternal, impenetrable to eyes of flesh, but perceived vaguely by the eyes of the spirit. Behind the sensuous appearance, behind the manifestation of the divine nature wherein the popular imagination fancied it saw that nature itself, he beheld confusedly a being obscure and sublime, a full comprehension of whom is denied him, and the feeling of this incomprehensible presence lends to his prayer a deep and thrilling accent, a sincerity of thought and emotion, a thousand times more touching than that medley of amorous puerilities, of mystic languors and morbid contrition, which is so often the substitute for religious poetry.”

There were two deep-rooted conceptions in the Egyptian mind which had much to do with the purity and sublimity of his religious ideas. One of these was the conception of a divine law which governed the universe, and to which the gods themselves had to submit. The other was that of a moral God, of a “good being” who rewarded—not piety but—uprightness, and punished iniquity. The world was ordered and controlled, not by chance or caprice, but by a fixed law, which was, characteristically enough, impersonated in the goddess Mât. And this law, unlike the blind destiny of the Greek or Roman, was at once divine and moral; it not only represented the order of the universe, against which there was no appeal, but it also represented an order which was in accordance with justice and truth. The law which all must obey under penalty of being cast into outer darkness, was an intelligent and moral law; it commended itself necessarily and instinctively to all intelligent beings whose thoughts, words, and deeds were alike righteous. Only those who had conformed to it could be admitted after death into the paradise of Osiris or into the company of the gods, and the seal of justification was the pronouncement that the dead man had “spoken the truth,” and that his confession in the judgment-hall of Osiris had been in agreement with the truth and with the eternal order of the universe.

Of the moral character of the Osirian creed I have already spoken. It is the first official recognition by religion that what God requires is uprightness of conduct and not ceremonial orthodoxy, the first identification of religion with morality. And the god who required this uprightness of conduct was not a “lord of hosts,” who compelled adoration by the display of his power, but Un-nefer, “the good being,” who existed in order to do good to men. In the conflict with evil he had apparently been worsted; but though he had died a shameful death, his disciples believed that it had been endured on their behalf, and that for those who followed in his footsteps, and whose lives resembled his, he had provided a better and a happier Egypt in another world, into which sin and pain and death could not enter, and where he ruled eternally over the cities and fields of the blest.

In the Osirian creed, writer after writer has discovered “fore-gleams” of Christianity more striking even than the doctrine of the Trinity, which belongs to the philosophy of faith. But there is nothing wonderful in the continuity of religious thought. One of the chief lessons impressed upon us by the science of the century which has just passed away, is that of continuity; throughout the world of nature there is no break, no isolated link in the long chain of antecedent and consequent, and still less is there any in the world of thought. Development is but another name for the continuity which binds the past to the present with stronger fetters than those of destiny. It is not only the philosophy of Christianity, or the wider and more general doctrines of its creed, which find an echo in the religion of ancient Egypt; in details also Egypt is linked with the modern world. Long before the Hebrew prophets pictured the kingdom of the Messiah, an Egyptian poet, in the reign of Thothmes III., had said: “A king shall come from the south, Ameni, the truth-declaring, by name. He shall be the son of a woman of Nubia, and will be born in [the south]. … He shall assume the crown of Upper Egypt, and lift up the red crown of the north. He shall unite the double crown. … The people of the age of the son of man shall rejoice and establish his name for all eternity. They shall be removed far from evil, and the wicked shall humble their mouths for fear of him. The Asiatics shall fall before his blows, and the Libyans before his flame. The wicked shall wait on his judgments, the rebels on his power. The royal serpent on his brow shall pacify the revolted. A wall shall be built, even that of the prince, that the Asiatics may no more enter into Egypt.”17

Yet more striking is the belief in the virgin-birth of the god Pharaoh, which goes back at least to the time of the Eighteenth Dynasty. On the western wall of one of the chambers in the southern portion of the temple of Luxor, Champollion first noticed that the birth of Amon-hotep III. is portrayed. The inscriptions and scenes which describe it have since been copied, and we learn from them that he had no human father; Amon himself descended from heaven and became the father of the future king. His mother was still a virgin when the god of Thebes “incarnated himself,” so that she might “behold him in his divine form.” And then the hieroglyphic record continues with words that are put into the mouth of the god. “Amon-hotep,” he is made to say, “is the name of the son who is in thy womb. He shall grow up according to the words that proceed out of thy mouth. He shall exercise sovereignty and righteousness in this land unto its very end. My soul is in him, (and) he shall wear the twofold crown of royalty, ruling the two worlds like the sun for ever.”18

But Amon-hotep III. was not the first of whom it had been said that his father was a god. Fragments of a similar text have been found by Dr. Naville at Dêr el-Bâharî, from which we may gather that queen Hatshepsu also claimed to have been born of Amon. How much further back in Egyptian history the belief may go we do not know: the kings of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties called themselves sons of the sun-god, and the Theban monarchs whose virgin-mothers were wedded to Amon, incarnate in the flesh, did but work out the old conception in a more detailed and definite way.

It was given to the Egyptians to be one among the few inventive races of mankind. They were pioneers of civilisation; above all, they were the inventors of religious ideas. The ideas, it is true, were not self-evolved; they presupposed beliefs which had been bequeathed by the past; but their logical development and the forms which they assumed were the work of the Egyptian people. We owe to them the chief moulds into which religious thought has since been thrown. The doctrines of emanation, of a trinity wherein one god manifests himself in three persons, of absolute thought as the underlying and permanent substance of all things, all go back to the priestly philosophers of Egypt. Gnosticism and Alexandrianism, the speculations of Christian metaphysic and the philosophy of Hegel, have their roots in the valley of the Nile. The Egyptian thinkers themselves, indeed, never enjoyed the full fruition of the ideas they had created; their eyes were blinded by the symbolism which had guided their first efforts, their sight was dulled by overmuch reverence for the past, and the materialism which came of a contentment with this life. They ended in the scepticism of despair or the prosaic superstitions of a decadent age. But the task which dropped from their hands was taken up by others; the seeds which they had sown were not allowed to wither, and, like the elements of our culture and civilisation, the elements also of our modes of religious thought may he traced back to the “dwellers on the Nile.” We are heirs of the civilised past, and a goodly portion of that civilised past was the creation of ancient Egypt.

  • 1.

    See above, p. 90.

  • 2.

    Records of the Past, first series, ii.

  • 3.

    See Cudworth's translation of Iamblichus.

  • 4.

    Maspero, “La Pyramide du Roi Ounas,” in the Recueil de Travaux, iv. pp. 59–61.

  • 5.

    Elsewhere in the Pyramid texts the Akhimu-seku or planets of the northern hemisphere are identified with the gods (Unas 218–220); Unas himself rises as a star (Unas 391); Sirius is the sister of Pepi (Pepi 172); while the Khû or luminous spirits are identified with the planets (Teta 289). We hear of the “fields of the stars” (Unas 419), of the morning star in the fields of Alu (Pepi 80), and of Akhimt, the grammatically-formed wife of Akhim “planet,” who is associated with “Babî, the lord of night” (Unas 645, 646). One of the constellations frequently mentioned in the Pyramid texts is “the Bull of heaven,” which was also an important constellation in early Babylonian astronomy, where the name formed part of an astronomical system; in Unas 421 the “Bull of heaven” is called the An or “column” of Heliopolis. We hear also of “the fresh water of the stars” (Unas 210). With the latter may be compared the goddess Qebḥu, or “Fresh Water,” the daughter of Anubis, the primitive god of the dead, who poured forth the liquid from four vases (Pepi 393). With the name of the goddess the symbol of the Antæopolite nome of Upper Egypt is associated.

  • 6.

    In the Proc. SBA. xv. p. 233.

  • 7.

    Or rather, perhaps, was the Osiris of primeval Egypt.

  • 8.

    Lepsius, Chronologie der Aegypter, pp. 78, 79. See Brugsch, Die Aegyptologie, ii. pp. 339–342.

  • 9.

    Hommel, Ausland, 1892, p. 102; Ginzel, Beiträge zur alten Geschichte, i. pp. 12–15. Diodorns (ii. 30) states that the “councilor gods” were only thirty in number; but the list of planetary stations discovered by Hommel in WAI. v. 46, shows that the text must be corrected into thirty-six. Indeed, Diodorus himself adds that every ten days there was a change of constellation, so that in a year of 360 days there must have been thirty-six constellations in all.

  • 10.

    The Egyptian za is the Semitic ẓi, “ship,” from which it seems to have been borrowed.

  • 11.

    Maspero, “La Pyramide du Roi Pepi 1er” in Recueil de Travaux, viii. p. 103.

  • 12.

    For instance, in the Rhind Papyrus: Wiedemann, “Ein altägyptischer Weltschöpfungsmythus,” in the Urquell, new ser., ii, p. 64, “Heaven was not, earth was not, the good and evil serpents did not exist.”

  • 13.

    See above, p. 86.

  • 14.

    The serpent with the seven necks (Unas 630, Teta 305) is the Babylonian “serpent with the seven heads,” and points to Babylonia, where alone seven was a sacred number. Other coincidences between Egyptian and Babylonian mythology that maybe noted are “the tree of life” (khet n ânkh) which grew in Alu, and was given by the stars to the dead that they might live for ever (Pepi 431); and the “great house,” the Babylonian ê-gal, which is several times referred to in the Pyramid texts.

  • 15.

    Thus in the Pyramid texts (Unas 518) Unas is described as “eating” the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt.

  • 16.

    Études de Mythologie et d' Archéologie égyptiennes, ii. pp. 446, 447.

  • 17.

    Golénischeff, in the Recueil de Travaux, xv. pp. 88, 89. The passage is found in Papyrus 1116 of the Hermitage at St. Petersburg. The words “son of man” are a literal translation of the original si-n-sa.

  • 18.

    For the scenes accompanying the text, see Gayet, “Le Temple de Louxor,” in the Mémoires de la Mission archéologique française au Caire, xv. 1, pl. lxxi., where, however, the copy of the inscriptions is very incorrect. My translation is made from a copy of my own. The whole inscription is as follows: “Said by Amon-Ra, etc.: He (the god) has incarnated himself in the royal person of this husband, Thothmes IV., etc.; he found her lying in her beauty; he stood beside her as a god. She has fed upon sweet odours emanating from his majesty. He has gone to her that he may be a father through her. He caused her to behold him in his divine form when he had gone upon her that she might bear a child at the sight of his beauty. His lovableness penetrated her flesh, filling it with the odour of all his perfumes of Punt.

    “Said by Mut-em-ua before the majesty of this august god Amon, etc., the twofold divinity: How great is thy twofold will, how [glorious thy] designs in making thy heart repose upon me! Thy dew is upon all my flesh in … This royal god has done all that is pleasing to him with her.
    “Said by Amon before her majesty: Amon-hotep is the name of the son which is in thy womb. This child shall grow up according to the words which proceed out of thy mouth. He shall exercise sovereignty and righteousness in this land unto its very end. My soul is in him: he shall wear the twofold crown of royalty, ruling the two lands like the sun for ever.”