THE subject of the following Lectures was The Conception of the Divine among the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, and in writing them I have kept this aspect of them constantly in view. The time has not yet come for a systematic history of Babylonian religion, whatever may be the case as regards ancient Egypt, and, for reasons stated in the test, we must be content with general principles and fragmentary details.
It is on this account that so little advance has been made in grasping the real nature and characteristics of Babylonian religion, and that a sort of natural history description of it has been supposed to be all that is needed by the student of religion. While reading over again my Hibbert Lectures, as well as later works on the subject, I have been gratified at finding how largely they have borrowed from me, even though it be without acknowledgment. But my Hibbert Lectures were necessarily a pioneering work, and we must now attempt to build on the materials which were there brought together. In the present volume, therefore, the materials are presupposed; they will be found for the most part either in my Hibbert Lectures or in the cuneiform texts which have since been published.
We are better off, fortunately, as regards the religion of ancient Egypt. Thanks more especially to Professor Maspero's unrivalled combination of learning and genius, we are beginning to learn what the old Egyptian faith actually was, and what were the foundations on which it rested. The development of its dogmas can be traced, at all events to a certain extent, and we can even watch the progress of their decay.
There are two facts which, I am bound to add, have been forced upon me by a study of the old religions of civilised humanity. On the one hand, they testify to the continuity of religious thought. God's light lighteth every man that cometh into the world, and the religions of Egypt and Babylonia illustrate the words of the evangelist. They form, as it were, the background and preparation for Judaism and Christianity; Christianity is the fulfilment, not of the Law only, but of all that was truest and best in the religions of the ancient world. In it the beliefs and aspirations of Egypt and Babylonia have found their explanation and fulfilment. But, on the other hand, between Judaism and the coarsely polytheistic religion of Babylonia, as also between Christianity and the old Egyptian faith,in spite of its high morality and spiritual insight,there lies an impassable gulf. And for the existence of this gulf I can find only one explanation, unfashionable and antiquated though it be. In the language of a former generation, it marks the dividing-line between revelation and unrevealed religion. It is like that something, hard to define, yet impossible to deny, which separates man from the ape, even though on the physiological side the ape may be the ancestor of the man.
A. H. SAYCE.