The ancient Egyptians have been the object of interest to the civilized world in all ages; for Egypt was the favorite home of civilization, science, and religion. It was a little country, the gift of the river Nile; a little strip of land not more than seven miles wide, but containing innumerable cities and towns, and in ancient times supporting seven millions of inhabitants. Renowned for its discoveries in art and science, it was the world's university; where Moses and Pythagoras, Herodotus and Plato, all philosophers and lawgivers, went to school. The Egyptians knew the length of the year and the form of the earth; they could calculate eclipses of the sun and moon; were partially acquainted with geometry, music, chemistry, the arts of design, medicine, anatomy, architecture, agriculture, and mining. In architecture, in the qualities of grandeur and massive proportions, they are yet to be surpassed. The largest buildings elsewhere erected by man are smaller than their pyramids; which are also the oldest human works still remaining, the beauty of whose masonry, says Wilkinson, has not been surpassed in any subsequent age. An obelisk of a single stone now standing in Egypt weighs three hundred tons, and a colossus of Ramses II. nearly nine hundred. But Herodotus describes a monolithic temple, which must have weighed five thousand tons, and which was carried the whole length of the Nile, to the Delta. And there is a roof of a doorway at Karnak, covered with sandstone blocks forty feet long. Sculpture and bas-reliefs three thousand five hundred years old, where the granite is cut with exquisite delicacy, are still to be seen throughout Egypt. Many inventions, hitherto supposed to be modern, such as glass, mosaics, false gems, glazed tiles, enamelling, were well known to the Egyptians. But, for us, the most fortunate circumstance in their taste was their fondness for writing. No nation has ever equalled them in their love for recording all human events and transactions. They wrote down all the details of private life with wonderful zeal, method, and regularity. Every year, month, and day had its record, and thus Egypt is the monumental land of the earth. Bunsen says that "the genuine Egyptian writing is at least as old as Menes, the founder of the Empire; perhaps three thousand years before Christ." No other human records, whether of India or China, go back so far. Lepsius saw the hieroglyph of the reed and inkstand on the monuments of the fourth dynasty, and the sign of the papyrus roll on that of the twelfth dynasty, which was the last but one of the old Empire. "No Egyptian," says Herodotus, "omits taking accurate note of extraordinary and striking events." Everything was written down. Scribes are seen everywhere on the monuments, taking accounts of the products of the farms, even to every single egg and chicken. "In spite of the ravages of time, and though systematic excavation has scarcely yet commenced," says Bunsen, "we possess chronological records of a date anterior to any period of which manuscripts are preserved, or the art of writing existed in any other quarter." Because they were thus fond of recording everything, both in pictures and in three different kinds of writing; because they were also fond of building and excavating temples and tombs in the imperishable granite; because, lastly, the dryness of the air has preserved for us these paintings, and the sand which has buried the monuments has prevented their destruction,—we have wonderfully preserved, over an interval of forty-five centuries, the daily habits, the opinions, and the religious faith of that ancient time.
The oldest mural paintings disclose a state of the arts of civilization so advanced as to surprise even those who have made archæology a study, and who consequently know how few new things there are under the sun. It is not astonishing to find houses with doors and windows, with verandas, with barns for grain, vineyards, gardens, fruit-trees, etc. We might also expect, since man is a fighting animal, to see, as we do, pictures of marching troops, armed with spears and shields, bows, slings, daggers, axes, maces, and the boomerang; or to notice coats of mail, standards, war-chariots; or to find the assault of forts by means of scaling-ladders. But these ancient tombs also exhibit to us scenes of domestic life and manners which would seem to belong to the nineteenth century after our era, rather than to the fifteenth century before it. Thus we see monkeys trained to gather fruit from the trees in an orchard; houses furnished with a great variety of chairs, tables, ottomans, carpets, couches, as elegant and elaborate as any used now. There are comic and genre pictures of parties, where the gentlemen and ladies are sometimes represented as being the worse for wine; of dances where ballet-girls in short dresses perform very modern-looking pirouettes; of exercises in wrestling, games of ball, games of chance like chess or checkers, of throwing knives at a mark, of the modern thimblerig, wooden dolls for children, curiously carved wooden boxes, dice, and toy-balls. There are men and women playing on harps, flutes, pipes, cymbals, trumpets, drums, guitars, and tambourines. Glass was, till recently, believed to be a modern invention, unknown to the ancients. But we find it commonly used as early as the age of Osertasen I., more than three thousand eight hundred years ago; and we have pictures of glass-blowing and of glass bottles as far back as the fourth dynasty. The best Venetian glass-workers are unable to rival some of the old Egyptian work; for the Egyptians could combine all colors in one cup, introduce gold between two surfaces of glass, and finish in glass details of feathers, etc., which it now requires a microscope to make out. It is evident, therefore, that they understood the use of the magnifying-glass. The Egyptians also imitated successfully the colors of precious stones, and could even make statues thirteen feet high, closely resembling an emerald. They also made mosaics in glass, of wonderfully brilliant colors. They could cut glass, at the most remote periods. Chinese bottles have also been found in previously unopened tombs of the eighteenth dynasty, indicating commercial intercourse reaching as far back as that epoch. They were able to spin and weave, and color cloth; and were acquainted with the use of mordants, the wonder in modern calico-printing. Pliny describes this process as used in Egypt, but evidently without understanding its nature. Writing-paper made of the papyrus is as old as the Pyramids. The Egyptians tanned leather and made shoes; and the shoemakers on their benches are represented working exactly like ours. Their carpenters used axes, saws, chisels, drills, planes, rulers, plummets, squares, hammers, nails, and hones for sharpening. They also understood the use of glue in cabinet-making, and there are paintings of veneering, in which a piece of thin dark wood is fastened by glue to a coarser piece of light wood. Their boats were propelled by sails on yards and masts, as well as by oars. They used the blow-pipe in the manufacture of gold chains and other ornaments. They had rings of gold and silver for money, and weighed it in scales of a careful construction. Their hieroglyphics are carved on the hardest granite with a delicacy and accuracy which indicates the use of some metallic cutting instrument, probably harder than our best steel. The siphon was known in the fifteenth century before Christ. The most singular part of their costume was the wig, worn by all the higher classes, who constantly shaved their heads, as well as their chins,—which shaving of the head is supposed by Herodotus to be the reason of the thickness of the Egyptian skull. They frequently wore false beards. Sandals, shoes, and low boots, some very elegant, are found in the tombs. Women wore loose robes, ear-rings, finger-rings, bracelets, armlets, anklets, gold necklaces. In the tombs are found vases for ointment, mirrors, combs, needles. Doctors and drugs were not unknown to them; and the passport system is no modern invention, for their deeds contain careful descriptions of the person, exactly in the style with which European travellers are familiar. We have only mentioned a small part of the customs and arts with which the tombs of the Egyptians show them to have been familiar. These instances are mostly taken from Wilkinson, whose works contain numerous engravings from the monuments which more than verify all we have said.
The celebrated French Egyptologist, M. Mariette, has very much enlarged our knowledge of the more ancient dynasties, by his explorations, first under a mission from the French government, and afterward from that of Egypt. The immense temples and palaces of Thebes are all of a date at least B.C. 1000. We know the history of Egypt very well as far back as the time of the Hyksôs, or to the eighteenth dynasty. M. Mariette has discovered statues and Sphinxes which he believes to have been the work of the Hyksôs, the features being wholly different from that of the typical Egyptian. Four of these Sphinxes, found by Mariette on the site of the old Tanis, have the regular body of a lion, according to the canon of Egyptian art, but the human heads are wholly un-Egyptian. Mariette, in describing them, says that in the true Egyptian Sphinx there is always a quiet majesty, the eye calm and wide open, a smile on the lips, a round face, and a peculiar coiffure with wide open wings. Nothing of this is to be found in these Sphinxes. Their eyes are small, the nose aquiline, the cheeks hard, the mouth drawn down with a grave expression.
These Shepherd Kings, the Hyksôs, ruled Lower Egypt, according to Manetho, five hundred and eleven years, which, according to Renan,150 brings the preceding dynasty (the fourteenth of Manetho) as early as B.C. 2000. Monuments of the twelfth and thirteenth dynasties are common. The oldest obelisk dates B.C. 2800. Thanks to the excavations of M. Mariette, we now have a large quantity of sculptures and statues of a still earlier epoch. M. Renan describes151 tombs visited by himself, which he considers to be the oldest known, and which he regards as being B.C. 4000,152 where were represented all the details of domestic life. The tone of these pictures was glad and gay; and, what is remarkable, they had no trace of the funeral ritual or the god Osiris. These were not like tombs, but rather like homes. To secure the body from all profanation, it was concealed in a pit, carefully hidden in the solid masonry. These tombs belong to the six first dynasties.
The great antiquity of Egyptian civilization is universally admitted; but to fix its chronology and precise age becomes very difficult, from the fact that the Egyptians had no era from which to date forward or backward. This question we shall return to in a subsequent section of this chapter.
But, wonderful as was the civilization of Egypt, it is not this which now chiefly interests us. They were prominent among all ancient nations for their interest in religion, especially of the ceremonial part of religion, or worship. Herodotus says: "They are of all men the most excessively attentive to the worship of the gods." And beside his statement to that effect, there is evidence that the origin of much of the theology, mythology, and ceremonies of the Hebrews and Greeks was in Egypt. "The names of almost all the gods," says Herodotus, "came from Egypt into Greece" (Euterpe, 50). The Greek oracles, especially that of Dodona, he also states to have been brought from Egypt (II. 54-57), and adds, moreover, that the Egyptians were the first who introduced public festivals, processions, and solemn supplications, which the Greeks learned from them. "The Egyptians, then," says he, "are beyond measure scrupulous in matters of religion (§ 64). They invented the calendar, and connected astrology therewith." "Each month and day," says Herodotus (II. 82), "is assigned to some particular god, and each person's birthday determines his fate." He testifies (II. 123) that "the Egyptians were also the first to say that the soul of man is immortal, and that when the body perishes it transmigrates through every variety of animal." It seems apparent, also, that the Greek mysteries of Eleusis were taken from those of Isis; the story of the wanderings of Ceres in pursuit of Proserpine being manifestly borrowed from those of Isis in search of the body of Osiris. With this testimony of Herodotus modern writers agree. "The Egyptians," says Wilkinson, "were unquestionably the most pious nation of all antiquity. The oldest monuments show their belief in a future life. And Osiris, the Judge, is mentioned in tombs erected two thousand years before Christ." Bunsen tells us that "it has at last been ascertained that all the great gods of Egypt are on the oldest monuments," and says: "It is a great and astounding fact, established beyond the possibility of doubt, that the empire of Menes on its first appearance in history possessed an established mythology, that is, a series of gods. Before the empire of Menes, the separate Egyptian states had their temple worship regularly organized."
Everything among the Egyptians, says M. Maury,153 took the stamp of religion. Their writing was so full of sacred symbols that it could scarcely be used for any purely secular purpose. Literature and science were only branches of theology. Art labored only in the service of worship and to glorify the gods. Religious observances were so numerous and so imperative, that the most common labors of daily life could not be performed without a perpetual reference to some priestly regulation. The Egyptian only lived to worship. His fate in the future life was constantly present to him. The sun, when it set, seemed to him to die; and when it rose the next morning, and tricking its beams flamed once more in the forehead of the sky, it was a perpetual symbol of a future resurrection. Religion penetrated so deeply into the habits of the land, that it almost made a part of the intellectual and physical organization of its inhabitants. Habits continued during many generations at last become instincts, and are transmitted with the blood.154 So religion in Egypt became an instinct. Unaltered by the dominion of the Persians, the Ptolemies, and Romans, it was, of all polytheisms, the most obstinate in its resistance to Christianity, and retained its devotees down to the sixth century of our era.155
There were more festivals in Egypt than among any other ancient people, the Greeks not excepted. Every month and day was governed by a god. There were two feasts of the New-Year, twelve of the first days of the months, one of the rising of the dog-star (Sirius, called Sothis), and others to the great gods, to seed-time and harvest, to the rise and fall of the Nile. The feast of lamps at Sais was in honor of Neith, and was kept throughout Egypt.156 The feast of the death of Osiris; the feast of his resurrection (when people called out, "We have found him! Good luck!"); feasts of Isis (one of which lasted four days); the great feast at Bubastis, greatest of all,—these were festivals belonging to all Egypt. On one of them as many as seven hundred thousand persons sailed on the Nile with music. At another, the image of the god was carried to the temple by armed men, who were resisted by armed priests in a battle in which many were often killed.
The history of the gods was embodied in the daily life of the people. In an old papyrus described by De Rougé,157 it is said: "On the twelfth of Chorak no one is to go out of doors, for on that day the transformation of Osiris into the bird Wennu took place; on the fourteenth of Toby no voluptuous songs must be listened to, for Isis and Nepthys bewail Osiris on that day. On the third of Mechir no one can go on a journey, because Set then began a war." On another day no one must go out. Another was lucky, because on it the gods conquered Set; and a child born on that day was supposed to live to a great age.
Every temple had its own body of priests. They did not constitute an exclusive caste, though they were continued in families. Priests might be military commanders, governors of provinces, judges, and architects. Soldiers had priests for sons, and the daughters of priests married soldiers. Of three brothers, one was a priest, another a soldier, and a third held a civil employment.158 Joseph, a stranger, though naturalized in the country, received as a wife the daughter of the High-Priest of On, or Heliopolis.
The priests in Egypt were of various grades, as the chief priests or pontiffs, prophets, judges, scribes, those who examined the victims, keepers of the robes, of the sacred animals, etc.
Women also held offices in the temple and performed duties there, though not as priestesses.
The priests were exempt from taxes, and were provided for out of the public stores. They superintended sacrifices, processions, funerals, and were initiated into the greater and lesser mysteries; they were also instructed in surveying. They were particular in diet, both as to quantity and quality. Flesh of swine was particularly forbidden, and also that of fish. Beans were held in utter abhorrence, also peas, onions, and garlic, which, however, were offered on the altar. They bathed twice a day and twice in the night, and shaved the head and body every three days. A great purification took place before their fasts, which lasted from seven to forty-two days.
They offered prayers for the dead.
The dress of the priests was simple, chiefly of linen, consisting of an under-garment and a loose upper robe, with full sleeves, and the leopard-skin above; sometimes one or two feathers in the head.
Chaplets and flowers were laid upon the altars, such as the lotus and papyrus, also grapes and figs in baskets, and ointment in alabaster vases. Also necklaces, bracelets, and jewelry, were offered as thanksgivings and invocations.
Oxen and other animals were sacrificed, and the blood allowed to flow over the altar. Libations of wine were poured on the altar. Incense was offered to all the gods in censers.
Processions were usual with the Egyptians; in one, shrines were carried on the shoulders by long staves passed through rings. In others the statues of the gods were carried, and arks like those of the Jews, overshadowed by the wings of the goddess of truth spread above the sacred beetle.
The prophets were the most highly honored of the priestly order. They studied the ten hieratical books. The business of the stolists159 was to dress and undress the images, to attend to the vestments of the priests, and to mark the beasts selected for sacrifice. The scribes were to search for the Apis, or sacred bull, and were required to possess great learning.
The priests had no sinecure; their life was full of minute duties and restrictions. They seldom appeared in public, were married to one wife, were circumcised like other Egyptians, and their whole time was occupied either in study or the service of their gods. There was a gloomy tone to the religion of Egypt, which struck the Greeks, whose worship was usually cheerful. Apuleius says "the gods of Egypt rejoice in lamentations, those of Greece in dances." Another Greek writer says, "The Egyptians offer their gods tears."
Until Swedenborg160 arrived, and gave his disciples the precise measure and form of the life to come, no religion has ever taught an immortality as distinct in its outline and as solid in its substance as that of the Egyptians. The Greek and Roman hereafter was shadowy and vague; that of Buddhism remote; and the Hebrew Beyond was wholly eclipsed and overborne by the sense of a Divine presence and power immanent in space and time. To the Egyptian, this life was but the first step, and a very short one, of an immense career. The sun (Ra) alternately setting and rising, was the perpetually present type of the progress of the soul, and the Sothiac period (symbolized by the Phoenix) of 1421 years from one heliacal rising of Sirius at the beginning of the fixed Egyptian year to the next, was also made to define the cycle of human transmigrations. Two Sothiac periods correspond nearly to the three thousand years spoken of by Herodotus, during which the soul transmigrates through animal forms before returning to its human body. Then, to use the Egyptian language, the soul arrived at the ship of the sun and was received by Ra into his solar splendor. On some sarcophagi the soul is symbolized by a hawk with a human head, carrying in his claws two rings, which probably signify the two Sothiac cycles of its transmigrations.
The doctrine of the immortality of the soul, says Mr. Birch,161 is as old as the inscriptions of the twelfth dynasty, many of which contain extracts from the Ritual of the Dead. One hundred and forty-six chapters of this Ritual have been translated by Mr. Birch from the text of the Turin papyrus, the most complete in Europe. Chapters of it are found on mummy-cases, on the wraps of mummies, on the walls of tombs, and within the coffins on papyri. This Ritual is all that remains of the Hermetic Books which constituted the library of the priesthood. Two antagonist classes of deities appear in this liturgy as contending for the soul of the deceased,—Osiris and his triad, Set and his devils. The Sun-God, source of life, is also present.
An interesting chapter of the Ritual is the one hundred and twenty-fifth, called the Hall of the Two Truths. It is the process of "separating a person from his sins," not by confession and repentance, as is usual in other religions, but by denying them. Forty-two deities are said to be present to feed on the blood of the wicked. The soul addresses the Lords of Truth, and declares that it has not done evil privily, and proceeds to specifications. He says: "I have not afflicted any. I have not told falsehoods. I have not made the laboring man do more than his task. I have not been idle. I have not murdered. I have not committed fraud. I have not injured the images of the gods. I have not taken scraps of the bandages of the dead. I have not committed adultery. I have not cheated by false weights. I have not kept milk from sucklings. I have not caught the sacred birds." Then, addressing each god by name, he declares: "I have not been idle. I have not boasted. I have not stolen. I have not counterfeited, nor killed sacred beasts, nor blasphemed, nor refused to hear the truth, nor despised God in my heart." According to some texts, he declares, positively, that he has loved God, that he has given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, garments to the naked, and an asylum to the abandoned.
Funeral ceremonies among the Egyptians were often very imposing. The cost of embalming, and the size and strength of the tomb, varied with the position of the deceased. When the seventy days of mourning had elapsed, the body in its case was ferried across the lake in front of the temple, which represented the passage of the soul over the infernal stream. Then came a dramatic representation of the trial of the soul before Osiris. The priests, in masks, represented the gods of the underworld. Typhon accuses the dead man, and demands his punishment. The intercessors plead for him. A large pair of scales is set up, and in one scale his conduct is placed in a bottle, and in the other an image of truth. These proceedings are represented on the funeral papyri. One of these, twenty-two feet in length, is in Dr. Abbott's collection of Egyptian antiquities, in New York. It is beautifully written, and illustrated with careful drawings. One represents the Hall of the Two Truths, and Osiris sitting in judgment, with the scales of judgment before him.162
Many of the virtues which we are apt to suppose a monopoly of Christian culture appear as the ideal of these old Egyptians. Brugsch says a thousand voices from the tombs of Egypt declare this. One inscription in Upper Egypt says: "He loved his father, he honored his mother, he loved his brethren, and never went from his home in bad-temper. He never preferred the great man to the low one." Another says: "I was a wise man, my soul loved God. I was a brother to the great men and a father to the humble ones, and never was a mischief-maker." An inscription at Sais, on a priest who lived in the sad days of Cambyses, says: "I honored my father, I esteemed my mother, I loved my brothers. I found graves for the unburied dead. I instructed little children. I took care of orphans as though they were my own children. For great misfortunes were on Egypt in my time, and on this city of Sais."
Some of these declarations, in their "self-pleasing pride" of virtue, remind one of the noble justification of himself by the Patriarch Job.163 Here is one of them, from the tombs of Ben-Hassan, over a Nomad Prince:—
"What I have done I will say. My goodness and my kindness were ample. I never oppressed the fatherless nor the widow. I did not treat cruelly the fishermen, the shepherds, or the poor laborers. There was nowhere in my time hunger or want. For I cultivated all my fields, far and near, in order that their inhabitants might have food. I never preferred the great and powerful to the humble and poor, but did equal justice to all."
A king's tomb at Thebes gives us in few words the religious creed of a Pharaoh:—
"I lived in truth, and 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. I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, and a shelter to the stranger. I honored the gods with sacrifices, and the dead with offerings."
A rock at Lycopolis pleads for an ancient ruler thus: "I never took the child from its mother's bosom, nor the poor man from the side of his wife." Hundreds of stones in Egypt announce as the best gifts which the gods can bestow on their favorites, "the respect of men, and the love of women."164 Religion, therefore, in Egypt, connected itself with morality and the duties of daily life. But kings and conquerors were not above the laws of their religion. They were obliged to recognize their power and triumphs as not their own work, but that of the great gods of their country. Thus, on a monumental stele discovered at Karnak by M. Mariette, and translated by De Rougé,165 is an inscription recording the triumphs of Thothmes III., of the eighteenth dynasty (about B.C. 1600), which sounds like the song of Miriam or the Hymn of Deborah. We give some stanzas in which the god Amun addresses Thothmes:—
A similar strain of religious poetry is in the Papyrus of Sallier, in the British Museum.166 This is an epic by an Egyptian poet named Pentaour, celebrating the campaigns of Ramses II., the Sesostris of the Greeks, of the nineteenth dynasty. This great king had been called into Syria to put down a formidable revolt of the Kheta (the Hittites of the Old Testament). The poem seems to have been a famous one, for it had the honor of being carved in full on the walls at Karnak, a kind of immortality which no other epic poet has ever attained. It particularly describes an incident in the war, when, by a stratagem of the enemy, King Ramses found himself separated from the main body of his army and attacked by the enemy in full force. Pentaour describes him in this situation as calling on Amun, God of Thebes, for help, recounting the sacrifices he had offered to him, and asking whether he would let him die in this extremity by the ignoble hands of these Syrian tribes. "Have I not erected to thee great temples? Have I not sacrificed to thee thirty thousand oxen? I have brought from Elephantina obelisks to set up to thy name. I invoke thee, O my father, Amun. I am in the midst of a throng of unknown tribes, and alone. But Amun is better to me than thousands of archers and millions of horsemen. Amun will prevail over the enemy." And, after defeating his foes, in his song of triumph, the king says, "Amun-Ra has been at my right and my left in the battles; his mind has inspired my own, and has prepared the downfall of my enemies. Amun-Ra, my father, has brought the whole world to my feet."167
Thus universal and thus profound was the religious sentiment among the Egyptians.
As regards the theology of the Egyptians and their system of ideas, we meet with difficulty from the law of secrecy which was their habit of mind. The Egyptian priesthood enveloped with mystery every opinion, just as they swathed the mummies, fold above fold, in preparing them for the tomb. The names and number of their gods we learn from the monuments. Their legends concerning them come to us through Plutarch, Herodotus, Diodorus, and other Greek writers. Their doctrine of a future life and future judgment is apparent in their ceremonies, the pictures on the tombs, and the papyrus Book of the Dead. But what these gods mean, what are their offices, how they stand related to each other and to mankind, what is the ethical bearing of the religion, it is not so easy to learn.
Nevertheless, we may find a clew to a knowledge of this system, if in no other way, at least by ascertaining its central, ruling idea, and pursuing this into its details. The moment that we take this course, light will begin to dawn upon us. But before going further, let us briefly inquire into the sources of our knowledge of Egyptian mythology.
The first and most important place is occupied by the monuments, which contain the names and tablets of the gods of the three orders. Then come the sacred books of the Egyptians, known to us by Clemens Alexandrinus. From him we learn that the Egyptians in his time had forty-two sacred books in five classes. The first class, containing songs or hymns in praise of the gods, were very old, dating perhaps from the time of Menes. The other books treated of morals, astronomy, hieroglyphics, geography, ceremonies, the deities, the education of priests, and medicine. Of these sacred Hermaic books, one is still extant, and perhaps it is as interesting as any of them. We have two copies of it, both on papyrus, one found by the French at Thebes, the other by Champollion in Turin. And Lepsius considers this last papyrus to be wholly of the date of the eighteenth or nineteenth dynasty, consequently fifteen hundred or sixteen hundred years before Christ, and the only example of an Egyptian book transmitted from the times of the Pharaohs. Bunsen believes it to belong to the fourth class of Hermaic books, containing Ordinances as to the First Fruits, Sacrifices, Hymns, and Prayers. In this book the deceased is the person who officiates. His soul journeying on gives utterance to prayers, confessions, invocations. The first fifteen chapters, which make a connected whole, are headed, "Here begins the Sections of the Glorification in the Light of Osiris." It is illustrated by a picture of a procession, in which the deceased soul follows his own corpse as chief mourner, offering prayers to the Sun-God. Another part of the book is headed, "The Book of Deliverance, in the Hall of twofold Justice," and contains the divine judgments on the deceased. Forty-two gods occupy the judgment-seat. Osiris, their president, bears on his breast the small tablet of chief judge, containing a figure of Justice. Before him are seen the scales of divine judgment. In one is placed the statue of Justice, and in the other the heart of the deceased, who stands in person by the balance containing his heart, while Anubis watches the other scale. Horus examines the plummet indicating which way the beam inclines. Thoth, the Justifier the Lord of the Divine Word, records the sentence.168
We now proceed to ask what is the IDEA of Egyptian mythology and theology?
We have seen that the idea of the religion of India was Spirit; the One, the Infinite, the Eternal; a pure spiritual Pantheism, from which the elements of time and space are quite excluded. The religion of Egypt stands at the opposite pole of thought as its antagonist. Instead of Spirit, it accepts Body; instead of Unity, Variety; instead of Substance, Form. It is the physical reaction from Brahmanism. Instead of the worship of abstract Deity, it gives us the most concrete divinity, wholly incarnated in space and time. Instead of abstract contemplation, it gives us ceremonial worship. Instead of the absorption of man into God, it gives us transmigration through all bodily forms.169 It so completely incarnates God, as to make every type of animal existence divine; hence the worship of animals. It makes body so sacred, that the human body must not be allowed to perish. As the Brahman, contemplating eternity, forgot time, and had no history, so on the other hand the Egyptian priest, to whom every moment of time is sacred, records everything and turns every event into history; and as it enshrines the past time historically on monuments, so it takes hold of future time prophetically through oracles.
The chief peculiarity about the religion of Egypt, and that which has always caused the greatest astonishment to foreigners, was the worship of animals. Herodotus says (Book II. § 65), "That all animals in Egypt, wild and tame, are accounted sacred, and that if any one kills these animals wilfully he is put to death." He is, however, mistaken in asserting that all animals are sacred; for many were not so, though the majority were. Wilkinson gives a list of the animals of Egypt to the number of over one hundred, more than half of which were sacred, and the others not. As hunting and fishing were favorite sports of the Egyptians, it is apparent that there must have been animals whom it was lawful to kill. Nevertheless, it is certain that animal worship is a striking peculiarity of the Egyptian system. Cows were sacred to Isis, and Isis was represented in the form of a cow. The gods often wore the heads of animals; and Kneph, or Amun, with the ram's head, is one of the highest of the gods, known among the Greeks as Jupiter Ammon. The worship of Apis, the sacred bull of Memphis, the representative of Osiris, was very important among the Egyptian ceremonies. Plutarch says that he was a fair and beautiful image of the soul of Osiris. He was a bull with black hair, a white spot on his forehead, and some other special marks. He was kept at Memphis in a splendid temple. His festival lasted seven days, when a great concourse of people assembled. When he died his body was embalmed and buried with great pomp, and the priests went in search of another Apis, who, when discovered by the marks, was carried to Memphis, carefully fed and exercised, and consulted as an oracle. The burial-place of the Apis bulls was, a few years ago, discovered near Memphis. It consists of an arched gallery hewn in the rock, two thousand feet long and twenty feet in height and breadth. On each side is a series of recesses, each containing a large sarcophagus of granite, fifteen by eight feet, in which the body of a sacred bull was deposited. In 1852 thirty of these had been already found. Before this tomb is a paved road with lions ranged on each side, and before this a temple with a vestibule.
In different parts of Egypt different animals were held sacred. The animal sacred in one place was not so regarded in another district. These sacred animals were embalmed by the priests and buried, and the mummies of dogs, wolves, birds, and crocodiles are found by thousands in the tombs. The origin and motive of this worship is differently explained. It is certain that animals were not worshipped in the same way as the great gods, but were held sacred and treated with reverence as containing a divine element. So, in the East, an insane person is accounted sacred, but is not worshipped. So the Roman Catholics distinguish between Dulia and Latria, between the worship of gods and reverence of saints. So, too, Protestants consider the Bible a holy book and the Sabbath a holy day, but without worshipping them. It is only just to make a similar distinction on behalf of the Egyptians. The motives usually assigned for this worship—motives of utility—seem no adequate explanation. "The Egyptians," says Wilkinson, "may have deified some animals to insure their preservation, some to prevent their unwholesome meat being used as food." But no religion was ever established in this way. Man does not worship from utilitarian considerations, but from an instinct of reverence. It is possible, indeed, that such a reverential instinct may have been awakened towards certain animals, by seeing their vast importance arising from their special instincts and faculties. The cow and the ox, the dog, the ibis, and the cat, may thus have appeared to the Egyptians, from their indispensable utility, to be endowed with supernatural gifts. But this feeling itself must have had its root in a yet deeper tendency of the Egyptian mind. They reverenced the mysterious manifestation of God in all outward nature. No one can look at an animal, before custom blinds our sense of strangeness, without a feeling of wonder at the law of instinct, and the special, distinct peculiarity which belongs to it. Every variety of animals is a manifestation of a divine thought, and yet a thought hinted rather than expressed. Each must mean something, must symbolize something. But what does it mean? what does it symbolize? Continually we seem just on the point of penetrating the secret; we almost touch the explanation, but are baffled. A dog, a cat, a snake, a crocodile, a spider,—what does each mean? why were they made? why this infinite variety of form, color, faculty, character? Animals thus in their unconscious being, as expressions of God's thoughts, are mysteries, and divine mysteries.170
Now every part of the religion of Egypt shows how much they were attracted toward variety, toward nature, toward the outward manifestations of the Divine Spirit. These tendencies reached their utmost point in their reverence for animal life. The shallow Romans, who reverenced only themselves, and the Greeks, who worshipped nothing but human nature more or less idealized, laughed at this Egyptian worship of animals and plants. "O sacred nation! whose gods grow in gardens!" says Juvenal. But it certainly shows a deeper wisdom to see something divine in nature, and to find God in nature, than to call it common and unclean. And there is more of truth in the Egyptian reverence for animal individuality, than in the unfeeling indifference to the welfare of these poor relations which Christians often display. When Jesus said that "not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father," he showed all these creatures to be under the protection of their Maker. It may be foolish to worship animals, but it is still more foolish to despise them.
That the belief in transmigration is the explanation of animal worship is the opinion of Bunsen. The human soul and animal soul, according to this view, are essentially the same,—therefore the animal was considered as sacred as man. Still, we do not worship man. Animal worship, then, must have had a still deeper root in the sense of awe before the mystery of organized life.
But whence came this tendency in the human mind? Did it inhere in the race, or was it the growth of external circumstances? Something, perhaps, may be granted to each of these causes. The narrow belt of fertile land in Egypt, fed by the overflowing Nile, quickened by the tropical sun, teeming with inexhaustible powers of life, continually called the mind anew to the active, creative powers of nature. And yet it may be suspected that the law of movement by means of antagonism and reaction may have had its influence also here. The opinion is now almost universal, that the impulse of Egyptian civilization proceeded from Asia. This is the conclusion of Bunsen at the end of his first volume. "The cradle of the mythology and language of Egypt," says he, "is Asia. This result is arrived at by the various ethnological proofs of language which finds Sanskrit words and forms in Egypt, and of comparative anatomy, which shows the oldest Egyptian skulls to have belonged to Caucasian races." If, then, Egyptian civilization proceeded from Central Asia, Egyptian mythology and religion probably came as a quite natural reaction from the extreme spiritualism of the Hindoos. The question which remains is, whether they arrived at their nature-worship directly or indirectly; whether, beginning with Fetichism, they ascended to their higher conceptions of the immortal gods; or, beginning with spiritual existence, they traced it downward into its material manifestations; whether, in short, their system was one of evolution or emanation. For every ancient theogony, cosmogony, or ontogony is of one kind or the other. According to the systems of India and of Platonism, the generation of beings is by the method of emanation. Creation is a falling away, or an emanation from the absolute. But the systems of Greek and Scandinavian mythology are of the opposite sort. In these, spirit is evolved from matter; matter up to spirit works. They begin with the lowest form of being,—night, chaos, a mundane egg,—and evolve the higher gods therefrom.
It is probable that we find in Egypt a double tendency. One is the Asiatic spiritualism, the other the African naturalism. The union of the ideal and the real, of thought and passion, of the aspirations of the soul and the fire of a passionate nature, of abstract meditation and concrete life, had for its result the mysterious theology and philosophy which, twenty centuries after its burial under the desert sands, still rouses our curiosity to penetrate the secret of this Sphinx of the Nile.
We have seen in a former section that the institutions of Egypt, based on a theocratic monarchy, reach back into a dim and doubtful antiquity. Monuments, extending through thirty-five centuries, attest an age preceding all written history. These monuments, so far as deciphered by modern Egyptologists, have confirmed the accuracy of the lists of kings which have come to us from Manetho. We have no monument anterior to the fourth dynasty, but at that epoch we find the theocracy fully organized.171 The general accuracy of Manetho's list has been demonstrated by the latest discoveries of M. Mariette, and has rendered doubtful the idea of any of the dynasties being contemporaneous.
The main chronological points, however, are by no means as yet fixed. Thus, the beginning of the first dynasty is placed by Böckh at B.C. 5702, by Lepsius B.C. 3892, by Bunsen B.C. 3623, by Brugsch B.C. 4455, by Lauth B.C. 4157, by Duncker 3233.172 The period of the builders of the great Pyramids is fixed by Bunsen at B.C. 3229, by Lepsius at B.C. 3124, by Brugsch at B.C. 3686, by Lauth at B.C. 3450, and by Böckh at B.C. 4933.173
The Egyptian priests told Herodotus that there were three hundred and thirty-one kings, from Menes to Moeris, whose names they read out of a book. After him came eleven others, of whom Sethos was the last. From Osiris to Amasis they counted fifteen thousand years, though Herodotus did not believe this statement. If the three hundred and forty-two kings really existed, it would make Menes come B.C. 9150,—at an average of twenty-five years' reign to each king. Diodorus saw in Egypt a list of four hundred and seventy-nine kings. But he says in another place that Menes lived about four thousand seven hundred years before his time. Manetho tells us that from Menes there were thirty dynasties, who reigned five thousand three hundred and sixty-six years. But he gives a list of four hundred and seventy-two kings in these dynasties, to the time of Cambyses. The contradictions are so great, and the modes of reconciling Manetho, Herodotus, Diodorus, Eratosthenes, and the monuments are so inadequate, that we must regard the whole question of the duration of the monarchy as unsettled. But from the time when the calendar must have been fixed, from the skill displayed in the Pyramids, and other reasons independent of any chronology, Duncker considers the reign of Menes as old as B.C. 3500.
The history of Egypt is divided into three periods, that of the old, the middle, and the new monarchy. The first extends from the foundation of the united kingdom by Menes to the conquest of the country by the Hyksôs. The second is from this conquest by the Hyksôs till their expulsion. The third, from the re-establishment of the monarchy by Amosis to its final conquest by Persia. The old monarchy contained twelve dynasties; the Hyksôs or middle monarchy, five; the new monarchy, thirteen: in all, thirty.
The Hyksôs, or Shepherd Kings, were at first supposed to be the Hebrews: but this hypothesis adapted itself to none of the facts. A recent treatise by M. Chabas174 shows that the Hyksôs were an Asiatic people, occupying the country to the northeast of Egypt. After conquering Lower Egypt, Apapi was king of the Hyksôs and Tekenen-Ra ruled over the native Egyptians of the South. A papyrus, as interpreted by M. Chabas, narrates that King Apapi worshipped only the god Sutech (Set), and refused to allow the Egyptian gods to be adored. This added to the war of races a war of religion, which resulted in the final expulsion of the Shepherds, about B.C. 1700. The Hyksôs are designated on the monuments and in the papyri as the "Scourge" or "Plague," equivalent in Hebrew to the Tzir'ah, commonly translated "hornet," but evidently the same as the Hebrew tzavaath, "plague," and the Arabic tzeria, "scourge," or "plague."175
According to the learned Egyptologist, Dr. Brugsch, the Hebrew slaves in Egypt are referred to in a papyrus in the British Museum of the date of Ramses II. (B.C. 1400), in a description by a scribe named Pinebsa of the new city of Ramses. He tells how the slaves throng around him to present petitions against their overseers. Another papyrus reads (Lesley, "Man's Origin and Destiny"): "The people have erected twelve buildings. They made their tale of bricks daily, till they were finished." The first corroboration of the biblical narrative which the Egyptian monuments afford, and the first synchronism between Jewish and Egyptian history, appear in the reign of Ramses II., about B.C. 1400, in the nineteenth dynasty.
It appears from the monuments and from the historians that somewhere about B.C. 2000, or earlier, this great movement of warlike nomadic tribes occurred, which resulted in the conquest of Lower Egypt by the pastoral people known as Hyksôs. It was perhaps a movement of Semitic races, the Bedouins of the desert, like that which nearly three thousand years after united them as warriors of Islam to overflow North Africa, Syria, Persia, and Spain. They oppressed Egypt for five hundred years (Brugsch), and appear on the monuments under the name of Amu (the herdsmen) or of Aadu (the hated ones). Their kings resided at Tanis (in Egyptian Avaris), in the Delta. That their conquests had a religious motive, and were made, like that of Mohammed, in the interest of monotheism, seems possible. At all events, we find one of them, Apapi, erecting a temple to Sutech (the Semitic Baal), and refusing to allow the worship of other deities.176
The majority of Egyptologists believe that the Hebrews entered Egypt while these Hyksôs kings, men of the same Semitic family and monotheistic tendencies, were ruling in Lower Egypt. The bare subterranean temple discovered by M. Mariette, with the well near it filled with broken statues of the Egyptian gods, is an indication of those tendencies. The "other king, who knew not Joseph," was a king of the eighteenth dynasty, who conquered the Hyksôs and drove them out of Egypt. Apparently the course of events was like that which many centuries later occurred in Spain. In both cases, the original rulers of the land, driven to the mountains, gradually reconquered their country step by step. The result of this reconquest of the country would also be in Egypt, as it was in Spain, that the Semitic remnants left in the land would be subject to a severe and oppressive rule. The Jews in Egypt, like the Moors in Spain, were victims of a cruel bondage. Then began the most splendid period of Egyptian history, during the seventeenth, sixteenth, fifteenth, and fourteenth centuries before Christ. The Egyptian armies overran Syria, Asia Minor, and Armenia as far as the Tigris.
Ramses II., the most powerful monarch of this epoch, is probably the king whose history is given by Herodotus and other Greek writers under the name of Sesostris.177 M. de Rougé believes himself able to establish this identity. He found in the Museum at Vienna a stone covered with inscriptions, and dedicated by a person whose name is given as Ramses Mei-Amoun, exactly in the hieroglyphics of the great king. But this person's name is also written elsewhere on the stone Ses, and a third time as Ses Mei-amoun, showing that Ses was a common abbreviation of Ramses. It is also written Sesu, or Sesesu, which is very like the form in which Diodorus writes Sesostris, namely, Sesoosis.178 Now Ramses II., whose reign falls about B.C. 1400, erected a chain of fortresses to defend the northeastern border of Egypt against the Syrian nomads. One of these fortresses was named from the King Ramses, and another Pachtum. The papyri contain accounts of these cities. One papyrus, in the British Museum,179 is a description by a scribe named Pinebsa, of the aspect of the city Ramses, and of the petitions of the laborers for relief against their overseers. These laborers are called Apuru, Hebrews. In a papyrus of the Leyden Museum, an officer reports to his superior thus: "May my lord be pleased. I have distributed food to the soldiers and to the Hebrews, dragging stones for the great city Ramses Meia-moum. I gave them food monthly." This corresponds with the passage (Exodus i. 11): "They built for Pharaoh treasure-cities, Pithom and Raamses."180
The birth of Moses fell under the reign of Ramses II. The Exodus was under that of his successor, Menepthes. This king had fallen on evil times; his power was much inferior to that of his great predecessor; and he even condescended to propitiate the anti-Egyptian element, by worshipping its gods. He has left his inscription on the monuments with the title, "Worshipper of Sutech-Baal in Tanis." The name of Moses is Egyptian, and signifies "the child."
"Joseph," says Brugsch, "was never at the court of an Egyptian Pharaoh, but found his place with the Semitic monarchs, who reigned at Avaris-Tanis in the Delta, and whose power extended from this point as far as Memphis and Heliopolis." The "king who knew not Joseph" was evidently the restored Egyptian dynasty of Thebes. These monarchs would be naturally averse to all the Palestinian inhabitants of the land. And the monuments of their reigns represent the labors of subject people, under task-masters, cutting, carrying, and laying stones for the walls of cities.
To what race do the Egyptians belong? The only historic document which takes us back so far as this is the list of nations in the tenth chapter of Genesis. We cannot, indeed, determine the time when it was written. But Bunsen, Ebers,181 and other ethnologists are satisfied that the author of this chapter had a knowledge of the subject derived either from the Phoenicians or the Egyptians. Ewald places his epoch with that of the early Jewish kings. According to this table the Egyptians were descended from Ham, the son of Noah, and were consequently of the same original stock with the Japhetic and Semitic nations. They were not negroes, though their skin was black, or at least dark.182 According to Herodotus they came from the heart of Africa; according to Genesis (chap. x.) from Asia. Which is the correct view?
The Egyptians themselves recognized no relationship with the negroes, who only appear on the monuments as captives or slaves.
History, therefore, helps us little in this question of race. How is it with Comparative Philology and Comparative Anatomy?
The Coptic language is an idiom of the old Egyptian tongue, which seems to belong to no known linguistic group. It is related to other African languages only through the lexicon, and similarly with the Indo-European. Some traces of grammatic likeness to the Semitic may be found in it; yet the view of Bunsen and Schwartz, that in very ancient times it arose from the union of Semitic and Indo-European languages, remains only a hypothesis.183 Merx (in Schenkel's Bibel-Lexicon) says this view "rests upon a wish formed in the interest of the Philosophy of History; and the belief of a connection between these tongues is not justified by any scientific study of philology. No such ethnological affinity can be granted,—a proof of which is that all facts in its favor are derived from common roots, none from common grammar." Benfey, however, assumed two great branches of Semitic nationalities, one flowing into Africa, the other into Western Asia.184 Ebers185 gives some striking resemblances between Egyptian and Chaldaic words, and says he possesses more than three hundred examples of this kind; and in Bunsen's fifth volume are comparative tables which give as their result that a third part of the old Egyptian words in Coptic literature are Semitic, and a tenth part Indo-European. If these statements are confirmed, they may indicate some close early relations between these races.
The anatomy of the mummies seems to show a wide departure from negro characteristics. The skull, chin, forehead, bony system, facial angle, hair, limbs, are all different. The chief resemblances are in the flat nose, and form of the backbone.186 Scientific ethnologists have therefore usually decided that the old Egyptians were an Asiatic people who had become partially amalgamated with the surrounding African tribes. Max Duncker comes to this conclusion,187 and says that the Berber languages are the existing representatives of the old Egyptian. This is certainly true as concerns the Copts, whose very name is almost identical with the word "Gupti," the old name from which the Greeks formed the term Ægypti.188 Alfred Maury (Revue d. D. Mondes, September, 1867) says that, "according to all appearances, Egypt was peopled from Asia by that Hamitic race which comprised the tribes of Palestine, Arabia, and Ethiopia. Its ancient civilization was, consequently, the sister of that which built Babylon and Nineveh. In the valley of the Nile, as in those of the Euphrates and the Tigris, religion gave the motive to civilization, and in all the three nations there was a priesthood in close alliance with an absolute monarchy." M. de Rougé is of the same opinion. In his examination of the monuments of the oldest dynasties, he finds the name given to the Egyptians by themselves to be merely "the Men" (Rut),—a word which by the usual interchange of R with L, and of T with D, is identical with the Hebrew Lud (plural Ludim), whom the Book of Genesis declares to have been a son of Misraim. This term was applied by the Israelites to all the races on the southeast shore of the Mediterranean. It is, therefore, believed by M. de Rougé that the Egyptians were of the same family with these Asiatic tribes on the shores of Syria. Here, then, as in so many other cases, a new civilization may have come from the union of two different races,—one Asiatic, the other African. Asia furnished the brain, Africa the fire, and from the immense vital force of the latter and the intellectual vigor of the former sprang that wonderful civilization which illuminated the world during at least five thousand years.
The Egyptian theology, or doctrine of the gods, was of two kinds,—esoteric and exoteric, that is, an interior theology for the initiated, and an exterior theology for the uninitiated. The exterior theology, which was for the whole people, consisted of the mythological accounts of Isis and Osiris, the judgments of the dead, the transmigration of the soul, and all matters connected with the ceremonial worship of the gods. But the interior, hidden theology is supposed to have related to the unity and spirituality of the Deity.
Herodotus informs us that the gods of the Egyptians were in three orders; and Bunsen believes that he has succeeded in restoring them from the monuments. There are eight gods of the first order, twelve gods of the second order, and seven gods of the third order. The gods of the third order are those of the popular worship, but those of the first seem to be of a higher and more spiritual class. The third class of gods were representative of the elements of nature, the sun, fire, water, earth, air. But the gods of the first order were the gods of the priesthood, understood by them alone, and expressing ideas which they shrank from communicating to the people. The spiritual and ideal part of their religion the priests kept to themselves as something which the people were incapable of understanding. The first eight gods seem to have been a representation of a process of divine development or emanation, and constituted a transition from the absolute spiritualism of the Hindoos to the religion of nature and humanity in the West. The Hindoo gods were emanations of spirit: the gods of Greece are idealizations of Nature. But the Egyptian gods represent spirit passing into matter and form.
Accordingly, if we examine in detail the gods of the first order, who are eight, we find them to possess the general principle of self-revelation, and to constitute, taken together, a process of divine development. These eight, according to Bunsen, are Amn, or Ammon; Khem, or Chemmis; Mut, the Mother Goddess; Num, or Kneph; Seti, or Sate; Phtah, the Artist God; Net, or Neith, the Goddess of Sais; and Ra, the Sun, the God of Heliopolis. But according to Wilkinson they stand in a little different order: 1. Neph, or Kneph; 2. Amun, or Ammon; 3. Pthah; 4. Khem; 5. Sate; 6. Maut, or Mut; 7. Pasht, or Diana; and 8. Neith, or Minerva, in which list Pasht, the Goddess of Bubastis, is promoted out of the second order and takes the place of Ra, the Sun, who is degraded.
Supposing these lists to be substantially correct, we have, as the root of the series, Ammon, the Concealed God, or Absolute Spirit. His titles indicate this dignity. The Greeks recognized him as corresponding to their Zeus. He is styled King of the Gods, the Ruler, the Lord of Heaven, the Lord of the Thrones, the Horus or God of the Two Egypts. Thebes was his city. According to Manetho, his name means concealment; and the root "Amn" also means to veil or conceal. His original name was Amn; thus it stands in the rings of the twelfth dynasty. But after the eighteenth dynasty it is Amn-Ra, meaning the Sun. "Incontestably," says Bunsen, "he stands in Egypt as the head of the great cosmogonic development."
Next comes Kneph, or God as Spirit,—the Spirit of God, often confounded with Amn, also called Cnubis and Num. Both Plutarch and Diodorus tell us that his name signifies Spirit, the Num having an evident relation with the Greek πνεῦμα, and the Coptic word "Nef," meaning also to blow. So too the Arabic "Nef" means breath, the Hebrew "Nuf," to flow, and the Greek πνέω, to breathe. At Esneh he is called the Breath of those in the Firmament; at Elephantina, Lord of the Inundations. He wears the ram's head with double horns (by mistake of the Greeks attributed to Ammon), and his worship was universal in Ethiopia. The sheep are sacred to him, of which there were large flocks in the Thebaid, kept for their wool. And the serpent or asp, a sign of kingly dominion,—hence called basilisk,—is sacred to Kneph. As Creator, he appears under the figure of a potter with a wheel. In Philæ he is so represented, forming on his wheel a figure of Osiris, with the inscription, "Num, who forms on his wheel the Divine Limbs of Osiris." He is also called the Sculptor of all men, also the god who made the sun and moon to revolve. Porphyry says that Pthah sprang from an egg which came from the mouth of Kneph, in which he is supported by high monumental authority.
The result of this seems to be that Kneph represents the absolute Being as Spirit, the Spirit of God moving on the face of the waters,—a moving spirit pervading the formless chaos of matter.
Perhaps the next god in the series is Pthah, by the Greeks called Hephæstus, or Vulcan, representing formation, creation by the truth, stability; called in the inscriptions, Lord of Truth, Lord of the Beautiful Face, Father of the Beginnings, moving the Egg of the Sun and Moon. With Horapollo and Plutarch, we may consider the Scarabeus, or Beetle, which is his sign, as an emblem of the world and its creation. An inscription calls him Creator of all things in the world. Iamblicus says, "The God who creates with truth is Pthah." He was also connected with the sun, as having thirty fingers,—the number of days in a month. He is represented sometimes as a deformed dwarf.
The next god in the series is Khem, the Greek Pan,—the principle of generation, sometimes holding the ploughshare.
Then come the feminine principles corresponding with these three latter gods. Amun has naturally no companion. Mut, the mother, is the consort of Khem the father. Seti,—the Ray or Arrow,—a female figure, with the horns of a cow, is the companion of Kneph. And Neith, or Net, the goddess of Sais, belongs to Pthah. The Greek Minerva Athênê is thought to be derived from Neith by an inversion of the letters,189—the Greeks writing from left to right and the Egyptians from right to left. Her name means, "I came from myself." Clemens says that her great shrine at Sais has an open roof with the inscription, "I am all that was and is and is to be, and no mortal has lifted my garment, and the fruit I bore is Helios." This would seem to identify her with Nature.
For the eighth god of the first order we may take either Helios or Ra or Phra, the Sun-God; from whence came the name of the Pharaohs, or we may take Pasht, Bubastis, the equivalent of the Greek Diana. On some accounts it would seem that Ra was the true termination of this cycle. We should then have, proceeding from the hidden abyss of pure Spirit, first a breathing forth, or spirit in motion; then creation, by the word of truth; then generation, giving life and growth; and then the female qualities of production, wisdom, and light, completed by the Sun-God, last of the series. Amn, or Ammon, the Concealed God, is the root, then the creative power in Kneph, then the generative power in Khem, the Demiurgic power in Ptah, the feminine creative principle of Nature in Neith, the productive principle in Mut, or perhaps the nourishing principle, and then the living stimulus of growth, which carries all forward in Ra.
But we must now remember that two races meet in Egypt,—an Asiatic race, which brings the ideas of the East; and an Ethiopian, inhabitants of the land, who were already there. The first race brought the spiritual ideas which were embodied in the higher order of gods. The Africans were filled with the instinct of nature-worship. These two tendencies were to be reconciled in the religion of Egypt. The first order of gods was for the initiated, and taught them the unity, spirituality, and creative power of God.190 The third order—the circle of Isis and Osiris—were for the people, and were representative of the forms and forces of outward nature. Between the two come the second series,—a transition from the one to the other,—children of the higher gods, parents of the lower,—neither so abstract as the one nor so concrete as the other,—representing neither purely divine qualities on the one side, nor merely natural forces on the other, but rather the faculties and powers of man. Most of this series were therefore adopted by the Greeks, whose religion was one essentially based on human nature, and whose gods were all, or nearly all, the ideal representations of human qualities. Hence they found in Khunsu, child of Ammon, their Hercules, God of Strength; in Thoth, child of Kneph, they found Hermes, God of Knowledge; in Pecht, child of Pthah, they found their Artemis, or Diana, the Goddess of Birth, protector of women; in Athor, or Hathor, they found their Aphroditê, Goddess of Love. Seb was Chronos, or Time; and Nutpe was Rhea, wife of Chronos.
The third order of gods are the children of the second series, and are manifestations of the Divine in the outward universe. But though standing lowest in the scale, they were the most popular gods of the Pantheon; had more individuality and personal character than the others; were more universally worshipped throughout Egypt, and that from the oldest times. "The Osiris deities," says Herodotus, "are the only gods worshipped throughout Egypt." "They stand on the oldest monuments, are the centre of all Egyptian worship, and are perhaps the oldest original objects of reverence," says Bunsen. How can this be if they belong to a lower order of Deities, and what is the explanation of it? There is another historical fact also to be explained. Down to the time of Ramses, thirteen hundred years before Christ, Typhon, or Seth, the God of Destruction, was the chief of this third order, and the most venerated of all the gods. After that time a revolution occurred in the worship, which overthrew Seth, and his name was chiselled out of the monuments, and the name of Amun inserted in its place. This was the only change which occurred in the Egyptian religion, so far as we know, from its commencement until the time of the Cæsars.191 An explanation of both these facts may be given, founded on the supposed amalgamation in Egypt of two races with their religions. Supposing that the gods of the higher orders represented the religious ideas of a Semitic or Aryan race entering Egypt from Asia, and that the Osiris group were the gods of the African nature-worship, which they found prevailing on their arrival, it is quite natural that the priests should in their classification place their own gods highest, while they should have allowed the external worship to go on as formerly, at least for a time. But, after a time, as the tone of thought became more elevated, they may have succeeded in substituting for the God of Terror and Destruction a higher conception in the popular worship.
The myth of Isis and Osiris, preserved for us by Plutarch, gives the most light in relation to this order of deities.
Seb and Nutpe, or Nut, called by the Greeks Chronos and Rhea, were the parents of this group. Seb is therefore Time, and Nut is Motion or perhaps Space. The Sun pronounced a curse on them, namely, that she should not be delivered, on any day of the year. This perhaps implies the difficulty of the thought of Creation. But Hermes, or Wisdom, who loved Rhea, won, at dice, of the Moon, five days, the seventieth part of all her illuminations, which he added to the three hundred and sixty days, or twelve months. Here we have a hint of a correction of the calendar, the necessity of which awakened a feeling of irregularity in the processes of nature, admitting thereby the notion of change and a new creation. These five days were the birthdays of the gods. On the first Osiris is born, and a voice was heard saying, "The Lord of all things is now born." On the second day, Arueris-Apollo, or the elder Horus; on the third, Typhon, who broke through a hole in his mother's side; on the fourth, Isis; and on the fifth, Nepthys-Venus, or Victory. Osiris and Arueris are children of the Sun, Isis of Hermes, Typhon and Nepthys of Saturn.
Isis became the wife of Osiris, who went through the world taming it by means of oratory, poetry, and music. When he returned, Typhon took seventy-two men and also a queen of Ethiopia, and made an ark the size of Osiris's body, and at a feast proposed to give it to the one whom it should fit. Osiris got into it, and they fastened down the lid and soldered it and threw it into the Nile. Then Isis put on mourning and went to search for it, and directed her inquiries to little children, who were hence held by the Egyptians to have the faculty of divination. Then she found Anubis, child of Osiris, by Nepthys, wife of Typhon, who told her how the ark was entangled in a tree which grew up around it and hid it. The king had made of this tree a pillar to support his house. Isis sat down weeping; the women of the queen came to her, she stroked their hair, and fragrance passed into it. She was made nurse to the queen's child, fed him with her finger, and in the night-time, by means of a lambent flame, burned away his impurities. She then turned herself into a swallow and flew around the house, bewailing her fate. The queen watched her operations, and being alarmed cried out, and so robbed her child of immortality. Isis then begged the pillar, took it down, took out the chest, and cried so loud that the younger son of the king died of fright. She then took the ark and the elder son and set sail. The cold air of the river chilled her, and she became angry and cursed it, and so dried it up. She opened the chest, put her cheek to that of Osiris and wept bitterly. The little boy came and peeped in; she gave him a terrible look, and he died of fright. Isis then came to her son Horus, who was at nurse at Buto. Typhon, hunting by moonlight, saw the ark, with the body of Osiris, which he tore into fourteen parts and threw them about. Isis went to look for them in a boat made of papyrus, and buried each part in a separate place.
After this the soul of Osiris returned out of Hades to train up his son. Then came a battle between Horus and Typhon, in which Typhon was vanquished, but Isis allowed him to escape. There are other less important incidents in the story, among them that Isis had another son by the soul of Osiris after his death, who is the god called Harpocrates, represented as lame and with his finger on his mouth.192
Plutarch declares that this story is symbolical, and mentions various explanations of the allegory. He rejects, at once, the rationalistic explanation, which turns these gods into eminent men,—sea-captains, etc. "I fear," says he, "this would be to stir things that are not to be stirred, and to declare war (as Simonides says), not only against length of time, but also against many nations and families of mankind, whom a religious reverence towards these gods holds fast bound like men astonished and amazed, and would be no other than going about to remove so great and venerable names from heaven to earth, and thereby shaking and dissolving that worship and persuasion that hath entered almost all men's constitutions from their very birth, and opening vast doors to the atheists' faction, who convert all divine matters into human." "Others," he says, "consider these beings as demons intermediate between gods and men. And Osiris afterwards became Serapis, the Pluto of the under-world."
Other explanations of the myth are given by Plutarch. First, the geographical explanation. According to this, Osiris is Water, especially the Nile. Isis is Earth, especially the land of Egypt adjoining the Nile, and overflowed by it. Horus, their son, is the Air, especially the moist, mild air of Egypt. Typhon is Fire, especially the summer heat which dries up the Nile and parches the land. His seventy-two associates are the seventy-two days of greatest heat, according to the Egyptian opinion. Nepthys, his wife, sister of Isis, is the Desert outside of Egypt, but which in a higher inundation of the Nile being sometimes overflowed, becomes productive, and has a child by Osiris, named Anubis. When Typhon shuts Osiris into the ark, it is the summer heat drying up the Nile and confining it to its channel. This ark, entangled in a tree, is where the Nile divides into many mouths at the Delta and is overhung by the wood. Isis, nursing the child of the king, the fragrance, etc., represent the earth nourishing plants and animals. The body of Osiris, torn by Typhon into fourteen parts, signifies either the division of the Nile at its mouths or the pools of water left after the drying up of the inundation.
There is so much in this account which accords with the facts, that there can be no doubt of its correctness so far as it goes. At the same time it is evidently an incomplete explanation. The story means this, but something more. Beside the geographical view, Plutarch therefore adds a scientific and an astronomical explanation, as well as others more philosophical. According to these, Osiris is in general the productive, the creative power in nature; Isis, the female property of nature, hence called by Plato the nurse; and Typhon the destructive property in nature; while Horus is the mediator between creation and destruction. And thus we have the triad of Osiris, Typhon, and Horus, essentially corresponding to the Hindoo triad, Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu, and also to the Persian triad, Ormazd, Ahriman, and Mithra. And so this myth will express the Egyptian view of the conflict of good and evil in the natural world.
But it seems very likely that it was the object of the priests to elevate this Osiris worship to a still higher meaning, making it an allegory of the struggles, sorrows, and self-recovery of the human soul. Every human soul after death took the name and symbols of Osiris, and then went into the under-world to be judged by him. Connected with this was the doctrine of transmigration, or the passage of the soul through various bodies,—a doctrine brought out of Egypt by Pythagoras. These higher doctrines were taught in the mysteries. "I know them," says Herodotus, "but must not tell them." Iamblicus professes to explain them in his work on the Mysteries. But it is not easy to say how much of his own Platonism he has mingled therewith. According to him, they taught in the mysteries that before all things was one God immovable in the solitude of unity. The One was to be venerated in silence. Then Emeph, or Neph, was god in his self-consciousness. After this in Amun, his intellect became truth, shedding light. Truth working by art is Pthah, and art producing good is Osiris.
Another remarkable fact must be at least alluded to. Bunsen says, that, according to the whole testimony of the monuments, Isis and Osiris not only have their roots in the second order, but are also themselves the first and the second order. Isis, Osiris, and Horus comprise all Egyptian mythology, with the exception of Amun and Neph. Of this fact I have seen no explanation and know of none, unless it be a sign of the purpose of the priests to unite the two systems of spiritualism and nature-worship into one, and to elevate and spiritualize the lower order of gods.
One reason for thinking that the religious system of the priests was a compromise between several different original tendencies is to be found in the local worship of special deities in various places. In Lower Egypt the highest god was Pthah, whom the Greeks identified with Vulcan; the god of fire or heat, father of the sun. He was in this region the chief god, corresponding to Ammon in Upper Egypt. Manetho says that Pthah reigned nine thousand years before the other gods,—which must mean that this was by far the oldest worship in Egypt. As Ammon is the head of a cosmogony which proceeds according to emanation from spirit down to matter, so Pthah is at the beginning of a cosmogony which ascends by a process of evolution from matter working up to spirit. For from Pthah (heat) comes light, from light proceeds life, from life arise gods, men, plants, animals, and all organic existence. The inscriptions call Pthah, "Father of the Father of the Gods," "King of both Worlds," the "God of all Beginnings," the "Former of Things." The egg is one of his symbols, as containing a germ of life. The scarabæus, or beetle, which rolls its ball of earth, supposed to contain its egg, is dedicated to Pthah. His sacred city was Memphis, in Lower Egypt. His son, Ra, the Sun-God, had his temple at On, near by, which the Greeks called Heliopolis, or City of the Sun. The cat is sacred to Ra. As Pthah is the god of all beginnings in Lower Egypt, so Ra is the vitalizing god, the active ruler of the world, holding a sceptre in one hand and the sign of life in the other.
The goddesses of Lower Egypt were Neith at Sais, Leto, the goddess whose temple was at Buto, and Pacht at Babastis. In Upper Egypt, as we have seen, the chief deity was Amun, or Ammon, the Concealed God, and Kneph, or Knubis. With them belonged the goddess Mut193 (the mother) and Khonso. The two oldest gods were Mentu, the rising sun, and Atmu, the setting sun.
We therefore find traces of the same course of religious thought in Egypt as we shall afterward find in Greece. The earlier worship is of local deities, who are afterwards united in a Pantheon. As Zeus was at first worshipped in Dodona and Arcadia, Apollo in Crete and Delos, Aphroditê in Cyprus, Athênê at Athens, and afterward these tribal and provincial deities were united in one company as the twelve gods of Olympus, so in Egypt the various early theologies were united in the three orders, of which Ammon was made the head. But, in both countries, each city and province persevered in the worship of its particular deity. As Athênê continued to be the protector of Athens, and Aphroditê of Cyprus, so, in Egypt, Set continued to be the god of Ombos, Leto of Buto, Horus of Edfu, Khem of Coptos.
Before concluding this section, we must say a word of the practical morality connected with this theology. We have seen, above, the stress laid on works of justice and mercy. There is a papyrus in the Imperial library at Paris, which M. Chabas considers the oldest book in the world. It is an autograph manuscript written B.C. 2200, or four thousand years ago, by one who calls himself the son of a king. It contains practical philosophy like that of Solomon in his proverbs. It glorifies, like the Proverbs, wisdom. It says that "man's heart rules the man," that "the bad man's life is what the wise know to be death," that "what we say in secret is known to him who made our interior nature," that "he who made us is present with us though we are alone."
Is not the human race one, when this Egyptian four thousand years ago, talks of life as Solomon spoke one thousand years after, in Judæa; and as Benjamin Franklin spoke, three thousand years after Solomon, in America?
How much of the doctrine and ritual of Egypt were imported into Judaism by Moses is a question by no means easy to settle. Of Egyptian theology proper, or the doctrine of the gods, we find no trace in the Pentateuch. Instead of the three orders of deities we have Jehovah; instead of the images and pictures of the gods, we have a rigorous prohibition of idolatry; instead of Osiris and Isis, we have a Deity above all worlds and behind all time, with no history, no adventures, no earthly life. But it is perhaps more strange not to find any trace of the doctrine of a future life in Mosaism, when this was so prominent among the Egyptians. Moses gives no account of the judgment of souls after death; he tells nothing of the long journey and multiform experiences of the next life according to the Egyptians, nothing of a future resurrection and return to the body. His severe monotheism was very different from the minute characterization of gods in the Egyptian Pantheon. The personal character of Jehovah, with its awful authority, its stern retribution and impartial justice, was quite another thing from the symbolic ideal type of the gods of Egypt. Nothing of the popular myth of Osiris, Isis, Horus, and Typhon is found in the Pentateuch, nothing of the transmigration of souls, nothing of the worship of animals; nothing of the future life and judgment to come; nothing of the embalming of bodies and ornamenting of tombs. The cherubim among the Jews may resemble the Egyptian Sphinx; the priests' dress in both are of white linen; the Urim and Thummim, symbolic jewels of the priests, are in both; a quasi-hereditary priesthood is in each; and both have a temple worship. But here the parallels cease. Moses left behind Egyptian theology, and took only some hints for his ritual from the Nile.
There may perhaps be a single exception to this statement. According to Brugsch194 and other writers, the Papyrus buried with the mummy contained the doctrine of the Divine unity. The name of God was not given, but instead the words NUK PU NUK, "I am the I am," corresponding to the name given in Exodus iii. 14, Jahveh (in a corrupt form Jehovah). This name, Jahveh, has the same meaning with the Egyptian Nuk pu Nuk, "I am the I am." At least so say Egyptologists. If this is so, the coincidence is certainly very striking.
That some of the ritualism to which the Jews were accustomed in Egypt should have been imported into their new ceremonial, is quite in accordance with human nature. Christianity, also, has taken up many of the customs of heathenism.195 The rite of circumcision was probably adopted by the Jews from the Egyptians, who received it from the natives of Africa. Livingstone has found it among the tribes south of the Zambesi, and thinks this custom there cannot be traced to any Mohammedan source. Prichard believes it, in Egypt, to have been a relic of ancient African customs. It still exists in Ethiopia and Abyssinia. In Egypt it existed far earlier than the time of Abraham, as appears by ancient mummies. Wilkinson affirms it to have been "as early as the fourth dynasty, and probably earlier, long before the time of Abraham." Herodotus tells us that the custom existed from the earliest times among the Egyptians and Ethiopians, and was adopted from them by the Syrians of Palestine. Those who regard this rite as instituted by a Divine command may still believe that it already existed among the Jews, just as baptism existed among them before Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize. Both in Egypt and among the Jews it was connected with a feeling of superiority. The circumcised were distinguished from others by a higher religious position. It is difficult to trace the origin of sentiments so alien to our own ways of thought; but the hygienic explanation seems hardly adequate. It may have been a sign of the devotion of the generative power to the service of God, and have been the first step out of the untamed license of the passions, among the Africans.
It has been supposed that the figure of the Cherubim among the Jews was derived from that of the Sphinx. There were three kinds of Sphinxes in Egypt,—the andro-sphinx, with the head of a man and the body of a lion; the crio-sphinx, with the head of a ram and the body of a lion; and the hieraco-sphinx, with the head of a hawk and a lion's body. The first was a symbol of the union of wisdom and strength. The Sphinx was the solemn sentinel, placed to watch the temple and the tomb, as the Cherubim watched the gates of Paradise after the expulsion of Adam. In the Cherubim were joined portions of the figure of a man with those of the lion, the ox, and the eagle. In the Temple the Cherubim spread their wings above the ark; and Wilkinson gives a picture from the Egyptian tombs of two kneeling figures with wings spread above the scarabæus. The Persians and the Greeks had similar symbolic figures, meant to represent the various powers of these separate creatures combined in one being; but the Hebrew figure was probably imported from Egypt.
The Egyptians had in their temples a special interior sanctuary, more holy than the rest. So the Jews had their Holy of Holies, into which only the high-priest went, separated by a veil from the other parts of the Temple. The Jews were commanded on the Day of Atonement to provide a scapegoat, to carry away the sins of the people, and the high-priest was to lay his hands on the head of the goat and confess the national sins, "putting them upon the head of the goat" (Lev. xvi. 21, 22), and it was said that "the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited." So, among the Egyptians, whenever a victim was offered, a prayer was repeated over its head, "that if any calamity were about to befall either the sacrifices or the land of Egypt, it might be averted on this head."196
Such facts as these make it highly probable that Moses allowed in his ritual many ceremonies borrowed from the Egyptian worship.
That Egyptian Christianity had a great influence on the development of the system of Christian doctrine is not improbable.197 The religion of ancient Egypt was very tenacious and not easily effaced. Successive waves of Syrian, Persian, Greek, and Roman conquest rolled over the land, scarcely producing any change in her religion or worship. Christianity conquered Egypt, but was itself deeply tinged with the faith of the conquered. Many customs found in Christendom may be traced back to Egypt. The Egyptian at his marriage put a gold ring on his wife's finger, as a token that he intrusted her with all his property, just as in the Church of England service the bridegroom does the same, saying, "With all my worldly goods I thee endow." Clemens tells us that this custom was derived by the Christians from the Egyptians. The priests at Philæ threw a piece of gold into the Nile once a year, as the Venetian Doge did into the Adriatic. The Feast of Candles at Sais is still marked in the Christian calendar as Candlemas Day. The Catholic priest shaves his head as the Egyptian priest did before him. The Episcopal minister's linen surplice for reading the Liturgy is taken from the dress of obligation, made of linen, worn by the priest in Egypt. Two thousand years before the Pope assumed to hold the keys, there was an Egyptian priest at Thebes with the title of "Keeper of the two doors of Heaven."198
In the space which we have here at command we are unable to examine the question of doctrinal influences from Egypt upon orthodox Christianity. Four doctrines, however, are stated by the learned Egyptologist, Samuel Sharpe, to be common to Egyptian mythology and church orthodoxy. They are these:—
1. That the creation and government of the world is not the work of one simple and undivided Being, but of one God made up of several persons. This is the doctrine of plural unity.
2. That salvation cannot be expected from the justice or mercy of the Supreme Judge, unless an atoning sacrifice is made to him by a divine being.
3. That among the persons who compose the godhead, one, though a god, could yet suffer pain and be put to death.
4. That a god or man, or a being half god and half a man once lived on earth, born of an earthly mother but without an earthly father.
The gods of Egypt generally appear in triads, and sometimes as three gods in one. The triad of Thebes was Amun-Ra, Athor, and Chonso,—or father, mother, and son. In Nubia it was Pthah, Amun-Ra, and Horus-Ra. At Philæ it was Osiris, Isis, and Horus. Other groups were Isis, Nephthys, and Horus; Isis, Nephthys, and Osiris; Osiris, Athor, and Ra. In later times Horus became the supreme being, and appears united with Ra and Osiris in one figure, holding the two sceptres of Osiris, and having the hawk's head of Horus and the sun of Ra. Eusebius says of this god that he declared himself to be Apollo, Lord, and Bacchus. A porcelain idol worn as a charm combines Pthah the Supreme God of Nature, with Horus the Son-God, and Kneph the Spirit-God. The body is that of Pthah, God of Nature, with the hawk's wings of Horus, and the ram's head of Kneph. It is curious that Isis the mother, with Horus the child in her arms, as the merciful gods who would save their worshippers from the vengeance of Osiris the stern judge, became as popular a worship in Egypt in the time of Augustus, as that of the Virgin and Child is in Italy to-day. Juvenal says that the painters of Rome almost lived by painting the goddess Isis, the Madonna of Egypt, which had been imported into Italy, and which was very popular there.
In the trial of the soul before Osiris, as represented on tablets and papyri, are seen the images of gods interceding as mediators and offering sacrifices on its behalf. There are four of these mediatorial gods, and there is a tablet in the British Museum in which the deceased is shown as placing the gods themselves on the altar as his sin-offering, and pleading their merits.199
The death of Osiris, the supreme god of all Egypt, was a central fact in this mythology. He was killed by Typhon, the Egyptian Satan, and after the fragments of his body had been collected by "the sad Isis," he returned to life as king of the dead and their judge.200
In connection with these facts it is deserving of notice that the doctrine of the trinity and that of the atonement began to take shape in the hands of the Christian theologians of Egypt. The Trinity and its symbols were already familiar to the Egyptian mind. Plutarch says that the Egyptians worshipped Osiris, Isis, and Horus under the form of a triangle. He adds that they considered everything perfect to have three parts, and that therefore their good god made himself threefold, while their god of evil remained single. Egypt, which had exercised so powerful an influence on the old religion of Rome, was destined also greatly to influence Christianity. Alexandria was the head-quarters of learning and profound religious speculations in the first centuries. Clemens, Origen, Dionysius, Athanasius, were eminent teachers in that school. Its doctrines were201 that God had revealed himself to all nations by his Logos, or Word. Christianity is its highest revelation. The common Christian lives by faith, but the more advanced believer has gnosis, or philosophic insight of Christianity as the eternal law of the soul. This doctrine soon substituted speculation in place of the simplicity of early Christianity. The influence of Alexandrian thought was increased by the high culture which prevailed there, and by the book-trade of this Egyptian city. All the oldest manuscripts of the Bible now extant were transcribed by Alexandrian penmen. The oldest versions were made in Alexandria. Finally the intense fervor of the Egyptian mind exercised its natural influence on Christianity, as it did on Judaism and Heathenism. The Oriental speculative element of Egyptian life was reinforced by the African fire; and in Christianity, as before in the old religion, we find both working together. By the side of the Alexandrian speculations on the nature of God and the Trinity appear the maniacal devotion of the monks of the Thebaid. The ardor of belief which had overcome even the tenacity of Judaism, and modified it into its two Egyptian forms of the speculations of Philo and the monastic devotion of the Therapeutæ, reappeared in a like action upon Christian belief and Christian practice. How large a part of our present Christianity is due to these two influences we may not be able to say. But palpable traces of Egyptian speculation appear in the Church doctrines of the Trinity and atonement, and the material resurrection202 of the same particles which constitute the earthly body. And an equally evident influence from Egyptian asceticism is found in the long history of Christian monasticism, no trace of which appears in the New Testament, and no authority for which can be found in any teaching or example of Christ. The mystical theology and mystical devotion of Egypt are yet at work in the Christian Church. But beside the doctrines directly derived from Egypt, there has probably come into Christianity another and more important element from this source. The spirit of a race, a nation, a civilization, a religion is more indestructible than its forms, more pervasive than its opinions, and will exercise an interior influence long after its outward forms have disappeared. The spirit of the Egyptian religion was reverence for the divine mystery of organic life, the worship of God in creation, of unity in variety, of each in all. Through the Christian Church in Egypt, the schools of Alexandria, the monks of the Thebaid, these elements filtered into the mind of Christendom. They gave a materialistic tone to the conceptions of the early Church, concerning God, Satan, the angels and devils, Heaven, Hell, the judgment, and the resurrection. They prevented thereby the triumph of a misty Oriental spiritualism. Too gross indeed in themselves, they yet were better than the Donatism which would have turned every spiritual fact into a ghost or a shadow. The African spirit, in the fiery words of a Tertullian and an Augustine, ran into a materialism, which, opposed to the opposite extreme of idealism, saved to the Church its healthy realism.
The elaborate work of Bunsen on "Egypt's Place in Universal History" does not aid us much in finding the place of Egyptian religion in universal religion. It was strictly an ethnic religion, never dreaming of extending itself beyond the borders of the Nile, until long after the conquest of Egypt by the Romans. Then, indeed, Egyptian temples were welcomed by the large hospitality of Rome, and any traveller may see the ruins of the temple of Serapis203 at Pozzuoli, and that of Isis at Pompeii. The gods of Greece, as we have seen, took some hints from Egypt, but the Greek Olympus, with its bright forms, was very different from the mysterious sombre worship of Egypt.
The worship of variety, the recognition of the Divine in nature, the sentiment of wonder before the mystery of the world, the feeling that the Deity is in all life, in all form, in all change as well as in what is permanent and stable,—this is the best element and the most original part of the Egyptian religion. So much we can learn from it positively; and negatively, by its entire dissolution, its passing away forever, leaving no knowledge of itself behind, we can learn how empty is any system of faith which is based on concealment and mystery. All the vast range of Egyptian wisdom has gone, and disappeared from the surface of the earth, for it was only a religion of the priests, who kept the truth to themselves and did not venture to communicate it to the people. It was only priestcraft, and priestcraft, like all other craft, carries in itself the principle of death. Only truth is immortal,—open, frank, manly truth. Confucius was true; he did not know much, but he told all he knew. Buddha told all he knew. Moses told all he heard. So they and their works continue, being built on faith in men. But the vast fabric of Egyptian wisdom,—its deep theologies, its mysterious symbolism, its majestic art, its wonderful science,—remain only as its mummies remain and as its tombs remain, an enigma exciting and baffling our curiosity, but not adding to our real life.