Religions Of Egypt

Ancient Egypt, Religions Of Egypt

Author: Foot Moore, George
Chapter II

The Middle Kingdom And The Empire

The Rise of Thebes - The Sun as Supreme God - Local Gods -

Identifications - Enneads and Triads - The Dead - Judgment before Osiris -

Moral Ideas - The Empire - Amon-Re the National God - Power of the Priesthood

- Attempt to Establish Solar Monotheism - Reaction - The Nineteenth Dynasty -

Mythology - Theban Tombs and Texts - The Book of the Dead - Amulets - The

Saite Restoration - Foreign Rule.

Under the Sixth Dynasty the power of the kings declined; the governors of

the districts became virtually hereditary rulers and more and more independent

of the central authority. The result was that the Old Kingdom disintegrated,

and Egypt, after a thousand years of union under a strong government, reverted

to the conditions which prevailed before the rise of the kingdom. From the

following centuries royal monuments are lacking, but numerous tombs of

nomarchs and local notables show something of what was going on. Toward the

end of these dim centuries Thebes first appears on the stage of history.

Hitherto it had been an insignificant provincial town; the chief city of the

canton was Hermonthis. But beginning about 2150 B.C. the Intefs and

Mentuhoteps, Manetho's Eleventh Dynasty, laid the foundations of its

greatness. The Twelfth Dynasty, also of Theban origin, reunited Egypt under a

strong rule, and not only extended their dominion in Nubia beyond the utmost

limits of the Old Kingdom, but carried their victorious arms far into Syria.

This recovery of power and prosperity was attended by a brilliant renaissance

of art. In many ways these two centuries of the Middle Kingdom are the

culmination of Egyptian civilization.

The monuments of the Middle Kingdom show that in the intervening period

religion had continued to develop in the direction in which it was moving when

the Old Kingdom fell into decadence. The Heliopolitan solar religion which

had been adopted by the state in the Fifth Dynasty had not gone under with the

state; its doctrines had, on the contrary, gained wider acceptance. Re is now

a universal god, self-originated, the author and ruler of the world; a god, as

every one must see, not alone of higher attributes and greater power than the

tutelary and functional deities, but of a different kind. His supremacy is

due to his nature, not to political circumstances such as might raise the god

of one city to a monarchy among the gods corresponding to the rule of a

dynasty from that city among men. The way had been prepared for Re by Horus,

and in fact Re makes himself heir of the sun-god of the earlier dynasties as

Re-Harakhte, that is, "Re, the Horus of the two Horizons"; but Horus had been

primarily the god of the kings, while Re was a god of priests.

The exaltation of one god, especially of a great power of nature such as

Re, to the supreme place in the pantheon is a step toward monotheism; we shall

see how, in the New Empire, Ikhnaton tried to go the rest of the way and make

an exclusive solar monotheism the religion of Egypt. ^1 But, with the

exception of his unsuccessful attempt, the solar religion was not exclusive;

the theologians were content to let the other gods remain as ministers and

helpers of Re, or as names or forms of the sun-god - an accommodation of

theoretical monotheism to practical polytheism which has been found convenient

in other countries - in the theistic religions of India, for example. This

pantheistic doctrine remained, however, a piece of priestly wisdom in the

possession of "them who know," and had no discoverable consequence in actual

religion even for them.

The increased political importance of the provincial cities, which after

the fall of the Old Kingdom became independent states, gave a correspondingly

increased importance to their gods. The rulers of the cantons erected new

temples to the deities under whose banners they fought with one another or

against their nominal overlords; the same conditions which had developed the

independent city religions in prehistoric Egypt now gave them new vitality.

Under these circumstances the effect of the higher theology was not that the

local god was subordinated to Re, much less superseded by him, but that Re was

identified with the local god, who thus appropriated the universal attributes

and powers of Re. The incongruity of many of these identifications did not

hinder them when once they were in fashion; the crocodile-god of the Fayum has

as little trouble in becoming a sun-crocodile, Sebek-Re, as the ram of Thebes

in becoming Amon-Re, or the ithyphallic idol of Min in being similarly

promoted. Practically, therefore, the whole gain of the higher theology

accrued to the lower religion, making it equally acceptable to the few who

were indoctrinated in the priestly wisdom and to the many to whom the god of

their fathers was good enough without any speculative improvements. In the

end almost every Egyptian god who had a public cult was hyphenated with Re.

Osiris, notwithstanding an inextricable confusion with Re in magical

mystifications from the pyramid texts to the Book of the Dead, is hardly

identified out and out with Re; besides him, Ptah, the old god of Memphis, and

Thoth, the moon-god and vizier of Re, are almost the sole gods who in the end

escape the combination.

From the Heliopolitan priests came also a theogony which put the god of

their city, Atum, at the beginning of all things, and derived from him,

through two intermediate generations, the gods of the Osirian circle as it

appeared in the Delta. This Ennead, which had almost as great success as the

doctrine of Re, is thus constructed:

The scheme, which is already found in the pyramid texts, combines

disparate elements. The first and the last generations are gods in religion

as well as in myth, the two intervening pairs are cosmogonic figures. Geb and

Nut are earth and sky, divine, doubtless, but having in early times no cult.

Shu and Tefnut may have been local deities somewhere in the Delta (they are

sometimes represented as lion-headed), but in this connection are conceived as

gods of the air or of atmospheric space; Shu supports the sky, whether the

latter is imaged as the celestial cow or in human form.

The question how the sky is held aloft, or how it was ever raised up from

the earth, is one which much exercised primitive speculation. In a well-known

Maori myth, heaven and earth, man and woman, lay for ages locked in close

embrace, until the offspring of their union, finding the quarters too close,

after much debate and with mighty effort, thrust their parents apart, and

lifted their father, the sky, into his present place. In Egypt, by an

accident of grammatical gender, sky (Nut) was feminine and earth (Geb)

masculine. In the representations of this myth, which are common in the

monuments, Geb is depicted as a prostrate giant, on whose body, to leave no

doubt of the significance of the figure, grass is often growing, while astride

over Geb's form stands Shu, upholding with his two arms the body of Nut (often

decorated with stars), whose inordinately long arms and legs dangle down to

the horizon, giving her some resemblance to the vault of heaven with its four

supporting columns. The role of Shu in this myth obviously belongs, as in the

New Zealand parallel, to a child of the pair; and from this it is to be

inferred that the myth is independent of the genealogical scheme which now

inconsequently makes Shu the father of Geb and Nut.

In a late magical papyrus, which notwithstanding its date bears intrinsic

marks of antique conception, the place of Atum in the Heliopolitan scheme is

taken by Nun, the primeval watery chaos out of which in certain other myths Re

emerges, and it is at least a plausible surmise that Atum in the Heliopolitan

Ennead was elevated by his priests to the position originally occupied in the

cosmogony by chaos. Furthermore, inasmuch as the obvious motive of the

cosmogonic theogony is to provide a proper ancestry for Osiris and his group,

the conjecture is not remote that the system originated, not in Heliopolis,

where there was no particular reason for interest in the Osirian gods, but at

some other centre of the Delta - perhaps Busiris - where the origin of these

gods was a matter of concern to their worshippers.

In the form which it assumed at Heliopolis the Ennead was adopted and

imitated all over Egypt. But in this instance also the obstinacy of the local

religions asserted itself; each city in accepting the Nine Gods made a place

for its own god in the group, sometimes replacing one of the minor figures,

often usurping the supreme position of Atum. Upon the model of the Great

Ennead, a second group of Nine, the Lesser Ennead, was also fashioned by the

priests of Heliopolis. Only one rival system managed to maintain itself. At

Hermopolis Magna we find Thoth, the god of the district, in his character of

creator, accompanied by four gods and a corresponding number of goddesses,

sometimes represented as four frog-headed men and four women with serpents'

heads, sometimes as eight baboons dancing around Thoth, the principal baboon.

The goddesses in this scheme are plainly supernumerary, introduced in

imitation of the Heliopolitan Nine: the original scheme at Heliopolis knew but

five, Thoth himself, and the deities of the four corners of the earth, or

rather of the supports of heaven at the four corners of the earth.

Besides these artificial constructions of theologians and their

imitators, the gods form natural family groups. In the commonest type, the

chief god of a canton has a wife and a son, who are associated with him in

worship as subordinate figures. The spouse is often a goddess whose seat was

in another town in the district or in the capital of a neighboring nome, and

the son is borrowed in a similar way. Thus, Amon of Thebes makes Montu (who,

as the god of the older capital, Hermonthis, had been the god of the canton

while Amon was still a local nobody), his son, thus emphasizing Amon's newly

established superiority; Amon's consort is Mut, a vulture goddess, who was by

that sign identified with Nekhebt, the goddess of the original capital of

Upper Egypt, Eleithyiapolis. Another name is Amont, a deity created by the

simple device of adding a feminine ending to Amon. In his character of

sun-god, Amon-Re, however, took the moon god, Khonsu, as his son, and Montu

was thus supplanted. If the cantonal deity was a goddess, she took a husband

from among the neighboring gods, but in her own temple kept him in a position

of masculine subordination. An unnecessary deal of nonsense has been written

about these groups of three gods, on which the question-begging name "Egyptian

Trinities" has been bestowed. They have not even a mythological significance,

much less a metaphysical.

The greater independence of the provincial cities was evidently

accompanied by greater prosperity. Whereas under the Old Kingdom the wealth

of all Egypt was drawn off to the capital, the residence of the court and the

high officials, where even the governors of distant corners of the kingdom

were buried, now the cities in the provinces themselves grew rich from

agriculture and trade. One of the results of these political and economic

changes was the rise of a well-to-do middle class, who, after the manner of

middle classes in all the world, conformed as far as they could to the customs

and fashions of the nobility. Accordingly, we now find tombs not only of the

lords and lordlings of the district, but of prosperous tradesmen and artisans;

and since the tombs even of the rich were now much less luxurious than in the

days of the Old Kingdom, even people of moderate means could provide

themselves with respectable burial-places. The rulers of the nomes, indeed,

perpetuated the old style of tombs with numerous chambers, on the walls of

which the possessions of the deceased were represented; but the common form

was a small brick pyramid, before which, in the place of the old false door,

is a stela inscribed with the name of the occupant, and often bearing a relief

showing him surrounded by his family at the funeral feast.

In the burial-chamber are usually models of houses and granaries, and

clay figures of servants kneading bricks, carrying sacks of grain, grinding

meal, baking bread, brewing beer, and preparing dinner; also models of boats

and their crews. Similar figures and scenes painted on the wooden coffin may

take the place of the pottery figurines. All this makes it evident that the

old beliefs about the continued existence of the dead in the tomb and their

needs persisted. As a substitute for an offering of real bread and beer,

haunches of beef, and roast geese, stone imitations of these viands cut in low

relief on the surface of the table of offerings are common. By a form of

words they were supposed to be transubstantiated into digestible food, or

provisions corresponding to those thus represented were conveyed by Anubis or

Osiris to the deceased. By this device the danger that through the neglect of

his descendants or the dying out of the family the dead man might be left

without sustenance was averted. It was only necessary that the passer-by

should recite the formula to procure for the dead man "a thousand loaves, a

thousand jars of beer, a thousand roast geese," and to this pious service the

inscription summons all who read it "as they love life and hate death."

The assistance of the gods is hardly necessary to enable the occupant of

the tomb to eat what is set before him on his own table; their offices are

required to make the offerings at the tomb of use to the dead in the

underworld. Thus the old customs were made to fit into another circle of

ideas and serve a second purpose. The instance is characteristic of the

propensity of the Egyptians to put new patches on the old garment, oblivious

of the ensuing rents.

The beliefs about the abodes and destinies of souls became more confused

also through the appropriation by ordinary mortals of hopes and prospects

which were originally confined to the king. In the texts which were now

written on the inside of coffins, passages borrowed from the inscriptions in

the pyramids appear side by side with new pieces of similar intent but of more

general application, the beginnings of the heterogeneous aggregation to which

the name Book of the Dead is given. Among these are many for the protection

of the dead on his perilous way to the other world, on which he is beset by

many fearful and monstrous enemies against whom he can defend himself only by

the use of magical formulas or rites. One of the most effective means is to

identify himself with some god, especially one of the great gods of light, who

has safely passed through the same perils. The god of the city also is

frequently invoked to protect his faithful worshipper.

At the same time moral conditions of future blessedness become more

prominent. Many inscriptions, particularly on the tombs of the nobles or

officials, proclaim their uprightness, justice, humanity, and goodness toward

those under their authority or dependent upon them. The conception of a

formal judgment of the dead is completely developed. In the old myth of

Osiris his implacable enemy Set, pursuing him even beyond the tomb, brings

grave charges against him, of which the god Thoth vindicates him. ^1 After

this example every man now desires to be justified as Osiris was, and to hear

the favorable sentence which declares him "true of speech." In the Book of

the Dead ^1 the judgment scene is not only described in words, but is often

portrayed in an accompanying picture. The trial takes place before Osiris,

the king of the dead. The deceased is led by Anubis into a great hall, around

the sides of which are seated the forty-two associate justices of this great

court. ^2 In the presence of this august court the man protests his innocence

of sins against gods and men. To determine whether his protestation of

innocence is true or not, his heart, witness of all his words and deeds, is

weighed by Anubis in a balance against an ostrich-feather, the symbol of Maat,

the goddess of right and truth, while Thoth, with tablet and stylus, as clerk

of the court, records the issue. Thereupon Horus conducts the justified man

into the inner shrine, where Osiris, with scepter and scourge in his hands, is

seated upon his throne. What would happen if the trial resulted unfavorably

is impressively suggested by a monster with the body of a hippopotamus and the

head and jaws of a crocodile which squats beside the scales with open mouth.

The name of this monster is "Devouress." She "lives on the entrails of the

great on the day of the great reckoning."

The protestation of innocence, in one form, runs thus:

Hail to thee, great god, lord of truth. I have come to thee, my lord,

and am led hither to see thy beauty. I know thy name; I know the names of the

forty-two gods who are with thee in the hall of truth, who live on evil-doers

and devour their blood on the day of reckoning of character before Wennofre

(Osiris). Behold, I come to thee; I bring to thee righteousness and I expel

for thee sin. I have committed no sin against people. . . . I have not done

evil in the place of truth. I knew no wrong. I did no evil thing. . . . I

did not do what the god abominates. I did not report evil of a servant to his

master. I allowed no one to hunger. I caused no one to weep. I did no

murder. I did not command to murder. I caused no man misery. I did not

diminish the food in the temples. I did not decrease the offerings of the

gods. I did not take away the food-offerings of the dead. I did not commit

adultery. I did not pollute myself in the pure precinct of my city god. I

did not diminish the grain measure. I did not diminish the span. I did not

diminish the land measure. I did not load the weight of the balances. I did

not deflect the index of the scales. I did not take milk from the mouth of

the child. I did not drive the cattle away from their pasturage. I did not

snare the fowl of the gods. I did not catch the fish in their pools. I did

not hold back the water in its time. I did not dam up the running water. I

did not quench the fire in its time. I did not withhold the herds of the

temple endowments. I did not interfere with the god in his payments. I am

purified four times; I am as pure as the great Phoenix is pure which is in

Heracleopolis. . . .

There arises no evil thing against me in this land, in the hall of truth,

because I know the names of these gods who are therein, the followers of the

great god.

In another version of the protestation, which is found as a doublet in

the completer recensions of the Book of the Dead, the sins are with some

difficulty made to count forty-two, and the names of the forty-two assessors

which the dead man professes to know are enumerated. Among them are such

terrifying compounds as "Bone-Breaker from Heracleopolis," "Fiery-Eyes from

Letopolis," "White-Teeth from the Hidden Land," "Devourer of Bowels,"

"Blood-Eater." It is no less necessary to be able to recite these names

correctly than to be free from sin; and lest the unfortunate should forget

them, or be unable to connect them with their several owners, the likenesses

of the infernal judges are commonly depicted in the copies of the Book of the

Dead which were laid in the coffin, distinctly labeled with their names.

These professions of rectitude exemplify the moral side of Egyptian

religion. As is natural, in view of the religious character of the judgment,

offences against the gods, especially trespass upon their rights of property,

and wrongs done to men, are not discriminated. Among the latter are murder,

theft, oppression, adultery, lying, fraud, false witness, slander, abusive

speech, and tale-bearing. Like the second table of the Mosaic Decalogue,

these are elementary things, against which even savage society reacts in

self-defense, and by no means indicate a particularly advanced morality. Nor

is it a mark of signal progress that the customary morals of the community are

put under the sanction of religion - that also is common among peoples on a

much lower level of civilization. What is noteworthy is the extension of the

divine sanction of morals over the future life; for this is by no means so

inevitable as it might appear to us. Nothing of the kind seems to have taken

place in the religion of Babylonia and Assyria, nor in that of China; and in

Israel, notwithstanding the strongly ethical character of the religion and the

large development of the idea of divine retribution, the belief that men's lot

after death is determined by their conduct in this life came very late and not

without foreign stimulus.

While the conceptions of what awaits man after death thus took more

definite shape in the Osirian doctrine - and perhaps in natural reaction from

them - skeptical voices begin to be heard. ^1 From that world about which

priests profess to know so much no traveler has returned; the famous kings

and sages of olden time are dead and gone, only their names remain; we are

following them to the grave; let us make the most of our brief span on earth,

denying ourselves no pleasure it affords. Such is the refrain of the Song of

the Harper at the Feast, one of the best-known poems of the Middle Kingdom.

What gives it more significance is the fact that it is not the utterance of a

solitary pessimist, but of a court poet, enlivening the guests at the banquet

with the Egyptian version of "let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."

Several interesting writings from the time of the Middle Kingdom exhibit

the moral principles of members of the ruling class or throw light on the

moral conditions of the age. The Wisdom of Ptahhotep is in the form of

instructions delivered by an aged vizier to his son and designated successor.

The instructions are chiefly counsels for the deportment of a minister in

official and private relations. He should be upright, just, true, discreet,

moderate, knowing how to assert his own dignity without arrogance; warning is

given against avarice and the pride of possessions; vices are to be shunned,

but the wise man will not deny himself the enjoyment of life nor make it

bitter with vain regrets. If the son will follow this wholesome advice and

the example of his father, it will go well with him. In an Instruction for a

Minister, purporting to be delivered by a king to a vizier at his

installation, the vizier is enjoined to deal justly and impartially with all,

not favoring his own kin nor showing respect of persons to princes and

counselors. A story with an evident moral, called The Peasants' Appeal,

tells how a poor man who had been unjustly treated by underlings, and even by

the high steward, gets redress from the Pharaoh himself.

Other texts are filled with loud complaints of the degeneracy of the age

- "righteousness is cast out, iniquity is in the midst of the council hall";

society is thoroughly corrupt. A very interesting papyrus, The Prophecies of

an Egyptian Sage, paints in even darker colors the universal demoralization

and disorders of the age, aggravated as they were by foreign invasion. The

only imaginable remedy for these ills is a wise and good king, and the author

depicts such an ideal ruler, "the shepherd of all the people, who has no evil

in his heart," in a strain in which a resemblance has been seen to the

Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, though the Egyptian parallel has no

distinctly predictive element.

Chapter III: Part I


The two glorious centuries of the Twelfth Dynasty were followed by a

decline more swift and a fall more deep than those of the Old Kingdom. The

long lists of ephemeral rulers which are the sum of our knowledge of this dark

age show only that legitimate and orderly succession was the exception;

pretenders and usurpers mounted the throne, only to be supplanted by fresh

conspiracies and revolutions. Reduced to impotence by these internal

disorders, the unhappy country could present no effective opposition to the

foreign invasion which was not long in coming. The Hyksos kings, at the head

of hordes of Asiatic, poured into the Delta, and in a few years reduced to

subjection not only Lower Egypt, but the whole valley of the Nile to a point

south of Thebes. In the early stages of the invasion the cities and temples,

particularly in the Delta, doubtless suffered many outrages at the hands of

the conquerors, but the later kings of the line were at least superficially

Egyptianised; they adopted the old royal titles and gave themselves Re names

like their native predecessors. Their principal god was identified - whether

by themselves or by their subjects - with the old Egyptian god Set, who, as

the foe of Horus and Osiris, seemed the natural god of the barbarian enemies

of Egypt, and temples to this god were erected by Hyksos kings at Tanis and at

Avaris, their great fortified camp on the eastern frontier.

Who these invaders were is an unsolved problem. It is certain, however,

that they entered Egypt from the side of Syria, and when they were driven out

they made a strong stand at Sharuhen, in the south of what was afterward the

territory of Judah. It is probable that Kadesh, the objective of several of

the campaigns of Thothmes III, was in his time the centre of their power.

These facts, as well as the names of some of the kings, support the testimony

of Manetho that the invaders, or at least the dominant element among them,

were Semites.

The duration of their supremacy in Egypt, notwithstanding the large

figures given by Manetho, can hardly have exceeded a century or two, and in

the latter part of this time their hold on Upper Egypt must have become less

firm. At Thebes a family of local dynasts ruled the city, probably at first

as vassals of the Hyksos, and gradually extended their power over Upper Egypt,

being reckoned by Manetho as the Seventeenth Dynasty of Egyptian kings. About

1580 Ahmose I, the founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty, after a severe struggle,

captured the last stronghold of Hyksos at Avaris and expelled them finally

from Egypt. He followed them into Syria, and took Sharuhen after a siege of

six years. At the other extremity of Egypt he recovered from the Nubians the

territory between the first and second cataracts, and thus re-established the

kingdom within its old limits.

The empire which Ahmose I founded was extended by his successors, the

Amenhoteps and Thutmoses, far into Nubia on the one side, while on the other

it included all Syria to the Euphrates and the Amanus. These conquests

brought to Egypt, as the booty of war and as tribute, enormous riches and

great multitudes of captives; commercial expeditions, especially to Punt

(southern Arabia), contributed to the growing wealth and luxury. In little

more than a century Egypt, which had been reduced by internal disorder and

foreign invasion to complete impotence, reached the highest pitch of its

greatness. The state was an absolute monarchy with a strongly centralized

administration; the princes and counts who in the break-up of the Middle

Kingdom and the turbulent times that followed had made themselves virtually

independent lordlings were deprived of all power; the landed nobility

disappeared, and a great part of the land was now crown domain. The long wars

of liberation and conquest gave the monarchy a military character unlike

anything the temperamentally unwarlike Egyptians had ever known; the

introduction of the horse and the prominent part the chariot force now played

in the battle, the employment of numbers of foreign mercenaries, created a

professional army which overshadowed the old national levies.

Nowhere is the new order of things more noticeable than in religion. The

capital of the empire was Thebes; under the banner of the Theban Amon-Re the

kings drove out the Hyksos and conquered Syria; to him they erected temples in

their Asiatic provinces. As the god of the Egyptians in their wars against

foreigners in every quarter and of every color, Amon became the national god

in quite a different sense from that in which the Heliopolitan theology had

made Re a national god; as Amon-Re he was supreme by a double title.

Out of the spoils of war and the revenues of the state the kings of the

Eighteenth Dynasty built him temples of size and splendor hitherto unheard

of, and enriched them by enormous gifts and endowments. A large part of the

captives of war were dedicated as slaves of the god; great estates with all

their serfs were settled upon the temples. The priesthood now for the first

time became a numerous and powerful class. The chief priest of Amon was the

head of the state religion, with authority over all the other priesthoods, and

these great ecclesiastics sometimes filled high offices in the state.

Amenhotep III had one chief priest of Amon for treasurer and another for

vizier. Before the sun of Amon all the other gods began to pale; only Ptah of

Memphis and Re of Heliopolis, who shared with him in smaller measure the

favor of the kings, retained something of their old prestige.

This was the situation when Amenhotep IV (1375-58 B.C.) made his

revolutionary attempt to dethrone the mighty Amon and establish the worship of

Aton as the sole religion of the state. The change meant much more than a

monarch's capricious preference for one cult above another, such as

Elagabalus' devotion to the sun-god of Emesa; it was a serious effort to

introduce a higher monotheism. It has been noted above that the Heliopolitan

priesthood had exalted Re as creator and ruler of the world to a place far

above all the gods, but that they had compromised the monotheistic principle

of their own theology by recognizing the many deities as the One under other

names, so that the practical result of the acceptance of the doctrine had been

to confer on every god the attributes and power of Re. Yet the conception of

the unity of god, in vaguely pantheistic form, was firmly fixed in the

religious philosophy of the Egyptians. The priests of Memphis called this god

Ptah; at Heliopolis he was, as of old, Re; at Thebes, Amon - in truth he is

"the god of innumerable names."

Among these names is one which, though ancient, had never gained wide

currency - Aton, the solar orb, or disc, visible in the sky. As the divine

sun, he is closely akin to Re, but he had not, like Re, been fused with

terrestrial gods of various beastly shapes nor represented in human form, and

by its freedom from such associations his name was a fit symbol for God in a

purer solar monotheism. Where this movement began is not certainly known;

there is some reason to think that it was at Heliopolis, where Amenhotep IV

built a temple to Aton. The fact that Amenhotep III named a pleasure barge in

his artificial lake "Aton gleams" and had a company of Aton in his body-guard

shows that the god - and presumably the doctrine - was known in Thebes before

the reformation.

In the early part of his reign, Amenhotep IV began the erection of a

stately temple to Aton in Thebes, between the temples of Karnak and Luxor, on

grounds which his father had laid out as a garden of Amon. Thebes, Amon's

city, had to hear itself officially renamed "City of the Brightness of Aton,"

and the quarter in which Amon's great temples lay "Brightness of Aton the

Great." The proud and powerful priesthood of Amon is not likely to have looked

with complacency on this exaltation of the upstart god, and still less on the

diversion of the streams of treasure they had been wont to see pour into their

coffers. But there was worse to follow. Not long after the completion of the

temple of Aton, the king ousted the priesthoods from the temples throughout

the land, suppressing the public worship and effacing the names of the gods

wherever they occurred in inscriptions; the very word "gods" was treated in

the same way. Amon was pursued with peculiar vindictiveness not only in the

temples, but in the cemeteries. The monuments of the king's ancestors, and

even those of his own father, were mutilated to destroy the obnoxious word. ^1

The king's own name was the same as his father's, Amenhotep, "Amon rests"; he

changed it to Ikhnaton, "Spirit of Aton."

But, after all, Thebes was Amon's city. The silent temples on whose

walls the king's forefathers were worshipping Amon or conquering an empire in

his might, the obelisks commemorating their jubilees, their tombs across the

valley, all proclaimed him; every brutal scar on a historic monument cried out

his name. There must have been other things to make Thebes an unpleasant

residence for the iconoclastic king. An obsequious court might change its

religion at the royal pleasure, but the people must have seen with sullen

discontent, if not with open protest, the sacrilegious outrages perpetrated on

the gods and the temples; and the priests were there to fan the flame.

It is easy to imagine, therefore, why Amenhotep formed the plan of

removing the capital from Thebes. Nearly three hundred miles farther north,

on an unoccupied site, he founded a new city, Akhetaton, "Horizon of Aton."

Three temples of Aton were erected there, besides magnificent palaces and

government buildings. The court and officials built them residences in the

new capital, a flourishing city sprang into existence as by magic, and tombs

were hewn in the eastern cliff for the kings and the nobles - a city of the

dead. Ikhnaton also ordered temples of Aton to be built not only at

Heliopolis, but in remoter parts of his empire, in upper Nubia and in Syria.

The great temple of Aton differed from the ordinary type of Egyptian

temples chiefly in having no cella for the image of the god. Instead of this

there were behind the hypo-style hall two large halls or courts, surrounded by

small chambers and having an altar in the middle. In these the more solemn

rites of worship took place, while the great altar in the fore court received

the common sacrifices, which consisted, as in other temples, of the flesh of

bullocks, geese, and the like, in great quantities.

In various scenes Aton is represented by a disc from which long rays

issue, each ending in a hand; in one of these the common symbol of life, the

Ankh, is held out to the king.

The teaching of the new religion, which Ikhnaton professes to have

received by revelation from his father Re, is best learned from the great hymn

to Aton, which is notable not only for its nobility of conception, but for its

poetic beauty. ^1

What is remarkable in this hymn is not its recognition of one god as

creator and ruler - the hymns to Amon do the same, and in very similar phrase;

it is, in fact, not so much in what it says as in what it does not say that it

differs most widely from even the highest utterances of the orthodox Egyptian

religion. There are no references to the ancient solar myths, such as the

combat of the sun with the dragon monster, to his voyage in his morning and

evening barks, to his ancient and magical names. Not the fabulous adventures

of an anthropomorphic sun god, but the beneficent works of the divine sun,

move the poet's admiration and gratitude. The realism of the art which

Ikhnaton fostered is a product of the same disposition to see things as they

are. Besides this expurgation of the mythical and conventional, there is a

strikingly universal strain in the hymn. The Syrians and the Ethiopians are

not only creatures of God, but are subjects of his providential care; men's

speech and their color are diverse as God has appointed. Of the theological

chauvinism which makes a national god out of a universal one there is no


Even more significant is the disappearance from the tombs of the whole

Osirian eschatology, mythical and magical, and, indeed, of all those fantastic

notions of the hereafter which had so much exercised the Egyptians through all

their history. The deceased prays to the sun to grant the certainty of

beholding him, and to refresh him with the breath of the north wind; the

scarab bears a prayer to Aton, and the pyramid amulet is inscribed with his

name and symbol.

All this seems to many scholars so strange that they think it necessary

to look abroad for the source of these ideas. A favorite theory with them

has been that the religion of Aton was introduced from Syria. It seemed for a

time to be made out that the queen mother, Tiy, who had great influence over

her son, and Nefertiti, his wife, were Syrian princesses; the name Aton

suggested to etymologists by sound the Canaanite Adon. These combinations

have proved to be mistaken; the discovery of the tomb of Tiy showed that she

was a native Egyptian, a woman of the people. But the fatal objection to the

theory, before as after these discoveries, is that there is no trace of such a

solar monotheism in Syria. On the other hand, it was the logical end of

Egyptian theological thinking and of Amenophis' own career. In his first

years he built temples to the sun-god Re-Harakhte at Thebes, Memphis,

Heliopolis, and other cities. When Aton first appears it is under the title,

"Harakhte who triumphs in the horizon in his name 'Splendor who is Aton'"

(the disc of the sun). What is really strange is not the monotheism, but the

exclusive turn Amenophis gave it and his determination to make it the sole

religion in his dominions.

Whatever the actuating motives may have been, the sincerity of the king's

conviction can as little be questioned as the logical consistency of his

action. He made, at a cost greater than he could foresee, the attempt to

reform the religion of his country by putting into effect its highest

conceptions, and by rejecting the incongruous survivals of its barbarous

beginnings which choked these ideas and rendered them unfruitful. We cannot

but be reminded of the like attempt of Josiah to make monotheism the religion

of Judah in reality as well as in prophetic doctrine by casting out all

foreign gods and destroying the high places. The event, too, was not

dissimilar: no sooner was the strong hand of the royal reformer withdrawn than

his reforms were engulfed in a flood-tide of reaction.

While Amenhotep was building temples and arranging ceremonies and

composing hymns in honor of Aton, the Asiatic provinces of the empire, the

conquests of his great forefathers, were slipping from his grasp. The letters

and dispatches from Syria found in the archives of the new capital (called the

El-Amarna letters, from the modern name of the place) contain urgent appeals

to the Pharaoh to come to the rescue of his hard-pressed governors and loyal

vassals, but these appeals remained unheeded. It is evident from the records

of Harmheb's reign that internal affairs had also suffered from the same

preoccupation. An absolute ruler cannot give his whole mind to religion

without neglecting more vital concerns of the state. We hear of no serious

disorders, however, so long as he lived, though the sequel shows that

disaffection must have been wide-spread.

Amenophis IV died about 1358, after a reign of seventeen years or more.

He had no son, and was succeeded by the husband of his eldest daughter, who

was soon followed by another son-in-law, Tutenkhaton ("Living Image of Aton").

The turn things were taking is shown by the fact that Tutenkhaton transferred

the capital back to Thebes, and not only permitted the resumption of the

worship of Amon, but restored the temples and himself conducted the great

festival of the god at Karnak and Luxor; it was not long before he changed his

own name to Tutenkhamon. The reaction was in full swing. The name of Amon

was restored in the inscriptions which Amenophis had mutilated. Tutenkhamon's

successor, Eye, who seems to have had no better title to the throne than that

he was the husband of Amenophis' nurse, was the last of the heretic kings.

After a brief period of anarchy, Harmheb, the commander-in-chief of the army,

with the support of the military and the priesthood of Amon, proclaimed himself

king. When he had re-established order with a hard hand, his first concern

was to restore the temples throughout the land, replace the images according

to the old pattern, furnish the shrines with the vessels of silver and gold

for use in worship, provide them with priests, assign them the materials for

offerings, and endow them with lands and cattle. The work of restoring the

names of the gods in the mutilated inscriptions was completed; every mark of

Amenophis' iconoclastic fury was as far as possible effaced. The temples of

Aton at Thebes were razed, and the stones used to build two pylons for Amon.

At the abandoned capital, Akhetaton, the temples and tombs were ruined;

everywhere the name of the Ikhnaton was obliterated, and when it was necessary

in legal proceedings to cite enactments or documents of his reign, he was

referred to as "that criminal of Akhetaton." Amon-Re was avenged. His priests

in their hymns exulted over the fallen foe of the god: "Woe to him who injures

thee! Thy city endures, but the city of him who injures thee has perished.

Shame upon him who commits sacrilege against thee in any land. . . . The sun

of him who knew thee not has set; but he who knows thee, he shines; the

sanctuary of him who injured thee lies in darkness, and the whole earth is in


The reform that fails always leaves things worse than they were; and

especially a reform put through by force provokes a more violent reaction,

which is carried by its own momentum farther than its first leaders foresee or

desire. So it was with Amenophis' reforms. From the time when the old

religion was triumphantly reinstated, its face was turned backward, and the

only visible progress it made for a thousand years was in reviving ancient

superstitions and inventing new ones.

The kings of the Nineteenth Dynasty who followed Harmheb endeavored to

reconquer the Asiatic provinces which had been lost under Amenophis IV and in

the disorders that followed his death. Seti and Rameses II had little

difficulty in recovering Palestine and southern Syria, but the new Hittite

power which had arisen in the north barred their way in that direction. After

a series of campaigns extending over some fifteen years, which,

notwithstanding the boasts of conquest in the inscriptions, do not seem to

have permanently advanced the Egyptian frontier much beyond Beirut and the

southern end of the Bika', a treaty of alliance was contracted between the two

states. These wars, like those of the great kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty,

were conducted under the banner of Amon-Re as the national god, and again, as

in the earlier conquests, a great part of the spoils was bestowed on his

temples. Rameses II removed the residence from Thebes to Tanis, in the Delta,

for its greater convenience as a base for his Syrian enterprises, but the city

of Amon was not neglected; to say nothing of other buildings, such as the

enlargement of the Luxor temples, the great hall of columns at Karnak

surpasses all that his predecessors had done. Nor were the other gods

forgotten; everywhere Rameses enlarged, rebuilt, or beautified their temples,

so that there are few temples remaining in Egypt on which his name does not


Great additions were also made to the wealth of the temples by occasional

gifts and by endowments. It was the theory of the state religion that the

temples were royal sanctuaries where the king worshipped the god; in the

scenes on the temple walls depicting religious rites the king is always the

central figure. The successors of Rameses continued to lavish treasure upon

the temples, and as their possessions were exempt from taxation they became

enormously rich. From the figures given in the Harris Papyrus it appears that

under one of the later kings of the dynasty three-quarters of a million acres,

nearly one-seventh of all the land of Egypt, was church property, and the

temples held among them 107,000 slaves, besides enormous herds of cattle. By

far the greater part of these riches belonged to three gods, Amon of Thebes,

Ptah of Memphis, and Re of Heliopolis; Amon alone held 583,000 acres of land

and 420,000 cattle, large and small. The office of high priest of Amon, the

head of all the priesthoods of the land, had now become hereditary. He

maintained a body of troops, and altogether wielded a power which even the

strongest king could not with impunity defy. Under the Twentieth Dynasty the

Theban high priest, Hrihor, who had long been the real ruler of Egypt, boldly

set aside the fiction of ruling for the Ramessid king and seated himself upon

the throne (about 1090).

Chapter III: Part II

The more completely the worship in the temples became the business of the

rulers and the priests, in which the people had no part except as spectators,

the more the common man turned to gods who had no place in the state cult -

such figures as the bandy-legged dwarf, Bes, or the she-hippopotamus Thoueris,

to Onuris and Nefertem, and the wise Imhotep. Many foreign gods also appear in

this age; soldiers and captives introduced the Syrian deities Baal and

Resheph, Anat and Astarte.

There is no doubt that the Egyptians had a large store of myths about

both the local deities and the great nature gods; the liturgies are larded

with allusions to such stories. Among the few specimens that have been

preserved, chiefly in texts from the time of the Empire or later, the most

interesting are that which tells how Isis learned the secret name of Re, and

the myth of the destruction of mankind. Isis was an adept in the magical

arts, but her most potent spell was the hidden name of Re, and this is how she

got the secret from him: Re was drooling with age, his slaver trickled to the

ground; Isis kneaded earth with it and made a viper, which she laid in the

path where Re went out to walk; the viper smote Re as he passed attended by a

train of gods, and he cried out in pain. To the concerned inquiry of his

companions he at length replies: "I am a prince and son of a prince, the

divine offspring of a god; I am a great one and the son of a great one. My

father and my mother told me my name, and it has remained hidden in my body

since my birth, that no magician might gain magical power over me. I went

abroad to behold what I had made, and passed through the two lands (Upper and

Lower Egypt) that I had created. Then something stung me, I know not what.

Fire it is not, water it is not; my heart is burning, my body shivers, and all

my limbs tremble."

All the gods are summoned, and among them comes Isis, with well-feigned

solicitude. "What is it? what is it, divine father? A reptile has hurt

thee, one of thy children has lifted up its head against thee. It shall yield

to a potent charm; I will overthrow it by powerful magic." Re repeats the

story, and Isis rejoins: "Tell me thy name, O divine father, for the man's

life is saved who is called by his (true, but secret) name." Re recites a

string of mouth-filling titles such as abound in the ritual, concluding: "I am

Khepre in the morning and Re at noon and Atum in the evening" - an old

priestly formula - but it did no good. "That is not thy name," Isis says;

"tell me thy true name, that the poison may leave thee." At last Re yields,

and by its magical virtue she restores him to health.

This is what may be called a professional myth; the enchanter who has

learned from Isis to heal ailments by the magic power of names explains how

Isis came to know the greatest of all.

The myth of the destruction of men belongs to a different class, of which

the widely distributed deluge myths are the best known. ^1 Re has grown old

and feeble, and his authority is despised; men conspire against him, as might

happen to a Pharaoh who had outlived himself. Re summons the gods to a

council, and on the advice of Nun sends the fierce lion-headed goddess Sekhmet

to pursue men into the mountain fastnesses whither they have fled and destroy

them. The goddess descends to earth, and executes her mission with such

good-will that the whole valley swims with blood, and Re, fearing that the

human race will be exterminated, repents of his command. It was not so easy

to call off the lioness who had tasted blood, but Re found a way. A mixture

of beer with the juice of (narcotic?) fruit and human blood was prepared -

seven thousand jars full - and poured out in the early dawn upon the fields.

Sekhmet, sallying forth to resume her work of slaughter, found these pools of

blood as she thought and drank till she was too far gone to recognize men any

more; so the remnant was saved. But Re was weary of the thankless task of

ruling the world, and, after appointing Thoth his viceroy on earth, retired to

rest on the back of the sky-cow in the heavens.

The myth of Osiris is known to us most fully through Plutarch, but

innumerable allusions in texts from all ages show that the story is very old.

The actors are the four deities who constitute the last generation of the

Heliopolitan Ennead, Osiris and Isis, Set and Nephthys. Osiris was a wise and

good king, who taught the Egyptians agriculture and gave them laws - the

founder of Egyptian civilization. His brother Set plotted his destruction,

and accomplished it by an ingenious trick. At a feast he produced a beautiful

and richly decorated chest which he had had made exactly to the measures of

Osiris, offering to present it to any one whom it should fit; one after

another tried it, until at last Osiris laid himself in it. ^1 Thereupon Set

and his accomplices clapped on the cover, fastened it securely, and threw the

chest into the Tanitic arm of the Nile. Isis fled to a retreat in the marshes,

where she gave birth to a son, Horus. Leaving him there, Isis set forth in

quest of Osiris' body, and found it at last at Byblos, in Phoenicia, whither

the current had borne the coffin. She brought it back to Egypt and concealed

it; but while she was gone to Buto to see her son Horus, Set, hunting by

moonlight, discovered the coffin, and vented his hatred on the dead body by

rending it limb from limb and scattering the members far and wide. Isis

sought them out, and buried them wherever she found them - the backbone, for

example, at Buto, the head at Abydos - and each of these places became a seat

of Osiris worship. When Horus grew up he took it upon him to avenge his

father, and engaged in a fierce conflict with his uncle, in which he had one

eye torn out and Set was emasculated. Finally Thoth parted the combatants and

healed their wounds. Set had to own himself beaten, and Horus ascended the

throne of his ancestor, Geb, and ruled on earth, while his father Osiris

became king of the dead.

From the time when Rameses II removed his capital to Tanis, in the Delta,

Thebes was never again permanently the residence of the kings; but it was

still the religious capital, and there the rulers were buried. The kings of

the Eighteenth Dynasty cut their tombs in the face of the cliffs in a narrow

lateral valley. Long galleries, here and there opening out into chambers,

were drifted far into the solid rock; at the farther end was the "golden

house," in which the stone sarcophagus laid. The walls of the galleries and

chambers were covered with religious texts, pictorially illustrated, dealing

with the other world, and the same texts were also painted on coffins. The

longest of these is Amduat, the "Book of Him Who is in the Under-World," which

has for its subject the nocturnal voyage of the sun, from his setting behind

the mountains in the west to his reappearance in the east. In this voyage he

passes through twelve regions, or districts (corresponding to the twelve hours

of the night), which lie strung out along the course of a river on which the

god in his barge passes from town to town, ordering their affairs and

bestowing feoffs on his companions, just as the Pharaoh did when he made a

royal progress on the Nile. The regions of the other world are peopled with

gods and demons, and with the dead; over each a deity presides. Numerous gods

accompany the sun in his barge or convoy him on his way. At the end of the

journey the boat is dragged through a serpent six hundred yards long, and when

he emerges from the jaws of the serpent the sun is the beetle Khepre, the god

of the morning sun. Then the sun god seats himself in his morning barge and

ascends the sky.

The composite origin of this picture of the other world is obvious. The

regions traversed in the fourth and fifth hours are the gloomy realm of Sokar,

the old Memphite god of the dead, which has a character altogether its own.

The country is a sandy desert, full of reptiles; there is no water for Re's

boat, and he continues his journey on the back of a long serpent or

serpent-shaped sledge drawn by four gods. It is so dark that he cannot see

the inhabitants of the land, but at length he emerges through a narrow passage

or tunnel, "the road by which the body of Sokar entered," i. e., through the

mound of sand in which Sokar is buried. Evidently a piece of the local

eschatology of Memphis is here preserved. The following regions, from the

sixth hour on, are lands of Osiris, but of an Osiris who is not so far removed

from Sokar; the inhabitants are called "those who are upon their sands," as in

Sokar's realm. All these are dead, gods as well as men. Re sees the mounds

of sand under which are buried not only the bodies of Shu and Tefnut, but of

Atum, Re, and Khepre; he sees also the house of Osiris, in which are the

mummies of kings of Upper and Lower Egypt, as well as of private persons well

provided with offerings. In another place vengeance is taken on the enemies

of Osiris, who lie beheaded or bound before the "flesh" (the dead body) of the

god. In the eleventh hour there are fiery furnaces in which the enemies of

Osiris are consumed, soul, shadow, and head, under the direction of goddesses

in full amour, belching flames, and there are other like tortures - it is a

corner of hell. Another Osirian realm is traversed in the third hour, where

Osiris and his companions live. But not even here is there anything like the

Fields of Earu, the paradise where Osiris rules over the blessed dead, nor is

there anywhere an allusion to the Osirian judgment. The sun is the overlord

in the world of night and the dead; Osiris is but a feudal vassal of his. One

feature of properly solar mythology - besides the night voyage itself - is

embodied, the encounter with the dragon Apophis, "whose place is in heaven,"

that is, according to the common view, the demon of storm; more likely the

eclipse dragon.

The texts and illustrations have, as the texts do not fail to emphasise,

a magical value; what particular benefit is to be gained by knowing this or

that name or formula or accurately copying such and such a scene is explained

at every turn. For example, "he possesses food in the underworld, and is

satisfied with the gifts of the followers of Osiris, while his kindred upon

earth also make gifts to him," or "he is a passenger in the barge of Re in

heaven and in earth." "But he who does not know these things" cannot escape


A work of similar nature is the Book of Portals. The sun in his night

journey through the twelve regions has to pass fortifications like those of

Egyptian cities. These formidable gates, each guarded by a great serpent,

open, however, when the god pronounces the potent word. The picture of the

lower world in this book is more in accord with the common Osirian doctrine,

including the judgment.

The tombs of the Theban kings were both by their form and their situation

ill-adapted to the maintenance of the cult of the dead, and mortuary temples

were accordingly built on the western bank of the river at Thebes. In the

tombs of persons of lower rank the decorations and inscriptions had hitherto

been chiefly concerned with provision for the material needs of the dead - the

thousand loaves of bread and the thousand jars of beer. Now texts and

illustrations from the Book of the Dead and similar compilations become

common, and the walls are decorated with representations of the daily life or

the public career of the occupant. The funeral and the funeral feast are

frequently depicted, and while the old beliefs and customs have not been

outgrown, human relations and sentiments find here freer expression.

That the dead man might be forearmed against the many and varied perils

of the tomb and the other world, he was provided with a library of magical

texts, so that whatever happened he might know what to do and say. The surest

defense against all evils was to identify himself with some god and overcome

by his divine magic. Such texts were now written on papyrus rolls and

deposited in the coffin. A certain selection and grouping of them became

customary, and grew eventually into what we call the Book of the Dead; but it

was only in the Saite time that this collection assumed what may be called a

canonical form, in one hundred and sixty-five "chapters," and even then copies

differ widely in completeness. They were fabricated commercially, like the

other funerary necessities, blanks being left for the insertion of the man's

name in the proper places - for example, in the verdict of acquittal before

the judgment seat of Osiris. In these writings notions of every age and origin

are jumbled together, and the whole is enveloped in an impenetrable veil of

mystification; for what might by any chance be intelligible is ineffective in


Besides the Book of the Dead and kindred texts, amulets of many varieties

were deposited in the coffin or the tomb; the symbols of Osiris and Isis were

frequently placed in the dead man's hand, models of the crowns of Upper and

Lower Egypt, crowns and scepters in the form worn by deities, eyes, hearts, a

head-rest, a level and square, a staircase, and many more, the particular use

of which is unknown, were laid, each in its proper place. At a later time we

hear that one hundred and four amulets were necessary to protect the body as

completely as that of Osiris himself. The tombs of this period are equipped

with furniture and ornaments, but the older devices for supplying the dead

with an unfailing abundance of food have fallen into disuse. The viscera are

now enclosed in four jars with the heads of the four sons of Horus for covers,

and these gods are trusted not to let the inwards suffer from hunger.

Of conceptions of the life after death, the abode in the Fields of Earu

continues to be the most popular. The notion, however, that the dead might be

called out by Osiris to work in his fields as in the corvee of the king was

not altogether pleasing to the great of this world, unaccustomed to such

labors on earth. They therefore provided themselves with numbers of little

mummy figures of laborers in glazed pottery or stone, with hoes and baskets,

to do the work for them. The inscription makes the purpose plain: "O thou

Answerer (Ushebti), when I am called, when I am required to do any kind of

work which is done in the other world . . . and am required at any time to

cultivate the fields, to irrigate the banks, to convey sand from the east to

the west, thou shalt say, Here am I." In every sphere magic prevails; all good

fortune can be secured, all perils averted by its potent aid. The moral

element in religion, which promised to convert the future life into a sphere

of just retribution for the deeds done in this, is nullified by amulets and

spells. On the breast of the dead, over the place of the heart, was laid a

scarab, a symbol of the new-born sun god, with the inscription: "O heart that

I have from my mother! O heart that belongs to my spirit! Do not appear

against me as a witness, do not oppose me before the judges, do not contradict

me before him who governs the balance; thou art my spirit that is in my body .

. . do not suffer our name to shrink . . . tell no lie against me before the

god!" Wherever the doctrine of retribution has been taken seriously, men have

addressed themselves to find some escape from its rigor, and they have

frequently fallen upon ways which we call magical; but it probably never

occurred to any other people to effect this end by vitiating the testimony of

conscience itself at the bar of God.

The collapse of the empire under the Twenty-first Dynasty was followed by

three centuries under Libyan and Nubian dynasties, at the close of which came

the Assyrian conquest of Lower Egypt. With the loosening of the Assyrian hold

on its western provinces in the conflicts which preluded the fall of Nineveh,

a vigorous line of Saite kings once more reunited Egypt for a century and a

quarter under native rule, and endeavored to revive the great traditions of

ancient times. Nowhere is this effort more conspicuous than in religion; and

what gives the Saite restoration its distinctive character is that it did not

take the New Empire for its model, but the Old Kingdom, the golden age of

Egypt's far off youth. The researches of the priests in the monumental

inscriptions and the long-neglected manuscripts in temple libraries brought to

light things forgotten or unheeded for centuries, and to their antiquarian

souls precious in proportion to their antiquity and obscurity. Nor did these

discoveries remain the proud possession of the learned; they were brought out

for every-day use, and titles and names of the pyramid age were worn by the

courtiers and priests of Psammetichus; ancient cults and rites were

repristinated; complete catalogues of the gods with their epithets were drawn

up and inscribed on temple walls. It is no wonder that the Greeks, whose

nearer acquaintance with the land began in this period, thought that the

Egyptians were the most religious of mankind, however they appraised such

excess of religiousness.

The worship of animals, installed as living gods in the temples, was

cultivated in this age and subsequently in Greek and Roman times more

zealously than ever before. At Memphis the bull Apis was regarded as the body

of the god Ptah, whose spirit resided in the beast, or as a son of Ptah, or of

Re, or of Osiris - varying attempts to connect the worship of the beast with

the religion of the gods. The bull was black, with certain distinctive white

markings; when one died there was universal mourning until a successor,

recognized by these marks, was discovered, whereupon all Egypt rejoiced in the

assurance of divine favor. He received all the veneration due to a god

manifest in the flesh, and when he died was buried with the pomp and

circumstance of a Pharaoh. In the Apis cemetery (Serapeum) have been found

the tombs of over sixty of these divine beasts, ranging from the time of

Amenophis III (about 1400 B.C.) to that of Ptolemy Alexander I (died 88 B.C.).

The carcases were embalmed in the most costly manner; for one that died in 547

B.C. Amasis provided a sarcophagus of red granite "such as never has been

made of stone by any king or at any time." It was hewn out of a single block

thirteen feet long and nearly ten feet high. The bull Mnevis at Heliopolis

and the bull Bacis at Hermonthis, both as "the living body of Re," received

similar honors. The ram at Mendes was hardly less famous. Both at Memphis

and at Lake Moeris, according to Herodotus, a tame crocodile was adorned with

jewels in his ears and bracelets on his paws, and daily received rations of

bread and a number of victims; when he died he was embalmed and buried in a

holy place.

The sacredness of the whole species to which the living god belonged was

now carried to the absurdity of its logical conclusion; not only were these

animals protected while alive, so that to kill one even by accident was a

grave or even a capital crime, but when they died a natural death they were

often carefully mummied and transported to the cemetery of their kind, cats,

e. g., to Bubastis, falcons to Buto, ibises to Hermopolis. Such cemeteries

have been found in many places in Egypt; at Beni Hasan cats were buried in

such enormous numbers that sacrilegious modern enterprise has turned them to

practical use for fertilizers. Each region had its own sacred animals, which

might be unconsidered or even detested in an adjoining district, and violent

collision between the people of neighboring towns sometimes resulted from

this localization of holiness.

The priests were subject to many and minute rules of ceremonial purity in

shaving, bathing, dress, and diet; they were attached in great numbers to the

several temples, from which they had their whole living. The Greeks give

interesting accounts of popular religious festivals, at which scenes from the

myths were acted out, and the participants threw themselves so thoroughly into

the spirit of the thing that the controversies of the gods resulted in many

broken heads among their devoted followers.

As in the religion of the gods, so also in the religion of the dead, the

Egyptians of the Saite period gave themselves great pains to gather up

everything that had come down from antiquity and to restore texts which had

been for centuries disused. The Book of the Dead was continuously enlarged,

until a papyrus roll seventy feet long was necessary to transcribe it. The

voyage of the sun by night as it was depicted in the Book of the Other World

and the Book of Portals in the tombs of the Theban kings, and even the

earliest funerary texts from the pyramids of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties,

were brought into use again, and original additions made to this funerary

literature, such as the Lamentation of Isis and Nephthys over Osiris, the

Lamentation of Sokar, the Conquest of Apophis, and the Book of Breathings.

The tombs of wealthy private citizens exceed in size at least those of all

their predecessors; the coffins were frequently wrought in the hardest stone.

Ushebtis were provided by hundreds - sometimes one for every day in the year -

and amulets in great variety.

The Persian conquerors did not always treat the religion of their

Egyptian subjects with respect; Cambyses is reported to have killed the Apis

bull with his own hand, and a similar story is told of Artaxerxes Ochus. But

the wiser rulers among them adopted a more conciliatory policy. The Ptolemies

followed in this respect the example of Alexander, who made an expedition to

the famous oracle of Amon in the oasis to get himself recognized as the son of

the god, and reverently offered sacrifice to the gods of Memphis. His

successors sedulously cultivated the fiction of legitimacy, and supported the

old Egyptian religion as the religion of the state. Early in the Ptolemaic

period a new era of temple-building began which continued well down into Roman

times. Among these structures are some of the greatest now remaining in

Egypt. The kings and queens took part in the Egyptian festivals, as though

they had been descendants of the great Pharaohs. The priests of Mendes

celebrate in a memorial inscription that their ram was the first sacred animal

visited by Ptolemy Philadelphus after his accession to the throne. He

fulfilled all the ceremonies of a royal visitation as they are described in

the books, and returned to his residence full of joy for what he had done for

"the Fathers, the rams of Mendes." When Queen Arsinoe died, her statue was

carried in procession with the sacred ram, and she received the honorary

title: "She who is beloved by the ram, Arsinoe Philadelphus." Later in the

reign of the king a new sacred ram was discovered which fulfilled all the

requirements of the ancient writings, and the king honored this "king of the

animals of Egypt" with a great feast.

The introduction of Greek deities, which had begun long before, made no

impression on the Egyptian religion beyond perhaps the creation of some sadly

mixed types of gods and goddesses for domestic use. One foreign god, however,

had the distinction of being taken over bodily into the Egyptian religion.

When the second Ptolemy, in consequence of a dream, imported Sarapis, the

Hades of Sinope, the priests at once discovered that, notwithstanding his very

un-Egyptian exterior, Sarapis was nothing else than Osar-Hapi, Osiris-Apis;

and when he began his somewhat successful career in the Roman world it was as

a genuine Egyptian deity.

Isis, who in early times was celebrated in the mythology as the faithful

wife of Osiris and mother of Horus, but enjoyed, as it appears, no conspicuous

honor in religion, became of much greater importance in the Greek and Roman

period. Among the foreign cults which, in the form of mysteries, spread

widely in the Roman Empire that of Isis was one of the most popular. ^1

Early Christianity in Egypt was almost exclusively Greek, and made slow

progress among the native population. The edict of Theodosius closed the

temples, and put a legal end to the public worship of the gods, but even after

the valley of the Nile had been for centuries nominally Christian, the old

burial customs in considerable part survived, and with them doubtless the

fundamental beliefs which had given birth to them.

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