Religion in Ancient Egypt

Religion in Ancient Egypt

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Private Religion and Monotheism in Ancient Egypt

Bes, one of the domestic deities of the private ancient Egyptian religion, was primarily worshipped by the ordinary Egyptians. (Image: Eleni Mac/Shutterstock)

Private Religion of Ancient Egypt and its Deities

Apart from the official religion and deities, ancient Egyptians also had a private religion and deities. Ancient Egyptians mainly prayed to these domestic deities whenever they needed their assistance. One of the most frequently invoked domestic deities was Bes, a grinning male dwarf with the facial features, feet, and a tail of a lion, and a bloated stomach.

Bes guarded people’s homes, in part by warding off snakes—always a danger in Egypt. Women also invoked Bes when they were giving birth. We find his image depicted on headrests, beds, mirror-handles, and other domestic objects, and on amulets that have been carved from hippopotamus ivory.

Taweret, the private ancient Egyptian deity of ordinary people, protected the women in labor. (Image: Walters Art Museum/Public domain)

Another domestic deity was Taweret. Taweret was depicted as a pregnant hippopotamus, standing upright on the lion’s feet and carrying a crocodile on her back. She also protected women in labor.

One might also occasionally pray to one of the major gods. We have a prayer that was written by a workman called Neferabu, who lived in Deir el-Medina, in which he confesses that he has sworn falsely by the god Ptah who has now blinded him as a punishment, and he humbly asks for Ptah’s mercy and forgiveness.

This is a transcript from the video series The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World. Watch it now, Wondrium.

Monotheism or Henotheism in Ancient Egypt

Religion was a stabilizing force in Egyptian society. Only once was there any attempt to shift its course dramatically. The attempt was made by the pharaoh Amenhotep IV, who reigned from 1350 to 1334 B.C. Amenhotep took the bold and revolutionary step of seeking to replace polytheism with monotheism—or at least something close to monotheism.

Akhenaten abolished the worship of all the private and official Egyptian gods except for Aten. (Image: Choipan/Shutterstock)

He abolished the worship of the traditional gods and promulgated the sun disk, the Aten, and changed his name to Akhenaten, which means ‘Beneficial to the Aten’. He sent his agents up and down the land, armed with their chisels to expunge the names of all the traditional gods from the temples and other monuments that bore their names.

The experiment to replace the traditional gods was deeply resented by the priesthood, who saw their livelihoods put at risk. Imagine, being an ordinary Egyptian. Everything that everyone had believed in for 1,500 years was denounced. Certainly, everyone was deeply concerned.

Unfortunately, we know very little about what steps Akhenaten took to educate the ordinary Egyptian people into this new belief. Indeed, we don’t know actually whether he took any steps at all. He may simply have handed down a directive forbidding the worship of the traditional gods and closing their temples. Whatever the facts, it’s more appropriate to think of Akhenaten’s bold venture as an experiment in henotheism—the elevation of one deity above all others—rather than as monotheism tout court with a single transcendent godhead.

Our best insight in the challenge that many people face in making the switch from polytheism to monotheism is provided by the Book of Exodus, which describes the first fumbling attempts by the Hebrews to abandon polytheism in favor of monotheism. “Thou shalt worship no other gods before me”, says the First Commandment, implying that there are other gods around whom other peoples worship. Henceforth, however, you’re only permitted to worship the one God, Yahweh.

In the course of their exodus, after their escape from Egypt, we see the Hebrews constantly complaining and even reverting to polytheism by worshiping a golden calf.

Religion in Ancient Egypt: Return to Polytheism

Akhenaten was way ahead of his time, but when he died Egypt returned to its old ways. No doubt the traditional priesthood breathed a collective sigh of relief.

In conclusion, Egyptian religion seems to have placed remarkably few demands upon the common man and woman. The Hebrew God, as we learn from the Jewish Bible, was a jealous God, who struck terror and guilt into the entire race. The Egyptians, by contrast, were spared both terror and guilt.

They didn’t have to worry about placating angry gods—that was handled by experts. This was why they paid the taxes—to leave the difficult and mysterious business of handling the gods to those best qualified. And if things did go wrong, they could always blame the priests or the pharaoh.

If there was a domestic difficulty or anxiety, people could invoke Bes or Taweret since one didn’t need any expertise for that.

For the state gods, however, all one had to do was to turn up to the festivals, and that meant having a good time: drinking, dancing, and merrymaking. One didn’t need to seek spiritual guidance or to conduct oneself in accordance with a moral code that was sanctioned by religion.

So people just got on with their daily life secure in the knowledge that the Nile will flood, the crops will sprout up, your wife will give birth to a healthy child, Egypt will stand firm against its enemies, and all will continue as before in its time-hallowed way.

Common Questions about Private Religion and Monotheism in Ancient Egypt

Kemetic orthodoxy is a modern reconstruction of the ancient religious traditions of Ancient Egypt . It is a special type of polytheism, which follows monolatry ways of worship.

Egyptian gods mostly represented some natural phenomena, ranging from physical objects like the earth or the sun to abstract forces like knowledge and creativity.

Ancient Egyptian polytheistic religion lasted for 3000 years and on its way, it influenced many past and future religions.

Religion played a very important role in ancient Egyptians as it helped explain their surroundings, such as the annual Nile flooding. daily sun setting and rising.

Religious Order of Ancient Egypt

The religious order of ancient Egypt did not allow ordinary Egyptians to enter inside the temple. (Image: Zbigniew Guzowski/Shutterstock)

The Religious Lives of Ordinary Ancient Egyptians

As an ordinary Egyptian, one left the worship of the gods, aside from the domestic deities, entirely in the hands of the priesthood, whose principal task was to perform services on their behalf every day. Ordinary Egyptians weren’t even permitted to enter a temple. That’s because the temple was the dwelling of the god and had to be kept completely pure.

Ordinary Egyptians were, nevertheless, permitted to pass through the monumental gateway that gave access to the temple complex and stand in the forecourt. The forecourt had colonnades along the two sides with an altar for performing sacrifices in the middle. It was here—if at all—that people would experience the numinous presence of the deity. Beyond the forecourt lay a covered hall and beyond the covered hall lay the temple itself. If one were a person of rank, one might deposit a votive offering in the forecourt.

There were also places on the outer walls of temples, which are described as ‘chapels of the hearing ear’, where people could whisper their prayer into a sculptural representation of a pair of ears. In addition, there were lots of small, local shrines devoted to specific gods dotted throughout Egypt, where you could leave a votive offering or make a sacrifice. So, as an ordinary person, they weren’t completely cut off from the major gods.

This is a transcript from the video series The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World. Watch it now, Wondrium.

Festivals of Ancient Egypt

The only occasion when an ordinary Egyptian would see the cult statues of the deities that were housed inside the temples was at festival times when they left their homes and were borne in procession.

Many of the festivals coincided with important junctures in the agricultural calendar, such as the beginning and end of the inundation season, that’s to say, in June and September, respectively. And what would they have made of a festival? They would no doubt have been greatly impressed by the splendor of the pageantry.

They would also have believed that the cult statue was in a real sense the deity himself or herself. But I doubt that one would have understood much more than that. It was not the business of the priesthood to explicate what they did on behalf of the gods or to enlighten people about the nature of the gods. They had more important things to be doing. So for the most part, at the festival time, one would probably have gawped. It would have been a day off work, but hardly an occasion to express your piety.

In fact, it’s difficult to understand what piety might have meant in an Egyptian context. Festivals were opportunities for jollity—and to some extent frivolity. There would have been a lot of free food and free booze going around. And all of this would have been accompanied by much singing and dancing.

Sed Festival of Ancient Egypt

If one lived long enough, one might have attended the Sed Festival, held at Memphis, which celebrated the union of Upper and Lower Egypt—in other words, the creation of Egypt as a single kingdom.

The Sed Festival was normally held after the pharaoh had reigned for 30 years and then repeated at three-year intervals. Many of the major gods were invited to pay their respects to the pharaoh on this occasion. That’s to say, their statues were removed from their temples and brought by boat to Memphis. Unfortunately, we know very little about the details of the festival.

An alabaster statuette of Pharaoh Pepi I dressed and ready for a Sed festival course as per the religious order of ancient Egypt. (Image: Brooklyn Museum/CC BY-SA 2.5/Public domain)

What we do know is that it culminated in the pharaoh running a circuit to prove that he was still virile and athletic. He did so clutching a vase, an oar, and a carpenter’s square, and alternately wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt and the red crown of Lower Egypt.

No doubt people’s heart was in their mouth when they saw him trip. Probably priests accompanied him on either side, ready to prop the old fellow up if he stumbled. Even so, it would be a pretty bad omen if he couldn’t complete the circuit unaided.

It’s always possible of course that one might choose to become a priest themselves. Although, in order to qualify, they would have to be educated in order to read and write hieroglyphics. The hope was that their parents would have chosen this career at birth because they had to be circumcised.

Probably, the priesthood mostly ran in families. We don’t know why circumcision was performed for priests. It may have represented a covenant to the gods, similar to the covenant that is established between Abraham and the Lord in Genesis through circumcision.

The Order of Egyptian Religion and Priesthood

The Egyptian priesthood was very hierarchical. At the top was the pharaoh. The pharaoh was the son of Ra and a god in his own right, and when he died he went to join the other gods. Members of the upper class had to kneel and bow their heads to the floor in his presence, whereas the hoi polloi had to prostrate themselves.

Directly under him was an official called ‘the Overseer of the Temples and Prophets of all the Gods’. The overseer had to administer the enormous wealth that the gods possessed, deriving partly from their estates and partly from taxation.

Below the overseer came the high priests—one for each of the gods who were worshiped throughout Egypt. And below the high priests were the chief priests, one for each temple. It was the task of the chief priests to supervise the lesser priestly officials, of whom the most important were the wab priests.

Egyptian priests enjoyed a powerful position in ancient Egypt. (Image: Basphoto/Shutterstock)

It was the primary duty of a wab priest to attend to the cult statue of the gods or goddesses. Each morning they would break open the clay seals of the doors of the shrine in which the cult-statue was housed and then solemnly remove it from the shrine.

They then removed the garments that the statue was wearing. Next, they bathed the statue, purified it, and provided it with fresh clothing and jewelry. After all that, they replaced it in its shrine and laid out a ritual meal, presented in a symbolic form. After a decent lapse of time, they removed the offering. When they were done, they sealed the doors again and purified the whole sanctum, brushing away all traces of their footprints as they backed toward the exit.

They did all this to protect the deity from the forces of disorder and chaos, and they performed this ritual three times a day.

There were also other lesser priests, including the scroll carriers and the horologers or prophets, who observed the heavens in order to determine the exact timing of daily rites and festival calendars. As a priest, they would reside inside the temple complex along with the rest of the temple staff. The temple complex also included a school, which is where they trained to become a priest.

As we’ve noted, being a wab priest was rather repetitive. The good news was that they would typically work for one month and then have three months off, like all Egyptian priests. During their work, they had to remain ritually clean by bathing frequently. They had to shave their head, wear a long white linen kilt, and refrain from sexual intercourse.

During their three months off, however, they were not bound in any way to their priestly functions. They could wear and do whatever they liked. So there’s nothing to suggest that they had to be what we might call spiritual or devout.

Common Questions about the Religious Life of Ancient Egyptians

Ancient Egyptian religion followed a wide set of pagan beliefs with many gods and deities, who were believed to control the forces of nature.

Religion played a very important role in ancient Egyptians as it helped explain their surroundings, such as the annual Nile flooding. daily sun setting and rising.

Ancient Egyptian polytheistic religion lasted for 3000 years and on its way, it influenced many past and future religions

Yes, the ancient Egyptian religion is still practiced in a way since most major religions have drawn some influences from the ancient Egyptian religion.

Reinventing Religion: Ancient Egypt in the European History of Religion

As the study of religion moved into the domain of cultural studies, there came a shift in the subjects of research. Scholars no longer focused solely on so-called world religions but also looked at the interplay between religion and culture in a broader sense. In a 1993 article on the paradigm of European history of religion, Burkhard Gladigow called this shift “vertical transfer.”

By using this term, Gladigow addressed the exchange between different systems of meaning (Sinnsystemen), such as literature, science, or technology. This approach is based on the assumption that religion appears not only in the well-known classical sense, but also in different cultural systems of meaning, each having its own hermeneutic pattern.

The academic discipline of the study of religion during the past twenty years has demonstrated the sustainability of such an approach. In the history of religion in Europe, “religion” could be located not only in terms of an institutionalized, mainly Christian religion, but in other systems of meanings and media as well. Moreover, if the paradigm of a European history of religion is combined with a discursive determination, the reinvention of religion through the use of traditional semantics and topoi comes into focus.

Taking this as my starting point, here I will examine this process using a prominent example: the reception of ancient Egyptian religion within the history of religion in Europe. As I hope to demonstrate, ancient Egypt became the focus of attention when a new religious tradition came to be created that was not based on classical (Christian) religion, but rather on an alternative system of meaning with a comparable, or even higher, worth.

My essay is divided into three parts. The first provides a brief overview of the reception of Egyptian religion within the history of Europe, with a special focus on the Freemasons of the eighteenth century. Next is a discussion of the use of Egyptian religion in modern Satanism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The third part offers some general observations on the function of Egypt in constructing and deconstructing religion from a systematic point of view.

Egypt in Eighteenth-Century Europe: The Freemasons

The reception of Egyptian religion in eighteenth-century Europe must be seen in two contexts. On the one hand, it was used by a tradition that focused on the specific meaning of the hieroglyphs. This was connected, on the other hand, with the idea that ancient Egypt presented a higher form of religion than Christianity. The ancient historians had already been fascinated by the monuments from ancient Egypt and by the hieroglyphs. Plutarch, Clement of Alexandria, and Diodorus established a tradition of scholarly speculation about Egypt that included inquiries into the deeper meaning of the hieroglyphs, without having the ability to read the Egyptian texts themselves. Centuries later, the Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher (1602–80) was to become an important contributor to the subject. His books Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1654) and Obeliscus Aegyptiacus (1666) were significant works on “Hieroglyphenallegorese” (the allegorical interpretation of hieroglyphs), with many interesting speculations on the hidden meaning of the hieroglyphs as a special esoteric language. Kircher and his contemporaries Bernard de Montfaucon (1655–1741) and Anne-Claude-Philippe de Thubières, Comte de Caylus (1692–1765) must be seen as representatives of “Egyptosophy” and not as adherents of a historical-critical approach, at least in its modern sense. They stand in a tradition that stretches back to the Greek grammarian Horapollo. In the middle of the fifth century ce, Horapollo wrote two books titled Hieroglyphica, in which he coined the term “hieroglyphs” and provided the definitions that influenced scholarly speculation about ancient Egypt for centuries. Without having any knowledge of the phonetics of the hieroglyphs, Horapollo and his successors believed that the “special wisdom” of the ancient Egyptians could be found in their esoteric language.

The beliefs of the Freemasons of the late eighteenth century were connected to these ideas, but they were also determined by the thinking of the Enlightenment, which moved away from the concept of revelation in favor of a “natural theology,” with man as sensible human being at its center. Immanuel Kant's often-quoted “emergence of man from his self-imposed immaturity” led to new systems of meaning in which ancient Egypt as a place of mysteries came into focus. This was combined with another factor: the distinction between two forms of religion. Already in the first century ce, Flavius Josephus had argued that the idea of the unity of God (die Einheit Gottes) was found first in Egypt and later transferred to the Israelites through Moses (Contra Apionem II.168). During the Enlightenment, this idea was shaped into the concept of a religio duplex, with a general polytheism for the people and a specific monotheism for the adepts. The latter was only available in the form of specific esoteric writings, the hieroglyphs. When the Freemasons identified themselves as heirs of an ancient Egyptian order of priests, they placed themselves within a tradition marked by two motifs: the deeper meaning of the hieroglyphs, and the specific wisdom of ancient Egypt.

Even though this tradition already included an anti-Christian impetus, the anti-Christian focus only came to the fore when it was combined with a much stronger concept: the idea of the Enlightenment. The core idea of the eighteenth century—that of the individual with sense and sentiment—was nothing less than an emancipation of the human from the assumption of man as sinner, as depicted, for example, by Martin Luther's popular image of the human soul like a horse ridden (and ruled) by God or the devil. The dozens of “Egyptianized” mysteries written during the flowering of the Freemasons, the years 1782 to 1787, were driven by a concept centered on the human being itself. Within this “new religion,” ancient Egypt was invoked in two ways: first, by creating a religious practice that had no Christian resonances and second, by dressing the “new religion” in an old robe. The worthiness of the new religious concept was expressed in its ancient roots. Consequently, the new religion appeared in fact to be an ancient one, superior to the main European religion of the time: Christianity.

Egypt and Modern Satanism

The influence of Egyptian religion in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries may be illustrated in many ways. One particular example is the Theosophical Society, founded in 1875 in the United States. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–91), who became one of the main figures of Theosophy, tried to find the roots of the idea of spiritual evolution in ancient wisdom traditions, such as those of Egypt, Plato, and ancient Hindu sages. In her 1877 book, Isis Unveiled: A Master Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology, Blavatsky relied on insights from the newly established academic discipline of Egyptology and referenced such works as Richard Lepsius's translation of the Book of the Dead (1842), as well as the Papyrus Ebers (discovered by Georg Ebers, 1875), which she considered to be the “most ancient book of wisdom” and “one of the six Hermetic books of Medicine” mentioned by Clement of Alexandria.

The example of Blavatsky illustrates that the reception of Egyptian culture was neither a specifically European phenomenon nor one limited to a period in history before the hieroglyphs were deciphered. Earlier research on occasion argued that the tradition of “Egyptosophy” came to an end with Jean-François Champollion. Even though Champollion's deciphering of the hieroglyphs, first documented in his famous 1822 “Lettre à M. Dacier, relative à l'alphabet des hiéroglyphes phonétiques,” marked the dawn of modern Egyptology, the reclaiming of Egyptian culture in the creation of novel spiritual concepts did not end with the founding of the academic discipline of Egyptology. Rather, the publication and display of new material from excavations in Egypt and the translations of ancient Egyptian literature were used for the same purpose as before 1822: to construct new religious traditions by deconstructing an old religion, namely, Christianity.

This observation can be illustrated by one of the more colorful figures of the early twentieth century, Aleister Crowley. Crowley was born in England, where he first encountered John Nelson Darby's dispensational premillennialism. After a few years as a member of the British Theosophical Society, Crowley created his own religious system, which he called “Thelema” and which, according to him, was based on a revelation. In 1904, while Crowley and his wife were on their honeymoon in Egypt, his wife had a revelation of the god Horus sent through his messenger, Aiwass. When Crowley and his wife visited the Egyptian Museum, they found Horus on an ancient Egyptian stele, with the number 666. In Crowley's own report, this god dictated to him the Book of the Law (Liber AL vel Legis), which was to be the theoretical foundation of Crowley's new religion, Thelema. Crowley's followers came to call the Egyptian stele the “Stele of Revealing,” even though it was in fact a Theban funeral stele from the middle of the first millennium bce (from the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth dynasties). Furthermore, the stele does not contain the number 666 this was simply the catalogue number from the former museum in Boulaq, where the stele had first been displayed after being excavated from the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut in Dayr el-Bahari by the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette.

With Thelema, Crowley developed a system of meaning with the human being at the center, as can be seen in two core statements from the Book of the Law: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” (AL I.40), and “Every man and every woman is a star” (AL I.3). In formulating his religious system, Crowley made systematic use of ancient Egyptian religion. Deities such as “Nuit” (the Egyptian goddess Nut) or “Ra-Hoor-Khuit” (the god Ra-Horakhty) are mentioned in his book. Interestingly enough, Thelema, though also a religion focused on the human being, drew on a different tradition than did the Freemasons. Whereas the Freemasons focused on humans' positive abilities, Crowley referred to their “negative” potential, postulating that dark energy existed in humans and in all living things.

Although Aleister Crowley could hardly be called a Satanist, he and his religion, Thelema, can be placed within the tradition of Satanism. It was the famous Marquis de Sade (1740–1814) who established a philosophical system based primarily on the assumption of evil as an autonomous vital force. According to him, Satan has no specific role, though evil as an autonomous principle does. De Sade's Satanism is mainly linked with sexual obsession, which made it popular, but it also is the start of a trajectory that continued through the first decades of the twentieth century and Aleister Crowley up to recent American Satanism. Significantly, the American form of Satanism makes substantial use of ancient Egyptian religion, as can be seen in a recent American Satanic movement, the Temple of Set. Michael A. Aquino founded the Temple of Set in 1975. Since the late 1960s, Aquino had been a member of the Church of Satan, a highly prominent Satanic group that became popular because of its connections with Hollywood. After leaving the Church of Satan, Aquino founded his own Satanic religion. According to Aquino, on the summer solstice in 1975 (June 21), the “Prince of Darkness” appeared to him as the deity Set, who declared that he wanted to be worshiped by his original name, Set, which had become obsolete as humans had come to know him as Satan and Lucifer. Set had already revealed himself to the ancient Egyptians, but, while the priesthood of the god Osiris knew a “Book of the Dead,” Set now wanted to reveal a “Book of Life.” Based on this etiology, Michael Aquino named the new organization the “temple” of the god Set, where “temple” refers, not to a building, but to the human being itself as a vessel for the personal conception of Satan. Don Webb, a high priest in the organization from 1993 to 2002, has explained this concept as follows:

A deeper look at the main scripture of the Temple of Set, the Book of Coming Forth by Night, illustrates the importance of ancient Egypt. Aquino wrote a full chapter on Egyptian religion, referring to such Egyptological publications as Ernst A. Wallis Budge's translation of the Book of the Dead, George Hart's edited volume, the Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, and Raymond O. Faulkner's translation of the Pyramid Texts. Aquino also presents an interpretation of Aleister Crowley's Book of the Law, arguing that it was actually the god Set who revealed himself to Crowley.

If we consider the Temple of Set and its concepts from a more systematic perspective, two interesting observations can be made. First, it is possible to trace how a new religion is created through the use of topoi from a non-Christian religion. As a rather young religion, the Temple of Set attempts to establish the worthiness of its doctrine by making a connection to an older system of reference: ancient Egypt and the god Set, who had revealed himself to the Egyptians and was known under the names Satan and Lucifer before wanting to be worshiped again by his original name. The new religion appears to be an ancient one and—more importantly—a religion that antedates Judaism and Christianity. Second, the recourse to ancient Egypt opens up the possibility of constructing a form of religion without Christian associations.

Constructing Religion: The Function of Ancient Egypt in the Modern History of Religion

It was not my aim here to give a comprehensive overview of the reception of Egyptian religion within the history of religions. Even though, out of necessity, I could only mention particular case studies, it is still possible to make some general observations based on these examples.

Within the modern history of religions, ancient Egypt serves primarily as a place of projection. Egypt becomes a focal point in systems of meaning that have virtually nothing to do with historical Egypt. The examples mentioned here illustrate in many ways that the authors—whether the Freemasons or persons such as Aleister Crowley, Helena Blavatsky, or Michael Aquino—were not interested in the Egypt of the pharaohs. Even though Helena Blavatsky and Michael Aquino quoted from modern Egyptological literature, their primary interest was to make the connection between Egypt and their “new” theoretical systems. Within such an approach, ancient Egyptian religion is co-opted for a new purpose. From a more theoretical perspective, what can be seen is a reinvention of religion through the use of traditional semantics and topoi, wherein ancient Egypt was used in two different ways.

Ancient Egyptian religion became relevant in modern religious history when religious actors sought to describe a new system of meaning that, first, marks itself off from classical (Christian) religion, but, second, claims historical dignity. Even though the anti-Christian impulse of the so-called autarkic Satanism of the late twentieth century is evident only on an implicit level, both the concepts of Aleister Crowley and those of Michael Aquino are tied to the history of Western esotericism, a tradition that stands in tension with a European history of religion dominated by Christianity. Ancient Egypt seems to present an ideal collection of topoi which can be used by “new” religious systems of meaning that are driven by two ideas: a distinct differentiation from traditional Christian religion, and the belief in a “special wisdom,” found for the first time in Egypt and then, as Helena Blavatsky argued, in other areas, such as ancient Greece and India.

Interestingly enough, acknowledgment of this tradition of the “special wisdom of Egypt” can already be found in the holy scriptures of precisely the religion that was deconstructed by the use of Egyptian religion in modern religious history: Christianity. In the Acts of the Apostles, it is written: “So Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians and became a man with power both in his speech and in his action” (Acts 7:22 New Jerusalem Bible). This short statement about Moses and Egyptian wisdom was to become one of the most important topoi for the reception of Egyptian religion and culture within the European tradition. Moreover, on a deeper level, this verse already anticipates the later function of Egypt in the history of religion: to deconstruct Christianity by referring to a religious paradigm that is older, as well as “higher,” than Christianity.

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———. Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

——— Religio duplex: Ägyptische Mysterien und europäische Aufklärung. Berlin: Verlag der Weltreligionen, 2010.

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The search for Adam, Eve, Noah and the Flood&mdashin Ancient Egypt?

Published: 13 February 2021 (GMT+10)

Commenting on our article Egyptian chronology confusion: Why are there so many differences of opinion?, Antonio F. from Australia asked if any archaeologist has looked for evidence that the ancient Egyptians may have known about Adam and Eve, or Noah and the Flood. CMI&rsquos Gavin Cox responds.

Many thanks for your excellent question, which is something I have been working on for nearly ten years, and have just started to publish on in our Journal of Creation. You ask:

As we know from Scripture, before Noah, there are nine generations back to Adam. A helpful poster (based on the Genesis genealogies and Ussher&rsquos timeline) can be found here, which graphically displays the Genesis genealogies. This idea of nine generations may be reflected in the Egyptian Ennead, a group of nine gods, all born by natural pro-creation, from the original founder called Atum. And who was Atum? He was a creator god, and his name is phonetically very similar to Adam (especially when we consider t and d were interchangeable in ancient Egypt). Evidence for the idea of long reigns of ancient rulers (hundreds of years), are mentioned in a papyrus which places these &lsquogods&rsquo and &lsquodemi-gods&rsquo before the First Dynasty. This information is recorded in the (heavily damaged) 19 th Dynasty Turin King list (Royal Canon) which mentions several names of these long-lived rulers. These mythical kings are listed (unfortunately, in the most heavily damaged and reconstructed fragments) in the first two columns of the papyrus, and thereafter the &lsquonon-mythical&rsquo kings from Dynasties 1-17 are listed in the next ten columns. The gods include Geb, Osiris, Set, Horus, Thoth, and Ma&rsquoat, of the names that have survived. Reconstructing other names has been attempted, along with their supposed reign lengths which are in the hundreds of years.

The Turin Canon is a 19 th Dynasty Papyrus that lists pharaohs and their reign lengths, it includes several names that are reported to have had reigns of hundreds of years.

Yes, and no. Scripture identifies the territory we call Egypt after Mizraim (Ham&rsquos 3 rd son of four) and Ham (Noah&rsquos 3 rd son). Egypt in the Psalms (78:51 105:23, 27 106:22), is called the &lsquoLand/ tents of Ham&rsquo. And throughout the Hebrew Bible we read &ldquoMizraim&rdquo (מצרים) for Egypt. So Egypt is closely associated with Noah&rsquos family through Ham in the Bible.

Ham must have known his father Noah&rsquos teachings about Creation, Adam, Eve, the Fall, and the 1,656 years of pre-Flood history. Ham would have taken all this knowledge with him after the Babel event (c. 2,300 BC ), when he founded Egypt with his son Mizraim (and likely Put and Kush). But why would the names of his family have changed? They are the names of his father and brothers after all. Names of people and place names are very persistent, and it is highly doubtful that the Babel event would have changed Ham&rsquos family names in pronunciation, if indeed he was personally effected by the Babel event in his own tongue. (In other words, Ham may have continued with his original language, but helped develop the new Egyptian post-Babel language).

They would have greater than pharaoh status&mdashdivine status! We are dealing with the pagan mind, and the Egyptians did indeed deify their ancestors, Imhotep, the architect of Djoser&rsquos Step Pyramid being the parade example as noted in this article. Furthermore, Ham and his family would have been seen in terms of &lsquocreator-gods&rsquo, because they were the ones who kick-started civilisation after the Flood. They were the ones who were the first to re-establish agriculture, technology, building&mdasheverything needed for society to function. Furthermore, Scripture records their great ages after the Flood (Shem lived another 500 years, Noah lived another 350), which would have meant they outlived many generations after them. This would have conferred divine status upon them in the eyes of the pagan Egyptians.

21 st Dynasty Book of the Dead of Khensumose (c. 1075-945 BC) showing the Ogdoad hoeing the earth after the first sun rise.

And indeed there is a concept of a global Flood, sent in judgement in ancient Egyptian religion. Chapter 175 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead is one example. This chapter describes a divine complaint made to Thoth by Atum, who states the children of Nut rebelled, caused evil, tumult, strife, and slaughter. This is exactly analogous to the situation before the Flood with the pre-Flood world being full of violence (Genesis 6:11). The chapter goes on to detail the destruction of all that was made, turned into Nun (the primeval ocean) by a floodwater. Only those left on the solar bark (called the Boat of Millions), along with Horus and his father Osiris, sail to the &ldquoIsland of the Two Flames&rdquo where Horus inherits his father&rsquos rule. This is all very evocative of the Genesis Flood and Noah&rsquos family.

Pyramid texts adorning the internal burial chamber walls of Unas 5 th Dynasty Pyramid showing his oval-shaped cartouch (w-n-i-s).

Actually, we know the names of the pyramids were all named after the pharaohs who were buried inside them, they were not named after events. This is particularly well established in the Pyramid Texts, which adorn the burial chambers of the 5-8 th dynasties. The names of the pharaohs appear in cartouches engraved in the walls of these pyramid chambers, for instance: Unas (Dynasty 5), Dynasty 6 kings: Teti, Pepi I, Akhesenpepi II, Meremre I, Pepi II, Neith, Iput II, Wedjebetni, Behenu, and Dynasty 7: Qakare Ibi.

I disagree with you here. Egypt was founded after the Babel event, and certainly not before the Flood of Noah. Egyptian chronology is over-extended at the beginning period. This is based on Manetho&rsquos interpretation of Egyptian history, which is demonstrably erroneous in a number of places. He tended to have parallel reigns of kings (north and south) listed as consecutive reigns. This, combined with modern day carbon dating of earliest artefacts, artificially extends Egyptian chronology to before the date of the Flood (restricted by the Masoretic chronogeneologies in Genesis 5 and 11). If you want to understand Egyptian chronology from a biblical perspective, I can recommend to you Gary Bates&rsquos excellent article Framing the Issues. Furthermore, the earliest pyramids are all made from limestone, a sedimentary rock, and the pyramids are built on limestone rock foundations, which contain the fossils of marine creatures. So the pyramids must have been built after the Flood. They would not have survived the raging Flood waters, (which radically reshaped the surface of the earth) and there is no evidence of water erosion on the surviving limestone casing of the pyramids.

Yes, that would be me. I have been publishing my work on evidence for Adam and Eve, Noah and his sons, and the Flood in Ancient Egyptian religion. There is ample evidence to suggest the Egyptians knew about Adam and Eve, the Serpent, the tree of knowledge, the great ages of the pre-Flood patriarchs, the names of Noah, Ham, Shem, and Japheth, and the event of the Global Flood, sent in judgement for sin.

If you are interested in reading up on my research on the ancient Egyptian&rsquos beliefs about Creation, Adam, Eve, or Noah and his sons, and the Flood in ancient Egypt, see Noah and the Flood in Ancient Egypt, part 1 by Cox, G., & part 2 by Cox, G. (free downloadable pdfs).

Also see the following articles:

  • You can purchase a Journal of Creation back issue of 34(1) pages16-18, 2020 (hard copy only) to read &lsquoWhat was the point of the pyramids?&rsquo Cox, G. Cox, G. (E-Journal only. Purchase a subscription here to have access to all current and previous digital Journal articles).
  • Also, I can recommend my article, Time fears the Pyramids? Creation, 42(1):18-20, 2020 Cox, G. (Back-issue only).

Another article will be coming out in the upcoming 2021 issue of J. Creation for evidence of the Egyptians&rsquo belief about Creation, Adam, Eve, and the Fall. Subscribe to CMI&rsquos (now electronic) Journal of Creation here for future online articles.

As all this information is still very new, it is not all freely available on the CMI website until the moratorium on the Journal and Creation magazine expires. But it is a good opportunity to subscribe, if you have not done so already.

A lot of this evidence is based on research for my master&rsquos degree in Egyptology, where I studied what scholars call the &ldquoEgyptian Ogdoad.&rdquo These were four males and their wives who are associated with the Egyptian Flood (I was awarded a distinction by my university for my thesis). The chief god is called Nu (which sounds like Noah). In my Journal articles parts 1&ndash4 I compared their names in Egyptian to the meanings of their Hebrew names and found some startling linguistic connections. There is a lot of evidence, but it is all framed in a pagan worldview of gods and goddesses, rather than straightforward historical narrative like in Genesis 1&ndash11. I discuss some of this information in my 2018 European Creation Conference talk entitled &ldquoMizraim, Archaeology and the Search for Noah in Egypt&rdquo, currently available as an MP3 audio recording, but hopefully this will be made into a digital video file at some stage (watch this space). I also discussed the evidence for Adam, Eve, the Fall, and Creation in Ancient Egypt for our 2020 online CMI conference, which will eventually be made into a digital video.

Thanks for writing in with your question, it needs to be answered. I hope what I&rsquove written helps,

Ancient World History

Egypt developed along the valley surrounding the Nile River in northeast Africa, extending into the desert and across the Red Sea. Ancient Egyptians traced their origins to the land of Punt, an eastern African nation that was probably south of Nubia, but their reasons for this are unclear.

As early as the 10th millennium b.c.e., a culture of hunter-gatherers using stone tools existed in the Nile Valley, and there is evidence over the next few thousand years of cattle herding, large building construction, and grain cultivation. The desert was once a fertile plain watered by seasonal rains, but may have been changed by climate shifts or overgrazing.

At some point the civilizations of Lower Egypt (in the north, where the Nile Delta meets the Mediterranean Sea) and Upper Egypt (upstream in the south, where the Nile gives way to the desert) formed the Egyptians called them Ta Shemau and Ta Mehu, respectively, and their inhabitants were probably ethnically the same and culturally interrelated.

By 3000 b.c.e. Lower and Upper Egypt were unified by the first pharaoh, whom the third-century b.c.e. historian Manetho called Menes. Lower and Upper Egypt were never assimilated into one another—their geographical differences ensured that they would retain cultural differences, as the peoples of each led different lives—but rather, during the Dynastic Period that followed, were ruled as a unit.

Each had its own patron goddess—Wadjet and Nekhbet—whose symbols were eventually included in the pharaoh’s crown and the fivefold titular form of his name. The first Pharaoh also established a capital at Memphis, where it remained until 1300 b.c.e. The advent of hieroglyphics and trade relations with Nubia and Syria coincide with the Early Dynastic Period.

The history of ancient Egypt is traditionally divided into dynasties, each of which consists of rulers from more or less the same family. Often, a dynasty is defined by certain prevailing trends as a result of the dynastic family’s interests—many of the significant pyramid builders in ancient Egypt were from the Fourth Dynasty, for instance. In the early dynasties, we have little solid information about the pharaohs, and even our list of their names is incomplete.

The dynasties are organized into broad periods of history: the Early Dynastic Period (the First and Second Dynasties), the Old Kingdom (Third through Sixth), the First Intermediate Period (Seventh through Tenth), the Middle Kingdom (Eleventh through Fourteenth), the Second Intermediate Period (Fifteenth through Seventeenth), the New Kingdom (Eighteenth through Twentieth), the Third Intermediate Period (Twenty-first through Twenty-fifth), and the rather loosely characterized Late Period (Twenty-sixth through Thirty-first).

Ancient Egypt essentially ends with the Thirty-first Dynasty: For the next 900 years Egypt was ruled first by Alexander the Great, then the "Ptolemaic dynasty", founded by Alexander’s general Ptolemy, and finally by Rome directly.

Egyptian gods

Ancient Egyptian religion can be described through syncretism, the afterlife, and the soul. Syncretism refers to the merging of religious ideas or figures, usually when disparate cultures interact. In the case of ancient Egypt, it refers to the combination and overlapping of local deities.

Many sun gods (Ra, Amun, Horus, the Aten) were first worshipped separately and then later in various combinations. This process was a key part of Egyptian polytheism and likely helped preserve the nation’s cultural continuity across its vast life.

Mortal life was thought to prepare Egyptians for the afterlife. The Egyptians believed that the physical body would persist in the afterlife and serve the deceased, despite being entombed and embalmed.

Amulets, talismans, and sometimes even mummified animals were provided for the deceased’s use. As described in the Book of the Dead (a term referring to the corpus of Egyptian funerary texts), in later stages of Egyptian religious history the deceased was judged by the god Anubis.

The god weighed the heart, which was thought to hold all the functions of the mind and therefore a record of the individual’s life and behavior, against a single feather. Those judged favorably were ushered on to the afterlife those who were not had their hearts eaten by the crocodile-lion-hippopotamus demon Ammit and remained in Anubis’s land forever.

The different parts of the soul—or different souls—included the ba, which developed from early predynastic beliefs in personal gods common to the ancient Near East, and which was the manifestation of a god, a full physical entity that provided the breath of the nostrils, the personality of the individual, and existed before the birth of the body the ka, the life power which comes into existence at birth and precedes the individual into the afterlife to guide their fortunes the akh, a kind of ghost that took many different forms in Egyptian religion over the dynastic era the khaibut, the shadow the ren, or name and the sekhu, or physical body.

Egyptian god Horus and Queen Nefertari

Language and Math

Egyptian writing dates as far back as the 30th󈞞th centuries b.c.e. Early Egyptian—divided into the Old, Middle, and Late forms—was written using hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts.

Although hieroglyphs developed from pictographs—stylized pictures used for signs and labels—they included symbols representing sounds (as our modern alphabet does), logographs representing whole words, and determinatives used to explain the meaning of other hieroglyphs.

Translation of ancient Egyptian writing was nearly impossible for modern Egyptologists until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone by an army captain in Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign in Egypt, in 1799. When the French surrendered in 1801, the stone was claimed by the British forces and sent to the British Museum, where it remains today.

The stone was a linguist’s dream come true, the sort of find that revolutionizes a field. Upon it was written a decree by Pharaoh Ptolemy V in 196 b.c.e., not only in hieroglyphics and Demotic but in Greek. Since ancient Greek was well known, this allowed Egyptologists to compare the two line by line and decipher the meaning of many of the hieroglyphs.

Much work and refinement has been done since, receiving a considerable boost from the archaeological finds of the 19th and 20th centuries. The hieratic numeral system used by the Egyptians had similar limitations to the Roman numeral system: It was poorly suited to anything but addition and subtraction.

As attested in the Rhind and Moscow papyri, the Egyptians were capable of mathematics including fractions, geometry, multiplication, and division, all of which were much more tedious than in modern numeral systems but were required for trade and timekeeping.

Like other ancient civilizations, the Egyptians lacked the concept of zero as a numeral, but some historians argue that they were aware of and consciously employed the golden ratio in geometry.

Religion in Ancient Egypt - History

O ne of the most interesting aspects of ancient Egypt is its religion. The depth of Egyptian thinking and the rich imagination displayed in the creation of ideas and images of the gods and goddesses are beyond compare. In elaborating their beliefs, the Egyptians were working on the cosmic plane, searching for an understanding of the most basic laws of the universe.

T hey developed the first thought forms of the Godhead - the beginnings of a religion. Their beliefs evolved slowly over the centuries and gradually developed into a comprehensive world view shared by the people of the Nile.

R eligion is the glue that binds local communities into nationhood and creates common understandings and shared values that are essential to the growth of a civilization. No religion is fully formed at its inception. By looking at ancient Egypt, one can see how belief systems evolved to become the driving force of cultural expressions. In the early stages of human thought, the concept of God did not exist. Our early ancestors were concerned about natural phenomena and the powers that controlled these phenomena they did not worship a personalized form of God. This stage of religious development is referred to as "magical".

I n Egypt, before the concept of God existed, magical power was encapsulated in the hieroglyph of a sceptre (or rod or staff). This is one of the most enduring symbols of divine power, ever present in images of the pharaohs and the gods.

A s human society evolved, people gradually gained a degree of personal identity. With a higher sense of individuality, humans began to conceive the gods in a personalized form. This stage in development is called "mythical". In Egypt, this process began during the late prehistoric period, when writing was being invented and myths were being formulated.

A t that stage, every Egyptian town had its own particular deity, manifested in a material fetish or a god represented in the shape of an animal, such as a cat-goddess, cobra-goddess, ibis-god or jackal-god. As the pantheon grew in cohesiveness, these gods and goddesses were given human bodies and credited with human attributes and activities. The temples in the major cities throughout the land were constructed to venerate local gods. During the New Kingdom, these temples honoured a triad of gods based on the pattern established by the mythical family of Osiris, Isis and Horus.

L ike all religions, that of ancient Egypt was complex. It evolved over the centuries from one that emphasized local deities into a national religion with a smaller number of principal deities. Some theologians think that Egypt was moving towards a monotheistic faith in a single creator, symbolized by the sun god. There was no single belief system, but the Egyptians shared a common understanding about the creation of the world and the possibility of reverting to chaos if the destructive forces of the universe were unleashed.

W hen the Greeks and the Romans conquered Egypt, their religion was influenced by that of Egypt. Ancient pagan beliefs gradually faded and were replaced by monotheistic religions. Today, the majority of the Egyptian population is Muslim, with a small minority of Jews and Christians.

The Christian religion is thought to be represented by 5.1% of the population although some estimates put the percentage from as low as 3% to as high as 20%. The vast majority, 95%, of Christians in Egypt belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. These followers are referred to as Copts meaning they are of Coptic origin. It is the largest ethnic minority group in the country.


Although Judaism is a recognized religion in Egypt, its number of adherents is very low. Today, it is estimated that the number of Jews in the country is less than 40. Prior to 1950, it was estimated at somewhere between 70,000 and 85,000. In 1948, Israel was created which caused a massive out-migration of Egyptian Jews and after the Suez Crisis of 1956, thousands more were pushed out of the country and had their property confiscated.

Unrecognized Religions

A small minority of the population belong to several unrecognized religions including Baha’i Faith, Hinduism, Atheism, and Agnosticism. Those of the Baha’i faith are not able to register their religion on state identification papers which leave them without valid identification. The lack of identification makes it difficult to open bank accounts, start legal businesses, and register children for school. Recent court rulings have, however, allowed them to obtain identification by omitting their religion. Atheists and Agnostics live in fear of openly expressing their beliefs due to the risk of legal repercussions.

The Olmec's Multiple Beliefs Of Religion

Religion The Olmec of Mexico had multiple beliefs of religion. They built big stone temples that had walkaways through the middle of it and everyone in the village went to this temple to either trade or pray. The temple will be located near our stone heads and will be in the middle of our display, this part is important because the olmec were a very religious tribe. They made stone statues of god heads, they usually looked like cubes. These stone carvings were very important to their religion because they believed in multiple gods, these statues will be located in the middle of our display.

The Driving Force Of Religion

The Driving Force of Religion In the earliest civilizations of the West, the influence of religion was crucial in establishing key elements of government and developing distinct cultures. Sacred texts showed rules and stipulations to abide by, just to keep the god’s wrath at bay. The world’s greatest temples were built in homage to those gods as thanks from the early peoples, for having shone them the way of righteous living. A god could also dictate where an army waged war and what lands a civilization

Watch the video: Doku Ägypten - Leben und Sterben im alten Ägypten Dokumentation Deutsch