In this fourth part of a new series of mini-commentaries Tom McMahon takes us to the religious beliefs in Ancient Egypt. The essential issue he examines are religious notions that we also find much later in history in the Jesus' story.
The afterlife beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians...
Our magic carpet has us hovering over the defunct temple dedicated to Osiris, god of the underworld. We are waiting for permission to land from one of the 4th Millennium b.c.e. ancient priests of Egypt, Hasen ben Wurken. who will be our tour guide of the numberless temples dedicated to the thousand gods controlled by the state temple police-priests. Each god had a vital role in Egyptian society, every facet of life controlled by a god especially powerful in fertility, agriculture, and nature; a god's power was usually sacramentalized with an animal sign, e.g. a cow for Hathor, sky goddesses and daughter of chief mystery god Aman Re, a combination name of the visible sun (Re) with the hidden god (Aman) who is symbolized by a ram headed lion. A tourist could spend ten years studying with Hasen ben and still feel lost in the labyrinth of Egyptian deities. One thing for sure religion was the tool of the Pharaohs to control the people. Their priests were highly trained in absolute secrecy with ceremony open only to royalty, not for public view.
For the purpose of this mini series we will limit today's research to Aurbis, the Jackal and Osiris, the Lord of death and promoter of eternal life. Pharaohs ruled Egypt with a heavy hand for three thousand years. Each Pharaoh was a son of the gods. Editor Brian seemed concerned that last week we departed Greece too soon [quote: "Tom McMahon takes us to Mount Olympus for an all-too brief look at the Ancient Greek Deities."] Brian, I used the word "round trip/Greece to Egypt and back" as I wanted to have a look at earlier pyramid culture, especially the use of human imagination in dealing with the gods. Imagination slowly gives way over the centuries to the pure thought process ordinary in the 21st Century. To capture the mind of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme in 2012 c.e. I need to regain the wonderful Creator-given power of my imagination. The Aborigines find it in "dream time and walks" and in community song. The Egyptian priesthood excelled in imagination.
The assassination of Osiris by his brother Seth brings to mind the betrayal by Jewish politicians that led to the Nazarene's death. Originally the god of vegetation the body of Osiris (Egyptian gods could grow old and die) is chopped up in seven parts (note that wonderful religious word seven) and is resurrected to new life (watch out you Christians) by his sister AND WIFE Isis who has intercourse with the reassembled parts. They have a son named Horus, a sky god and special protector of the Pharaoh. Tour guide Hasen ben sells score cards on who is who in the pantheon of Egyptian gods, male and female; they can add up to a nasty bunch.
We had to question Hasen about the Egyptian belief and custom of embalming. It seems that the original idea of an afterlife came from Zoroastrianism, "a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster, formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran" . When a pharaoh died his body was carefully prepared to meet Aurbis, judge of the dead in the after life and his eventual return to this world. Study of the interior of a pyramid shows a staircase ascending to the stars ... up, up, and away to that heavenly abode, reserved in 4000 b.c.e. for pharaohs only. It would not take long for the solace of an afterlife to find its way into universal thinking, especially the Jewish tradition after the Babylonian captivity. Learned Jews question Jesus in the Gospels.
Hasen is closing the temple doors and this mini may become a maxi. I'll take to bed tonight some comparisons of our touch down in Egypt and the early teachings this little boy from 15th street learned in the 1930's. That word "seven" fascinates me: seven sacraments, seven parts of Osiris' body and then resurrection from death and this story was well known throughout the Hellenistic world at the time of Jesus. I know too that most of the titles of Mary, the virgin-mother, came from titles of the Egyptian goddesses. We'll hang around Egypt next week and see what we can uncover.
PS: I owe an apology to those who replied in Forum to the first mini. I shall take this up in FORUM tomorrow.
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Tom McMahon, the carpet bagger in San Jose, Ca. 25Feb2012
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