The Ways of Christ internet project’s additional pages
on various other religions are both a contribution to a better understanding of
these religions as well as to inter-religious dialogue - as far as the religions
Similarities and differences between ancient Egyptian religiousness and a Christianity which is again becoming aware of its own spiritual depths are discussed. In particular, the relationship between the various ancient Egyptian concepts of God and the Jewish-Christian-Islamic notion of God is examined. We do not claim to offer a comprehensive account of ancient Egyptian religion and its development - which would not be possible even given the current state of published research.
Traditional school knowledge of ancient Egypt, which
depicts ancient Egypt as having a religion with many gods (i.e. polytheism) -
according to Christianity a "heathen" practice - is too generalized in
face of the current state of research, and thus does not do justice to the
highly developed search for God in ancient Egypt.
The early Egyptian tradition of "Atum"- the initially unmanifested creator of the world - is just one illustration of the stages of development toward a belief in God that comes to light in various forms and on various levels.
Additionally, it has long been known that for instance the pharaoh Tutanchaton / Echnaton of the new empire introduced the (monotheistic) worship of God, named "Aten". In light of his close affiliation with the long and well-recorded teachings and practices of Egyptian priests which the pharaoh had to study and successfully complete, it cannot be assumed that this was a momentary, arbitrary idea of a single person - although this alone would certainly be of great importance for this examination. There is reason to assume that this bold deed also stemmed from a special, [deeper?] understanding of the written records - an important revelation which possibly arose from inspiration, which then later, to put it in present-day terms, caused controversy for theological interpretations and interests. (The next pharaoh restored the traditional practices back to the priests.)
As we have found in other ancient religions, more assiduous pupils can sometimes find other lessons which go beyond the widespread polytheistic image ("a deity for everything"). For example, some of the many "gods" may have been "names of God" which stood for a specific character trait of the One True God. Just as the planets are assigned their roles from one sun, the gods - indeed, fittingly often named after the planets - take their role from the "father of all gods". According to ancient thinking, these "gods" had counterparts (preferably looked at from the right hemisphere of the brain) - not only in planets, but also days, colors, musical notes, letters (vowels), bodily organs, etc.; thus, they were not merely the planets themselves, but rather cosmic principles and laws created by God. One crux of these teachings concerning analogies was the Tabula Smaragdina, which, in short, roughly means: "As above (in the cosmos, or heaven), so shall it be below (on the earth, or for a human being, man as an image); as below, so shall it be above; to properly connect below and above, that is the work of the sun..." (Yes, again, that which Echnaton later called Aten - not simply the physical sun, but the center of all being, the "gold" which Christian alchemists later referred to; the archetype of divine perfection…)
These analogy-teachings are still referred to today as the "hermetic tradition" by various circles which deal with this subject. Like all traditions, this tradition surely underwent some changes and amendments over the course of time, in several countries, and much of this may very well also have been lost. Hermes - a later Greek name -, who is credited with these teachings, was the handed down version of the ancient Egyptian wise man of antiquity, Thoth (Djehuty). In this case, we find that in all likelihood an actual human being was also worshiped and later seen as one of the gods, whereas today he would be considered more of a prophet and great teacher or master. Here, again, is something which does not fit the classical image of "polytheism". The Koran also recognizes that there were other prophets before Mohammed, and Muslims may one day discover that Egypt also had a real prophet or two.
Very old written records, which ancient Egyptians themselves traced back to pre-dynastic times, also depict what were likely actual human wise men who were (later?) speculated to have had connections to the divine, which is especially interesting for the issue at hand: Father Osiris, Mother Isis, and Son Horus. Osiris (or the equivalent godly figure), or later Ra or Aten, may have been one and the same in various recorded experiences and descriptions from various time epochs. Here, God shines through; for Rudolf Steiner, this is also "Christ" - since, according to the Gospel of John, Christ already existed with God (created by God) in the very beginning before he was born as a human being (John 17:5). In this practice of thinking in analogies, it was natural to detect a glimmer of divinity or a characteristic that surpasses man - or the other way around. These analogies did not necessarily have a blasphemous character, as if someone today were wrongly considered a deity - never mind the fact that, with time, people no longer knew exactly what such beings actually stood for.
Thus, precisely in light of the myth of Osiris, there is no solid evidence of an actual "polytheistic religion". The examples given here show that at several times in Egypt’s history at least some beginning steps were made toward a belief in God that would seem related to that of Abrahamic religions; however, this does not automatically mean that God could have been experienced with the same closeness as in the way made possible through Jesus.
Even if religious studies have given relatively little attention to the illustrated relationships up to now, there is reason to be cautious about making premature judgments about this culture. It may be, as Professor J. J. Hurtak claims in "Keys of Enoch", that Isaiah 19:19* - that there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of Egypt - refers to the Great Pyramid. The pyramids were clearly erected with the full extent of knowledge of that time - as was the case for old Christian architectural monuments. This kind of "tomb" is also like the tomb of an entire cultural epoch; a witness to the ancient human search for God and eternity that outlasts human life. Christ announced the fulfilment of this search and showed the way. In his own way, the prophet Mohammed likewise announced the resurrection of believers at the last trial. Today, it is not always possible to understand constructions which were built in a time when life was entirely different than today. There is nothing coincidental about such monuments. (Incidentally, for some ancient sites, the field of archaeology would do well to remember its own old insight - that it may be better to leave things where they are found, especially so that later scientists might have the chance to explore the remnants with better knowledge.)
The ancient Egyptian culture is indeed no longer as prevalent as other religions discussed on these pages. At best, today there are a few people who seek to recapture Egyptian life wisdom in the form of seminars, for example. However this culture also attained great importance for later cultures, for example via subsequent Greek culture and philosophy. And Moses’ contacts with top-class learned Egyptians were surely not meaningless for him, either, even if he was following his own belief in God.
*Isaiah 19 is generally worth reading, as this prophecy points to the future reconciliation between believers from different lands, and could thus defuse some of today’s misguided animosities when it is received without prejudice. The Koran, too, points out that God tolerates different religious communities, that everyone will find their way back to Him, and that He himself will make the final decision where there was once disagreement (Sura 5:48 / Egyptian verse numeration).
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