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Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt

By James Henry Breasted

The Age of Personal Piety—Sacerdotalism and Final Decadence


The fall of Ikhnaton is shrouded in complete obscurity. The ultimate result was the restoration of Amon by Tutenkhamon, one of Ikhnaton's feeble successors. The old régime returned. Tutenkhamon's account of his restoration of the gods is an interesting revelation of the religious and intellectual attitude of the leading men of affairs when Ikhnaton had passed away. The new king refers to himself as "the good ruler, who did excellent things for the father of all gods (Amon), who restored for him that which was in ruin as everlasting monuments; cast out for him sin in the Two Lands (Egypt), so that righteousness endured . . .; and made lying to be the abomination of the land, as in the beginning. For when his majesty was crowned as king, the temples of the gods and goddesses were [desolat]ed from Elephantine as far as the marshes of the Delta 1 . . . (hammered out). Their holy places were ⌈forsaken⌉ and had become overgrown tracts, . . . their sanctuaries were like that which has never been, and their houses were trodden roads. The land was in an evil pass, and as for the gods, they had forsaken this land. If people were sent to Syria to extend the borders of Egypt, they prospered not at all; if men prayed to a god for succor, he came not; . . . if men besought a goddess likewise, she came not at all. Their hearts were ⌈deaf⌉ in their bodies, and they diminished what was done. Now, after days had passed by these things, [his majesty] appeared upon the throne of his father, he ruled the regions of Horus. . . . His majesty was making the plans of this land and the needs of the two regions were before his majesty, as he took counsel with his own heart, seeking every excellent matter and searching for profitable things for his father Amon, fashioning his august emanation of pure gold, and giving to him more than was done before." 

Thus was the memory of the great idealist execrated. When in a state document it was necessary to refer to him, he was called "the criminal of Akhetaton." The reestablished priesthood of Amon rejoiced in the restoration of their power, especially when the ephemeral successors of Ikhnaton were followed by the able rule of Harmhab, a military leader who had contrived gradually to secure control of the situation. A hymn to Amon from this period reveals the exultant triumph of his devotees as they sing to him:

"Thou findest him who transgresses against thee;
 Woe to him who assails thee!
 Thy city endures;

But he who assails thee falls.
 Fie upon him who transgresses against thee in every land.
 .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
 The sun of him who knows thee not goes down,
 O Amon! But as for him who knows thee, he shines.
 The forecourt of him who assailed thee is in darkness,
 But the whole earth is in light.
 Whosoever puts thee in his heart, O Amon,
 Lo, his sun dawns." 
This very hymn, however, betrays its connection with the old Solar faith and the paternal interpretation of Re, as it goes on to the praise of Amon as the "good shepherd" and the "pilot," ideas which, we recall, arose in the social movement of the Feudal Age. Indeed, notwithstanding the restoration of Amon, the ideas and the tendencies which had given birth to the revolution of Ikhnaton were far from disappearing. It was not possible to carry them on, under a monotheistic form, involving the annihilation of the old gods; but the human and beneficent aspects of Aton, in his care for all men, had taken hold upon the imagination of the thinking classes, and we find the same qualities now attributed to Amon. Men sang of him:

"Lord of truth, father of gods,
 Maker of men and creator of animals,
 Lord of that which is,
 Creator of the tree of life,
 Maker of herbs, sustaining the cattle alive." 2The hymn from which these lines are quoted does not hesitate to call the god thus praised Re or Atum, showing that the Aton movement had left the traditional prestige of the Heliopolitan Re unblemished. Another passage contains evident echoes of the Aton faith:

"Hail to thee! Re, lord of Truth,
 Whose sanctuary is hidden, lord of gods,
 Khepri in the midst of his barque,
 Who commanded and the gods became;
 Atum, who made the people,
 Who determined the fashion of them,
 Maker of their sustenance,
 Who distinguished one color (race) from another;
 Who hears the prayer of him who is in captivity,
 Who is kindly of heart when one calls upon him,
 Who saves the timid from the haughty,
 Who separates the weak from the ⌈strong⌉,
 Lord of Knowledge, ⌈in⌉ whose mouth is Taste;
 For love of whom the Nile comes,
 Lord of sweetness, great in love,
 At whose coming the people live."
Even the old monotheistic phrases have here and there survived, and this hymn employs them without compunction, though constantly referring to the gods. It says:

"Sole ⌈likeness⌉, maker of what is,
 Sole and only one, maker of what exists.
 From whose eyes men issued,
 From whose mouth the gods came forth,
 Maker of herbs for the cattle,
 And the tree of life for mankind,
 Who maketh the sustenance of the fish [in] the stream,
 And the birds that ⌈traverse⌉ the sky,
 Who giveth breath to that which is in the egg,
 And maketh to live the son of the worm,
 Who maketh that on which the gnats live,
 The worms and the insects likewise,
 Who supplieth the needs of the mice in their holes,
 Who sustaineth alive the ⌈birds⌉ in every tree.

Hail to thee, who hast made all these,
 Thou sole and only one, with many arms,
 Thou sleeper waking while all men sleep,
 Seeking good things for his cattle.
 Amon, enduring in all things,
 Praise to thee in all that they say,
 Jubilation to thee, for ⌈thy tarrying with us⌉,
 Obeisance to thee, who didst create us,
 'Hail to thee,' say all cattle;
 'Jubilation to thee,' says every country,
 To the height of heaven, to the breadth of earth,
 To the depths of the sea."
A hymn to Osiris of the same age says to him: "Thou art the father and the mother of men, they live from thy breath." 1 There is a spirit of humane solicitude in all this, which, as we have seen, appeared as early as the social teaching of the Feudal Age. Especially the preference for the "timid" as over against the "haughty" and overbearing, and the discerning "taste" and "knowledge, "which are the royal and divine prerogatives, we have already discovered in social tractates like Ipuwer, and even in a state document like the Installation of the Vizier in the Twelfth Dynasty. That God is the father and mother of his creatures was, of course, a doctrine of the Aton faith. Such hymns also still preserve the universalism, the disregard for national lines, which was so prominent in the teaching of Ikhnaton. As we look further into the simpler and less ecclesiastical professions of the thirteenth and twelfth centuries before Christ, the two centuries after Ikhnaton, the confidence of the worshipper in the solicitude of the Sun-god for all, even the least of his creatures, has developed into a devotional spirit, and a consciousness of personal relation with the god, which was already discernible in Ikhnaton's declaration to his god: "Thou art in my heart." The surviving influence of the Aton faith and the doctrines of social justice of the Feudal Age now culminated, therefore, in the profoundest expression or revelation of the devotional religious spirit ever attained by the men of Egypt. Furthermore, although rooted in the teaching of an exclusive few heretofore, these beliefs in an intimate and personal relation between the worshipper and his god had now, with the lapse of centuries and by slow and gradual process, become widespread among the people. An age of personal piety and inner aspiration to God now dawned among the masses. It is a notable development and, like so many of the movements which we have followed in these lectures, the earliest of its kind as yet discernible in the history of the East, or for that matter in the history of man. We are able to follow it only at Thebes, and it is not a little interesting to be able to look into the souls of the common folk who thronged the streets and markets, who tilled the fields and maintained the industries, who kept the accounts and carried on the official records, the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, the men and women upon whose shoulders rested the great burden of material life in the vast capital of the Egyptian Empire during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries before Christ.

A scribe in one of the treasury magazines of the Theban necropolis prays to Amon, as to him

"Who cometh to the silent,
 Who saveth the poor,
 Who giveth breath to every one he loveth,
  .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
 Give to me [thy] hand,
Save me,
 Shine upon me,
 For thou makest my sustenance.
 Thou art the sole god, there is no other,
 Even Re, who dawneth in the sky,
 Atum maker of men,
 Who heareth the prayers of him who calls to him,
 Who saveth a man from the haughty,
 Who bringeth the Nile for him who is among them,
 Who leadeth—for all men,
 When he riseth, the people live,
 Their hearts live when they see him
 Who giveth breath to him who is the egg,
 Who maketh the people and the birds to live,
 Who supplieth the needs of the mice in their holes,
 The worms and the insects likewise." 
To a god, the least of whose creatures are the object of his care, these men of Thebes might bring their misfortunes and their daily cares, confident in his kindness and beneficence. A painter of tomb scenes in the necropolis erected a stela in one of the necropolis sanctuaries, telling how Amon, in gracious mercy, had saved his son from sickness. Amon is to him the "august god, who heareth petitions, who cometh at the cry of the afflicted poor, and giveth breath to him who is bowed down," and the story of Amon's goodness he tells thus:

"Praise to Amon!
 I make hymns in his name,
 I give to him praise,
 To the height of heaven,
 And the breadth of earth;
 I tell of his prowess
 To him who sails down-stream,
 And to him who sails up-stream.
"Beware of him!
 Repeat it to son and daughter,
 To great and small,
 Tell it to generation after generation,
 Who are not yet born.
 Tell it to the fishes in the stream,
 To the birds in the sky,
 Repeat it to him who knoweth it not
 And to him who knoweth it.
 Beware of him.

"Thou, O Amon, art the lord of the silent,
 Who cometh at the cry of the poor.
 When I cry to thee in my affliction,
 Then thou comest and savest me.
 That thou mayest give breath to him who is bowed down,
 And mayest save me lying in bondage. 
  .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
 Thou, Amon-Re, Lord of Thebes, art he,
 Who saveth him that is in the Nether World,
 When men cry unto thee,
 Thou art he that cometh from afar."

"Nebre, painter of Amon in the necropolis, son of Pai, painter of Amon in the necropolis, made this in the name of his lord, Amon, Lord of Thebes, who cometh at the cry of the poor; making for him praises in his name, because of the greatness of his might, and making for him prayers before him and before the whole land, on behalf of the painter Nakht-Amon, 2 when he lay sick unto death, being ⌈in⌉ the power of Amon, because of his sin."

"I found that the lord of gods came as the north wind, while fragrant air was before him, that he might save the painter Nakht-Amon, son of the painter of Amon in the necropolis, Nebre, born of the housewife, Peshed."

"He saith, 'Though the servant be wont to commit sin, yet is the lord wont to be gracious. The lord of Thebes spends not the whole day wroth. If he be wroth for the space of a moment, it remaineth not . . . turns to us in graciousness, Amon turns ⌈with⌉ his breath.'" 

"By thy ka, thou wilt be gracious, and that which is turned away will not be repeated."

"He saith, 'I will make this stela in thy name, and I will record this hymn in writing upon it, if thou wilt save for me the painter Nakht-Amon.' Thus I spake to thee, and thou hearkenedst to me. Now behold I do that which I said. Thou art the lord of the one who calls upon him, who is satisfied with righteousness, the lord of Thebes."

"Made by the painter, Nebre and [his] son Khai."

Similarly in a year of unseasonable weather and resulting distress a man prays: "Come to me, O Amon, save me in this year of distress. As for the sun, when it happens that he shines not, then winter comes in summertime, the months are ⌈retarded⌉ and the days are belated. The great cry out to thee, O Amon, and the small seek after thee. Those who are in the arms of their nurses say, 'Give us breath, O Amon.' Then is Amon found coming in peace with the sweet air before him. He transforms me into a vulture-wing, like a barque manned, ⌈saying⌉, 'Strength to the shepherds in the field, the washers on the dike, the ⌈guards⌉ who come forth from the district, the gazelles in the desert."

"Thou findest that Amon doeth according to thy desire, in his hour of peace, and thou art praised in the midst of the officials and established in the place of truth. Amon-Re, thy great Nile ascendeth the mountains, thou lord of fish, rich in birds; and all the poor are satiated." 

The Sun-god, or his supplanter, Amon, has thus become the champion of the distressed, "Who heareth the petition, who heareth the prayers of him who crieth out to him, who cometh at the voice of him who mentions his name,"  "the loving god who heareth prayers, [who giveth the hand] to the poor, who saveth the weary." So the injured mother, neglected by her son, "raises her arms to the god, and he hears her cry." The social justice which arose in the Middle Kingdom is now a claim which every poor man pleads before the god, who has himself become a "just judge, not accepting a bribe, uplifting the insignificant, [protecting] the poor, not extending thy hand to the rich." And so the poor man prays: "O Amon, lend thine ear to him who stands alone in the court (of justice), who is poor while his [opponent] is rich. The court oppresses him (saying), 'Silver and gold for the scribes! Clothing for the servants!' But Amon transforms himself into the vizier, that he may cause the poor man to triumph; the poor man is just and the poor man ⌈overcomes⌉ the rich. Pilot [in] front who knoweth the water, Amon, thou Rudder, . . . who giveth bread to him who has none, and preserveth alive the servant of his house." For the god is now that "Amon-Re who first became king, O god of the beginning, thou vizier of the poor man, not taking the corrupt reward, not saying,

'Bring witnesses;' Amon-Re who judgeth the earth with his finger, whose words are before the heart. He assigneth him that sinneth against him to the fire, and the just [to] the West."  Rich and poor alike may suffer the displeasure of the god aroused by sin. An oath taken lightly or falsely calls down the wrath of the god, and he smites the transgressor with sickness or blindness, from which relief may be obtained as we have seen, if repentance follows and the offender humbly seeks the favor of his god.  Now for the first time conscience is fully emancipated. The sinner pleads his ignorance and proneness to err. "Thou sole and only one, thou Harakhte who hath none other like him, protector of millions, savior of hundred-thousands, who shieldeth him that calleth upon him, thou lord of Heliopolis; punish me not for my many sins. I am one ignorant of his own body, I am a man without understanding. All day I follow after my own dictates as the ox after his fodder."  This is in striking contrast with the Book of the Dead, in which the soul admits no sin and claims entire innocence. But now in this posture of unworthiness and humility there is inner communion with God night and day. "Come to me, O Re-Harakhte, that thou mayest guide me; for thou art he that doeth, and none doeth without thee, but thou art he who doeth it. Come to me, Atum, thou art the august god. My heart goes out to Heliopolis My heart rejoiceth and my bosom is glad. My petitions are heard, even my daily prayers, and my hymns by night. My supplications shall flourish in my mouth, for they are heard this day." 

n the old hymns, made up of objective descriptions, quotations from the myths, and allusions to mythical incidents, all matters entirely external to the life of the worshipper, every man might pray the same prayer; but now prayer becomes a revelation of inner personal experience, an expression of individual communion with God. It is a communion in which the worshipper discerns in his god one nourishing the soul as a shepherd feeds his flock. "O Amon, thou herdman bringing forth the herds in the morning, leading the suffering to pasture; as the herd-man leads the herds [to] pasture, so dost thou, O Amon, lead the suffering to food, for Amon is a herdman, herding him that leans upon him. . . . O Amon-Re, I love thee and I have filled my heart with thee. . . . Thou wilt rescue me out of the mouth of men in the day when they speak lies; for the Lord of Truth, he liveth in truth. I will not follow the anxiety in my heart, (for) that which Amon hath said flourisheth." There are, to be sure, external and material means which will further this spiritual relation with the god. The wise man sagely admonishes to" celebrate the feast of thy god, repeat his seasons; the god is wroth [with] him who transgresses [against] him."  Nevertheless, even in the opinion of the sages, who are wont to compromise with traditional customs, the most effective means of gaining the favor of God is contemplative silence and inner communion. "Be not of many words, for in silence shalt thou gain good. . . . As for the precinct of God, his abomination is crying out; pray thou with a desiring heart whose every word is hidden, and he will supply thy need, and hear thy speech and receive thy offering."  It is in such an attitude as this that the worshipper may turn to his God as to a fountain of spiritual refreshment, saying, "Thou sweet Well for him that thirsteth in the desert; it is closed to him who speaks, but it is open to him who is silent. When he who is silent comes, lo, he finds the well."  This attitude of silent communion, waiting upon the gracious goodness of God, was not confined to the select few, nor to the educated priestly communities. On the humblest monuments of the common people Amon is called the god "who cometh to the silent," or the "lord of the silent," as we have already observed.  It is in this final development of devotional feeling, crowning the religious and intellectual revolution of Ikhnaton, and also forming the culmination of the doctrines of social justice emerging in the Feudal Age, that the religion of Egypt reached its noblest and most exalted period. The materials for the age of the decadence which followed are too scanty to reveal clearly the causes of the stagnation which now ensued, a decline from which the religious life of Egypt never recovered.

In morals and in the attitude toward life the sages continued to maintain a spirit of wholesome regard for the highest practical ideals, an attitude in which we discern a distinct advance upon the teachings of the fathers. Reputation was strictly to be guarded. "Let every place which thou lovest be known," says the sage; 4 and drunkenness and dissolute living are exhibited in all their disastrous consequences for the young. To the young man the dangers of immorality are bared with naked frankness.

"Guard thee from the woman from abroad, who is not known in her city; look not on her, . . . know her not in the flesh; (for she is) a flood great and deep, whose whirling no man knows. The woman whose husband is far away, 'I am beautiful,' says she to thee every day. When she has no witnesses, she stands and ensnares thee. O great crime worthy of death when one hearkens, even when it be not known abroad. (For) a man takes up every sin [after] this one." 1 As for the good things of life, they are to be regarded with philosophical reserve. It is foolish to count upon inherited wealth as a source of happiness. "Say not, 'My maternal grandfather has a house on the estate of So and So.' Then when thou comest to the division (by will) with thy brother, thy portion is (only) a storage-shed."  In such things indeed there is no stability. "So it is forever, men are naught. One is rich, another is poor. . . . He who was rich last year, he is a vagrant this year. . . . The watercourse of last year, it is another place this year. Great seas become dry places, and shores become deeps."  We have here that Oriental resignation to the contrasts in life which seems to have developed among all the peoples of the early East. 

The speculations of the thinking class, especially those which we have found in intimations of pantheism as far back as the Pyramid Age, had also now gained currency among the common people, although of course in the concrete form in which such reflections always find expression in the East. A picturesque tale of the twelfth century B.C. expresses in graphic form the thought of the people concerning these complicated and elusive matters. It is now commonly known as the Tale of the Two Brothers.  The two gods who appear as the chief characters in the tale are pictured in the naïve imagination of the folk as two peasants, whose names, Anubis and Bata, have disclosed them as gods of the town of Kasa,  who had a place in the religion of Egypt at an enormously remote date.  Anubis, the elder brother, is married; Bata, the younger, lives with them almost as their son, when the idyllic round of picturesque rustic life is forever ended by an attempt on the part of the wife, enamoured of the younger brother, to establish improper relations with him. The youth indignantly refuses, exemplifying the current wisdom of the wise man as we have already met it. The incident later found place in the Hebrew tradition of Joseph in Egypt. Deceived by his wife into believing a perverted version of the affair foisted upon him by the false woman, Anubis lies in wait to slay his brother. Warned by his cattle, however, the youth flees, and his brother's pursuit is cut off by the Sun-god, who places between them a torrent filled with crocodiles. Then Bata, calling upon the Sun-god "who distinguisheth between good and evil" to judge between them, reproaches his brother with his easy credulity as they converse across the stream and tells him that all is now over. As for the youth himself, he must depart to the "Valley of the Cedar," a place which must have been on the Phoenician coast, as there were no cedars in Egypt. There he will await the coming of Anubis to succor him, whenever Anubis observes commotion in the jar of beer which he drinks. Anubis returns and slays his unfaithful wife, while the youth wanders on to the Valley of the Cedar. Maintaining himself there as a hunter, the Sun-god sends him a beautiful wife to solace his loneliness. Although she escapes the sea that would have carried her away, a stray lock of her perfumed hair wandering to Egypt betrays her to the Pharaoh, who searches for her far and wide, and, like Cinderella, she is at last brought to the palace. She at once prays the king to send emissaries to cut down the cedar with which the life of Bata, her husband, is mysteriously involved. When this is done, Bata falls dead, and his treacherous wife feels free to live in splendor at the court. Then Bata's brother, Anubis, observes a commotion in the beer he is drinking, and he sets out at once to search for Bata, whose body he soon finds in the "Valley of the Cedar." For three years he sought the cedar blossom in which was the soul of Bata, and wearying, he was about to return to Egypt, when in the fourth year, as he was walking by the cedar, he chanced upon it. Then he hastened to place it in a jar of water, and having given the water to Bata to drink, his dead brother revived, and they embraced each other and talked together. Bata now informs his brother that he must assume the form of a sacred bull, and going in this guise to the court, he will reckon with the faithless beauty whom the gods gave him. But the court beauty compasses the death of the bull, and from his blood which spatters the door-posts of the palace two beautiful persea-trees spring up, one on either side of the doorway. When the Pharaoh's favorite induces him to cut these down, a chip from one of them flies into her mouth, and as a result she bears a son, who proves to be Bata himself. The Pharaoh makes him heir to the throne, to which Bata finally succeeds, and after a long and happy reign is followed as king by his brother, the faithful Anubis.

It is easy to discern in the imperishable life of Bata, as it emerges in one form after another, especially in the cedar and the persea-tree, a folk version of some of the Osiris incidents interwoven with the myth of the Sun-god. But it will be noticed that Bata is alternately the persea of Osiris and the bull of the Sun, who still remains, as he has been throughout its history, the great god of Egypt. "The god of this land is the Sun in the horizon, (while) his statues are on earth," says the sage; 1 but the other gods have now in the thought of the time completely coalesced with him. This Solar pantheism now took definite form in the thought of the theologian, and we ultimately find an "Amon-Re-Wennofer (Osiris)" as king of Egypt, with his name inclosed in a cartouche like an earthly ruler. Amon as Sun-god becomes the all-pervasive, life-giving air. "He emits air, refreshing the throat, in his name of 'Amon,' who abides (mn) in all things, the soul of Shu (god of the air) for all gods, the substance of life, who created the tree of life, . . . flooding the Two Lands (Egypt), without whom none liveth in Egypt."  As god of the universal air, "his voice is heard though he is not seen, refreshing every throat, strengthening the heart of the pregnant woman in travail, and the man-child born of her."  In the words of an old Sun-hymn of Aton times, the worshipper says, "Thou art he who fashions his body with his own hands in any form he desires;"  and Amon, "lord of Thebes shines in his forms, which are in every province," 4 indicating that the local gods of the provinces or nomes are but forms and names of Amon. The priests narrated too how this had come to pass. "Thou didst establish thy throne in every place thou lovest, in order that thy names might be many. Cities and nomes bear thy beauty, and there is no ⌈ region⌉ without thy image." Then they told how in the beginning Amon had gone from one great sanctuary to the other, and how in each one he had established himself as the god of the place. At Heliopolis he had become Atum, at Memphis he had become Ptah, at Heracleopolis he had become Harsaphes. Not only are the gods but forms of Amon, Amon is in all, and he is all. "Thy form is the Nile, the first-born, older than the gods; thou art the great waters, and when they penetrate into the soil, thou makest it to live by thy flood. Thou art the sky, thou art the earth, thou art the Nether World, thou art the water, thou art the air that is between them. Men rejoice because of thee, (for) thou ceasest not to care for all that is." 

Thus those pantheistic speculations which we found as far back as the Pyramid Age, after two thousand years of slow development have finally resulted in identifying the world with God.

In form all the old faiths went on as before, maintaining all the old externals. This was especially true of mortuary practices, which developed under the Empire as never before. All men of whatever class, no matter how poor and needy, desired and received some mortuary equipment, when laid away in the grave, which might enable the departed to share in the blessed destiny of Osiris. The material equipment of the dead for eternity, in spite of the impressive demonstration of its futility furnished by the desolate pyramid cemeteries, had now become a vast industry which all classes of society called into requisition. The sages cautioned even the young to make ready their tombs. "Say not 'I am (too) young to be taken.' Thou knowest not thy death. Death comes and takes the child who is in his mother's arms, like the man who has reached old age." "Adorn thy seat which is in the valley, the tomb which shall hide thy body. Put it before thee in thy affairs, which are made account of in thy eyes, like the very old whom thou layest to rest in the midst of their ⌈dwelling⌉. There is no blame to him who doeth it, it is good that thou be likewise equipped. When thy messenger comes ⌈to take thee he shall find thee equipped⌉."  Neither should a man forget those who already lie there: "Put water for thy father and thy mother who rest in the valley. . . . Thy son shall do likewise for thee." 

Under such influences as these grew up the vast cemetery of Thebes, in which myriads of the common people of a class who had never before enjoyed Osirian burial were now laid away. The great mass of material remains from such cemeteries, however, reveals only the popularization of tendencies and beliefs long before observable among the higher and the educated classes. It is rarely that such tendencies were more than mechanically and thoughtlessly followed by the common folk, and seldom do we find such important developments among them as those manifestations of personal piety among the poor, to which we have already given attention.

With the decline of the Empire from the thirteenth century onward, the forces of life both within and without were exhausted and had lost their power to stimulate the religion of Egypt to any further vital development. Stagnation and a deadly and indifferent inertia fell like a stupor upon the once vigorous life of the nation. The development which now ensued was purely institutional and involved no progress in thought. The power of the priesthood as a political influence is observable as far back as the rise of the Fifth Dynasty, in the middle of the twenty-eighth century B.C. In the Empire, however, vast temples, richly endowed, became an economic menace. Moreover, the great Pharaohs of this age began to recognize oracles of Amon as mandatory. Thutmose III was seated on his throne by a conspiracy of the priests of Amon, supported by an oracle of the great god recognizing him as king. When Thutmose III, therefore, made the High Priest of Amon primate of all the priesthoods of Egypt, the chief sacerdotal official of the state, he was but paying his political debts. This Amonite papacy suffered severely at the hands of Ikhnaton, as we have seen. After his overthrow, however, it recovered all it had lost and much more. Ramses II even allowed an oracle of Amon to guide him in the appointment of the god's high priest, 1 and under such circumstances it was easy for the high priests of Amon to make the office hereditary. Unable to resist the political power of this state within the state, a constant victim of its economic encroachments, Egypt rapidly degenerated into a sacerdotal state, and by 1100 B.C. the Pharaoh had yielded the sceptre to the head of the state church. It was in the course of this long development which placed the sacerdotal party in control of the throne, that the outward and official manifestations of religion took on those forms of dignity and splendor such as no Oriental religion had before displayed. The sanctuaries of this age will always form one of the most imposing survivals from the ancient world. Not only in their grandeur as architecture, but also in their sumptuous equipment, these vast palaces of the gods lifted the external observances of religion to a plane of splendor and influence which they had never enjoyed before. Enthroned in magnificence which not even the sumptuous East had ever seen, Amon of Thebes became in the hands of his crafty priesthood a mere oracular source for political and administrative decisions. Even routine legal verdicts were rendered by the nod of the god, and such matters as wills and testaments were subject to his oracles. 2 The old prayer of the oppressed, that Amon might become the vizier of the poor man, was receiving a very literal fulfilment, and with results little foreseen by the men who had framed this prayer. As Thebes degenerated into a sacerdotal principality after 1000 B.C., and the great cities of the north, especially of the Delta, eclipsed the splendor of the old imperial capital, Amon slowly lost his pre-eminence, although he was not wholly neglected. Even the venerable supremacy of the Sun-god was encroached upon by the other gods of the north. On the other hand, it is evident that Osiris, who was more independent of state patronage and support, rather gained than lost in popularity.

When the decadence, which had continued for five hundred years, was slowly transformed into a restoration, after 700 B.C., the creative age of inner development was forever past. Instead of an exuberant energy expressing itself in the spontaneous development of new forms and new manifestations, as at the beginning of the Empire, the nation fell back upon the past, and consciously endeavored to restore and rehabilitate the vanished state of the old days before the changes and innovations introduced by the Empire. 1 Seen through the mist of two thousand years, what was to them ancient Egypt was endowed with the ideal perfection of the divine régime which had preceded it. In the endeavor to reconstitute modern religion, society, and government upon ancient lines, the archaizers must consciously or unconsciously have been constantly thwarted by the inevitable mutability of the social, political, and economic conditions of a race. The two thousand years which had elapsed since the Pyramid Age could not be annihilated. Through the deceptive mantle of antiquity with which they cloaked contemporary conditions, the inexorable realities of the present were discernible. The solution of the difficulty, when perceived, was the same as that attempted by the Hebrews in a similar dilemma: it was but to attribute to the modern elements also a hoary antiquity, as the whole body of Hebrew legislation was attributed to Moses. The theoretical revival was thus rescued.

The ancient mortuary texts of the pyramids were revived, and although frequently not understood, were engraved upon the massive stone sarcophagi. The Book of the Dead, still undergoing further redaction, shows plain traces of this influence. In the tomb-chapels we find again the fresh and pleasing pictures from the life of the people in marsh and meadow, in workshop and ship-yard. They are perfect reproductions of the relief scenes in the mastaba tombs of the Pyramid Age, so perfect indeed that at the first glance one is not infrequently in doubt as to the age of the monument. Indeed a man named Aba, at Thebes, sent his artists to an Old Kingdom tomb near Siut to copy thence the reliefs for use in his own Theban tomb, because the owner of the ancient tomb was also named Aba.

There is a large black granite stela in the British Museum, 1 a copy, dating from the dawn of the Restoration, of an ancient papyrus book of the Old Kingdom, a "work of the ancestors, which was eaten of worms." Thus the writings and sacred rolls of bygone days were now eagerly sought out, and, with the dust of ages upon them, they were collected, sorted, and arranged. The past was supreme. The priest who cherished it lived in a realm of shadows, and for the contemporary world he had no vital meaning. Likewise in Babylon the same retrospective spirit was now dominant in the reviving empire of Nebuchadnezzar. It was soon to take possession of the returning Hebrew exiles. The world was growing old, and men were dwelling fondly and wistfully on her far-away youth. In this process of conserving the old, the religion of Egypt sank deeper and deeper in decay, to become, what Herodotus found it, a religion of innumerable external observances and mechanical usages, carried out with such elaborate and insistent punctiliousness that the Egyptians gained the reputation of being the most religious of all peoples. But such observances were no longer the expression of a growing and developing inner life, as in the days before the creative vitality of the race was extinct. To be sure, many of the finest of the old teachings continued as purely literary survivals, and new ones unconsciously crept in, chiefly due to foreign influence. 

In the days of the Greek kings, the Osirian faith finally submerged the venerable Sun-god, with whose name the greatest movements in the history of Egyptian religion were associated, and when the Roman emperor became an Oriental Sun-god, sol invictus, the process was in large measure due to the influence of Asiatic Solar religion rather than to the Solar Pharaoh, who, as we have seen in the Pyramid Texts, had been sovereign and Sun-god at the same time many centuries before such doctrines are discernible in Asia. Whether they are in Asia the result of Egyptian influence is a question still to be investigated. In any case, as Osiris-Apis or Serapis, Osiris gained the supreme place in the popular as well as the state religion, and through him the subterranean hereafter, rather than the Sun-god's glorious celestial kingdom of the dead, passed over into the Roman world. The imposing mêlée of thought and religion from the most remote and racially divergent sources, with which the historian is confronted as he surveys the Mediterranean world at the beginning of the Christian era, was not a little modified by the current which constantly mingled with it from the Nile. It has not been the purpose of these lectures to include this period of far-reaching syncretism of the Græco-Roman world; but as we stand at the close of the long religious development which we have been endeavoring to trace, we may ask ourselves the question whether the ancient religion of Egypt, as we have found it in old native sources long antedating Greek civilization, now passed out unalloyed into the great Mediterranean world. It has of course long since been evident that the religions of the Mediterranean, from the fourth century B.C. onward, or beginning perhaps even earlier, were gradually Orientalized, and in this process of Orientalization the progress of Christianity was but a single phenomenon among others like it. We all know that it was not the Christianity of Judea in the first decades after the crucifixion which conquered the Roman world. It seems equally evident that it was the religion of Egypt as viewed, interpreted, and apprehended by generations of Greeks, it was this Hellenized composite of old Egyptian religion and Greek preconceptions 1 which passed out into the Mediterranean world to make Isis a household word in Athens, to give her a sanctuary even in such a provincial city as Pompeii, and to leave such monuments in Rome as Hadrian's obelisk on the Monte Pincio, which in Egyptian hieroglyphs still proclaims to the modern world not only the deification of the beautiful Greek youth, Hadrian's favorite, as "Osiris-Antinous," but at the same time the enthronement of the ancient mortuary god of Egypt in the palace of the Caesars.

I believe it was Louis Agassiz who, after studying the resistless action of the Swiss glaciers and watching the massive boulders and fragments of rock brought down in the grip of the ice, to be dropped at the bidding of the summer sun in a wandering rampart of tumbled rocks skirting the mouth of the valley, at length realized that this glacial action had been going on for ages, and the imposing truth burst upon him that the geological processes of past æons which have made the earth are still going on at the present day, that they have never ceased, that they will never cease.

We have been tracing in broad lines the development of the religion of a great people, unfolding in the course of over three thousand years as the forces within and the forces around this ancient man wrought and fashioned his conception of the divine powers. God as discerned everywhere in the ancient Oriental world was a human experience. The ancient ideas of God are but the expression of the best that man has felt and thought embodied in a supreme character of which he dreamed. What was intended by Ingersoll, I suppose, as a biting gibe, "An honest god is the noblest work of man," is nevertheless profoundly true. We have seen the Egyptian slowly gaining his honest god. We gained ours by the same process, beginning among the Hebrews. It would be well if we of the modern world as we look back over these ages lying behind us might realize with Agassiz in the geological world,  that religion is still in the making, that the processes which brought forth inherited religion have never ceased, that they are going on around us every day, and that they will continue as long as the great and complex fabric of man's life endures.

344:1 "Marshes of the Delta" (h?’wt yd?w) is not in the published edition of the text, but close study of a large-scale photograph shows that it is still discernible, though with great difficulty, on the stone.

345:1 These new and interesting facts are drawn from a large stela of Tutenkhamon found by Legrain in the Karnak temple in 1905, and published by him in Recueil de trav., XXIX, 162–173. I am indebted to M. Legrain for kind permission to make a series of large-scale photographs of the monument, on which it is possible to read the important northern limits of the persecution of the gods by Ikhnaton, not before noted. The stela was usurped by Harmhab, who inserted his name over that of Tutenkhamon.

346:1 Ostrakon 5656 a in the British Museum, published in Birch, Inscriptions in the Hieratic Character, pl. xxvi. The historical connection of the passages cited was first noted in a brilliant interpretation by Erman, Zeitschr. für aegypt. Sprache, 42, 106 ff.

346:2 Great Hymn to Amon, Cairo Papyrus, No. 17 (Mariette, II, pls. 11–13).

348:1 Zeitschr. für aegypt. Sprache, 38, 31.

350:1 Berlin Statuette, No. 6910.

350:2 Berlin, No. 23077, published by Erman, Sitzungsber. der Kgl. Preuss. Akad., 1911, XLIX, pp. 1087 ff. Erman first called attention to the character of this group of necropolis votive stelæ in an essay, Denksteine aus dem thebanischen Gräberstadt, ibid., pp. 1086. ff.

351:1 So Erman.

351:2 The son of Neb-Re, whose life Amon saves.

352:1 So Erman.

353:1 Papyrus Anastasi, IV, 10, 1–7.

353:2 Erman, ibid., 1107.

353:3 Ibid., 1108.

353:4 Maximes d’Ani, 7, 3.

353:5 Zeitschr. für aegypt. Sprache, 38, 24.

353:6 Papyrus Anastasi, II, 8, 5–9, 3.

354:1 Papyrus Anastasi, II, 6, 5–7.

354:2 Erman, ibid., 1102–3, 1104, 1098–1110, 1101–2, 1107.

354:3 Papyrus Anastasi, II, 10, 5–11, 2.

354:4 Ibid., II, 10, 1–10, 5.

355:1 Inscriptions in the Hieratic Character, XXVI, British Museum Ostrakon, No. 5656 a, ll. 6–7, 14–15, verso ll. 1–3 (after a collation by Erman. Cf. Zeitschr. für aegypt. Sprache, 42, 106).

355:2 Maximes d’Ani, 2, 3–5.

356:1 Ibid., 3, 1–4.

356:2 Papyrus Saltier, I, 8, 2–3.

356:3 See above, pp. 349, 351.

356:4 Maximes d’Ani, 3, 12.

357:1 Ibid., 2, 13–17.

357:2 Ibid., 5, 7–8.

357:3 Ibid., 7, 8–9.

357:4 See, for example, the song of Sindebad the porter in the court of the rich man's house. Algiers edition of Sindebad the Sailor, Arabic text, p. 4.

358:1 Preserved in a papyrus of the British Museum called Papyrus D’Orbiney; published in Select Papyri . . . in the British Museum, London, 1860, part II, pls. ix–xix. It has been often translated. A good rendering by Griffith will be found in Petrie's Egyptian Tales, London, 1895, Second Series, pp. 36–65.

358:2 See Gardiner, Proceedings of the Soc. of Bibl. Arch., XXVII, 1905, p. 185, and Spiegelberg, Zeitschr. für aegypt. Sprache, 44, pp. 98–99.

358:3 Naville has called attention to the probable occurrence of Bata in the Pyramid Texts (Zeitschr. für aegypt. Sprache, 43, 77–83). Naville seems to have overlooked the fact that Bata occurs as early as Menes's time. Indeed he is to be found on a tablet of Menes published by Naville in the very article in question (p. 79, fig. 3); for the bird represented there perched on the building or sanctuary has before him a "t." The bird is to be read "B’," which with the "t" gives us the reading Bata.

360:1 Maximes d’Ani, 6, 16.

360:2 Brugsch, Reise nach der grossen Oase, pl. xvii.

361:1 Ibid., pl. xv, ll. 5–6.

361:2 Ibid., pl. xvi, ll. 38–39.

361:3 Ibid., pl. xv, ll. 14–16.

361:4 Ibid., pl. xv, ll. 2–3.

361:5 Text has "he ceaseth not."

361:6 Ibid., pls. xxv–xxvi, ll. 22–41. All the above texts from Brugsch's Grosse Oase are from the temple of Hibeh in the oasis of el Khargeh, and date from the reign of Darius II, the last quarter of the fifth century B.C.

362:1 Maximes d’Ani, 4, 2–4.

362:2 Ibid., 3, 14–4, 2.

362:3 Ibid., 3, 4–6.

363:1 BAR, II, 131–149.

364:1 Sethe, Zeitschr. für aegypt. Sprache, 44, 30 ff.

364:2 For the most important of such oracles as yet known, see BAR, IV, 650–8, 725–8, 795, etc.

365:1 These and the following remarks largely after the author's History of Egypt, pp. 570 ff.

366:1 No. 797. See my essay in Zeitschr. für aegypt. Sprache, 39, Tafel I, II, and infra, pp. 41–47, especially p. 46, note.

367:1 Especially Babylonian astrology, see Cumont's brilliant book, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, New York, 1912, pp. 73–77, although the Egyptian origin of Ikhnaton's movement is too evident to make possible M. Cumont's suggestion of influences from Asia in it.

368:1 Perhaps we should also add here the astrological elements which had invaded Egypt from Syria, and after being Egyptianized passed on to Rome. See Cumont, ibid., pp. 76–77.

370:1 It is, however, a remarkable fact in this connection, that Agassiz never accepted evolution in the organic world.



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