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Egypt Essay, Research Paper
Ancient Egypt was one of the greatest cultures that ever came being. Their religion, morals, literature, and structured society were most characteristic of it.
Egyptian mythology is something of a tangled web. This is partly because the culture is so ancient, and partly because each city had its own set of deities, whose personalities often merge as their cults age. In addition, the religion of the Egyptians may have been influenced somewhat by the Jews and by the Ancient Mesopotamians.
The literature of Ancient Egypt often reflected the atmosphere of the time period in which it was written. In this essay, the following documents or literature will be discussed upon:
-The Plea of the Eloquent Peasant
-Song of the Harp-Player
-Book of the Dead
-Maxims of Ptahotep
Each of these had a moral and ethical concept behind each. These concepts may have influenced later religions. In addition, the change of religion by Amenhotep and the battle between the solar faith of Amon-Re and the Cult of Osiris also reflect the atmosphere of their time period.
The structure of society in ancient Egypt remained the same throughout its greater part in history. In some ways, they are common with that of ours.
This essay will address these following statements so as to get a more thorough understanding of the Egyptian civilization by investigating many different facets of its culture and by juxtaposing this culture with others that preceded it.
The Jews and The Egyptians
The influences that took place between the Egyptians and Jews deal with their religions and how they viewed their creation and their relationship with their Gods(s). First, how the two met has to be told.
The question of when the Egyptians or Jews actually met or were together has often been speculated upon. Many refer to the Bible and the Book of Exodus where it supposedly tells when and how the Egyptians met the Jews. The Book of Exodus relates how the Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians but then were alter freed after many years by Moses.
It is not known when the Exodus occurred, if it happened at all. Historians disagree as to the date of the Exodus and many hypotheses have been proposed. However, they have all agreed for the last few centuries that the Exodus took place during the period known as the New Kingdom in Egypt. The establishment of the New Kingdom was believed to about 1580 BC.
There is little evidence to be found that the Jews were actually slaves but what has been found proves quite understandable. Parts of the Exodus in where plague and destruction was brought upon Egypt by the Jewish God are similar to the Papyrus Ipuwer, the Egyptian version of the great catastrophe.
Papyrus: 2:5-6 Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere.
Exodus: 7:21 ?there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.
Papyrus: 2:10 The river is blood.
Exodus: 7:20 ?all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.
Papyrus: 2:10 Men shrink from tasting, human beings and thirst after water.
Exodus: 7:24 And all the Egyptians digged around the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river.
Here we see the first plague and the description of it by both the Jews and the Egyptians. Both recounts are quite similar. The both tell how the land and river turned to blood and that people could and would not drink the water.
The destruction of the files is related in these words:
Exodus: 9:25 ?and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field.
Papyrus: 4:14 Trees are destroyed, no fruit nor herbs are found.
Exodus: 10:15 ?there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the fields, through all the land of Egypt.
Papyrus: 6:3 Forsooth, grain has perished on very side. Forsooth, grain that has perished which yesterday was seen. The land is left over to its weariness like the cutting of flax.
Like the Book of Exodus, the papyrus relates that nothing remained in the fields. Everything had perished. However, more was to come. There were the locusts and the cattle problem both, which are related by the Book of Exodus and the papyrus.
Exodus: 9:3 ?the hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle, which is in the field?there shall be a very grievous murrain.
Papyrus: 5:5 All animals, their hearts weep. Cattle moan?
Exodus: 9:19 ?gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field and he that regarded no the word of the Lord left his servants and his cattle in the field.
Papyrus: 9:2-3 behold, cattle are left to stay and there is none to gather them together. Each man fetches for himself those that are branded with his name.
Here we see how both tell that their cattle have been left alone by in the fields and must be collected by their owners.
According to Exodus, the last night the Israelites were in Egypt was a night in which death struck instantly and took victims from every Egyptian home. The death of so many in a single night cannot be explained. This last plague seems more like a myth.
Testimonies from Egyptian sources and Exodus have both given a recount of the history of both Egypt and The Jews. The evidence presented brought forth more analogies and showed greater resemblance to the scriptural narrative than was ever believed. The Egyptians may have enslaved the Jews and felt the wrath of their God. Before this however, it is said that the Egyptians had traded with the Canaanites. Often, through other historical accounts, the Egyptians would go raid the Canaanites. Harvest season was different for the two cultures; Egypt’s came first. It was usually during the Canaan harvest that the Egyptians would go and raid. Usually, all the warriors or soldiers of the Canaanites were working in fields trying to gather their harvest. Therefore, no one protected the farmers from the Egyptians. Many were captured and used as slaves.
Soon, after many years of this, the people of Canaan began to imitate some of Egyptian life. Many Jews had been taken as slaves, so now, the Canaanites would also have slaves, though they were employed, which means they were paid. Abraham, one of the leaders, had an Egyptian servant as did the pharaohs of Egypt had Jewish servants. Later on is when the Jews were said to have been freed by Moses. Here we see some cultural influences between the Jews and the ancient Egyptians.
In addition, there were influences between the religions of both cultures. The Egyptian belief of how the world was created is quite similar to that of the Jews. The story of Creation is told by the God Nebertcher whom was regarded as the ultimate god. He filled the universe and decided, after some time, to create the Earth thereby changing himself to the god Khepera, the Creator God. All that existed was water before he transformed himself. There was no life. Above the water, was nothing. However, being the all-powerful being Khepera was, all he had to do was command something to happen and it would. This is what the Egyptians believed to be the creation of the world.
In its own way it is similar to that of the Jews’. The Jews believed also that one Supreme Being, God, created everything by just commanding it. Like the Egyptian belief, at first there was nothing, and then there was water, the sky, and life.
There are also similarities between texts of Ancient Egypt and the Jews. This however will be discussed in a later chapter (look at the section about the influences and ethical concepts of Egyptian literature).
The Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians believed that their gods had human characteristics and weaknesses. The Hebrews, in contrast, believed that their God was perfect. These different views had a different impact on the behavior, morals, and ethical concepts of civilization, afterlife, and human nature.
In Egypt, what we now call religion, was so widely acknowledged that it did not even need a name. There is no indigenous name for religion within their own language. For the people of Egypt, there were no perceived differences between sacred and mundane actions, as we moderns believe there to be. Every action, no matter how mundane: plowing, sowing, reaping, brewing, building ships, waging wars, playing games, the system of weights and measures – was viewed as an earthly symbol for a specific divine activity. Religion by definition is any system of belief, worship, and conduct, which often involves a code of ethics and philosophy. The main elements of the Egyptian religion (metaphysical beliefs,) as existed since its earliest history, consisted of:
1.God, the Divine Origin
2.Creation of the Universe
3.Creation of man and his role
Egyptian religion is, in the strictest sense, monotheistic (one God.) The Egyptians regarded the universe as a conscious act of creation by the One Great God. The fundamental doctrine was the unity of the Deity. This One God was never represented. It is the functions and attributes of his domain that were represented. Once a reference was made to his functions/attributes, he became a distinguishable agent; reflecting this particular function/attribute, and its influence on the world. His various functions and attributes as the Creator, Wise, Healer, Everlasting, and the like, were called the neteru. An Egyptian neter/netert was not a god/goddess but the personification of a specific function/attribute of the One God.
The Egyptian thinking that the One God can be represented through his functions/attributes has its equivalence in mankind. Each one of us has various functions and attributes. A person can be a teacher in the classroom, a father to his children, a husband to his wife, a player on his team, … etc. This person does not have multiple personalities, but multiple functions/attributes.
Egyptians recognized the universal validity of this kind of thinking, and applied it to all the levels of the hierarchically organized world. Even though it may appear complex at first sight, it is both coherent and consistent with experience. This was the essence of the Egyptian philosophy. It is a real philosophy based on organized, systematic, self-consistent and coherent principles.
Central to their complete understanding of the universe, was the knowledge that man was made in the image of God, and as such, man represented the created image of all creation. Accordingly, Egyptian symbolism and all measures were therefore simultaneously scaled to man, to the earth, to the solar system, and ultimately to the universe. In order to simplify and convey these abstract notions of God’s attributes, some fixed representations were invented. As a result, the figures of Ptah, Osiris, Amun, Mut, etc., became the signs of such attributes/functions.
The Egyptian creation myths, regarding the universe, are similar to the account provided in the opening chapter of Genesis: God creates heaven and earth, divides the waters, creates the light, and gives life to animals and man. The origin of the world and the nature of the neteru who took part in its creation were subjects of constant interest to the Egyptians. The Egyptian cosmology was divided into four separate but complementary teachings, each with its center of specialty. These teachings are to be viewed as detailed versions of the various stages outlined in the opening chapter of Genesis. The four Egyptian separate teachings at the four centers were sponsored by four different neteru (wrongly translated as gods). The main neteru of creation are Ra of Heliopolis, Ptah of Memphis, and Amon of Thebes.
Egyptians believed that Man is born mortal but contains within himself the seed of the divine. His purpose in this life is to nourish that seed, and his reward, if successful, is eternal life, where he will reunite with his divine origin. Nourishing plants in the soil is analogous to nourishing the spirit on earth by doing good deeds.
The belief of an afterlife was central in Ancient Egyptian religion. Death is not the end, but rather it is a transitional state. Such an experience matches exactly the Egyptians’ belief of the transformation process, which starts with the Day of Judgment where the life of the person is evaluated. The perfected soul will go through the process of transformation, and as the Egyptian writing describes it, “becomes a star and joins the company of Ra, and sails with him across the sky in his boat of millions of years”.
Because the Egyptians believed that their “gods” were like them, having weaknesses and characteristics, the Egyptians could probably relate better and understand their Gods better because thy were closer to “home” where as the Hebrew God, was almighty and in heaven where only a good person could go.
The Jews, unlike the Egyptians, did not believe that all they did was a specific divine activity. The believed that God had given them the will to do whatever they wanted. In addition, their God was superior and was perfect. However, the notion of how to live life on Earth was the same and because of this, the behavior between the two cultures can be called similar. Both believed that to have a good life, one must do good things or deeds and follow the rules of their God(s). In addition, both believed in a concept of a Judgement Day where souls would be judged to see whether they would go to eternal happiness or wander in eternal suffering. But because the Jews believed that their God was perfect, in contrast with the Egyptian view, their level of moral behavior was much higher than that of the Egyptians because the Egyptians believed that their God had weaknesses and that if they (the Egyptians) made mistakes, they would be forgiven because their God wasn’t perfect either. The Jews had to have a high level of moral behavior; otherwise, they would be punished severely by God.
Atmosphere of Ancient Egypt Reflected through Literature and Different Faiths
Part 1: Literature
The literature of Ancient Egypt often reflected the atmosphere of the period in Egypt in which they were written. As well, each piece of literature usually had a moral or ethical concept behind it and usually had an influence on other later religions.
The Plea of the Eloquent Peasant is a story about a peasant who was had some difficulty obtaining justice. In this story, the peasant, Sekhti, is on his way to the city to sell his goods and is robbed by an evil overseer who tricks him. The peasant goes to the boss of the overseer and recounts his story to obtain justice. He is so eloquent that the judge decides to not judge the case yet. Everyday, Sekhti comes back, each time praising the judge eloquently. This, the peasant does for many days until he finally gives up. Finally, justice was given to him because he had been so patient. All his goods were returned and he was presented the overseer’s goods as well, making him the new overseer.
Many things can be drawn from this story that reflect the time in which this was written. We see that it took awhile for Sekhti to receive justice but when he did, he was made almost rich. I think that this story was created as a warning to travelers and robbers as well during harvest time. A warning to travelers or harvesters that there were evil people out there who would try and rob them. And to the robbers that justice would always prevail; don’t steal. Maybe during the time this story was written, crime was high and the peasants felt as if they were being treated unfairly or they weren’t getting justice. So, this event occurred and was recorded to show that the peasants were receiving fair judgement.
In addition, a moral can be derived from this story. We see that when the overseer robbed Sekhti, the king later on robbed him and his goods were given to the one he robbed. The moral here is do unto others as you would have the do unto you. Or treat your neighbor, as you would have them treat you. In understanding this, we see the influence of this piece of literature on later religions. In the Bible, God gives the same moral:
“Do to others whatever you would hace them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.”(Matthew 7:12)
This is known as the Golden Rule of God.
The Song of the Harp-Player was written during the Middle Kingdom and it reflects that period very well. The Story of the Harp-Player is basically a consolation piece. It says “rejoice, and let thy heart forget that day when they shall lay thee to rest.”
This line portrays what this story is about. This was written to tell people to enjoy their lives and not worry about death especially that of other people such as other family members.
“Do thy desires upon earth, and trouble not thine heart until that day of lamentation come to thee.”
This is saying that don’t worry about it until the time comes for you to be sad. Do what you want in life and don’t worry about what others do. In other words, don’t plan for your burial or death until the time has come. In addition, this might be a song that is trying to console the family members of a recently deceased.
This reflects the Middle Kingdom very well. During this period, Pharaohs actually seemed to care about the welfare of the people. Harvests were plentiful because new irrigation was created. People prospered, even the peasants. This story maybe to console the Egyptian people after the death of one of these Pharaohs that brought prosperity to them.
In addition, during the Middle Kingdom, new religious beliefs increased. Common people believed that now they had eternal souls whereas it was believed previously that only pharaohs lived forever. Now people of all classes planned for their burials. Here we see some parts of the song come into play In one part, the Harp Player tells of how the great Pharaohs had gone along with their possessions to another life. After, he says that now, the people would join them too.
“The gods that were aforetime rest in their pyramids, likewise the noble and the glorified, buried in their pyramids. What hath become of them? None cometh again from there that he may tell us of their state, that he may recount to us their lot, that he set out heart at rest until we also hasten away to the place whither they are gone.”
The last line of this passage states that the people will also hasten away to where the gods were. Here we see the belief of the commoners that they too were to live forever.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead is basically a group of rules and prayers that the soul of the deceased was obliged to follow and do before a divine judge who would decide if the soul would live forever. In the Book of the Dead, there consists a series of negative confessions the soul of the deceased had to make. Basically, this book is a guideline to what to do to prepare for an everlasting afterlife; to ensure that your soul lives forever. By telling what has to be done after death, people can make sure they follow a certain set of rules so that they may pass judgment. The Book of the Dead has often been compared to the Ark of the Covenant where the Ten Commandments are kept. There is good reason to compare the two because both the Book of the Dead and the commandments share almost the same rules. 5 of the Ten Commandments delivered from Mount Sinai can be found in the Book of the Dead.
“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain?Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery?Thou shallot not bear false witness against they neighbor?Thou shalt not lie”
- Exodus 20: 7-16 (Ten Commandments)
” Not have I despised god?Not have I killed?Not have I fornicated?Not have I despoiled the thing of god?not have I defiled the wife of a man?Not have I cursed god?Not have I borne false witness.”
-Egyptian Book of the Dead
Here we see the influence of the Egyptian religion on other religions or the Jewish religion on the Egyptian religion. Either way is possible considering both cultures emerged at the relatively same time. The writing of the Book of the Dead shows that there may have been some religious unrest at the time period. People needed guidance on how to lead a good life so that they would have eternal life in the underworld.
The Maxims of Ptahhotep are actually instructions. In it, Ptahhotep gives instructions on aspects in life and what to do when you encounter them. He gives instructions from a god to a father who is to pass it to his son. These, maybe, rules in how to lead a good life. We know this through what he says near the beginning of his instructions.
“Thus says the majesty of this god:
Teach him what was uttered formerly,
Then he can set a good example for the Children of the Nobles.
Thus he says before his son:
Do not be arrogant about your knowledge.
And so forth. There are actually a lot of instructions that Ptahhotep teaches.
For example, in one passage, Ptahhotep states:
“If you encounter a disputant in action, a poor man, not at all your equal,
Do not oppress him due to his weakness. Give him room, he refutes himself.
Do not answer him and your heart will be content. Nor reveal yourself to one
Who is your enemy. It is a wretched thing to injure a poor man.”
Here are instructions on what to do if you meet someone who argues with you but does it poorly. Ptahhotep says not to oppress him, which in this sense means, don’t argue back so as to make him look bad. If you leave him be, he will understand his fault and refute. This is like what the Bible says or what Jesus says in the New Testament. “Turn the other cheek.” In this example, if he argues, let him continue arguing, don’t join in. If he oppresses you, let him continue until he is satisfied.
Another example of this is:
“If you get to be one among the guests at the dining table of one greater than you,
Accept what he gives; place it to your nose.
Look at what is before you. Do not shoot lots of glances at him.
It is an abomination to stir him up. Do not speak until he summons,
Speak when he addresses you.”
Here we see proper etiquette instructions at the dining table by Ptahhotep. Basic standards. Eat what is presented and don’t speak until you are spoken too. These are basic manners. An influence on oour culture today and that of others. WE today, at other tables other than our families, eat what is placed in front of us and don’t speak unless someone makes conversation first. During the age of persecution of the Protestants in England, this is what the Protestants believed and if you did otherwise, God would punish you.
The Maxims of Ptahhotep actually tell quite much about the atmosphere of the time it was written. In the beginning of these instructions, Ptahhotep says:
“Oh Sovereign, my Lord!
Old age has occurred and Age has arrived
Feebleness has come and weakness is renewed.
One sleeps in discomfort every day
The eyes are dim and the ears deaf
The Bones have been ill a long time
And Good has turned into Evil.”
What does this reflect about the atmosphere of the time period? It tells me that maybe during that time, the people were discontent with the way pharaohs were being raised or just the way children were being raised. In one part of the passage, Ptahhotep says that the ears are deaf. This might signify that the children don’t care and aren’t listening to the instructions of their parents and it is due to the fact that “Good has turned into evil.” Ptahhotep writes these instructions to maybe help parents who need to know what to teach their children.
Many things that Ptahhotep teaches are visible in other religions. The proper etiquette was in the Protestant religion, the turning of the cheek concept is found in the Bible, taught by Jesus.
Part 2: Different Faiths
The different faiths during the time of Ancient Egypt also reflected the atmosphere of the period in which they started. The faith of Amenhotep and the solar faith of Amon-Re and the cult of Osiris all reflect something about the mood of the kingdom.
Amenhotep was a pharaoh during the New Kingdom who dared to challenge Egypt’s religious traditions. He believed that the religious cults that worshiped animal gods were debasing the religion of the empire. Amenhotep tried everything in his power to convert Egyptian religion to monotheism though in a sense it already was. Amenhotep believed that the sun god, Aton, was the only true god in the universe. Therefore, he changed his name to Akhenaton. People were forbidden to worship Amon, the god of air, wind, and life itself. While he was busy composing a Hymn to Aton, outposts of his in other countries cried out for help. He ignored them.
Akhenaton trying to stop the debasement of the religion in the empire signifies either two things. First, it reflects that maybe the religion of Ancient Egypt was being debased. People began to make up gods or they began to form cults that killed excessively for their gods. In other words, a religious unrest.
Or it could reflect that the age of the Egyptian rule was coming to an end. The pharaohs were becoming eccentric and too overpowering.
Akhenaton’s Hymn to Aton was quite beautiful and was quite similar to the belief of how the world was created according to the Jews. The Hymn to Aton may have influenced later religions such as the catholic one. In the hymn, Aton sates how great Aton is and how all life came from him, quite similar to the Catholic belief that one God created all. He says that Aton created man, animals, water (Nile), night, and day, which is like the catholic belief that God created everything that we know of today.
Akhenaton trying to convert the Egyptian religion into monotheism influenced later on religions. The Romans used to believe in many gods, now their central belief is the one God that all Christians and Jews believe in. Trying to convert others has also been passed down to the Christians. Even today, we are trying to convert many to Christianity. When America was first settled, Christians tried to convert the Mongoloids (Indians) to Christianity.
During the Middle Kingdom, a new faith emerged that challenged the old faith of Amon-Re. This new faith turned into what is known as the Cult of Osiris. Osiris played a very important role in Ancient Egypt. Osiris was the king of the underworld and the judge of the dead.
The Egyptians believed in human spirit, which were said to consist of three things: akh, ba, and ka. Akh is the name given to the form that the dead existed in. This form was immortal and unchanging The ba, was the form released at death. Often, it is called the soul, which is incorrect. The Ka was the form considered to be the double of the being, both spiritually and physically. At one’s death, the ka and the ba traveled to join each other in the next world. Once this was done, the being would become an akh, and take the form of the dead that existed among the Gods.
Osiris as said before, was the judge of the dead who lived in the Hall of Judgement. After the dead had crossed from the living world to the dead, he was brought to the hall. There, two hearings took place. First, the dead had to proclaim that he/she was sin-free or pure. People could lie but the next part tested whether someone was pure or not. Their heart was weighed against the feather of truth. If the person were pure, the heart would weigh the same, if not, then the weights would not be equal. If deemed worthy, the deceased went before Osiris and was invited to roam freely with other gods. At this point, the deceased lived in eternal happiness. The Osiris cult changed Egyptian religion greatly. The cult created a sort of ethic in Egyptian life. An individual had to follow a moral code to have the promise of eternal life. The Promise was offered to every one. Soon, the cult of Osiris overshadowed the sun-god cult or the solar faith of Amon-Re, which soon faded out of existence.
This new cult reflected a new beginning during the Middle Kingdom. During the Middle Kingdom, commoners began to believe that they too, like a pharaoh could live an eternal life as presented by the cult of Osiris. The cult showed happiness and prosperity, which was true in the Middle Kingdom. This was because everyone wanted to have an eternal life. So, they all followed the moral code of Osiris.
Structure of Society
The structure of society in Ancient Egypt remained constant for almost 3,000 years. They had a society consisting of classes. One could think of this society as a pyramid. The Pharaoh at top, nobles second, then the artisans, peasants fourth, and the last, the slaves.
The Pharaohs were much more than political leaders to their people. The pharaohs were considered to be gods. They were responsible for the well being of the kingdom. It was the pharaoh that caused the sun to rise, the Nile to flow, and the crops to grow. All good things came from the pharaoh. The pharaohs were not always men, once, a woman came to throne. Yet, usually, the women were considered just the wives of the kings.
After the pharaoh came the nobles who served the pharaoh. They ranged from priests, to tax collectors. These nobles lead a luxurious but busy life. Most of the nobles had been born as wealthy Egyptians. Theirs was an inherited wealth. This was always the case, but it was usually.
After the nobles came the artisans who led fairly comfortable lives. They were responsible for the tools and jewelry and so forth of Egypt.
Peasants were the next class of people in society. These were those that worked hard in fields everyday whether you were a woman or a man. Peasants led a hard life but nonetheless, they seemed to enjoy it. Despite the fact that they didn’t own the land they worked on and most of the harvest was taken away, they found time and happiness to celebra