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The moral consciousness of the Egyptians and of the Semitic nations, especially of the Assyrians and Babylonians, is, as yet, only very imperfectly and partially 55known, so that a very definite characterizing of it is not yet possible. So much appears to be reliably ascertained, that among these nations (which constitute the transition from naturalistic East-Asia to the Occidental nations among whom the divine is conceived of as a personal spirit) both the moral bases and the essence of the moral subject and of the moral task, are conceived in a higher and more spiritual manner than was the case among the earlier nations,—in a manner which brings personality to a greater validity. The Pantheistico-naturalistic character of the religious and moral world-theory is overcome, and a morally dualistic one struggles more definitely into the fore-ground. Morality passes over from the mere preserving and persisting of the Chinese, and from the self-renouncing of the Indians, into a struggle against evil, as super-humanly originated, though not exclusively dominant, and as in fact ultimately to be overcome.
Egypt stands on the dividing-line between the naturalistic and the personally-spiritual world-theory; the divine is indeed primarily and originally, as yet, a pure nature-power, but it struggles up into spiritual personality, and such a personality is recognized also in man; among the Semitic nations this consciousness comes into the fore-ground more prominently still. The presupposition of the moral is no longer the perfect and uniform goodness of existence, as with the Chinese, nor the essential evilness of the same, as with the Indians, but an inner moral antagonism of existence. Over against the personal-become good divinities, stands evil as a divine entity different from them, and which is primarily less spiritual, and expressive rather of mere nature character; and man in his moral struggle stands in the -midst of this antagonism,—has to determine himself for the divine good, and against the not less divine evil. Thus, in virtue of the contest of the antagonism dominant in the world, the moral subject becomes more nearly independent 56and free, than among the purely naturalistic nations; his moral task becomes, by far, more earnest and arduous,—calls far more emphatically for personal self-determination. Hence these nations have produced grander world-historical characters than the earlier ones,—have become world-historically militant nations. And the goal of the militant struggle is the ultimate victory of the good over the evil by the personal spirit, which is also itself not destined to be dissolved back into a general impersonal nature-existence, but, triumphing over mere nature, preserves its own personality.
But this breaking-forth of the rational spirit and of its moral task into greater distinctness, manifests itself otherwise among the Egyptians than among the Semitic nations. It is among the Egyptians that the personal nature of the moral spirit comes first to full self-consciousness. The spirit is a something other than nature and higher than it,—is not destined to servitude under it, but to personal, free moral self-determination and to personal immortality, over against death-dominated nature. But this antithesis of the moral personal spirit to nature does not as yet rise, in the earthly life, to complete victory. Even as Osiris succumbs to the evil divinity, Typhon, so must man ultimately succumb in the struggle with unspiritual nature,—only, however, in order to attain in the yon-side to the full enjoyment of spiritual personality. The morning-twilight of the freedom of the rational spirit dawns in Egypt, but it is not as yet day. It is only through struggle, through suffering and dying, that the spirit becomes free,—in the world of the gods as well as in the world of man. Osiris becomes a true ruler only in the next world, and so with man also; only out of death spring forth life and victory. Also over the Egyptian’s moral life a dusky vail is thrown, a melancholy breath poured out,—as with the Indians, though relieved by a brighter hope. To the Indian all moral life is but a rapidly passing meteor, vanishing away without trace; to the Egyptian it is a conflict, painful indeed, but resulting in an ultimate permanent victory of the moral person. Man has not as yet complete freedom and complete personal validity, but he will have them after death if he only struggles manfully here below; and he is conscious of entire personal responsibility for his life and his fortune after death. His personally-moral life falls not a prey to a universally-dominating 57nature-necessity, but to the personal decision of the first personal victor (Osiris) over nature and over death. By Osiris, the king of the yon-side world, where alone true life first begins, man’s moral life is judged—weighed in the scales of righteousness. In personal communion with Osiris, the just man lives, happy thenceforth. Osiris, the highest representative of spiritual divinity, the forerunner and pledge of immortality, the firstborn among those who have died and are now living after death, is also the highest representative of Egyptian morality, the ground-character of which is, a persistent battling for righteousness. The ostrich-feather, the symbol of truth and righteousness, is one of the highest badges of honor.—But it is only in the next world that true righteousness is realized; here upon earth rule as yet, invincibly, the powers of evil. Hence the Egyptian, in contrast to the Chinese, turns all his love and his interest to the yon-side life. The dwellings of the living were for the most part paltry huts; the dwellings of the dead are monuments of the highest art and of an unparalleled zeal for labor; the tombs hewn out the rocks, and the pyramids intended for the sepulchers of kings, belong among the wonders of the ancient world, and bid defiance to the ravages of time. The present life is, as with the Indians, lightly esteemed, not, however, because of the nullity of all existence in general, but because it is contrasted with a higher life, which, as the highest good, is a richly promising moral goal. Reminders of death attend the Egyptian wherever he turns, and the mummies and the images of the dead were an eloquent memento mori even at his most convivial banquets. “The Egyptians,” says Diodorus (i, 51), “regard the time of this life with very little esteem; the dwellings of life they designate as inns, but the graves as everlasting mansions.”
The heathen Semitic nations, especially the Assyrians and Babylonians, base themselves, in religion and morality, entirely on the ground of the subjective spirit, of the individual personality. The general unity of naturalism they have given up, but. they have not as yet risen to that of the infinite spirit. The spirit appears only in the multiplicity of single forms; hence these nations never appear in history as a unity, but always as a plurality. In religion as well as in morality there is manifested the reckless independence of the (now, for the first time, vigorously 58and mightily self-conscious) subjective spirit, from any and all unconditional objective authority, whether of nature or of spirit,—an untamedness and intractableness of the strong individual will, daring deeds, but also a violent wildness of the unbent will and of the passions,—a highly excited turmoil-without goal or purpose. Man, as a personal individual, comes into the fore-ground as possessed of paramount rights. Morality is devoid of any certain basis and rule; the strong individual will breaks through all barriers. It is the era of great heroes, and of great tyrants and God-despisers,—from Nimrod who began to be a mighty one upon earth, a mighty hunter before Jehovah (Gen. x, 8), to Nebuchadnezzar, who daringly exalted himself against God. The moral consciousness, as bewildered by an over-intense self-consciousness, manifests predominantly a defiance on the part of this strongly egotistical subject against all objective power, even against God; cruelty and coarse sensuousness characterize even the rites of religion, and hence much more also the moral life. Nineveh and Babylon attained, in ante-Christian times, to the culminating-point of the godless, pleasure-seeking, luxurious life. Religion and morality stand here in the most violent contrast to those of India; the rude, the violent, the tumultuous tolerates no law, no regulated order.
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