2. Polytheism Dominant

The claim for a monotheistic basis of the Egyptian religion rests upon dogmatic assumption or upon phrases and attributions found in divine hymns, prayers or religious texts. But to bear such an interpretation such phrases moat be dislocated from their context. It is also necessary to disregard the fact that each city or province had its special tutelary deity with its special circle of subordinate deities, and that the triad, or even the ennead, not the individual without peer or companion, was the unit. The development of the religion up to the time of the pyramidtexts in the fifth dynasty is largely a matter of conjecture and debate. Since that time there has been nothing, except the ill-starred attempt of Amenhotep IV., which bears the slightest resemblance to monotheism, and only such expressions as indicate the headship of a particular god in a particular region, or his supremacy over other gods can be adduced in support. The argument in favor of pantheism is more plausible, but that is too abstract an idea to find lodgment with the Egyptian; he was too realistic. The whole question is one of speculation as to what the course of development was in the period preceding the pyramid-texts, that is in the period before, say, 4000 n.c., for these texts show a form of belief in a multitude of gods which remained practically unchanged through thousands of years. The Egyptian idea of divine service was based upon that of human service. As the king had attendants who dressed him and made his toilet, so the gods had priests to perform the same, and a large part of the service consisted in changing the garments of the images. The offerings presented were ostensibly for the nourishment of the god of the temple, but really for the attendants. There does not seem to have been any such thing as a burnt sacrifice, though quarters of beef are portrayed on the tables of offering along with bread, beer, wine, geese, and other viands. In this may lie the reason why the Egyptians regarded the sacrifices of the Hebrews as an abomination (Ex. viii. 26).

3. Religious Texts.

The religious texts and books of the Egyptians were quite numerous, the chief place being occupied by the so-called "Book of the Dead." There were several recensions of the text, but no stereotyped form and no recognized sequence or fixed number of chapters. The chief purpose of the book was to benefit the dead and to instruct them in the matters of the future life and in the use of magical formulas for the avoidance of the dangers of the underworld. One of the notable chapters (usually numbered cxxv.) contains the "Negative confes sion/) consisting of forty-two sections each of which is addressed to a separate deity and contains a statement that the deceased had not committed some specified sin or evil deed. The volume is filled with the names of various deities, places or persona, and is a thesaurus of information with regard to the beliefs of the Egyptians. Underlying it all was a persistent belief in man's immortality which colored and determined many Egyptian religious practises. The pyramids and the rock-hewn tombs are witnesses to this faith. In order to insure the continued existence of the soul, the body must be preserved intact as a refuge for the soul, which was believed to possess the power of independent movement and action. When the body was destroyed the soul ceased to exist, hence the necessity for "everlasting" depositories for the dead and the embalming of the body.

Charles Ripley Gillett.


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