Category: Heritage + Egyptology
HP: Main + Heritage
FA: Heritage + Egyptology
Tags: Christianity,ancient Egyptians,Coptic Orthodox Cultural Centre,Ashraf Alexandre Sadek,God,deities,trinity
Egyptians have from time immemorial been a pious people. The ancient Egyptians believed in a superior, benevolent power that was in control of earthly life, and that this earthly life was not the final end for human beings; a better life awaited them in eternity. This faith ran through the very fabric of life in ancient Egypt and, as many believe, made Egyptians more than ready to accept and endorse Christianity when it later came to their land. So much so that thousands upon thousands of them willingly accepted torture and death rather than give up their Christian faith.
Ready for Christianity
A lecture entitled “How did the ancient Egyptian religion pave the road for Christianity?” was recently held at the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Centre (COCC) under the patronage of Pope Tawadros II and Anba Ermiya, Bishop-General and Head of COCC. The lecturer, Ashraf Alexandre Sadek, is Professor of Egyptology, Coptology and Biblical Archaeology at the University of Limoges, France.
Dr Sadek began by dedicating the lecture to the soul of Anba Yu’annis (1923 – 1987) who was Bishop of Gharbiya and Secretary-General of the Holy Synod, and was among the prominent modern-day figures who contributed to the Church’s renaissance on the spiritual, service, and intellectual levels.
Dr Sadek started off by making the point that the ancient Egyptian civilisation was among the earliest to believe in the presence of God. “I had the opportunity to translate dozens of hieroglyphic and hieratic texts which prove that ancient Egyptians were the first to believe in the one God. The experiences, hardships and philosophies of that ancient nation prepared them to know the one true God and embrace Salvation,” Dr Sadek said.
The One God
The ancient Egyptians believed in the presence of a sublime power which they sometimes represented as a group of deities, each handling an aspect of their daily life: the god of love, god of harvest, god of beauty, god of power, and many others. The many characteristics—goodness, giving, justice, love—would be incorporated in one deity and, as obvious in various instances, the old Egyptians believed in the presence of one God.
The verse in Acts (17:14): “Yet he has not left himself without testimony” agrees with the fact that old Egyptians believed God was there, arduously sought Him, and came close to finding Him. The many hymns they sang testify to this, among them “I am the eternal being of goodness, the self-created entity, the god of heaven and earth.”
Dr Sadek recited excerpts from the hymn of praise to Amun-Ra dating back to 2000BC “All the people and all creatures worship thee and praise thee until the highest heaven. From the four corners of the world and from the depths of the sea. Thou art the absolute one, having no other. Thou art the one having uncountable names (having the several traits attributed to many gods).”
Many religious theories which have emerged in ancient Egypt dating back to the earliest dynasties spoke about the greatness and ability of the god who rules the universe. An ancient text that highlights this reads: “I am the past and the present, the self-created entity.” Dr Sadek linked this text to the Bible verse in Exodus and in the Book of Revelation (1: 8): “’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’”
During most of the history of ancient Egypt, the main god was Amun, the unseen God; this can also be compared with John 1: 18 “No one has ever seen God.”
Dr Sadek went on reading more hymns of ancient Egypt and comparing them to verses from the Bible. “Thou created the grass for the cattle to live, the plants for humans, thou created the fish so that it lives in the water and the birds in the sky. All nations praise thee to the highest heaven, to the ends of the earth and to the depths of the great green sea (ancient name of the Red Sea).”
Another ancient text: “I was an ignorant and foolish man, unable to differentiate between good and evil. I have sinned in front of the sublime but he has taught me a lesson and punished me for my sins. Then he approached me affectionately, like a gentle breeze, and was merciful to me after he had shown me his strength.” This text can easily compare to Psalm (73:21-26): “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
“Thou art with me”
In addition, the prayer of Amun which states: “He who nourishes whoever has no bread and feeds his house servant. Never did I need a nobleman to defend me nor had to adhere to a rich man. Never did I need to entrust my wealth to a stranger for my wealth is in the hands of my god. The lord is my protector; I know his strength for he is the saviour. With his strong hand he is the almighty Amun, yet he is merciful and he answers whoever invokes him.” This prayer also compares to Psalm (23: 1-4): “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing [In the King James Version (KJV): The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want]. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, [he maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters]. He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. [He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake]. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me [Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me].”
The spirit of these words, Dr Sadek said, reflects the faith that ancient Egyptians had in their god and prove that they were ready to accept the new God who reached out to them with love.
The Holy Trinity
When Christianity entered Egypt, the Egyptians discovered this loving God was a Trinity. But they had no difficulty in accepting this central mystery of Christian theology because the idea was not new to them. In their ancient religions, many gods existed as trinities or triads such as Amun-Mut-Khonsu, Ptah-Sekhmet-Nefertem, and Osiris-Isis-Horus. The ancient Egyptian definition of the trinity does not really match its Christian counterpart; each god of these Trinities had a specific function in the life of ancient Egyptians. For instance, Osiris was the god of Eternity, Isis the goddess of mercy and motherhood (she is sometimes compared to St Mary, the Mother of God), and Horus is the heir to his father and he avenges his killing by Seth, the manifestation of evil.
The ancient Egyptians’ idea of Trinity, despite being an incomplete theological mystery, prepared them to know the Real Holy Trinity and to embrace Christianity. It is also worth noting that the Jews themselves did not understand this mystery despite the fact that it had been cited several times in the books of the Old Testament, Dr Sadek explained.
Resurrection to eternal life
The ancient Egyptians’ belief in resurrection and in the afterlife and their keenness to be prepared for it by preserving the bodies of the deceased for the resurrection is also in line with many verses of the Bible. In Mark (12: 26-27), Jesus answers the Sadducees who asked Him about the resurrection of the dead: “Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
Also the Bible text: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.” (1 Cor. 15: 12-13)
At the end of the lecture, Dr Sadek displayed a number of pictures that prove that ancient Egyptians were religious by nature, always seeking the help of the great deity who radiates his light to everyone. Other pictures showed ancient Egyptians praying and practicing religious rituals, temples and statues of old deities, and scenes from the desert which was a major factor in shaping the personality of ancient Egyptians.
12 April 2015