THE study of error is often only a little less important than the study of truth. The history of the human mind. in its progress from ignorance towards knowledge should tell us the mistakes into which it has sometimes wandered, as well as its steps in the right path. We turn, indeed, with more pleasure to review the sources from which the world has gained any of its valuable truths, in the hope of there finding some further knowledge which may be equally valuable; while for our errors, so long as we are unwilling to acknowledge them to be errors, we too often shut our eyes, and refuse to be shown their origin.
The Emperor Marcus, Antoninus, in his philosophical work, mentions the several tutors and friends from whom he gained his good habits, and those views of life which he chiefly valued; but though we must suppose that he was aware of some failings in his character, he does not tell us to which of his companions he owed them. And so it is with the benefits of civilisation, arts, and religion; and also with the evils of superstition. Modern Europe readily acknowledges how many benefits it received from Rome, from Greece, and from Judea, but has been willing to forget how much of its superstition came from Egypt.
When Christians shall at length acknowledge that many of those doctrines, which together now make up orthodoxy, or the religion of the majority, as distinguished from the simple religion which Jesus taught and practised; when they shall acknowledge that many of them are so many sad and lamentable errors; then, and not till then, will they seek to know their origin, and enquire from which of the several branches of Paganism they sprung. They will then see that most of the so-called Christian doctrines, that have no place in the New Testament, reached Europe from Egypt, through Alexandria.
All nations borrow from others--at least, from. those who are before them in the race of civilization. They borrow from each of their neighbours in those branches of knowledge in which they think they can do so wisely, and what they have taken often shows itself in the language. This can be best explained by instances from our own language. Thus, when we speak about the array, our words show that the French were our instructors in military matters, and we talk of "aide-de-camp," "chevaux de frise," "captain," "lieutenant," "ensign," "cadet."
When we speak of the church we use Latin wards, as "vestry," "rector," "vicar," "curate," "incumbent," "ordination," "font," "creed," "doctrine."
Words more strictly religious are often Greek, as "baptism," "liturgy" "litany."
The Italians gave us our words belonging to bookkeeping and banking, as "debtor," "creditor," "cambist," "ditto," "bankrupt," "usance."
The Spanish have given us a few words relating to their social life, such as "alcove," "verandah," "duenna."
From the Arabs, through scientific treatises, we have taken "almanach," "alchemy," "chemistry," "algebra."
The Italians also have given us many words relating to art, such as "mezzotint," "fresco-painting," "chiaroscuro," "pianoforte," "violoncello," "opera."
These few instances are, perhaps, enough to justify us in thinking that when the Greeks, Romans, and Jews have made use of Coptic words, it has arisen from their having borrowed these branches of knowledge from the Egyptians.
The aim of the following pages is not only to explain the Mythology of Egypt, but to show the extraordinary readiness with which its religious opinions were copied by the neighbouring nations, particularly by the Greeks and Romans. In matters of religion, the more ignorant part of those two nations bowed in reverence to the greater earnestness and seriousness of the Egyptians, who were at the same time so remarkably rich in mythological invention. Pagan Greece, received from Egypt all that part of its religion which related to a future state of rewards and punishments, and though Christian Greece was for a short time too intelligent to take the whole of the Egyptian mysticism and superstition, yet Christian Rome, from which our own opinions were chiefly learned, had no such hesitation, and was at all times a most willing pupil.
These facts may receive some explanation from two known laws of the human mind. First, among religious persons the fear of doing wrong makes them more afraid of falling into scepticism than into credulity; and those who believe more, whether they believe wisely or unwisely, are apt to think themselves on safer ground than those who believe less. In the case of a proposition in science, when the arguments for it and against it seem equal, the reasoner withholds his assent; but in the case of a religious dogma or article of faith, the mind in its weakness fancies it safer to accept it than to reject it. The reasoning powers are in part over-ruled by the feelings. In religious controversy, both parties, the believer and the doubter, usually feel that the reproach of disbelief, which it is in the power of one to throw against the other, hits a much harder blow than the reproach of credulity and superstition, which is all that the other can fling back again. It is only among irreligious persons and scoffers that the feelings strengthen the other side, and that disbelief can shut the door against argument by an equally blind and unfair claim to superiority. Hence arises the power which superstitious and complicated systems of religions have of spreading themselves, and hence the weakness of good sense when setting up its simple truths against the encroachments of such many-sided errors.
Secondly, earnestness and sincerity are the most powerful helps by which we enforce our opinions and convert our neighbours. And there was far more real conviction of the truth of their religion among the Egyptians than among their Greek and Roman neighbours. Hence the opinions of the more ignorant lived and spread, while the opinions held with hollowness and insincerity by the more enlightened died away.
The following are the principal doctrines which are most certainly known to be common to Egyptian Mythology and modern orthodoxy, as distinguished from the religion of Jesus. They include the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and the atonement by vicarious sufferings.
1st. That the creation and government of the world is not the work of one simple and undivided Being, but of one God, made up of several persons. This is the doctrine of Plurality in Unity.
2nd. That happiness, or the favour of the judge of the living and the dead, could scarcely be hoped for, either from his justice or his mercy, unless an atoning sacrifice had been paid to him on our behalf, by a divine being; and that mankind, or some part of them, may hope to have their sins forgiven because of the merits and intercession .of that being, and to be excused from punishment because he consented to he sacrificed for them. With the Egyptians there were four such chief mediators.
3rd. That among the gods, or persons which compose the godhead, one, though a god, could yet suffer pain and be put to death.
4th. That a god, a man, or being half god and half man, once lived upon earth, who had been born of an earthly mother, but without an earthly father.
It may amuse, while it will help our argument, to mention also a few of the less important Egyptian opinions which are still common among us. Trifles sometimes declare their origin more certainly than opinions and habits of greater importance, which may be thought common to the human mind. Among the most interesting is the wedding ring. The Egyptian gold, before the introduction of coinage, had been usually kept in the form of a ring; and the Egyptian at his marriage placed one of these pieces of gold on his wife's finger in token of his entrusting her with all his property. The early Christians, says Clemens, saw no harm in following this custom; and in our own marriage ceremony the man places the same plain ring of gold on his bride's finger when he says, "With all my worldly goods I thee endow."
It was one of the duties of the priests of Phil to purchase of the river Nile a bountiful overflow by throwing a piece of gold into the stream once a year, and hence, probably, the Venetians borrowed their custom of wedding the Adriatic by throwing a gold ring into the sea. At the same time the Doge's cap was copied from the crown of Lower Egypt.
Our Christmas game of drawing lots for the title of King and Queen, is Egyptian. It was called by the Alexandrians, as Julius Pollux tells us, the game of Basilinda; and Tacitus mentions the quarrel between Nero and Britannicus when they were playing at this game in Rome.
The Egyptian day for eating sugared cakes had been our twentieth of January, but in the fourth century, says Moses of Chorene, it was changed to be kept fourteen days earlier; and the sugared cake of the Egyptians now marks the feast of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night.
When the Roman Catholic priest shaves the crown of his head, it is because the Egyptian priest had done the same before. When the English clergyman, though he preaches his sermon in a silk or woollen robe, may read the liturgy in no dress but linen, it is because linen was the clothing of the Egyptians. Two thousand years before the bishop of Rome pretended to hold the keys of heaven and earth, there was an Egyptian priest with the high-sounding title of Appointed keeper of the two doors of heaven, in the city of Thebes.
Christian art also owes much to the Egyptian imagination. The Virgin Mary rising to heaven, standing upon a crescent moon, very closely resembles Isis as the dog star rising heliacally (see Fig. 104). The figure of the Almighty, with head and outstretched arms at the head of the picture, particularly in the early pictures, when the head hung downwards, is the same in design as that of Horus at the top of many a funeral papyrus (see page 87). The figure of a triangle to represent the Trinity was clearly borrowed from Pagan Egypt (see page 99).
The supposed arts of astrology and witchcraft were more particularly Egyptian; the conjuror's word of Abracadabra is a corruption of the Greek word Abrasax, which is itself a corruption of the Egyptian hurt me not, by which they hoped to warn off evil spirits; and fortunetellers are even yet called Egyptians or Gypsies. When Shakespeare brings upon the stage the queen of the witches, she bears the name of Hecate, one of the well-known names of Isis.
These fanciful customs and foolish opinions and traditions of art help to show that although the old Egyptian race has ceased to be a nation for more than twelve hundred years, during which its history has been neglected, and its very existence often forgotten, yet the Egyptian mind still has a most important influence upon our modern civilisation. Protestant Europe is even now struggling to throw off the graver errors of the Nicene Creed and the Atonement, which Rome received from Egypt fifteen centuries ago.
This Second Edition has been enlarged to the extent of four pages by the MS. additions which the Author left ready for publication. E. S.