The Religion of Upper Egypt
First among these gods of the Egyptians was Ra, the Sun, or Amun-Ra, The Great Sun, whose warmth ripened their harvests, but whose scorching rays made his power felt as much as an enemy as a friend. His sculptured figure wears a cap ornamented with two tall feathers, and sometimes with the figure of the sun (see Fig. 2). He was the King of the Gods. He was more particularly the god of Thebes.
Over the portico of the Theban temple there is usually a ball or sun, ornamented with outstretched wings, representing the all-seeing Providence thus watching over and sheltering the world. From this sun hang two sacred asps wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt (see Fig. 1).
Every Egyptian king bore the title of Zera, the Son of Ra (see Fig. 27), and many of the Theban kings took the name of Amunmai, beloved by Amun. From him
|Fig. 2.--Amun-Ra.||Fig. 3--Mando.||Fig. 4--Hapimou.|
the Romans borrowed a name for their god-Jupiter Ammon. This god was at times called Adon-Ra, from a word for Lord, known also in the Hebrew language.
In the western half of the Delta the Sun was worshipped as Mando-Ra. Like Amun-Ra, he wears the two tall feathers, and the Sun on his head, but he differs from him in having a hawk's face (see Fig. 3). In our woodcuts these gods each carry in their left hand a staff, with an animal's head, and in the right hand the character for life. A cow's tail, the ornament of royalty, hangs down behind from the waistband. After the fall of the kings of Thebes we find a violent attempt was made by the kings of the city of Mendes to introduce into Thebes the worship of Mando-Ra, in place of Amun-Ra.
Next was Hapimou, the Nile, whose waters were the chief source of their food, whose overflow marked the limits between the cultivated land and the desert; to him they owed nothing but grateful thanks. He is a figure of both sexes, having the beard of a man and the breasts of a child-bearing woman (see Fig. 4). He carries in his arms fruits and flowers, and sometimes waterfowls.
Another great god was their narrow valley, the country in which they lived, clearly divided from the yellow desert by the black Nile-mud, by which it was covered and made fertile, and hence called Chemi, the Black Land, or when made into a person, Chem, or Ham. He was the father of their race, called in the Bible one of the sons of Noah, and considered by themselves the god of increase, the Priapus of the Greeks. Chem has a cap with two tall feathers like that of Amun-Ra, so large that it was necessary to give him a metal support to hold it on the head. His right arm is raised and holds a whip, his left arm is hid under his dress, which is the tight garment of the Egyptian women (see Fig. 5). In consequence of the confusion arising from the Egyptian guttural, his name is in the Hieroglyphics usually spelled THM, as Champsi, the crocodile, becomes Tempsi on the eastern side of the Delta.
|Fig 5.--Chem.||Fig. 6.--Kneph.||Fig. 7.--Pthah.|
Kneph, the Wind, or Air, or Breath of our bodies, was supposed to be the god of Animal and Spiritual Life. He has the head and horns of a ram (see Fig. 6).
Pthah, the god of Fire, was more particularly the god of Memphis, as Amun-Ra of Thebes; and the kings in that city were said to be "Beloved by Pthah." His figure is bandaged like a mummy, and his head shaven like a priest (see Fig. 7).
Having thus created for themselves a number of gods, their own feelings and what they saw around them would
naturally lead them to create an equal number of goddesses. Of these Neith, the Heavens, was one. She is often drawn with wings stretched out as if covering the whole earth. At other times she is formed into an arch, with her feet and fingers on the ground, while her body forms the blue vault overhead, and is spangled with stars. At other times she is simply a woman, with the hieroglyphical character for her name as the ornament on the top of her head (see Fig. 8). She was particularly worshipped at Sais, and the kings of that city are styled "Beloved by Neith."
Isis, or Isitis, the Earth, or rather the corn-bearing Land, the mother of all creation, was another and perhaps the chief favourite with the nation. Her name is derived from SAT, to sow seed, like the Latin Ceres. She is known by the throne upon her head, because a throne forms the first syllable of her name (see Fig. 9). But she had so many characters that she is called by the Greeks the goddess with ten thousand names. She is sometimes Maut, the mother goddess, sometimes Hecate, the sorceress.
Other goddesses were attributes or feelings made into persons, such as Athor the goddess of Love and Beauty. She has cow's horns (see Fig. 10), and sometimes a cow's head. She also is sometimes called Maut, the mother. She belonged to Upper Egypt, and was the wife of Amun-Ra, and gave her name to the city of Aphroditopolis.
|Fig. 8--Neith.||Fig. 9.--Isis.||Fig. 10.--Athor.|
Pasht, the goddess of Virtue, has a cat's head (see Fig. 11). She belonged to Lower Egypt, and gave her name to the city of Bubastis. Amunothph III., however, of Thebes, particularly styled himself "Beloved by Pasht."
Mo is sometimes the god, sometimes the goddess of Truth and justice, and is distinguished by ostrich feathers on the head.
When the land was divided into separate estates or properties, Thoth, the Pillar or Landmark at the corner of the field, became an important god; and as the owner's name was carved upon it, he was the god of letters and of all learning. He has the head of an ibis, because the ibis perches on the top of the post. He is often in the act of writing, or of counting the years on the notches at the back of a palm branch from which the leaves have been broken off (see Fig. 12). This palm branch is the hieroglyphical character for the word "year." Thoth was by the Greeks called Hermes, a name which has the same meaning, a pillar. The sacred books of the priests were all supposed to have been written by Thoth.
Besides these visible objects and attributes or qualities already described, there was a third class of gods, who were spoken of as if they had once been mortal and had lived upon earth. These were Osiris, the husband of Isis; and their son Horus, so named from Chori, strong; and Anubis, their second son; and Nephthys, the sister and companion of Isis; and the wicked Typhon, who put Osiris to death. Osiris, like Pthah, is bandaged as a mummy. He wears a tall mitre with a ball on the top, with or without two feathers as side pieces. He holds two sceptres, one is a whip and one is a crosier (see Fig. 13). His name is derived from OSH, a decree, and IRI, to do, and it means the judge. Horus has a hawk's head, and wears the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, formed of a plate of gold over or around the mitre, as described in Exodus xxviii., xxix. (see Fig. 14). Sometimes he is a crowned hawk. Anubis has the head of a dog or a jackal (see Fig. 15), or is represented as the animal a jackal. He never takes a foremost place among the gods, but usually stands as the attendant or servant of Osiris.
|Fig. 12.--Thoth.||Fig. 13--Osiris.||Fig. 14--Horus|
|Fig. 15.--Anubis.||Fig. 16.--Nephthys.||Fig. 17.--Typhon.|
Nephthys is known by her name, a dish and a house, upon her head (see Fig. 16). It means Mistress of the house, or Lady. Typhon is a hippopotamus, usually walking on its hind legs, and with female breasts (see Fig. 17); sometimes with sword in his hand, to show his wicked nature. He is the chief author of evil. In Acts xxvii. 14, a tempestuous wind is called a Typhonian wind.
The above list of gods was further increased by copying the arrangements of a family. Thus Pthah, the god of fire had a son named Imothph the god of science, or medicine. Amun-Ra and his wife Athor had a son named Chonso, who is sometimes only distinguished from his father by the youthful lock of hair on the right side of his head; and sometimes he is known by his having a hawk's face, like Horus, and on his head, not the sun, but the new moon (see Fig. 18). To all these numerous gods a father was given in the person of Seb, or Sebek, the crocodile (see Fig. 19).
|Fig. 18.--Chonso.||Fig. 19.--Seb.|
Of these gods Osiris and his family alone had any biography. They once lived upon earth. His wife and sister Isis was a goddess, while Osiris himself had two natures: he was partly god and partly man. He was put to death by the wicked Typhon, the hippopotamus, and his limbs scattered to the four winds. These Isis collected and put together again, and Osiris returned to life, but not upon earth. He became judge of the dead in the infernal regions, with the title of Ro-t-Amenti, or king of hell, whence the Greeks borrowed the name of Rhadamanthus. His son Horus revenged his father's death, and is styled the Avenger of his father. Horus was the last of the gods that reigned upon earth. Hence he was styled Horus the king. His hawk's head has also the same meaning; the hawk was the bird of royalty. The death of Osiris was piously lamented by Isis and her sister Nephthys; and once a year the Egyptians joined their priests in a melancholy procession through the streets, singing a doleful ditty called the Maneros, or Song of Love, which was to console the goddess for the death of her husband. But this grief for the death of Osiris did not escape some ridicule; for Xenophanes the Ionian wittily remarked to the priests of Memphis, that if they thought Osiris a man they should not worship him, and if they thought him a god they need not talk of his death and sufferings. This story the Greeks copied, and have given us in the form of the loves and lamentations of Venus, a goddess, for Adonis, who was a mortal. The boar which killed Adonis is no other than the hippopotamus Typhon. This shows us how in poetry, as in architecture and sculpture, Greek taste was sometimes willing to make use of Egyptian invention.
Of all the gods, Osiris alone had a place of birth and a place of burial. His birthplace was mount Sinai, called by the Egyptians mount Nissa. Hence, according to Diodorus Siculus, was derived the god's Greek name Dionysus, which is the same as the Hebrew Jehovah-Nissi. This name Moses gave to the Almighty when he set up an altar to Him at the foot of the holy mountain, a spot sacred alike with Jews and Egyptians (see Exodus xvii. 15). Many cities claimed the honour of being the burial place of Osiris, and thence, perhaps, the profit arising from the offerings to his shrine. The honour, however, seems at last to have been thought to belong more particularly to the island of Phil.
This story of a dying god shows how little the Egyptians believed him to be an eternal self-existent Being. Indeed, the belief in more than one God is almost a disbelief in any god, in the highest sense of the word; as there can only be one Being who is self-existent, all-powerful, and everywhere present. And the second belief that one out of many gods should die, is hardly more irrational than the first belief that there are many gods. In both cases the believer gives a lower meaning to the word "god" than is given to it by him who worships only one such Being. But our own better views of theology should not lead us to despise these rude beginnings, and first steps in religion, by this earliest of nations.
The belief in One God supposes that the world is being governed by Power acting upon one settled plan which is shown, by observation, to be both Wise and Good, in a degree so far beyond our understanding that we may safely think it infinite. A belief in more gods than one supposes that the world is governed by Power acting with an occasional change of plan, which if sometimes wise: and good, is by no means always so. And a belief in. the numerous gods above described, shows that the Egyptians thought too much of the trials and misfortunes, and. too little of the blessings that befall us, and fancied that the ways of Providence were so irregular, and so much less wise and good than if governed by one of themselves, that they could only be explained by supposing a crowd of unseen beings, of whom sometimes one and sometimes another took the trouble to meddle with the doings of men. Such was the unhappy theology of Egypt.
The long list of gods mentioned above was again further increased in two ways. The priests sometimes made a new god by uniting two or three or four into one, and at other times by dividing one into two or three, or more. Thus out of Horus and Ra they made Horus-Ra, called by the Greeks Aroeris. Out of Osiris and Apis the bull of Memphis, the priests of Memphis made Osiri-Apis or Serapis. He carries the two sceptres of Osiris, and has a bull's head (see Fig. 20). Out of Amun-Ra and Ehe the bull of Heliopolis, the priests of the East of the Delta made Amun-Ra-Ehe. To this again they added a fourth character, that of Chem, and made a god Amun- Ra-Ehe- Chem. Out of Kneph the Spirit, and Ra the Sun, they made Kneph-Ra. Out of Sebek and Ra, they made Sebek-Ra. In this way the Egyptians worshipped a plurality in unity.
In the case of division they had two of the name of Anubis, one for Upper Egypt and one for Lower Egypt, and afterwards as many as six of that name. They divided Horus into three persons, upon the rule that everything perfect has three parts; and in addition to Horus the king the son of Isis, and Horus-Ra before mentioned, they made a third Horus, the Scarabeus or beetle. While making out of the god Osiris the new person Osiri-Apis or Serapis, they made a second by uniting him to Pthah in the person of Pthah-sokar-Osiris.
The gods were very much grouped in sets of three, and each city had its own trinity. In Thebes it was Amun-Ra, Athor, and Chonso, or father, mother, and son (see Fig. 21). Sometimes, however, they were arranged as father, son, and mother, placing Chonso between his two parents. In Abousimbel and Derr in Nubia, the trinity is Pthah,
Fig. 21.--Amun-Ra, Maut, and Chonso.
Amun-Ra, and Horus-Ra, and these are the three gods to whom Rameses II. is sacrificing the Philistines, in the sculptures at Beyroot. At Abousimbel the king also worships Amun-Ra, Horus-Ra, and Horus of Lower Egypt. At Wady Seboua he is seated in a group with Pthah, Kneph, and Athor. At Silsilis he worships Amun-Ra, Horus-Ra, and Hapimou, the Nile. At Phil the trinity is Osiris, Isis, and Horus, a group, indeed, common to most parts of Egypt. Other groups were Isis, Nephthys, and Horus (see Fig. 22); or Isis, Nephthys, and Osiris; and with a national love for mysticism the priests often declared that the three in some undescribed way only made one person. The above figures, indeed, do not declare that the three gods are only one; but we have a hieroglyphical inscription in the British Museum as early as the reign of Sevechus of the eighth century before the Christian Era, showing that the doctrine of Trinity in Unity already formed part of their religion, and stating that in each of the two groups last mentioned the three gods only made one person (Egypt. Inscript. Pl. 36, 4, 5).
The sculptured figures on the lid of the sarcophagus of Rameses III., now at Cambridge, shows us the king not only as one of a group of three gods, but also as a Trinity in Unity in his own person. He stands between the goddesses Isis and Nephthys, who embrace him as if he were the lost Osiris, whom they have now found again (see Fig. 23). We further know him to be in the character of Osiris by the two sceptres which he holds in his hands; but at the same time the horns upon his head are those of the goddess Athor, and the ball and feathers above are the ornaments of the god Ra. Thus he is at once Osiris, Athor, and Ra.
After the gods, the useful and hurtful animals next received worship; the first in acknowledgment of their services, and the latter that they might withhold their injuries. The ox was worshipped because it ploughed the field; and the cow was never slain because its flesh was very little wanted for food in the warm climate of Egypt, and where they had the buffalo for food, which will not consent to plough in the furrow (see Job xxxix. 10). The sacred bull was called Apis in Memphis and the west of the Delta, and Amun-ehe, or as the Greeks wrote it Mnevis, in Heliopolis and the east of the Delta. He was ornamented with the figure of the sun or full moon between his horns (see Fig. 24). The crocodile was worshipped because he was the terror of those who approached the river's bank. He was called Seb, and made the father of all the gods, and the patron god of some of the Ethiopian kings. Selk, the scorpion, was a torturing goddess, perhaps Isis in one of her numerous forms. The Ibis was valued because it destroyed the crocodile's eggs; the cat because it was the enemy of vermin; and the dog and jackal were valued for their service as scavengers. The venomous snakes, and those that were not venomous, were alike honoured, the first as gods of evil, and the second as gods,or rather goddesses, of good (see Fig. 25). The hawk was a bird of dignity, and so dedicated to Horus the king. The Scarabus, or beetle, rolls up before it a ball of dirt in which it wraps its eggs, and hence was made sacred to the Sun (see Fig. 26).
|Fig. 23.||Fig. 24--Apis.|
These animals were looked upon as the representatives of the gods mentioned above, and each received a more particular honour in its own city, where their embalmed remains were in many cases buried with almost royal honour. In many cities the earnestness and zeal for their favourite animal often carried the Egyptians into civil war. Juvenal mentions the war in his time between the city of Ombos, where the crocodile was worshipped, and the city of Tentyra, whose people were celebrated for their skill in catching and killing those fierce animals. The Emperor Hadrian was called into Egypt by a rising yet more serious, which might have led to a war between the eastern and the western half of the Delta, as to whether a bull was to be an Apis or a Mnevis. Diodorus the historian was present when the mob rose J against the Roman guards because a soldier had killed a cat. The city of Thebes alone had no sacred animals; hence, as Memphis was the second city in size, Apis the bull of Memphis was the animal most thought of by the nation at large. The sums of money spent upon its funeral were enormous; and it was embalmed and buried in a granite sarcophagus with royal honours in the caverns tunnelled into the hill on the west side of the city. No national festival was of equal importance with the ceremony of leading the new Apis into its temple in Memphis, when an animal had been found marked with the right spots. The priests told Herodotus that its birth was miraculous, that it had no earthly father, but was engendered by divine influence, and that the cow, its mother, never had a second calf.
From a pious regard to those that gave them birth, the Egyptians paid some kind of inferior worship to their father and mother when dead, and to all their forefathers. They dutifully set out food for the use of these dead relations in the neighbourhood of the tombs, and their doing so was carefully mentioned on their own funeral tablets as an act which, like the worship of the gods, they had not neglected in their lifetime. The sculpture which shows the dead man on his knees presenting his offerings to the gods, shows him standing to present the same offerings to his ancestors. When he brings fire and water to the one, he does the same to the others. Such food would soon be devoured by the beasts and birds of the desert; and in the inscriptions Anubis the jackal is called the devourer of what is set out for the dead. The Egyptian superstitions are usually forbidden in the Mosaic Law, and in Deut. xxvi. 13, 14., we see that the Israelites were forbidden to set apart any food for the dead.
Every king of Egypt, even while living, was added to the number of the gods, and declared to be the Son of Ra, which was the title set over the second oval of his name (see Fig. 27). He was then sometimes made into the third person of a Trinity, in which case he took the place of the god Chonso, in Fig. 21. He denied that he owed his birth to the father from whom he inherited the crown; he claimed to be born, like the bull Apis, by a miraculous conception. He styled his mother the wife of Amun-Ra, which explains the mistake of Diodorus Siculus, who calls the tombs of the queens near Thebes the tombs of Jupiter's concubines. Many of the more favourite kings after their death continued to receive the same divine worship.
Fig. 28.--The Birth of King Amunothph III.
This opinion of the miraculous birth of the kings is well explained in a series of sculptures on the wall of the temple of Luxor (see Fig. 28). First, the god Thoth, with the head of an ibis, and with his ink and pen-case in his left hand, as the messenger of the gods, like the Mercury of the Greeks, tells the maiden queen Mautmes that she is to give birth to a son, who is to be king Amunothph III. Secondly, the god Kneph, the spirit, with a ram's head, and the goddess Athor, with the sun and cow's horns upon her head, both take hold of the queen by her hands, and put into her mouth the character for life, which is to be the life of the coming child. Thirdly, the queen, when the child is to be born, is seated on the midwife's stool, as described in Exodus i. 16; two of the attending nurses rub her hands to ease the pains of childbirth, while another of the nurses holds up the baby, over which is written the name of king Amunothph III. He holds his finger to his mouth to mark his infancy; he has not yet learned to speak. Lastly, the several gods or priests attend in adoration upon their knees to present their gifts to this wonderful child, who is seated in the midst of them, and is receiving their homage. In this picture we have the Annunciation, the Conception, the Birth, and the Adoration, as described in the First and Second Chapters of Luke's Gospel; and as we have historical assurance that the chapters in Matthew's Gospel, which contain the Miraculous Birth of Jesus, are an after addition not in the earliest manuscripts, it seems probable that these two poetical chapters in Luke may also be unhistorical, and be borrowed from the Egyptian accounts of the miraculous birth of their kings.
The Egyptians had a sacred tree, but want of exactness in the accounts of it leads us to doubt whether it was an Acacia of the sensitive class, that bowed its leaves in silent hospitality to the weary traveller that sat under its slender shade, or whether it was a fruit-bearing tree, the Balanites gyptiaca, The goddess Neith seated in its branches sometimes is pouring out the characters for life and power on the head of the king. When the pretended philosopher Apollonius of Tyana visited Thebes, the tree, in a womanly voice, declared him to be a teacher sent from heaven. In this it may be compared to the bush out of which the voice spoke to Moses, in Exodus iii. 2. But at other times it is more like the tree of life, or that of knowledge, in the garden of Eden in Genesis iii., as when a priest, after death, is painted as kneeling before the tree, and his soul stands, beside him in form of a bird with human head; and they are both drinking the water which the goddess is pouring into their mouths (see Fig. 29).
The Egyptians of course worshipped the statues of their gods as the representations of the gods, themselves who were unseen. But with what religious feelings they worshipped the animals and the kings must be doubtful. In England no sportsman shoots a robin redbreast. In Holland nobody would hurt a stork. Confucius orders the Chinese not to hurt the ox which ploughs the fields for them. The Israelites were ordered not to destroy a fruit tree, even if it belonged to an enemy (Dent. xx. 19). No Dutch child would be so wicked as to pluck up the rush which grows on the bank of the canal, and holds it together by its roots. From feelings such as these may have grown the religious reverence of the Egyptians for animals and plants. So, on the other hand, the shudder felt at the sight of a lion, of a venomous serpent, and even, by some persons, of a spider, may have led to feelings akin to those with which men have worshipped a devil or a god to be feared, and have hoped to appease him by gifts. As to their kings, they were at the head of the priesthood, and received religious respect accordingly. It was part of their duty to present the offerings at the altar of the temple, not only on their own behalf, but on behalf of the nation, to buy the favour of the gods or turn aside their anger.
On the walls and columns of the temple the most common sculpture is the group of the king presenting his gift to the god as an atonement for his own sins and the sins of the people (see Fig. 30).
They were mediators between their subjects and the gods. We have a Greek inscription from 241 Egypt declaring that Alexander the Great, being a god, is able to appease Olympic Jove.
The Egyptians were of a gloomy, serious disposition, and they worshipped in fear rather than in gratitude. Their prayers and sacrifices were sin-offerings rather than thank-offerings. The architecture of their temples was in harmony with their religion. The inner sanctuary, the holy of holies, was always a dark room. Fig. 31 is the ground plan of the temple of Errebek in Thebes, built by Oimenepthah I., and finished by his son Rameses II. The worshippers were allowed to enter a first courtyard, and a second courtyard through gateways formed of massive towers. An avenue between two rows of sphinxes brought them to the portico, under which the sacrifices and libations were made in their sight and on their behalf. But none but the priests ever entered the small dark rooms beyond. The portico was handsome but heavy, and grand rather than beautiful; the flat roof was upheld by a row of strong closely set columns (see Fig. 32).
When Moses passed by this spot on his march out of Egypt, not only had the old cave been dug out of the rock, but the newer parts of the temple had been already added; and it was in this neighbourhood that the Jewish Lawgiver set up his own altar to Jehovah-Nissi.
But if we would know the styles of the yet earlier Egyptian temples, we must seek for models of them not in Egypt, but in Ethiopia and in the peninsula of Sinai; as fashions change faster near the capital, and the older style of art must be looked for at a distance. Fig. 33 is the plan of the temple of Seboua in Ethiopia, halfway between the first and the second cataract. It was built in the reign of Rameses II., but as it is at a distance from Thebes it maybe supposed to show us is what the Theban temples were some centuries earlier. Here the more sacred rooms are caves in the side of the hill, while the grand hall, the large courtyard, and the avenue of sphinxes by which it is approached, are on the plain in front of the hill. The yet larger temple of Abousimbel is wholly tunnelled into the hill, and there the sun Amun-Ra was worshipped in chambers ornamented with painted sculptures upon which his rays never fell. The small temple of Sarbout el Kadem, near mount Sinai, explains very satisfactorily the progress of temple architecture among the Egyptians (see Fig. 34). Here the inner sanctuary is of one date, a cave in the side of the hill, formed by king Amunmai Thori III.; while the hall and courtyard belonging to it, and in the open air, were added by Thothmosis II. and III., two hundred years afterwards. The inner, older, and darker room, very naturally formed the Sanctuary for the more modern temple that was added to it.
Fig. 31.--Temple of Errebek.
Fig. 32.--Temple of Errebek.
In all the temples of which any ruins remain, built later than that of Errebek, we note a change in the portico, which marks an altered state of the religion; or rather the ecclesiastical feelings of the people. The portico of the Memnonium built by, Rameses IL, and that at Medinet Habou, built by Rameses III., were not open to the eyes of the people in the courtyard like that at Errebek. These newer temples had a low wall running, from column to column, which shut out the public from seeing what took place within. The laity were left to imagine the solemnities which their fathers had been allowed to gaze at. This is well shown in the ruined temple of Contra-Latopolis, which was built under the later Ptolemies (see Fig. 35). It is still better shown in Fig. 36, a restoration of the Temple
|Fig. 33-Temple of Seboua.||Fig. 34.--Sarbout el Kadem.|
of Dendera, which though built in even more modern days under the Roman Emperors, yet in this respect is the
same as the temples of Rameses II. and III. This low intercolumnar wall, like the screen in our cathedrals between the choir and the nave, betrays a wish on the part
of the priests to increase the distance between themselves and the laity. They thus said to the rest of the nation, Stand apart by yourselves, come not near to us, for we are holier than you are. It was after seeing the evils which thus grew out of an established priesthood that the Jewish lawgiver told the Israelites, that they were themselves "a holy nation and a kingdom of priests" (Exodus xix. 6). They needed no such separate class; and it would seem that it did not exist in Judea till after the establishment of the monarchy
The Egyptian priesthood was hereditary, and formed one of the three classes into which the nation was divided--namely, the priests, the soldiers, and the cultivators of the soil. They held their estates free from the land tax or rent of one-fifth of the crop, as mentioned in Gen. xlvii. 26. They were the only learned or educated people in the kingdom, and consequently they filled every post and office which needed any education. Not only every clergyman, sexton, and undertaker, but every physician and druggist; every lawyer, writing-clerk, schoolmaster, and author; every sculptor, painter, and land-measurer;. every conjuror, ventriloquist, and fortune-teller, belonged to the priestly order. Even those posts in the army which required an education, such as secretaryships and clerkships, were held by priests. Much of the skilled labour of the country was under their control. The linen manufactories in the Delta, and the stone quarries between the first and second cataracts, were both managed by the priests.
Every temple had its own hereditary family of priests, who were at the same time magistrates of the city and district, holding their power by the same right as the king held his; and as the king was at the head of the priesthood, the union between church and state was complete. To each of the temples was attached a large body of priests of lower rank, who assisted at the ceremonies. and waited on their superiors. The temple of the Memnonium of Thebes is surrounded at the back and at the two sides by vaults built of unburnt brick, which would seem to be each a dwelling for one of the priests of lower rank. These cells were at least 130 in number (see Fig. 37).
A smaller number of priests of higher rank, perhaps twenty or fewer, may have lived within the temple in the small rooms around the sanctuary. The duty of these one or two hundred men, who were maintained at the public expense, was to make sacrifices and offer prayers on behalf of the nation, in gratitude for blessings received, and also in order to appease the gods, whom they feared as much as loved. In the temple on the Island of Phil, built under the Ptolemies, the priests lived in cells within the two courtyards. Those of lower rank may have had the twelve smaller cells on one
side of the inner courtyard, while the chief priests may have dwelt in the larger rooms on the opposite side of this courtyard (see Fig. 38). When the outer courtyard was added to the same temple, fifteen more rather larger cells were built within it for the priests' dwellings. Thus, while the cells for the priests belonging to the Memnonium, in the middle of the city of Thebes, were outside the walls of the temple, in this temple at Phil, situated at the frontier of the kingdom, the cells were more cautiously placed within the walls of the fortified building. This temple was one of the places in which Osiris was said to be buried (Diod. Sic. lib. i. 22), and here the priests every day made use Of 360 sacred vessels, as they poured out 360 libations of milk in his
honour, and in token of their grief for his sufferings. No oath was so binding as that sworn in the name of Him that lies buried at Phil, and none but priests were allowed to set foot upon this sacred island.
From the sculptures on the sarcophagus of Amyrtus we learn that the priesthood was divided into four orders, the Soteno, the Othphto, the Nouto, and the Bachano. Of these the Soteno were the chief, as their name implies. The magistrate of the city was a Soten, or as Herodotus writes it, a Sethon; in Manetho spelt Sethos. The Nouto, whose name means Holy, we may suppose were those who performed the sacrifices and other religious duties of a clergyman. Among the Greeks and Romans, while the priest performed the sacrifices, the philosopher wrote on duties and was the consoler of the afflicted, and the poet wrote on theology with the lives and actions of the gods. But in Egypt, as with ourselves, the priest took the three duties upon himself, and hence he ruled the minds of his hearers with a power wholly unknown in Greece or Rome. The Othphto, whose name means Dedicated, were probably those under monastic vows, who were confined within the temple walls, and only allowed to speak to strangers through a window. The statues of men seated on the ground in religious idleness, with the chin resting on the knees, probably belong to priests of this class (see Fig. 39). The Bachano were the hired servants, perhaps the same as the Nethenims of the Temple of Jerusalem. The early, kings often tell us by their names that they were "Dedicated" to one of the gods, as Amunothph; but afterwards the more humble title of "Servant" to the god is sometimes used, as by Adonra-bachan.
How early in the history of Egypt any of the priests, were forbidden to marry does not certainly appear; it is only at a rather late time that we find proof that celibacy was thought a religious virtue. But those who lived confined within the cells in the temples were probably at all times unmarried.
Chremon tells us of the painful self-denial practised by some classes of the Egyptian priests in their food and clothing and way of life. They often fasted from animal food, and at all times refused many meats as unclean. They prayed thrice a day and passed their time for the most part alone, in study or in religious meditation. They never met one another but at set times, and were seldom seen by strangers. They slept on a hard bed of palm branches, with a still harder wooden and even stone pillow for the head. Small models of this pillow are often found buried with the mummies as proof of the self-denial practised (see Fig. 43). These were the steps taken by one class of the I priests to gain a power over the minds of their laity. Their more zealous followers
practised the same self-torture, and even gashed their bodies with knives in token of grief for their sins, and their full sense of unworthiness.
The Soteno and the Nouto wore crowns, which were distinguished as belonging one to Upper Egypt and the other to Lower Egypt. The Soteno wore the mitre or tall cap with the ball on the top: this was made of linen, and was the crown of Upper Egypt (see Fig. 40). It is that at all times worn by Osiris (see Fig. 13). The Nouto wore a flat ring or plate of gold, with a tall piece before and behind (see Fig. 41) This was the crown of Lower Egypt. These two priestly crowns, when worn one over the other, form the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt (see Fig. 42). This is the crown of the god Horus (see Fig. 14). He was called Horus the king. It was also the usual crown of the King of Egypt, who bore the double priestly title, perhaps pronounced Sot-Nout, meaning chief and holy, because he was the head of both those orders of priesthood. Both the above-mentioned crowns, the one of linen and the other of gold, were copied by the Israelites, and worn
|Fig. 41.||Fig. 42.||Fig. 40|
the one over the other by the Jewish high priest in the service of the temple (see Exodus xxviii. 36, 39; Leviticus viii. 9).
Other priestly ornaments, borrowed by the Israelites from Egypt, were the little bells and pomegranates which were sewn on to the. hem of the high priest's robe (see Exodus xxviii. 33). Many of these golden trinkets are to
be found in our Museums among the Egyptian Antiquities, and they seem to have been copied from the painted borders which form the collars round the neck of the wooden mummy cases, and which are made of lotus flower and fruit alternately (see Fig. 44). The Breastplate of judgment worn by the Jewish high priest, called the Urim and Thummim, meaning emblems of royalty and truth, was also borrowed from Egypt, as we learn from these names, which are derived from the Egyptian words OURO, King, and THMEI, justice or truth. In Fig. 45 the god Horus-Ra is Ouro, and the goddess with the feather on her head is Thmei. In Fig. 46, the Urus, or sacred asp, is Ouro, and the vulture is Mo, or with feminine article Thmo; and the two together are perhaps a variety of the former ornament. Again, Fig. 47 is the goddess Mo, Mei, or Thmei alone. The breastplate of the Jewish high priest was so far like Fig. 45 as to be, a square divided into two halves (see Exodus xxviii. 16).
|Fig. 45.||Fig. 46.||Fig. 47.|
The Israelites, however, borrowed fewer religious opinions and ceremonies from Egypt than did the other neighbouring nations. But the brazen Serpent which stood in Jerusalem until the reign of Hezekiah (z Kings xviii. 4.), and the calves which were worshipped at Dan and at Bethel (1 Kings xii. 28), would seem to be parts of the Egyptian idolatry, against which the Prophets so earnestly warned their countrymen. Those chapters, also, in the Book of Genesis which describe the Garden of Eden; its being watered without rain; the sacred tree (see Fig. 29); the cherub with drawn sword guarding the entrance; the serpent, at first upright and talking to Eve (see Fig. 25), then creeping on its belly, and the after war against it (see Fig. 64), and which attempts to explain the origin of sin and death, would seem to belong to the Egyptian mind rather than to the Jewish. In the reign of Solomon the intercourse between Egypt and Judea became very close, and it was, perhaps, in that reign, or soon afterwards, that those chapters about the fall of man were written.
The ark which was borne along by poles resting upon men's shoulders, and contained some of the more sacred emblems of the Jewish religion, need not have been copied from any foreign form of temple service, because it was naturally wanted, when the tabernacle, the centre of their national worship, was moved about from town to town, as in the time of the Judges; but we may remark that in a sculpture representing Rameses III. accompanied by his priests and high officers and the sacred bull Apis, we see that an ark, of the same size as the Jewish ark, was carried along upon men's shoulders in the sacred procession (see Fig. 48). That this Egyptian ark was a prison may be judged from the models of trees at the top; as in some paintings we see wicked imps, the punishing gods, imprisoned in cells which are shown to be pits under ground by the trees growing over them. In Genesis, chap. xxxvii., we read that Joseph was imprisoned by his brothers in a pit or dry well. But what was shut up in the Egyptian ark we are not told, and it is perhaps idle to conjecture; but the only other portable prison or cage that we know of was the basket in later times carried by the priestesses in procession through the streets of Alexandria, which seems to have held a live serpent, the emblem of sin and evil, and the great enemy of the human race (see Fig. 85). The quarrel between mankind and the great serpent is the subject of many of the sculptures in the tombs, and it always ends with the enemy being conquered, and usually taken prisoner, though sometimes killed.
Clemens of Alexandria describes the employments of some of the priests when he tells us which parts of the books of Thoth each undertook to learn and to repeat by heart. The Singer, who walked first in the sacred processions, bearing the symbols of music, could repeat the books of hymns and the rules for the king's life. The Soothsayer, who followed, carrying an hour glass, and a palm branch, the emblem of the year, could repeat the four astrological books: one on the moon's phases, one on the fixed stars, and two on their heliacal risings. The Scribe, who walked next, carrying a book and the flat rule which held the ink and pen, was acquainted with the geography of the world and of the Nile, and with those books which describe the motions of the sun, moon, and planets, and the furniture of the temple and consecrated places. The Master of the Robes carried the rod of justice, and the sacrificial vase. He understood the ten books relating to education, to the marks on the sacred heifers, and to the worship of the gods, embracing the sacrifices, the first-fruits, the hymns, the prayers, the processions, and festivals. The Prophet or Preacher, who walked last, carrying in his arms the great water-jar, was the president of the temple, and learned in the ten books, called Hieratic, relating to the laws, the gods, the management of the temples, and the revenue. Thus, of the forty-two chief books of Thoth, thirty-six were learned by these priests, while the remaining six, on the body, its diseases, and medicines, were learned by Pastophori, priests who carried the image of the god in a small shrine. Of these priests we know several from the sculptures and their statues. On a bas-relief in Rome, the Singer carrying the symbols of music is not a priest, but a priestess (see Fig. 49). Before her walks the Prophet, carrying the great water-jar (see Fig. 50). Before him walks the Scribe, carrying his book, which is a roll of papyrus (see Fig. 51). He has; feathers in his cap, and in the Rosetta Stone is called a Pterophoros, or wing bearer. The first of the four priests (Fig. 52) is a whisperer, or serpent charmer. She carries the animal on her left arm, and persuades the ignorant multitude of her sacred character by showing that she is able to handle the poisonous animal without being hurt by it. So the ignorant natives on the island of Malta thought the Apostle Paul a god when he handled a serpent without being hurt by it. That the Scribe, who walks second, was also a magician we may learn from finding his name used for such by the Jews. Hartom, the magician, in the Book of Daniel, is the Coptic word Erchom, a writer, and an Egyptian scribe in Genesis and Exodus.
|Fig. 49.--The Singer or Musician.||Fig. 50.--The Prophet or Ventriloquist.|
The jar or bottle carried by the prophet, the third in the group, was supposed to have the power of speaking. This priest, by his skill in ventriloquism, made his hearers believe that his voice came out of it. The same speaking bottle was made use of by the Hebrew ventriloquists, who said that a familiar spirit dwelt in it. Such was used by the witch of Endor when she played upon the feelings of King Saul (see 1 Sam. xxviii., in the Hebrew).
Among the modern sculptures on the temple of Dendera, we have the Soothsayer carrying the hour-glass, which was not invented till long after the fall of Thebes (see Fig. 53). And on the sarcophagus of Amyrteus we have a procession of priests each carrying a palm branch (see Egypt. Inscript. Pl. 28 and 30), accompanying the priests with feathers on their heads. We have also many statues of the scribes, seated on the ground cross-legged with the roll of papyrus on the knees. Statues also of the Pastophori, or shrine-bearers, are not uncommon. They are sometimes sitting on the ground, and some times kneeling (see Fig. 54). The shrine or model of a temple usually has in front of it a small figure of the god to whom it is dedicated.
One important office of the priests was to take out the statues of the gods, on certain days of the year, in barges on the Nile (see Fig. 55). The chief boat carried the statue of Ra and the other principal gods; it was accompanied by other boats containing gods of lower rank. Horus acts as steersman to the boat of Ra. It was part of the enactment by the priests, in honour of King Ptolemy Epiphanes, that when the statues of the gods were carried out in this sacred procession, the statue of the king should be carried out with them. The gods on this voyage were supposed to be going to visit the righteous Ethiopians, who were also, as we learn from
Homer, visited by the Greek gods; and Iamblicus tells us that any man who should try to stop the sacred Baris, or Boat of Ra, would be little less guilty than one who should
betray the secret of Abydos, the great secret of the goddess Isis. This boat of Ra, in a lighter and smaller form, was placed upon the altar of some of the temples, and carried about on men's shoulders in the processions, with the statue of the god in it. In these processions a variety of the sacred images and emblems were carried about upon the top of poles, like so many military standards; and among them we see the image of the serpent in the manner imitated by Moses in the desert, as described in Numbers xxi. 9 (see Fig. 56).
Many were the tricks used by the priests to gain a power over the minds of their followers, and to strengthen the belief in their holiness. By means of one of these the colossal statue of Amunothph III., seated in the plain of Thebes, uttered its musical notes every morning at sunrise, when the sun's rays first touched its lips. The Septuagint tells us that ventriloquism, or the art of speaking without moving the lips, was also employed to make the bystanders fancy that a statue, or altar, or
animal, spoke to them. They could also take up a small serpent, and by pressing the thumb on the nape of the neck throw it into a catalepsy, and make it stiff like a rod. In this state they threw it on the ground, and when, after a time, it regained its power of motion, they said that they changed a rod into a serpent. This trick was performed by the priests in the presence of Moses (see Exodus vii. 12). They interpreted dreams and foretold future events by means of a divining cup, which had a variety of superstitious figures engraved within it. We have in the British Museum an Assyrian copy of one of these Egyptian divining cups (see Fig. 57). Such may have been the cup with which Joseph divined, as mentioned in Genesis xliv. 5. In one temple there was a small window in the roof through which light could be let into a room otherwise dark; and at the proper minute this window was opened, and the sun's rays were allowed to enter and fall upon the face of the god's statue within.
The greater number of the priests were certainly married, and on the funereal tablets we find a man boasting of his descent through a line of priestesses, perhaps as often as through a line of priests. In the case of the married priests, their wives were priestesses, and their children belonged to the same sacred order afterwards. The priestesses were more particularly musicians to the temple service. Their favourite instrument was a sistrum, a bronze ring, with a handle, and pierced with six holes, through which were passed three bronze wires which made a jingling noise when it was shaken. The dress of the priests and priestesses was for the most part that of the laity. The priestesses wore one thin robe, reaching from the neck to the ankles, sometimes loose, but sometimes so tight that they could only take short steps in walking. The priests also wore a thin garment reaching from the shoulders to the knees, and beneath it a short apron round the loins. These were all made of linen, as indeed were the garments of every man in the country. Flax was a native of Egypt, and hence curiously arose the opinion of the neighbouring nations that linen was the clothing most suited for the priesthood. Some few, however, of the priests are represented as wearing for their clothing the spotted skin of a leopard, with the claws and tail not removed from it (see Fig. 58). The monuments show us some priests with the head wholly shaven, and we see in Gen. xli. 14, that Joseph thought it necessary to shave himself when he went before Pharaoh in the priestly character of interpreter of dreams. In a painting on stucco in the British Museum, a priest has left a small line of hair round the shaven crown of his head, after the fashion of the tonsure, since followed by the Roman Catholics. In our Fig. 58, the priest has the single lock of hair hanging on one side of his head, which at one time was worn only by the kings' sons, and upon the statues of the youthful gods Horus and Chonso; but afterwards it became more common.
Fig. 59.--Small Votive Pyramid.
The offerings set out upon the altars for gods and ancestors were for the most part the articles of food which were eaten by the living; such as the head of a calf, the leg of a stag, a craw-fish, a loaf of bread, and various vegetables. At other times it was a cone of baked clay with a religious sentence stamped on the base, or a small stone pyramid with an inscription on each of the four sides (see Fig. 59). These were used as figurative of any gift, in consequence of the close resemblance of the words TEI, a gift, and TAU, a hill. On some occasions the priest presented fire and water to the statues of the gods as being the two purest of the elements. The water, or occasionally wine, was poured out of a tall slender jar, while a small quantity of burning charcoal was held forward in a metal ladle with a long handle to it (see Fig. 60), where we have figures of the king, the queen, and their son attending upon two priests, who are making the offerings. We learn from Jeremiah xliv. 18 that this charcoal fire was used to burn incense, as the Jews when living in Egypt are described as burning incense and pouring out drink offerings to the Egyptian goddess, the Queen of Heaven, after the manner of the country.
The Egyptians were accused by the Greeks and Romans of sacrificing human beings on the altars of Osiris. But it is probable that the only foundation for the charge was a custom of accompanying the beheading of criminals with a religious ceremony, in which Osiris may have been declared the judge of the living as well as of the dead. They may, perhaps, have also had a custom of putting to death the criminals on days sacred to that god. Some such custom was followed by the Jews, and even by the Roman governors of Judea; as we learn from the Gospels that at the Passover, when the Saviour was crucified, there were three criminals, a murderer and two robbers, waiting in prison to be put to death at the same feast.
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