Ancient Egypt

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Ankh, the Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol for "life".

Ancient Egypt was an historical period in Egypt spanning several thousand years, during which the region became the birthplace of one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and a sophisticated one at that. A surprising amount has survived the past few millennia, including the only surviving "Wonder of the Classical World", the Great Pyramid at Giza, and The Sphinx of Giza, which forms a part of the same complex. This is thanks to the desert climate surrounding Egypt, which means that many early documents and monuments from its ancient civilization have been preserved.

Due to being so ancient, impressive, and often mystic, Ancient Egyptian history has become a magnet for pseudohistorical theories, conspiracies, and woo.

Advancements in writing[edit]

One of the world's earliest writing systems, Egyptian hieroglyphics, was created there. A Proto-Sinaitic script derived from or inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics is a likely candidate for the origin of the Phoenician alphabet, and as such Egyptian hieroglyphics would represent the ultimate ancestor of all the major alphabetic scripts currently in use, including the Latin, Greek, Arabic, and Brahmi-derived scripts of South Asia.[1]

Culture[edit]

Females married around their first menses; with males usually between 16-20; premarital sex was allowed, though, as was no-fault divorce (which was uncommon in a lot of cultures at that time). Both genders inherited wealth equally and separately from each parent; while the end of childhood was marked by the first menses in girls and circumcision in boys at 13. Careers in ancient Egypt were hereditary, only the male children of scribes could expect classroom educations; scribes also did not have to pay taxes. All professions were paid in grain; the ancient Egyptians favorite thing to drink was beer, while their favorite board game, senet, invoked the journey into the underworld.[2]

Pyramid construction methods[edit]

Although Herodotus described the pyramids as being built by slaves at the crack of a whip, a tomb for builders was found near the Giza pyramids; food supplies for the afterlife indicate that they were paid laborers. The pyramid builders at Giza worked in three-month shifts, and the 10,000 laborers would consume 21 cattle and 23 sheep each day, for 30 years.[3][4]

Aliens are assumed to have not bothered involving themselves with such a profitless venture.

Pharaohs[edit]

Generic image that could represent pretty much any pharaoh you wanted it to from 3,000 years of history.

The Pharaoh was the title for an ancient Egyptian ruler, whose power was generally assumed to come directly from the Egyptian gods, and was therefore worshipped and treated as a god. Being gods, of course, meant they could marry their sisters with all the results one would expect. This was done to preserve the throne; an ever increasing number of descendants meant more rivalry, but the stronger the person's claim to the throne the more likely they would be a clear heir. Being the son and nephew of the prior Pharaoh was a stronger claim than merely being a son. Egypt did allow for women to be Pharaoh (though it wasn't too common), so two of the children could be rulers simultaneously if they worked together against the others, instead of winner takes all.[citation needed]

Since the actual word for "Egyptian King" (nswt) is a male gender word, when women ruled the Kingdom, Pharaoh (gender neutral) was the linguistically necessary term.[citation needed]

Prior to World War II, Americans would occasionally use the insult of "pharaoh" for their political opponents in speeches or the press,[5] since almost everyone would have been familiar with the story of the Pharaoh in Exodus and the negative connotations.[6]

Ancient Egyptian religion and magic[edit]

From the RationalWiki perspective, the most salient feature of ancient Egyptian religion involved its funerary cult, and its associated practice of mummification. The Egyptians believed that the preservation of the body was vital to the soul's survival in the afterlife, and they buried at least their upper class dead in elaborate tombs that contained grave goods and carved servants (ushabti) that would be animated to wait upon the deceased in the afterlife.[7] The Book of the Dead was a collection of texts — there was no single standard version — that were meant as a guidebook and instruction manual informing deceased Egyptians how to navigate the Egyptian afterlife, pass its trials and avoid its hazards, and come to rest by identification with the dying and resurrected god Osiris.[8]

Because of this belief that the dead needed goods from the living, the tombs of ancient Egyptians attracted grave robbers seeking to plunder the grave goods they contained. With the unique exception of the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun (whose tomb had been hidden by rubble from a nearby tomb, protecting it from robbers), each tomb discovered had been substantially plundered prior to archaeological excavation. To discourage the practice, some Egyptian tombs contained inscriptions proclaiming curses on the heads of these thieves; one such curse reads "Cursed be those who disturb the rest of a Pharaoh. They that shall break the seal of this tomb shall meet death by a disease that no doctor can diagnose."[9] These curses live on in contemporary legend and popular culture; one such curse has Lord Caernarvon, backer of the excavations, succumbing to Tutankhamun's curse because he died from sepsis from a self-inflicted cut six months after the opening of the tomb. Another mummy's curse legend blames the sinking of the Titanic on the presence of an Egyptian mummy in the hold.[10]

Egypt's reputation as a haven of occult magic extends back to the ancient world; the presence of the Library of Alexandria on Egyptian soil made Alexandria the largest center for learning in the ancient world. Ptolemy had his home there, and a great many magical texts in a mixture of late Egyptian and Greek[11] have been preserved on papyri, making them the largest body of magical texts preserved from the ancient world. A great many of these texts deal with themes of late paganism that are not specifically Egyptian, such as the Mithras Liturgy.

Lucius Apuleius's magical novel Metamorphoseon, often known in English as The Golden Ass, is again not specifically Egyptian in its content: but at its climax, its hero Lucius, transmogrified into an ass by tampering with magical potions earlier, is rescued from that fate by the Egyptian goddess Isis. The invocation of Isis[12] from the novel has had a large influence on contemporary occultism and neo-paganism. It is the chief ancient source for the claims of the Goddess movement that holds that all of the diverse female deities worshipped in antiquity were guises of a single goddess. The Egyptian deities Isis, Horus, and Osiris (often under the name Serapis) were widely popular throughout the Greco-Roman world; Isis had shrines as far away as Roman Britain.

An earthenware Eye of Horus from the 6th–4th centuries BCE

A very common theme in conspiracy theories is that the Eye of Horus or anything related to Egyptian mythology is part of the Illuminati. For example, if an Egyptian casket is found at Whitney Houston's funeral, it suddenly has everything to do with the Illuminati and anyone who tries to debunk this is a shill.

Pseudohistory[edit]

The ancient Egyptians (right) believed themselves to differ in race from both Nubians (second from left) and Caucasians. Wall painting from the tomb of Seti I.
Walk like an Egyptian at the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn!

Egypt's status as an early civilization with many well-preserved artifacts attracts a great deal of woo. An attempt to claim ancient Egyptian forebears as a part of the heritage of contemporary African Americans is a recurring feature of Afrocentric pseudohistory. The African-American Baseline Essays published by the Portland, Oregon school system, tell us that in ancient Egypt, psi was an "exact science".[13] Elsewhere, the essays credit an Egyptian physician named Imhotep with discovering heredity, claiming that Imhotep discovered that "a child acquires qualities of the parent through the semen of the father; this was the basis of the royal family's selective marriage policies."[13] Not only was Imhotep wrong about this, assuming he said any such thing; but incest was remarkably common in Egyptian royal lineages.[14] The essay also claims that Egyptian medicine was based on contemporary New Age ideas about psychic powers, which were apparently linked to a psychic network whose power source was the Pharaoh:[15]

The ancient Egyptians call this creative energy "za" (known as "prana" to the Hindus and "chi" to the Chinese), which human beings, under special conditions, could manipulate. The god Heka was also the personification of this energy. They understood man's vital essence, the spirit, to be contained in a net of energy: the body. Thus, in the process of healing, the psi-physician/priest actually sought to restore the energetic integrity and harmony of the ill person. By the laying-on-of-hands, he or she could transfer their "za" which they received from the Pharaoh, who in turn received his "za" from the sun, to the patient.[13]

Egyptian images have also been appropriated wholesale by Western occultists in general[16], although the solar imagery of Egypt has become less popular in recent years, being largely supplanted by earth-based imagery. According to Antoine Court de Gébelin's Le Monde Primitif ("The Primitive World"), an attempt at harmonizing the world's several mythologies, the Tarot card deck is of ancient Egyptian origin. His successor and plagiarist, the hairdresser and cartomancer Etteilla followed suit, and named the Tarot as the "Book of Thoth", an ancient Egyptian deity. Etteilla somehow determined in 1788 that the word tarot comes from ancient Egyptian roots TAR and RO, meaning "royal road"; since Jean-François Champollion's decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs was some thirty years in the future, the conclusion seems suspect, particularly because Tarot was invented in Italy in the 15th century.

The Theosophical Society (founded in 1875) has its roots in an earlier occult organization, the "Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor" (also founded in the 1870s).[17] Likewise, the Rosicrucian organization operates a Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California.[18] A great deal of pseudohistory and pseudoarcheology has attached itself to the pyramids and the Sphinx of Giza. Tamara Siuda's House of Netjer purports to be an attempt to reconstruct the ancient Egyptian religion.

An often repeated but false claim by Afrocentrists, is that the Library of Alexandria existed prior to Hellenistic times. The Alexandrian library and museum were founded and maintained by the long succession of Ptolemies (of Greek origin) in Egypt from the beginning of the 3rd century BCE. There is no evidence of any library on the site prior to the founding of the city by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. John F. Healey, The early alphabet; (University of California Press, 1990, ISBN 978-0-520-07309-8), p. 18.
  2. http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/2/21701778/
  3. http://news.discovery.com/history/ancient-egypt/pyramids-tombs-giza-egypt.htm
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Egyptian pyramid construction techniques.
  5. Brian Palmer, Before Hitler, Who Was the Stand-In for Pure Evil?, Slate (2011)
  6. In fact, some still do.
  7. E. A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life (1908); not an entirely reliable source.
  8. The Book of the Dead
  9. Valley of the Golden Mummies, Zahi A. Hawass, p. 94–97, American University Press in Cairo Press, 2000, ISBN 977-424-585-7
  10. Cursed Mummy on the Titanic, snopes.com
  11. See the Wikipedia article on Greek Magical Papyri.
  12. Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass l. XI
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Hunter Havelin Adams, "African and African-American contributions to science and technology, The African-American Baseline Essays (1987), pp. 41-42
  14. Jack Goody, "The Labyrinth of Kinship". New Left Review (2005)
  15. Adams, supra, p. 44
  16. See generally Brian Brown, The Wisdom of the Egyptians (1923)
  17. See generally Erik Hornung, The Secret Lore of Egypt (Cornell, 2001)
  18. The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum