The basic element of ancient civilization in Egypt besides its geography is religion. The government, literature, astronomy, medicine and arts formed their basis on religion.
It is therefore justified to say that religion was integral to the Egyptians way of life. Since the earliest beginnings of religion in Egypt, changes in religious themes, way of worship and how the worship was conducted have been observed as will be explored in this essay.
People in ancient Egypt ranging from the peasants, merchants, priests, workers, to individual kings worshipped their own gods formulated in the pre-dynastic Egypt and expressed in pictures.
Initially, animals were included in the Egyptian religious cults. That is perhaps why archeologist found preserved graves where cats, gazelles, bulls and sheep were carefully buried (Patricia 112). The worship of pictures did not last for long as they were turned into human portraits.
This, also referred to as anthropomorphism, was unique in the sense that the pictures took human form but retained an animal’s body or head. The Egyptians believed that these gods had human emotions, drank, ate, gave birth, went into battle, lived among people and died.
The reigns of these gods were believed to merge at times and in other instances overlap. In fact, their reign during this time in ancient Egypt did not have an organized hierarchy structure. The power of their gods relied on the power of the reigning king. A powerful king would imply a powerful god and so it was also with the name, location and dominance of the kings (Rosalie 1803).
Additionally, religious names were believed to be very powerful and full of mystery. For instance, in the normal society, people would die or get afflicted when certain traditional rituals were done to their names. In the same respect, certain names were used to express or describe phenomenon that were good and beneficial.
In religion, the Egyptians gave to their gods’ names that were descriptive or qualities such as majestic, virile or strong. Each god had five names and as aforementioned, was worshipped at different times, for different purposes and in different locations depending on the myth.
Examples of gods who were worshipped at that time included Ptah and Osiris the earth gods, Horus, Bat and Hathor were gods of the heaven and Amaunet, amon and Antaios were examples of gods that were worshipped depending on the location (Patricia 111).
In ancient Egypt, the kings played an integral part in religion by connecting the gods and Egyptians. Until around the third dynasty, the kings were believed to be a bridge crossing over the chasm that divided gods and men.
Besides, the priests’ roles were equally important in ancient Egypt and included reading scrolls before religious events, preparing images and statutes, caring for the image gods, and acting as voice of the oracles, stewards of granaries and temple riches and being pinnacles of decisions of their gods.
Furthermore, the ancient religion allowed the use of magic that was commonplace. Warding of evil was done through wearing of amulets, magical texts, spells, concoctions and rituals were used and their successes and their failures were attributed to the gods.
It is important to understand that the ancient religion in Egypt was centralized despite the hierarchy of deities. This indicates a sharp contrast between Egypt and Mesopotamia where in the latter, religion was decentralized. Also, the focus of Egyptian temple was for worship unlike in Sumer where it was for religious, economic and political functions.
The civilization of ancient Egypt happened at the same time Mesopotamian civilization was taking place in other areas in the nations of the Akkadians, Babylonians and the Sumerians (Rosalie 1802). Hence, most other parts of the world were also going through major revolutions in the religious spheres.
For instance, the Egyptian civilization is believed to have originated from the west and other neighboring nations as well as some internal influences. As mentioned before, civilization in ancient religious practices saw the worship of animals turned into the worship of image and pharaoh’s role as a mediator between gods and people changing to a position where he considered himself a divine being.
The rule of pharaoh which was believed to have a qualities such as righteousness, order, justice and truth brought stability and harmony which earlier on was not manifested in image worship (Oesterdiekhoff 103). Due to this and other related factors, religion created optimism, confidence and acted as a unifying factor.
It is important to note that Egyptians believed in life after death and judging by the continuous rhythmic cycle of life and death and their unchanging universe, sought to change their lifestyle in order to meet the predictable patterns of life. In this sense, they began farming, built irrigation canals and pyramids that today give a reflection of extreme centralization created by religion and which brought a significant change in Egypt.
The Hebrews also played a significant role in the civilization of ancient Egypt. The influence exerted by the Hebrews on the western intellectual tradition and the western society was so immense that affected the patterns and activities of other great institutions.
According to the Hebrews, there is only one God to whom they are committed to worship and follow his laws as stated in the Old Testament. The heroes of the Jews unlike the Egyptians were men and women and not gods and goddesses. These heroes represented both the strong and the weak men and women.
The Egyptians and the Sumerians had adopted the worship of many gods also referred to as polytheism and as mentioned earlier on, the dominance of the gods depended on the kings. The Hebrews on the other hand, believed their God was sovereign and practiced monotheism.
The Hebrews believed that the worship of idol gods that like in the case of ancient Egypt was not ideal as it represented an incapable god put in images making them less sovereign. Further, the Hebrews believed that the Egyptians could not obtain freedom from idol worship.
The arrival of the Hebrews into Egypt brought a different influence to the ancient Egyptian way of worship. Their belief system and the sovereign expression of their God in the rescue mission of the Israelites from Egypt played a key role in creating change in the religious atmosphere in Egypt (Oesterdiekhoff 108-109).
The reactions from various circles concerning civilization of ancient Egypt display a mixture of feelings. Some scholars believe that ancient Egypt before civilization was of a unique distinction. Actually, according to history, it is believed that they were the first people to create a state embodying aspiration of the Egyptian race and the spiritual beliefs in the nation-state.
The ancient state of Egypt which lasted for up to 3000 years showed a determined durability, assurance and extraordinary strength demonstrated by its framework of culture and an unmistakable purity of style. The indisputable unity that existed between culture, state and religion fell and what is seen to have remained is its peculiar geographical setting (Rosalie 1803).
Indeed, religion in ancient Egypt led to myriad of other changes that impacted the society politically, socially and economically. For instance, early developments in religion shaped the political systems and structures in ancient Egypt. Most of the rules and leadership dynamics used by Egypt rulers were largely borrowed from religion. The religiously-influenced political and social structures created other avenues and modalities on how people interacted.
The sharing of religious activities in ancient Egypt has offered the world a broad perspective in understanding early social developments in Egypt. Contemporary life would have been rather blank in terms of rich history and perhaps, it would have been cumbersome to comprehensively bridge the past and modern history on religion and worse still, connect the future history with that of the past.
Oesterdiekhoff, W. George. “Ancient Sun Cults: Understanding religious rites in terms of developmental psychology.” Mankind Quarterly, 48.1 (2007): 99-116.
Patricia, Spencer. “Dance in ancient Egypt.” Near Eastern Archaeology, 66.3 (2003): 111-112.
Rosalie, David. “The art of medicine: The art of healing in ancient Egypt: a scientific reappraisal.” The Lancet, 372.9652 (2008): 1802-1803.