Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Egyptian Roots of Christianity?

"But did they also influence Christianity?"

We know they invented...

•the concept of modern time

The Egyptians invented the 365 day calendar, which they split up into 12 months. They also invented the sundial, which helped them to break down the day into morning, afternoon and night.

•grooming instruments and hand tools

The Egyptians are credited with inventing scissors, hair combs, the toothbrush and toothpaste, and cosmetics. Other tools include the lock and key, the loom, oil lamps and the drum.

•board games

The Egyptians created board games for recreation. The most popular were Senet and Jackals, each player receiving 5 or more pawns, similar to checkers. They also invented the Ouija board, used to tell the future.

•advanced mathematics

The Egyptians developed an advanced math and organized science system. They invented math to measure time, count money, and to build the pyramids. Some classifications they invented include geometry, calculus, astronomy and botany.

But did they also influence Christianity? (emphasis mine)

A long time ago, a man was born of a virgin in the likeness of God. After spreading messages of love and peace in his early life, he was betrayed by his friends and slain on a slab of wood. He was then resurrected on Earth before returning to heaven.

The man’s name isn’t Jesus. It’s Osiris, the god-man of ancient Egypt.

Didn’t hear this in Bible study? No wonder; Osiris is thought to have lived a good 2,500 years before Jesus’ birth. Although the significance of Osiris, who was considered “god of the dead,” paled in comparison to that of Christ’s, the two men’s stories are strikingly similar.

It’s not by accident, said Lisa Ann Bargeman, author of a new book, “The Egyptian Origins of Christianity.”

Bargeman asserts that many Christian rituals and beliefs, specifically Roman Catholic ones, may have come from ancient Egyptian tradition. Her book juxtaposes the Bible with the Egyptian sacred text, The Book of the Dead, using specific themes and ceremonial practices to argue that Christianity directly evolved from the Egyptians.

One telling piece of evidence, Bargeman says, is the Christian use of the word “Amen,” which is a derivative of Amon, the Egyptian god of reproduction and life.

“For literally an eternity, human beings have been addressing their gods in the same way,” Bargeman said via e-mail.

Although others, most notably the religious scholar and theological historian Martin A. Larson, have made the same connection between Christianity and ancient Egyptian myths, most Christians are unaware of the similarities. While there are many clues to suggest Christianity’s roots can be traced to Greek, or Hellenic times, which began about 300 years before Christ’s birth during the development of Judaism, stories about Egyptian influences and other perceived “pagan” legends make some Christians uneasy.

“The reason for such denial is that Christianity is always presented as the only true religion, the only way to salvation, and as such, it could not have borrowed anything from a religion they have dubbed heathen or pagan,” Harrison Ola Akingbade, an Anglican Christian himself, wrote in the foreword of Bargeman’s book.

Bargeman first recognized the correlation between Christendom and Egyptian history when she heard a college professor suggest that Christianity was rooted in a ritual more ancient than popular culture believed. The story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, for example, has correlations to the Egyptian legend of Re and Sekhmet, another couple prideful in the face of God who punished them for their sins.

Other links between Egyptian religious practice and Christianity include the Trinity. When Christians say “In the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” they mean, according to Bargeman, “in the name of Khnum-Atum/Aten-Re-Ptah, Osiris-Horus, and of Min/Amen.”

Not quite as catchy, but the ancient Egyptian gods assumed the same identities — father, son and spirit — that Christians worship.

Akingbade, an African scholar who discussed the Egyptian and Christian correlations as an undergraduate student in Nigeria, said among scholars, these similarities are nothing new.

“We’ve been talking about this forever,” he said. “Instead of talking about it in classes like I did, [Bargeman] made sense of it.”

Others, however, argue that not even the Greeks and Romans had much influence on Christianity, and that an attempt to bring the ancient Egyptian into the discussion is misguided. Larry Hurtado, professor of the New Testament at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, considers the Egyptian influence on Christianity trifling.

“The most immediate culture or matrix is that of Palestinian-Jewish people of that time and setting,” Hurtado said in an e-mail. “Identifiably Egyptian influence is negligible.”

Bargeman’s thesis has already been exhausted, Hurtado said.

“This is actually quite a tiresome aspect of being a scholar in my field, that books keep appearing with the author and uninformed readers breathlessly announcing its radicality and novelty, when time after time it is simply a re-tread of an idea or claim refuted long ago,” Hurtado said.

But despite the challenges from some historians, including those who take issue with Bargeman’s interpretations of some Egyptian symbols, she said she has received little criticism from Christians themselves.

“If you are a firm believer in Christ, then use the Egyptian religion as a modifier for what you currently believe,” she said. “Perhaps you can use the story of the eternal regeneration of Khepri — a baby and a god in one unified state of constant reawakening — at Christmas, and relate it to your Christian ceremonies. Or you can watch a beautiful heron, lake side, fly up to the sky, carrying with it the wistful idea of our soul-ba as Benu-bird, the heron-esque spirit.”

Although Bargeman’s thesis has been debated by Egyptologists for some time now, Akingbade said Bargeman’s book is important to understanding and acknowledging Egyptian history. He has purchased several copies for his Christian friends in Africa.

“Most of my friends said it was really good,” Akingbade said. “It’s a contribution to scholarship.”

Original Post Date: Sunday, April 23, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:05 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008


EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is not for the faint of heart. After researching this topic, I see strong parallels between Ancient Egyptian religious philosophy and Christianity. I would even further suggest that the former has heavily influenced the latter in terms of doctrine. Being a "Christian" myself, I don't see this understanding as an assault upon my faith in Christ but a confirmation of it. It must be understood that the wirings of the revelation of God were initially given to the sons of Ham and later transmitted to the sons of Shem, namely the Israelites. This is borne out by Scripture in the Genesis account. Lastly, the Scriptures did not evolve in an exclusive religious vacuum, but to the contrary, flourished in an intriguing historical diversity.

Photo: Akhenaten. This pharaoh popularized monotheism in ancient Egypt. He ruled circa 1380-1362 BC. Akhenaten was the predecessor of Tutankamen, and husband of Nefertiti. His radical revision of Egyptian polytheism to monothesim temporarily ushered in a period of artistic freedom an innovation in Egypt known as Amarna Art. Amana art was a departure from the rigid portraitures of pharaonic rulers into more soft and naturalistic ones, as the one shown above.

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