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Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt – Its Art
Fascination with Ancient Egypt is understandable. Spanning more than 3,000 years, its civilization still remains as one of the longest-lasting that the world has ever known. Scholars realize that Ancient Egypt lacked a successor community -- an identifiable group of people who carry on some or all of the practices, beliefs, or customs of an earlier people or culture. While an enormous amount of material was left behind, it amounts to only a tiny random fraction of what this civilization actually produced. When Egypt became part of the Roman Empire (30 B.C.E.), everything vanished -- her art, spoken language, and hieroglyphics, as well as her religion. Only their 365-day calendar, which was adopted by the Romans, remained.

The most significant clues to Ancient Egypt appear in its art. The colors of the mural paintings in the rock-hewn tombs at Thebes appear just a fresh and vivid as if created yesterday. Surprisingly, art existed only for religious, symbolic, or magical purposes -- never as an artistic expression. Works of art reflected the collective effort by a number of men, never a single individual. While possessing a flair for design, the Egyptian artists documented the events around them -- strictly adhering to established and immutable religious preconceptions. The creative genius fell within specific symbolic guidelines:

  • Figures of the gods must display all their attributes -- All of Egypt belonged to the gods.
  • Torsos turned toward the viewer but legs twisted to a profile -- The heart was one’s partner through which the gods spoke.
  • Pharaohs/kings must be drawn bigger than anyone else -- Rulers were earthly representatives of gods, perhaps even gods themselves.

Ancient Egypt – Science and Technology
Ancient Egypt had advanced science and technology for the time. Thoth, in the form of an ibis, was the inventor of astrology and mathematics -- the god of wisdom and magic. In reverence to Thoth, Egyptians dedicated themselves only to practical applications of mathematics, never to abstract concepts. Knowledge was given by the gods to solve the real-world problems of the engineers, tax collectors, and military officers. The gods even influenced their sophisticated skills in surveying and agriculture. Since the constellation of Orion was linked with Osiris (god of the dead), the orientation of temples and pyramids required precise measurements. Great care was given to flowers, fruits, and vegetables used for rituals, sustenance of the dead (tombs), as well as aesthetics. Trees were thought by many to be the abode of supernatural beings or much-loved gods.

Egyptian physicians were famous for their knowledge and skills. Some joined the priesthood, serving the goddess Sakhmet, patroness of diseases, remedies, and physicians. With the gods’ favor, physicians performed amputations and simple surgeries with saws, knives, drills, hooks, and forceps. However, the physician’s vast knowledge of the human body was limited to the external. Corpses were sacred -- not to be studied or dissected (hence the mummification process). Embalmers were entirely separate from the medical profession, serving as priests of the god Anubis (patron of embalmers, protector of tombs).

Ancient Egypt – Religion
Every Egyptian held a deep-seated belief in the power of magic rituals and protective amulets. Throughout the centuries, Egyptians worshipped more than 2,000 gods and goddesses. Being extremely tolerant of other ancient peoples, Egyptians quickly adopted foreign deities as well. Logic was rejected as religion and magic became “twin sisters.” Any hope of immortality rested upon Osiris, the jackal-god of the underworld who offered eternal life to all. To assure an after-life, the outer body must be preserved through mummification. Even then, eternal life was not guaranteed. At death, the deceased was judged upon the scales of the goddess Ma’at, weighing their soul against an ostrich feather.

By comparison, Ancient Egypt’s civilization appears as one of contradictions: intellect cradled in magic; advanced technology and amulets entombed together; hope of immortality shrouded in the uncertainty of innumerable gods.

“And this is the way to have eternal life -- to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth” (John 17:3).

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