Osiris and the Egyptian resurrection
|Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection by E. A. Wallis Budge|
The Chapters printed in these volumes are the result of a study undertaken with the object of attempting to discover the source of the fundamental beliefs of the indigenous Religion of Ancient Egypt, to trace their development through a period of some two score centuries, and to ascertain what were the foreign influences which first modified Egyptian beliefs, then checked their growth, and finally overthrew them.
There is no doubt that the beliefs examined herein are of indigenous origin, Nilotic or Sudani in the broadest signification of the word, and I have endeavoured to explain those which cannot be elucidated in any other way, by the evidence which is afforded by the Religions of the modern peoples who live on the great rivers of East, West, and Central Africa.
The central figure of the ancient Egyptian Religion was Osiris, and the chief fundamentals of his cult were the belief in his divinity, death, resurrection, and absolute control of the destinies of the bodies and souls of men.
The central point of each Osirian's Religion was his hope of resurrection in a transformed body and of immortality, which could only be realized by him through the death and resurrection of Osiris. I have therefore made Osiris, and the beliefs which grew up under his cult, the central consideration of this enquiry, and have grouped about the history of the god the facts in modern African Religions which are similar and which I consider to be cognate to the old beliefs. The o^eneral aro^ument of the book is indicated in the following paragraphs.
The materials now available for the enquiry may be divided roughly into two main classes: —1 The Magical, Religious, and Mythological Texts are written by native Egyptians for Egyptians. 2. Accounts of the Magic, Religion, Mythology, and Gods of Ancient Egypt written by Greek and Roman historians and philosophers, e.g., Herodotus, Diodorus, Plutarch, Apuleius, and others, for the use and information of their countrymen.
An examination of the statements on the ancient Religion of Egypt found in the works of the above-mentioned and other classical writers, carried on side by side with a study of the Egyptian texts, convinced me that the information supplied by them was wholly unsuitable for the solution of the numerous problems which confront the student of the ancient Egyptian Religion at every turn.
The reason of this is not far to seek. The works of classical writers on Egypt and her Religion contain much extremely valuable information, some of which is supported by the native Egyptian texts. On the other hand, there are incorporated with such information many fantastic theories and imaginings which are not only unsupported, but are absolutely contradicted by the facts drawn from the Egyptian monuments; Herodotus and others wrote down, no doubt, accurately enough, so far as they understood it, what they were told by Egyptian priests and by their well-educated friends in Egypt, but it is quite clear, by the construction which they put upon much of the information which they received, that they did not really understand the rudimentary principles of the Egyptian Religion, or its primitive cults, or the nature of their symbolism.
There is no evidence in their works that they knew of, or even suspected, the existence in it of the all-embracing beliefs in the power of the great ancestral spirit, and in the resurrection of men in general and their immortality, which are the chief characteristics of the Egyptian Religion. And these writers had no knowledge of the details of the cult of Osiris, and of his history, such as we now possess (thanks to the religious texts of the Vlth dynasty), because they could not read the native literature of Egypt. They can hardly be blamed for this because it is certain that very few of the Egyptian priests took the trouble to read and study it, and to arrange systematically the facts of their Religion which were to be derived from their ancient writings.
The confusion and contradictions which appear in the religious texts written under the XXth and following dynasties prove beyond all doubt that the knowledge of the early dynastic Religion of Egypt possessed by the priests in general after, let us say, 1200 B.C., was extremely vague and uncertain. Such being the case, the information which they could impart to cultivated and enquiring foreigners is almost useless of itself for historical investigations. Moreover, the character of the Religion of Egypt changed entirely under the New Empire. Its spiritualities became buried under a mass of beliefs that were purely magical in character, and men, in general, relied for salvation upon spells, incantations, magical figures, and amulets; only the wise few clung to the beliefs of their ancestors.
When Herodotus visited Egypt the knowledge of the Religion of the Ancient and Middle Empires had practically died out. The general untrustworthiness of the information about the Egyptian Religion supplied by classical writers being thus evident, it is clear that, if we wish to gain exact knowledge about the subject, we must seek for it in the study of the native literature, which is comparatively large and full.
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