Reading time: Approximately 10-12 minutes.
This post picks up where the “Rosetta Stone: A Portal to the Past” left off. Scholars had deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics after the incredibly fortunate discovery of the engraved stone. The science of archeology was just gaining traction in the early nineteenth century and archeological teams were unearthing artifacts from Egyptian tombs faster than interpreters could analyze them.
By the end of the nineteenth century scholars were changing the historic landscape in dramatic ways. For one thing, they began to learn much more about the connections between the Egyptians and other cultures in their sphere of influence. Because of this, scholars began to learn what the Jews and other cultures had borrowed from Egyptian mythology.
The evidence that Egyptian religion influenced Judaism and Christianity is not far-fetched at all. The Jewish religion has murky Canaanite origins that were strongly influenced by Mesopotamian contact during the Babylonian Captivity. Also, researchers know that Christianity began in Palestine around two thousand years ago as a sect of Judaism. From Jerusalem, it’s only 263 land miles to Cairo, Egypt, the site of one of the world’s oldest and most advanced civilizations.
Even in ancient times, it wasn’t difficult to travel between the two cultures. As an example, the Gospel of Matthew told of Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus fleeing to Egypt to avoid King Herod’s slaughter of innocent Jewish babies.
It was a great relief for me to learn that there is no evidence that the massacre really happened. There is also no evidence that Jews slaughtered the Canaanites and or any other tribes as it states in the Book of Joshua. Those seem to be nothing but violent stories to get the reader’s attention and teach cultural lessons.
A few words about mythology
Experts estimate that homo sapiens (our species of human) gained its current level of intelligence somewhere between 100,000 to 35,000 years ago. At some time during that period our ancestors also developed the use of language.
If you have an active mind, you can try to mentally transport yourself into their situation. Living in a hut or cave, or sleeping under the stars, you would be surrounded by nothing but a small tribe of humans and the natural world. That’s it! What would you do for entertainment without radios, televisions, podcasts, movie and music streaming, books, magazines, or even a measly deck of playing cards? About the only mentally stimulating activity would be to observe nature and try to understand it. Many people enjoy problem-solving.
At night, after you put the kids to bed, you might discuss your latest insights with your buddies around a campfire. You’d get feedback as to whether your ideas were on the right track and or too weird to consider. Everyone loves a good story, and if your stories became popular, the entire tribe might learn them and be able to recite them. Then the myth could go viral and neighboring tribes might adopt them.
Deciphering Egyptian Hieroglyphics
In Egypt, by this “campfire” method, people invented stories for thousands of years. As an example, there was that one cluster of stars that someone thought looked an awful lot like a hunter. Maybe his companions agreed. “Oh yeah, I sort of see what you mean.” That concept eventually became solidified and mythological stories of Orion, the hunter, began to spread. His yearly travels around the cosmos were fertile ground for various adventure stories. That kind of creativity led to a huge body of cultural mythology that was transmitted orally for many thousands of years. Scribes only put those myths into written form within the last ten thousand years, unless European cave paintings are considered. In the span of the Egyptian civilization, roughly 175 generations had time to endlessly refine those stories. And that’s just during the era after writing began.
When I wrote about the Rosetta Stone, one thing I didn’t fully realize was that since Egyptian hieroglyphics were not written as letters, but instead as pictogram and symbols, translation as we know it today was impossible. As it is accomplished today, linguists would translate a language like Polish into English by focusing on words and expressions. With hieroglyphics those who decipher have to translate symbols from a completely foreign culture into words and concepts they can understand. To make this process even more complicated, Egyptian civilization is so old that it produced many layers of mythology, with different gods being emphasized in each. Under those conditions, some scholars became more “fluent” in hieroglyphics than others.
It’s difficult to discuss the influences of Egyptian mythology on Judaism and Christianity without running into Gerald Massey. He was a nineteenth-century English poet-scholar. Around 1870, he became so obsessed with the study of Egyptian culture that he learned to read hieroglyphics. Since much of what I’m going to mention here comes from his writings, I needed to discern if he was a reliable source. After all, we are over a hundred years removed from Massey’s writings. He may or may not have been better at understanding what the “writers” of Egyptian mythology were trying to communicate. We’d have to hear from the experts themselves to find out.
From what I’ve been able to discover, his opinions and theories have held up well with some authors and not so much for others. Many of his critics may not be open to evidence that challenges their worldviews. His findings test core beliefs regarding the origins of Judaism and Christianity, so naturally most people who cling to those beliefs would rather not hear from Massey. His critics may want to “shoot the messenger” rather than give sufficient thought to what the Egyptians really wrote. That’s the power of “confirmation bias”—absorbing only the concepts that confirm what someone already believes and discarding anything that might lead to doubt.
Egyptologists form an exclusive club. One of them may have ideas about what a writing means, but that doesn’t mean they all agree. Gerald Massey was a self-taught genius and maybe not even accepted by that exclusive club. He wrote massive volumes about various biblical stories that he thought were derived from Egyptian mythology. He concluded that whoever wrote the books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament presented what were intended as mythical stories as actual history.
Authors who write about Egyptian mythology
I discovered that there are scholars who greatly admire Massey’s work. As more discoveries are made and more hieroglyphics are understood, more scholars are becoming interested in ancient Egyptian myths. I’ll list enough of those possible connections to Judaism and Christianity to hopefully whet your appetite. To read more about this subject, see Massey’s books, and those of D. M. Murdoch, Erik Hornung, and other authors who challenge accepted beliefs. I’m not endorsing their work but think everyone who is curious about Christian origins might be interested in them.
As an aside, one consideration when it comes to understanding the connections between the two cultures is that of all the New Testament writings available to us, the apostle Paul’s were the earliest. Most of his writing seems to be focused on a cosmic figure known as Christ. Biblical scholars debate to what extent he wrote about a human named Jesus. If it was the cosmic Christ, it was a lot easier for Paul and other writers to adapt Egyptian mythology to supernatural beings than to an actual flesh and blood human.
Similarities between Egyptians, Jews, and Christians
Egyptians, like Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Classical Greek, Roman, Norse, and other religions worshiped trinities or triads of Gods. The primary trinity of ancient Egypt was Osiris, Isis, and Horus. I say “primary” because it seems that over the millennia, these gods took different forms and names and had different myths attached to them.
Both Egyptians and Jews had evil supernatural entities. Egyptians had Set and the Jews and Christians had Satan. The Jewish scripture didn’t present Satan as the epitome of evil the way the way Christianity does.
The three religions believed in a final judgment and an afterlife of some kind, although the Jewish afterlife wasn’t heaven or hell, it was sheol.
Atum, or Atum Ra, was the first being and the Egyptian creator god. The name closely resembles Adam, the first created human in Judaism.
Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten was the first to establish monotheism in his realm. He worshipped the god Aten. The Jews wouldn’t commit to monotheism for another seven or eight centuries after his reign.
The Egyptians practiced circumcision long before the Jews did, even though it was the distinguishing sign of Jewish adherence to their god’s covenant.
The Old Testament Book of Ezekiel mentions a temple. Some think it was the Temple of Amarna in Egypt, not the Temple in Jerusalem.
The most sacred parts of the Jewish temple, the Holy of Holies, and the sacrificial altar had equivalents in Egyptian religion.
The Ark of the Covenant was similar to an object found in the tomb of King Tut. Historians have also discovered evidence that the Egyptians took a similar “holy” case with winged guardians attached to it into battle for good luck.
Psalm 104 follows the same format and almost paraphrases the Great Hymn to Aten.
New Testament and the Christians
Isis was the virgin mother of baby Horus and Egyptian art often depicted her with a baby on her lap. Christians carried that familiar pose into their art as Mary and baby Jesus. Additionally, Isis was a virgin when she gave birth to Horus after an annunciation of her pregnancy in a dream.
Horus was baptized in the Nile River and Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.
Both Jesus and Egyptian gods performed healing miracles and sometimes the stories were strangely similar. Among other miracles, the Egyptian healing god raised the dead and returned eyesight to the blind.
Both religions had much animal symbolism, but that was probably true with most religions. People in those days marveled at the “superpowers” that animals possessed, and borrowed animal symbolism from the signs of the zodiac.
The lamb was a symbol of the perpetual renewal of life in Egypt in addition to being the symbol of Jesus. To the Egyptians, salvation wasn’t an escape from hell—it was the annual flooding of the Nile River. The symbol of a fish represented the “renewal of life” and the god Messu, the Messianic prince of peace.
The Egyptian ankh (symbol presented at the top of the post) was their representation of life. It was a cross with a loop on top and possibly the precursor to the Christian cross.
Egyptians had a forty-day fasting period equivalent to Lent. The difference was that it occurred after the death of Osiris. The Christian lent comes before the annual recognition of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Osiris was also resurrected following his death.
Egyptians mythology had a story of a precocious twelve-year-old instructing sages at a temple. That is what the the Gospel of Luke mentions about Jesus. Like Horus, Jesus disappeared when he was twelve and didn’t return to his story until he was thirty years old. I’ll bet the writers took those stories from the study of the cosmos. Both the numbers twelve and thirty have significant meaning in the Bible and also in astronomy since the Babylonians divided the zodiac into twelve arcs of thirty degrees.
There are many similarities between the Book of Revelation and the Egyptian Book of the Dead– the book the Egyptians buried with their pharaohs.
The god, Hathar-Meri, was a virgin mother. It’s possible that the name of Mary, the mother of Jesus, came from her name.
Sometimes Jesus mirrored Osiris and other times he seemed similar to Osiris’s son, Horus. Egyptian mythology indicates that Osiris was torn to pieces after he was killed and each piece was distributed to an Egyptian province. At Jesus’s last supper, he also symbolically tore his body apart and distributed it to each of his disciples.
“Anointed one” is a term that was applied to not only Jesus Christ, but Jewish kings, and Egyptian pharaohs. Messiah means “anointed one” in Hebrew, but when translated into Greek, it becomes “Christ”. The term Messiah possibly came from the Egyptian name Messu.
The lamb and the fish are also based on the transition of the zodiac ages of Aries and Pisces, which occurred near the time of Jesus’s life. Christianity took hold more rapidly in Egypt than almost anywhere else. Egypt was still a majority Christian country until around the twelfth century AD. That might imply that the Egyptians recognized similarities between Christianity and their traditional religion.
Christianity’s first recognized monk, Anthony the Great, lived in Egypt. The earliest Christian hermits and monks lived in the Egyptian desert.
There is more, but I’ll stop here.
Why haven’t I heard this before?
If some or most of this is true, the early Church went to great lengths to keep people from being exposed to any writing that undermined its doctrines. Either that, or Church leaders may not have aware of these cultural parallels themselves. After all, much of what we are learning from Egypt has been buried for more than two thousand years. Even if some Christian writers knew Egyptian myths and used the stories as a basis for their writings, they may not have known where the myths originated. At that time, all knowledge was oral or hand-written and almost completely unverifiable.
If many of these connections between Egyptian mythology and Judaism-Christianity were true and Church leaders knew that, remember who controlled Christianity from the fourth century AD until the nineteenth century AD. First, it was the most powerful and influential empire the world had ever known—the Roman Empire. Overlapping and continuing after the fall of Rome, were three other powerful entities—the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Papacy.
Roman emperors and Christian bishops didn’t want pagan knowledge disseminated and they knew how to stop it. They banned writings to keep them from being copied. In that case they would eventually turn to powder. Or, they could actively destroy the writings and turn them into ashes. Christians clergy burned untold thousands of pagan books because they feared that their followers might read them.
What was hidden
What the book censors and destroyers couldn’t find were those scrolls, tablets, and pyramid writings that were buried inside Egyptian tombs and in caves near the Dead Sea. The discovery of caches like those have inspired the rewriting of history.
Gerald Massey pointed out so many connections between the religions that after a while it was overwhelming to me. Are all his interpretations true? Have they been confirmed by other Egyptologists? I honestly don’t know, but I do know it is very fascinating territory that they have wandered into.
Egypt in the Bible
Apart from all the revelations from deciphered hieroglyphics, there is the Bible itself. Many important events in the Bible involved Egypt.
In Genesis—Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his nephew Lot traveled to Egypt. There, the scripture described how a pharaoh bought Sarah from Abraham for his concubine. Also in Genesis, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. When he arrived in Egypt, he gained great power as a different pharaoh’s vizier, or chief counselor.
Exodus introduced yet another pharaoh. This pharaoh’s daughter fetched baby Moses out of the Nile River. Moses had been floating in a reed basket, but that is not an original story. Sargon, the king of Akkad, in Mesopotamian, had a similar legend connected to his infancy centuries earlier than the Moses story.
In the Book of Kings. Solomon married the daughter of a later pharaoh.
In Chronicles, another pharaoh Egypt invaded Judah and conquered the territory.
In the New Testament, as mentioned earlier, Matthew told of Joseph, the father of Jesus, having that dream in which God told him to flee to Egypt to protect his son.
History of the Jews in Egypt
By the late first century, Flavius Josephus, the much-quoted Jewish historian, was already doubting the Hebrew Bible’s tale of the exodus from Egypt. Apparently, Josephus thought the Jews were confusing the exodus with the Egyptian expulsion of the Hyksos people. They were a historical Middle Eastern ethnic group that had ruled Northern Egypt for about a hundred year period at about the time Moses would have lived.
To date, investigator have found no evidence to confirm the biblical exodus actually occurred. The Egyptians kept copious historical records and the closest story to the exodus story they have is when one leader led a small population of Egyptians (not Jews) into the Sinai Desert.
Mythology is a collection of fictional stories that a culture creates before any actual evidence is available to explain why things are the way they are. Ancient people wrote fanciful tales based on their observations of the cosmos, the weather, and other lifeforms. Centuries or even millennia later, when they had concrete evidence to explain those same events and observations, they created more detailed stories known as “history.” For example, ancient Indian mythology tells of the Ganges River being a continuation of the Milky Way Galaxy. That’s because the river seemed to flow out of that bright conglomeration of stars we call the Milky Way. Once they learned that wasn’t the case, that it really flows from Himalayan glaciers, the myth may still remained, but better knowledge has relegated the myth to the status of a quaint story.
Moses and Egyptian mythology
The name Moses is Egyptian in origin. It means something like “child of the water” or “child of the Nile”. It seems the writers of Exodus plucked stories of Moses right out of Egyptian mythology. According to Massey, maybe none of the biblical Exodus is based on actual history. That includes the tales of the pharaoh’s daughter finding Moses floating in the reed basket, the burning bush, the summons from God to free his people, the rod that turned into a snake and parted the Red Sea, the ten plagues, the forty years in the wilderness, the manna falling from heaven, the pillars of fire and clouds that guided the Jews, the golden calf, and even the ten commandments.
Much of this information is very difficult to assimilate into what we learned in church. But as more evidence is becoming available, the story becomes more clear. Now historical scholars know that the Jewish people came from the Canaanite culture many centuries after the Egyptian culture reached its peak. Since they were basically next-door neighbors, Egyptian influence on the Jews was profound. The Jews also borrowed stories like Job and Noah from the Mesopotamians during their captivity. Then, they adapted a significant amount of their theology to Zoroastrianism while in contact with the Persians after the Babylonian exile.
The Old Testament didn’t drop out of the clouds as a fully bound scripture. Sages and scribes maintained their mythological history by oral tradition the best they could. The books of their Bible were not all accepted as scripture until around 200 AD.
Many Christians don’t want to hear any of this because it contradicts what they’ve been taught. Regardless, the more willing we are to learn from modern discoveries instead of holding onto fictional myths, the more fact-based our culture will become. If people insist on believing in myths instead of evidence that’s their choice. I think it does tremendous harm to our society for people to refuse to trust our cultural bank of knowledge, which comes from the domain of scientists and historians, not theologians and preachers.