Plato’s Metaphysics: Being and Becoming

Perhaps Plato’s greatest contribution to Western philosophy is the idealism embedded in his Theory of Forms, which in essence breaks down existence itself as not only a physical world of inanimate and animate objects, but a theory of knowledge and understanding which is based upon the notion that a) the understanding of a thing is predicated upon the existence of a true Form, or Idea of a thing without which the understanding, or even the thing itself, could not truly “exist:, and b) that such Forms or Ideas existed eternally as intellectual constructs upon which our understanding of the world around us was based.  It is from this premise and starting point that we must begin to try and grasp Plato’s perspective on not just reality and knowledge, but also ultimately his views on universal creation as well as his conception of the human Soul, all of which underpin not just his ethical philosophy but also his socio-political philosophy as reflected in the Republic and Laws most notably.

One of the primary themes that underlies all of Plato’s works, and can be especially seen in the Timaeus and Phaedo among other of his prominent works, is that the principles of reality or the known universe, and the very meaning of life and the pursuit of wisdom and understanding are not just worth exploring, but represent the very highest goal of life – the end of the philosopher.  His means of exploration, and perhaps the most defining characteristic of the Hellenic philosophical tradition which he so greatly influenced, is the role of reason and argument in the form of dialogue, logos and dialectic respectively, in ascertaining these universal truths, even if absolute truth or certainty is not completely possible given the limits of human understanding.  Whether or not he believed that absolute knowledge (sophia, phronēsis) was altogether possible or not is debatable and this is perhaps one of the great mysteries of Platonic philosophy as we try to understand it through the metaphors, analogies and arguments he presents and explores throughout his dialogues, the method and means of communication of these ideas and principles in fact lending itself to skepticism which was a hallmark of many of the philosophers which succeeded him at the Academy.

With respect to the nature of what can truly be known, from which any definition of reality can be drawn, Plato’s teachings as we understand them through his dialogues establish the first and foremost tradition of skepticism in Western – Indo-European really – thought.  This tradition, which starts with Socrates and clearly influenced Plato significantly, establishes the grounds of epistemology – the study of knowledge (epistêmê)– which is reflected in the philosophical tradition which Plato leaves behind at the Academy which he founded in Athens circa 387 BCE.  This tradition of skepticism” represented the core intellectual stream of thought emanating from the Academy subsequent to Plato which provided the basis for other currents of more materialistic and empiricist philosophical schools such as Stoicism and Epicureanism which has a much more broad definition of knowledge, each playing a strong role in the development of Hellenic philosophy in the classical Greco-Roman period.

Plato’s teachings were founded upon the principle, again believed to have been a legacy of Socrates himself, that there were significant intellectual limits upon that which could be truly known given that knowledge itself was predicated on the a priori existence of Forms or Ideas without which any understanding or comprehension of the physical world of matter comprehended by the senses is possible.  For Plato considered knowledge itself to be a type of “recollection”, which was part of his argument for the immortality of the Soul, which was the “form” of the body, one of the primary themes of the Phaedo, a dialogue which circulated in antiquity under the title of On the Soul.

Probably the most comprehensive literary expression of Plato’s notion of knowledge, the distinction he draws between the intelligible world (higher form of knowledge) and the visible world (lower form) comes from the Republic, expressed in what has come to be known as the analogy of the divided line.

“Conceive then,” said I, “as we were saying, that there are these two entities, and that one of them is sovereign over the intelligible order and region and the other over the world of the eye-ball, not to say the sky-ball, but let that pass.  You surely apprehend the two types, the visible and the intelligible.”  “I do.”

“Represent them then, as it were, by a line divided into two unequal sections and cut each section again in the same ratio (the section, that is, of the visible and that of the intelligible order), and then as an expression of the ratio of their comparative clearness and obscurity you will have, as one of the sections of the visible world, images.  By images I mean, first, shadows, and then reflections in water and on surfaces of dense, smooth and bright texture, and everything of that kind, if you apprehend.”  “I do.”  “As the second section assume that of which this is a likeness or an image, that is, the animals about us and all plants and the whole class of objects made by man.”  “I so assume it,” he said.  “Would you be willing to say,” said I, “that the division in respect of reality and truth or the opposite is expressed by the proportion: as is the opiniable to the knowable so is the likeness to that of which it is a likeness?”  “I certainly would.”

“Consider then again the way in which we are to make the division of the intelligible section.”  “In what way?”  “By the distinction that there is one section of it which the soul is compelled to investigate by treating as images the things imitated in the former division, and by means of assumptions from which it proceeds not up to a first principle but down to a conclusion, while there is another section in which it advances from its assumption to a beginning or principle that transcends assumption, and in which it makes no use of the images employed by the other section, relying on ideas only and progressing systematically through ideas.” [1]

Here we have Plato’s fundamental distinction drawn, in the analogy of a “divided line”, the world of the visible, that which can be perceived by the senses, and the world of intelligibles, i.e. thoughts and ideas divided into two unequal portions of a line, the intelligible portion being given greater emphasis and therefore greater (relative) size than its counterpart that represents the visible world.  Then each of these sections is divided again into two unequal portions of the same ration relative to each other, with the larger proportion of each subsection is sized based upon its relative clarity from an intellectual standpoint.

The smaller of the two segments of the visible portion of the line, i.e. the visible world, is made up of first images – shadows, reflections and the like – which are less “real”, more “obscure”, than the “things” which they represent in and of themselves, i.e. that which makes up the larger portion of the visible world part of the line because the “things” themselves are have more intellectual clarity or definition that the “images” or “shadows” of things.

Likewise, and analogously, the intelligible world is also divided into two unequal sections – of the same proportion.  The first of which, the smaller subsection, consists of the treatment of the images of things, and via various assumptions and conclusions various ideas or “theories”, abstract conclusions are drawn, i.e. “bottom up” or “deductive” reasoning of sorts.  The second section, the larger subsection of the intelligible world does not deal with things themselves, or even their images or representations but only deals with ideas in and of themselves and based upon pure intellectual reasoning – dialectic or logos – progresses from various assumptions or theses up to an ontological first principle or set of principles, i.e. bottom up logic or “inductive reasoning” of sorts.

dividedline-svg

Plato’s Epistemological worldview, i.e. the Analogy Divided Line[2]

Plato then goes on to use this analogy of the divided line as a representation, and relative worth or value, of four different types of knowledge, essentially using the divided line to describe his epistemological worldview.  Each section he describes as “affections of the Soul”, our perhaps better put, “capabilities” or “faculties” of the human mind.  The largest section of the line represents the clearest, the least obscure, and the closest depiction of Truth or Reality and is representative of conclusions drawn by use of pure Reason (logos), the faculty of the mind which deals only with ideas in and of themselves and reaches conclusions from principles up to the greatest and highest principle, i.e. the Good (segment DE).

This type of knowledge is followed then by lesser knowledge which is arrived at by the faculty of understanding, which draws various conclusions based upon “thinking” about not just abstract ideas in and of themselves but also about things and images as well (segment CD).  So although this type of thinking, like geometry for example, still deals with the intelligible world and therefore is of higher value than the “visible” realm of perception, is nonetheless of lesser value than conclusions drawn via pure reason and using pure ideas because this type of knowledge does deal with objects, even if they are simply images or representations of physical objects or things.

These two types of thinking that are categorized in the world of intelligibles are then followed by lower forms of knowledge which deal directly with objects of the visible world, the higher of which Plato refers to as “belief”, or “opinion” which deals with objects of the senses that exist within the world of visible world itself, what one might call the material world or the domain of  physics (segment BC), and then the lowest form of knowledge which he describes as “conjecture” or “imagination” (segment AB) which deals with not things in and of themselves but their shapes or images and deals with the likeness of visible things.[3]

In this section of the Republic, which precedes his more graphic metaphor of his Theory of Forms as told in his Allegory of the Cave, albeit wrapped up in the middle of a socio-political work, does represent from a Western standpoint the one of the first prolific and well-articulated forays into the world of metaphysics, i.e. the exploration of the true nature of reality that underlies the world of the senses, and attempts to explain our place in this world and the illusory and shadowy nature of the objects of our perception independent of any religious or theological dogma.  It also illustrates the prevalence of geometry and mathematics as a one of the primary means to which this reality can be understood, a marked characteristic of not just the Platonic philosophical tradition, but the Western intellectual tradition as a whole.[4]

It is in the Timaeus however, one of the later and more mature works of Plato where he expounds upon his view on the nature of the divine, the source of the known universe (cosmological view), as well as the role of the Soul in nature.  And although Plato, and Socrates as represented by Plato’s earlier works, rejected the mythological and anthropomorphic theology that was prevalent in Ancient Greece, Plato does not completely depart from the concept of a theological and divine or supra-natural creator of the known universe, at least as reflected in the words of Timaeus in the dialogue that bears his name.

In the Timaeus, Plato describes a “likely story” as to how the world was created, leveraging again reason (logos) and dialectic, and heavy use of analogy and metaphor, to describe the creation of the universe as a product of the intelligent design of a creator, his Demiurge.[5]  In many respects, the ideas and postulates of the Timaeus represent an expansion on Plato’s Theory of Forms which he introduces in Phaedo and the Republic but follows its intellectual development into the idea of the Good, and its role in the creation of the cosmos (kosmos), the material universe within which we live.

He starts again by drawing the distinction between the intelligible and sensible worlds, that which he calls Being and Becoming, two terms that have come to define Plato’s epistemological and cosmological worldview.

Now first of all we must, in my judgement, make the following distinction.  What is that which is Existent always [28a] and has no Becoming?  And what is that which is Becoming always and never is Existent?  Now the one of these is apprehensible by thought with the aid of reasoning, since it is ever uniformly existent; whereas the other is an object of opinion with the aid of unreasoning sensation, since it becomes and perishes and is never really existent.[6]

Here again Plato makes a distinction between the physical, or visible, world which is subject to change, and the eternal and changeless world of intelligibles, the Intellect (Nous) which can only be apprehended by use of the mind and reason, i.e. is not perceivable by the senses directly and can be discerned in the realm of the mind or thought.  He draws the basic distinction between that which is subject to change, the “visible” or “material” world (Becoming), and that which is eternal and changeless (Being).  Knowledge of the former, which falls under the category of the natural sciences which is the main thrust and emphasis of Aristotle’s reality, or sphere of knowledge, is not rejected outright by Plato but is held subservient – due to its constant fluctuating and changing state – to the world of ideas and thought which is apprehended by intelligence (Nous) and reason (Logos) and which is changeless and eternal.

The realm of Becoming is always subjected to perishing at some level and therefore never truly “is”, or can be said to “exist” within the context of Plato’s epistemological and ontological framework.  It is conceived of by what he deems “opinion”, alluding to the fact that perception is subjective in nature and what one perceives or experiences is not necessarily the same experience or perception of someone else, or some other being for that matter.  It is perceived via the senses, i.e. not by reason.  Whereas the latter realm always “is”, Being, is changeless and eternal, and is conceived of, apprehended as it were, by reason, mind and intelligence alone.  It is not subject to change and therefore according to Plato it truly can said to “be”, or can be said to “exist” within Plato’s epistemological framework, hence the term Being that he allots to it.

It is within this context of Plato’s distinction between the world of Being and Becoming, as he describes it in the Timaeus here, that the connection between Plato and Parmenides is drawn.  In many ancient philosophical circles, Heraclitus is said to be the mother of Plato’s teachings where Parmenides is said to be his father and it is his later works, and again specifically in the Timaeus, that we see this distinction along the lines of Being and Becoming clearly drawn, representing the most mature form of Plato’s’ intellectual conception of knowledge, i.e. what can be known, what philosophers call epistemology.

Parmenides (late 6th early 5th century BCE) is known for his one work, known by the title On Nature, written in hexameter verse which although does not survive in full, is believed to survive mostly intact through quotations and excerpts of later philosophers and commentators, reflecting its significant influence on early Hellenic philosophical development.  Most certainly Parmenides is one of the most influential of the “Pre-Socratics”, and it is through the interpretation of his philosophy through Plato really, that this determination is made.  He is believed to have been born in Elea in Southern Italy and therefore is historically categorized as part of the “Italian” branch of early Hellenic philosophy – as per Diogenes Laertius, the same branch as Pythagoras who represents the first and earliest of this tradition and as distinguished from the Ionian branch within which Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, as well as the Cynics and Stoics, belong to.

In Parmenides’s poem, he describes a pseudo allegorical journey up into the gates of Heaven driven by a golden chariot where he is initiated into eternal wisdom, i.e. the mysteries as it were, by the goddess of wisdom herself represented by the goddess Night, the very same goddess who plays a critical role in the unfolding of the universe in the in the Orphic mythological tradition.  [In later classical Greek mythology, she is personified as Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the daughter of Zeus, and it is no doubt she who most represents the notion of wisdom (i.e. sophia) as Plato perceives and describes it, in particular its illuminary nature from an intellectual perspective.]

In the excerpts that are extant from his poem On Nature, Parmenides distinguishes in very esoteric and almost mystical – and certainly cryptic – language that which is said to “be” or exist (to eon), or “true reality” (alêtheia), which he associates with thought and language and is wholly distinguishable from that which cannot in fact be said to exist in the same way, i.e. that which is not “real” and is wholly distinct from true reality (again alêtheia), due to its fluctuating and ever changing nature.

The thing that can be thought and that for the sake of which the thought exists is the same; for you cannot find thought without something that is, as to which it is uttered.  And there is not, and never shall be, anything besides what is, since fate has chained it so as to be whole and immovable.  Wherefore all these things are but names which mortals have given, believing them to be true—coming into being and passing away, being and not being, change of place and alteration of bright color.  [R. P. 119].[7]

In Parmenides, as we know him again through the quotations and comments of philosophers from the classical Hellenic period and later, we find what is believed to be the source of Plato’s epistemology where, in Vedic terms, the world of “name and form” which is in a constant state of change and flux, which falls in the domain of what Plato terms “opinion”, is held to be an inferior form of knowledge than the realm of the changeless and eternally existent world of ideas thought, as discerned by pure reason (logos), i.e. “true reality” which Parmenides calls alêtheia  and which Plato refers to as Being, again distinguished from that which is Becoming.  This bifurcation and sublimation of the material world for the ethereal or rational world ultimately provides the basis for Plato’s Theory of Forms and is the basis upon which he builds not only his theory of knowledge but also his cosmology as outlined in the Timaeus.

Furthermore, while Parmenides writes in hexameter verse, there is clearly a logical cohesion to his work, an argument or a case he is trying to make, to establish the grounds of being, in a classical philosophical sense, where he is attempting to justify and rationalize, and in turn provide the logical foundation for, his position of establishing that which “is” (to eon), or can be said to exist due to its eternal and unchanging nature which in turn again is distinguished from, and held to be of higher intellectual and philosophical value than, that which is subject to change and ultimate dissolution, i.e. the objective and material world.[8]

In this sense Parmenides work and philosophy that is represented therein is not only the forefather of Plato’s Being and Becoming as laid out in the Timaeus, but also the forefather of the means by which this distinction is established, i.e. by reason and argument which Plato presents in dialogue form using logic, or dialectic, which can be viewed as a more mature and evolved form of (written) communication of ideas and metaphysics than that which is used by Parmenides who follows in the footsteps of the earlier mythic poets Homer and Hesiod.

Transitioning back to Plato’s cosmology and its relationship to the worlds of Being and Becoming respectively in the Timaeus, we find a description which is markedly anthropomorphic in conception and yet at the same time rests upon his basic metaphysical delineation of reality between Being and Becoming – i.e. that which is permanent, eternal and unchanging and comprehended by reason (logos) and thought or ideas (eidôs), versus the sensible realm which is subject to change and “opinion” and therefore is characterized by an implicit creative and destructive process.

Again, everything which becomes must of necessity become owing to some Cause; for without a cause it is impossible for anything to attain becoming.  But when the artificer of any object, in forming its shape and quality, keeps his gaze fixed on that which is uniform, using a model of this kind, that object, executed in this way, must of necessity [28b] be beautiful; but whenever he gazes at that which has come into existence and uses a created model, the object thus executed is not beautiful.

Now the whole Heaven, or Cosmos, or if there is any other name which it specially prefers, by that let us call it, —so, be its name what it may, we must first investigate concerning it that primary question which has to be investigated at the outset in every case, —namely, whether it has existed always, having no beginning of generation, or whether it has come into existence, having begun from some beginning. It has come into existence; for it is visible and tangible and possessed of a body; and all such things are sensible, [28c] and things sensible, being apprehensible by opinion with the aid of sensation, come into existence, as we saw, and are generated.

And that which has come into existence must necessarily, as we say, have come into existence by reason of some Cause.  Now to discover the Maker and Father of this Universe were a task indeed; and having discovered Him, to declare Him unto all men were a thing impossible.  However, let us return and inquire further concerning the Cosmos, —after which of the Models did its Architect construct it?[9]

Here we see not only the implicit anthropomorphic, or perhaps better put anthrocentric, view of universal creation, but also the fundamental assumption of causality which rests at the heart of what is perhaps best terms his “theological” cosmological conception.  In other words, implicit in the existence of the universe as we know and perceive it, in fact implicit in the existence in anything, is some element of causality even if in this context he intends to mean “purpose” or “reason”, rather than a physical chain of causality which is how we have come to identify the meaning in the modern era of empirical science.[10]

Furthermore, he argues that the universe must have been “created” – i.e. has some sort of beginning in time and space as it were – because it exists within the sensible realm, the realm that is in and of itself defined by change, is apprehended by “opinion”, is subjectively perceived and is therefore – again by definition – in a constant state of flux which is bound by an implicit and eternally present creative and destructive process of Becoming.

[29a] Was it after that which is self-identical and uniform, or after that which has come into existence; Now if so be that this Cosmos is beautiful and its Constructor good, it is plain that he fixed his gaze on the Eternal; but if otherwise (which is an impious supposition), his gaze was on that which has come into existence.  But it is clear to everyone that his gaze was on the Eternal; for the Cosmos is the fairest of all that has come into existence, and He the best of all the Causes.  So having in this wise come into existence, it has been constructed after the pattern of that which is apprehensible by reason and thought and is self-identical. [29b]

Again, if these premises be granted, it is wholly necessary that this Cosmos should be a Copy of something.  Now in regard to every matter it is most important to begin at the natural beginning.  Accordingly, in dealing with a copy and its model, we must affirm that the accounts given will themselves be akin to the diverse objects which they serve to explain; those which deal with what is abiding and firm and discernible by the aid of thought will be abiding and unshakable; and in so far as it is possible and fitting for statements to be irrefutable and invincible, [29c] they must in no wise fall short thereof; whereas the accounts of that which is copied after the likeness of that Model, and is itself a likeness, will be analogous thereto and possess likelihood; for I as Being is to Becoming, so is Truth to Belief.

Wherefore, Socrates, if in our treatment of a great host of matters regarding the Gods and the generation of the Universe we prove unable to give accounts that are always in all respects self-consistent and perfectly exact, be not thou surprised; rather we should be content if we can furnish accounts that are inferior to none in likelihood, remembering that both I who speak [29d] and you who judge are but human creatures, so that it becomes us to accept the likely account of these matters and forbear to search beyond it. [11]

In this passage we find Plato, in the words of Timaeus in the dialogue, arguing that there must in fact exist a model upon which the cosmos (kosmos) is fashioned and that this model must be the “best” model, i.e. that which is eternal and changeless which he implies is the source of all things, i.e. the world of Becoming.  This model is based upon the Good, the Form of Forms, an eternal and changeless Idea which can only be apprehended – if it can be apprehended at all – by reason and thought and from which the world of Becoming is generated, or brought about from.

He equates the world of Being here to “true reality”, what he refers to as “Truth”, and the world of Becoming to the domain of “opinion” or “subjective belief”, lining up these two metaphysical principles which presumably derive from Parmenides squarely with his theory of knowledge. The former, the realm Being which is characterized by reason, thought and ideas, he considers to be the higher form of knowledge upon which the latter, the realm of Becoming which is forever changing and in a state of flux and is characterized by “opinion” and subjective belief, is molded from or shaped out of.

Plato then goes on, through the narrative of Timaeus in the dialogue, to describe in detail just how the divine craftsman, the Demiurge, establishes universal creation, what has come to be known as the “Cosmic Soul”, applying various rational, proportional, mathematical and geometrical (presumably of Pythagorean influence) constructs onto the primordial chaos out of which the four basic elements – earth, air, water and fire – as well as the heavens and earth and all living creatures therein came into existence.  But this world of Becoming, and the creative process which he outlines therein, attempting as best he can to provide a logical and rational account of creation in again what he refers to as a “likely” account, resting on and alluding to the limits of human knowledge in and of itself in understanding the reason and ultimate cause and process by which the universe comes into being, nonetheless presumes the universe to be crafted upon the model of the Good, a benign creator as it were that provides the foundation for the Judeo-Christian worldview.

[30a] For God desired that, so far as possible, all things should be good and nothing evil; wherefore, when He took over all that was visible, seeing that it was not in a state of rest but in a state of discordant and disorderly motion, He brought it into order out of disorder, deeming that the former state is in all ways better than the latter.  For Him who is most good it neither was nor is permissible to perform any action save what is most fair.  As He reflected, therefore, He perceived that of such creatures as are by nature visible, [30b] none that is irrational will be fairer, comparing wholes with wholes, than the rational; and further, that reason cannot possibly belong to any apart from Soul.  So because of this reflection He constructed reason within soul and soul within body as He fashioned the All, that so the work He was executing might be of its nature most fair and most good.

Thus, then, in accordance with the likely account, we must declare that this Cosmos has verily come into existence as a Living Creature endowed with soul and reason owing to the providence of God.   [30c] This being established, we must declare that which comes next in order.  In the semblance of which of the living Creatures did the Constructor of the cosmos construct it?  We shall not deign to accept any of those which belong by nature to the category of “parts”; for nothing that resembles the imperfect would ever become fair.  But we shall affirm that the Cosmos, more than aught else, resembles most closely that Living Creature of which all other living creatures, severally and generically, are portions.  For that Living Creature embraces and contains within itself all the intelligible Living Creatures, just as this Universe contains us and all the other visible living creatures [30d] that have been fashioned.  For since God desired to make it resemble most closely that intelligible Creature which is fairest of all and in all ways most perfect, He constructed it as a Living Creature, one and visible, containing within itself all the living creatures which are by nature akin to itself.[12]

We can see here that Plato sees the rational and ordered as of higher value than the chaotic and disordered, and he assigns the highest value to reason itself (again logos) which is attributed and ultimately equated with the divine or Cosmic Soul.  Furthermore, Plato perceives the universe, in very much the same vein as the Stoic tradition which was very influential in the Greco-Roman period and influenced early Christian theology (pneuma, the divine spirit), as a living, breathing entity which not only embodies, encapsulates as it were, all of the kosmos within it, but also is endowed with “Soul” and “reason”, just as the individual is at some extent.  God here, the Cosmic Soul, is fashioned in the image of man as it were as opposed to the other way around as it is presented in the Judeo-Christian account of creation.

At the heart of Plato’s philosophy was the belief in the ontological primacy of the rational faculty of man, Reason, along with the tools of the trade which reflected and were to be leveraged by this faculty – namely reason (logos), dialectic, logic and mathematics – as the means by which the fundamental truths of these ancient mystic traditions could be known or brought to light.  He was the first to establish the connection between cosmology, physics and ethics to a degree that had not be done before, a characteristic that became one of the primary characteristics of Hellenic and Roman philosophy and was even followed in the scholastic tradition up until the end of the Middle Ages.

Plato also established a good deal of the semantic framework, in Greek, through which these esoteric, complex and interrelated topics could be discussed and explored, a development whose importance cannot be overstated.  For before Plato the language of philosophy was shrouded in myth, analogy, and metaphor, and after Plato all of the Greek philosophic schools and practitioners now at east had a working vocabulary through which philosophic ideas and concepts could be further explored and elucidated upon, even if the various schools disagreed with each other on a variety of issues.

Plato’s unique contribution to theological development in antiquity then can be viewed as placing the rational faculty of man as the primarily tool through which any knowledge of the gods, or reality itself even, should be drawn.  His reach extended well beyond the theological domain however, extending into topics such as what could actually be known, psychological questions, systems of ethics and virtue, political philosophy, and most importantly the goal of life itself.  Many of his lasting contributions to the philosophic, and later scientific, development in the West are not necessarily the conclusions that he drew or solutions he put forth, but the tools and institutions which he established for their pursuit.

It can be said definitively however that with Plato the supremacy of reason and rationality in the search for truth and meaning in life as well as the nature and origins of the universe is firmly established.  To Plato the epistemological supremacy of the intelligible realm, the world of Being, over the sensible realm, or the world of Becoming, is the predominant characteristic of his metaphysics.  The former of which is characterized by Forms and Ideals from which the material universe as we know it, and all living souls as well, are ultimately “fashioned” from, all modeled and stemming from the belief that the Creator, if indeed he can be said to exist, must have fashioned things according to what is most fair and most just, i.e. the Good or Best.


[1] Plato Republic Book 6, 509d – 510b.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D6%3Asection%3D509d

[2] AC represents knowledge of the material or “visible” world and CE represents knowledge of the “intelligible” world.  Image From Wikipedia contributors, ‘Analogy of the divided line’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 October 2016, 05:17 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Analogy_of_the_divided_line&oldid=745083560&gt; [accessed 19 October 2016]

[3] See Plato Republic Book 6, 510c-511e.-  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D6%3Asection%3D511e and Wikipedia contributors, ‘Analogy of the divided line’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 October 2016, 05:17 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Analogy_of_the_divided_line&oldid=745083560> [accessed 19 October 2016]

[4] Taken one step further can be interpreted to mean that Plato is espousing a doctrine of the illusory nature of reality much like the Vedic tradition and its concept of Maya.  But buried within his allegory is also his dim and morbid view of the role of the philosopher himself, who is tasked with trying to shed light upon the true nature of reality to those steeped in ignorance.

[5] Plato’s Demiurge, the so-called “Divine Craftsman” that he describes in the Timaeus, becomes one of the cornerstone theological principles in the Hellenic theo-philosophical tradition and one which bleeds, and fits quite nicely, into the Judeo-Christian (and Islamic) anthropomorphic conception of God.  The English Demiurge comes from the Latin Demiurgus, which stems from the Greek Dêmiourgos (δημιουργός), which means “craftsman” or “artisan” but of course morphed into the more theological notion of Creator within the Hellenic theo-philosophical tradition itself.  See Wikipedia contributors, ‘Demiurge’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 December 2016, 18:44 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Demiurge&oldid=755542807&gt; [accessed 18 December 2016].

[6] Plato Timaeus.  27a-28a.  Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0180%3Atext%3DTim.%3Apage%3D27

[7] Early Greek Philosophy, translation with notes and commentary by John Burnet.  Chapter IV., Parmenides of Elea.  3rd editions (1920).  London.  From http://www.classicpersuasion.org/pw/burnet/egp.htm?chapter=4

[8] For a more detailed description of the philosophy of Parmenides and analysis of the existent fragments of his work On Nature, see “Parmenides of Elea: What Is Versus What is Not”, by Juan Valdez 2016 at https://snowconenyc.com/2016/09/30/parmenides-of-elea-what-is-versus-what-is-not and Parmenides entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://plato.stanford.edu/cgi-bin/encyclopedia/archinfo.cgi?entry=parmenides.

[9] Plato Timaeus.  28a-28c.  Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0180%3Atext%3DTim.%3Apage%3D28

[10] It is in this context of Plato’s notion of Being and Becoming, and his fairly loose but at the same time all-pervading implicit assumption of causality or purpose, within which Aristotle establishes his metaphysical worldview which is based upon substantial form and  causality – the material, formal, efficient and final–  all of which looks to better define that which can be said to “exist”, his being qua being.  Aristotle’s efficient and final causes represent Plato’s notion of “reason” or “purpose” which underlies existence whereas Aristotle’s material and formal causes represent the underlying principles for the material or sensible world.  For more detail on Aristotle’s theory of causality and how it relates to his metaphysical worldview, see the chapter on Aristotle in this work and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “Aristotle on Causality” which can be found here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/.

[11] Plato Timaeus.  29a-29d.  Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0180%3Atext%3DTim.%3Apage%3D29

[12] Plato Timaeus.  30a-30d.  Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0180%3Atext%3DTim.%3Apage%3D30

As Easy as One, Two, Three

Numbers are an interesting thing really
One could, elementarily (both figuratively and definitively)
Break down the Western and Eastern ways of thinking
Into as easy as 1, 2, 3 – A, B, C

Pythagoras starts with the Monad,
From which the great dichotomy arises
These are the great forces of Yin (female, receptive)
And Yang (male, creative) of the East
The worlds of Heaven and Earth
The Darkness and the Light

But it is just as telling as to what is missing
As what is part of these ancient systems
No Monad exists in the East
From which the two archetypical forces emerge
While our Western tradition (Judeo-Christian)
Speaks of a great and benign spirit
That breathes life onto and throughout
The watery abyss (Apsu of the Egyptians)

This Monad became our God
And closed the universal boundaries with it
From One to Two
And to Two a third Force was added
To give us the Holy Trinity
The Greek Logos
Universal Mind – Nous
An underlying world order
The Maat of the Egyptians
Plato’s Good

And then this Three transforms to the base
Of the Perfect of all geometric forms
The equilateral triangle
The three become Four
And the structure of the Tetractys (the Decad) is complete
Earth, Air, Water, Fire
The elements that make up creation
Draw the final boundaries of the universe
All embedded and interwoven
Into the grandest of all gifts of the human mind
Geometry

But While Yin and Yang have their counterparts in the West
What developed there was a very different thing really
Not a cosmological creation story that bound the universe
With a beginning, middle and end
That needed a Creation Story, a Messiah and a Line of Prophets
That chain the word of God along the generations of men
Until one day a final judgment comes
And the end of the world as we know it is before us
And our Creator Judges us each and every one

What developed in the East
Was a manual, a guidebook on how to live
A manual that reflected the universal world order
That the worlds of Heaven, Earth and Men were intimately connected
And that one must search for balance and harmony
Between and among these seemingly disparate worlds
This is the what we call in the West the I Ching
Or also named The Classic of Changes (Yi Jing)

This is how the trigrams were originally conceived
As broken (Yin) and solid (Yang) lines
Denoting various combinations
Binomial combinations in base 2 and 3
Of yin and yang lines
That have motion and have being
And have status and material existence
But in a fleeting sort of ethereal way
For everything is always changing (Yi)
In this Eastern view of the world
The only thing that can be said to truly exist in fact
In this system of thought that reaches far back into antiquity
Is Change (Yi) itself and a Way (Dao or Tao) to follow it or traverse it

So in the Eastern Cosmological system
If we can even call it that
After Darkness and Light are created
Yin and Yang come together
To form the four basic elemental states of being
Greater Yin, Lesser Yin, Lesser Yang, Greater Yang

This is how it is handed down to us
According to the Ten Wings
That Confucian epilogue to the Zhouyi (I Ching/Yi Jing)
Which were attempts by later scholars
To make sense of the esoteric and ancient symbolism
That came forth from the River Lu (Lo Shu)
On the back of a great tortoise
And walked out of the Yellow River (He Tu)
Carved in Jade on the back of a great horse

And from these four states
The eight trigrams come forth (Bagua)
As each of the four elemental states
Is connected with a third line
That is either broken (Yin) or solid (Yang)
To form a band of eight symbols
Three lines each – the trigram

Which when all connected and drawn out
With their dark and light, yin and yang, broken and solid lines design
Into a wheel, a circle
That has no beginning and has no end
But has various formulations
Like the Earlier Heaven sequence of Fu Xi
Or the Later Heaven sequence of King Wen

But in the East there is no Monad
There is simply the interplay of these two opposing forces
Constantly searching and striving for balance
And the Two are not acted on by a third force
There is no Logos or Nous that brings order to the world
Simply the greater combinations of Yin and Yang
Which serve to add flavor and color
To the play of the basic forces of dark and light
Creative ad Receptive
Expansive and Retractive
Inbreathing and Outbreathing of Brahman
The Vedic sages (Rishis) would call it

In the Yi Jing it is said that
Two to the power of One
Transforms into Two to the power of Two (Four)
Greater and Lesser Yin – Greater and Lesser Yang

And then these Four (again Two to the Power of Two)
Becomes the Bagua (literally ‘eight symbols’)
Two to the Third or Two Cubed
Which forms the holistic cosmological world order
Hence rests all of Chinese philosophy
Who mind you adopted Buddhism and called it Zen

But the Daoist lives on
In Medicinal circles mostly now
For the Zhouyi (I Ching) is not consulted
As it once was
But it is left as an artifact of days gone by
When witchcraft was practiced
And astrologers were thought
To have great powers of sight

And with Two to the Power of Three
One is given Eight – the Bagua
Laid out in various circular arrangements
That describe the workings of the universe
The creative, destructive and structure of balance and imbalance
The passage of the seasons throughout the year
The context of the family and social unit
Which is meant to guide our every day life
And human society at large

All within the context of the three-pronged belief
That the worlds of Heaven, Earth, and Man
Are intrinsically, deeply, spiritually and physically connected
In ways beyond comprehension
Of the small human mind
But yet could be mapped out and understood
In a very basic and elemental way
Based upon solid and dashed lines
Working their energies against and with each other
Which inspired Leibniz
Some two thousand years later
To come up with a binary system of 1s and 0s
That now forms the basis of all automated processing
Of every machine created by man
That now touches every corner of the globe
And every human being

So what we have from the East then
Is the Fu Xi (Earlier Heaven)
And King Wen (Later Heaven) circular sequences
Of the grand Bagua
The forces of Heaven, Lake, Fire and Thunder
Acting and Balancing the forces
Wind (Wood), Water, Mountain and Earth

Laid out in a whirlish dervish sort of fashion
Which yielded the great Yin/Yang symbol we know so well today
The Symbol of Daoism (Taoism) and Yin/Yang Philosophy
Black and White molded together
In a grand and endless circle
Each with a sprinkle of the other that sits within its center
That looks like one white and one black fish
Each with an eye of the color of its sibling
Swimming around endlessly in a small fish bowl
Within which the universe is encapsulated and fulfilled
All at once and at the same time

The Chinese way then
Starts and ends with the idea of Change
As the ceaseless and only thing that can be said to truly exist
In various forms and states, indicated by trigrams and then hexagrams
States leading to states and balance leading to disharmony
And then back to balance and harmony again
In this constant struggle and exchange
Between opposing and complementary forces
The Creative and Receptive,
Dark and Light
Forces which rest within and without and everything in between

Its Eastern immanence
Versus Western transcendence
And it starts with those very basic numbers
One, Two, Three
And how they are combined
And constitute the manifested universe as we perceive it
As it truly can be said to exist
And the A, B, Cs behind it
That explain the world order

For both the Eastern and Western ancient mystics
Saw and Believed
That it was through the the most beautiful construct
Conceivable by the human mind
Numbers and Geometry
And their successive progression and combination
Into more and more beautiful symmetry
And more and more complex combinations
To which the natural universe
Has a deep mystical esoteric connection
That is only barely fathomable
By the mind of man

Or so they thought
And so it was written
And here we are

Egyptian Mythology: The Bedrock of Western Theology

Judaism and Zoroastrianism clearly represented some of the earliest forms of monotheism in the civilized world, and both faiths had their respective prophets which each set of followers believed had had their respective laws, or truths, handed down to them by the one and only God himself – the Yahweh of the Jews and the Ahura Mazda of the Zoroastrians.  But both religious systems were also clearly designed, or used, not only as a tool of realization and connection to the divine, but also to unite their people and consolidate power.  Underlying the spiritual and religious intent of the two religions/theologies, there was clearly a political motive behind their propagation and proliferation as well, this much seemed pretty evident to Charlie and this characteristic was certainly shared by the monotheistic religions that followed them, most notably Christianity and then Islam.

But where did these monotheistic tendencies or traditions come from?  The hunter gatherer societies that preceded the advent of civilization seemed to all be characterized by shaman like priests who professed direct access to and direct realization of the divine, and from these priests or shamans came various ritualistic practices and prayers – the hymnos of the Greeks, yasna of the Zoroastrians and yajna of the Hindus/Indo-Aryans – some of which even survived down to modern times and were captured in the various languages and scriptures of each of these powerful and lasting religious traditions.

So Charlie seemed to be struggling with the fundamental question as to how and why monotheism in its present day form emerged.  Was it simply a natural progression, an evolution as it were, of theological systems as civilizations emerged in the Mediterranean and Near/Far East in the second and first millennium BCE?  Was it a truly a more advanced form of theology and was the religion of the ancients a pagan system of worship that was to be shunned and abandoned?  Furthermore, the question of where these monotheistic traditions came from seemed to be not so straightforward?  Was there an element of cultural borrowing at work?  Did these traditions emerge from some previously established belief in a single, unified anthropomorphic creative principle from which the cosmos and in turn mankind emerged or did each of them evolve independent of each other?  The answers to these questions were crucial to Charlie’s thesis, as the extent of cultural borrowing as it related to the development of theology, religion, in ancient times, had become the essence of his thesis and he needed to explore the concept further to try and establish some semblance of order and progression, if possible, of the emergence of monotheism in the West.

And to shed some light on this evolution of monotheism which was so prevalent and ubiquitous in the modern world, Charlie had to turn back to the earliest known civilization in the ancient world, Ancient Egypt, a civilization where religious beliefs permeated all aspects of life, from which the King himself was looked upon as a manifestation of God on earth and where the journey of the soul in the afterlife, and the notion of last judgment, was the cornerstone of their civilization.

As looked upon the eyes of modern historians, the religious traditions of Ancient Egypt appeared to be bereft of monotheism, in the modern sense of the word.  But once which as Charlie dug deeper into the mythology and cosmology of the Ancient Egyptians, there appeared to him to be present some of the basic building blocks of later monotheistic traditions.  As Charlie peeled back the façade of Egyptian mythos and their polytheistic tendencies, their obsession with very specific rituals and practices associated with the care of the soul in the afterlife which so notably marked this great civilization, there appeared to be some of the core building blocks of the monotheistic traditions which succeeded them historically.  For based upon the archeological and historical evidence, it was quite clear that the civilization and religious beliefs of Ancient Egypt were far older than even the oldest monotheistic traditions such as Judaism and Zoroastrianism, and of course Christianity which was an even later development but emerged from the same region.

Ancient Egypt was a land conquered by many ancient civilizations over the centuries, and yet one with a deep and rich history itself, one steeped in the rule of the Pharaohs in the land of the North African Nile River Delta valley, an area inhabited by mankind since as least as far back as 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, and one which developed a rich and unique mythos and social structure which rested on the firm belief that their leader, their King or Pharaoh, was the human manifestation of the divine on earth, directly connecting the established authority and governance of the people with their worship and belief in god, which for most of Ancient Egyptian history was associated with Atum, or Atum-Ra.

Although various gods and myths were professed and crafted over the millennia in the Egyptian delta region of ancient history, there is one religious development in particular that has drawn much speculation and thought by later scholars, specifically Sigmund Freud, with respect to its relationship to the development of monotheism and its possible connection to Judaism as professed by Moses.

In the 14th century BCE, the King Amenhotep IV attempted to consolidate and synthesize all worship around a single god Aten, subsequently referred to as Atenism, who had historically been a relatively minor entity in the Egyptian pantheon and had been associated with the sun disc of the Egyptian god Ra.  Although all kings and pharaohs prior to Amenhotep IV had previously adopted a single deity as their royal patron as it were, there had never been an attempt to establish a single god as the supreme God of the state coupled with the enforcement by law of worship of just one single deity to the exclusion of all others, very much akin to the Jewish tradition where all other gods other than Yahweh were banned from worship as reflected in the ten commandments given to Moses by Yahweh himself on Mount Sinai as the story is told in the Old Testament.

It is this shared concept of exclusive worship bound by law, along with the strong Egyptian influence on Jewish history which is well documented in the Old Testament and the contemporaneous dating give or take a century or two between the life of Moses and the development of Atenism that led Freud to hypothesize that Judaism was simply an offshoot and transfiguration of Egyptian Atenism, morphed and transformed to fit the Jewish people and their history rather than an independent invention as professed by the Torah and Moses[1].

Atenism was surely a unique and distinctive departure from classical Egyptian polytheistic traditions no doubt, and a state authorized and sponsored monotheistic faith did appear on the face of it to share many of the same characteristics of Judaism, and Jewish history clearly was very tied to Egypt, but the direct association of Moses with Atenism seemed to be a stretch to Charlie, although perhaps both movements (if you could call them that) did originate from a single underlying monotheistic tendency, one which forked off the Jews as a separate people as they migrated out of Egypt and one which was ultimately rejected by the Egyptian people whose polytheistic tendencies were clearly just too deeply rooted to be carved out by law, no matter what divine authority it came from.

But to understand what this Atenism truly was, and how it fit into this melting pot of the rampant polytheistic forces that so marked ancient Egypt, and to understand why it was ultimately rejected by the Egyptian people, Charlie needed to get a better grasp on the socio-political, and ultimately theological and mystical, context within which it emerged.  And with Ancient Egypt especially, given its long history in the Nile River delta coupled with its deeply rooted religious socio-political system, a society which worshipped the King as a manifestation of God himself and the priesthood was extremely powerful and embedded in every part of society, one must have a bit of background on Egyptian history, some of the characters and narratives of Egyptian mythology, and of course as much of an understanding of the cosmological beliefs of this ancient people as possible, beliefs which as with all ancient civilizations underpinned their entire world view and social structure.

Before Ancient Egypt was conquered and ruled by foreigners starting with the Persians in the middle of the first millennium BCE, then followed by the Greeks under Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, then the Romans in 30 BCE for some 5 or 6 centuries and then the Muslims/Arabs for some thousand years plus thereafter, it was one of the most sophisticated and first of all ancient civilizations, with a system of writing and architecture that dates back to the 4th millennia BCE, making it one of, if not the, oldest civilization of mankind.  The beginning of Ancient Egyptian civilization is typically marked by the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by its first pharaoh[2] in the latter part of the 4th millennia BCE, what modern historians have come to call the Predynastic Era which succeeded the Neolithic period in the Egyptian delta.

This period of unification of Upper and Lower Egypt is also the time period associated with the emergence of Egyptian forms of writing as well, at first with hieroglyphs which we find inscribed on the tombs of pharaohs from this period, and later in the tombs of the upper and middle class as hieroglyphic inscriptions became more common and the hieroglyphics evolved to include not only ideograms and logographic (picture) elements, but also alphabetic elements to capture specific pronunciations and annunciations of spells designed to capture the specific annunciations and words used by the Egyptian priesthood for specific ceremonies and rituals, most notably of course the burial of the dead.

Alongside the development of hieroglyphs which evolved for some two millennia (and was still used up until the 3rd and 4th centuries CE after Egypt came under first Greek then Roman rule), a sister script called hieratic[3] also emerged which although closely related to hieroglyphics was character and phonetic/alphabet based.  Hieratic was easier to write than hieroglyphs and like its sister hieroglyphs, was initially only used by priests and scribes to transliterate specific rituals and spells.  Eventually, in the middle and latter part of the first millennium BCE, hieratic evolved into a Demotic, a script designed for more secular use that in most instance was used to capture the language of the period of the same name, i.e. Demotic, which succeeded Middle and Late Egyptian which had been the language spoken by Egyptians for the preceding few millennia in some form or another.

The Egyptian Demotic language (not to be confused with the modern Greek language with the same name, i.e. demotic which is typically written with a lower case “d”) and the script that supported it that is referred to with the same name, i.e. Demotic, was prevalent in the middle and late first millennium BCE and was used for almost a thousand years up until the 5th century CE or so[4].  Both hieroglyphics and hieratic script are used throughout Ancient Egypt from the Predynastic Period (c 3100 BCE) all the way through the 6th century CE or so and it is through these writing systems, and the languages transcribed therein, that we can get a glimpse of the theology and religion of Ancient Egypt[5].

Our current historical view of categorizing Ancient Egyptian history into dynasties, typically marked by roman numerals, is derived from the first Egyptian historian Manetho, a 3rd century BCE priest and historian from Egypt who authored a three volume treatise of the history of Egypt entitled Aegyptiaca, or “History of Egypt”, a period of Egyptian history when it was under Greek, or Hellenic influence hence the use of Greek to author his work.  Manetho, according to later historians and excerpts of his work that do survive, gave a detailed and Egyptian perspective on the history of Egypt, beginning with the period of Egyptian societal consolidation under the rule of a single unified King or Pharaoh which he calls Menes circa 3100 BCE.  His work is presumed to have been motivated by providing an Egyptian perspective on the history of Egypt in contrast to the one provided by Herodotus several centuries prior, whose perspective was not only foreign but also lacking with respect to a proper chronology and depth of coverage.

Later, more modern Egyptian historians (aka Egyptologists) break down the periods of Ancient Egyptian civilization into different successive periods, each earmarked by the transition from one dynasty to another, where a dynasty doesn’t necessarily represent a blood lineage from one ruler to the next but some cultural or societal break in Egyptian history that denotes the transition into different period.  All Ancient Egyptian texts and inscriptions fall into one or more different periods, and Egyptologists typically use the dynastic classification to denote the period within which a particular text, form of writing, or inscription is found so in order to have proper context of the time period and socio-political context of a given theological text or inscription, it was important to be able to classify it in the appropriate dynasty and/or period.  The list below summarizes the periods briefly, covering some 4 thousand years from circa 3100 BCE up into modern times where Egypt came under Islamic influence[6].

  • Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100-2686 BCE).  Dynastic period begins with the first King or Pharaoh Menes (aka Narmer).  Covers Dynasties I and II.
  • Old Kingdom Egypt (c. 2686-2181 BCE).  III-VI dynasties.  Capital in Memphis.
  • 1st Intermediate Period (c. 2181-2055 BCE).  VII-XI dynasties.  Marked by conflict between Thebes in South and Heracleopolis in North.
  • Middle Kingdom Egypt (c. 2055-1650 BCE).  XI-XIV dynasties.  Period of (re)Unification.  Osiris becomes ever more important as a deity.  Capital in Thebes in XI dynasty and then and el-Lisht from XII to XIV.  First versions of Book of the Dead date from this period.
  • 2nd Intermediate Period (c. 1650-1550 BCE).  XV-XVII dynasties.  Marked by foreign rule, or rule by “Hyksos”, or “heqa khaseshet” in Egyptian which is roughly translated as “ruler(s) of the foreign countries”[7].
  • New Kingdom Egypt (c. 1549-1077 BCE).  XVIII to XX dynasties.  Also referred to as Egyptian Empire Period where Egypt attained its greatest territorial extent to the south into Nubia and North into Near/Middle East.  Amenhotep IV (c. 1352-1335 BCE), with whom Atenism is associated is a King from the XVIIIth dynasty, roughly from the middle of this period.
  • 3rd Intermediate Period (c. 1069-653 BCE). XXI-XXV dynasties.  Marked by political instability and fractured rule.
  • Late Period Egypt (c. 664-332 BCE).  XXVI-XXXI dynasties.  Last period of Egyptian independence until Persian conquest – 1st Achaemenid Period 525-404 BCE and 2nd Achaemenid Period 343-332 BCE – until conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE after which Egypt falls under strong Hellenic influence.
  • Ptolemaic Period (c. 332-30 BCE).  Dynasty of Hellenic descended pharaohs begins, Alexandria is established as the capital and becomes the intellectual epicenter of the ancient world with the creation of the Library of Alexandria under Ptolemy I.  Period lasts until Roman conquest in 30 BCE.
  • Roman & Byzantine Egypt (c. 30 BCE-641 CE).  Egypt falls under Roman and subsequent Byzantine rule and influence.
  • Egypt under Islamic Influence (639 CE-18th century).  Islamic invasion and conquering of Egypt during the Muslim conquests in 639 CE.  Egypt falls under Islamic influence for over a thousand years until modern times.

The dynastic period of Egypt lasting some three thousand years or so reaching far back in antiquity is characterized not only by a rich and unique pantheon of gods and their associated mythology (and ritual) that not only emphasized the belief in their ruler as a manifestation of god on earth whose authority derived from divine provenance, but also by a marked with what can only be call an obsession with the transmigration of the soul and the belief in an afterlife, emphasis that perhaps derives from the context within which almost all of this material and inscriptions survive down to us, namely first through Pyramid and Coffin (sarcophagus) inscriptions in the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE, and then later on papyrus documents as the literature become more widespread and prevalent in society, and more standardized as what is known today as the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

This extant material, inscriptions in hieroglyphics within pyramids, tombs and on sarcophagus and then later in hieratic and hieroglyphic script on papyrus, indirectly refers to and incorporates their cultural and spiritual belief system and worldview, corresponding to what today we would call religion.  All of this material was in fact crafted and designed specifically to protect, guide, and preserve the bodies and souls of the Egyptians into their journey into the afterlife, perhaps better translated as the netherworld, giving rise to their practices of mummification and pyramid and tomb building which were attempts to preserve the body, and its soul, for its journey beyond life into the afterworld.

The incantations/spells/utterances which we find as part of this literature were designed for this purpose were initially reserved only for the Kings and Pharaohs in the early dynastic period and Old Kingdom, what has become to be known as the Pyramid Texts, and then later adopted by the Egyptian aristocracy as well during the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom, known as the Coffin Texts, and then finally in its most mature and standardized form which was adopted more broadly by the general population in the New Kingdom dynasties through the Ptolemaic Period as the Egyptian Book of Dead which existed in a variety of renditions and began to be written down on papyrus scrolls and buried along with the dead[8].

Egyptian mythology is undoubtedly best known for this association, perhaps more aptly described as an obsession, upon the burial and rituals associated with death and the extensive steps taken to prepare the soul (most commonly associated with the Egyptian term Ba) for its journey into the afterlife, and it is from this context surrounding death and the afterlife for the most part from which we gain insight into Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs.  Therefore Ancient Egyptian religion is closely associated with these sophisticated and wide ranging spells and incantations and their associated mythology surrounding death and the journey of the soul in the afterlife.

The Egyptian notion of Ba was somewhat different than our conception of the soul, perceived to be the aspect of the individual in toto which was permanent and persisted beyond death, perhaps best described as the fundamental essence of the individual which was deathless and timeless.  Ba was also used in reference to inanimate objects as well, denoting the more broad meaning of the word in Egyptian to describe the essential nature of a thing, either animate or inanimate, with perhaps a close correspondence to Aristotle’s notion of being qua being, or that which characterizes the primary essence of a thing and defines its existence, which he outlines in his Metaphysics.

Furthermore, as reflected in the Book of the Dead which represents the most mature form of the Egyptian religion/theology as it stands from the latest part of Egyptian antiquity, special importance was given to not only the individual’s name which was given to them at birth, ren or rn, which the Egyptians held supported the continued existence of the soul as long as it was kept alive and spoken, but also special significance was given to the heart, ib or jb, which was looked upon as the seat of all human emotion, feeling, thought, will and intention and was used in the Egyptian Weighing of the Heart ceremony where the individual’s heart was weighed/balanced against the feather of Maat which represented truth, justice, or order; the outcome of such balance determining the ultimate fate of the individual.  It was interesting to note that this ceremony as depicted in the Coffin texts and then later encapsulated in the Book of the Dead most certainly has parallels to the Christian moral framework based upon the notion of last judgment.

Clearly Ancient Egyptian religion, as reflected first in the Pyramid Texts from the Old Kingdom, the Coffin Texts from the Middle Kingdom, and then further structured and canonized in the Book of the Dead in its various forms which persisted into the latter part of the first millennium BCE and into the Common Era (CE) even after Egypt came under foreign rule by the Persians, Greeks and then Romans, their relationship and perception of the divine was complex and multifaceted and characterized by the worship of many different deities in a variety of forms, each reflecting some aspect of nature and/or some anthropomophocized (or pseudo-anthropomophocized as the case may be) aspect of God, consistent in fact with almost all of the middle and late Bronze age contemporaneous cultures and civilizations in the Mediterranean region and even into the Near and Far East.

But to what extent was Egyptian cosmology or theology adopted by its sister cultures and peoples to the North and East?  Interestingly, Herodotus in fact actually points to a very direct relationship, and ultimate source, of at least some of the Greek pantheon directly from Egypt.  From his Histories from Volume I Book II, verses 50-53, we have:

50. Moreover the naming of almost all the gods has come to Hellas from Egypt: for that it has come from the Barbarians I find by inquiry is true, and I am of opinion that most probably it has come from Egypt, because, except in the case of Poseidon and the Dioscuroi (in accordance with that which I have said before), and also of Hera and Hestia and Themis and the Charites and Nereïds, the Egyptians have had the names of all the other gods in their country for all time. What I say here is that which the Egyptians think themselves: but as for the gods whose names they profess that they do not know, these I think received their naming from the Pelasgians, except Poseidon; but about this god the Hellenes learnt from the Libyans, for no people except the Libyans have had the name of Poseidon from the first and have paid honour to this god always. Nor, it may be added, have the Egyptians any custom of worshipping heroes. 51. These observances then, and others besides these which I shall mention, the Hellenes have adopted from the Egyptians; but to make, as they do, the images of Hermes with the /phallos/ they have learnt not from the Egyptians but from the Pelasgians, the custom having been received by the Athenians first of all the Hellenes and from these by the rest; for just at the time when the Athenians were beginning to rank among the Hellenes, the Pelasgians became dwellers with them in their land, and from this very cause it was that they began to be counted as Hellenes. Whosoever has been initiated in the mysteries of the Cabeiroi, which the Samothrakians perform having received them from the Pelasgians, that man knows the meaning of my speech; for these very Pelasgians who became dwellers with the Athenians used to dwell before that time in Samothrake, and from them the Samothrakians received their mysteries. So then the Athenians were the first of the Hellenes who made the images of Hermes with the /phallos/, having learnt from the Pelasgians; and the Pelasgians told a sacred story about it, which is set forth in the mysteries in Samothrake. 52. Now the Pelasgians formerly were wont to make all their sacrifices calling upon the gods in prayer, as I know from that which I heard at Dodona, but they gave no title or name to any of them, for they had not yet heard any, but they called them gods ({theous}) from some such notion as this, that they had set ({thentes}) in order all things and so had the distribution of everything. Afterwards, when much time had elapsed, they learnt from Egypt the names of the gods, all except Dionysos, for his name they learnt long afterwards; and after a time the Pelasgians consulted the Oracle at Dodona about the names, for this prophetic seat is accounted to be the most ancient of the Oracles which are among the Hellenes, and at that time it was the only one. So when the Pelasgians asked the Oracle at Dodona whether they should adopt the names which had come from the Barbarians, the Oracle in reply bade them make use of the names. From this time they sacrificed using the names of the gods, and from the Pelasgians the Hellenes afterwards received them: 53, but whence the several gods had their birth, or whether they all were from the beginning, and of what form they are, they did not learn till yesterday, as it were, or the day before: for Hesiod and Homer I suppose were four hundred years before my time and not more, and these are they who made a theogony for the Hellenes and gave the titles to the gods and distributed to them honours and arts, and set forth their forms: but the poets who are said to have been before these men were really in my opinion after them. Of these things the first are said by the priestesses of Dodona, and the latter things, those namely which have regard to Hesiod and Homer, by myself.[9]

From Herodotus’s perspective then, there was clearly some cultural borrowing that had taken place between the Greek and Egyptian cultures, one that clearly grew more integrated and synthesized as time passed and the Greek and Egyptian (and Later Roman and Byzantine) cultures became more closely tied and interwoven.  Over the centuries, particularly in the last half of the first millennium BCE into the Common Era when Egypt came under Greek and then Roman rule, its mythos and pantheon become merged and synthesized with their Greek and Roman counterparts, perhaps best exemplified in the Greco-Egyptian god who came to be known in the Roman era and into the Middle Ages as Hermes Trismegistus, a pseudo-mythical figure to whom the Hermetic doctrine was attributed who represented a synthesis and consolidation of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth.

The Corpus Hermeticum, which represents the core of the Hermetic doctrine, became a fairly widespread and popular philosophical system throughout the Mediterranean in first millennium CE, in many respects akin to Gnosticism which emerged in the Mediterranean at around the same time.  Hermes Trismegistus, or Hermes Thrice Great, was so called because he was said to have mastered the three great pillars of ancient wisdom or knowledge; namely astrology, alchemy and theology or as stated in the Poimandres, one of the initial chapters in the Corpus Hermeticum, Hermes was the greatest philosopher, the greatest king and the greatest priest.

The complete doctrine surrounding Hermeticism, originally written in Greek somewhere between the third and fifth centuries CE and then later translated into Latin in the 15th century, includes not only the Corpus Hermeticum but also The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus and The Perfect Sermon or the Asclepius.  The doctrine reflects many Greek philosophical, Neo-Platonist, Gnostic and even Christian influence reflecting the prevailing pseudo-mystical, religious and theo-philosophical traditions that were emerging at that time in history in the Mediterranean a few centuries after the death of Christ as Christianity was in its infancy and before Christianity took full root in the Mediterranean in the latter part of the first millennium CE.

Hermetic doctrine as outlined in the Corpus Hermeticum speaks to the mystical and philosophical secrets of mankind that are taught to Hermes himself by a mythical figure named Poimandres who is identified with God, the form of the work in many respects resembling Platonic dialogues, where teachings and discourse, a form of dialectic, are used to convey meaning to the reader rather than a revealed scripture of sorts reflecting the Neo-Platonic influences on the tradition.  The treatise also includes a pseudo Gnostic cosmology which describes the establishment of the world order via Logos and Nous, Reason and Intellect respectively, displaying not only Gnostic characteristics, a contemporary philosophical movement that was one of the early competitors to Christianity, but also clear traces of of the philosophy of Anaxagoras, which are also seen in the Derveni papyrus, with its prominence of the role of Nous in the underlying structure and shape of the cosmos.  Speaking to its precursors to chemistry and science, Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing from which our modern image of two serpents encompassing a staff comes from, plays a prominent role in the Corpus as a disciple of Hermes to whom the teaching is originally passed down to.[10] 

From the early dynastic period of Egypt as reflected in the Pyramid and Coffin Texts, and then later in the New Kingdom as reflected in Book of the Dead, we see a prominence of the notion of the importance of the protection and preservation of the established order of the universe, or Maat, that existed in eternal conflict with evil, or darkness, typically drawn as a serpent or snake in the earliest texts, and then later coming to be referred to as ı͗zft, or Isfet, which meant “injustice”, “chaos”, “violence” or was even sometimes used as a verb meaning “to do evil”.

By the VIIIth dynasty onward, this serpent which represented the forces of darkness and evil became personified as the god Apep, and his battle with the forces of good played which played such a prominent role in New Kingdom Egyptian mythology as reflected in the epic battle between Apep and the sun god Ra, who represented the forces of light and good, which were believed to struggle each night as the Sun passed down through the horizon into the underworld, the place where Apep lie in waiting.  In this context Apep, who eventually was replaced by Set in later Egyptian mythological tradition, came to represent the god of the underworld, or the Hades of the Greek tradition.

We see even in a Coffin Text inscription[11] specific reference to the requirement of the dead being cleansed of Isfet in order to be reborn in the netherworld, or Duat, speaking to the fundamental and very old Ancient Egyptian notion of the universe being a battleground of the forces of good and evil, light and darkness, both at the cosmic level and at the spiritual or individual level.  These very same themes can also be found in the Zoroastrian tradition of the Indo-Iranian/Persian peoples to the East where Ahura Mazda and his band of angels are in constant struggle with Angra Mainyu and his band of demons (devas) who represent falsehood, darkness and evil, as well as of course in the Christian tradition, where God and his counterpart the fallen angel Satan are also portrayed as opposing and dueling forces of the world.  Another interesting Christian parallel to the Egyptian Isfet can be found in the Judeo-Christian Garden of Eden story where it is the serpent who tricks Adam and Eve into eating from the Tree of Life, plunging mankind out of the Garden and into the mortal world of endless toil, death and suffering.

But despite the different creation myth variants and different versions of the Egyptian pantheon that can be found throughout dynastic Egypt as the capital shifted between Memphis, Thebes, Heliopolis, and then later in Hellenic Alexandria, there was always present this firm belief in the in the importance of order. Maat, in the world, and its epic struggle with chaos and evil, Isfet or Apep, that defined the universe as well as the internal world of the spirit.  We see these same themes and notion of eternal struggle not only with Zoroastrianism and Christianity, but also with the Greeks as well, reflected in the epic battle between Zeus and the Titans in the Theogony, whereafter the Titans were forever bound and chained within Tartarus, the realm of the dead overseen by the Greek god of the underworld Hades, corresponding almost precisely to the Egyptian netherworld Duat and its presider Apep.

And amongst the foremost Cottus and Briareos and Gyes insatiate for war raised fierce fighting: three hundred rocks, one upon another, they launched from their strong hands and overshadowed the Titans with their missiles, and buried them beneath the wide-pathed earth, and bound them in bitter chains when they had conquered them by their strength for all their great spirit, as far beneath the earth to Tartarus. For a brazen anvil falling down from heaven nine nights and days would reach the earth upon the tenth: and again, a brazen anvil falling from earth nine nights and days would reach Tartarus upon the tenth. Round it runs a fence of bronze, and night spreads in triple line all about it like a neck-circlet, while above grow the roots of the earth and unfruitful sea. There by the counsel of Zeus who drives the clouds the Titan gods are hidden under misty gloom, in a dank place where are the ends of the huge earth. And they may not go out; for Poseidon fixed gates of bronze upon it, and a wall runs all round it on every side. There Gyes and Cottus and great-souled Obriareus live, trusty warders of Zeus who holds the aegis.[12]

So at this point Charlie was starting to see many of these Ancient Egyptian mythological themes, deities and underlying cosmic principles in many, if not all, of the civilizations of its neighbors with which they clearly had some form of contact, either via trade and travel or in later times through war, and subjugation.  We also see explicit reference to the borrowing and renaming of Egyptian gods by the Greeks from Herodotus, a fairly objective and reliable source of Ancient History for the Greeks, Persians and Egyptians in the Mediterranean from the middle of the 5th century BCE.

Furthermore, Charlie also saw a clear Egyptian influence on later, mostly Hellenic/Greek, theo-philosophical traditions which emerged in the Mediterranean during the time of Hellenic and then later Roman/Latin influence in Egypt as evidenced by the clear Greco-Egyptian tradition associated with Hermes Trismegistus which had Greek philosophical undertones throughout and yet at the same time was associated with the Egyptian god of wisdom, learning and knowledge Thoth.  We even have perhaps the most widely used and prominent translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, i.e. the Septuagint, commissioned and taking place in Egypt during the Ptolemaic Period in Alexandria, the city founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE after he conquered Egypt which subsequently became the intellectual capital of the ancient Mediterranean for some four or five centuries, pointing quite directly in fact to Egyptian influence on the Judeo-Christian tradition that was to dominate the religious landscape of the Western world for some two thousand years.

But Charlie remained curious as to how strong these monotheistic tendencies were within Egypt, forces that no doubt had some level of influence on the monotheism movement started by Amenhotep IV in the XVIIIth dynasty (circa 1340 BCE), Atenism, as short lived as it was, and forces that undoubtedly at some level shaped the formation of the religion of the Jews via from Moses who if he lived, lived no more than one or two centuries removed from Amenhotep IV’s rule over Egypt and who clearly had strong ties to Egypt as so well documented in the Old Testament.

Was there a thread of monotheistic thought and belief that evolved from and within Ancient Egypt that spread to the East or was Atenism simply a fluke espoused by a deranged King that was fundamentally rejected by an uncivilized, pagan and primitive populace?  Was monotheism as reflected in the Judeo-Christian (and Zoroastrian) traditions borrowed from the Egyptians, as Freud would have us believe, or was it an independent invention given to Moses by God himself on Mont Sinai as the Jews, and Christians, have been teaching us for some 2500 years?

Although the connection could not be directly established, Charlie did see a lot of evidence for the origin of much of Western and Near Eastern civilization mythos, and to a lesser extent perhaps Hellenic philosophy and Judeo-Christian theology, from Ancient Egypt given that their mythological tradition could be traced much deeper into antiquity (as seen in the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts from circa 2500 BCE and then the Coffin texts from a few centuries later) and given the evidence of social and cultural contact and exchange that clearly took place between the Egyptian and their direct neighbors to the North and East, namely the Canaanite/Semitic people, the Greeks, and even the Persians, from the second millennium BCE onwards.

What was clear however, was that something very interesting and unique in Egyptian socio-political and religious history occurred under the reign of the XVIIIth dynasty King Amenhotep IV, who ruled sometime during the second half o the 14th century BCE (~1350-1330 BCE).  And although its influence and prominence lasted but a decade or two, it did represent one of the earliest documented forms of monotheism in the ancient world and one that shared the fundamental and distinct characteristic of modern day monotheism as prescribed by Moses and the Jews which forbid the worship of all other gods except the one true God – which in this case was Aten, a mythical figure that was associated with the Egyptian sun god Ra.

Ra, or Re, had always held great significance and relevance to the Ancient Egyptians, he was one of the principal gods in the Egyptian pantheon even from early Old Kingdom Egypt (he is prominently portrayed in the Pyramid Texts for example) and represented the force of light and good in the world and was the protector of Maat, or the world order.  Prior to the reign of Amenhotep IV, the sun god was worshipped as in the temple of Heliopolis, an ancient Egyptian city dating back to Old Kingdom Egypt which was, according to Herodotus, an intellectual and historical center of Ancient Egypt as well.  In later Egyptian history, as it entered into the Middle and New Kingdom, Ra also became also associated with Amun as Amun-Ra, and Atum as Atum-Ra in various competing pantheons from the different centers of worship in Ancient Egypt.[13]  Ra however, sometimes written as Re, in all the traditions was looked upon as one of the most revered and most powerful gods of the entire Egyptian pantheon, whose daily struggle against the forces of darkness as he set on the horizon each day was one of the most prevalent and powerful mythological themes of the ancient Egyptian people.  Aten, which historically was associated with the disc of the sun itself, had not been much of a player in Egyptian mythos up until Amenhotep IV’s rule, certainly nowhere near as prominent as Ra himself.

But in the early part of Amenhotep IV’s reign, for reasons that can be looked upon as socio-political, i.e. as a means to perhaps consolidate his power, Amenhotep IV established what has come to be known as Atenism as the official religion of the state, and proclaimed that Aten be worshipped to the exclusion of all other gods, not only outlawing the worship of all other gods even in individual homes, but also even going so far as to oversee the systemic destruction of idols and all other references to other gods in the Egyptian pantheon throughout the land, gods and goddesses that had been worshipped for millennia, making it one of the earliest forms of monotheism in all of mankind’s history.

This development marked a significant divergence from standard Egyptian policy and practices that preceded it which had, like almost all ancient civilizations in antiquity to some degree or another, accepted the various gods and goddesses of the Egyptian pantheon permitted religious freedom of worship throughout the kingdom, as long as of course the King himself was looked upon as the penultimate manifestation of the divine on earth.  Amenhotep IV not only forbade the worship of all other deities other than Aten, he changed his name to Akhenaten, or “one agreeable to Aten”, and constructed a new capital city called Akhetaten in the deities’ honor, modern Amarna.

An excerpt from a hymn to Aten found in identical form in five ancient Egyptian tombs illustrates at least some of the basic monotheistic conception of Aten that was proselytized by Amenhotep IV, mainly associating Aten with the characteristics historically associated with Ra but somewhat unique nonetheless in the forced worship of Aten and the exclusion of other forms of worship.

Splendid you rise, O living Aten, eternal lord!

You are radiant, beauteous, mighty,

Your love is great, immense.

Your rays light up all faces,

Your bright hue gives life to hearts,

When you fill the Two Lands with your love.

August God who fashioned himself,

Who made every land, created what is in it,

All peoples, herds, and flocks,

All trees that grow from soil;

They live when you dawn for them,

You are mother and father of all that you made.[14]

Unique to Atenism relative to the other ancient monotheistic faiths is of course is it’s socio-political features, i.e. there is no revealer of truth or scripture to which it adheres as is the case with other monotheistic traditions that emerged from ancient Western civilization, outside of Amenhotep IV himself.  Atenism is simply the decree of truth from the ruler of the day in what can perhaps best be looked at as an attempt at the consolidation of power by Amenhotep IV, a decree which was subsequently overturned, and the destruction of all temples of Aten ordered, under the ruler Horemheb who followed Amenhotep IV to power.  But there are uniquely monotheistic traits to Atenism as it was professed and doled out to the Egyptian people, and to this extent it is worth consideration and study within the context of the development of monotheism historically, and of course as pointed out by Freud, its relationship with to Judaism, although it cannot be directly established, Charlie could not completely ignore either.[15]

Although the Egyptian cosmology of the various temple cults and traditions that existed in Ancient Egypt can be inferred and deduced from the Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts, and even from the much later more canonized Book of the Dead, the first, and only in fact, real coherent cosmological tradition of Ancient Egypt can be found, exist in two similar variants from a single papyrus found in Luxor (ancient Thebes) in a papyrus authored or commissioned by a priest named Nes-Menu or Nes-Amsu, written in Late Egyptian in hieratic script.  The papyrus dates to the Ptolemaic Period, as it refers directly to Alexander the Great, and deals specifically with spells and incantations that are designed to guard against the evil god Apep, its insertion into the papyrus implying perhaps to the secret potency and mystical powers that were believed to be contained within the creation story/cosmology as well its relevance to the ultimate protection against the forces of darkness and evil.

The initial narrative, which is somewhat shorter than the second one, is included in full below and one of the most marked characteristics here to Charlie at least was that there was in fact a single creative principle that was called out from within which the universe emanates, a god called Neb-er-tcher, according to Wallis Budge one of the most preeminent Egyptologists of the modern era, becomes associated with the Judeo-Christian God in Coptic literature from later Roman/Latin times.[16]

[These are] the words which the god Neb-er-tcher spoke after he had come into being: “I am he who came into being in the form of the god Khepera, and I am the creator of that which came into being, that is to say, I am the creator of everything which came into being. Now the things which I created, and which came forth out of my mouth after that I had come into being myself were exceedingly many. The sky (or heaven) had not come into being, the earth did not (exist, and the children of the earth, and the creeping things had not been made at that time. I myself raised them up from out of Nu, from a state of helpless inertness.  I found no place whereon I could stand. I worked a charm upon my own heart (or, will). I laid the foundation [of things] by Maat, and I made everything which had form. I was [then] one by myself, for I had not emitted from myself the god Shu, and I had not spit out from myself the goddess Tefnut; and there existed no other who could work with me. I laid the foundations [of things] in my own heart, and there came into being multitudes of created things, which came into being from the created things which were born from the created things which arose from what they brought forth.  I had union with my closed hand, and I embraced my shadow as a wife, and I poured seed into my own mouth, and I sent forth from myself issue in the form of the gods Shu and Tefnut.  Said my father Nu: ‘My Eye was covered up behind them (i.e., Shu. and Tefnut), but after two hen periods had passed from the time when they departed from me, from being one god I became three gods, and I came into being in the earth.’  Then Shu and Tefnut rejoiced from out of the inert watery mass wherein they and I were, and they brought to me my Eye (i.e., the Sun). Now after these things I gathered together my members, and I wept over them, and men and women sprang into being from the tears which came forth from my Eye.  And when my Eye came to me, and found that I had made another [Eye] in place where it was (i.e., the Moon), it was wroth with (or, raged at) me, whereupon I endowed it (i.e., the (second Eye) with [some of] the splendour which I had made for the first [Eye], and I made it to occupy its place in my Face, and henceforth it ruled throughout all this earth.  When there fell on them their moment through plant-like clouds, I restored what had been taken away from them, and I appeared from out of the plant-like clouds. I created creeping things of every kind, and everything which came into being from them. Shu and Tefnut brought forth [Seb and] Nut; and Seb and Nut brought forth Osiris, and Heru-khent-an-maati, and Set, and Isis, and Nephthys at one birth, one after the other, and they produced their multitudinous offspring in this earth.”[17]

Here we find then, in the latter part of the first millennium BCE after Egypt had come under direct Greek influence, not only a more structured and standardized creation myth, but also the insertion, or at least explicit documentation, of a single, creative divine pseudo-anthropomorphic principle, a cosmology that in many respects was similar to its counterpart in Greece as reflected in Hesiod’s Theogony or in Orphism, albeit in a different style of prose, with a different pantheon of gods, and a different cultural context.

The cosmology outlined in the papyrus of Nes-Manu however, with the carving out of a single divine creative principle from which the universe, the gods of the Egyptian pantheon, and then ultimately mankind, emerges does represent the early stages of monotheistic theology in some respects, although perhaps in a less evolved form and of course absent of the legal mandate of a single form of worship that was such a prominent characteristic of Judaism and then later Christianity.  Atenism however, as failed as it was due undoubtedly to the resistance it met by the people and priests who did not ascribe to Aten as the one and only true God, did in fact display these same restrictive, and politically motivated tendencies.  Whether or not the Jews (Moses) and the Christianity as it was adopted by the Romans borrowed Amenhotep IV’s methodology remained an open question of course.

What Charlie could surmise however, and what did seem clear, was that in Ancient Egypt, similar to the ancient Sumer-Babylonian, Persian, and Greece civilizations, there existed an implied and esoteric and mystical monotheistic tendency that was reflected in their respective cosmological narratives, while at the same time there was an accepted localization of beliefs that allowed for the worship of specific deities with specific modes of worship in each town or city, as long as they adhered to a basic pantheonic structure which was characteristic of the civilization as a whole.

This structure of religious authority which allowed for independence at the city or town level, while still adhering to what could be called state sponsored religious practices that were mandated or practiced by the governing authority, the King in the case of ancient Egypt, is in many respects similar to how the United States is set up, with some powers given to the States to mandate and enforce, whilst other powers – like the power to hold an army and defend the nation – is mandated and enforced at the federal level.  Our model is wholly secular of course but the analogy seemed pretty clear to Charlie at least.


[1] Freud’s Moses and Monotheism originally published in 1937 in German and subsequently published in English in 1937.  In it, Freud hypothesizes that Moses was not a Hebrew or of Semitic descent, but was in fact an Egyptian nobleman and perhaps even a follower of Atenism.

[2] Menes, aka Narmer is the first pharaoh said to have united Upper and Lower Egypt.  It is notable that the Ancient Egyptians did not use the term pharaoh; this word is taken from the Old Testament context and then later applied to Ancient Egyptian history.  King is a more appropriate term but we will use King or Pharaoh interchangeably throughout.  For more information on the etymology and history of the term pharaoh see http://ashraf62.wordpress.com/ancient-egypt-knew-no-pharaohs/.

[3] The word “hieratic” was first used by the Christian theologian Saint Clement of Alexandria who lived and wrote in in the late 1st and early 2nd century CE and is derived from the Greek word hieratika which literally means “priestly writing”.

[4] Demotic, the language, was succeeded by Coptic, which was the most common Egyptian language spoken up until the 17th century CE.

[5] Demotic was succeeded by the Coptic writing system/alphabet (and the Coptic language which it is designed to render) which started to take root in the 3rd century CE and is still in use in some Egyptian churches and other places today.  The Coptic alphabet is based upon the Greek alphabet with strong Demotic influence.

[6] The primary source for the Dynasty, Kingdom and Period list included here is from the History of Egypt section of Wikipedia.  For more detail see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egypt.

[7] Hyksos were a Canaanite/Semitic people of supposedly Indo-European descent with some notable Hurrian influence as well.  Hyksos were known for practicing horse burials and having a chief deity who was storm god, later associated with the Egyptian god Seth.

[8] The Book of the Dead in Egyptian is actually titled, in Egyptian, rw nw prt m hrw which is more accurately transliterated into English as the “Book of Coming Forth by Day” rather than the more popular name it has been given by modern scholars and historians, the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

[9] Excerpt from THE HISTORY OF HERODOTUS, translated into English by G. C. MACAULAY, M.A. from an edition dated 1890, published by MacMillan and Co., London and New York.  Note that the term Pelasgians is used by Herodotus in this context to denote the precursor Hellenic populations that lived in the area of ancient Greece prior to classical Greece in the time before the Trojan War or so, circa 1200 or 1300 BCE.

[10] Hermeticism later transformed into the pseudo-science of alchemy during the Middle Ages, becoming more associated not with spiritual transformation and knowledge but the manipulation and transformation of material objects, specifically into gold, out of which emerged modern day chemistry in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  Notable scientists who were influenced by the Hermetic/alchemical tradition include Isaac Newton from whose work with alchemy is believed to derived inspiration to his creation of the modeling and notion of gravity, as well as Carl Jung who looked to alchemy to provide a language and framework for the transformation of the soul, or individual psyche, into its full potential, a process which he referred to as individuation.

[11] Coffin Text 335a, reference from Rabinovich, Yakov. Isle of Fire: A Tour of the Egyptian Further World. Invisible Books, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isfet_(Egyptian_mythology).

[12] From  http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm.  The Theogony of Hesiod, (ll. 713-735).  Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

[13] Amun being associated with the centers of worship in Thebes and Atum being associated with Heliopolis, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egyptian_creation_myths for more details.

[14] Translation from M. Lichtheim. Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings. Vol. 2, pp. 91-92.  Taken from https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/prec/www/course/egypt/274RH/Texts/ShortAtenHymn.htm

[15] The stark contrast of Atenism relative to the Egyptian religious precepts which preceded it, as well as the timing of Amenhotep IV’s rule which coincides within a century or two of Moses’s exodus from Egypt, has given rise to considerable scholarly debate as to whether or not the monotheistic principles embedded in Atenism were a foreign construct that was borrowed and adapted by Amenhotep IV from some outside influence, or perhaps even (as was suggested by Sigmund Freud), that Atenism was the source from which Judaism’s monotheistic tradition sprung.  See Freud’s 1937 work Moses and Monotheism where Freud theorizes that Moses was in fact of Egyptian descent rather than Jewish, and that he borrowed the principles of Atenism in his formation of Judaism.  For more details, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_and_Monotheism,

[16] Source: E. A. Wallis Budge, Legends of the Egyptian Gods.  Originally published in 1912 by Kegan Paul, Trench and Tribner & Co. Ltd, taken from new 2008 edition, published by The Book Tree.  Introduction pg. xviii.

[17] From http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/history_of_creation.htm.  Source: E. A. Wallis Budge, Legends of the Egyptian Gods.

%d bloggers like this: