The Papyrus of Ani (The Egyptian Book of the Dead)

The Egyptian Culture Reflected in Worship

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Somewhere around 1375 years before the birth of Christ, an Egyptian pharaoh publicly changed his name. That change signalled a return to long-standing tradition, a hallmark of Egyptian culture that flourished for more than three thousand years peacefully in the rich Nile River valley. The king had been called Tutankhaton. The last portion of his name, aton, was the name for the sun-god, which, in the years before the king's reign, had achieved preeminence among the competing deities in Egyptian religious tradition. The king changed his name to the one by which he is known today -- TUTANKHAMEN or, more popularly, King Tut -- and ended the brief experiment in monotheism in favor of the older religion with its promise of an afterlife.

And what an afterlife the pharaoh would have! Embalmed in order to endure the elements of disintegration, richly attired to attest to his fabulous earthly wealth, magnificently housed to remind all on-lookers of the towering greatness of the entombed human -- the pharaoh lived on in perpetual association with the stone structures that rose portentously out of the hot, barren sands of the desert so close to the life-giving, greening Nile. And the solemn bearing of these great structures reminds people today of the human hope for immortality and the way an entire culture fashioned a collective immortality in astonishing stone. Here was a culture that would persist, just as its pharaohs would live on in their silent palaces.

More interesting, perhaps, is the collective underwriting of the PYRAMIDS. No fewer than 70,000 workers would have been needed to lug limestone blocks from desert miles away to the building sites. Yet there is little evidence that the pharaohs had to coerce their subjects to leave their fields and families in order to build a monument whose completion any single worker would certainly never see. In this way, the pharaohs showed that they knew their people: all people apparently willingly participated in the pageant of immortality-made-real. With no hope of a berth for themselves in the tomb, the workers nonetheless must have taken comfort from knowing that their king, their earthly representative, would live on for them in perpetuity. The Egyptian hoi polloi became immortal by proxy. [Next]

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