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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

C. S. Lewis on Egyptian Monotheism

Red Breccia figure of Egyptian goddess Taweret

According to the inscription for this figure in the British Museum, Taweret was the goddess of childhood, and was typically depicted as a hippo with the face of a lion. Her worshippers described her as the Lady of Heaven.

C. S. Lewis weighs in on Egyptian religion in his book Reflections on the Psalms. Surprisingly, he doesn't focus on polytheism, which was the dominant form of Egyptian religion. Instead, he mentions the Pharaoh Amenhetep IV, who called himself Akhenaten. Unlike his predecessors, Akhenaten ripped gods and goddesses like Taweret from the Egyptian heavens, and installed one supreme god, whom he called Aten, in their place.

In his chapter on Nature, Lewis describes how pagan polytheistic religions often pitted the gods against nature, and nature against man. Only if the gods took control of nature was man safe. In the Jewish psalms, God and Nature are one. Thus, to look at nature, you are looking at God. God doesn't need to take control of nature, as it is his physical manifestation. It is a part of him, just like a novel is part of an author. Thus, the psalmists often praise nature in the same way they would praise God.

The one religious poem that Lewis found close in relation to the psalms was Akhenaten's Hymn to the Sun. The poem is available online, should you care to peruse it. While the poem is of a different tenor to the psalms in praise of nature, Lewis compares passages to Psalm 139, the great nature psalm, and even Revelation 4:11. 

As the Jews spent a long time in Egypt, Lewis muses that Egyptian "Wisdom" poetry, and Akhenaten's in particular, influenced the development of their own religion. This would certainly prove the case for Moses, the man credited as the founder of the Jewish faith. He was raised in the Pharoah's palace, and would have been educated by the nation's best teachers. While Akhenaten's religious revolution ultimately failed, the man's glimpse of the truth served as a precursor to the Jewish faith, and hence Christianity. It's an interesting thought, don't you agree?

Dragon Dave

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