Is African-Egyptian Religion the True Doctrinal Source of the Judaeo-Christian Faith?

By Rev. Clinton Chisholm*

In our exchange this evening it is important to remember the value of supporting evidence for allegations made, in other words we all have to prove the assertions we make. Our friends will be proposing a basic thesis for which they will provide supportive arguments and evidence in proof of that thesis. But what is the level of proof by which we should operate and evaluate the presentations this evening? In matters of this nature absolute mathematical-type proof or certainty is impossible so that’s out. My colleague and I deem it fair to require only the level of proof expected in a court of law in a civil jurisdiction i.e. proof to a high degree of probability, a preponderance of evidence from which we can all make an inference to the best explanation. Unless and until our friends provide that level of proof in their presentations their basic thesis lacks support and therefore ought to be rejected.

Let me now provide some general pointers for our consideration.

1. If one looks at the forest of Egyptian and Judaeo-Christian religions, superficially, then one can see broad similarities and thus be led to assume borrowing, stealing or dependence. However if one looks at the trees of Egyptian and Judaeo-Christian religions carefully, deeply, then one can see broad and specific differences in philosophical outlook and socio-religious traditions.

Let me illustrate with two test cases. The Hebrews were in Egypt as a subject ‘people group’ for approximately 400 years and one would take it for granted that when they came to document their socio-religious traditions these would betray stark similarities to Egyptian socio-religious traditions. Well the extant documents concerning health regulations provide a shock for that thesis.
Test Case 1 – Comparing Health Care Norms
Consider this, the available medical literature of Egypt, especially the Papyrus Ebers, written about 1552 BC, recommends such remedies for diseases as lizard’s blood, swine’s’ teeth, putrid meat, excreta from animals including human beings, donkeys, antelopes, dogs, cats, and even wasps and flies!! (See Ancient Egyptian Medicine: The Papyrus Ebers, translated from the German by Cyril P. Bryan, 1974, Chapter 15, Diseases of the Skin). Nothing resembling the Mosaic prescriptions re disease control appear in the Egyptian texts! Remember the books of Moses, written about 1400 BC—or to indulge the liberals, any date you choose prior to the 20th century AD— provide modern regulations concerning clean and unclean animals and health practices re dead bodies (see e.g. Numbers 19.11-22; Leviticus 11.32-35).
• Note the repeated suggestion of washing self and clothing as a health precaution (Lev. 11.32-40). Drying clothes would be in the sun (with its bacteriocidal ultra violet rays)
• Open vessels near a dead body are regarded as unclean, and if made of clay (porous) were to be smashed (Lev. 11. 32ff). All of this avoids the build up of culture media for infectious micro-organisms. If not revealed to him by Yahweh, how could Moses have come up with these counter-cultural regulations on his own?
• Moses would have had to know something about the germ theory of disease minus the knowledge of germs. He would have needed to know something about the nutritional requirements of infectious micro-organisms to know that open clay pots with food particles could maintain such organisms; he would have to know about food chains to know that pathogens can be carried in that manner for him to know which animals should be regarded as clean or unclean.
• Please remember that not until the 20th century (after the invention of x-ray technology and the electron microscope) did humankind develop the technological base for understanding the relationship between microscopic organisms and disease, including how and by what means diseases are transmitted.

Which explanatory inference has more power and scope? Remembrance of Egypt or Revelation from Yahweh?

Test Case 2 – Comparing Concepts of Deity
On the issue of concepts of deity, Egypt and the escaped Hebrews were worlds apart despite how the forest appears to the superficial observer. Note the popularity of pictorial and carved depictions of deity in Egyptian sources and the central taboo on graven images of Yahweh in the allegedly borrowed or stolen Ten Commandments. Exodus 20.4-5 says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them…” (New American Standard Bible).

Familiarity with this taboo in scripture has softened for us its philosophical and socio-religious radicalism. How could a people so exposed to the worshipping of physical manifestations of Egyptian deities come up willy nilly with this central counter-cultural double-edged taboo on making and worshipping any representation of their deity?
Which explanatory inference has more power and scope? Remembrance of Egypt or Revelation from Yahweh?

Analyze the forest and you can be led astray, analyze the trees carefully and they may just lead you to the God of the Bible.

Let’s pitch a tent here a bit. The claim that Moses got his concept of monotheism from Akhenaten or at least from Egypt, is a fairly common but flawed one among Afrocentrists.

Amenophis/Amunhotep IV, took the name Akhenaten (‘Servant of, or well-pleasing to, Aten’) when he established his cult of the Sun-disc (the god Aten) at Amarna.

The notion of a supreme god or sole god appeared before and after Akhenaten in that the sun-god was for quite a long time, before Akhenaten, regarded as being of high esteem in the theology of Heliopolis and Aten was an old name for the sun-disk.

Later than Akhenaten in the 19th dynasty (early 13th century BC), similar sentiments in praise of the sun (under different names) are expressed in Spell 15 of the Book of Going Forth by Day (popularly called the Book of the Dead).

After Akhenaten’s death, Haremhab (who was Pharaoh about thirteen years after Akhenaten) launched a program to wipe out his name and reign from the records of Egypt. How? By a general destruction and concealment by re-use, of his monuments.

The major written source of Akhenaten’s view of the Aten comes from a hymn, in praise of the sun-god, inscribed in the tomb of Aya, his private secretary (and Pharaoh for about 4 years, 1327-1323 BC). It reads in part,

At daybreak, when thou arisest on the horizon,
When thou shinest as the Aten by day,
Thou drivest away the darkness and givest thy rays…
All the world, they do their work…
O sole god, like whom there is no other!

The monotheism of the ancient Egyptians was radically different in content from that of the Old Testament. Even the Egyptian ‘sole god’ notion is different from the Hebrew ‘one God’ notion. The Hebrew shema (Deut. 6.4) “Hear O Israel…” uses a term for one that suggests composite oneness, as opposed to digital oneness. That word is echad (like a plurality of grapes on a stem constituting one bunch). The Hebrew term for digital oneness, yachid is never used of Yahweh in the Bible.

There is an acute philosophical difference between the theism of the Bible and that of the Egyptians. The God-Creator of the Bible is infinite, eternal and a person whereas that of the Egyptians was the sun or contingent matter. The philosophical difference is that biblical monotheism wields explanatory scope and power re the origin of anything/everything including persons and mind because God is infinite, eternal and personal whereas Egyptian concepts of god lack it because a contingent, material entity, the sun, is giving rise to everything including persons and mind. This is a neglected problem for any alleged theory of stealing, borrowing or influence concerning Egyptian concepts of deity and the biblical one.

The radical differences between Egyptian and Hebraic health care norms and concepts of deity make nonsense of the claim that Egypt was the true source of the Judaeo-Christian doctrines. Indeed the modern nature of the health care norms of the ancient books of Moses can only be explained by invoking Yahweh as the source of these regulations since the technological base for arriving at those prescriptions was not available until the 20th century of the current era!
*Opening presentation by Rev. Clinton Chisholm at a Project PROBE sponsored forum in Barbados on Saturday, February 2, 2008 at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI