Egyptian Influence on Judaism and Christianity Thesis

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Egyptian Influence on Judaism and Christianity

Egyptian influence

The issue of the relationship between Egyptian cultural history and the histories of Judaism and Christianity is one that is mired in controversy. This controversy is also linked to various interpretations of the Biblical texts and to the view that has emerged in recent years that the Bible is more myth and fiction than actual historical fact. While this view does not invalidate the theological integrity of the history of both Judaism and Christianity, it does suggest a link with the historical and cultural realities of the past and with the way that various historical and religious contexts impacted the development of both Judaism and Christianity.

The view that the origins of both Judaism and Christianity are linked to other religions and to the dominance of the Egyptian culture, among others, is a view that is increasingly supported by scholarly research and evidence. As a study by David Rohl states,

Biblical Archaeology was born in Egypt with the search for Joseph and the Seven-year Famine, the Ten Plagues, Moses and the Exodus. However, the unfortunate reality is that, after more than 150 years of excavations, not one scrap of archaeological evidence for the Israelite Sojourn in Egypt has comes to light.

( Rohl)

Views such as the above are contested by many other scholars. However, many studied tend to suggest that much of the origins of Judaism and Christianity may have been influenced and possibly 'borrowed' from the dominant civilizations of the time- such as Egypt. While it is not the intention of this paper to delve into the convoluted and often obscure arguments about the origins of Judaism and Christianity, what this paper will attempt to do is to provide some insight into the way that Egyptian civilization influenced the development and content of Judaism and Christianity.

This type of analysis and investigation into the influences on religions has become even more important in the light of recent scholarship, which has found very little hard factual evidence to support Biblical texts. As Rohl states;

As Old Testament specialist Professor Thomas L. Thompson of Copenhagen University puts it: to believe in a Bible based on real historical events is 'not only dubious but wholly ludicrous'. He is supported in his views, to a lesser or greater extent, by scholars throughout academia -- even in Israel. ( Rohl)

Many scholars agree that there is "…really is no unambiguous evidence for any of the biblical characters and events prior to the 9th century BC." (Rohl)

However, this in itself does not necessarily invalidate Biblical texts. What is clear for many diverse sources in the literature is that there was a greater degree of influence from civilizations like the Egyptians than was previously thought.

2. Egyptian influence on Judaism and Christianity

The common Biblical view of the relationship between the Israelite and Egyptian culture is as follows:

The Bible tells us that when Jacob and his family migrated from Asia to Egypt, they were settled in "the land of Rameses" and that they became property owners there (Genesis 47:11, 27). Eventually, the Israelites were used as slave laborers to build the city of Rameses (Exodus 1:11), and when they left after 430 years (Exodus 12:40), they departed from Rameses (Exodus 12:37). From these references, we can conclude that the Israelites spent the years of the Egyptian Sojourn in and around Rameses.

(Is there evidence that the Israelites once lived in Egypt as the Bible says? )

However, this commonly accepted view of events is questioned by many modern scholars who assert that we should separate myth and fact in our understanding of Biblical history. In particular, scholars also question the accepted view of the relationship between Egyptian culture and the development of Judaism and Christianity. In this regard many studies suggest that the influence and impact of the Egyptian culture on the content and the structure of both Judaism and Christianity has not been fully acknowledged and understood. .As one article on this topic notes;

How much of the doctrine and ritual of Egypt were imported into Judaism by Moses is a question by no means easy to settle. Of Egyptian theology proper, or the doctrine of the gods, we find no trace in the Pentateuch. Instead of the three orders of deities we have Jehovah; instead of the images and pictures of the gods, we have a rigorous prohibition of idolatry; instead of Osiris and Isis, we have a Deity above all worlds and behind all time, with no history, no adventures, no earthly life.

(Influence of Egypt on Judaism and Christianity)

The above quotation raises some very important issues. On the one hand, there are those who see an extreme difference between the religion that Moses propounded and propagated and the Egyptian civilization in which the 'new ' religion of Mosaic Judaism first arose. In other words, there is a commonly accepted view that the religion of Moses was in fact very different and therefore was not influenced by the religion and the culture of Egypt.

Moses gives no account of the judgment of souls after death; he tells nothing of the long journey and multiform experiences of the next life according to the Egyptians, nothing of a future resurrection and return to the body…His severe monotheism was very different from the minute characterization of gods in the Egyptian Pantheon.

(Influence of Egypt on Judaism and Christianity)

However, this view of the essential difference between the origin of both Judaism and Christianity is strongly contradicted by many contemporary investigations of the subject. An extensive and insightful study of this topic is Gods of Our Fathers: The Memory of Egypt in Judaism and Christianity by Gabriel ( 2002). In this work the author posits a very different view to the accepted notion of the essential difference between the origins of Judaism and Christianity and Egyptian culture and influence. This also suggests that Egyptian culture had a much greater influence on these religions than is commonly acknowledged.

In understanding this argument one also has to bear in mind the difference between earlier Yahwehism and Judaism . As Gabriel (2002) notes:

The Judaism of the sixth century B.C.E. was a considerably different creed in important respects than it had been when first introduced by Moses six centuries earlier just as modern Judaism, the beneficiary of almost two thousand years of ethical introspection and commentary, is considerably different from the legalistic Judaism of Ezra. Like all religions, Yahwehism changed in response to the historical circumstances with which it was forced to deal. (Gabriel 64)

This therefore refers to the influence that Egyptian thought had on Mosaic Yahwehism. Mosaic theology however is fundamental to and the core of modern Judaism.

Scholars are also clear in their view that the larger and more economically influential Egyptian civilization would most certainly have had an influence on the development of the Judaic faith and religion. As one commentator notes;

There were contacts between Egypt and the Syria-Palestine region as early as the Middle Kingdom, around 2000 BC, when Egypt exercised economic, if not political, domination over the Levant. It is in this period that the migration of the Hebrew patriarchs to and from Egypt belong (Gen. 12:10ff).

(Kline)

3. Who were the Israelites?

A common definition of the term Israelite is as follows: "Israelite: An inhabitant of the Northern Kingdom of ancient Israel. Also used to denote the members of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, made up of the descendants of Jacob." (Szczepanski) However, the common view of a unified group known as the Israelites is questioned by historical facts. As one commentator notes; "Archaeological evidence is indicative that Judaism, during its formative period, assimilated cultic beliefs acquired from neighboring peoples, and is, therefore, not the uniquely original religion that religious purists would have us believe." (Desborough)

The actual ancient Hebrew people were semi-nomadic herdsman and herdsmen. The most likely originators of the Israelites were a people referred to by the Egyptians as the Apiru or Habiru. They are described as a "…wandering group of Asiatics in Palestine and Syria with whom the Egyptians were familiar." (Gabriel 65) Gabriel (2002) also draws attention to the similarity between the words "Habiru" and ?Hebrew', which has led scholars to conclude that "… the Habiru were the Israelites of the Bible appearing for the first time in a historical source outside the Old Testament, a source that was at least two hundred years earlier than any known Israelite literature." (Gabriel 65) Furthermore, this designation did not refer to a specific ethic group but rather refers to as class of wandering people in Palestine and Syria. This again tends to go against the myth of as unified ethic group. Research also suggests that the Israelites entered into in Egypt most probably during the New Kingdom approximately around the time of Amenhotep III (1417-1378 B.C.E.) (Gabriel 68)

As Kline also notes, the contact between the Hebrew or Jewish people and the Egyptian civilization was to increase.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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