My first impressions of the ancient Egyptians were formed in Sunday School, put to music by gospels such as “Go Down Moses,” and brought to the silver screen by Cecil B. DeMille. It was not a pretty picture—false gods, harsh rulers, fake magicians, and slave-drivers wielding the lash. Egypt was on the wrong side of everything.
But now I was told that God was sending divine messages to every culture. So I had to look at the land of the pharaohs through different eyes, Egyptian eyes.
Written in hieroglyphs that were already old when Sumerian cuneiform was young, the Pyramid texts date back almost five thousand years. Chiseled into the walls of the dark corridors beneath these monumental tombs, these texts provide the deceased Pharaoh with the keys to a successful afterlife: how to overcome each obstacle on the way to the divine realm and what words to speak to the guardians who block the way. One strategy was to enter the cyclical course of the cosmos and accompany the sun god in the barque that transverses the sky each day. The deceased king went so far, according to one inscription, as to kick the sun god overboard to make room for himself in the divine barque.
The complex mythology of the Egyptians far surpassed the simple piety of preliterate polytheism. But, however complex, these greedy efforts to compel or trick the divine powers seem spiritually retrograde compared to the sensitive cave paintings and the humble peasant honoring a stream with a pile of stones.
“Isn’t that right, Lord?”
Yes, it is a fundamental mistake of man to try to control God rather than the other way around. Do not exaggerate it. It is no different from (no worse than) trying to bribe the king’s mistress or learn the password that goes you through the palace gates, but it is not high spirituality, and in fact is not really a kind of spirituality at all.