The Origins of Christianity
by Revilo P. Oliver
Professor of the Classics, Retired; University of Illinois, Urbana
ZOROASTER’S RELIGION, often called Mazdaism, is the greatest religion ever created by one man. It is the religion that had the greatest influence on our race, although most of that influence was exerted through its derivatives. And its invention was one of the crucial events in the history of the world.
It does not greatly matter whether Zoroaster was deranged and suffered from continual hallucinations or consciously manufactured his doctrine for some altruistic or egotistic purpose of his own. He so altered the subsequent course of civilization on this planet that we become dazed when we try to conjecture what we would be today, had Zoroastrianism never been invented. We cannot name another man whose effect on human history was as profound and as permanent as Zoroaster’s. And it would be a mere quibble to argue that if he had not lived, some other revolutionary would have done as much.
Zoroastrianism was a spiritual catastrophe. It was the archetype of all the "universal religions," of which only Toynbee seems to have perceived the crucial importance as forces that constrict and deform a people’s native culture and mentality. Toynbee, however, did not see, or thought it expedient not to notice, how lethal are religions that induce delusions about "all mankind" and propagate the idiotic notion that "all men are created equal." Zoroaster’s doctrine of Salvation introduced some very peculiar and epochal superstitions that have been profoundly deleterious to all the races influenced by them, perhaps including even the Jews, although they profited most by exploiting them.
Zoroaster created a supreme god of good, whom he called Ahura Mazda, and a supreme god of evil, whom he called Angra Mainyu.1 In the beginning, only these two great gods existed,2 but they were antagonists from the first, each striving to his utmost to destroy the other and all of the other’s works. Each created for himself subordinate generals and legions of supernatural troops to fight for him in the Cosmic War. Either of the two gods would be omnipotent if the other were conquered; and they and their vast armies are now locked in a desperate struggle for supremacy and mastery of the whole universe, a perpetual war between pure Good and pure Evil. Since it posits the existence of two great and hostile gods, neither of whom can now overcome the other, Zoroastrianism is obviously a ditheism, a religious dualism. And so, of course, is the Christian rifacimento of it. It must be remembered that the word ‘monotheism’ is a neologism formed from Greek roots and introduced into English around the middle of the Seventeenth Century; and it can mean only one thing: belief in the existence of only one supreme god. Such a god, by definition, must have a power that is not limited by the power of any other supernatural being. Now it is true that during the past three centuries an increasing number of Christian theologians have wanted to make their religion a monotheism, but they can do this only by junking their Bible, and that would leave them without any basis for a belief in the existence of Jesus & Co. Their "New Testament" explicitly states that Satan is the mighty "prince of this world" and had such power that he was able to kidnap one-third of their God, carry him off to a mountain top, and there offer him wealth and dominion that Jesus was obviously unable to obtain for himself; and the gospels in the collection are full of stories about activities of Satan and his lieutenants that God was obviously unable to prevent. It is clear, therefore, that the Christian god’s power is limited by the power of a rival god, who is as strong and sometimes even stronger than he, and that the earth must be regarded as a kind of No Man’s Land between two opposing armies. That is precisely the Zoroastrian doctrine.
Some Christians try to twist their way out of the dilemma by claiming that their god is the only one that True Believers should worship, but that is simply monolatry, a phenomenon which, as we have already said, appears in many polytheistic religions. Another favorite evasion is resort to the Zoroastrian prediction that the good god will at some time in the future conquer the bad god, but that ploy will not work in talking about the present: If there is a war going on, it is necessarily a combat between two opposing forces, and it would be lunacy to pretend that there is only one force, and therefore no war, because one will in the end be victorious over the other. Modern theologians cannot improve on the old sophistry that Satan is not a god, although a god is, by definition, a powerful supernatural being, and Satan’s right to that title is obvious from almost every page of the Christians’ holy book. This device is one of the most ingenious tricks of early Christian propaganda.
In all of our languages, the word ‘god’ (qeÐj, deus, goð) is a common noun designating a class of beings, specifically powerful supernatural beings, just as ‘woman’ is a common noun designating a class of human beings, and the individuals in a class must be identified by a personal name, such as Zeus or Helen. Now the early Christians took to calling their god deus (we can distinguish by writing Deus, but, of course, that use of capital letters is a modern innovation, unknown in Antiquity), and by baptizing their god God they could claim that all other supernatural powers were non-gods, just as you could baptize your daughter Woman and thus claim that all other females are non-women. A very few among the early Christians, especially Lactantius (Institutiones, II.9.13) 3 were honest enough to call Satan an antitheus,3 but the purloining of the common noun deus was commonly covered by imitating Zoroaster and inverting the meaning of another common noun, daemon, which designated a larger class of supernatural beings that included not only gods but less powerful spirits. The Christians called all the other gods (in whose existence, of course, orthodox Christians must firmly believe) daemones, which was strictly correct, but then they claimed that all daemones were the subordinates of Satan, just as Zoroaster had audaciously claimed that all of the devas were the subordinates of his Angra Mainyu. Thus did Christians create the word ‘demon’ in its current sense of ‘devil.’ Their propaganda was certainly adroit, and we must give them credit for having improved a little on Zoroaster. But the verbal trick should impose on no one.
So much had to be said at this point to make it clear that both Zoroastrianism and its late derivative, Christianity, are equally ditheisms – and that if, by some sophistry, the term ‘monotheism’ is to be perverted and applied to one, the other has an equal title to it. Both posit the existence of only two great gods, each of whom is supreme in his own territory and neither of whom can now overcome the other. And this has the strange consequence that although the good god (Ahura Mazda, Yahweh) had the power to create the whole universe and is now supported by angelic legions commanded by his trusty and doughty, archangels, and the evil god can marshal legions of mighty and valiant devils, including all the gods previously worshipped by men, both antagonists need to recruit reinforcements from the puny race of mortals and strive to enlist every one of the weaklings they can persuade.4 The cosmic conflict between the two gods and their supernatural and human armies is now a desperate one, waged with all their resources and causing infinite devastation and suffering on earth, although, bizarrely enough, the result is a foregone conclusion and everyone knows that the good god will triumph in the end and spend eternity in joyously tormenting his defeated adversary and all of the fallen monarch’s wickedly loyal and luckless followers.
One can only marvel that so preposterous a fiction could have imposed on Aryan minds. It is not only illogical, but one of its basic premises is alien to our racial mentality. The Aryans’ gods are never evil. They may, of course, punish mortals who have insolently offended them, and they may act, as do all the forces of nature, with complete disregard of the convenience or safety of individuals or nations, but they are never malevolent. Pan (the model for Satan in Christian iconography) does indeed excite panics, but every man who has found himself utterly alone in a desert, pathless mountains, or a great forest has experienced the god’s power. You and I know, of course, that the reaction of our nerves, the subconscious fear of helplessness that it requires an effort of reason to overcome, is atavistic and represents a flaw that lies deep in the human psyche, but it can be thought of as some power that abides in the place, a numen that is hostile in the sense in which other great forces of nature, such as a hurricane or an angry ocean (note the pathetic fallacy), are hostile because they reck nothing of us; but they are not malevolent, they do not have a conscious purpose to destroy us. The Great God Pan is the spirit of the wild, of the nature on which we can intrude only at our own peril.5 He does not really differ from, say, Poseidon or Aphrodite, gods who also have purposes that are not ours.
The Norse religion is likewise true to nature. There are beings that are hostile to gods and men in the sense that they injure and destroy, but they are essentially natural powers and without malevolence. Fenrir is not malicious: he is a celestial wolf, the counterpart of terrestrial wolves, who pursue and pull down deer because it is their nature to do so, not because they wish to inflict pain on their victims. Nigg gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasill as cut-worms destroy plants by feeding on their roots. The relation between the Norse gods and the Giants is a general hostility moderated by visits and occasional alliances that seem odd and even perplexing to modern readers until they understand that a Jötunn is not a devil in the Christian sense but a supernatural being of a race that is fundamentally incompatible with the race of the Esir and Vannir. The relationship is analogous to that between the aborigines and our race when we invaded North America: the two races were necessarily enemies and each had to try to destroy the other, but in the meantime, some individuals of different race could meet and associate on terms of neutrality or temporary friendship.
Loki often appears evil to minds that have been imbued with Christian notions, and even scholars, who should know better, try to decide whether he is a ‘good’ god or an ‘evil’ one. The answer is that he is simply a supernatural human being. He exhibits the feckless mischievousness that is natural in children and accounts for their more vexing pranks on Guy Fawkes Day or Hallowe’en, and is often found in adults who humorously perpetrate "practical jokes" or "initiations" into "fraternal societies" that sometimes result in the unintended death of one or more victims. At the worst, he is like so many of our contemporary "intellectuals," who take a perverse pleasure in siding with our enemies, but, if put to the test, would not murder us in cold blood. Loki exists as a supernatural being like the gods, but no one worships him, because it would be folly to expect help from so irresponsible an individual. The Aryan mind instinctively rejects the notion of divine malevolence. When forced to accept the unpalatable notion by an alien religion, however, the racial mind can interpret it in terms of our feeling for the dramatic and heroic.6
And the idea does acquire some plausibility because we always imagine our gods as anthropomorphic and malevolence is an exclusively human trait. Whereas all other mammals kill only because they are hungry or have to defend themselves, and never inflict pain for the satisfaction of seeing suffering, the several species called human kill and torture for the sheer joy of inflicting death and pain and take an even more disgusting pleasure in watching others inflict agony and death, especially when the victims have offended them in some way or merely refused to listen to them, as did the persons whom Jesus wanted to have murdered where he could enjoy the spectacle of their death-agonies.7 Sadism and kindred passions are exclusively human, and when we call the more repulsive human beings, savages or the degenerates of our species, brutal and bestial, we are traducing the innumerable species of morally superior animals.
It is an identifiable characteristic of our race, which distinguishes it from all others, that while we, if we have not become effete, kill with exemplary efficiency the enemies who are a danger to us, we are averse from inflicting unnecessary suffering even on them and, what is more, if they are enemies whom we can respect in terms of our standards, even feel compassion and regret that we must slay them.8 Unlike all other races, we find the gratuitous infliction of pain on any mammal repulsive and disgusting. And when members of our race violate our racial instinct, we consider them degenerate or insane, except in the rare instances when an individual has himself suffered, in his own person or in that of persons dear to him, such enormous outrage that a frenzied passion to inflict the utmost retribution is understandable, though scarcely laudable.
Malevolence is human. That is why it is so commonly attributed to the spirits of the dead, who, in the popular superstitions of many races, are supposed to be invidious and to envy the living and therefore seek to harm them. A striking example is the Ciupipiltin of the Aztecs: the ghosts of women who died in childbirth hover about the living and strive incessantly to injure women who have been more fortunate than they and especially to cripple those women’s children. Our race is more apt to attribute malignity to the ghosts of the wicked or, sometimes, to mindless entities that lurk in the corruption of the grave.9 From this it is a small step to belief in demons – but let us always remember that, as we have already remarked, the Christian word is a typical perversion of the Classical daemon, which designated a supernatural being that was often benevolent and, at worst, uninterested in human beings who do not offend it.10 Zoroaster’s great invention was his dichotomy of the whole world, natural and supernatural, by a moral division between perfect goodness and perfect evil. Each of these fictions logically implied its antithesis, and and they may have been simply the spontaneous product of his imagination. If, however, we seek a source for the un-Aryan notion of an evil god, we may find it in the Semitic religions, of which Zoroaster is likely to have had some knowledge. As is generally known, the predominantly Semitic Babylonians11 thought themselves encompassed by swarms of maleficent demons who, inspired by an abiding malignity, ceaselessly strove to injure men by every means, from diseases to hurricanes, under the command of the Seven Evil Gods, Namtaru, Rabisu, Pazuzu, et al. These demons would destroy mankind but for the precarious protection that might be won from the more placable gods, especially Marduk, the solar deity, and his purifying agent, fire, which significantly reappears in Zoroastrianism as the power that wards off evil.
The Evil Gods hated mankind and their devices were subtle and endlessly varied. In one of the tales about Naram-Sin (grandson of Sargon of Agade), which probably grew from a germ of fact, we are told that his realm was invaded by an enormous horde of beings who had the faces, and apparently also the bodies, of ravens. The urgent question whether they were demons or mortals was settled by the discovery that they bled when wounded, but nevertheless they, zealously assisted by the Evil Gods, brought manifold disasters upon the kingdom until the god Enlil was persuaded to take some action against them that was described on a missing part of the clay tablet. Enlil was a deity taken over from the Sumerians and eventually supplanted by Marduk, the ‘Son of the Sun,’ who was thoroughly Semitized.
Although his influence on Zoroaster is more problematical, we should mention another contemporary god of evil. In the overgrown and incoherent theology of the Egyptians,13 Set (Seth) was originally a companion of the beneficent Horus, but later regarded less favorably, and after 1570 B.C. he was execrated as the very incarnation of evil and the enemy of mankind for two reasons between which the connection is not entirely clear.
(1) Osiris was the Egyptian version of the god whose death and resurrection made it possible for righteous men to attain immortality. According to an account that seems relatively early, while Osiris was on earth, he was murdered by Set, who first concealed the body and later dismembered it, scattering its various organs throughout Egypt to prevent the Resurrection, which was eventually brought about through the devotion of Isis, sister and wife of Osiris. Set was therefore the implacable enemy of the beneficent gods and consequently of mortals, and his malignant hatred was manifested, even after the Resurrection, in many ways, including, for example, an attempted homosexual rape of the divine child, son of Isis and Osiris.
(2) Egypt long suffered from a steady infiltration of Semites, a continuous trickle of covertly enemy aliens across the Sinai peninsula, who, after they became sufficiently numerous, gnawed away the foundations of Egyptian society by the usual techniques of political subversion, inflicted on the nation all the horrors of a proletarian revolution, and finally took it over, ruling it, with the aid of native traitors, from about 1780 B.C. until they were finally expelled by an Egyptian revolt in 1570BC. The Semites had a tribal god, comparable to the Jews’ Yahweh, whom they identified with Set and whose worship they tried, whenever it was not politically inexpedient, to impose on all the Egyptians. The insidious aliens were cordially hated by the Egyptians (including, no doubt, the opportunists who served the enemy as front men and collaborators), and after the expulsion of the Semites, their god, Set, was abominated as the patron of the foul race that had brought on Egypt innumerable disasters and two centuries of ill-disguised servitude.
Both of these considerations made Set an analogue of the Christian Satan, an anti-god whom the Egyptians execrated – most of the time, for we cannot expect logical consistency from their religiously muddled minds.14
It is possible, though not demonstrable, that Zoroaster was influenced by what he had heard of the Babylonian and perhaps Egyptian polytheisms when he formulated his revolutionary dualism.NOTES1. My account of the Zoroastrian religion conforms to what would have been found in standard reference works (e.g., the Eleventh and Twelfth Editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica) in the first third of this century and no further comment would have been needed. Subsequent research and study has produced no fact which would call for a significant modification in the essentials (with which we are alone concerned here), but it has produced a great proliferation of theoretical reconstructions of what Zoroaster supposedly believed but never said. This has caused a great deal of confusion, and I feel obliged to consider summarily in Appendix I below the cardinal point in all such reconstructions, although I consider it too nebulous and hypothetical to be of practical (historical) value.
2. Zoroaster is not sufficiently explicit in the gathas to enable us to be certain how he explained the origin of two antagonists, but his reference to them as "twins" suggests that he thought of both as existing from the very beginning of time. The alternative explanation, which is quite early, is that the Good God inadvertently created the Evil God by having a moment of doubt, i.e., stopping to think, which, as any theologian will tell you, is very bad business indeed.
3. Readers of Homer will not need to be told that the word is here used in a sense that has nothing to do with the familiar Homeric epithet. In Lactantius who died around 320, the word has come to mean ‘anti-god’, i.e. a god who is the adversary of another god or gods, as the Titans were of the Olympians in the well-known myth. Lactantius, of course, says that Satan is a pravus antitheus, but in this passage, at least, he shows him a decent respect.
4. If we use the Zoroastrianism of Artaxerxes II for comparison, the congruency will be perfect, since the good gods of the two religions will also have the support of their mighty sons (Jesus, Mithra).
5. Since verbal misunderstandings play a large part in the evolution of religious beliefs, I note that Pan is a pastoral deity whose name, of uncertain derivation (one possibility is that it comes from the Indo-European root represented by the Sanskrit verb pus ‘to nourish, to cause to grow’), has nothing whatsoever to do with another word of identical spelling and almost identical pronunciation in Greek, pan, which is the neuter of the adjective meaning ‘all,’ so that the god’s name could be, and was, misunderstood to mean ‘everything,’ i.e., the whole universe. The mistake was compounded by the tendency of pious persons enthusiastically to exaggerate the attributes and powers of a god to whom they are particularly devoted (cf. supra, p. 30). Since no one seems to have noticed it before, I recommend to students of religion a doxology that they can also enjoy as poetry, unless their canons of Latinity are so strict that they cannot appreciate the Pervigilium Veneris, which comes from about the same time. I refer to a hymn to Priapus ("pater rerum" and so identified with the universal Pan) that will be found in the Corpus inscriptionum Latinarum, XIV. 3565. The author of these genial stanzas (they are stanzas, with a refrain) is unknown; it is most unlikely that they were composed by the freedman who had them engraved on the marble base of the statue that he, at the behest of his god, commissioned and had set up at Tibur, where I was told by a local antiquary that the beautiful statue was destroyed by Christian fanatics around the end of the Eighteenth Century, a late, though not impossible, date.
6. It is instructive to compare Tolkien’s three romances. Some of the praeternatural beings we encounter in The Hobbit are noxious (Goblins, Trolls, Dragons), but that is because it is their nature to prey on us: they are like cannibals and dinosaurs, creatures that we would exterminate in any region we inhabit. That is one of the several reasons why the book is an entertaining and absorbing tale, but not one that moves us deeply. The Lord of the Rings, however, takes up the Zoroastrian idea and is dominated by the equivalent of Angra Mainyu, a mighty supernatural being who is supernaturally malevolent and exerts all of his vast powers to inflict degradation and suffering on our race and its allies; and that is one of the factors that make the book a story of high emprise and heroism that often rises to the level of epic poetry, and assure it of a place among the great literature of our race. The Silmarillion is, so to speak, a new Bible, a combination of cosmological and pseudo-historical myth that is free from the gross immorality, disgusting vulgarity, and patent absurdities of that holy book and vastly superior from every standpoint, but it inevitably fails to give a convincing account of the origin of supernatural evil and resembles a panoramic painting of the Dutch school that depends for its total effect on our observation of a large number of small figures crowded, with distracting detail, into every square inch of the large canvas. Hence the disappointment of many readers; poetic suspension of doubt has its limits and cannot approximate a religious faith.
7. Our holy men try to ignore the significant pronouncement at Luke 19.27, although it is an essential part of their creed.
8. The reader may be interested in an example from a source from which he would scarcely expect it, one which will incidentally show that although India became a multi-racial jungle, something of the Aryan mentality survived as late as the Seventh Century. Many years ago l essayed a verse version of a stanza by Mayura that is preserved in the Saduktikanamrta (I.xv.3). It is based on the story that the Asuras had three great cities, of silver, gold, and steel respectively, and made war upon the old Aryan gods. The Thirty-three Gods were unable to resist the Asuras, and so appealed to the great Trinity. In answer to their prayer, Siva, the dread and ruthless god of destruction, destroyed the three cities of the Asuras with his arrows of unquenchable fire.
I sing the god of world-destroying might,
Siva, who smote with bolts of quenchless flame
The triple city of the anti-gods:
For when he saw the molten walls decay
And fall, the thund’ring bow fell from his hands
And his immortal eyes were touched with tears.
In inner rooms the demon-women stood;
He saw the fire cut away the hems
Of their embroidered robes and lave their hair.
He saw the flame upon their bodiced gowns
He saw its fingers stroke their girdled loins
And pluck the silver apples of their breasts.
Siva felt compassionate admiration for the noble enemies whom he had to destroy. That is what it means to be an Aryan. When Philip of Macedon, in all the pride of his great victory, saw the men of the Hieros Lochos of Thebes, who lay dead in their ranks on the field at Chaeronea, he wept. A Jew would have spat and urinated on them.
9. In modern literatures, the ghost of a murdered man may justly seek vengeance on his murderer, but the ghosts of murderers are sometimes thought of as lamenting or expiating their crimes, and sometimes as bent on multiplying from beyond the tomb the crimes they committed while alive. There is, of course, a large Christian element in these superstitions. Literary critics have often remarked that Classical ghost stories are comparatively tame; Sherwin-White, for example, thinks that is because Graeco-Roman society did not have Mediaeval castles or isolated manor houses for ghosts to haunt, but that is to miss the point. In the Classical tales, such as the well-known ghost story told by the younger Pliny (VII.27) or the yarns collected by Lucian in his Philopseudes, the ghost clanks chains or makes terrifying gestures, but all that he wants is decent burial for his corpse or bones. What is lacking is the element of actual or potential malevolence that spices so many of our tales of the supernatural.
10. Daemon is a word of very wide meaning and also serves in Classical psychology to explain the operations of the subconscious mind, including instincts and intuition, which we ourselves do not fully understand and commonly regard as separable from conscious personality, for we generally attribute the excellence of a poet, musician, or other artist to his genius rather than to the man himself, and we do so correctly, for he usually explains his achievement as the result of inspiration rather than conscious thought; and we commonly understand and accept such explanations of peculiar conduct as "something made me do it." Every man has his genius or daemon that accounts for the intuitive and sub-rational part of his personality, which often determines his success or failure in a given undertaking or in his life as a whole. One thinks of the daemon of Socrates, for example, and I note that William G. Simpson, in his admirable book, Which Way, Western Man?, posits a virtually identical force in the human mind. I emphasize the psychological application of the word in ancient literature because I have noticed a deplorable blunder in our standard Greek-English lexicon (Liddell-Scott-Jones), in which the Greek kakodaimon is defined as "possession by an evil genius" and kakodaimonao is actually defined as "to be possessed by an evil spirit," definitions which will certainly mislead persons who have not read much Greek and may imagine some connection with Christian notions about persons "possessed of the devil," etc. Nothing could be more erroneous. There is no idea whatsoever of a malevolent spirit. A man is kakodaimon because his own character (or sometimes, chance) has made him, unfortunate; he is "cross-grained" or "a blunderer" or "unlucky," and his conduct is of the kind that we often describe by saying "he won’t listen to reason" or "he has an unattractive personality" or "his instincts are all wrong" or "he is his own worst enemy." A misunderstanding of the Greek words is a measure of the extent to which our Aryan mentality has been distorted by Semitic ideas.
11. The Babylonians were the dominant power at the time Zoroaster began to preach his gospel, and he may have been influenced by their culture and religion. Most scholars agree that the Assyrian-Babylonian demonology had no precedent in the religion of the Sumerians, from whom the Semites derived the greater part of their culture. In the time of Zoroaster, the Babylonians were predominantly Semitic, but it is a mistake to infer from their language that the population belonged entirely to that race. There was a large admixture of other races, almost certainly including descendants (perhaps more or less mongrelized) of the Cassites, who conquered Babylonia near the end of the seventeenth century B.C. and ruled it for about five centuries. The Cassites spoke an Indo-European language and seem to have been Aryans, although they, like the Mitanni, who conquered Assyria in that period, may have been a nation composed of an Aryan aristocracy and subject masses belonging to one or more other races. In Zoroaster’s time, the Jews were well established in Babylon, which they would betray to Cyrus the Great in return for rights of occupation in Palestine, to which they despatched a contingent from their wealthy colony in Babylon. It is not remarkable that most of their mythology is Babylonian in origin.
12. Naram-Sin, like his grandfather, was the hero of a cycle of tales composed many centuries after his death. This tale probably represents a folk-memory of events of which we know from Sumerian historical sources, an invasion by the Gutians, a wild and barbarous people (who may have had Armenoid features that suggested birds’ beaks), and other disasters that ended the empire of Agade soon after Naram-Sin was succeeded by his ill-fated son. There followed a period of anarchy which the Sumerian king list neatly summarizes in the words, "Who was king? Who was not king?" A Sumerian religious text informs us that the invasions and disasters fell upon Naram-Sin because his troops had looted the temple of Enlil in Nippur. In requital of that outrage, a curse was put upon Naram-Sin’s capital, Agade. The curse served as a model for the cursing attributed to Isaiah (13.19-22) in the "Old-Testament," with the difference that Agade was totally destroyed, whereas the city of Babylon (and its wealthy Jewish parasites) flourished for centuries after the futile raving in that chapter, which was probably composed as propaganda to demoralize the Babylonians at the time of the Persian invasion of their territory in 540.
13. E. A. Wallis Budge’s The Gods of the Egyptians, available in Dover reprint (2 vols., New.York, 1969 = 1904), is the most convenient survey of Egyptian theology, although three-quarters of a century of intensive archaeological exploration and scholarship have naturally produced many additions and corrections, of which only one is really crucial. Egypt was a union of many regions that were strung out along the Nile from its mouths to the First Cataract, and its religion was necessarily a theocracy, which was never made coherent. Our minds boggle, for example, when we discover that Horus was the brother of his father and the son of his aunt, and that he mourned at his father’s bier although he was not conceived until after his father rose from the dead. Confronted by this fatras of absurdities, Sir Wallis, who was impressed by the fact that Christians could believe a Trinitarian doctrine, which made an "only begotten son" as old as the father who begat him, tried to read a monotheistic basis into the incoherent polytheism, as though the many gods had been aspects of a single divinity. This view, set forth in his short introductory volume, Egyptian Religion (New York, 1959 = 1900), only slightly contaminated the major work I cited above. Egyptologists now emphatically reject a notion for which there is no evidence whatsoever.
14. Set was loathed as the god of all evil, but, incredible as it seems to us, he was at times simultaneously worshipped as a benefactor and shown special honor by the kings of the Nineteenth Dynasty (1320-1200), two of whom even took the name Seti (Sethos) to identify themselves as his special protégés. That is as though some kings of Christian Europe consecrated cathedrals to Judas and Satan! Racial decay probably set in fairly early in Egyptian history, but as late as the Twelfth Dynasty we find an intelligent understanding of racial differences; under the rule of the Hyksos, the country was rather thoroughly mongrelized and its religion became a chaos of confused superstitions. So far as I know, there is no evidence that would authorize a conjecture that the Setis’ worship of Set had racial implications, nor need there have been in a religion in which a goddess can become the mother of her father. Egyptian religion is a case of national schizophrenia.
Go to chapter 11
Back to Table of Contents
The Origins of Christianity by R.P.Oliver, to be published by Historical Review Press (160pp £10 inc p&p). Please order now via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright ©1999 Kevin Alfred Strom. Back to Revilo P. Oliver Index