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Beliefs of Ancient Egyptians with Medieval Christians

This paper compares and contrasts the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians with those of the medieval Christians, particularly as those beliefs found expression in the art of each time. The ritual mysticism of Egypt's worship of the sun gave way to a more egalitarian view of the present world and a less literal conception of the next. Christianity offered a broad vision of life after death, promising the possibility of salvation to commoners as well as to the kings, who could expect it as their right in Egypt. The art of this newer religion also allowed for individual expression and interpretation, giving a glimpse of the sweeping historic changes that would eventually transform the world of antiquity into a more complex dialogue between humanity and its gods.

The religion of the ancient Egyptians grew out of their connection with the earth and their surroundings. Early beliefs followed those of other peoples whose lives were dictated by the elements and the seasons; Joseph Lindon Smith (1956) describes Egypt's early religion as a "simple agricultural pantheon of earth, rain, and sky" (p. 316). More than any other developing culture of antiquity, however, the Egyptians began to concentrate their attentions on the single most prominent feature of their landscape, the sun. The religion of the builders of the pyramids became the most striking example ever seen of sun worship. Ra, the personification of the sun, was identified with the pharaohs, who ruled by the same right that the sun itself ruled the earth and the harvests.

Mircea Eliade (1958) notes that to the Egyptians "the sun's connection with the other world, with the spheres of darkness and of death, is clear" (p. 142). The monumental structures which have come to symbolize ancient Egypt's entire culture are almost entirely constructions dealing with that other world. Ra's fetish, the object endowed with powers to aid and protect the god, was a pyramid-shaped stone, ...

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