A compelling study of startling religio-historical similarities between the ancient Egyptian and Harappan civilizations, Sulabh Jam’s thesis is a veritable shot in the arm for the cause of the universal ‘super religion.
By humanising faith and understanding that various interpretations of any single devotional idea is common across mankind’s religions the human psyche is explored in a fascinating new way.
A worthy addition to the canon of literature on the two major sources of religious influence in the world.
History has an unsettling effect on religion. Like science, history is fundamentally nothing more than a range of theories based on objective evidence. Religion on the other hand is a unified theory based on subjective experience. Through the ages, great kings were promoted to the status of gods, while monks became saints, and national enemies were demonised. Mythology becomes a byword for traditional history, and history in the objective sense that we understand it today becomes distorted. Thus through time both myth and history blend into an entertaining story of a cultures understanding of the world around them and their role in that world. As historians try to peer into the past, the hurdle of myth and religion always becomes a problem. It is for this reason that many historians chose not to rely solely on any religious tradition when they reconstruct the tales of the past.
As recently as a few centuries ago, all mythic history was discarded as fanciful fiction offering little value for historians. Today however the barrier between real history and mythological history can he such a fine line that even the most educated of historians can have trouble telling where myth begins and ends. The Hebrew tradition serves as a good example, where the faithful believe that the Bible’ is a factually historic account of the Jewish people, starting from the creation of the world and ending with an apocalyptic termination. In other words, the Bible is biographical in nature and a record of historical truth. Coupled with the belief that the Bible is of divine origin, this makes the Bible an undisputable record of the antiquity for the Jewish people. This view, naturally, has met with a great deal of skepticism from many scientists across many fields, whose recent discoveries directly contradict what is written in the Bible. Essentially, the sole source of validating the Biblical record is the Bible itself. This has led to some criticisms of the Bible, and to the spiritual texts of other religions which are also said to be historically accurate accounts of their past events. It would be unwise however to completely dismiss all of the biblical claims. For example cities such as Babylon and Ur are referred to in the ancient texts of the Jewish people, and it was not long ago that these cities were buried and forgotten. Over the past century, archaeological studies have shown that these two cities, in addition to others mentioned in the Jewish Bible, did in fact exist. The only popular record that mankind had of their existence was initially with reference to religious traditions that survived many centuries after their demise. When cities like Ur are rediscovered, it is tempting to look for signs of people like the patriarch Abraham, who tradition says once lived in this city. As yet, no smoking gun evidence has been found to link a historical Abraham to the city of Ur, but the fact that the city is spoken of in Biblical tradition, makes the Hebrew Bible a tentative source (albeit not entirely accurate) of ancient history. Historians who cite the Bible as a historical source openly admit that their source is not entirely reliable and objective.
It is therefore difficult to determine which elements of a religious tradition is based upon historical fact, and which elements of that same tradition are symbolic facts. For example, the parting of the Red Sea by Moses told in the same Bible, has been interpreted by some as historical fact, and many pseudo-scientific explanations have been given to suggest how the waters could be separated. Others have seen this exodus story as a symbolic representation, similar to the journey of Ram and his army to Lanka in the Ramayana. Water is said to represent the primordial abyss, and the ‘hero’ who is able to traverse such a danger without being harmed is said to have attained spiritual mastery. In this view, it becomes important to determine whether Moses historically crossed the Red Sea, or if he did so symbolically, especially since this journey involved the death of a pharaoh. Likewise, historians wonder if Ram literally walked to Sri Lanka from India, or if his journey was a symbol of a deeper spiritual truth. This is the debate that many historians wage in trying to determine the historical or symbolic validity of religious beliefs.
Adding to this complexity is the fact that many pseudo- historians try to prove religious tradition as historical fact esoterically by citing obscure archaeological evidence, no matter how insignificant that evidence may be. For example, some popular ‘new age’ theories state that the ancient Egyptians built the pyramid complex at Giza using advanced levitation techniques learnt from the people of Atlantis or even from alien technology originating from far away worlds. Ignoring the several centuries of pyramid development that preceeded the Giza site, such theories are not based on a collection of evidence. The problem with this form of reconstructing history is that all objectivity is lost when an ends is decided and then evidence is sought to prove the theory in question. Ideally speaking it should be that evidence decides the details of history, not the other way around; otherwise there remains the risk of constructing the plot of science fiction.
Therefore before the differences between myth and history can be determined it is important to understand the role of religion in the ancient world. Lives were lived according to the principles of the religion of the day. All political, technological and intellectual development that happened in society was ultimately attributed to the institution of religion. It is for this reason that the development of religious ideas is paralleled with the development of humanity in general. Seen in this manner, religion is not an irrelevant superstition, but the most fundamental feature of a community. History cannot be written without trying to understand the religions of past cultures. In the same way, a religion cannot be understood without knowing the historical circumstances out of which it emerged. For example, the Sai Baba movement in India is a religious tradition which concurrently upholds the sometimes conflicting views of all religions. Such a religious system may have been thought of as irrelevant in the distant past when there were essentially only a few similar religions available to the Indian community. However, by the early part of the 2O century many different religions were in direct conflict with each other. Historically the, the Sai Baba movement had a harmonizing effect on what would otherwise be great religious and sectarian upheaval. Therefore the development and growing popularity of Sai Baba in the early 2O century can serve as a sign of what religious life in India must have been like at that time. Under the strain of the conflicting beliefs of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and the many other faiths in India at the time, the ‘Sal Baha theology’ must have had appeal. The very fact that there was a need for such a belief system that harmonized ‘rival’ religions in Maharashtra implies that under the surface of communal society, religious tensions were forming at an unprecedented rate. This fact can be validated from historic records as it has been proved that during this time the British Raj was eager to exploit religious and social differences between Hindus and Muslims in India in order to maintain power within its colony. In this way, religion and history are actually interconnected. Essentially, European colonialism created the ‘need’ for spiritual unity in India, which Sai Baba and his followers attempted to reconcile religiously. Thus the historic and political situation of the period created the circumstances in which the Sai Baba message was more easily accepted relative to any other period in Indian history. This is the case with all religious developments, where a new religious schema can be assigned to the varying social circumstances of the people who accept new religious claims, Therefore history and religion are fundamentally linked; in fact they both form an interdependent symbiotic relationship, in which history creates a religious movement, which in turn changes the history of its people. This new change in historic circumstances encourages a further development of religion and this pattern continues as long as the community practicing the religion in question exists. This intertwined patchwork of religion and history must now be unraveled if we wish to have a twenty-twenty vision of our ancient past.
Religious mythology, unlike religious doctrine, is the encoded signal of a cultures history. A myth not only tells its people how to behave, hut it also tries to explain the consequences of what happens when the rules of society aren’t followed. Another goal of myth is to put into a spiritual context the evolution of cultural values in terms of that community’s history. For example, the struggles between Horus and Seth in Egypt (representatives of light and darkness respectively) are a parallel between a Predynastic struggle between a stable government and anarchy, which was the state of affairs in Egypt during the time that this myth was composed. The preceding reign of the gods Osiris and Ra, speak of a Golden era (stable government) which is overthrown by Seth (anarchy) and needs to be reestablished by a righteous (Pharaoh, or the Monarchy). This is the historical context, written in mythic language, of Egypt’s unification. It is also the reason that all early pharaohs called themselves the incarnations of Horus, as it was their duty to uphold the cultural ideals of their time (provide stability) and steer the country away from Seth (anarchy).
When society changes, so does its myth. This is done in order to keep those mythologies relevant to the society that uses them. One major period of change in the past has been the transition from a hunter-gather society to a settled lifestyle based on farming. Agriculture is essentially a technological and social development. The Egyptians, Harappans and the Sumerians were all undergoing this technological change within a few centuries of each other. When a culture develops a social or technological advance, the mythology that surrounds that development is generally spread into other societies also. For example, the mythology that surrounds a ‘city’ involves the development of deities that protect that city, such as Athena was the guardian of Athens. Once other cultures start to develop their own cities, as a direct result of copying their predecessor’s idea, they will invariably develop their own divine city guardians. Thus the cultures of the world exchange ideas in order to develop socially, whilst mythological blueprints are also traded in order to support those ideas at an entirely spiritual and symbolic level. The source of a single mythic idea can thus be traced, tentatively, to the culture that first developed the technology or social idea that the myth refers to. For example, most of myths that relate to agriculture in Europe can be traced, unsurprisingly, to a Sumerian or Egyptian source.
Thus the fact that myths are similar, and transmutable between cultures, makes their spread an historic record. A culture that doesn’t have written words cannot have a mythology based on the power of words or language unless it learns writing and the myths that surround writing from another group of people. Therefore the time in which a religion begins to propagate a myth that relates to the power of words must be seen as an approximate time for the entry of the written word into that culture. Often the earliest records of writing are found a few centuries after writing has been in place, and shows a considerable period of development that cannot be traced using discovered artifacts. The beginnings of the worship of a deity that is related to language on the other hand can be relatively easily discovered as statues and paintings of a ‘language god/ goddess’ often predate clay tablets by the approximate period of time that it would take a society to develop a sophisticated grammar. This ‘language god’ can then be transmuted to other cultures by interaction, and thus a foreign culture can incorporate both the written word as well as the ‘language god’ by prolonged interaction with the culture that made the discovery of writing. Thus all three of the worlds ‘cradles of civilization’ have myths based on the power of the spoken word, and on the power of the written word that are fundamentally similar. This argues strongly for the fact that one of these three cultures (most likely the Sumerians based on modern research) must have taught this skill to its contemporaries. The similarities in myth can also prove that this exchange of ideas excludes the suggestion that any of these cultures developed writing independently from each other.
There are several theories on how these myths are transmuted. Adolf Bastian proposed the ‘Idea of the people’, in which he states that myths contain elementary ideas which are a part of the human psyche. In other words, the common ‘flood stories’, and others like it, in cultures around the world are symptoms of an underlying human need or psychological disposition that all humans share, and therefore it should not he surprising that these ideas occur in various communities which are isolated from each other. Another theory of myth transmutation is based on the idea of human migration, where one group of people develops mythic ideas and then spreads them over the world. One such theoretical group of people that most historians suggest for doing this is the Indo Europeans. While it is plausible that the idea of cultural interaction, in which “individual myths originate from definite peoples ... and are accepted by other peoples through oral tradition, or through literary influences”2, these “theories would only explain the variability and distribution, but not the origin of the myths”3. These myths must have originated somewhere and the time and place that these mythic ideas develop needs to be addressed. The fundamental point that many scholars overlook is that mythic ideas are symbolic representations of historical changes. Thus the similarities between two religions, which are in contact with each other, are actually symptoms of two cultures undergoing similar changes at the same time, in addition to simple editing of existing foreign beliefs. The pre-Hindus and the pre-Egyptians were two such cultures that traded, and accepted religious ideas to the point that it is difficult to distinguish between the two groups when eliminating regional variance.
A contemporary example of a change in mythic ideals comes from the Christmas ritual. Today we are fundamentally a materialistic culture. We have made the transition from a dogmatically religious culture into a material one. The result of this is to re-write our interpretations of our inherited myths at a sub-consciously social level. For this reason all materially ‘irrelevant’ myths have been discarded, and those that have survived have been reworked to emphasis their materialistic views. Thus the message of the birth of Jesus (essentially the celebration of the coming of the savior) is substituted with the gifts of Santa Claus (the celebration of the coming of material presents). The transition from the ‘Jesus Christmas’ into a ‘Saiita Xmas’ reveals a fundamental change in the culture of those who practice the Christmas ritual. Controversially, ‘Santa the Supernatural’ being replaces the deity ‘Jesus the Savior’. Even more controversial is the idea that to buy presents for your loved ones during Christmas is to participate in our material culture on a spiritual level. This may seem like an absurd idea, most people don’t think that spirituality and materialistic ideals can co-exist, but that is to miss the point of what Christmas represents today. It may not be that materialism is necessarily a bad or dysfunctional ideology; it’s just that we haven’t developed the correct mythology and rituals in order to make materialism as coherent and functional an ideology as its predecessors.
This ‘perversion’ of Christmas is not the only Christian ritual to be fundamentally changed. Today all of our contemporary cultural rituals are fundamentally materialistic, whilst all non-materialistic rituals have been rendered irrelevant for our society and discarded. Valentine’s Day is no longer the day of expressing love in so much as it is the day of purchasing flowers, cards and chocolates. Birthdays are no longer relevant as the ritual for the growth of a child, but are a means for socializing and collecting presents. This transition, from a spiritual society towards a materialistic one can be deemed ‘official’ by the shift in our inherited rituals. Thus, the point in time that this transition takes place can be pin pointed and said to be the time that the majority of people in our society ‘officially’ accepted materialism. The moment when Santa’s popularity overtook that of Jesus at Christmas is the moment when the theological transition took place, and can be placed into a historical context of other changes in our society, not least of which is the development of a larger middle class.
In ancient times the characters within a myth were often gods, goddesses or their human children. These deities came to represent the impact of a cultural change upon a society. Thus the story of a character in a myth is actually the story of a change in society, and how that society addresses a fundamental shift within itself. The purpose of the myth is to harmonize and justify this social change. Thus the mythic power of the gods is actually the power to create a spiritual or psychological balance in a time of upheaval or to restore order from chaos — which is also what the symbolic message of a myth is. The change in mythology and religion are therefore representations of a change in society. If any change or rewriting of mythology can be traced historically, then the time of the social changes which caused the editing in mythology can be closely estimated.
The understanding of a developing religion must therefore rank as the hallmark of a completed picture of history. Unfortunately this development is difficult to ascertain in most cultures as religion predates even the most simple of human innovations. Whilst it is almost impossible to determine the religious views of people whose religion has not survived in written records, it is possible to get an accurate understanding of those people who did commit their religious tradition to writing. In other words, we can trace religious changes after the invention of writing, or in other words, at the dawn of civilization. Therefore the case of the ancient Egyptians and Indians is an ideal starting point for this investigation. The civilizations that inhabited these lands are thought of today as being the oldest in the world, along with their Sumerian counterpart. A modern understanding amongst historians is that all three of these cultures developed relatively independently with some minor influence from each other. However the religion of the Egyptians is so astonishingly similar to that of the Hindu’s that there can be no explanation other than a common source for both of them. The purpose of this book therefore is to propose that the religions of the Egyptians and Hindu’s are the same, and that the history of both nations can be accurately he reinterpreted based on this discovery.
In order to understand and compare the religions of any two creeds it is important to understand the key features of religion. As the Hindu Swami Vivekananda puts it.
“We see that in every religion there are three parts — I mean in every great and recognized religion. First, there is the philosophy which represents the whole scope of that religion, setting fort/i its basic principles, the goal and the means of reaching it. The second part is mythology, which is philosophy made concrete. It consists of legends relating to the lives of men, or of supernatural beings, and so forth. it is the abstractions of philosophy concretized in the more or less imaginary lives of men and supernatural beings. The third part is the ritual. This is still more concrete and is made up of forms and ceremonies, various physical attitudes, flowers and incense, and many other things, that appeal to the senses.
In other words, religion has three main aspects; a philosophy (or doctrine/theology), a series of mythologies, and a range of rituals. For any two religious traditions to be shown to be synonymous they must share these three identifying principles. Undoubtedly there will be some geographical variance and environmental reinterpretations between any two cultures with similar religions, but underlying these differences will be a core of unmistakable similarities. It is upon the basis of theology, mythology and rituals that the religions of India and Egypt will be explored.
The time span of this religious (and historic) development is important. The history of almost two millennia between 3,5008C - 1,50011C will be unearthed to paint a picture of two astonishingly similar religious traditions. The key point from a historical point of view is that it is believed that Hinduism does not date to as far back as 3,500 BC. The only culture in India at that time was that of the emerging Harappan civilization5. Thus, if there are any similarities in religion, it will be the religion of the Egyptians and the Harappan people that is essentially the same.
This will challenge the current scholarly view that Hinduism can only he dated to a ‘mere’ 1,500 BC. Therefore in this book, the term ‘Hindu’ is a label that is applied to the followers of Hinduism in its earliest form, and not to the followers of the actual developed religion of today. Furthermore, the term ‘Harappan people’ refers to the groups of people in India, being people that lived in Harappan culture ranging from Modern India through to Afghanistan and Iran, in addition to the tribal communities of India. Within this book, the people who are said to be ‘Harappan’ and ‘Hindu’ are actually the collective communities of the Harappan culture between 3,500 BC — 1,500 BC. Religion, and it’s similarities between cultures, will thus serve as a guideline for defimng the history of these two great civilizations, and human development as a whole. There is ample evidence to suggest that during Egypt’s Ptolemaic era, the Indian Emperor Ashoka sent several Buddhist monks to far away Egypt with the view of spreading Buddhist ideas, and that as a result there must have been some religious influence between the cultures. This influence occurs at a relatively late period, long after the Egyptian religion, Hinduism and Buddhism are developed. The period of time that this book places the greatest emphasis is between 3,500 — 1,500 BC, which is the time in which both Hinduism and the Egyptian religion were developing.
Before any in-depth study can begin, it is important to be familiar with the known history of the Egyptians and the Harappans. It is also important to become familiar with the religious sects that operate within the Egyptian and Hindu religions. This book is therefore divided into three parts. The first part is a mere introduction into the lifestyle and religions of both peoples and is based heavily on archaeological and textual evidence. The second part attempts to show the unmistakable connection between the two cultures and religions, whilst the third part of this book will elaborate on what this similarity must mean from a historic point of view.
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