Sunday, April 19, 2009

ROM Book of the Dead: April 15 2009

Part of a picture from the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead

I visited the ROM on April 15, my birthday, as a special treat to myself. There is a showing of a copy of the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead which has recently been found in the vaults, and which I wanted to see. The scroll was taken from Egypt approximately 100 years ago, and has been in the museum vaults ever since.
Comparative Religion being one of my passions, I had read a translation of this book, with the pictures, when I was studying Ancient Egyptian religion and culture, many years ago. I found it fascinating, seeing a copy of the book that had been commissioned by an Ancient Egyptian for his tomb. It has recently been mounted carefully by ROM staff, and is in amazing condition considering it is around 2,300 years old.

Briefly, the Ancient Egyptian basic ideas are that there is a Force beyond this world, that we cannot really comprehend. This Force reveals itself to humans, if they look for it. It takes many forms, according to the world view of the individuals, who call it by many names, and understand it in innumerable ways. The Force wants human beings to live a moral, ethical life. At the end of life, each goes on to the next world. There the individual is judged. If found wanting, the person goes to a horrific end; if found acceptable, the person go on to a wonderful, new life in the afterworld. These ideas take many fascinating forms.

Moses was a Prince in the palace of the Ancient Egytian Pharoh. He became the leader of a people and had to meld them into a new nation. The Pharoh had been a god to the people for thousands of years, and Moses must have seen the uniting force of this idea. Instead of setting himself up as a god, he used the idea of an outside force as God, and Jehovah was born. We know that this idea is still uniting the Jewish people.

Muhammad did the same thing for the tribes of Arabia, in the 600s CE. He conquered and united the tribes, and after his death, his Arab followers went on to conquer north Africa, into Spain, and the Middle East, into northern India.

I did find myself disturbed by some labels on the wonderful artifacts from Ancient Egypt. At the end of the description of the ancient culture, suddenly, Islam was mentioned as if it had been part of it. As Muhammad wasn't born until around 570 CE., I couldn't see any connection between Islam and the desert tribes of Arabia, and Ancient Egypt.

I had a wonderful day, immersed in Ancient Egypt, which has always been one of my favourite cultures and world of the mind. The mythology is highly imaginative and colourful, and reminds me of the Hindu mythology, which I also love. Western culture is often said to be Greco-Judean, which is what was carried by the Romans into so much of the world. This is true, but those cultures came from those before them, including the wonderful Ancient Egyptians.

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