Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Trinity and Egyptian Belief by James Bonwick F.R.G.S. 1878

The Trinity and Egyptian Belief by James Bonwick F.R.G.S. 1878

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THOUGH it is usual to speak of the Semitic tribes as monotheistic, yet it is an undoubted fact that more or less all over the world the deities are in triads. This rule applies to eastern and western hemispheres, to north and south. Further, it is observed that, in some mystical way, the triad of three persons is one. The first is as the second or third, the second as first or third, the third as first or second; in fact, they are each other, one and the same individual being. The definition of Athanasius, who lived in Egypt, applies to the trinities of all heathen religions.

Egypt is no exception; only, strange enough, as Lenormant observes, "no two cities worshipped the same triad." The one remarkable feature in nearly all these triads is that they are father, mother, and son; that is, male and female principles of nature, with their product. Mariette Bey has several remarks upon this curious subject:—

"According to places, the attributes by which the Divine Personage is surrounded are modified; but in each temple the triad would appear as a symbol destined to affirm the eternity of being. In all triads, the principal god gives birth to himself. Considered as a Father, he remains the great god adored in temples. Considered as a Son, he becomes, by a sort of doubling, the third person of the triad. But the Father and the Son are not less the one god, while being double. The first is the eternal god; the second is but the living symbol destined to affirm the eternity of the other. The father engenders himself in the womb of the mother, and thus becomes at once his own father and his own son. Thereby are expressed the uncreatedness and the eternity of the being who has had no beginning, and who shall have no end."

The Tract Society's work on Egypt, remarking the clearly defined Trinity idea of the ancient Egyptians, and yet the silence or obscurity of the Hebrew Scriptures upon it, has the following explanation: "It does not appear probable that men, to whom the doctrine of tri-unity of God was unknown, could have framed such a system as this; their purpose appears to have been to hide that truth, so that it should not be lost, but yet to conceal it from the many."
The conceptions of this Trinity must have varied through the thousands of years of Egyptian belief, as they have among Christians themselves. At first, as far as may be seen, there was less mysticism than grew round the idea afterwards. Even "in ancient Osirianism," as Stuart-Glennie writes, "the Godhead is conceived as a Trinity; yet are the three gods declared to be only one god." In Smith's "History of the East," it is stated, "In all these triads, the Son is another impersonation of the attributes of the Father."

It must not be imagined that the mass of the people understood the mystery of the tri-unity of the Godhead, any more than the ruder class of Christian populations do now. A traveller tells the story of some Spaniard laughing at an uncouth idol found in the ruins of Central America, when a Mexican civilly but apologetically exclaimed, "It is true we have three very good Spanish gods, but we might have been allowed to keep a few of those of our ancestors."

Among the Egyptian triads, the following may be mentioned; Osiris, Isis and Horus, in one form or other, universal in the land; Amoun, mother Maut, and son Chons, of Thebes; Noum, Sate, and Anucis, or Anouke, of Ethiopia ; Month-ra, Reto, and Harphre" of Hermonthis; Seb, Netphe or Nout, and Osiris, of Lower Egypt; Osiris, Isis and Anhur of Thinnis; Ptah, Pasht and Month, of Memphis; Neph, Neboo, and Hake of Esne; Seb, Netpe and Mandooli, of Dabad; Savak, Athor, and Khonso, of Ambos; Horket, Hathor, and Horsenedto, of Edfou. Among others may be included, Ptah, Sekhet and Neferatom; Aroeris, Tsontnofre, and Pnebto; Sokaris, Nephthys and Thoth, etc. The Tract Society's book judiciously mentions that the triad of Amoun-Ra, Maut and Chons has many intermediate triads till it reaches the incarnate triad of Osiris, Isis and Horus. But that work admits the fact that three are blended into one.

Mr. Samuel Sharpe, a prominent Egyptologist, observed an admirable representation of this tri-unity, more expressive than the shamrock of St. Patrick. He thus describes the picture of this Osirian deity; "The horns upon his head are those of the goddess Athor, and the ball and feathers are the ornaments of the god Ra; thus he is at once Osiris, Athor, and Ra." With reason, then, did he add: "The doctrine of Trinity in Unity already formed part of their religion;" alluding to the high antiquity of this representation.

But there are male trinities, and female ones. The existence of the latter excited the wonder of the compiler of the Tract Society's book, and he thus records his thoughts: "A remarkable point which we notice, without presuming at all to trespass beyond the exact letter of that which is written. The female impersonation of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, i. 9, is a remarkable circumstance in this connection."

The Greek writers, full of the old philosophy and Platonic Trinity, perhaps saw more than the Egyptians intended, or they mystified the notion. Damascius talks of Eicton, Emeph or Cneph, and Ptha, and that, "according to the Egyptians there is one principle of all things praised under the name of the Unknown Darkness, and this thrice repeated." Jamblichus notifies "Ammon the generator, Ptha the perfector, and Osiris the producer of good." One quotes an inscription: "One Bait, one Athor, and one Akori; Hail, Father of the world! Hail, triformous God!" Proclus says, "The demiurgical number does not begin from a trinity, but from a monad." Plutarch recognizes their Trinity as a right-angled triangle; of which Osiris is the perpendicular, Isis is the base or receptacle, and Horus is the hypothenuse. But they are all imbued with the Trinity idea of Plato,—Agathos, Logos, and Psyche; the Father, the Word, and the Spirit.

Jamblichus, who quotes from the Egyptian Hermetic Books, has the following definition of the Egyptian Trinity:—

"Hermes places the god Emeph, as the prince and ruler over all the celestial gods, whom he affirmeth to be a Mind understanding himself, and converting his cogitations or intellections into himself. Before which Emeph he placeth one indivisible, whom he calleth Eicton, in which is the first intelligible, and which is worshipped only by silence. After which two, Eicton and Emeph, the demiurgic mind and president of truth, as with wisdom it proceedeth to generations, and bringeth forth the hidden powers of the occult reasons with light, is called in the Egyptian language Ammon; as it artificially affects all things with truth, Phtha; as it is productive of good, Osiris; besides other names that it hath according to its other powers and energies."

The Rev. Dr. Cudworth, whose translation is given above, adds this comment:—

"How well these three divine hypostases of the Egyptians agree with the Pythagoric or Platonic Trinity of,— first, Unity and Goodness itself, secondly, Mind, and thirdly, Soul,—I need not here declare. Only we shall call to mind what hath been already intimated, that Reason or Wisdom, which was the Demiurgus of the world, and is properly the second of the fore-mentioned hypostases, was called, also, among the Egyptians by another name, Cneph; from whom was said to have been produced or begotten the god Phtha, the third hypostasis of the Egyptian Trinity; so that Cneph and Emeph are all one. Wherefore, we have here plainly an Egyptian Trinity of divine hypostases subordinate, Eicton, Emeph or Cneph, and Phtha."

Other interpretations have been named. Phallic advocates, as Payne Knight, have contended that the male symbol of generation in divine creation was three in one, as the cross, etc., and that the female symbol was always regarded as the Triangle, the accepted symbol of the Trinity. "The number three" says he, "was employed with mystic solemnity, and in the emblematical hands above alluded to, which seem to have been borne on the top of a staff or sceptre in the Isiac processions, the thumb and two forefingers are held up to signify the three primary and general personifications." This form of priestly blessing, thumb and two fingers, is still acknowledged as a sign of the Trinity.

The popular Trinity of Egypt,—Osiris, Isis, and Horus, —must have made a profound impression, when we find Babylonian Jews endorsing it in the Talmud, and early Christian sects adopting it. Not content with generally speaking of the Holy Spirit as feminine, some, as the Melchites at the Council of Nice, put the Virgin Mary in the place of Isis, and established the Trinity, as of old, Father, Mother, and Son. It is a popular Protestant error to suppose that the thought of this exaltation of Mary was a modern one.

The Phoenicians, or old Canaanites, had one grand Trinity: "Baal Hammon, male; Tanith-Pen-Baal, female; and Iolaus or Eloim. Dunbar I. Heath goes so far as to say of the ancient time, "Every Semitic town of weight sufficient to erect its own temple appears to have had its own name for its Trinity." Another Trinity was of Baal, Ashtaroth, and Asherah. The Gnostic triad was Bythos, Ennoia and Pneuma.

The Assyrians had several triads. In the most ancient, that of the Accadian, one member is called Salman, the Saviour. The leading triad was Ana or Anu; Bil, Bel or Belus; and Hea or Hoa. There was another of Sin or Hurki; Shamas, San, or Sansi; and Iva. The great female triad consisted of Anat or Anaites; Bilit, Beltis, or Mylitta, and Daokina. Another was of The Great Lady; Gula or Anuit; and Shala or Tala.

In Babylon the prominent triad was of Anu Sin, Shamaz, and Iva. Shamas was the sun, as Sin was the moon; the Chaldeans put the moon before the sun.

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