JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Philosophical Theories Embodied in the Religious Beliefs of Egypt and Western Asia.

§ 9.

1. The religions of the peoples of Egypt and Western Asia are, throughout, forms of nature-worship, and contain few speculative elements. A short outline of them will be sufficient.

2. The religion of Egypt was a system of nature-worship, inclining, however, to Dualism. In it primeval night (Athor) is Primary Matter. This Matter is not itself endowed with any formative power, but within it there is lodged an active principle of generation. In consequence, there comes forth from it, self-generated, self-delivered from the maternal womb, the divinity of action -- the sun, from which in turn all life and plastic energy in nature is derived. This active principle of generation appears in Egyptian mythology under the name Osiris, the passive or maternal principle under the name Isis. These are the two prominent Egyptian divinities; around these and subordinate to the relations they bear to one another are ranged the other mythical divinities of the Egyptians. The worship of animals was part of this system of natureworship. We also find among the Egyptians the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, and belief in a judgment after death.

3. The Egyptian priests seem to have been adepts in a higher knowledge. The ancients were at one in ascribing a higher wisdom to them. What their esoteric doctrines were we cannot determine with exactness. They loved to shroud their philosophic teaching in a veil of mystery; and the hieroglyphics of their monuments have not yet been interpreted with sufficient accuracy to enable us to build any trustworthy theory upon them. They seem to have devoted themselves specially to Mathematics and Astronomy. That they exercised an influence on the course of thought in Greece is proved by the journeys of the Greek Philosophers to Egypt to make acquaintance with the wisdom of its priests. We have, however, no means of determining the extent of this influence.

4. A system of nature-worship, much resembling the Egyptian, is found amongst the peoples of Western Asia -- the Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, &c., and here again we find particular prominence given to the sexual differentiation of the powers of Nature (the active and passive). The Sun-God is the active principle, the Ruler of Heaven, the great fecundating power. By his side is the Moon-Gbddess -- the passive, fecundated principle in generation, a deity who sometimes seems to stand also for the fecundated Earth. All things in nature owe their origin to the fecundation of the passive element by the active; all came forth from the womb of the Great Mother, images of the generating parent, to be destroyed by him again, and to return to the womb whence they have issued. The two powers of nature, thus personified, take different names with different peoples. The Babylonians name them Baal and Mylitta, the Syrians Baal and Astarte, the Phoenicians Moloch (Melkarth) and Astarte, &c.

5. Among the Babylonians, the order of the learned -- on whom the name Chaldeans was bestowed -- were, like the Persian Magi, devoted to star-worship, astrology, and magic. They specially cultivated Ihe science of Mathematics and Astronomy. The Cosmogony of the Chaldean Berosus dates from the time of Alexander the Great. In this system, Baal (the supreme divinity) creates Heaven and Earth by dismemberment of the goddess Omorka (the Sea), man himself being produced from drops of the blood of Baal. Differing from this is the Cosmogony of the Phoenician Sanchuniaton, who is said to have lived about 1,200 B.C. He assumes a primeval Chaos, which, by the breath of God brooding over it, is divided into Heaven and Earth. Only fragments of these systems have reached us; and the true date of the latter system is a matter of complete uncertainty.

6. Thus much for the wisdom of the East. What has been said will suffice to make known the speculative ideas of the Oriental peoples, and the essential character of these ideas. Any closer examination of them, especially as regards their connection with forms of religious worship, belongs to the history of Religion. We leave them, therefore, to turn our attention to the true home of Philosophy -- to Greece.

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