Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Egypt #5: Look at ME!

Many of the temples erected by the Pharaoh’s of Ancient Egypt had “Birth Rooms” or “Birth Houses” not because that is where they were born or that is the place for others to be born but because they wanted the people to know they were part of an exclusive club. Being Pharaoh meant being special and in order to prove that they were special they would have to show it in sculpture and paintings in theses rooms. Amenhotep III showed that he was the physical son of the god Amun. The inscriptions on his Birth Room show how Amun visited Thutmose IV wife in her chamber, disguised as her husband. After she was pregnant the words of Amun were “Amenhotep, ruler of Thebes, is the name of this child I have placed in your body. He shall exercise the beneficent kingship in the whole land. He shall rule the two lands like Ra forever.”

So their birth was divine but how was their life? This was shown on the temple pylons and outer walls built by each Pharaoh. The Temple Pylons are the two large walls you must walk between to get into the temple complex, many still remain today because they were so huge. On them would be the inscriptions of how great these Pharaoh’s deeds were. It showed the “smiting’ scene where the Pharaoh smote all the enemies of Egypt and lists all the accomplishments of the Pharaoh in colored, sculpted painting and elegant hieroglyphs.

The inside of each temple was lined with the religious acts of the Pharaoh. All his plunder and sacrifices that were given to ensure the favor of the god that temple was dedicated to. Offering after offering is depicted on the walls leading to the holy of holies in the temple where the god resided and accepted the Ka of those offerings while the physical (less important) parts of the offerings were consumed by the priests attending that god.

It seriously got to the point where we, on our tour, had ENOUGH of the offering scenes which were depicted ad nausea throughout all the temples we went to. Offering after offering, pile after pile of goods, list after list of god appeasements, scene after scene … LET’S SEE SOMETHING DIFFERENT!

It seemed to be a scream of identity. “Let me in!” to this exclusive club. Or “I am SOMEBODY!” and “LOOK WHAT I HAVE DONE!” The fact is we do the same thing today, may not on such a BIG scale, but we do. Teens and Twenties will pick clothes based on what group we want to belong to; our clothes say “Let me in! I’m with you!” Thirties to fifties will work to the point being able to say “I AM SOMEBODY!” And finally the sixties and beyond we live off the reputation and “Look what I have DONE!”

The Ancient Egyptians carved it in stone while we may carve it in stock portfolios and bank accounts or big houses but we build our monuments too.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Egypt #4: New Age Loons

We ran into the loons in Egypt. Not the birds that walked among the reeds of the Nile but the kind that have something wrong in their head. Our first experience was while we were waiting in line to get tickets for the Great Pyramid of Giza. These tickets would allow us entry INSIDE the pyramid and only a few hundred in the morning and another few hundred in the afternoon were allowed. While we were waiting to be among that few hundred we were told by our guide that a group, primarily Americans, paid over $15,000 to open the pyramid early so that just 10 of them to get into the pyramid by themselves for an hour to “meditate”. They believed in the power of the pyramid and believed they would gain special “knowledge” or “blessing” from that meditation. The pyramid was cool to be in but certainly didn’t give me any special powers when I was there. But maybe there were too many of us and I didn’t meditate right.

Our second encounter with the loons of Egypt was in Abydos. Abydos is the holy site of ancient Egypt. After the epic battle between Osiris and Set led to the dismemberment of Osiris he was again reassembled in Abydos and later buried there after reviving enough to have a child with his wife Isis. Osiris was worshipped for thousands of years as the god who ushered you into the afterlife and so his burial place was important. You can find the oldest temple, rivaling that of the great pyramids in Abydos. Within one of the temples at Abydos you will find sculptures up high in the supports of the roof with unusual Egyptian characters. One looks a LOT like a helicopter, one like a submarine and another like a blimp. How did the ancients know these items? How did they sculpt them into their stone 4000 years ago? Many of these New Age Loons will tell you it was because of aliens or at least a “special” knowledge grasped by the ancients and so we found many lugging their “prayer” rugs around Abydos so they could meditate and pray in this sacred alien place.

Now I love ancient Egypt and am developing relationships with some modern Egyptians as well but I don’t worship the ancients or the aliens who may have influenced them. I look at the monoliths and I see nothing more than human ingenuity. Enough people and enough time and you can move a mountain or build a mountain. The work done by the ancients was hard work but it wasn’t hard-to-understand work. We are amazed simply because we build buildings in a matter of a few years where they would plan for decades. We are amazed because they would coordinate tens of thousands of people to work together and we have trouble with more than three trying to get together. We are amazed because they maintained a culture for five thousand years and we are worrying about whether we will last through our third century.

Don’t worship men who worshipped gods that were poor substitutes for the true God. Don’t meditate on wonders of human ingenuity when you have the same image of God within yourself. Don’t stand amazed at the past; do appreciate it, do learn from it, and most of all DO follow the truth into the future.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Akhenaten ruled only 17 years as Pharaoh of Egypt but his influence was astounding. Imagine a new president coming to the US and this president deciding to change the center of power from Washington DC to the middle of the desert in central Nevada. They would have to start building new buildings from the foundation up, then work on the infrastructure of roads, airports, power lines, etc. Then they would have to move all the governmental support with the people, copy machines, computers, office furniture. They would then have to fill in with the Walmarts, Home Depots, Pharmacies, and Bars. You get the idea.

That is what Akhenaten did. He moved EVERYTHING from the capital near Cairo to a new capital 350 miles away in the middle of the desert called Amarna. He moved the whole government, people and all, to this new site. But what he did that REALLY changed everything was to outlaw the gods of Egypt. He “starved out” the temples to all gods but one: the Egyptian god Aten, the sun god. He changed his name from Amenhotep (Amun is happy) to Akhenaten (Spirit of Aten). This was heretical to the people, but what can you do when your king, the ultimate ruler, said “jump”?

It took a LOT of money to do this. It took a lot of confidence in Aten to do this. That is why many biblical historians believe that Akhenaten was the Pharaoh of Joseph. Joseph influenced Amenhotep with the dream interpretation of HUGE prosperity followed by TERRIBLE famine. Joseph influence Amenhotep towards ONE God, the God who shines on all people, not just the Egyptians. Joseph influenced Amenhotep to become Akhenaten, the Spirit of the One God. Because of the prosperity Egypt was awash in gold, because of the famine and being the ONLY one with food Egypt was FLOODED with gold, people looking for work, and people who couldn’t ply their trade anywhere else. Just what is needed to build a new city in the middle of the desert.

It is interesting that built into the four corners of this new city were steles (tombstone like granite plaques) which were inscribed with the rules for behavior and commands for living in this new city. Here are some of the commands: “There is no God but Aten, you shall worship the Aten and the Aten alone.” And “You shall make no images of the Aten out of wood or stone.” (which, again, was radical because ALL the other gods had images made of them) The Aten was represented only in beams of light coming from the sun which gave light, warmed, and even was shown with little hands on the end of the beams indicating that all we have is from the Aten.

I don’t know if Akhenaten was influenced by Joseph or not. I don’t know if his view of the Aten was really the same God we serve but I do know he changed everything from the government, to the religion, to the art (check out Amarna period Egyptian art). Change came only from HUGE amounts of money and willing workers. But his changes didn’t last long. Akhenaten’s son Tutankhaten (Living image of Aten) became pharaoh at the age of nine due to the untimely death of his father and older brother. He died only 9 years later at 18 and many believe he was murdered because of his father’s heretical ways. (Many priests were unhappy that their patron god was de-funded by Akhenaten). Even though the boy tried to change back under the influence of his “vizier” Ay and changed his name from “Living image of Aten” to “Living image of Amun” or Tutankhamun or as we know him King Tut.

A short 32 years later the 18th dynasty of Egypt came to a close and there came a new dynasty of pharaohs who probably didn’t know Joseph and probably would have made those troublesome Hebrews work a little harder for a LOT less money.

Egypt 2: The Mummy Room

The Cairo Museum is a musty old place. It was built in 1902 and it looks it. It has, obviously, had many remodels and some modernization but basically it is the same as it was over 100 years ago. The good news is that Egypt is building a new museum on the Giza Plateau, next to the Great Pyramids; the bad news is that even with the new museum they will not be able to house more than 25% of all the “stuff” they have for people to see. Right now 95% of Egyptian antiquities are in storage and not displayed.

Most of the display cases in the museum are old mahogany with think smudged glass surrounding the priceless artifacts. It smells of old wood and dust, the tiled floors are swept mainly by the feet of the thousands of visitors each day but behind the cases you will find the desert dust accumulating. After touring with our guide for a while we get free time to look at whatever we want. There are a few items I am interested in:
- Ahkenaten: the heretic pharaoh who believed in the ONE god.
- Merneptah Stele: the only etched evidence of Israel in Egypt.
- Coffers: There are many “boxes” or “arks” which were buried with the kings.
- Ushabtis: Little statues buried with the Kings and Wealthy to help them in the afterlife.
- The Silver Coffins: In the 22nd Dynasty the kings built for themselves silver sarcophaguses instead of the gold covered wood. These was actually MORE valuable than King Tut’s gold sarcophagus.
- The Mummy Room …

The Mummy Room is a modern addition. They remodeled one of the old rooms and made it climate controlled for preservation of the bodies. I first look at Hatshepsut who was a female pharaoh in the 18th dynasty. She MIGHT have been the princess who pulled Moses from the Nile. She is famous for being the daughter of a Pharaoh, the wife of a Pharaoh, and the mother of a Pharaoh as well as being the Pharaoh herself while her son grew up. I look at the face of the Greatest Pharaoh of all time, Ramses II or Ramses the Great; I am amazed by a few things. He is a small man. I would judge that he was not more than 5 and a half feet tall. He had a receding hair line and curly hair. He looked like his father, Seti I who was lies next to him and also similar features to his grandfather Ramses I who was also nearby.

These Pharaohs left instructions for the preservation of their body and their eventual burial with their children. Most honored their parents with monuments and riches for them to take into the afterlife hoping for the same from their children. Seventy days of mourning and embalming, paid mourners lined the funeral procession as the body passed along the causeway from the funerary temple to the pyramid or to the Nile river for its journey to the tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The tomb was packed with chariots, games, food, gold, statues for servants, boxes of clothes and jewelry; everything you might need in your journey to the afterlife. The anticipation of eternity.

Amazingly they all achieved a kind of immortality. We can still see them in glass boxes in a climate controlled room in Cairo. But almost every tomb was raided and robbed in antiquity, almost every mummy was cast aside, used as firewood or fertilizer and had little importance until the last 150 years. Their Ka and Ba (Egyptian soul) is somewhere but I don’t believe it will be joined again with their mummified body like they thought it would be. Eternal life is more than your skill at embalming, it is more than the right incantations and charms, and it is definitely more than how much gold you can cover your coffin with. Eternal life is relationship with the ONE God and not being Ra-mses or “child of Ra”.

Egypt 1: The Pyramids

My second time in Egypt and my second time at the Giza Plateau proved that they are no less awesome today. You can see them from a distance as our little mini-bus takes us close but you cannot grasp how big they are from that view. Even parking within was seems like a little walk away proves to be a LONG walk as they grow larger and larger in your camera view screen. You have to stop taking pictures of the whole because the whole no longer fits and you are still hundreds of yards away. So you take pictures of parts of it and finally all you can get is a few of the monolithic blocks in your camera as you stand close and look up at this immense stairway to heaven.

The largest pyramid is open for sneaking in if you get there early enough. We did and it truly felt like we were sneaking into the greatest man-made structure in history, the only one left of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. Khufu (or Greek Cheops) lifts up her skirts and lets mere mortals take a look underneath.

We start by climbing a hundred modern wooden steps to get up the few ancient blocks to the side opening of Khufu and our cameras are taken from us by a head-dressed Egyptian. There is only one way in and one way out, so they will be there for our return. You can smell the age but it isn’t the musty, humid smell of basements in my memory, it is a dry, dusty, OLD smell. We find a smooth but declining floor lit by fluorescent tubes on the bottom and in the corners so they cast an eerie upward shadow in the tunnel. After about a hundred feet of descending we find a smaller square tunnel in which we have to bend over to ascend, there are boards on the floor to help you climb. Khufu had decided to build his burial chamber UP instead of down and under, so we go UP. “Where’s the escalator?” cried my Las Vegas mindset. Hundreds of steps, bent over and climbing with many stops waiting on people ahead and sucking the dry, old, but now sweaty oxygen. We reached a small landing and made our way through a ladder fed hole in the ceiling only to find another stairway leading farther up and farther in. But this chamber had plenty of head room, in fact it had an amazingly HUGE gap from us to the ceiling. We could see the human traffic jam now as we slowly made our way up. The final landing was only about 5x8 feet as we waited to get into a hole in the wall that was only about 3 foot tall and about 15 foot long. This final tunnel gave us entrance to Khufu’s burial chamber. Only a few could fit through the tunnel at a time and only one direction, we had to take turns. My turn into the tunnel and I met an Asian woman who HAD to get out and didn’t want to wait. She simply got on her hands and knees and crawled between my legs as we met in the middle of the small tunnel. Her daughter apologized profusely as I got into the chamber and found her waiting for me.

The chamber was nothing special. A comparatively large room about 15x20 with no carvings and no paintings on the wall. A simple stone sarcophagus in the one side, no mummy, no gold, just time packed into stone. I was left wondering what these walls have seen over the last 5000 years. From the pounding construction sounds to the pomp of the pharaoh’s funeral procession to the people who robbed and desecrated to the passion of explorers and archeologists to the passage of thousands of years to finally me, here, now.

I seem small and insignificant as I feel the sweat pouring off my face when I pass through that same small tunnel and make my way back to the entrance. I am reminded of the Tower of Babel story in scripture and one of my lessons from that story is that “Man united can do absolutely AMAZING things.” And that is why God doesn’t let us do it too often. I suck in the fresh air and welcome the sun on my face as I emerge again into the real light.

Where do Ethics come From? The Trolley Problem

So we have discussed Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant and Mills and their different take on where ethics come from. Some sadist named Phillipa Foot in the 1950's came up with an ethics test called the "Trolley Problem" which goes something like this.
A trolley is running out of control down a track. in its path are five people who are tied to the track. Happily, it is possible to flip a switch that will send the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there's one person tied to that track who will be killed if you flip the switch. What should you do?

Most people would say you flip the switch. Would you?

An even worse sadist names Judith Thomson proposed an amendment to the Trolley problem. The scenario is the same except this time you're standing on a bridge under which th trolley will pass, and there's a large mand standing next to you. The only way to save the five people is to push him onto the track, thereby stopping the trolley. What would you do?

The transaction is the same. One person dies to save five but there is something different about this scenario. Most people would NOT take the active role of pushing the man to save five others.

Here's my take on the Trolley Problem. A difference between the two is how active the parties are involved in the scenario. The one tied to the track is already involved somehow, the one standing next to you is an outside observer as you are. In other words, we think the one tied to the track is "dead already" and the one next to us is not. Hence are ease at condemning one and not the other.

The reality of the situation is that this is a false situation with a false premise. It is assuming I cannot sacrifice myself to stop the train. It is assuming I cannot jump out and untie one or all of the individuals. It is assuming that there is NO OTHER alternative to the two options laid out. So my simple answer is: "I don't ride the trolley." I don't buy your scenario and your parameters. There are ALWAYS more alternatives, our problem is that we refuse to see them because they require sacrifice, pain or simply inconvenience on our part.

Get active, get involved, make the hard choices NOW so that there never will occur a Trolley Problem in your life. Get off the trolley!