Thursday, January 20, 2011

Egypt #6: Religious Deconstruction

The ancient ruins of Egypt are amazing. One of the amazing facts is that they survived the wind, desert heat, and sun for thousands and thousands of years. What is even more amazing is that the ruins are not ruined because of the desert but because of human DE-construction and DE-struction. A lot of that destruction is for religious reasons but let’s start at the beginning.

The Great Pyramids of Giza, as majestic as they are, would have been in a LOT better shape if the later generations of Egyptians didn’t remove the shiny limestone surface and use it for other buildings leaving us just the huge granite monoliths to view today.
Many Pharaohs were either an embarrassment to the next pharaohs or they were heretical and so all of their construction was demolished, their statues broken down and buried, and their hieroglyphs sculpted over. The female Pharaoh Hatshepsut was one who later generations tried to erase. The heretic king Akhenaten was also deconstructed after his death and all his statues demolished.

Later kings simply needed the building materials and so “borrowed” from previous Pharaohs for their own construction. And finally during the Intermediate Periods of Egypt (kind of like their Medieval Dark Ages) they scavenged all they could to live and used tombs for homes and mummies, wood implements, etc. for firewood.

Most of this we can understand, not like, but understand. But some of the destruction of ancient antiquities that really gets us is when it is done for religious reasons. When Greece and Rome conquered Egypt they didn’t have a problem with all their gods, they simply incorporated them into their pantheon by calling Ra Zeus and Isis Athena and so on. But in the 300’s, when Rome became Christian and the 2nd commandment prohibited “graven images” or images made by man, then the real deconstruction happened. Christians defaced and destroyed images of the Egyptian gods and then used the ancient temples for new churches. The religious fervor can still be seen today in the scraping off the faces of gods and in the carving, plastering and painting of Christian symbols into the walls. Later, in the 700’s when the Muslims conquered Egypt they did the same to the Christian churches and even completed much of the deconstruction of the Egyptian gods.

Religious zealotry has its place and we must be on guard against syncretism (combining two or more religions by watering them down) but there must be a place and a way to preserve the culture of a place WHILE changing the worldview of the place. I mourn the loss of Egyptian antiquities to the hand of Christian zeal because there would be so much we could have learned from that history. Even if that learning is simply what NOT to do.

A thousand years ago Christians battled over icons for the same reasons and there was the terrible destruction of the iconoclasts. Today Muslims destroy Buddhist statues in Pakistan that survived 1300 years so we still have not learned from our mistakes.
Apostle Paul used an ancient stone with an inscription to the “Unknown god” to teach that Athenians about the true God. I use the ancient temples of Egypt to teach people today about their religious heritage from Egyptians through the Hebrews to us We attempt to deconstruct the religion by destroying wood and stone instead of deconstructing the heart by shining the light of truth on it.

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