The Egyptian Doctrine Of A Future State -- By: Joseph P. Thompson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 025:97 (Jan 1868)
Article: The Egyptian Doctrine Of A Future State
Author: Joseph P. Thompson

The Egyptian Doctrine Of A Future State

Joseph P. Thompson

According to Herodotus “the Egyptians were the first who maintained the doctrine that the soul of man is immortal.”1 They were also the only people of antiquity who approximated the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body, a belief which was beautifully symbolized by a bird resting on the bosom of the mummy-case — the soul, the true psyche, returning from long wanderings to occupy again the body which had been so scrupulously preserved.2 “Considerable portions of the funereal ritual referred to the preservation of the body, and especially of the heart. That the body should not waste or decay was an object of great solicitude; and for this purpose various bandlets and amulets, prepared with certain magical preparations, and sanctified with certain spells or prayers, or even offerings and small sacrifices, were distributed over various parts of the human form or mummy. In some mysterious manner the immortality of the body was deemed as important as the passage of the soul, and at a later period the growth or natural reparation of the body was invoked as earnestly as the life or passage of the soul to the upper regions.”3

Both these doctrines, that of the immortality of the soul and that of the resurrection of the body, or the rehabilitation of the soul with its proper body, must be distinguished from the transmigration of the soul through inferior animal forms, which the Egyptians regarded either as a punitive degradation or a purgatorial discipline in reserve for the wicked after

death, “the number and duration of these transmigrations, and the kind of animals through which they passed, depending on the extent of their impieties, and the consequent necessity of a greater or less degree of purification.”4

The doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and to some extent also that of the resuscitation of the body, was based upon the legend of Osiris, which lay at the foundation of the Egyptian mythology.5 This is one of the most complete of the religious myths of antiquity, and its exquisite pathos suggests the notion that much of the old nature-worship, which we regard as a sign of spiritual degradation, may have sprung from a poetic sympathy with nature as symbolizing the highest spiritual ideas. In other words, in this as in later modes of symbolic worship, the spiritual conception preceded the material form, which last, ho...

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