Religious Studies - 4 pages at leastNiKey_96
AFRICAN CONTRIBUTION TO HUMANITY,
CIVILIZATION AND WORLD SPIRITUALITY
PART 1. THE EGYPTIAN PROBLEM: WHO WERE THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS? PART 2. AFRICAN CONTRIBUTION TO WESTERN CIVILIZATION INTRODUCING THE PARADIGM Cheikh Anta Diop: "Imperialism, like the prehistoric hunter, first killed the being spiritually and culturally, before trying to eliminate it physically. The negation of the history and intellectual accomplishments of Black Africans was cultural, mental murder, which preceded and paved the way for their genocide here and there in the world" (Cheikh Anta Diop, From Civilization or Barbarism, 1981, pp.1-2) Martin Luther King,Jr. - “Racism is the absurd dogma that one race is responsible for all the progress of history and alone can assure the progress of the future. It is the dogma that the hope of civilization depends upon eliminating some races and keeping others pure.” (Martin Luther King,Jr., Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community ? Boston: Beacon Press, 1968); p.69-70. Malcolm X “Now what effect does the struggle in Africa have on us? Why should the Black man in America concern himself since he’s been away from the African continent for three or four hundred years? Why should we concern ourselves? What impact does what happens to them have upon us? Number one, you have to realize that up until 1959 Africa was dominated by the colonial powers. Having complete control over Africa, the colonial powers of Europe projected the image of Africa negatively. They always projected Africa in a negative light: jungle savages, cannibals, nothing civilized. it was so negative that it was negative to you and me, and you and I began to hate it. We didn’t want anybody telling us anything about Africa, much less calling us Africans, we ended up hating ourselves, without even realizing it. Because you can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree. You can’t hate your origin and not end up hating yourself. You can’t hate Africa and not hate yourself. (Malcolm X, February 1965: The final Speeches. New York; Pathfinder, 1992. p.93) Basil Davidson
“Old views (views of Victorian evolutionists) about Africa are worth recalling because, though vanished from serious discussion, they still retain a kind of underground existence. The stercoraceous sediment of Burton’s opinions, and of others such as Burton, has
settled like a layer of dust and ashes on the minds of large numbers of otherwise thoughtful people, and is constantly being swirled about. What this leads to, despite all factual evidence to the contrary, are endless suspicions that writers such as Lothrop Stoddard were or are just possibly right when they wrote or write about the ‘natural and inherent inferiority’ of Africans; that ‘in the Negro, we are in the presence of a being differing profoundly not merely from the white man but also from (other) human types’; or that ‘the Negro... has contributed virtually nothing’ to the civilization of the world. However scientifically mistaken, these notions apparently remain part of our culture. Often it is the aggressive violence of such opinions that most surprises.” (Basil Davidson, The African Genius.. Boston: Little, Brown and Company,1969); p.25.
“The Negro, many have believed, is a man without a past. Black Africa-Africa south of the Sahara desert-is on this view a continent where men by their own efforts have never raised themselves much above the level of the beasts. “No ingenious manufactures among them, no arts, no sciences,” commented David Hume. “No approach to the civilization of his white fellow creatures who he imitates as a monkey does a man,” added Trollope...Africans, on this view, had never evolved civilization of their own; if they possessed a history, it could be scarcely worth the telling. And this belief that Africans had lived in universal chaos or stagnation until the coming of Europeans seemed not only to find its justification in a thousand tales of savage misery and benigned ignorance; it was also, of course, exceedingly convenient in high imperial times. For it could be argued (and it was; indeed, it still is) that these peoples, history-less, were naturally inferior or else they were ‘children who had still to grow up’; in either case they were manifestly in need of government by others who had grown up.”
Davidson, Basil, The Lost Cities of Africa. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1959); p.ix. Colonialism, Racism and the distortion of African History
“When our Grand children reflect on the middle and later years of the twentieth century, above all on the years lying between about 1950 and 1980, and think about us writers of African history, of the history of the black peoples, I think that they will see us as emerging from a time of ignorance and misunderstanding. For these were the liberating years when accounts began at last to be squared with the malice and mystification of racism. And by racism I do not mean, of course, that phalanx of old superstitions, fears and fantasies associated with ancient white ideas about blackness, or not less ancient black ideas about whiteness, the ideas of an old world in which distance always induced distortion. By racism I mean the conscious and systematic weapon of
domination, of exploitation (...) , which first saw its demonic rise with the onset of the trans-Atlantic trade in African captives sold into slavery, and which, later, led on to the imperialist colonialism of our yesterdays. This racism was not a “mistake,” a “misunderstanding” or a “grievous deviation from the proper norms of behavior.” It was not an accident of human error. It was not an unthinking reversion to barbarism. This racism was conceived as the moral justification - the necessary justification, as it was seen by those in the white man’s world who were neither thieves nor moral monsters - for doing to black people what church and state no longer thought it permissible to do to white people: the justification for enslaving black people, that is, when it was no longer permissible to enslave white people. This weapon of exploitation has its own history, developing new uses in new situations, as many of us know or remember or even now may still experience. But this has been a history, nonetheless, which began to come to an end in the middle and later years of the twentieth century. One of the reasons why it began to come to an end has been the emergence of the Africans from their colonialist subjection.” (Basil Davidson, African Civilization Revisited from Antiquity to Modern time. Trenton: Africa World Press, 1991);pp.3-4.
Basil Davidson and the Decolonization of knowledge: “Having taken possession of Africa in the 1880s and soon after, the dispossessors were bound to assure themselves, if only for their own peace of mind, that they had also acted for the benefit and eventual welfare of the peoples they had dispossessed. Left to their pre-industrial and pre-scientific primitivism, said the colonialists, Africans could never have modernized their communities, their ideas and beliefs, their ways of self-government. Colonialism might be a rough and though business; never mind, foreign rule was what Africa needed if any real progress were to become possible. The Africa of a century ago, it was said, was lost in the futile ties of a bygone age, unable to help itself. Davidson, Basil, Modern Africa: A Social and Political History (London: Longman, 1994); p.269. “It is an old and true saying that you cannot develop other people, you can only develop yourself. Other people either develop themselves, or they do not at all. Peoples in Africa, before the long colonial interruption, had developed themselves. From this self-development had come a rich variety of social and political systems: self-governing communities, complex patterns of trade and
of production for trade, valuable techniques like the skills of tropical agriculture, metal-working, textile weaving and so on. History also shows that this self-development, in all its complexity, had derived from indispensable principles of statecraft. Communities which upheld these principles had been able to succeed and prosper. Communities which ignored or denied these principles had failed and fallen into confusion. These pre-colonial principles were concerned with preventing the abuse of executive power; with ensuring that power was shared across the community in question; and, to safeguard this participation, with upholding the rule of law. Every successful community in old Africa had operated in one way or another on these principles of statecraft; and such communities had been many. These were the truths that the colonial powers, and their ideologists, had always denied. Colonial ideologists had said that black people had never known how best to govern themselves: white people must do it for them. Such was the ideological basis of colonialism. And the same idea, however muted, was also the basis of...new- colonialism.” Davidson, Basil, Modern Africa: A Social and Political History. (London: Longman, 1995); p.265.
PART 1. THE EGYPTIAN PROBLEM: WHO WERE THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS? On the Race of Ancient Egyptian: Martin Bernal, Herodotus, and Basil Davidson WHO WERE THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS? A controversial question in American universities Ann Macy Roth, one of the few Egyptologists to reflect on the challenge raised by “Afrocentrism,” published in 1995, in the American Research Center in Egypt Newsletter, an article entitled “Building Bridges to Afrocentrism: A letter to My Egyptological Colleagues” in which she made two important points: 1. It is no longer useful for Western Egyptologists to avoid or ignore the questions raised by Afrocentrism: “The number of African-Americans who are taught this material is growing, and we will increasingly have to deal with its inaccuracies and exaggerations simply in order to teach our students. This gap between our field and the Afrocentric version of it is not going to go away. And by setting ourselves against the whole
phenomenon in an adversarial and often condescending way, we make it impossible for the responsible educators involved in the movement (and there are many) to tap our expertise and improve the accuracy of the materials they teach. 2. On why Western Egyptologists avoid the question of the blackness of ancient Egyptians she wrote: - “ ‘What color were the ancient Egyptians?’ This is a question that strikes FEAR into the hearts of most American Egyptologists... Few of us have devoted much thought or research to the contentions of the Afrocentric movement, so we NERVOUSLY try to say something reasonable, and hope that the questioner won’t persist and that we won’t end up looking silly or racist or both.” - “Egyptology tends not to be taken quite seriously by people who study other parts of the ancient world. Already many noted departments of Near Eastern Studies with extensive faculty in ancient Mesopotamia and the Levant do not feel it necessary to teach or support research in Egyptology at a similar level. We fear, perhaps, that if we endorse the view that ancient Egypt was a “black civilization,” we will further cut ourselves off from our colleagues who study other civilizations contemporary with ancient Egypt. At the same time, there is no place for us in African studies departments, which generally tend to address questions related to modern history and current political and social problems.” Richard Poe, Black Spark White Fire: Did African Explorers Civilize Ancient Europe? (New York: Prima Publishing, 1997); pp.476-77. The Egyptian Problem The “Egyptian problem” is the debate among Western scholars regarding the identity of the authors of the civilization of Ancient Egypt: “How could Africans have produced such a high civilization? If it had been scientifically ‘proved’ that Blacks were biologically incapable of civilization, how could one explain Ancient Egypt - which was inconveniently placed on the African continent. There were two, or rather three solutions. The first was to deny that the Ancient Egyptians were black; the second was to deny that the Ancient Egyptians had created a ‘true civilization’; the third was to make doubly sure by denying both. The last has been preferred by most 19th-and 20th-century historians…After the rise of black slavery and racism, European thinkers were concerned to keep black Africans as far as possible from European Civilization. Where men and women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were uncertain about the colour of the Egyptians, the Egyptophil Masons tended to see them as white. Next, the Hellenomaniacs of the early 19th century began to doubt their whiteness and to deny that the Egyptians had been civilized. It was only at the
end of the 19th century, when Egypt had been entirely stripped of its philosophic reputation, that its African affinities could be reestablished.” Martin Bernal, Black Athena, vol.I; pp.30, 240-241 ANCIENT EGYPTIANS AS AFRICANS Nearly all of the historiography of Ancient Greece in the past 180 years has been written to glorify Hellas and, by extension, Northwestern Europe, and to diminish the significance of outside influences; Neugebauer and his school are great exceptions here. Given this background, I believe that a revival of emphasis on the Egyptian and Levantine contributions to Greek civilization serves a double purpose. On the one hand, it solves some historical puzzles and poses interesting new questions. On the other, it removes the spurious notion that only “white men” can be culturally creative. Not that many ancient historians today hold such views, but they do tend to be working within scholarly frameworks established by men of previous generations who were convinced of it.(p.255-256). Although there is no discussion of bones and genes by the Egyptologists in Black Athena Revisited, the authors are unhappy at my use of the adjective ‘black.’ Unlike some critics, Baines and O’Connor have read my work carefully enough to realize that I have never suggested that the ancient Egyptian population as a whole looked like stereotypical West Africans. Nevertheless, they find my statement that some dynasties and pharaohs can ‘usefully be described as black’ distasteful. They argue that such categories make no sense biologically and were meaningless to the Ancient Egyptians themselves and, further, that my raising the issue exacerbates the tense situation between whites and blacks today. As I have said and written a number of times, I should have preferred the title African Athena. On the other hand, I stand by my references to certain rulers as ‘usefully described as black.’... Most Egyptologists formed before 1945 accepted the view held generally in the societies in which they lived that ‘Negroes’ were categorically incapable of civilization. Thus the extent to which the Ancient Egyptians were civilized was seen as the measure of their ‘whiteness.’ This belief has weakened since the 1960s, but it has not disappeared. It was for this reason that I have insisted that Ancient Egypt was both civilized and African and, further that its population included some men and women of what we now think of as Central African appearance in political and culturally important positions. (pp.23-24). Martin Bernal, Black Athena Writes Back. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001; pp.23-24; 255-56.
Feel Good Education: Martin Bernal’s reply to Mary Lefkowitz There is no reason why the fact that Greek is a fundamentally Indo- European language should not be combined with the Ancient model’s multiple reports of Egyptian and Semitic influences. However, such cultural and linguistic mixture was intolerable to the Romantic racists who established the Aryan model and who, like Mary Lefkowitz today, insisted that there had been no significant Egyptian influence on Greece. The European abandonment of the Ancient model and the emergence of the Aryan model in the face of the new image of a black Egypt raises an amusing irony. Lefkowitz reiterates Arthur J. Schlesinger’s charge that Afrocentric history is purely an attempt to promote group self-esteem. ‘Real’ history, he argues, should consist of ‘dispassionate analysis, judgment and perspective.’ In fact, however, this is far from the way history is taught in schools anywhere in the world. In virtually every case, the nation or locality is always emphasized and placed above others. For instance, when I was sent to France at the age of seventeen, my French companion and I knew completely different sets of battles between the English and French. We had been told of our country’s victories, not of the defeats. Thus, for African American children to be taught about African and diasporic triumphs is not unusual, and is particularly useful given the constant psychological battering they receive in a racist society. On the other hand, I agree with Schlesinger and Lefkowitz that historical researchers should try to transcend their own environments and achieve objectivity as far as it is possible to do so. However, the Aryan model, with its denial of Ancient tradition and its insistence on a purely white, purely European Greece, is a supreme example of “feel-good” scholarship and education for whites, who have far less need of it than blacks. Martin Bernal, Black Athena Writes Back. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001; p.394.
HERODOTUS (THE FATHER OF HISTORY) Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), History, Book II. *50. Almost all the names of the gods came into Greece from Egypt. My inquiries prove that they were all derived from a foreign source, and my opinion is that Egypt furnished the greater number. For with the exception of Neptune and the Dioscuri, whom I mentioned above, and Juno, Vesta, Themis, the Graces, and the Nereids, the other gods have been known from time immemorial in Egypt. This I assert on the authority of the Egyptians themselves. The gods, with whose names
they profess themselves unacquainted, the Greeks received, I believe, from the Pelasgi, except Neptune. Of him they got their knowledge from the Libyans, by whom he has been always honoured, and who were anciently the only people that had a god of the name. The Egyptians differ from the Greeks also in paying no divine honours to heroes. *51. Besides these which have been here mentioned, there are many other practices whereof I shall speak hereafter, which the Greeks have borrowed from Egypt… * 52. In early times the Pelasgi, as I know by information which I got at Dodona, offered sacrifices of all kinds, and prayed to the gods, but had no distinct names or appellations for them, since they had never heard of any. They called them gods (Theoi, disposers), because they disposed and arranged all things in such a beautiful order. After a long lapse of time the names of the gods came to Greece from Egypt, and the Pelasgi learnt them, only as yet they knew nothing of Bacchus, of whom they first heard at a much later date. Not long after the arrival of the names they sent to consult the oracle at Dodona about them. This is the most ancient oracle in Greece, and at that time there was no other. To their question, "Whether they should adopt the names that had been imported from the foreigners?" the oracle replied by recommending their use. Thenceforth in their sacrifices the Pelasgi made use of the names of the gods, and from them the names passed afterwards to the Greeks.
• 104. There can be no doubt that the Colchians are an Egyptian race. Before I heard any mention of the fact from others, I had remarked it myself. After the thought had struck me, I made inquiries on the subject both in Colchis and in Egypt, and I found that the Colchians had a more distinct recollection of the Egyptians, than the Egyptians had of them. Still the Egyptians said that they believed the Colchians to be descended from the army of Sesostris. My own conjectures were founded, first, on the fact that they are black-skinned and have woolly hair, which certainly amounts to but little, since several other nations are so too; but further and more especially, on the circumstance that the Colchians, the Egyptians, and the Ethiopians, are the only nations who have practised circumcision from the earliest times. The Phoenicians and the Syrians of Palestine themselves confess that they learnt the custom of the Egyptians; and the Syrians who dwell about the rivers Thermodon and Parthenius, as well as their neighbours the Macronians, say that they have recently adopted it from the Colchians. Now these are the only nations who use circumcision, and it is plain that they all imitate herein the Egyptians. With respect to the Ethiopians, indeed, I cannot decide whether they learnt the practice of the Egyptians, or the Egyptians of them- it is undoubtedly of very ancient date in Ethiopia- but that the others derived their knowledge of it from Egypt is clear to me from the fact that the Phoenicians, when they come to have commerce with the Greeks, cease to follow the Egyptians in this custom, and allow their children to remain uncircumcised. I will add a further proof to the identity of the Egyptians and the Colchians. These two nations weave their linen in exactly the same way, and this is a
way entirely unknown to the rest of the world; they also in their whole mode of life and in their language resemble one another.
BASIL DAVIDSON (British historian): What one needs to hold in mind is the enormous value and direct relevance of the Pharaonic records to Africa’s remote history… In this I follow an eminent Egyptologist, Professor Jean Leclant (from France), in holding that “African studies may draw to their great advantage on the immense documentation comprised in the abundant monuments, texts and graphic descriptions of five thousand years of history; and that perhaps the greatest service Egyptology can offer is to furnish, as no other branch of study can, precious chronological points of departure for the ancient history of Africa.” The records of ancient Africa begin with Egypt, yet the Egyptian contribution has been little studied on its African side. A familiar habit has considered old Egypt merely and strictly in her relationship to the civilizations of Asia and the Mediterranean. We have had, in consequence, a lopsided view of the true position. Egypt’s connections with the Middle East have been lit with brilliant clarity; those with the rest of Africa have remained in darkness, rather as though they had never been. In this aspect, too, a new approach to African history has lately begun to right the balance. The Pendulum swings the other way. Egypt’s influence on Old Africa, and Africa’s on old Egypt, are seen to have had a fertile past, even a crucial one: a past, moreover, in which continental Africa’s part was certainly the earlier, and Egypt, as part of Africa, the receiver as well as the giver. “Egyptian art,” in the words of a famous Egyptologist, “is the product of the soil of Africa, like the rest of Egyptian civilization.” If the history of early Africa is unthinkable without Egypt, so too is the history of early Egypt inexplicable without Africa. Ancient Egypt was essentially an African civilization. It follows that the Ancient Egyptians were Africans even if immigrants also trickled in from Asia and southern Europe. Whether the Ancient Egyptians were as black or as brown in skin color as other Africans may remain an issue of emotive dispute; probably they were both. Their own artistic convention painted them as pink, but pictures on their tombs show that they often married queens shown as entirely black, being from the south (from what a later world knew as Nubia): while the Greek writers reported that they were much like all the other Africans whom the Greeks knew. None of this rather fruitless argument, as to the skin color of the Ancient Egyptians before the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century A.D., would have arisen without the eruption of modern European racism during the 1830s. It became important to the racists, then and since, to deny Egypt’s African identity, Egypt’s black identity, so that they could deny to Africans any capacity to build a great civilization. We should dismiss all that.
Basil Davidson, African Civilization Revisited: from Antiquity to Modern Times.(Trenton: Africa World Press, 1991); pp.49-50. PART 2. AFRICAN CONTRIBUTION TO WESTERN CIVILIZATION
I. The Gift of Humanity itself (Africa the mother or cradle of Humankind)
II. Contribution to Religion and spirituality
• Contribution to Greek religion • Contribution to Judaism • Contribution to Christianity
III. Contribution to Democracy and human Rights IV. Contribution to Greek Philosophy
Response of Western Egyptologists to African revolutionary approach ==================================================== Ann Macy Roth, one of the few Egyptologists to reflect on the challenge raised by “Afrocentrism,” published in 1995, in the American Research Center in Egypt Newsletter, an article entitled “Building Bridges to Afrocentrism: A letter to My Egyptological Colleagues” in which she made two important points: 1. It is no longer useful for Western Egyptologists to avoid or ignore the questions raised by Afrocentrism: “The number of African-Americans who are taught this material is growing, and we will increasingly have to deal with its inaccuracies and exaggerations simply in order to teach our students. This gap between our field and the Afrocentric version of it is not going to go away. And by setting ourselves against the whole phenomenon in an adversarial and often condescending way, we make it impossible
for the responsible educators involved in the movement (and there are many) to tap our expertise and improve the accuracy of the materials they teach. 2. On why Western Egyptologists avoid the question of the blackness of ancient Egyptians she wrote: - “ ‘What color were the ancient Egyptians?’ This is a question that strikes FEAR into the hearts of most American Egyptologists... Few of us have devoted much thought or research to the contentions of the Afrocentric movement, so we NERVOUSLY try to say something reasonable, and hope that the questioner won’t persist and that we won’t end up looking silly or racist or both.” - “Egyptology tends not to be taken quite seriously by people who study other parts of the ancient world. Already many noted departments of Near Eastern Studies with extensive faculty in ancient Mesopotamia and the Levant do not feel it necessary to teach or support research in Egyptology at a similar level. We fear, perhaps, that if we endorse the view that ancient Egypt was a “black civilization,” we will further cut ourselves off from our colleagues who study other civilizations contemporary with ancient Egypt. At the same time, there is no place for us in African studies departments, which generally tend to address questions related to modern history and current political and social problems.” Richard Poe, Black Spark White Fire: Did African Explorers Civilize Ancient Europe? (New York: Prima Publishing, 1997); pp.476-77.
Almost all the prominent Western Egyptologists maintain over and over again, with Jean-Pierre Corteggiani and Serge Sauneron that Ancient Egyptian civilization constituted a conceptual world or a system of thought so different and so foreign to Western culture and worldview: “To seek an early, albeit still imperfect, version of Graeco-Roman humanism in Egyptian civilization is thus an error, a fruitless approach. Rather, we must come to understand that a form of humanism entirely independent of our own, born of a society with no direct connection to ours, was able to bear fruits as worthy as those stemming from the imperatives of other cultures… We tend to speak of “Mediterranean civilization,” including under this rubric everything beautiful and grand we encounter in the proximity of that sea. But when the seven mouths of the Nile emptied into the Mediterranean, they left everything original to Egyptian civilization far behind them. For Phoenicia, Carthage, Greece, and Rome, the sea was a means of interconnection,
whether cultural, commercial, or military; it was common center of a world that beheld itself from one shore to another. For Egypt, quite the opposite, it served as the boundary of a world, an African world; as a result the revelations of Ogotemmeli and Bantu Philosophy provide precious information to help us better understand certain aspects of Egyptian religious thought, while we can expect nothing in this regard – or precious little – from reading Plato.” Serge Sauneron, The Priests of Ancient Egypt. (New Edition, Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press, 2000), pp.2-3. “The birthplace of Western philosophy is Miletus, a commercial seaport in Ionian Greece (the western coast of present-day Turkey) (Hugh Benson, “The Presocratics” in Dion Scott-Kakures, et al., History of Philosophy. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993; p.2). During the sixth century B.C.E. the two civilizations (Greek and Egyptian) had close cultural contact. In that period, to be a “wise man” in Greece it was necessary to have been to Egypt. Greek sculpture, medicine, mathematics, science, and philosophy were all heavily influenced by Egypt in this period. I believe that a number of Greek linguistic borrowings from Egyptian, notably that of the word sophia from the Egyptian sb3 (“wisdom, learning”), took place at this time. Black Athena Writes Back, p.344. Almost all the prominent Western Egyptologists maintain over and over again, with Jean-Pierre Corteggiani and Serge Sauneron that Ancient Egyptian civilization constituted a conceptual world or a system of thought so different and so foreign to Western culture and worldview: “To seek an early, albeit still imperfect, version of Graeco-Roman humanism in Egyptian civilization is thus an error, a fruitless approach. Rather, we must come to understand that a form of humanism entirely independent of our own, born of a society with no direct connection to ours, was able to bear fruits as worthy as those stemming from the imperatives of other cultures… We tend
to speak of “Mediterranean civilization,” including under this rubric everything beautiful and grand we encounter in the proximity of that sea. But when the seven mouths of the Nile emptied into the Mediterranean, they left everything original to Egyptian civilization far behind them. For Phoenicia, Carthage, Greece, and Rome, the sea was a means of interconnection, whether cultural, commercial, or military; it was common center of a world that beheld itself from one shore to another. For Egypt, quite the opposite, it served as the boundary of a world, an African world; as a result the revelations of Ogotemmeli and Bantu Philosophy provide precious information to help us better understand certain aspects of Egyptian religious thought, while we can expect nothing in this regard – or precious little – from reading Plato.” Serge Sauneron, The Priests of Ancient Egypt. (New Edition, Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press, 2000), pp.2-3. In 1945, Placide Tempels observed in his Bantu Philosophy that some Egyptologists had recognized a certain similarity between the thought and worldview of the Bantu and that of ancient Egyptians:
Jean Capart, the Egyptologist, has written: “I have spoken about the Bantu philosophy to those associated with me and read to them Fr. Tempels’ little book. I have promised myself a rereading of it and of the “Elements of Negro customary Law” (by E. Pussoz) for I have an idea, through my first contact with them, that I shall find in them the key to many Egyptian problems... The concept of LIFE alone allows the Egyptian religion to be assessed at its full worth...”1
What is most interesting for an African theology of human rights, is that Egypt constituted a major bridge between sub-Saharan Africa and the biblical traditions of Israel. In its commentary to the Biblical Saptiential texts, the African Bible observed that these texts have similarities not only with the wisdom literature of ancient Egyptian but also with the wisdom traditions of sub-Saharan Africa:
1 Tempels, Placide, Bantu Philosophy. (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1969); p.38.
While the (wisdom and poetic) books, for Jews and Christians constitute a meditation on God, they can also be read by non- Christians and non-Jews as storehouses of common human wisdom related to common human experience. Similar collections of wisdom material can be found in the literature of other Ancient Near Eastern civilizations, and in African oral traditions. 2
Jackson J. Spielvogel (Professor at the Pennsylvania State University) opens his book on “Western Civilization” with chapter one on “The Ancient Near East: the First civilizations” in which he boldly states the following: “Western civilization can be traced back to the ancient Near East, where people in Mesopotamia and Egypt developed organized societies and created the ideas and institutions that we associate with civilization. The later Greeks and Romans, who played such a crucial role in the development of Western Civilization, where themselves nourished and influenced by these older societies in the Near East. It is appropriate, therefore, to begin our story of Western civilization in the ancient Near East with the early civilization of Mesopotamia and Egypt.” Jackson J. Spielvogel, Western Civilization. Volume 1: to 1715. (Thomson Wadsworth, 2003), p.2. Western perspective on African vision of world history : Basil Davidson (British scholar), Serge Sauneron (French Egyptologist), and Martin Bernal (American scholar). 1. Basil Davidson. Egypt as the point of departure for the study of African religion, philosophy, literature, history, etc.: What one needs to hold in mind is the enormous value and direct relevance of the Pharaonic records to Africa’s remote history… In this I follow an eminent Egyptologist, Professor Jean
2 “Introduction to Wisdom and Poetic Books” in The African Bible. (Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1999); p.813.
Leclant (from France), in holding that “African studies may draw to their great advantage on the immense documentation comprised in the abundant monuments, texts and graphic descriptions of five thousand years of history; and that perhaps the greatest service Egyptology can offer is to furnish, as no other branch of study can, precious chronological points of departure for the ancient history of Africa.” The records of ancient Africa begin with Egypt, yet the Egyptian contribution has been little studied on its African side. A familiar habit has considered old Egypt merely and strictly in her relationship to the civilizations of Asia and the Mediterranean. We have had, in consequence, a lopsided view of the true position. Egypt’s connections with the Middle East have been lit with brilliant clarity; those with the rest of Africa have remained in darkness, rather as though they had never been. In this aspect, too, a new approach to African history has lately begun to right the balance. The Pendulum swings the other way. Egypt’s influence on Old Africa, and Africa’s on old Egypt, are seen to have had a fertile past, even a crucial one: a past, moreover, in which continental Africa’s part was certainly the earlier, and Egypt, as part of Africa, the receiver as well as the giver. “Egyptian art,” in the words of a famous Egyptologist, “is the product of the soil of Africa, like the rest of Egyptian civilization.” If the history of early Africa is unthinkable without Egypt, so too is the history of early Egypt inexplicable without Africa. Ancient Egypt was essentially an African civilization. It follows that the Ancient Egyptians were Africans even if immigrants also trickled in from Asia and southern Europe. Whether the Ancient Egyptians were as black or as brown in skin color as other Africans may remain an issue of emotive dispute; probably they were both. Their own artistic convention painted them as pink, but pictures on their tombs show that they often married queens shown as entirely black, being from the south (from what a later world knew as Nubia): while the Greek writers reported that they were much like all the other Africans whom the Greeks knew. None of this rather fruitless argument, as to the skin color of the Ancient Egyptians before the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century A.D., would have arisen without the eruption of modern
European racism during the 1830s. It became important to the racists, then and since, to deny Egypt’s African identity, Egypt’s black identity, so that they could deny to Africans any capacity to build a great civilization. We should dismiss all that. Basil Davidson, African Civilization Revisited: from Antiquity to Modern Times.(Trenton: Africa World Press, 1991); pp.49-50. African Renaissance Project Cheikh Anta Diop and the African Response to the Hegelian Paradigm _______________________________________________
"Imperialism, like the prehistoric hunter, first killed the being spiritually and culturally, before trying to eliminate it physically. The negation of the history and intellectual accomplishments of Black Africans was cultural, mental murder, which preceded and paved the way for their genocide here and there in the world.. So, between the years 1946 and 1954 - when our project for the restitution of the authentic history of Africa and the reconciliation of African civilizations with history was elaborated - the distorted perspective caused by the blinders of colonialism had so profoundly warped intellectuals’ views of the African past that we had the greatest difficulty, even among Africans, in gaining acceptance for ideas that today are becoming commonplace. One can hardly imagine the degree of alienation of the Africans of that period… For us the new, important fact is less to have stated that the Egyptians were Blacks (what ancient Greeks themselves already stated clearly) than to have contributed to making this idea a conscious historical fact for Africans and the world, and especially to making it an operational scientific concept…The African who has understood us is the one who, after the reading of our works, would have felt, a birth in himself, of another person, impelled by an historical conscience, a true creator, a Promethean carrier of a new civilization and perfectly aware of what the whole Earth owes to his ancestral genius in all the domains of science, culture, and religion…By basing our work on the data of absolute chronology, of physical anthropology, and of prehistoric archaeology, we believe we have shown that Africa is the birthplace of humanity, both at the stage of Homo erectus and Homo sapiens sapiens.
For us, the return to Egypt in all domains is the necessary condition for reconciling African civilizations with history, in order to be able to construct a body of modern human sciences, in order to renovate African culture. Far from being a reveling in the past, a look toward the Egypt of antiquity is the best way to conceive and build our cultural future. In reconceived and renewed African culture, Egypt will play the same role that Greco-Latin antiquity plays in Western culture. Insofar as Egypt is the distant mother of Western cultures and sciences,
most of the ideas that we call foreign are oftentimes nothing but mixed up, reversed, modified, elaborated images of the creations of our African ancestors, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, dialectics, the theory of being, the exact sciences, arithmetic, geometry, mechanical engineering, astronomy, medecine, literature(novel, poetry, drama), architecture, the arts, etc. One can see then how fundamentally improper is the notion, so often repeated, of the importation of foreign ideologies in Africa. It stems from a perfect ignorance of the African past. Just as modern technologies and sciences came from Europe, so did, in antiquity, universal knowledge stream from the Nile Valley to the rest of the world, particularly to Greece, which would serve as a link. Consequently, no thought, no ideology is, in essence, foreign to Africa, which was their birthplace. It is therefore with total liberty that Africans can draw from the common intellectual heritage of humanity, letting themselves be guided only by the notions of utility and efficiency… From the Book of the Dead, whose conception probably goes back to the first dynasties, 3000 B.C., we can see what the revealed religions, Judaism and Christianity, owe to the Egyptian religion : the theory of creation by the word, by simple vision, by the representation of future beings in the divine conscience of Ra; creation in potentiality, first during an eternity (ever and ever), intelligible essences before their actualization into sentient beings, the object of a second creation. Finally, the divine trinity, expressed for the first time in the history of all religions." (Cheikh Anta Diop, Civilization or Barbarism, 1981, pp.1-6, 329) 2. Serge Sauneron In the chapter on “Sacred knowledge (of Ancient Egypt) of his book The Priests of Ancient Egypt, this famous French Egyptologist wrote the following: Reading ancient Greek texts, one cannot avoid the impression that in the eyes of their authors, Egypt was the cradle of all knowledge and wisdom. The most famous Greek sages and philosophers crossed the sea in search of initiation into new knowledge by the priests of Egypt. And if they did not go there, their biographers hastened to add this traditional and obligatory voyage to the episodes of their lives. Who were these celebrated travelers? First of all great ancestors: Orpheus, who, “having gone into Egypt, … adopted the Dionysiac mysteries,” and Homer himself, who visited that land. In less mythic times, Solon also crossed the sea, and his travels were described by Plato: Solon said that, when he traveled thither (i.e., to Sais), he was received with much honour, and further that, when he inquired about ancient times from the priests who knew most of such matters, he discovered that neither he nor any other Greek had any knowledge of antiquity worth speaking of. Once, wishing to lead them on to talk about ancient times, he set about telling them the most venerable of our legends, about Phoroneus the reputed first man and Niobe, and the story how Deucalion and Pyrrha survived the deluge. He traced the pedigree of their descendants, and tried, by reckoning the generations, to compute how
many years had passed since those events. “Ah, Solon, Solon,” said one of the priests, a very old man, “you Greeks are always children; in Greece there is no such thing as an old man.” “What do you mean?” Solon asked. “You are all young in your minds,” said the priest, “which hold no store of old belief based on long tradition, no knowledge hoary with age.” The priest went on to explain that recurrent catastrophes had changed the face of the planet, mixing or altering peoples, destroying one civilization and replacing it with another. Having no record of the intellectual and scientific heritage of the culture that preceded it, the new civilization was obliged to begin again and retrace the entire route that had been lost. But because of its geographical and climatic peculiarities, Egypt had escaped this otherwise general rule: But in this country the water does not fall from above on the fields either then or at other times; its way is always to rise up over them from below. It is for these reasons that the traditions preserved here are the oldest on record… Any great or noble achievement or otherwise exceptional event that has come to pass, either in your parts or here or in any place of which we have tidings, has been written down for ages past in records that are preserved in our temples. It was thus in Egypt that the Greek historians could find the best sources of information. But this was not the only branch of knowledge that the priests of Egypt could teach to their foreign guests. Thus Thales of Miletus visited “Egypt to confer with the priests and astronomers,” according to one of his biographers, and he seems to have “learnt geometry from the Egyptian.” Geometry and astronomy are the two disciplines most often mentioned by Greek writers in connection with the priests of Egypt. To these, they sometimes added theology, when the priests consented to reveal its mysteries to their guests, which was not often. The priests did not always receive these inquisitive tourists with enthusiasm; they found them often annoying and always indiscreet, too rigorously logical in their thinking and sometimes not easily convinced, and more inclined to lend credence to the deductions of reason than to the fantastic tales of a millennia-old tradition. Having learned from previous experiences with the intellectual tendencies of these curious Hellenes, the priests attempted to rid themselves of Pythagoras when, following the advice of Thales, he came to them in search of scientific and religious revelations. Porphyry (233-304 C.E.) records Pythagoras’ journey in these terms: Having been received by Amasis (king of Egypt, 568-526 B.C.E.), he obtained from him letters (of recommendation) to the priests of Heliopolis, who sent him to those of Memphis, since they were older – which was, at heart, only a pretext. Then, for the same reason, he was again sent from Memphis to the priests of Diospolis (i.e. Thebes). The latter, fearing the king and not daring to find false excuses (to exclude the newcomer from their sanctuary), thought they would rid themselves of him by forcing him to undergo very bad treatment and to carry out
very difficult orders quite foreign to a Hellenic education. All that was calculated to drive him to despair so that he would give up his mission. But since he zealously executed all that was demanded of him, the priests ended by conceiving a great admiration for him, treating him respectfully and even allowing him to sacrifice to their deities, which until then had never been permitted to a foreigner. This zeal, this obstinacy, this thirst for knowledge thus ended by opening doors that had at first been totally closed to him and winning the favor of the priests. Another biographer, Iamblichus, tells us that Pythagoras visited every holy place, full of great zeal,… admired and cherished by the priests and prophets with whom he associated . He learned everything most attentively, and neglected neither any oral instruction commended in his own time, nor anyone known for sagacity, nor any rite anywhere and a anytime honored. He also left no place unvisited where he thought he would find something exceptional. Hence, he visited all the priests, and benefited from the special wisdom of each. So he spent twenty-two years in the sanctuaries of Egypt. What exactly were the branches of knowledge whose elements he especially sought? Above all, geometry, “for among the Egyptians there is much geometrical theorizing… all theorems about lines seem to be derived from there” and astronomy, which he studied in the sanctuaries throughout his stay in Egypt. In short, what he acquired from the priests of Thebes and Memphis was “the very things in virtue of which the multitude believed he was wise” and in his own teaching, he went so far as to perpetuate that “symbolic and mysterious” methods to which the priests seem to have been accustomed. Other Greek sages and philosophers also came to the temples in search of instruction, and we sometimes have details regarding what they derived from this training. Oenopides, for example, learned many secrets from the “priests and astrologers” (i.e. astronomers,” in particular that “the sun’s orbit is an oblique course” (= the ecliptic, oblique on the celestial equator), “and traces a retrograde path opposite to that of the other stars.” Democritus, for his part, spent five years with the priests and “learned many of the secrets of astrology” and geometry. As for Plato, he seems to have visited Egypt in search of information regarding “geometry and theology” and “priestly knowledge in general.” He must have met with the same resistence that Pythagoras had already encountered; in his description of Egypt, the geographer Strabo describes Plato’s journey to Heliopolis in the following terms: at Heliopolis (sic) the houses of the priests and the schools of Plato and Eudoxes were pointed out to us; for Eudoxus went up to that place with Plato, and they both passed thirteen years with the priests, as is stated by some writers; for since these priests excelled in their knowledge of the heavenly bodies, albeit secretive and slow to impart it. Plato and Eudoxus prevailed upon them in time and by courting their favour to let them learn some of the principles of their doctrines; but the barbarians concealed most things. However, these men did teach them the fractions of the day and the night which, running over and above the three hundred and sixty-five days, fill out the time of
the true year. But at that time the true year was unknown among the Greeks, as also many other things, until the later astroloers (i.e. astronomers) learned them from the men who had translated into Greek the records of the priests, and even to this day they learn their teachings, and likewise those of the Chaldaeans. Eudoxus had been recommended by Agesilaus to Nectanebo, king of Egypt, who introduced him to the priests; during his stay, he was not obliged to content himself with begging the priests of Heliopolis for instruction, for as Plutarch informs us, Eudoxus took lessons from Chonauphis of Memphis. Perhaps, as had been the case earlier, in the reign of king Amasis, the priests of Heliopolis had treacherously remanded him into the care of the Memphite clergy, which was “older and consequently more learned than they,”? In any case, Eudoxus turned his stay there to good account, for according to tradition, he made greek translations of works written in Egyptian and introduced into his own land exact ideas regarding “the course of the five planets,” which had been ill defined until then and whose actual nature had been taught to him in Egypt: no doubt the “theory of the epicycles.” Serge Sauneron, The Priests of Ancient Egypt (Cornell University Press, 2000) Egyptian contribution to Western Civilization “Isocrates of Athens (436-338 B.C.) wrote in his book Busiris (completed in 385 B.C.) that Egypt was the cradle of Philosophy and medecine because the (Egyptian) priests, because they enjoyed leisure and good conditions of life. Thus they invented medecine to heal the body and philosophy to heal the spirit…In The Law, Plato admires Egyptian scientific method, maintaining that Egyptians had the best method to teach Mathematics to Children. He insists that it is more dangerous to learn with a bad method than to ignore, and that it is much more dangerous to have learned a lot and to know a lot without a method”(The Laws, VII, 799, a-b; 819 a)…Although at times he stressed the great antiquity of Mesopotamian and Iranian civilization, the considered opinion of Aristotle seems to have been that the Egyptians were the most ancient people. He maintained that Egypt was the cradle of mathematics because the caste of priests were given great leisure. Where Herodotos believed that the Egyptians had developed geometry, the key science, for practical reasons - to measure land after landmarks had been washed away by the Nile Flood - Aristotle maintained that it had been developed theoretically by the priests. He wrote that the Egyptians priests had invented the mathematikai technai (mathematical arts), which included geometry, arithmetic and astronomy, which the Greeks were beginning to possess (Black Athena, vol.1, p.108-109)..Most Renaissance thinkers believed that Egypt was the original and creative source and Greece the
later transmitter of some part of Egyptian and Oriental wisdom, and the veracity of the Ancient Model was not at issue. (Martin Bernal, Black Athena, vol.1, p.160)… Newton had admiration and respect for the Ancient Egyptians as the greatest philosophers and scientists. He had faith in the prisca sapientia of Ancient Egypt. He was convinced that atomic theory, heliocentricity, and gravitation had been known there. In an early edition of his “Principia Mathematica” Newton wrote: “The Egyptians were the earliest observers of the heavens and from them, probably, this philosophy was spread abroad. For from them it was, and from the nations about them, that the Greeks, a people more addicted to the study of philology than of nature, derived their first as well as their soundest notions of philosophy.(Black Athena, vol.1, p.167) From Martin Bernal, Black Athena, volume 1. The Legacy of ancient Egypt to World religions ========================================================= The current point of view of “World Religions” scholars: 1) Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire: Theological and Philosophical Roots of Christendom in Evolutionary Perspective (by Karl W. Luckert, New York: State University of New York Press, 1991): “As far as Christianity is concerned it may now be argued that, supported by the broader historical background, it had fiery Hebrew religion as its father. Egypt was its mother; Mesopotamia stood as godparent; Hellenism served as midwife. Throughout her life of almost two millennia, this Christian daughter born of Mother Egypt has remained relatively well informed about her ancient Hebrew paternal tradition-being reminded of it constantly by the Hebrew origins of its early layer of sacred scriptures. At the same time the mature daughter, Christendom, to this day has not been told about the identity of her deceased mother religion-whose theological and soteriological temperament she closely resembles. The ancient Egyptian civilization and its concomitant religiosity provided Hebrew religious tradition with its raison d’être. Egyptian theology furnished Greek philosophers, beginning with the Ionians and concluding with the Neoplatonists, with their ontological presuppositions. And Hebrew and Egyptian religion, assisted by Neoplatonism, contributed content and structure to orthodox Christian theology.” (pp.27-29) 2)Religions of the World (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993, Third edition). Under the title “The Legacy of Egyptian Religion” the authors of this textbook state: “During the second millenium B.C.E., respect for Egyptian achievements in the arts, sciences, and religion spread throughout the Mediterranean world. The Hebrew Bible refers to the “wisdom of Egypt,” and early Greek philosophers like
Thales and Pythagoras reportedly studied geometry in Egypt. Osiris and Isis were numbered among the official gods of the Roman Empire, and the promise of immortality in the Osiris myth may have influenced the Orphic mysteries of ancient Greece and prepared the way for Christianity. Furthermore, the Egyptian concept of Mayet ( Maat), or world order, may have influenced the philosophy of Stoics, as well as the Logos of Saint John’s gospel. Egyptian influences have survived to the present, Statues of Isis with the infant Horus in here arms are thought to have inspired the Madonna and child motif of the Christian tradition. Masonic ritual still keeps alive the memory of Egypt, as does the popular belief in spells, oracles, and astrological lore. In addition, the idea that divine wisdom or revelation should be written down and collected and that written books (scrolls) have greater prestige than oral traditions does seem to be largely and Egyptian invention. It was a popular assumption among the Greeks and Romans that books of revelation came from Egypt.”(p.53) This important textbook is written by several scholars from important American universities: Norvin Hein (Yale University), Frank E. Reynolds (University of Chicago), Laura Grillo (University of Chicago), Niels C. Nielsen, Jr.(Rice University),.... 3) The Sacred Paths of the West (by Theodore M.Ludwig), New York: Macmillan College Publishing Company, 1994: “For three millennia, from the first dynasty around 3100 B.C.E. to the first centuries of the Common Era, when Egypt converted to Christianity, the rich and diverse elements of Egyptian religion were practiced. (...)The culture of Egypt attained high developments in religious ideas and also in artistic expression. In their religious interests the ancient Egyptians created a vast literature. Their very large sacred literature included mythological texts, guides for the dead, prayers, hymns, ... and philosophical wisdom texts. (...) The wisdom of Egypt influenced the Israelite religion as well as Greek philosophers.”(pp.30-33) Biblical testimony: “As the time drew near for God to fulfill the promise he had solemnly made to Abraham, our nation in Egypt grew larger and larger, until a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing of Joseph. He exploited our race, and ill- treated our ancestors, forcing them to expose their babies to prevent their surviving. It was in this period that Moses was born, a fine child and favored by God. He was looked after for three months in his father’s house, and after he had been exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. So Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians and became a man with power both in his speech and his actions.” (Acts 7, 17-22, Stephen’s Speech. From The Jerusalem Bible). The influence of the Egyptian Isis religion in Europe
(According to Dr. R.E. Witt of the University of London) To us in Western Europe today the Egypt of the Pharaohs is a strangely remote and lost land. The temples and pyramids, the creeds and cults of the Nile elude our understanding. A modern mind is easily baffled by the apparent confusions and illogicalities of Egyptian religion. For our western world to appreciate the civilization of the Nile is hard... Its culture and its gods, we tell ourselves, belong to a past we have long outgrown. Of course, our Occidental society today is firmly founded on long Christian and Graeco-Roman tradition. But this in turn did not arise in vacuo. If we look beneath the surface we can find links between our present-day modes of thinking and the wisdom of Egypt... Our Western world’s Graeco-Roman and Christian civilization has emerged and taken shape out of the cultural melting pot of the Near East. Historians however have not always acknowledged how potent a factor in this process was the religion of Egypt. From Memphis and Alexandria the cult of Isis and her Temple Associates shed an incalculable influence on other rival faiths, including even Christianity... Plato’s fellow Greek, Herodotus, had earlier stayed in Egypt and had written about its religion; he concluded that its gods had been appropriated by the cities of Greece. A full-scale investigation in a field which appears neglected is long overdue... Worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis dates as far back as 2500 B.C. and extended at least until the fifth century A.D. throughout the Roman world. The importance of her cult is attested to in Apuleius’s Golden Ass, and evidence of its influence has been found in places as far apart as Afganistan and Portugal, the Black Sea and northern England. R.E.Witt, Isis in the Ancient World. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997; pp.13-14, and the back cover of the book (first ed in 1971) Dr. R.E. Witt (1903-1980) taught at Queen Mary’s College, University of London. His book is the first study to document the extent and complexity of the Isis cult’s influence on Graeco-Roman and early Christian culture. Virgin Mary in the Image of ISIS The earlier model for the Madonna is Isis with Horus at her breast From Joseph CAMPBELL, The power of Myth, with Bill Moyers, Doubleday, New York, London,1988 (Betty Sue Flowers, editor): MOYERS : If we go back into antiquity, do we find images of the Madonna as the mother of the savior child ? CAMPBELL : The antique model for the Madonna, actually, is Isis with Horus at her breast. MOYERS : Isis ?
CAMPBELL: It's a complicated story... this divine mother with her child conceived of God that became the model for the Madonna... In Egyptian iconography, Isis represents the throne. The Pharaoh sits on the throne, which is Isis, as a child on its mother's lap. (that can be seen in the cathedral of Chartres, France)… That is precisely the image that has come down to us from most ancient Egypt. The early fathers and the early artists took over these images intentionally. MOYERS : The Christian fathers took the image of Isis? CAMPBELL : Definitely. They say so themselves. Read the text where it is declared that "those forms which were merely mythological forms in the past are now actual and incarnate in our Savior". The mythologies here referred to were of the dead and resurrected god: Attis, Adonis, Gilgamesh, Osiris, one after the other. The death and resurrection of the god is everywhere associated with the moon, which dies and is resurrected every month. It is for two nights, or three days dark, and we have Christ for two nights, or three days in the tomb. No one knows what the actual date of the birth of Jesus might have been, but it has been put on what used to be the date of the winter solstice, December 25, when the nights begin to be shorter and the days longer. That is the moment of the rebirth of light. That was exactly the date of the birth of the Persian God of light, Mithra, Sol, the Sun.” (pp.176-179) Joseph Campbell, who died on October 31, 1987, was the world's foremost authority on mythology, a preeminent scholar, writer, and teacher whose work has had a profound influence on millions. In "The Power of Myth", he and distinguished journalist Bill Moyers offer a brilliant combination of wisdom and wit in conversations that range from modern mariage("Marriage is a relationship. When you make the sacrifice in marriage, you're sacrificing not to each other but to unity in a relationship") to virgin births, from savior figures to heroic figures such as Luke Skywalker from Star Wars( "... By overcoming the dark passions, the hero symbolizes our ability to control the irrational savages within us"). For Joseph Campbell, mythology was "the song of the universe, the music of the spheres." African contribution to ancient Greek religion and Spirituality The presence of Egyptian religion in Europe: “The movement among Greeks and other Mediterranean peoples to worship the gods under their Egyptian names began well before Alexander’s conquests and the syncretism of Hellenistic times. In the tradition of Homer, Herodotus wrote in his book “Histories” (book II) published in about 450 BC that the names of nearly all the gods came to Greece from Egypt. Early in the 5th century BC the poet Pindar wrote a “Hymn to Ammon,” which opened “Ammon king of Olympos.” By the 4th century Ammon was being worshipped in Athens, and one of its sacred triremes was dedicated to him. Alexander the great clearly considered himself to
be a son of Ammon and he was portrayed on the coins as a horned Ammon. In the last year of his life Alexander dressed himself and demanded worship in the guise of a number of gods and goddesses and he even desired people to bow to the earth before him, from the idea that Ammon was his father rather than Philipp. Ptolemy and his successors, right up to the Kleopatra made great use of Egyptian religion. Plutarch spelled out in detail the general image of Egyptian religion that appears to have been common among cultivated Greeks, at least since the 4th century BC. The Egyptian mother goddess Isis had been worshipped in Athens since the 5th century BC, not merely by resident Egyptians but by native Athenians. By the 2nd century BC there was a temple of Isis near the Acropolis and Athens was officially encouraging its dependencies to take up Egyptian cults. Even on Delos, especially sanctified to Apollo, cults of Isis and Anubis were made official in a move that was in no way connected to the Ptolemaic kingdom which had lost control of the island by that time. By the 2nd century AD Pausanias reported that Egyptian temples or shrines in Athens, Corinth, Thebes and many places in the Argolid, Messenia, Achaia and Phokis. It should be stressed that Greece had experienced only part of a wave that had spread throughout the Roman Empire. For instance, the most important shrines discovered at Pompeii from 79 AD-when it was overwhelmed by the eruption of Venuvius- were “Egyptian.” Tiberius had banished Egyptian -and Jewish- religion from Rome itself. But the cults were soon restored and later emperors, particularly Domitian and Hadrian, were passionately devoted to the Egyptian gods. Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Caracalla, Diocletian and other emperors visited Egypt and all reports emphasized how respectful they were towards Egyptian religion and culture.” (Bernal, Martin, Black Athena, vol.I, London, 1987; pp.98-99;114-117) African contribution to early Christianity The testimony of Pope John-Paul II (and Pope Paul VI): “In a message to the Bishops and to all the peoples of Africa concerning the promotion of the religious, civil and social well-being of the Continent, my venerable Predecessor Paul VI recalled in memorable words the glorious splendor of Africa’s Christian past: “We think of the Christian Churches of Africa whose origins go back to the times of the Apostles and are traditionally associated with the name and teaching of Mark the Evangelist. We think of their countless Saints, Martyrs, Confessors, and Virgins, and recall the fact that from the second to the fourth centuries Christian life in the North of Africa was most vigorous and had a leading place in theological study and literary production. The names of the great doctors and writers come to mind, men like Origen, Saint Athanasius, and Saint
Cyril, leaders of the Alexandrian school, and at the other end of the North African coastline, Tertullian, Saint Cyprian and above all Saint Augustine, one of the most brilliant lights of the Christian world. We shall mention the great Saints of the desert, Paul, Anthony, and Pachomius, the first founders of the monastic life, which later spread through their example in both the East and the West. And among many others we want also to mention Saint Frumentius, known by the name of Abba Salama, who was consecrated Bishop by Saint Athanasius and became the first Apostle of Ethiopia. During these first centuries of the Church in Africa,certain women also bore their own witness to Christ. Among them saints Perpetua and Felicitas, Saint Monica and Saint Thecla are particularly deserving of mention. These noble examples, as also the saintly African Popes, Victor 1st , Melchiades and Gelasius1st, belong to the common heritage of the Church, and the Christian writers of Africa remain today a basic source for deepening our knowledge of the history of salvation in the light of the word of God. In recalling the ancient glories of Christian Africa, we wish to express our profound respect for the Churches with which we are not in full communion: the Greek church of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Coptic Church of Egypt and the Church of Ethiopia, which share with the Catholic Church a common origin and the doctrinal and spiritual heritage of the great Fathers and Saints, not only of their own land, but of all the early Church. They have labored much and suffered much to keep the Christian name alive in Africa through all the vicissitudes of history.” These churches continue to give evidence down to our own times of the Christian vitality which flows from their Apostolic origins. This is true in Egypt, in Ethiopia and, until the seventeenth century, in Nubia. At that time a new phase of the evangelization was beginning on the rest of the Continent.” (African Synod, Documents, Reflections, Perspectives, New York,Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996; p.242-243) V.Y. Mudimbe: “The Christian literature for several centuries, from the first to the end of the third century, is almost completely dominated by thinkers of African origin. To be more specific and focus only on the Latin tradition, for more than two centuries, precisely form the period of the first version of the Latin Bible, which specialists date around 160 A.D., during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, to the end of the third century, African writers are the most important contributors to the constitution of Christian thought. Tertullianus, Lactantius, Minucius, Felix, Cyprianus, Commodianus, Arnobius, and other minor thinkers are from Africa. What would have been the Christian tradition without them? They were before, and prepared the possibility of, an Augustine of Hippo, an African, one of the most powerful thinkers in the history of Christianity.” V.Y. Mudimbe, The Idea of Africa. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994); p.176.
Greek Miracle Ideology and Eurocentrism During the sixth century B.C.E. the two civilizations (Greek and Egyptian) had close cultural contact. In that period, to be a “wise man” in Greece it was necessary to have been to Egypt. Greek sculpture, medicine, mathematics, science, and philosophy were all heavily influenced by Egypt in this period. I believe that a number of Greek linguistic borrowings from Egyptian, notably that of the word sophia from the Egyptian sb3 (“wisdom, learning”), took place at this time. Black Athena Writes Back, p.344. The origins of Western Philosophy In a study on Thales of Miletus (ca 624-545BC), the first European philosopher, Diané Collinson (formerly Senior
Lecturer and Staff Tutor in Philosophy at the Open University) reminds us that Western philosophy found its origin
in in Athens or any main land Greece, but at the periphery, in a region which was a meeting place of various non-
European cultures, and was among others influenced by Egyptian thought. She (He?) emphasizes that this first
Western philosopher Thales studied in Egypt:
Western philosophy is said to have begun in the sixth century BC at Miletus on the Ionian seaboard of Asia Minor. Ionia was the meeting place of East and West; it was also the land of Homer. The first Milesian philosophers, Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes, were open not only to oriental influences and the Homeric tradition but to the mathematics of Egypt and Babylon and to the ideas and information that flowed along the trade routes passing through Ionia... Thales probably travelled to Egypt to learn astronomy, geometry and practical skills to do with the measuring and management of land and water.... He features in the history of mathematics as the originator of geometrical proof... But it was not these wide-ranging achievements that earned Thales the title of philosopher; rather, it was his attempt to provide a rational description and explanation of the world. This rational project significantly distinguishes his thought from earlier, mythologically based accounts of the world. Thales asked the question: What is the source of all things? The answer he gave was: water. He maintained, according to those who wrote about him, that everything comes into being from water and that the earth floats on
water like a log. Aristotle discusses this view in his metaphysics. ... (But) that the earth rested on water was an Egyptian belief as well as part of the Homeric tradition. Thalesʼs second major claim about the nature of the universe was that ʻall things are full of gods.ʼ Diané Collinson, Fifty Major Philosophers: A Reference Guide. London and New York: Routledge, 1998 (first
published in 1987); pp.3-4.
Greek Miracle and Eurocentrism In chap.1 on “The Rise of Greek civilization” and chap.4 on “Heraclitus” Bertrand Russell revived the old
Eurocentric theory of “Greek miracle”:
Two opposite attitudes toward the Greeks are common at the present day. One, which was practically universal from the Renaissance until very recent times, views the Greeks with almost superstitious reverence, as the inventors of all that is best, and as men of superhuman genius whom the moderns cannot hope to equal. The other attitude, inspired by the triumphs of science and by an optimistic belief in progress, considers the authority of the ancients an incubus, and maintains that most of their contributions to thought are now best forgotten. I cannot myself take either of these extreme views; each I should say, is partly right and partly wrong (p.38)... In all history, nothing is so surprising or so difficult to account for as the sudden rise of civilization in Greece. Much of what makes civilization had already existed for thousands of years in Egypt and in Mesopotamia, and had spread thence to neighbouring countries. But certain elements had been lacking until the Greeks supplied them. What they achieved in art and literature is familiar to everybody, but what they did in the purely intellectual realm is even more exceptional. The invented mathematics and science and philosophy; they first wrote history as opposed to mere annals; they speculated freely about the nature of the world and the ends of life, without being bound in the fetters of any inherited orthodoxy (p.3)... Almost all the hypotheses that have dominated modern philosophy were first thought of by the Greeks; they imaginative inventiveness in abstract matters can hardly be too highly praised. They gave birth to theories which have had an independent life and growth, and which, though at first somewhat infantile, have proved capable of surviving and developing throughout more than two thousand years. The Greeks contributed, it is true, something else which proved of more
permanent value to abstract thought: they discovered mathematics and the art of deductive reasoning. Geometry, in particular, is a Greek invention, without which modern science would have been impossible (p.38-39). Arithmetic and some geometry existed among the Egyptians and Babylonians, but mainly in the form of rules of thumb. Deductive reasoning from general premisses was a Greek innovation (p.3, footnote). What occurred was so astonishing that, until very recent times, men were content to gape and talk mystically about the Greek genius (p.3).
Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972; pp.3 and 38-39. The origins of Philosophy: A Greek Miracle? In a section titled The “Miracle” of Greece , Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins remind us, in their book A Short History of Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) that early
Greek philosophers borrowed from Egypt and other cultures in such a way that the notion of Greek miracle is
provincial, ethnocentric, and inadequate in a genuine study of the origins of philosophy:
“Long before the sixth century B.C.E., there were already flourishing civilizations in the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa... Greece was mostly destroyed about 1200 B.C.E. (soon after the siege of Troy) and it remained largely “uncivilized” until the sixth century B.C.E....The Greeks traded throughout the Mediterranean, borrowing freely from other cultures. From the Phoenicians they acquired an alphabet, some technology, and bold new religious ideas. From Egypt they obtained the ideas that defined what we call Greek architecture, the basics of geometry, and much else besides. From Babylon (now Iraq) they partook of astronomy, mathematics, geometry, and still more religious ideas. Greece was not a miracle (nor was ancient India): it was a lucky accident of history and the product of many unattributed lessons from neighbors and predecessors.” (p.7).
After a long explanation of historical events in Greece and other parts of the world the study concludes unequivocally: Many of the leading ideas of Greek philosophy, including the all- important interest in geometry and the concept of the soul, were imported from Egypt. Indeed, it might be more enlightening to view the miracle” in Greece not as a remarkable beginning but as a culmination, the climax of a long story the beginnings and middle of which we no longer recognize.” (p.9). Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins, A Short History of Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press,