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Egyptian eschatology

The ancient Egyptians, though obsessed with the death of the individual and famous for their elaborate (and lasting) funeral rites, left little evidence regarding universal eschatology, and as with all long-lasting and ancient cultures,[1] the sources that do exist can at times be vague and contradictory.  The few texts that do deal with the end of time envisage it as a cataclysmic destruction followed by a return to the primordial state.

In the Book of the Dead, the creator god Amun[2] declares that after “millions of millions” years, he will destroy everything that he has made “and the land will return into the Deep, into the Flood, as it was before [creation]”  (Pinch 89).  However, Amun also says that “I and Osiris will be the remainder” (Silverman 131).  Amun embodied the changeless pattern of existence, and Osiris, the god of the afterlife, was the embodiment of daily rebirth, so the survival of the two gods “carries with it the promise of a new creation and the beginning of a new eternity” (Silverman 131).

Cycles of decay, death, and rebirth were central to much of Egyptian life—the common eternity symbol of a snake swallowing its own tail is an Egyptian invention—and they believed above all else in the “capacity of the universe to perpetually renew itself, so that every end could also be a beginning” (Pinch 90).

 


[1] Ancient Egyptian civilization arose in the fourth millennium BCE and stuck around until it was conquered by the Romans a few decades before the birth of Christ (Silverman 10-11).

[2] Also spelled Atum, depending on the source.

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