Island History

Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods

The beginnings of Egyptian religion extend into prehistory, and evidence for them comes only from the sparse and ambiguous archaeological record. Careful burials during the Predynastic period imply that the people of this time believed in some form of an afterlife. At the same time, animals were ritually buried, a practice which may reflect the development of zoomorphic deities like those found in the later religion. The evidence is less clear for gods in human form, and this type of deity may have emerged more slowly than those in animal shape. Each region of Egypt originally had its own patron deity, but it is likely that as these small communities conquered or absorbed each other, the god of the defeated area was either incorporated into the other god’s mythology or entirely subsumed by it. This resulted in a complex pantheon in which some deities remained only locally important while others developed more universal significance.

The Early Dynastic period began with the unification of Egypt around 3000 BC. This event transformed Egyptian religion, as some deities rose to national importance and the cult of the divine pharaoh became the central focus of religious activity. Horus was identified with the king, and his cult center in the Upper Egyptian city of Nekhen was among the most important religious sites of the period. Another important center was Abydos, where the early rulers built large funerary complexes.

Old and Middle Kingdoms

   

During the Old Kingdom the priesthoods of the major deities attempted to organize the complicated national pantheon into groups linked by their mythology and worshipped in a single cult center, such as the Ennead of Heliopolis which linked important deities such as AtumRaOsiris, and Set in a single creation myth. Meanwhile, pyramids, accompanied by large mortuary temple complexes, replaced mastabas as the tombs of pharaohs. In contrast with the great size of the pyramid complexes, temples to gods remained comparatively small, suggesting that official religion in this period emphasized the cult of the divine king more than the direct worship of deities. The funerary rituals and architecture of this time greatly influenced the more elaborate temples and rituals used in worshipping the gods in later periods.

Early in the Old Kingdom, Ra grew in influence, and his cult center at Heliopolis became the nation’s most important religious site. By the Fifth Dynasty Ra was the most prominent god in Egypt, and had developed the close links with kingship and the afterlife that he retained for the rest of Egyptian history. Around the same time, Osiris became an important afterlife deity. The Pyramid Texts, first written at this time, reflect the prominence of the solar and Osirian concepts of the afterlife, although they also contain remnants of much older traditions. Therefore the texts are an extremely important source for understanding early Egyptian theology.

In the 22nd century BC, the Old Kingdom collapsed into the disorder of the First Intermediate Period, with important consequences for Egyptian religion. Old Kingdom officials had already begun to adopt the funerary rites originally reserved for royalty, but now, less rigid barriers between social classes meant that these practices and the accompanying beliefs gradually extended to all Egyptians, a process called the “democratization of the afterlife”. The Osirian view of the afterlife had the greatest appeal to commoners, and thus Osiris became one of the most important gods.

Eventually rulers from Thebes reunified the Egyptian nation in the Middle Kingdom. These Theban pharaohs initially promoted their patron god Monthu to national importance, but during the Middle Kingdom he was eclipsed by the rising popularity of Amun. In this new Egyptian state, personal piety grew more important and was expressed more freely in writing, a trend which continued in the New Kingdom.

New Kingdom

   

The Middle Kingdom crumbled in the Second Intermediate Period, but the country was again reunited by Theban rulers, who became the first pharaohs of the New Kingdom. Under the new regime, Amun became the supreme state god. He was syncretized with Ra, the long-established patron of kingship, and his temple at Karnak in Thebes became Egypt’s most important religious center. Amun’s elevation was partly due to the great importance of Thebes, but it was also due to the increasingly professional priesthood. Their sophisticated theological discussion produced detailed descriptions of Amun’s universal power.

Increased contact with outside peoples in this period led to the adoption of many Near Eastern deities into the pantheon. At the same time, the subjugated Nubians absorbed Egyptian religious beliefs, and in particular, adopted Amun as their own.

   

The New Kingdom religious order was disrupted when Akhenaten acceded, and replaced Amun with the Aten as the state god. Eventually he eliminated the official worship of most other gods, and moved Egypt’s capital to a new city at Amarna, for which this part of Egyptian history, the Amarna period, is named. In doing so Akhenaten claimed unprecedented status for himself: only he could worship the Aten, and the populace directed their worship toward him. The Atenist system lacked well-developed mythology and afterlife beliefs, and the Aten itself seemed distant and impersonal, so the new order did not appeal to ordinary Egyptians. Thus, many of them probably continued to worship the traditional gods in private. Nevertheless, the withdrawal of state support for the other deities severely disrupted Egyptian society. Akhenaten’s successors therefore restored the traditional religious system, and eventually they dismantled all Atenist monuments.

Before the Amarna period, popular religion had trended toward more personal relationships between the gods and their worshippers. Akhenaten’s changes had reversed this trend, but once the traditional religion was restored, there was a backlash. The populace began to believe that the gods were much more directly involved in daily life. Amun, the supreme god, was increasingly seen as the final arbiter of human destiny, the true ruler of Egypt. The pharaoh was correspondingly more human and less divine. The importance of oracles as a means of decision-making grew, as did the wealth and influence of the oracles’ interpreters, the priesthood. These trends undermined the traditional structure of society and contributed to the breakdown of the New Kingdom.

Later periods

   

In the first millennium BC, Egypt was significantly weaker than in earlier times, and in several periods foreigners seized the country and assumed the position of pharaoh. The importance of the pharaoh continued to decline, and the emphasis on popular piety continued to increase. Animal cults, a characteristically Egyptian form of worship, became increasingly popular in this period, possibly as a response to the uncertainty and foreign influence of the time. Isis grew more popular as a goddess of protection, magic, and personal salvation, and became the most important goddess in Egypt. 

In the fourth century BC, Egypt became a Hellenistic kingdom under the Ptolemaic dynasty, which assumed the pharaonic role, maintaining the traditional religion and building or rebuilding many temples. The kingdom’s Greek ruling class identified the Egyptian deities with their own. From this cross-cultural syncretism emerged Serapis, a god who combined Osiris and Apis with characteristics of Greek deities, and who became very popular among the Greek population. Nevertheless, for the most part the two belief systems remained separate, and the Egyptian deities remained Egyptian.

Ptolemaic-era beliefs changed little after Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire, with the Ptolemaic kings replaced by distant emperors. The cult of Isis appealed even to Greeks and Romans outside Egypt, and in Hellenized form it spread across the empire. In Egypt itself, as the empire weakened, official temples fell into decay, and without their centralizing influence religious practice became fragmented and localized. Meanwhile, Christianity spread across Egypt, and in the third and fourth centuries AD, edicts by Christian emperors and iconoclasm by local Christians slowly eroded traditional beliefs. While it persisted among the populace for some time, Egyptian religion slowly faded away.

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Associated LOST Characters

RA

ATUM

OSIRIS

SET

AMUN

ATEN

ISIS

SERAPIS

APIS


Persian Domination

Achaemenid Egypt can be divided into three eras: the first period of Persian occupation when Egypt became a satrapy, followed by an interval of independence, and the second and final period of occupation.

The Persian king Cambyses assumed the formal title of Pharaoh, called himself Mesuti-Re (“Re has given birth”), and sacrificed to the Egyptian gods. He founded the Twenty-seventh dynasty. Egypt was then joined with Cyprus and Phoenicia in the sixth satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire.

Cambyses’ successors Darius I the Great and Xerxes pursued a similar policy, visited the country, and warded off an Athenian attack. It is likely that Artaxerxes I and Darius II visited the country as well, although it is not attested in our sources, and did not prevent the Egyptians from feeling unhappy.

During the war of succession after the reign of Darius II, which broke out in 404, they revolted under Amyrtaeus and regained their independence. This sole ruler of the Twenty-eighth dynasty died in 399, and power went to the Twenty-ninth dynasty. The Thirtieth Dynasty was established in 380 BC and lasted until 343 BC. Nectanebo II was the last native king to rule Egypt.

   

Artaxerxes III (358–338 BC) reconquered the Nile valley for a brief period (343–332 BC). In 332 BC Mazaces handed over the country to Alexander the Great without a fight. The Achaemenid empire had ended, and for a while Egypt was a satrapy in Alexander’s empire. Later the Ptolemies and then the Romans successively ruled the Nile valley.


Ptolemaic (Greek) Dynasty

In 332 BC Alexander III of Macedon conquered Egypt with little resistance from the Persians. He was welcomed by the Egyptians as a deliverer. He visited Memphis, and went on a pilgrimage to the oracle of Amun at the Oasis of Siwa. The oracle declared him to be the son of Amun. He conciliated the Egyptians by the respect which he showed for their religion, but he appointed Greeks to virtually all the senior posts in the country, and founded a new Greek city, Alexandria, to be the new capital. The wealth of Egypt could now be harnessed for Alexander’s conquest of the rest of the Persian Empire. Early in 331 BC he was ready to depart, and led his forces away to Phoenicia. He left Cleomenes as the ruling nomarch to control Egypt in his absence. Alexander never returned to Egypt.

Following Alexander’s death in Babylon in 323 BC, a succession crisis erupted among his generals. Initially, Perdiccas ruled the empire as regent for Alexander’s half-brother Arrhidaeus, who became Philip III of Macedon, and then as regent for both Philip III and Alexander’s infant son Alexander IV of Macedon, who had not been born at the time of his father’s death. Perdiccas appointed Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s closest companions, to be satrap of Egypt. Ptolemy ruled Egypt from 323 BC, nominally in the name of the joint kings Philip III and Alexander IV. However, as Alexander the Great’s empire disintegrated, Ptolemy soon established himself as ruler in his own right. Ptolemy successfully defended Egypt against an invasion by Perdiccas in 321 BC, and consolidated his position in Egypt and the surrounding areas during the Wars of the Diadochi (322 BC-301 BC). In 305 BC, Ptolemy took the title of King. As Ptolemy I Soter (“Saviour”), he founded the Ptolemaic dynasty that was to rule Egypt for nearly 300 years.

The later Ptolemies took on Egyptian traditions by marrying their siblings, had themselves portrayed on public monuments in Egyptian style and dress, and participated in Egyptian religious life. Hellenistic culture thrived in Egypt well after the Muslim conquest. The Ptolemies had to fight native rebellions and were involved in foreign and civil wars that led to the decline of the kingdom and its annexation by Rome.

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Gerald DeGroot

(Co-Founder of the DHARMA Initiative) 

The DHARMA Initiative was created in 1970, and is the brainchild of Gerald DeGroot and his wife Karen, two doctoral candidates at the University of Michigan. Following in the footsteps of visionaries such as B.F. Skinner, they imagined a large-scale communal research compound where scientists and free-thinkers from around the globe could pursue research in meteorology, psychology, parapsychology, zoology, electromagnetism, and utopian social… * …(re)clusive Danish industrialist and munitions magnate, Alvar Hanso, whose financial backing made their dream of a multi-purpose, social-science research facility a reality.

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