Popular Culture: Prince of Egypt

How Prince of Egypt is historically and religiously portrayed through today’s entertainment?

The story of Moses is a fable that has been told for thousands of years now. The movie Prince of Egypt is one of the most well-known movies which has existed for over a decade that tells the fable.The reason it is so well known is due to the religion story it tells. The movie tells a tale about a young man named Moses who discovers he has a dark past due to what took place when he was just an infant. The Prince of Egypt is very well known because it is the story of Moses and how he tried to save the Hebrews from the brutal clutches of the Pharaoh. This movie is based off of the story from The Book of Exodus.

The story begins (in the movie) when Moses was adopted into the royal family of the Egyptians by the wife of the Pharaoh Seti, Queen Tuya. Prior to this, Seti had ordered all of the Hebrew male infants to be slaughtered and fed to the crocodiles. Moses’ mother desperately took infant Moses – along with her other two children, Miriam and Aaron – and snuck over to the Nile River. She placed Moses in a basket, hoping that this will save Moses from the fate of the other infants. She sings him a lullaby as she says farewell to him, hoping that God will use the Nile River to take him to a better and faraway place. As the basket moves through trials of missing ships and crocodiles, the basket floats inside the palace where Queen Tuya discovers it. She opens the basket and immediately adopts him into the royal family.

Throughout his growing up years, he lives as a prince with a pampered life style until he eventually comes across his biological sister, Miriam. She tells him that she is his sister and that God has sent him to finally free the Hebrews from slavery by the Egyptians. Moses rejects the idea that he is a Hebrew himself and runs off to find out the truth, which is that all of the male infants were killed just to make sure that none of them rise to the occasion of taking over the kingdom. Moses, detests the idea, runs off and lives his life was a Hebrew, reuniting with his sister and brother. Moses eventually encounters God himself, telling him that he is the one to free the Hebrews.

Many people watching the movie, may get a sense of what ancient Egypt was like without any background knowledge and not just the religion aspect to it. While the movie may seem accurate to some degree, many of the things shown in the movie did not necessarily happen in the actual historical context. Many people may hold the view that ancient Egypt was using their own slaves for building pyramids and tombs. That is actually not true. From what I learned in class – Religion of the Pharaohs – they were paid for their work. However, some Egyptians did hold slaves but the owners were regular people. Even so, The Prince of Egypt – I believe – has one of the most accurate portrayals of how ancient Egypt may have been with my background knowledge. When one analyzes the movie, after taking an Egyptian course, one can see how much effort and research the people behind the movie they put into making the film. One great example I’d like to drawn to your attention is the two priests in the movie. In Emily’s Teeter’s book, Religion and Rituals in Ancient Egypt, she brought up some historical explanations on how priests used magic as part of their religion. In the movie, the priests were magicians by demonstrating the power of the Egyptian deities to counter Moses’s power – God’s power – in front of his ex-adopted brother, Rameses. I would also like to point out how Pharaoh Rameses’ identifies himself as “the morning and evening star.” Once again from what I have learned from class is that Pharaohs identify themselves with the god Horus (the true king of Egypt).

The ruins of ancient Egypt that are well known. The pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx

Teeter also points out that Egyptians were highly known for using magic as well. Magic was used to protect oneself as well as a way of harming others.  One may want to compare this to other religions as some may use magic as well. Christianity is actually one that may be looked upon as using magic. Egyptians that are chanting a spell is known as using magic. A Christian saying a prayer is seen as way of getting a message to God but it could also be acknowledged as magic to some degree.  This is due to wanting, and often times expecting, a certain outcome to emerge. An example of this is that Egyptians may wear an amulet to protect oneself from harm. A Christian may wear a cross necklace as a way of having the Lord with them, perhaps as a way of protection too.  Another topic discussed in class is what race were the ancient Egyptians.

A magical wand that ancient Egyptians used to draw a circle around a mother and her child for protection.

The race of the Egyptians seems to be a very ambiguous topic. However, if you watch any other Egyptian based movies like Gods of Egypt, many of the characters are portrayed as very Caucasian looking. In Prince of Egypt, people are seen as having darker skin. This would make sense for Egyptians to have dark skin due to the climate and the heat. The dark skin would keep the Egyptians from getting sunburned. In our discussion and the reading Ethnic Diversity in Ancient Egypt by Anthony Leahy, we find that there are different ethnicities that may have been mixed into the Egyptian race between Nubian and Libyan. The two counties Nubia and Libya surrounded Egypt. Nubia was towards the south while Libya was to the west. I believe this would make the most sense due to the two countries being close to Egypt in proximity. We may not know exactly what race made up the Egyptian race. The notion of what race the ancient Egyptians were has been highly been debated, even to this day. We may never know for sure. However, it is interesting to note that in paintings, males are painted with red skin and females with yellow skin.

An example of an ancient Egyptian painting. Women’s skin painted in yellow and men’s skin painted in red

As we continue to study and find more Egyptian clues and artifacts collected throughout the years, there are many secrets that still need to be discovered. We may have great information of what ancient Egypt was like at the time, but we are only speculating from the information we are given from hieroglyphics, drawings, temples, pyramids and artifacts. Ancient Egypt still remains a mystery, but movies and films, also contribute in the sharing of information in an entertaining way.

I also found this very awesome, well drawn and put together, video on YouTube that is about the Passover (as in the movie of Prince of Egypt):

Weighing of the Heart (Field Trip Post)

I just want to start off by saying I had a very nice time visiting the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. However, I was only able to view the garden and outside areas of the museum due to the power outage. Even though the weather was mildly hot, I was enthralled when reflecting on why ancient Egypt is a very mysterious and wonderful subject to think and learn about.  This is especially true for me when thinking about how a person is judged in the afterlife and the consequences that follow if one does not pass the weighing of the scale.

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Weighing of the Heart. This picture was taken by me at Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

The picture I took at the museum and posted above, represents the weighing on the heart. The tour guide told us that when your spirit is in the afterlife, you are set to the test of proofing your self-worth in order to pass into the afterlife. I remember learning about this at the beginning of my “Religion of the Pharaohs” class and how the soul has to be judged.

Artwork of Maat.

Artwork of Maat.

The point of the scale that is shown up above is to determine how much your heart weighs against the feather. The Egyptians believed that the soul was within the heart. During the act of embalming, which is done to help preserve the body to become mummified, the heart – as well as the other inner organs- was removed and placed in canopic jars. The different canopic jars were filled with the organs as way of persevering them along with the rest of the body. The heart is believed to hold the soul within and is why you see the canopic jar on the left side of the scale.The point of the scale is to make sure your soul is worthy enough to pass onto the afterlife.The trial consists of having to answer to the Goddess of Justice, Maat.

Example of canopic jars.

The souls of the dead would have to answer many questions regarding how the person lived their life, how well they achieved well self-worth, and whether they performed good deeds. One example of a question is, “Have you helped by donating to any person who has no money?”

Note: This information was given during the tour while visiting the museum.

Weighing of the heart in the afterlife.

The goal of this trial is to be able to have your soul, or heart, weigh the exact same as the feather. Maat measures the scale using her feather to represent judgement. If the heart weighs more than the feather, it will mean that the soul is not capable of moving forward and thus destroyed. The heart is destroyed by having it be eaten by the vicious monster that resembles a chimera. The name of this backbiting monster is known as Ammit. She is said to sit by the scale. The consequence of being eaten by this creature makes your soul cease to exist forever. Ammit is described as having “a head of a crocodile, the torso of a wild cat, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus.” (Ancient Egypt Online)

Picture of Ammit

Even though it may be looked at as a scary concept to view, it can come off as a beautiful thing as well since the scale represents justice in a way. Many victims of crimes may feel at ease, just by knowing that the person who committed the crime may be punished in the afterlife, even if not in the world of the living. It seems that what I have learned over fall semester is that the Egyptians really think a lot about death. In my last post, I briefly mentioned that death is a sour concept for Egyptians. Many are afraid of what it can hold, especially if they have to face the scaling of the heart. I believe that death is an important concept to really research if anyone wants to invest their time to study ancient Egypt. A lot of times in class, we spent quite a bit of time talking about the afterlife, the burials, and the rituals, and the overall history of how the ancient world of Egypt thought of death as a whole. Perhaps it is just my mind being morbid as I always think about concept of their afterlife.  Yet, I feel it really ties in with the rest of what I have learned in the class so far.

The trip to the museum was indeed a very rare treat, and I wish I could have seen the inside of it. However, luckily for me I was able to get a free ticket admission and a free year membership for the trouble of the two hours spent being on the road.  This will give me time to return and explore the artifacts of Egypt in the future.

Akh and Communication with the Dead

Akh is one of the three parts of a soul associated with an individual person in ancient Egypt. The two others are Ka and Ba. Ka is the first part that most people associate with. The Ka was an important part of the soul for the after life. It is important because the Ka part of the soul resembles the person that passed on. In other words, Ka is supposed to be the “bodily form” of that person.The Ba was considered to be the actual “spirit” of the the soul. The spirit consisted of a bird body and a human head that had to travel through the underworld.  The Ba’s were judged by the deities on the actions and deeds they performed when they were alive.The Egyptians believed the third part of the soul was the spirit known as the Akh. The belief here was that if a person lived a worthy life of good deeds and selfless acts, after death they were able to live among the Gods and Goddesses. This is similar to the concept of living a good life and going to Heaven. However, Akh (in my opinion) may have been the most powerful part of the soul because Egyptians feared this part of the spirit. The reason is that the Akh is more likely than the other two parts to “haunt among the living.”

A Golden Amulet of the spirit Ba

In Emily Teeter’s book Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt, she brings up the spirit aspect of the Akh that played a role in the New Kingdom. Many of the people were scared of the Akh because of the power and potential they possessed. The Akh could become an evil spirit and haunt them. In order to please these spirits, the Egyptians made sure to sacrifice offerings, and in return, the spirits would not bring harm to them or their families. Many people (it is mostly men that are mentioned) tried to stay loyal to their deceased wives as a way of keeping haunting spirits away. They even wrote letters to the dead, sharing thoughts. One Egyptian in particular wrote to his deceased wife, complaining to her in the afterlife. Apparently when his wife was alive, he showered her with love and admiration. He gave her the best life he could possibly give and yet in return, the wife treated him like he was nothing. I believe in some aspect that this was a way for this man to get things off his chest. I believe this husband did everything he could to give his wife the best life. Yet, in return she ended up not appreciating the things he had done for her. From my perspective, he wanted to be able to confront her and this was a way of releasing any ill resentments he may have harbored towards her. Perhaps this man felt guilty and wanted to be able to relieve himself from the negative emotions so he would not attract any negative auras.

The translation of the letter that the husband wrote to his abusive and ungrateful wife (Lady Ikthtay) on her coffin. Credit to Teeter’s book, pages 154-155:

“Oh you noble chest of the Osiris, the Singer of Amun, Ikhtay who lies at rest beneath you, hearken to me, and transmit my message. Stay to her since you are near to her: “What is your condition? How are you? It is you who shall say to her”… if I can be heard where you are, tell the lords of eternity to let your brother (i.e., husband) come to [you] that you may be his support… “It is you who should speak well within the necropolis since I committed no abomination against you while you were on earth. So then you may grasp my situation. Swear to god in every manner saying, “It is according to what I have said that things shall be done.”

An example of an Egyptian necklace

Mentioned in Teeter’s book as well, many people wore amulets with protective spells as a way to shield their households from evil spirits. They feared the deceased would come back and haunt them if the spirits were not content.

I think many of the ancient Egyptians believed in the power of the Akh. They perceived the Akh as some type of a magical “supernatural being” or demon. They also viewed them as being “corrupted” with evil and presenting themselves as a haunting “ghosts.” This is the reason people fought against them with protective magic and amulets as a means to protect themselves. They also sent letters to the dead. The letters tended to be written by people with disgruntled feelings and were often filled with sarcasm.

Even those who did not fear the Akh may have have looked upon death with apprehension, due to the way they looked negatively upon death in general. The Egyptians were extremely frightened by the  thought of dying or losing a loved one.This was due to the terror they felt of the “unknown”. According to Teeter, they believed in a reincarnation process that involved crossing over from life into death.The Egyptians looked at the afterlife as being similar to the world of the living. They are surrounded by the idea of the afterlife due to the temples being accessible and the pyramids being viewable. It is no wonder that they were constantly thinking about the afterlife and combined the idea of death being similar to life as a coping mechanism.

It’s fascinating that even though the deceased may be viewed in a negative light, the Egyptians still respected the deceased by providing them with careful embalming. This was done so that the bodies would be preserved for all of eternity. They also performed special rituals and cast spells over them to protect the dead bodies from grave robbers.  Overall, Egyptians respected the deceased and never wanted to have them be disrespected.

An example of Hieroglyphics, which is Egyptian’s writing

Goddesses of Ancient Egypt

There were many goddesses that were worshiped within the ancient Egypt world. Temples and statues were built to represent their status and what type of deity they represented. Many carved Gods or Goddesses within the tombs and stones of the Pharaohs, a way of demonstrating his connection with their deities. While ancient Egypt was indeed a patriarchal society, there were many Goddesses that were respected and who had rituals performed for them.

One example would be the ritual for Hathor, who according to Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt by Emily Teeter, was also renowned for Lady of Drunkenness. This was due because Hathor’s liked to drink. In one ritual and celebration, the people would celebrate the reunion of life and death by drinking in honor of Hathor. Hathor is the goddesses of harmony and the protector.

Hathor’s cow form

Her main form consists of a holy cow and also depicted in humanoid form. However, she also has a different side and when summoned, she can turn into a powerful lion known as Sekhmet. In the book, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East by Jack M. Sasson explained how Hathor came to be from Ra’s eye at the same time of the creation of humanity. It was through Atum-Re as he cried from his eyes, known as the eyes of Ra. However, after the creation of humans, many of them rebelled against him. Due to the distraught of the situation of the rebelling, Ra summoned Hathor to slaughtered those who had rebelled against him.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Statue_of_Sekhmet_in_the_Turin_Museum,_Italy.jpg

Sekhmet

Hathor, angry at humanity as well, viciously turned into Sekhmet. That was when destruction occurred and she slaughtered many of the rebels. However, she started going after those who were innocent.Then Ra, in dismay at how Hathor had got caught up in the blood massacre, had to quickly ponder of a way in order to stop her from any other killings. Re ordered his servants to make a batch of bear with red dye in it. This was a way to get Hathor drunk so she would stop the slaughtering. As soon as she came upon the beer that pretended to have blood, she drank it. She quickly got drunk and completely passed out. Thus, put in an end to all of the killings.

One important Goddess, I believe, was born from Atum and was one of the Ennead (nine deities born from Atum) was Nut, the Goddess of the Sky. She was the deity who had her whole body cover the sky, as her “head is at the west and her feet are at the east” (pg 11, Teeter). It was also shown in pictures when the sun would go through her whole body, in the cycle of swallowing the sun every night and giving birth to it every morning.

http://www.experience-ancient-egypt.com/ancient-egyptian-culture/ancient-egyptian-medicine-and-science/egyptian-astrology

Nut about to shallow the sun as part of its cycle

Isis was a Goddess who was created from Atum and was also the wife and brother of the God Osiris. I consider her to be one of the most important Goddesses of Ancient Egypt due to her bearing Horus, who later became King of Egypt.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osiris_myth

Isis nursing her son Horus

She was, like her mother Nut, one of the Ennead. Jack M. Sasson explained the brotherly rivalry among Osiris and Seth. They were fighting each other to bedome the King of Egypt in his book. Seth decided to play dirty as much as possible. He tricked Osiris into getting into a chest and locked him away. Isis did not stop searching for him and eventually found him.Then Seth murdered Osiris and spread his body parts all over Egypt. Isis collected and buried all of the single pieces of his body, except for his phallus, which had been eaten by a fish. She did this as a way of putting him back together (eventually making Osiris the God the Underworld). Horus was the posthumously conceived son of Osiris, and is one of the most important Gods to be known throughout ancient Egypt. Horus was the one who took over the thrown after defeating his uncle, Seth, and became King of Egypt for eternity. Isis is also known to be to cunning and incredibly smart, especially when she tricked Seth into believing that Horus was the one who should be king in one of the translations of the book The Literature of Ancient Egypt by William K. Simpson.

We can see that many off the Goddesses held immense power over Egypt land as many of the Egyptian respected their power as they gave offerings as a way to appreciate them for what they have done. If I had to pick one of the Goddesses that I chose to write out to be my favorite, would be Hathor. While Hathor was one of the most loving and protective deities out there, she is able to turn like a whip and turn into her lion self, Sekhmet, and become obsessed with blood shed. As I look at this, Hathor seems to have two faces.

Note: All images were from Wikipedia except the Nut image which was from here.