Ancient Egypt Life in Ancient Egypt was one that involved an ordered life. The Nile flooded and the sun dried the land on a regular basis every year. People lived their lives in a orderly fashion that has them following set routines from year to year. This routine was greatly integrated with the Egyptian belief in the spiritual world and the religion it soon became. Egyptian religion helped people to see definition in their lives and gave them something to live for. There was an afterlife to look forward to and a spiritual rule of law that would take care of them until then. Also there was a state that was created by the religion to lead the people correctly.
Therefore, the most important role that religion played in Egypt was that gave people the spiritual definition and structure for the ordered life that they lived. Egyptian religion revolved around death and the afterlife because it was believed that an individual’s life would continue on a different plateau after their death, with life as merely a transitional stage. This was a strong belief that saw death as only a passage to another life that one would live; this life was actually more important than the one a person lived in the present life. “Thus there is an air of permanence about Egypt; the past is never far from the present.”(Mckay 25) Therefore, people lived their lives waiting for death and the afterlife and thus their lives revolved around it. Ancient Egyptians believed that when one died, a journey would be made to another world, where one would have the ability to lead a new life. Egypt was a society whose climate never really killed anything and simply brought things back to life.
“The climate of Egypt is so stable that change is cyclical and dependable: the heat of summer bakes the land, and in the fall the Nile always floods and replenishes it.”(Mckay 25) This can be seen in the flooding of the Nile every year and the re-growth of plants on a consistent basis. For Egyptians this could therefore also be applied to their own lives and death. The afterlife was thus viewed simply as an extension of earthly existence with the rebirth in the afterlife comparable to the flooding of the Nile every year that brought new life to the crops of Egypt. This idea of life gave Egyptians a structure and goal to their lives. In this sense, it helped to fulfill the most important function of religion in Egyptian society.
It gave people something to live for and an event to build themselves towards. Individuals believed that after death, their hearts would be weighed against a feather in the Hall of Maat, by the goddess of truth. “Osiris .. weighing human beings’ hearts to determine whether they had lived justly enough to deserve everlasting life.”(Mckay 25) If lighter than the feather, would be allowed passage to an eternal and pleasant life. Therefore, People lived their lives to prepare for the day when they would die and their hearts would be weighed to see if they were actually worthy.
This made people live good lives and try to keep their hearts good for when it would be weighed. It also gave them the ability to approach death with a degree of happiness and relief, not fear. Therefore it gave them a sense of peace and order in their lives that they may have needed each day to get by. Therefore, this reliance on death and the afterlife was a aspect of the important function that religion served. Religion provided the Egyptian people with a distinctive structure to their lives and an element of certainty that they may progress into the afterlife and be guaranteed immortality. Religion extended into a wide range of contexts, from the annual flooding of the Nile River that either indicated hunger or plenty for the whole nation.
People had something to live for in life. The idea of the afterlife gave a meaning that may have been lacking without it. Also in a time of limited scientific inquiry, the religion gave a different type of meaning to the people. Events like the annual flooding of the Nile that may not have been easily explained, was given one by the religion. This also extended to other natural phenomenoms that occurred in Egypt such as the baking of the desert by the heat of the sun every summer. Therefore, in terms of meaning and structure, the Egyptian religion provided the Egyptian people with an ability to define scientific events; providing meaning in peoples lives for the actions they saw everyday.
Also involved with giving meaning and structure was the law and order aspect of the religion. During this time there was no bible or real established code of law. The Egyptian religion gave people the ethics by which to live by. It prevented chaos and people doing whatever they wanted to do. People found in their religion a definition from which to live their lives ethically.
They found rules to follow and actions to avoid, two things they might not have otherwise realized on their own. At the same time, the idea of giving meaning to the Egyptian’s lives also involved the idea of celebration within the Egyptian religion. The teachings books gave people events from which to celebrate. Thus people were able to find times in their lives to break away from their daily routine and enjoy themselves. This is often an important, overlooked aspect of society.
If people have no reason to celebrate and enjoy their lives, then existence would be drab and with no meaning whatsoever. The Egyptian religion provided the people with days of celebration and large celebrations for the gods. Therefore, their lives were full of meaning when it came to the enjoyment of life. This was a very important function of the Egyptian religion. Another important contribution of structure that the Egyptian religion provided is that it gave people reliance on certain events so that they could live their lives.
While a natural event, the Egyptian people knew from their religion every year that their river was going to flood and give them the water they would need for their crops. This helped them to plan for the event and structured their lives accordingly. Due to this reliance on religion, Egyptians could always plan on having food and a settled agricultural society. They did not have to go and hunt with no lure where their next meal would come from. Their religion gave them the structure and reliance to know that their lives would be secure with all the elements surrounding them.
Therefore, as can be seen, Egyptian religion helped fulfill this very important function of giving structure to their lives in terms of spiritual definition. People knew what was going to happen to them with the elements around them. At the same time they had a structure to try and live their lives because of the law given by the religion. This also gave people an order for which to live their lives because all wanted to insure themselves a good place in the afterlife. Thus, all these reasons show why religion’s most important function was providing people with the spiritual definition for the order and structure by which to live their lives. Along with all the other ideas of structure, Egyptian religion also gave an order for the state by which the Pharaohs ruled Egypt. The Pharaoh was viewed as both the head of the state and also the divine representative of the gods.
As stated in Mckay, “The pharaoh’s power was such that the Egyptians considered him to be the falcon-god Horus in human form.”(McKay 25) The Egyptian provided him with such as he was seen as the embodiment of one of the gods on Earth. Upon his death he was to unite with Osiris and take his place in the afterlife. People thus greatly revered the Pharaoh because to them he was literally a god who need to be treated as such. This gave the Pharaoh the most important function when establishing a structure for a state, a respect for the central control. No one dared to dispute the power of the ruling Pharaoh because he was divine. Thus, he was able to set up his state and rule strongly.
This was provided by the Egyptian religion. Also the idea of bureaucracy under state and the Pharaoh was helped along by the Egyptian religion. People wanted to get close to the Pharaoh, after all he was a god. Therefore they were willing to work for him and do his bidding simply to be one of his trusted advisors. The Pharaoh was thus able to set up a strong centralized government with a delegation of responsibilities into society through a bureaucracy. He was able to have a system of strong advisors who he knew would not betray him because they thought he was a god.
Thus his government could spread out among a number of people and greatly control society. Here was another way that religion effected and expanded the state in Egypt. . By effectively using the power of religion as a control in ruling the country, Pharaohs succeeded in creating one of the earliest forms of bureaucracy. This strong role of state structure also contributed to the important function of spiritual definition to an ordered Egyptian life that religion provided.
People knew from day to day that they were going to be ruled by a strong Pharaoh whose decisions were final. They did not have a problem of worrying about who was in charge and who they had to look to for guidance. The Pharaoh’s word was the final one and people saw in him a strong leader. This was a form of relaxation within the structure in people’s lives. People never had to wonder what leader to look to or who they should follow. At the same time, having a Pharaoh who was a god gave them the comfort that they were being led by the words of the gods.
Thus, they respected the structure of the state and the people who ran it. They were able to rely on the bureaucracy because it was an extension of the gods and the Pharaoh. Thus religion again played an important role of giving structure to people’s lives because they were able to have a strong central government that they were able to rely on. This let them live their lives with a strong leader to look up to. Therefore, all the aspects of Egyptian religious life provided the Egyptian people with the spiritual definition of structure to live life by.
They had definition for what was going on around them in terms of science and natural events. This extended to give people the ability to structure their lives around the events. It gave the ability to live their lives with direction toward the bliss of the afterlife. It also eliminated fear and directed happiness towards death. This gave people an order in their life that could have been chaos if death had never been understood.
People also received structure in terms of the law and order that the religious writings provided. The state was also strong and orderly because of the religion. Showing another aspect of how people received structure from the religion in their lives. Thus, in Egyptian life, the most important function of religion was giving spiritual definition to people’s ordered and structured lives. History.