Out of Egypt

An educational Forum based on new
historical and scientific discoveries

Article #9

Out of Egypt
Have I Called My Son

© Ahmed Osman 2002
Ahmed Osman
Historian and Scholar


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Out of Egypt Have I Called My Son

One day in AD 391, the Roman appointed Bishop Theophilus marched from his headquarters in the Brucheion Royal quarter of Alexandria, at the head of a large howling mob, heading west for the Serapeum in the heart of the Egyptian quarter of Rhakotis. The Serapeum, which had been the centre of Egyptian worship for seven centuries, was adorned with extensive columned halls, almost-breathing statues, and a great number of other works of art, as well as being the house of the Great Alexandrian library. The frenzied people rushed through the streets along the Canopic way, turning into the short street that led to the temple-area of Serapis, meeting other crowds there, before climbing up the great flight of marble steps, led by Bishop Theophilus. They jumped their way across the stone platform and into the temple, where the events of the final tragedy took place.

In their agitated mood, the angry mob took little heed of the gold and silver ornaments, the precious jewels, the priceless bronze and marble statues, the rare murals and tapestries, the carved and painted pillars, granite, many marbles, ebony and scented woods, ivory and exotic furniture; all were smashed to pieces with cries of pleasure. But that was not all: Those shouting men, filled with demoniac delight, then turned to the library, where hundreds of thousands of papyrus rolls and parchments inscribed with ancient wisdom and knowledge were taken off their shelves, torn to pieces, and thrown to the fire.

Until the destruction of its library in AD 391, Alexandria had remained the most important cultural centre of the ancient world and the focal point of the mutual influence exercised in the conjunction of Christianity and Hellenism, in spite of four centuries of Rome's political supremacy. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, it was the first real cosmopolitan city in history where Macedonians and Greeks lived together with Egyptians and Jews, and scholars flocked in from all over the world to do their research. They came from Italy and Greece, from Anatolia and the Levant, from northern Africa, Arabia, and even from Persia and India. Not only did they share a common habitation in Alexandria, they all had the same longing for knowledge and the same interest in philosophy and ancient wisdom as represented in the teaching of Hermes Trismegistus and the worship of Serapis. Alexandria was also the centre of Hellenistic Judaism. It was here that Philo Judaeus, the first Jewish philosopher, wrote his thirty-eight books in the 1st century AD. The city had, in addition, the only library containing almost all the books of ancient civilizations, including the Greek text of the Old Testament. Hence it is not astonishing that Alexandria early became the main Christian intellectual centre.

Up to the end of the fourth century AD, the time when the Alexandrian library was destroyed, Egypt was regarded as the holy land of the ancient world, the source of wisdom and knowledge where the gods became known for the first time. Pilgrims then, including Roman emperors, came from all over the world to worship in the temples of Isis and Serapis, as well as at the foot of Mount Sinai. This situation came to an end, however, in the latter years of the reign of Emperor Theodosius I, who was zealous in his suppression of both paganism and heresy. Emperor of the East (379-392) and then sole emperor of both East and West (392-395), he established the creed of the Council of Nicaea (the first council of Nicaea was organized by Constantine in 325) as a universal norm for Christian orthodoxy and directed the convening of the second general council at Constantinopble (381) to clarify the formula.

"It is our wish and pleasure that none of our subjects, whether magistrates or private citizens, however exalted or however humble may be their rank or condition, shall presume in any city or in any place to worship an inanimate idol," declared Theodosius in his last edict. Fanatical mobs of the Church then roamed the lands, razing old temples to the ground and plundering their wealth. Ancient tombs were desecrated, walls of monuments scraped clean of names and depictions of deities, statues toppled over and smashed. In Alexandria, Archbishop Theophilus was as zealous as Emperor Theodosius who appointed him. One of his zealous actions, which took place in AD 391, resulted in the loss for mankind of all knowledge of ancient wisdom, and completely wiped out the memory of ancient Egypt. That was the burning of an estimated half a million books that were stored in the Alexandrian library.

Theophilus of Alexandria (385-412), was one of the orthodox leaders who represented the imperial government dispatched from Rome to impose official orthodoxy on the Alexandrian Church. He led a campaign against paganism and heresy in Egypt that included the destruction of the Serapeum (the temple of Serapis), where the Alexandrian library was placed. As almost all inhabitants of Egypt had been converted to Christianity, the Serapeum, at the same time being the centre of worship for the ancient Egyptian trinity of Osiris, Isis and Horus, had become a focal point for the emerging Gnostic Christian sects.

The first Christian emperor, Constantine I (AD 324-337), had made Christianity the official religion of the empire. He also granted political power to the Church. Bishops not only were recognized as counselors of state, but obtained juridical rights: their solutions to civil suits were legally enforced. The bishops wasted no time in using their newly acquired power to spread the word of God and stamp out his enemies, who in this case were not only the pagans, but also the heretics; and Rome regarded Egyptian Christians as heretics.

According to tradition the church of Alexandria was founded neither by St. Peter nor by St. Paul, but by St. Mark the evangelist, even before what is said to have been the first Apostolic Council of Jerusalem in 50 AD. The first Christian theological school to be established anywhere in the world also flourished in Alexandria before the end of the second century, which became an influential centre of Christian scholarship, among whose directors were the famous Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Christian monasticism, as an institution, was initiated principally in Egypt by St. Antony the Copt (c. 251- 356), who fled to the solitude of the eastern desert from his native village of Coma. Others followed his example and the monastic colony arose around his cave in the Red Sea mountains.

Although Alexandria made an important contribution in developing the first systematic Christian theology, the Alexandrian theologians were strongly influenced by Plato's philosophy. Biblical exegesis at Alexandria was allegorical and mystical, following the same method as Philo Judaeus, the Jewish philosopher, who tried to harmonize philosophy and the Bible. The Alexandrian authors sought out in the Old Testament symbols of the New. Accepting the unity of God, for early Egyptian Christians, was an evolutionary process in which the old system was assimilated into the new, and old deities became angelic beings and mediators between man and the unseen Lord. Idols, for them, did not represent the deities themselves but were merely physical forms in which the spiritual beings could dwell during prayer. The Gnostic teachers Basilides, Isidorus, and Carpocrates found their followers at Alexandria, and much of the ecclesiastical history of this city was concerned with the conflicts caused by the heresies that appeared in Alexandria, such as Arianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism, and Monophysitism.

The Serapeum, originally established by the Ptolemies, later became also a centre for Gnostic communities, both Hermetic and Christian. Some Gnostic Christian sects grew out from within the cult of Serapis, and made no distinction between Christ and Serapis. With the destruction of the Serapeum, not only Egyptian knowledge was lost, but also Mesopotamian, Syrian, Phoenician, Jewish, and Greek. The whole scientific achievement of the old civilizations, regarded as heresy by Bishop Theophilus, disappeared in a single day: books on Astronomy, Anatomy, Medicine, Geometry, Geography, History, Philosophy, Theology, Literature, as well as copies of the early Gnostic gospels of Christ. The result was the beginning of the Dark Ages, which lasted for more than ten centuries after that. All branches of science, as well as heretic writings that did not adhere to the teaching of the orthodox Church, were forbidden by the state. This left the canonic books of the Scripture to be the main source of our knowledge until the Renaissance in the fifteenth century.

Now as we start to rewrite our ancient history, Egypt emerges as the birth place of our spiritual teachers, from Imhotep the first pyramid builder, to Moses and Akhenaton, who recognized the unity of God, to the followers of Osiris, Hermes Trismegistus, and of Jesus Christ who looked for spiritual salvation and eternal life. Thanks to modern archaeologists, a new age now appears on the horizon where Egypt could be restored to its original place. It looks like a fulfillment of the old prophesy, which predicted that woes would come upon Egypt, but also promised that order would finally be restored again. This prophesy is found in the Hermetic text of Asclepius discovered among the Nag Hammadi library. Asclepius is a dialogue between the mystagogue, Hermes Trismegistus, and an initiate, Asclepius. In an apocalyptic section, with significant Egyptian and Israelite parallels, the speaker predicts the fall, then the rise again of Egypt:

" . . . are you ignorant, O Asclepius, that Egypt is (the) image of heaven? Moreover, it is the dwelling place of heaven and all the forces that are in heaven. If it is proper for us to speak the truth, our land is (the) temple of the world. And it is proper for you not to be ignorant that a time will come in it (our land) (when) Egyptians will seem to have served the divinity in vain, and all their activity in their religion will be despised. For all divinity will leave Egypt and will flee upward to heaven. And Egypt will be widowed; it will be abandoned by the gods. For foreigners will come into Egypt, and they will rule it . . . And in that day the country that was more pious than all countries will become impious. No longer will it be full of temples, but it will be full of tombs . . . Egypt, lover of God, and the dwelling place of the gods, school of religion, will become an example of impiousness . . . [Then Egypt will be restored again] And the lords of the earth . . . will establish themselves in a city that is in a corner of Egypt and that will be built toward the setting of the sun . . ."

Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, confirms this prophesy and foretells the appearance of a 'saviour' in Egypt:

"The burden of Egypt. Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbor . . . And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof . . . In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord. And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt . . . and he shall send them a saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them." (Isaiah 19:1-3, 19-20)

The gospel of Matthew, in his account of the birth of Christ, confirmed that the saviour foretold by Isaiah to appear in Egypt was the same person as Jesus. In order to justify his appearance in Palestine, Matthew introduced the story of the holy family's flight to Egypt and, using the words of the prophet Hosea (11:1), announced the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophesy in him:

". . . that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son." (Mat. 2: 15)

Ahmed Osman

Historian, lecturer, researcher and author, Ahmed Osman is a British Egyptologist born in Cairo

His four in-depth books clarifying the history of the Bible and Egypt are: Stranger in the Valley of the Kings (1987) - Moses: Pharaoh of Egypt (1990) - The House of the Messiah (1992) - Out of Egypt (1998)


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Editors Note: The Egypt segment of the Forum brings to your attention one of the most evocative issues on the philosophical/theological horizon.

It calls for a clarification of age-old stories and a reintegration of new findings on a world stage that begs for unity and reconciliation. This important development offers an opportunity for dialog and discovery; for understanding and conciliation, for healing and empowerment.

We'll be highlighting the views and concerns of many folk, while honoring a broad range of perspectives and insights. Welcome aboard.

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