This work is aimed at considering the problem of correlation of the religious system that existed in Ancient Egypt with the terminology that has developed in the religious studies literature for qualitative characterisation of one or another tradition.
The relevance of the chosen topic lies in the fact that the problem of insufficient correspondence of the terminological apparatus established in religious studies is not adequately addressed in domestic studies. The definition of such categories as « polytheism » and « monotheism » goes back to the Abrahamic religious tradition. If we consider Judaism and its derivative religions as the standard of monotheism, then a problem arises in determining the nature of more ancient religious systems, which have the idea of a single god, but have completely different symbolic rows and iconographic traditions.

Scientific innovancy of the work consists in the refusal from reductionism when using such categories of religious studies as « polytheism » and « monotheism » when applying phenomenological approach to the study of religion of Ancient Egypt, which allowed to consider not yet studied aspects of the problem of typology of religious systems.
The practical significance of the work lies in the possibility of using the results of the study for possible correction of the ideas about the ancient Egyptian religion as an unambiguously polytheistic religious system.

The object of the study is a variety of ideas about the divine in ancient Egyptian religion. The subject of the study is the problem of correlation of the Egyptians’ ideas about the divine with the types of religious culture established in religious studies.
The aim of the study is to prove the inconsistency of the representations about god in the religion of Ancient Egypt with such types of religious culture as polytheism, Abrahamic monotheism and genotheism. To fulfil this goal the following tasks are set: to reconstruct the ideas about God in the religion of Ancient Egypt as close as possible to the ideas of the bearers of this tradition and to compare the results of the reconstruction with the types of religious culture established in the scientific environment.

The methodological basis of the work is the use of different approaches to the study of the subject of research. When considering the religion of Ancient Egypt in its development, the historical approach is used. Following the principle of objectivity allows minimising subjective cognitive errors that prevent the achievement of scientific truth. The comparative approach is used to compare Egyptian religious ideas with other traditions. When studying ancient Egyptian religion as a holistic complex of interrelated elements, a systematic approach is used. Structural-functional analysis allows to reveal the structure and functioning of individual parts and subsystems of the religious system. In order to avoid inadmissible simplifications when using the systemic approach, the principle of anti-reductionism is applied. The hermeneutic method is used to achieve understanding of the meaning of religious texts of Ancient Egypt.

The chronological framework of the study covers the period from the emergence of writing and statehood in Egypt to the integration of Egypt into the Roman Empire. The lower chronological boundary is the emergence of the I Dynasty around 3000 BC. The upper boundary of the study is 30 BC.
The structure of the study proceeds from the set tasks. The work includes an introduction, two chapters, conclusion, list of sources and literature used.


Formulating the problem of typologisation of the religion of Ancient Egypt

The civilisation that emerged at the end of the 4th millennium in the Nile Valley created a powerful cultural field that largely determined the shape of all civilisations that subsequently emerged in Europe and the Middle East. The legacy of Egyptian technology, art, theology and philosophy had the strongest influence on the development of civilisations that culturally inherited the modern European civilisation. If we think of the cultural links between civilisations as a great family tree, Egypt is the seed from which the civilisation of ancient Greece sprouted. The cultural exchange that began in the Minoan period, through Mycenae and the Classics, laid many of the foundations of what we call ancient philosophy. Had it not been for Egypt, Plato’s dialogues and the Nicomachean Ethics would have hardly been composed. Many thinkers of ancient Hellas visited Egypt, where they communicated with the priests who had kept many thousands of years of experience in contemplating what lies beyond human understanding – the essence of the divine and the nature of man.

In the Hellenistic period, contacts between Greeks and Egyptians became even closer: Egypt, liberated from Persian rule, became a part of Alexander the Great’s empire, and after its collapse became the possession of one of Alexander’s diadochos, Ptolemy, the founder of the dynasty that ruled Egypt for more than three centuries. A de-facto syncretic cultural tradition was born, where Greek and Egyptian elements were closely intertwined into a single matrix.It was Alexandria of Egypt that became the centre of science and culture of the Hellenistic period, where Ptolemy I founded the Museion, on the basis of which the famous Bibliotheca Alexandrina arose, where the greatest minds of their time worked – Euclid and Archimedes, Strabo and Eratosthenes, Hipparchus and Aristarchus of Samos, where Manephon wrote his « History of Egypt », and Sostratus built one of the wonders of the world – the Pharos Lighthouse. Would such a thing have been possible if there had been no highly developed civilisation in the Nile Delta by the time of the Ptolemies, if Egypt had been only a remote periphery of the ancient world? It is hardly conceivable.

The thousand-year tradition of Egyptian monumental construction helped Sostratus to build one of the greatest masterpieces of engineering art of antiquity, and the knowledge of Egyptian priests allowed Euclid to lay the foundation of the geometry of linear space. And Christian theology, already in the Roman period, is largely formed in Egypt. One of the first Christian educational institutions – The Catechetical School of Alexandria engaged in the synthesis of the achievements of ancient philosophy and the essence of Christian doctrine. The greatest Christian thinkers – Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Didymus the Blind, Athenagoras and Heraclius of Alexandria – worked within the walls of this institution. A distinctive exegetical tradition based on allegorical interpretation of sacred texts emerges in Egypt, which is also extremely characteristic of ancient Egyptian religion. The Alexandrian theological school made a great contribution to the development of Christological and trinitarian concepts. The tradition of Christian monasticism is also closely connected with Egypt – such revered ascetics as Athanasius the Great, Macarius the Great, Paul of Thebes and Pachomius the Great went to the barren deserts, where travelling hermits of seraphic cults had previously dwelt.Ancient Greece and Rome, which was also not devoid of contacts with Egypt, is also being inherited by our modern European civilisation, to the eastern part of which the history of Russian statehood and culture can undoubtedly be attributed. What is the main idea of that cultural paradigm, which was formed in Ancient Egypt and continues to live to the present day? To answer this question, it is necessary to look at those differences, which appeared at the early stages of formation of the first civilisations, which firmly adopted writing and statehood.

The very question of how and why civilisation emerges is perhaps the main mystery of human history. What reasons could induce the representatives of the Homo Sapiens species to radically change their way of life twice during the insignificant by the standards of human existence 6000 years – to move to the producing economy and settled way of life in the X millennium B.C. and to statehood in the IV millennium? There is no exhaustive answer to this question, although there are many hypotheses put forward at different times. Nevertheless, the facts show that in the second half of the IV millennium, three first civilisations emerged almost synchronously in different parts of the world.


Of course, when considering the culture of these civilisations, one can find many invariants, but there are also significant differences in the model of statehood, religious culture and peculiarities of economic management. But let us focus on the differences in the perception of the place and role of man in the universe within the religious traditions of these civilisations.
Representations of the divine are always abstract and filled with symbols and allegories, it is impossible to give a comprehensible definition of that whose being is qualitatively different from human and lies beyond the limits of the material world. The Divine is not cognisable from the outside, it can only be comprehended from within itself. Representations of man, on the contrary, are extremely concrete and they determine the paradigm of thinking within a culture. Since ancient times, the Egyptian religious tradition has declared the special place of humanity and each individual in the world, which was created for man and where there is a place for the realisation of man’s free will as a divine person, the concept of which was conceived by the deity before the creation of the world.

We find slightly different ideas about humanity in Sumer. Man is initially thought of as a service creature, created specially for the performance of hard labour. Even less anthropocentric are the ideas about the place of man in China. Man is perceived not as a unique being around whom the whole created world is centred, but as an insignificant part of nature, which itself is the imprint of the divine way (Tao). The only qualitative difference of man is his free will, which is expressed in the choice between harmony with the Tao and rejection of harmony in favour of chaos.

The content of the religious culture of Harappa we are currently unable to reconstruct, because, despite the abundance of texts, it is not possible to decipher the Indus Valley script. It is possible to assume that there was an incorporation of some religious ideas of this civilisation into the Vedic culture in the Upanishadic period of its development, but such research is beyond the scope of this study. The development of the Indo-European religious tradition in India eventually leads to the creation of completely unique ideas about man, radically different from both Far Eastern and Egyptian. Indian religious anthropology questions the very reality of the human person.

Advaita-vedanta affirms the divine as the absolute reality, which is indescribable, and everything else that can be qualitatively characterised as unreal. In the human being, only the atman – that which is identical with the divine – is real. And a person’s body, his soul in the Western sense of this word, his personality are not something essential. The teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha go even further, the very realisation of one’s own self is recognised as a cognitive error, and liberation from this error leads to merging with the dharma.

Thus, four different paradigms of religious consciousness emerge in the four ancient centres of civilisation. Which of them is closest to the sum of cultural achievements developed by European civilisation? The main brick in the foundation of the entire cultural matrix of Europe is a firm belief in the importance and uniqueness of the individual, his freedom to act in the world as he sees fit. European consciousness is alien to Indian ideas about the unreality or relative reality of the individual; such ideas were never voiced in the ancient religious systems of the Mediterranean, nor in ancient or medieval philosophy.
Some Greek philosophers denied the existence of gods or of the divine in general, like the Indian Nastikas, Ajivikas, and Lokayatikas, but never of human beings. The Christian tradition, having firmly assimilated the categories of ancient philosophy, also affirms the highest place of man in the world, who possesses both personhood and freedom by virtue of his likeness to God, who is the highest realisation of these qualities.

The cultural upsurge of Europe during the Renaissance and the philosophy of the Modern Age confirmed the dominant place of anthropocentrism in European thought. The development of European political culture led to the establishment of parliamentary democracy and the republican form of government, traditions dating back to the Greek polisia and the Roman Senate, and perhaps even deeper – to the peculiarities of the organisation of the ancient Indo-European model of tribus.

Of course, the political history of Europe knows another tradition – the tradition of absolute power, realised in absolute monarchies and totalitarian regimes. But the very ideas of total power in Europe were formed not as an independently arisen form, genetically derived from older traditions of unity of power, but rather as an element of negation in the dialectical development of democratic rule. The Western tradition’s conceptions of the relationship between man and nature are also fundamentally different from those of the Far East. The European tradition perceives the natural world as a sphere of human activity, his possession, which he is free to dispose of at his discretion as a master and moulder.

Thus, anthropological representations within the European civilisation are closest to the ancient Egyptian ones, which testifies to the presence of strong genetic ties between Egypt and later cultures of Europe. Egypt can be rightfully considered the first Western civilisation, which laid the cultural foundations for the subsequent development of many peoples. A careful study of the religion of ancient Egypt allows us to see many units of cultural information, which are traditionally considered to be unique assets of much later traditions. The religion of Egypt is very complex, including a large number of seemingly mutually exclusive cosmogonic systems, complex symbolic series and unusual, multiple representations of the divine.

When trying to somehow typologise ancient Egyptian religion, to correlate it with Abrahamic traditions and other forms of religiosity, one gets a feeling of its fundamental otherness, dissimilarity neither to the Judeo-Christian tradition of monotheism, nor to the type of religious culture, which is commonly referred to as polytheism. The widespread idea of the polytheistic nature of ancient Egyptian religion comes into sharp contradiction with the content of religious texts, which repeatedly indicate that the Egyptians were well aware of the category of a single creator-god. Is the indisputable fact of the existence of a multitude of divine names and personalities a contradictory correlate of the veneration of a single god? The evolutionary school in religious studies, formed by the works of James Frazer and Edward Taylor, unequivocally answers in the affirmative. For a long time religious studies has been firmly dominated by the belief in the development of religious beliefs from the most primitive forms in ancient times to more complex ones as society develops.

This progressivist approach was characteristic of the late 19th century, as the idea of evolutionary development articulated by Charles Darwin in his book The Origin of Species quickly spread beyond biology and became a kind of mainstream in the scientific community. For Belle Époque society, the belief in progress seemed unbreakable until the First World War. Within this paradigm, it seemed logical to take known forms of religiosity and line them up, making each of these forms a stage in a progressive development that takes place as society develops technologically.

Since it is impossible to reconstruct the religious beliefs of prehistoric man from archaeology, they were invented artificially by Taylor, proceeding from the thesis that a primitive level of economy must correspond to no less primitive forms of religiosity. Taylor called the oldest form of religiosity animism, that « minimum of religion » from which all subsequent forms developed. Fraser considered this minimum not enough minimal, according to his theory, before the emergence of religion there was a whole stage of magical perception of the world, which was characterised by the belief in the possibility of their own forces to change the environment in a supernatural way. Lucien Lévy-Bruhl tried to further primitivise the thinking of ancient man by proposing the concept of prelogical consciousness – a type of consciousness in which experiential knowledge of the surrounding world is fundamentally impossible due to the fact that any phenomenon can be caused by any supernatural forces, which makes it impossible to systematise experiential knowledge. Iteration of any process is impossible, because every breeze, every rain and every fire ignition is a unique phenomenon, behind which there is a certain otherworldly force. And since iteration of the process is impossible, the process of verification of any incoming information is also impossible.

If we take the positivist understanding of scientific cognition in the spirit of Comte, identify its main criteria – empiricism and interconnectedness of phenomena through laws, and change these criteria into words with opposite meanings, we really get what can be called prelogical thinking. Such thinking must indeed be based on mysticism and haphazardness, but what does it have to do with prehistoric man, it is nothing more than an intellectual exercise in visualising views polar to those of Lévy-Bruehl. The tendency to primitivise the consciousness of ancient man, to give them characteristics qualitatively different from the consciousness of modern man, was very widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are many reasons for this, from the ideological justification of the superiority of civilised man over the conventional savage at the height of the power of colonial empires, to Freudian ideas about ancient man as an infantile neurotic.

If the consciousness of ancient man was mulched by researchers into a fragmented pulp, the already quite historical forms of religious culture of Ancient Egypt were recognised as the next stage in the development of religion – polytheism. In the simplest formulation, polytheism is a system of beliefs based on the belief in a multitude of gods. In the framework of the theory of evolutionary development of religion, polytheism is a stage when man personifies supernatural forces and builds a hierarchical relationship between them. While in prehistory there is no logic and experience to speak of at all, at the stage of polytheism, myth becomes the means of rationalising experience.
However, multiple field studies by ethnologists have found traces of the knowledge of a single god in the modern cultures of peoples without written language or statehood, at different stages of technological development, and not as a result of the influence of colonial missionary activity. A detailed analysis of religious culture, even of such a technologically underdeveloped society as the Aborigines of Australia, allows us to firmly assert that the knowledge of a creator-god is a knowledge that is deeply ancient, partly forgotten, and universally secret, guarded from the uninitiated, and not at all recently borrowed, as Arthur Ellis suggested.

If we reason in the spirit of dialectical materialism and take as true the thesis that being is primary in relation to consciousness, then we should conclude that the ideas of modern Australian Aborigines at the level of development of the Upper Palaeolithic should be identical to the religious views relevant in the Upper Palaeolithic period. Several conclusions follow from this. Either the knowledge of a single god was really present long before the emergence of writing and statehood, and was a knowledge that faded, partly lost, and later became irrelevant, or we are mistaken and there is some difference between the man who passed from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic, and the one who has not passed even 12 thousand years after the first Neolithic cultures. If the first assumption is correct, then there is a process of not evolution but involution of religious culture forms from more complex forms to simpler ones at the stage of transition to Neolith and writing. But already after the creation of civilisation the reverse movement to monotheism begins.

Does this mean that the change in religious culture resembles the movement of a pendulum that alternately shifts from monotheism to polytheism? This is hardly true; at any rate, attempting to prove such a hypothesis would require a large number of unjustified assumptions. If we assume, however, that there is a fundamental cultural difference between the modern Australian Aborigine and Paleolithic man, then we may well assume that the state of modern non-civilised peoples is the result of a certain fork in the field of culture and the way knowledge is transmitted. In the framework of the evolutionary model, the development of different peoples can be imagined as sprouts in a ploughed field, some peoples were lucky to fall on fertile soil and were able to create civilisation faster than others, becoming towering trees, while others were less fortunate, growing only weak sprouts on the meagre soil against the background of their more fortunate brethren.

The trees of the first civilisations have long since grown old and crumbled, replaced by new ones that in many ways surpassed them in beauty and strength, but the stunted sprouts of unwritten cultures must still be authentic to themselves of many thousands of years ago. Such an analogy is absurd, if at the stage of transition to the Neolithic and statehood, a part of peoples took the path of development, a path that was dangerous and not always immediately economically more favourable, the other part, having abandoned development, should stagnate and degenerate. Thus, modern civilised nations and uncivilised nations are not sprouts developing at different speeds, but rather two beds of one river, one full-flowing and the other long dried up, with only small puddles at the dry bottom, reminding that once there was a turbulent stream flowing here as well.

The fragments of knowledge about the creator-god hidden from the uninitiated are only surviving fragments of the ancient irrelevant religion, most of the content of which has been forgotten in the conditions of broken oral transmission of information by the weakening priesthood against the background of stagnation as a dominant in the cultural field. It is appropriate to draw an analogy with the disintegration of the Vedic tradition in peoples who have not passed to the written tradition. The Aryan tribe, whose structure was entirely built on ensuring the transmission of the Vedic tradition, at some crisis point loses the ability to transmit the tradition completely. Where the Vedas were written down, which is the south-eastern region of the Indo-Europeans’ distribution area, a written tradition emerges and continues its development. In other regions, the Vedic religion degenerates, and only separate mythologemes remain, which are repeated in different cultures, on the basis of the similarity of which the hypothesis of the  » principal myth » of the Indo-Europeans was put forward.

In contrast to evolutionary ideas, Wilhelm Schmidt, based on the ideas of transcultural diffusionism and the doubts about the animistic genesis of religion expressed earlier by Andrew Lang, put forward the theory of pramonotheism, according to which the original form of religious culture was monotheism, which degenerated over time to the level of animism and polytheism. Schmidt’s concept has been criticised both by supporters of the Taylorist model and by religiously-determined researchers. Thus, Nathan Söderbloem, proceeding from the Christian tradition, could not accept the possibility of the existence in antiquity of monotheistic views similar to the Abrahamic ones, since the knowledge obtained as a result of supernatural revelation could not have arisen before the writing of the Old Testament. Without questioning the existence of monotheistic ideas in antiquity, he believes them to be the result of man’s philosophical reflection on the causality of being, putting them on a par with the « philosophical monotheism » of some Greek philosophers

Mircea Eliade, one of the greatest researchers of religion of the XX century, wrote about the gradual replacement of monotheism by the deification of natural phenomena, behind which there are spirits created by the deity, the veneration of which is more relevant than that of their creator. The irrelevance of his veneration is emphasised by the idea of the creator-god as a god of rest, distant from the world of men.
If in the prehistoric epoch monotheistic ideas could exist, then why they could not exist in Ancient Egypt, having arisen not in the process of the emergence of statehood, but as a continuation of much more ancient traditions of monotheism. And here we come to the main problems that do not allow us to unambiguously typologise the ancient Egyptian religion. The first of such problems is not quite adequate terminology.

The terminology used by religious scholars is in one way or another genetically linked to the Christian tradition. Such a category as monotheism emerged as a description of the Jewish and derivative religions. Polytheism as a qualitative characteristic of religion arises from a reinterpretation of the Abrahamic view of paganism – the religions of other peoples. For the Jewish tradition, all religions other than its own were pagan, but pagan religions are not necessarily polytheistic.

If we combine the erroneous identification of paganism and polytheism with the very widespread idea of Abraham as the first monotheist, the very possibility of the existence of monotheism in Egypt is a priori impossible. If the Abrahamic tradition is the standard of monotheism, then the conceptual apparatus similar to the Jewish one, the extensive Christian iconography and the whole subsequent tradition of exegesis of sacred texts can be taken as some qualitative characteristics of monotheism. But we must not forget that monotheism and polytheism are not phases in the development of religion, as evolutionists believed, nor are they two entirely alien phenomena, as is common in the Abrahamic religious paradigm, but rather tendencies that are present in any religious tradition at the same time


Islam knows the category of « shirk » – giving Allah companionship, worshiping something other than Allah, popular Christian tradition often bestows divine qualities on individual saints whose veneration is done without honouring the creator god. Such tendencies towards primitivisation exist now, a thousand years ago, or four thousand years ago. The unfocussing of religious consciousness from a single god to a multitude of spirits is a constant process which requires serious efforts of the priesthood to correct. Such tendencies intensified in times of political crises; Egypt knew three extremely difficult periods in its history when there was some gap in the understanding of its own religious tradition between the highly educated and the common people.

In addition to transferring Abrahamic traditions to ancient Egyptian traditions, there is another dangerous anachronism of trying to explain various trends in religious tradition by ideological reasons, trying to assert the primacy of politics over religion. The perception of religion as part of ideology may reflect the perceptions of a nineteenth-century A.D. man, but not a nineteenth-century B.C. man for whom religion was a far more important aspect of life than politics. Rather, political culture is the result of the realisation of certain religious demands than religion is a means of achieving political goals.
So, we come to the direct consideration of the ancient Egyptian religious tradition and try to outline the tendencies of monotheism and polytheism, as well as to determine why one or another researcher gives such different assessments of the Egyptian religious experience.