Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Comparative Monotheism: Ancient Egypt and the Kongo Religion, the Bukôngo

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Comparative Monotheism: Ancient Egypt and the Kongo Religion, the Bukôngo

Article excerpt


One of the issues debated in the field of Egyptology is the nature of the theism of the religion of ancient Egypt. If the vast majority of scientists have so far leaned towards an affirmation of the polytheistic nature of the religion of ancient Egypt, there are also voices that are raised to oppose their perception.

In this article, after establishing the inappropriateness of postulating the scholastic concept of monotheism as an absolute standard for the appraisal of any claim of monotheism, I propose an appraisal of the theism of ancient Egypt based on a comparative study of this old religious theistic concept to the hierarchical monotheism of the people of the ancient Kingdom of the Kongo in central Africa.

Approach of Research

The main approach that is often used in the appraisal of the theism of ancient Egypt is a comparative study with the notion of monotheism as defined in the Western theistic philosophy. It is in this way that Massey (1881: 439), for example, speaks of Egyptologists who argue that the Egyptian religion 'was originally monotheistic in the modern sense of a conception and a worship of the one male divinity'.

Thus, the basic assumption for the assertion of the polytheistic nature of the religion of ancient Egypt is not necessarily the absence of texts affirming the belief in a single supreme God, but rather, the lack of agreement of any claim of monotheism with the prevailing conception of this notion in Western civilization.

The Webster dictionary (1977) defines monotheism as 'the belief that there is but one God'. To the same definition, the Larousse (1983) adds that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the major monotheistic religions of the world. This addition points to the fact that the concept of monotheism is linked to the scholastic perception of these faiths.

The case obviously appears to be that the majority of Egyptologists sustains that if Egypt is monotheistic; it should be so according to the scholastic conception of this notion. This position is part of what can be called an autobiographical vision of the pharaonic civilization (Asante 2009: 4).

In this way, one seeks in ancient Egypt proofs of monotheism, proofs of the concept of a religion where people affirm the existence of only one God, creator of the universe, to whom all prayers are addressed. But what seems to appear in the study of ancient history is that the Egyptians addressed their prayers to a multitude of Gods who offer no unanimity in the naming of the creator of the universe, nor on doctrinal matters (Mackenzie 1907: IV).

Hence, the position of the majority of the Egyptologists calls in mind the following question: is the scholastic theistic paradigm sufficiently justified to be universally valid and to be an enforceable standard against any affirmation of monotheism? I intend to show that the answer to this question is negative; and this conviction will lead me to attempt an appraisal of the theism of the ancient Egypt via a comparative study with an African vision of monotheism.

So the approach I advocate in making a judgment about ancient Egyptian theism is to start from the examination of the monotheism of the Bukôngo, the Kongo religion. Thus, the claimed monotheism of the traditional faith of the Bakôngo (the Kongo people) and the demonstration of the existence of monotheistic features in the theism of this African religion will allow me to judge, by a comparative study, the existence or not of monotheism in ancient Egypt, later I will justify the consistency of my claims about the Osirian religion through their agreement with some historical evidences.

Objection to Scholastic Monotheism

Monotheism is defined by the scholastics philosophers and theologians as the doctrine of the uniqueness of God. Speaking of this uniqueness Luginbill (2006: 4) indicates that it involves God's 'natural authority and ability to order the universe however He chooses'. …

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