Egyptian Symbols within Christianity

Besides the obvious crosses and crucifixes in many religions across the world that predated Christianity, there are also other non-Christian symbols found within Christianity.  As I’ve been focusing on Egypt lately, I’ll give two examples from that culture.  But realize there are many other such symbolic similarities that can also be shown.  I also chose the following quote because the author demonstrates that early Christians (including Augustine) were aware of these symbols and their meaning.

The Pagan Christ, Tom Harpur

pp 88-89: The Egyptian Christ, manifested in the sign of Pisces, was fore-ordained to be Ichthys (Greek word for “fish”), the fisherman and to be accompanied by fishermen followers.  Doctrinally, he was the “fisher of men”.  Horus, the best-known Egyptian Christ figure was associated  from time immemorial with the fish, and Massey’s Natural Genesis features a reproduction of an Egyptian engraving showing Horus holding a fish above his head.  Several of the early Christian Fathers refer to Christ also as Ichthys, or “that great fish,” and the mitre worn by succeeding popes “in the the shoes of the fishermen” is shaped exactly like a fish’s mouth.  It’s well known that the Greek word ichthys forms an acrostic meaning “Jesus Christ the Son of God (Our) Savior.”  Having been in Rome numerous times during my dozen years covering religion around the world for the Toronto Star, I have seen first-hand how frequently the outline of a fish occurs in catacombs as a Christian symbol.  It also doubled as a sign of the Eucharist.  Prosper Africanus, an early Christian theologian, calls Christ “that great fish who fed from himself the disciples on the shore and offered himself as a fish to the world.”  Commenting on this same passage from the end of John’s Gospel, St. Augustine says that the broiled fish in the story “is Christ.”  The art found in ancient Egyptian tombs commonly shows fish, fishermen, nets, and fishtraps of varying kinds.  All have the same spiritual meaning.

Much more important, however, is the fact that the Egyptian texts bear witness to an “only begotten god” (meaning begotten of one parent only), whose symbol was the beetle because in ancient science this creature was thought to be “self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  Massey says, “The only begotten god is a well-known type [symbol], then, of divinity worshipped in Egypt.  In each cult, the Messiah-son and manifestor was the only-begotten god.  This, according to the Egyptian text, is the Christ, the Word, the manifestor in John’s Gospel.”  In fact, in one early version of the Greek text of the New Testament’s Gospel of John, the phrase “the only begotten son of God” actually reads “the only begotten god”!  Its very unorthodoxy makes it likely that it is the preferred, original reading.

The truth thus came forcefully home to me that this Egyptian Christ is indeed the express image of the Christ of John’s Gospel, who begins in the first chapter without father or mother and is the Word of the beginning, the opener and the architect, the light of the world, the self-originated and only-begotten God.  I found that the very phraseology of Jonh often echoed the Egyptian texts, which tell of he who was “the Beginning of the becoming, from the first, who made all things but was not made.”  Some of the Fathers of the Church knew that the beetle was a symbol of Christ.  Augustine, indeed, writes, “My own good beetle, not so much because he is only begotten (God), not because he, the author of himself, has taken on the form of mortals, but because he has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself” – like the dung beetle.

When the god Osiris came to the earth as a savior, he came as his own son, the child Horus.  He was born “like or as a Word.”  The Egyptian text says that he came to earth as a substitute.  Indeed, an ancient Egyptian festival celebrating the birth of Horus was called “The Day of the Child in His Cradle.”

When Horus comes to earth in the Egyptian story, he is supported or given bread by Seb, who is god of the earth, “the father on earth.”  He is thus the divine father on earth of the messiah-son, who manifests in time.  Just as Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, provides shelter and food for his son, so Seb (Jo-seph) cares for Horus.  The consort of Seb is the mother of heaven, named Nu; Meri (Mary) is another name for the mother of the messiah.  Massey concludes, “Thus Seb and Meri for earth and heaven would afford the two mythic originals for Joseph and Mary as parents of the divine child.”  There are seven different Marys in the four Gospels.  They correspond with uncanny fidelity to seven Marys, or Hathors in the Egyptian stories.

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