Final Judgments

❧ in which Moe grudgingly admires the afterlife of the Egyptians -- yet not their confusing gods ❧ 

Swapping the Euphrates for the Nile - One God to Rule Them All

Swapping the Euphrates for the Nile

It seemed to Moe that the grim Babylonian stories about the afterlife couldn't compete with the stories coming from Egypt. Who would choose to believe in watery death -- the boat of Magilum slowly sinking into the deep waters of the Euphrates -- when you could skim over those same waters? Who wouldn't swap the Euphrates for the Nile? Who wouldn't give their eye teeth to roam the marshes with Nebamun and his flock of blue-grey birds?

From the tomb of Nebamun in the British Museum (photo RYC).

From the tomb of Nebamun in the British Museum (photo RYC).

Moe admired the Egyptian priests. They gave their subjects something to believe in: a final journey and a chance to live forever.

Who wouldn't want to stand at last in front of the gods? Who wouldn't want to be judged for one's worth -- to be granted a final judgment -- instead of being tossed into the Euphrates or thrown helter-skelter into the dusty realms of the frightening Ereshkigal? Who would choose to remain forever at the whim of indifferent gods and nebulous underworld forces? Who would choose to believe that life had no intrinsic meaning, and that at the end of it all one fell back into inanimate chaos? 

The final judgment had to be just -- like the judgment of Shamash -- and had to supply meaning to your life. It had to make sense of the sacrifices you made and the good deeds you performed during your earthly years. If you lead an evil life, you would be annihilated by fire. If you led a decent life, you would remain forever in the lush gardens of Osiris, or travel across the heavens with Ra on his fiery course.

Just as worrisome as the lure of this Egyptian option was the confounding choice this option asked his people to make. How could they possibly know whether one version of the afterlife was true, and another false? How could they distinguish between the unprovable claims of one god and the unprovable claims of the next?


One God to Rule Them All

The one advantage his God had over all the others was that there were no others. Let people debate which god triumphed over which other god. In his religion there was no battle because there were no claimants to the throne. Let them scratch their heads over the puzzling genealogies, the bastards and the demi-gods. In his religion there was no genealogy because there was no father and there was no son.

How could he possibly explain all of this to his people? How was he going to make them forget about gods that no one had ever seen yet which took every possible form and were characters in all sorts of dramas?

How was he going to make them believe in his God who also couldn't be seen, yet in addition -- or subtraction! -- couldn't be depicted in any form whatsoever?



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