Saturday, October 31, 2015

Abraam the perfected monk

Abraam the perfected monk: 7th Century gravestone from the exhibit EGYPT: Faith after the Pharaohs currently at the British Museum.

For a review of the exhibit see this link. Ahdaf Soueif make the point that the aim of the exhibit (organised by Neil MacGregor, the museum's outgoing director) is to show "the development of the idea of faith itself, how each of the three great monotheistic faiths emerged from what came before...how faith was articulated and expressed and how it was used--at the level of the state, of institutional religion and of the people."

Vanessa Thorpe in the Guardian describes this gravestone or stele with Coptic inscription for a monk called Abraam.

“It commemorates someone with a Jewish name and yet it bears Christian symbols inside a classical frame next to the ankh symbol, the ancient Egyptian sign of life,” said O’Connell. “What is more, the engraving on it says he was ‘the perfected monk’ and is written in Coptic Egyptian.”
The curators hope the exhibition will show how Egyptian society was transformed from one in which many gods were worshipped to one in which prayers were offered to a single god.
The impression it is likely to give, of a culture in which powerful religious symbolism was jumbled together, is a strange echo of the way in which fanciful writers in the west once saw Egypt. British Romantic poets and novelists often described it as a frightening and confusing place, made all the more mysterious because ancient Egypt was understood to be the origin of civilised European thought, the inspiration for the Greeks, and yet it was situated on the “dark” African continent.

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