The Egyptians were people who had strong religious beliefs which were the dominating influence in the development of their culture (1). Although religion was greatly admired and practiced by mostly everyone, it was basically a luxury that only royalty could afford and a privilege mainly for the wealthy. The royal families were mainly the only people who benefited from religion because they had a lot of power, a great amount of money and an unbelievable number of slaves. The topics which have been chosen to help furthermore understand this point of view are: the rituals and ceremonies performed, the building of the pyramids, and basic privileges given to royalty. The first topic that has been chosen to help understand that the Egyptians had a privilege when it came to religion deals with the fact that the Egyptians believed extensively in life after death.
There were many rituals and ceremonies that the ancient Egyptians performed on deceased bodies to prepare them for their life after death called, the afterlife. If the body had decayed or was unrecognizable the ka, the soul of a deceased person, would go hungry, and the afterlife would be jeopardized (2). Therefore, in order to prepare a person for the long and dangerous journey before they could enjoy their afterlife, the body of a dead person was preserved by a process called mummification. After a person had died, their body was left with someone, predetermined before their death, who would discuss with an embalmer the price for the method of mummification which would be performed on the deceased's corpse (3). The deceased would have stated before their death the type of method they desired, as well as leave money so it would be paid for. There were three methods of mummification to choose from which ranged from best to worst, as well as most expensive to least expensive (4).
This was very fortunate for royalty as well as the wealthy because they had a great amount of money, so they were guaranteed that their bodies would be mummified in the best way possible using the best method. The people who could not afford mummification, lower class people and slaves, were buried in simple graves in the sand and relied on natural preservation (5). It was believed that most of them would not be kept well-preserved enough to make it to the afterlife. After the body was properly mummified, there were rituals to further ensure a safe journey, and also to prepare them for their afterlife. One of the ceremonies was the entrance of the tomb ritual. During the entrance of the tomb ritual, the dead's mummy stands before the entrance of his tomb at his afterlife.
The priests would burn incense and touch the mummy to restore its ability speak, touch, see, smell, and hear (6). This process again was very expensive and was only performed on the people who could afford to have it done which included royalty and the wealthy. The Egyptians also used a book of the dead which was a group of funerary chapters to help the deceased body go peacefully into the afterlife without being stopped by demons (7). These ancient texts were specially made by the deceased before their death, and were the deceased's guide book to a happy afterlife. If the potential owner of the book was wealthy and his death not untimely, he might hire a scribe to write the text for him. This would be extremely useful because the scribe would have a more in depth knowledge in writing, so the wealthy person would have a better chance of going to the afterlife based on the fact that the book would be better written (8).
Therefore, in the sense of rituals and ceremonies performed, the royal family and the wealthy were basically the only people who benefited from them because they were the only ones who could afford to have them done. This also shows that only royalty and the wealthy benefited from religion because, it appears that they would be the only ones who had an extremely high chance of getting into the afterlife, which was very important to everyone. They had a very large advantage over everyone else. Apart from preparing for mummification, the royal family also spent a lot of time preparing for the tombs that would hold their bodies once they died. Another topic that has been chosen to help understand the concept that royalty and the wealthy had an advantage over everyone else when it came to religion deals with the building of the pyramids. The Egyptians believed that if they were to be buried in a large tomb, their chances of passing on to the afterlife would be greatly increased (9).
The large tombs which were built to hold the dead bodies were called pyramids. Building a pyramid took a great amount of money as well as a great amount of workers, so this option was only available to royalty. Therefore, once an Egyptian king came to power, he immediately began planning the pyramid that would be his tomb (10). The immense gathering of builders and architects would start to form. Each village sent its required amount of laborers to either the quarries or the construction site to begin the process of building the gigantic tomb (11).
The entire process would take between twenty and twenty-five years to complete. For example, the Great Pyramid built for Khufu at Giza was constructed of more than two million stone blocks, each block weighing about two and a half tons (12). Despite the fact that the task was enormous, it was completed within the Pharaoh's twenty-three-year reign. This kind of work could only be enforced by the king. No one other than extreme upper class people would have tombs built for them because they did not have the power or the money. The money was needed to import materials such as wood and limestone (13).
It was also needed to provide the large number of slaves with food and water so they would stay strong and be able to continue the building of the pyramid. The power needed would have to be an immense amount. To be able to guide approximately two million slaves to move about two million blocks each weighing about two and a half tons in a period of about twenty days would require the power that only a king would have. Therefore, the royal family would be the only ones to benefit from the building of the pyramids because they were the only ones who had the money, and power over the slaves which were both required to build them. They were also mainly the only occupants of the tombs, so their chance of being accepted into the afterlife would be again increased far beyond everyone else's chances. It was believed that being laid to rest in a pyramid would increase your chance of going to the afterlife, and since only royalty would have the privilege of being buried in a tomb, they were almost guaranteed to be accepted (14).
These ideas show that religion was a privilege of royalty because they seemed to be the only ones who had the power to do everything, as well as afford to do everything that their religion required them to do to ensure a good afterlife. Aside from preparing for their burial, Egyptian kings also had privileges that allowed them to manipulate the religion to their own beliefs. The third and last topic that was chosen to help understand that idea that royalty benefited from religion far more than anyone else was the fact that royalty already had special privileges aside from money that ensured them a happy afterlife. As a king came to power, he immediately adopted certain rights that allowed him to do drastic things without having to consult anyone. One of these rights was to manipulate or change the religious beliefs of the entire country in any way that he wanted to. For example, in the fourteenth century BC, there lived a king named Akhenaton (15).
This king outlawed all gods except for Aton, who was the sun god. This became the first monotheistic religion in history (16). During the Old Kingdom, it was commonly believed that only pharaohs could attain immortality (17). This religious belief therefore exempted all other humans from ever being immortal, and gave a certain power to the pharaoh. In the temple, the king was in theory the high priest. In practice, his participation in temple rituals occurred primarily on specific festivals, while the priests performed the daily obligations at other times.
Ordinary people had immediate access to their personal gods, but they could not enter the temple at will (18). This would completely discriminate everyone, except those of high power, of ever fully exploring their religion. There are so many limits that a normal person would have compared to the kings and priests who could do almost whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. Slowly but surely, the entire Egyptian religion started to form around the upper classes and everyone else was still expected to follow. Therefore, only the king and other royal members would benefit from religion because they were able to manipulate it so it would correspond to what they wanted it to be. Also, the religion stated that only the king would be able to attain immortality.
This again would be bias against everyone else because only the king could become immortal, and everyone else did not have this privilege. This would then add to the list of the many characteristics of the religion that would not benefit normal people. In conclusion, religion is a benefiting factor to royalty and the wealthy alone. Through rituals, pyramid building and basic privileges of the king, it is easy to notice that in each topic provided, wealthy people in addition to royalty seem to have their advantages outweigh their disadvantages, while for normal or lower class people, their disadvantages outweigh their advantages.
How come a country like Egypt, which seems to value religion more than anything else, make it so difficult for everyone to follow it?