Stargate: A Movie without Respect

Stargate movie itself was a sarcasm to the culture and the history of the ancient Egypt. It ignored and belittled all other recognized and respected aspects of the ancient Egyptian society and inaccurately represented the society’s diverse race, ancient religion, and sophistication of arts and science. The makers of the film only took advantage of unsettled interpretations for various aspects of the society. This was possible due to no solid and unbiased written history of the past, allowing assumptions to fill in the gaps. Many audiences may have taken the representation as a joke, but I felt like the movie makers considered the whole history and the existence of the ancient Egyptians as a joke.

The Ancient Egypt is one of the first civilizations, and its pyramids are considered as one of the seven wonders of the world. Although the colors of paintings have faded and structures have been deteriorated by time, enough hieroglyphs and structure remain for us to draw some conclusions about politics, religious and social aspects. However, the movie does not take any of the details into consideration. For example, according to surviving structures, corridors and chambers inside temple/pyramids are decorated with sophisticated texts and drawings, describing the achievements and deeds of the deceased. Drawings are full of representative objects and people, such as the gods, the water lily, and sun rays, and they are painted with colors found in nature. However, the movie had none of them. The walls inside the pyramids were blank.  Only some aspects of the pyramid were decorated with ancient Egyptian-like arts, as if the producers thought that the mimics of the art were enough to show the richness of the Egyptian culture. Instead of showing efforts to create a plausible replica of the architecture, the movie ignores all the details and describes the pyramids to be the production of aliens.

The video shows the internal walls of the pyramid, where none of the walls have decorations of drawings or writings. 

Were these depictions used because some strong advocates of the  western civilization did not want to admit that one of the greatest civilizations in the ancient world did not come from Europe, but from Africa—where the contemporary society is chaotic, marked by political, economic, and social instability? I think that there was also a sense of white superiority idea involved. I remember reading and discussing about the idea of “Orientalism” in the West, where the idea was created to symbolize European dominance over the East during the Western civilization’s rapid development towards the modern society. Whatever the truth was, the history and facts of the East was able to be manipulated without the West losing their superiority.  And this ideology was able to endure to this current day by being created as a solid body of theory and knowledge by many generations of Western scholars. There is no doubt that the producers of the movie was influenced by this idea; it seemed like the movie was denying the fact that the ancient Egyptians could have possibly built the great pyramids but it must have been the aliens who built it. Some may say that I’m being unfair to the movie producers by taking their “imagination” too seriously, but why isn’t there any imagination regarding alien involvement in the construction of the Greek civilization, or the Roman civilization? In addition, there is no movie produced in the West that mocks the history or the presence of the Greek civilization, and the Roman civilization. Is this because the country of production knows that the movie will cause damages to its politics, economy and foreign relations by insulting the Europeans? If this is the case, then is the US publicly disdaining Egypt’s current  power, and considering the foreign relations with Egypt not as important compared to relations with other countries?

The native people rising against their gods.

The native people rising against their gods.

When this movie was produced, the US was involved in warfare with Iraq. Despite the fact that the main subject of this movie was the Egyptian culture, the movie was using the Egyptian cultural products to reflect upon the ideas that was prevalent in US: the  impossibility of overthrowing a dictatorial regime without American intervention, the country’s deep interest in aliens and the suspicion of the secrecy of the government. In addition, it may have been trying to use mass media to justify America’s action of war against all the criticisms regarding Iraq war. Also, the movie may have been used as a medium to express indirect sarcasm to the middle eastern culture, and the Arabian race; When the indigenous people were holding guns, it reminded me of the terrorists and Iraq war. The movie also represented the whole race as uneducated, ignorant and illiterate who requires help from the whites—well educated, developed and intelligent beings—and their science to get them out of their own trouble, and that they are grateful of it.

I believe that there should be a mutual respect between religions and cultures. But the movie disregarded any possible respect to tell its own story. This is an utterly inconsiderate action, because the inaccurate historical depictions prevent people who knows little about the ancient Egyptian society from seeing the civilization without bias. History should be learned without prejudice, but several representations were violating this crucial idea. For example, in the movie, the gods are aliens. To the ancient Egyptians, their religion and their gods were everything. It defined their life values, ideology and their way of life. The religion and gods were part of their life and afterlife. Would those people who saw the movie rather than learn about the true history first be able to consider these values? Would they be able to think beyond their first impression that the gods are aliens?  Although the ancient religion is not one of the major religions in the contemporary society, it is right to respect the religion and their gods, just like we respect gods of all other religions.

Adding on to the arguments regarding religions, when one of the god was brought down, Daniel, the main character, told the indigenous people to look at their gods to prove that they are no different from them. The only difference was the possession of technology. Thus, the religion that these people were so devout to was the creation of aliens which tricked people into thinking that they are superior than humans. The depictions were stating that the religion that served as the core center of the civilization for centuries was a lie and a deceit.

Ra, the Sun god, using his power(or technology) to enforce his power.

Ra, the Sun god, using his power(or technology) to enforce his power.

Ra, the god of the sun, is the most important deity throughout the ages. However, the movie makers also dismissed the respect of Ra. They represented him as an alien who forces respect from his subjects through his power—technology. Does this mean that anyone who has the most powerful technology can be god? Does it mean that there is no more ancient god, but only technology? Or is it that even the greatest civilization, represented by Ra, is nothing compared to the new power, represented by technology, or the modern knowledge, represented by Daniel? Is it trying to indirectly tell the viewers that it is the new power that rules over the world? To the ancient Egyptians, mocking Ra is similar to mocking Jesus, God, Allah, Buddha and other gods of other religions. Thus, I thought it was very disrespectful and rude to the culture of the ancients. In addition, Ra’s necklace meant the ultimate power of the universe; the indigenous people thought Daniel was the god when he was wearing it, and even the god Ra demanded Daniel to prove to the indigenous people that himself is the one and only god in order to save his friends. However, at the end, the necklace did not return to the people of Egypt, but it went back to the western civilization. Does this imply that the ultimate power of universe now lies in the west?

The whole film was disrespectful not only to the current Egyptian culture, but also to the current Egyptians. The producers of the movie overlooked every aspect of the Egyptian culture that was superior to the western civilization; they dismissed the fact that it was once an empire with sophisticated art, science, cult, language, text and architecture. The movie manipulated the image of the Ancient Egypt in order to promote the popular ideas in the US. Although I do advocate for the freedom of the movie producers to be able to tell any story, I believe that the producers should also respect and be appropriate about manipulating the image of another culture.


Rosicrucian Museum

It was unfortunate that the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum was closed when we went to visit. However, the architecture of various buildings of the museum and the detailed replica of statues in the parks were enough to relate what I learned in class to physical structures. In addition, it was refreshing not only to see all the knowledge we learned in class to be applied to actual structures, but also to learn while both experiencing and seeing the structures.

The structure that I had the most impression on was the the Pylon Gate, the minimized replica of  pylon gates. Although the replica had simplified images, the images were the key features to the meaning of the gates.

At the structures of the Egyptian temples, the Pylon Gates are located at the entrances of the burial site. The image on the left depicts the Pharaoh–Akhenaten–receiving the sun rays.

This picture represents life. Akhenaten was a strong advocate of monotheism, since he believed that the sunlights were the only physical feature of the nature that was crucial to life. When I saw this image, I was able to relate to the information I learned in class about monotheism during Akhenaten’s rule, granting sole and only power to Aten, the sun god. He also changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten to emphasize the importance of Aten. Thus, this image means that the Pharaoh is granted life from the sun god, Aten. But I learned more about the symbolism of certain features, such as lotus. The general meaning of lotus in ancient Egyptian drawings would be creation; the flower closes and sinks at night, but re-emerges and blooms again in the morning. Thus, the flower represents sun, which disappears at night and re-emerges in the morning. This symbolism of lotus flower later developed to accommodate the meaning of power and rule, granted from the sun god. Thus, the lotus in the picture signifies the Pharaoh’s power granted from the one and only god, Aten.

The figure on the right illustrates the scale of justice that is balancing the jar that contains the heart of the deceased, and the feather of Maat, the goddess of truth and justification. When I saw the figure, it reminded me of the time when we analyzed the  book of the dead, and the stages that the deceased had to go through in order to reach his or her after life. While going through the stages, the heart of the deceased would be weighed by Anubis and the deceased would be questioned one of the moral questions. If the deceased lied, the heart would be heavier than the feather of Maat. If this occurs, the goddess Ammit, with the appearance of crocodile, lion and hippopotamus sits on top of the scale, who sits on top of the scale, would eat the heart of the guilty.

Although it could have been a better experience if we were able to enter the museum, but I still learned a lot from the field trip to Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum.

The Book of the Dead

The Book of the Dead is a funerary text of ancient Egyptians. The text was during the New Kingdom to guide the journey of the dead through the underworld and into his or her afterlife. It was also used to guide the King to establish his position among the Ennead, and also to meet his divine father, Ra. The chapters discussed in this blog concerns the revival of the dead, traveling across the sky during the day and confronting Osiris in the evening.

Opening of the Mouth Ceremony

The Opening of the Mouth ceremony is depicted in chapter 23 of the book. The text describes the process of the deceased’s mouth, which is a crucial part in proceeding his or her journey. Opening of the mouth enables the dead to speak his spells. I believe that the deceased implies his elevation of status from human to god when he or she mentions “My mouth is given to me/My mouth is opened by Ptah/ With that chisel of meal/With which he opened the mouth of the gods.” (p.120) The deceased also believes that he will be under the protection of the gods when he mentions that the Ennead will rise agains “any spells spoken against him”.(p. 120)

Chapter 43 is about retaining one’s head. In this passage, the deceased exclusively states that he is “the Great one, son of the Great one” (p. 121)–Great one referring to Ra, and thus meaning that he is Osiris. The sentence “To whom his head was given after having been cut off” (p. 121) refers to the story of Seth murdering Osiris. The Book of the Dead further talks about the story of the Osiris and Seth by mentioning that Osiris has revived. However, this sentence not only refers to the story, but also infers that the deceased has resurrected too. This statement can be supported by the last two lines of the passage: “I am risen, renewed, refreshed,/I am Osiris!” (p. 121)

The next Chapter involves obtaining the factors that the living requires: air and water. This shows ancient Egyptian’s beliefs that the afterlife is similar to life on earth, and that the deceased will require what the living requires to live safely on the other side. Thus, the deceased uses his spell to ask Nut, the goddess of sky, to give him “the water and air in you”. (p. 122)

The rest of the texts discussed in this blog is of the journey that the deceased takes. In the morning, the dead travels with the god Ra in his sun ark, as one of the blessed dead. At night, the deceased enters the underworld of Osiris and confronts him with his deeds when he was alive. Chapter 77 involves the spell that turns the deceased into a falcon to enable him to reach the sky. Then, Chapter 105 aids the dead to address his ka–one of his 3 existences. He also asks evil things he committed–“evil speech I made” (p. 123) to be cleared from his sins. The Book of the Dead involves some of the common beliefs that existed for thousands of years in the religious history of the ancient Egypt. One of the beliefs mentioned as “weigher on the scales” (p.123) and wishes that his maat–a form of his spirit–to “rise to the nose of Re that day!”. It could also be inferred that only the pure souls can reach the end of the journey.

The next Chapter (chapter 109) continues providing spells for “knowing the souls of the East” (p.123) which I believe means the deceased’s travels on the sun’s ark with the god Re. The text infers that they are flying, because it mentions that “grow on the elevation of Shu” The deceased mentions “reap it by the side of the Souls of the East”, where the act of reaping the tall grain is commonly believed as one of the pleasuring activities of the afterlife.

Weighing of the Heart Ceremony

The last chapter of this excerpt is of the Judgement of the Dead, and the first part is about the deceased claiming his innocence. This text also shows many ancient Egyptian beliefs about their religion; for example, the deceased mentions “I know you, I know the names of the forty-two gods.” Although it is not mentioned in the text, the ancient Egyptians believed that if a person knows the real name of the god, it means that the person has power over the god. This is the reason why no one knows the true name of Ra. (According to one of the myths, Isis tried to cure Horus who was bit by venomous snake. However, she could only cure it if she had Ra’s true name. Thus, Isis tries many ways

to obtain Ra’s true name.) The things that the deceased mentions shows the actions that humans normally consider benevolent, or good.

Weighing of the Heart Ceremony

The final part of the text is the instructions for use. The text mentions that these spells can only be used when the deceased is in “pure, clean, dressed in fresh clothes, shod in white sandals, painted with eye-paint, anointed with the fines” (p.131) Also, the book requires the living to bring food to the dead in order to enable him or her to be able to continue his journey until he reaches afterlife. In the end, for those whose scroll is recited , their future generations will prosper, and “he will not be held back at any gate of the west” (p.132), and “become the follower of Osiris”–inferring that the deceased finally reaching the realm of Osiris.

Ptah, Horus and Pharaoh

“Falcon not only protects the king with his wings but he also merges with the king so that there is no distinction between the bird’s breast and the back of the king’s head.” (A History of Ancient Egypt, Van De Mieroop, p70)

Khafre and Horus

Khafre and Horus

This statue depicts a god and a king merged together, now commonly known as “Pharaoh”—The supreme ruler of the ancient Egyptian kingdom. Throughout the history of the old and new kingdom of ancient Egypt, religion and king’s authority were inseparable and were indispensable parts of each other. The ideology of a pharaoh as a form of divine god established its roots deep into the minds of Egyptians. However, it was not a blunt statement; The divinity was proved by sacred texts. Memphite Theology effectively provides direct connection of the pharaoh to the Ptah, the great creation god and Horus, the heir to the throne.

The Memphite Theology (“The Memphite Theology”, British Museum No.498 (Shabaka Stone)) is a sacred text engraved on a Shabaka stone. It concerns the sacred creation stories of Ptah. The text is separated into two main themes, the first concerning the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. The text implies that Ptah accomplishes

The Shabako Stone

The Shabaka Stone

this deed through Horus. The ancient Egypt before the old kingdom was separated. In order to stop the fight between Seth and Horus for the throne of Osiris, Geb, the god of Earth, and also father of Osiris, separated Egypt into two regions (“Division-of-the-Two-Lands”, line 9). Seth became “king of Upper Egypt” (line 8), and Horus became “king of Lower Egypt” (line 8).  However, thinking that it was unfair to give Horus same proportion as Seth, Geb decided to give “his inheritance”—the legitimate right to the throne. (“Geb’s words to the Nine Gods: ‘To this heir, Horus, my inheritance’”, line 15a, 15b) Thus, Horus earned the right to claim his status as the rightful heir to the throne, uniting two regions. Horus’s ascendency to the throne is implied by “then sprouted the two Great Magicians upon his head” (line 14c)—the two crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. Thus, Pharaoh, the embodiment of Horus, is the divine heir to the throne and the protector of the two lands.

Ptah, the god of creation (on the left)

Ptah, the god of creation (on the left)

The latter part of the theology illustrates Ptah as the god of creation. The theology describes Ptah establishing towns, nomes, giving birth to various gods, and making physical bodies for each of the Ennead. Thus, Ptah is “recognized and understood that he is the mightiest of the gods.” (line 58) The creation of gods are evident from lines 48 to 52b. Even Atum, who is considered as the great god in later periods, is created by Ptah; this statement establishes Ptah’s position among the gods. (“Ptah-on-the-great-throne”. line 48) In addition, the theology states that heart and tongue, which is Ptah, “is in every mouth of all gods, all men, all cattle, all creeping things, whatever lives” (line 54). This further emphasizes that Ptah, the god of Memphis, outranks Atum of Heliopolis and other gods by referring to Ptah as two of the most important features of life. In the description “sight, hearing, breathing—they report to the heart” (line 56), the senses refer to the gods of the Ennead, helping and aiding Ptah, the heart. And it was only through Ptah that decisions were made. (“every word of the god came about through what the heart devised and the tongue commanded.” (line 56), “the movement of all limbs, according to this command which is devised by the heart” (line 58)). The theology also accentuates Ptah’s existence among every action and every life. (“creates the performance of everything” (line 58), “gave birth to gods, and from whom every thing came forth, foods, provisions, divine offerings, all good things.” (line 58))

Then it states that “Horus and Ptah are one”(between line 6 -7) Thus, the pharaoh who is referred to as Horus “Who prospers the Two Lands; the Two Ladies: Who prospers the Two Lands; the Golden Horus: Who prospers the Two Lands; the King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Neferkare; the Son of Re: sha[baka], beloved of Ptah-South-of-his-Wall, who lives like Re forever.”(line 1-2) is also Ptah. In addition, the pharaoh refers himself as “son of Re”, and states him father as “Ptah-Tatenen”. This justification and direct connection of the king to the gods enabled him to claim the divine right of the king, as both Horus and Ptah.

Theology gave power to the pharaoh, directly relating the king to the gods. Through these connections to the gods proven by the texts, the pharaoh benefited by using religion to establish his power and central government. The pharaoh was the core of all aspects of life, both religious and secular. Mentuhotep II, a pharaoh during middle kingdom, unified himself with Re, Horus and Osiris to make his authority more centralized during the turmoil of intermediate periods. Pharaoh was the tie between politics and religion; He required divine rights to justify his position and the theology and ideologies provided him those factors. Also, the pharaoh made himself as a visible proof to his people that that gods (himself as one of them) live beside them, which in turn strengthened people’s conviction in religion. Therefore, The Memphis Theology established the ground that allowed the pharaohs and their kingdoms of ancient Egypt to prosper for centuries.