In ancient African philosophy Ma’at is the primordial principle which gives order to all values. Several thousand years before that Semitic band of stragglers who later called themselves Jews wended their way into Egypt, the Egyptian philosphers had codified universal moral principles into a coherent value system called Ma’at. It is considered to be a fixed element of cosmic order, part of the Truth-Justice which allows a country to be orderly, harmonious and successful. Ma’at represents the notion of moral perfection–supreme virtue. All men living in society must submit themselves to transcending moral standards which guide and measures all human activity. It was associated with the seven cardinal virtues, supposedly the keys to human perfectability: Truth, Justice, Propriety, Harmony, Balance, Reciprocity and Order. From advice on how the mighty God-Kings (called Pharohs) should rule, to the duty a peasant owed to his country was covered in the Ma’at.
The symbolic representation of Ma’at was as an anthromorphic winged Goddess, believed to be the prototype of the concept of an angel. She was the representation of Truth and Righteousness. On here brow was an ostritch feather, this was supposedly the measure of righteousness against which hearts were weighed. Her symbol was a scale and the combination of feather and scale symbolised the principles of Ma’at.
Like modern religious systems, the Ma’at was concerned with both the Living and the Dead. People were expected to live their lives in accordance with these principles. This would ensure a perfect society and government, it would mean that all citizens had optimum life chances and that justice would be irrespective of station. The Ma’at embodied political theory, religion, civic duty, ethics and a comprehensive cosmogony. Egyptians were admonished to give bread to the hungry, clothes to the naked and a boat to those without one.” The similarities to the charity advocated in the Gospels caused Weber to note that “…presumably the development of the old Israelite charity was influenced by Egypt.”
It was the standards of the Ma’at against which the Egyptian souls of were judged in dead. At the entrance to the House of the Dead, souls were judged by Osiris. The Dead stood between the two figures of Ma’at and repeated “Declarations of Innocence” which were negative confessions, remarkably similar to the Ten Commandments. The two figures of Ma’at were also symbolic, one personified physical laws, and the other stood for moral virtues. Their hearts (believed to be the seat of the soul) were weighed against the ostrich feather, this process was supervised by the Gods
<b>Heru</b> and <b>Anpu</b>. While the Dead repeated the Declarations, the heart responded; if it balanced with the feather, the soul would get a reward. The God <b>Djhuiti</b> recorded the outcome in the book of Judgement.
Hell was instantaneous. A ravenous beast with the head of a crocodile, and referred to as ‘The Devourer of Soul’ sat at the foot of “The Throne of Judgement”. On this throne, Osiris witnessed the entire process of declaration and weighing, after which he made the final pronouncement on the fate of the soul. If an “unjustified” verdict was rendered, the beast pounced upon the heart and ate it.
Ma’athian ethics evolved in during the consolidation of Upper and Lower Egypt which were unified circa 3500 BCE under
<b>Menses</b>. With the expansion of the territory and the growth in the beaurocratic class. It was recognised that some sort of code ought to be devised to provide for the ordering of the State. As with most belief systems, the state had a profound impact on religion. Religion, in turn exerts a critical force on the organisation of the State. Historically, weak administration and avarice produced internal chaos, but a strong disinterested commitment to honorable service made for stability and harmony. Thus the exhaustive concepts of Ma’athian ethics emerged, a cautious blend of religion, philosophy and regulations. <i> <b>Acts 7:22</b></i> admits that “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” We al know the tired story of how he was raised in Egypt, studied at the best schools and was credited with the dissemination of monotheism. What is never admitted is that Egyptians believed in One God, and practiced Ma’athian ethics, which would have been passed on to Moses’ teachings as ‘foreign’, accusing him of abandoning their religion and foisting on them the faith of his Nubian wife.
The American scholar
<b>James Breasted</b> in his book <i>“The Dawn of Conscience”</i> traced the evolution of human conscience and ethics to its origins in African philosophy. He said, “it is now evident, that the ripe social and moral development of mankind in the Nile Valley, which is three thousand (3000) years older than that of the Hebrew literature which we now call the Old Testament.” He concluded that human moral heritage and social idealism was gleaned from a past which was anterior to the Jews. It is a result of the social experience of man himself, and was not a product of some spiritual revelation.