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Chambers of Imagery

Ezekiel 8
The eighth chapter of Ezekiel is that to which we yesterday
referred as exhibiting the prophets portraiture of the prevailing
idolatries of his time. From this we have the melancholy fact,
clearly and graphically set forth, that in the age of Jerusalems
doom, the Jews had fallen into all the idolatries of their Egyptian,
Phoenician, and Assyrian neighbors, and simultaneously
practised them, apparently at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem,
producing by their combination, and with a profession of
allegiance to Jehovah, an abomination worse than any of these
idolatries taken singly could have beenand forming a most
cogent justification of their condemnation, and an awful
elucidation of the causes of their ruin. We knew this before, from
the dispersed intimations of the other prophets; but not so as to
impress the fact deeply on the mind, as is done here by Ezekiel
who brings the matter visibly before us, and makes us, with
himself, spectators of the awful scene.
In the visions of God he conceives himself taken to Jerusalem,
where, in the inner court of the temple, his attention is directed to
a chink or hole in the wall, which he is ordered to enlarge, on
doing which he finds a door which had not before been obvious. I
went in, he says, and looked; and behold every form of creeping
things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of
Israel portrayed upon the walls.
This is clearly the Egyptian form of idolatry. The Rev. W. Jowett
quotes this text as furnishing an exact description of the
chambers of imagery in that country; adding, the Israelites were
but copyists, the master sketches being to be seen in all the
temples and tombs of Egypt. In that country the walls of the inner
sanctuaries of the temples, as well as the tombs and mystic cells,
are to this day covered with representations, sculptured or painted
in vivid colors, of sacred animals, of gods in human form and
under various circumstances, or in various monstrous
combinations of the human and bestial shapes. The temples
alone would furnish sufficient illustration, but that of the tombs
seems the most exactly appropriate, for they furnish just such
chambers as the prophet gained access to decorated in the same
manner; and there is little doubt, from the nature of these
decorations, from their connection with the temples, and other
circumstances, that they were not merely tombs, but were also
used for the celebration of the darker mysteries and superstitions
of the most debasing idolatry the world has ever witnessed.
In reading Dr. Maddens account of the way in which be got
access to the chamber of imagery of the temple of Edfou, we
were strongly reminded, not only of the similar chamber which the
prophet saw, and which it seems that some leading Jews had
secretly connected with the temple of Jerusalem, but of the mode
in which he had gained access to it. The roof of this temple forms
the site of an Arab village, and the whole interior is so filled up
with rubbish that it had been deemed impossible to enter.
Hassen, an old man, grateful for some medical relief, disclosed to
Dr. Madden a secret passage, which had never before been
made known to any Frank, and through which he offered to
conduct him. Considerably below the surface of the adjoining
buildings, he pointed out to me a chink in an old wall, which he
told me I should creep through on my hands and feet; the
aperture was not two feet and a half high and scarcely three feet
and a half broad; my companion had the courage to enter first,
thrusting in a lamp before him. I followed, and after me the son of
the old man crept also; the passage was so narrow that my mouth
and nose were sometimes buried in the dust, and I was nearly
suffocated. After proceeding about ten yards in utter darkness,
the heat became excessive, breathing was laborious, the
perspiration poured down my face, and I would have given the
world to have got out; but my companion, whose person I could
not distinguish, though his voice was audible, called out to me to
crawl a few feet further and I should find plenty of space. I gained
him at length, and had the inexpressible satisfaction of standing
once more on my feet. We found ourselves in a splendid
apartment of great magnitude, and adorned with sacred paintings
and hieroglyphics. The ceiling, which was also painted, was
supported by several rows of pillars.
It would be interesting to trace the steps, by which the Egyptians
descended from the primeval truths of the patriarchal faith, which
their ancestors shared with all the children of Noah. It might be
possible, from the materials extant, to do this through deeper
study and closer investigation than has yet been given to the
matter. It is likely that the earliest, and therefore most just,
conceptions of the Almighty entertained by the Egyptians, find a
memorial in their tried representation of his abstract existence, his
essential nature, and his relation to the visible universe; Amun,
the Hidden One; Kneph, the Great Spirit; Khem, the Universal
Creator. But long before the commencement of the historical
period, this conception of the Deity had become obscured, and
the Egyptian pantheon was filled with all imaginable inventions
the greater gods and the lessera menagerie of all living
thingsa medley of all symbols and emblems, downward from
the awful triad to the vilest reptile, and the most unseemly objects
in nature.
That, amid all this, the priesthood retained or possessed the
knowledge of the great truths to which we have referred, is
unquestionable; and, indeed, they were entertained by the higher
order of minds in all ages and countries. They believed in a Being
or beings abstract or unknown, or known only through his own
manifestations and they believed in a continued existence, if not
in the immortality of the soul, and in a moral government. Whether
these were, as we have supposed, relics of a primeval revelation,
or the dictates of reason, we know not; nor is it of much
consequence, for St. Paul affirms the light of nature to be
sufficient for these things. Rom_1:19-20. But to the charge
against the leaders of opinion in ages and pagan countries, the
Egyptian priesthood are especially open; that they concealed, or
exhibited only in inscrutable symbols, and disclosed only as high
secrets to the initiated few, what they thus actually knew; and
taught what they did not themselves believe, or did not believe in
the sense in which they wished to be understood by the people.
They took upon themselves to conclude, that the true doctrine
was not suited to the vulgar; that an abstract faith, and an invisible
deity, were insufficient guarantees for order and religion; and
hence they set about inventing a more popular faith, and a more
imposing form of worship. They concealed the great purifying
verities from others; hid what they themselves knew of truth under
forms and symbols, and hieratic language, which only themselves
could understand. For the abstract verities they substituted rites
and ceremonies, and objects of worship, the tendency of which
they knew to be injurious, and that they must as certainly darken
the mind and debase the character, as that an opaque body must
cast a shadow, and a cloud obscure the rays of the rising still.
Note: Beldams Recollections and Scenes and Institutions is Italy
and the East. London, 1851. Chap. which the subject of
Egyptian idolatry is ably discussed, though in a more tolerant
spirit towards idolatrous symbolization, as such, than the Bible
sanctions. The grossness of the Egyptian symbolization shocks
him rather than its essence, which he seems to regard as a
necessary evil, in the absence of such direct revelation as the
Hebrews possessed. Volumes might, however, be written, and
have been written, on these matters. The doctrine of the Egyptian
priesthood respecting reserve in the impartation of religious truth,
exists in our day, and has found Christian advocates.