Last year we had a fantastic tour of both the pyramids and the Cairo museum by Ibrahmim Morgan, an egyptologist and historian. We even took a camel tour of the area. So you can imagine my concern this week to hear of plans to destroy the pyramids or cover them with wax because of their pagan symbolism.
But apparently there are no such plans to destroy the pyramids.
Calls from a Bahraini Sunni cleric to destroy Egypt’s Great Pyramids have been revealed as a hoax. The demands were made from a Twitter account which claimed to be owned by Bahrain’s President of National Unity, Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud. Source
But the story, even though a hoax, does illustrate the tension between religious extremists and pagan artifacts which have been destroyed and defaced through the ages by Christians and Muslims alike. What is our response to pagan symbols? Idols?
But first, let me show off my pics of me in Egypt last year. This is the photo where you imagine my right hand is actually a little lower than it is and it looks EXACTLY like I am holding the pyramids in my hand and you say . . . . "Wow that looks EXACTLY like you are holding the pyramids in your hand!"
This is the famous Sphinx and I am attempting to do a Maori hongi nose-touching greeting. But, obviously, as you can see, even with my head positioned lower than it should be for such an amazing photographic illusion, the Sphinx has no nose, ever since its face was vandalized, they say, in 1378 A.D. by Mohammed Sa'im al-Dahr, a "fanatical sufi of the oldest and most highly respected sufi convent of Cairo." Source.
Looks like payback time for the sufis. According to news reports, sufi tombs and shrines are, in fact, being destroyed in Timbuktu, Mali. This is a tragedy and an outrage. In fact, I am considering doing a series of blog posts, one for each sufi shrine destroyed in Mali. That would be a way of preserving them on the internet, even though the physical tombs and shrines are disappearing.
In Morroco a few years ago I visited the tomb of the famous sufi mystic and poet Sidi Ali ibn Harzihm. It would be a terrible shame to see these shrines around the world being destroyed. So much history to learn from. I believe we should preserve pagan history and learn from it.
Yes, you can preserve something without worshipping it!
William Carey, famous Baptist and father of modern day missions movements, believed along similar lines. He was a positive force in PRESERVING religious history, even though it conflicted with his own views. The Ramayana, Hinduism's major mythological epic, only existed on birch bark and palm leaves before Carey and Joshua Marshman decided to print it in book form for the world to read and understand.
"I have recommended the Ramayana to begin with, it being one of the most popular of all the Hindoo books accounted sacred .. The Ramayana will furnish the best account of Hindoo mythology that any one book will, and has extravagancy enough to excite a wish to read it through." William Carey, July 24, 1805
What about icons? As I blogged once in "How your Emerging Church can stay in Calvary Chapel", the subject of icons has come up before and the Second Council of Nicea 787 names 'the pictoral icons" as something good which the church has received. Jean Luc Marion in his book The Crossing of the Visible (Cultural Memory in the Present), distinguishes between the idol, which receives the "gaze" and the icon, which passes the "gaze" onward to it proper destination.
What about pagan symbols and practices already embedded in Christianity? Now thats an interesting subject. I recommend a book by some friends of mine called Pagan Christianity. Or have a look at a few of my blog posts: