What is Egyptian religion? Is it a flying falcon that shoots at people when they are disobedient, a mummy coming back to life after chanting a resurrection spell, or maybe a handful of superstitions getting everyone riled up at the local village? It may seem like a very straightforward topic, but as bizarre as it sounds, it has proven to be quite controversial amongst Egyptian scholars when they try to represent Egypt in pop culture. After studying a few films and readings in an attempt to get a grasp on how Egyptian religion is portrayed in pop culture, I began to realize that Egyptian religion was not defined in one particular way. Instead, it took on many various representations and although they had some drastic differences between one another, there was one interestingly outrageous representation that stood out amid all of them; the representation from the film Stargate. This film took a more technological and science based explanation to explain to the naive audience what Egyptian religion was. What is understood to be Egyptian religion in this context, is demonstrated constantly throughout the film.
Stargate is the story of a young professor named Daniel Jackson chosen by a mysterious archaeologist to embark on a mission to decode an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph. Jackson connects the hieroglyph to a constellation he recognized and discovers that the Stargate was made by an advanced civilization. Curious to see what the Stargate was, he sets out to see what was beyond the Stargate and joins a military team to explore the new world. They are transported into a land that closely resembles Egypt and is inhabited by humans living in a primitive state. To avoid spoiling the film for those who have not seen it, I’ll the end the summary by also mentioning that these people worship and are slaves to Ra, who is not what one would imagine to be both physically and technologically. (Yes I said Ra being technological)
Associating science and technology with Egyptian religion in the film was the most intriguing and peculiar out of the films and readings. Submerging technology into the film seemed extremely absurd for such a primitive and non developed culture. I kept asking myself throughout the whole film, “how can these people be so intricately tied to technology when they are living like this?” The juxtaposition of technology/science with Egyptian religion gave off a strong, unbelievable contrast. Ra, who is an alien from another planet, came to Earth during the ancient Egyptian period looking to find a host to
extend his life. Ra enslaved ancient Egyptians and brought some of them back to his planet through the Stargate to mine the mineral that is used in the alien technology to keep him alive. An alien figure posing as an Egyptian god seemed to be ridiculous in and of itself, but it also transpired one of the notions of what Egyptian religion was interpreted to be, Egyptian gods as hybrid aliens. Tying together a revered religious figure and technology reveals this perfectly. The association between the two is not only puzzling, but serves as a way to get people to wonder where the distinction between them are.
Another instance in which the director uses technology in the film to play upon defining Egyptian religion is when a group of ancient Egyptians were amazed at the mere action of one of the soldiers using a lighter to light a cigarette. This seems to contradict the counter representation the director uses to portray the almighty Ra’s power with the advanced technology. A primeval society living a life that is clearly underdeveloped compared to the technology they are exposed to by Ra, calls into the question the definition of what Egyptian religion is. For these ancient Egyptians enslaved by Ra, their religion revolves around his technology. For instance, because they decided to help Jackson and the militia and are rebelling against Ra, they are punished by a flying falcon sent by him to shoot at their village. Aside from the flying falcon, Horus and Anubis (who are Ra’s guards in the movie) also have staffs that shoot out lasers. Together these demonstrate the belief about Egyptian religion. The belief that the people of ancient Egypt did not worship imaginary gods, rather aliens from another planet is put into full effect in this film. An alien who holds all of the power posing as the sun god Ra, epitomizes the irrational theory of Egyptian religion having some technological background to it.
Defining their religion in this film to be technological and having it revolve around the exploration of science makes for a great sci-fi film. However to really uncover the mystery of what Egyptian religion really is, one should veer away from the representations rendered in many pop culture vehicles today, especially films similar to Stargate. Not only are most of them historically misleading, but serve no better purpose than to inaccurately define a complex culture radically.