As much as American Egyptomania involved archaeology, science, and history, it also involved religion, scripture, and the Bible. And while this might be most clearly seen in the role of the Old Testament in the history of Egyptomania – Pharaoh and Moses, Hebrew bondage and the Promised Land – it can also be seen in the remarkable power of the concept of hieroglyphics. Originally and most famously associated with the field of linguistics – and with the French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion’s deciphering of the Rosetta Stone in the 1820s – the term “hieroplyphics” was also used in a less literal way, as a metaphor: a hieroglyph could be any ostensibly indecipherable code or truth which lay in wait for a gifted codebreaker to reveal its meaning to the world. And, in the context of Christianity and religious studies, this concept of a hidden or disguised truth waiting to be revealed had its own metaphorical power and found a powerful ally.
This was especially the case since Egyptology was widely seen to pose a threat to Christianity, along just these lines of ultimate “truth:” Egyptologists had dated ancient Egyptian ruins to a time before that calculated by some scholars of the Bible, and so, for some, this chronological controversy threatened to undermine the rest of the aurthority of the Bible as well. So the term “hieroglyphic” came to stand in not only for the concept of a hidden truth revealed only to those who knew had the proper key to its translation, but also for the war between the competing absolute truths of science and religion.
This selection emerged out of these controversies. Its author, Guillaume Caspar Lencroy Oegger, was a French Catholic priest and former Vicar who originally published Le Vrai Messie in 1829; portions of it appeared in English translation in America in 1835, and this version dates from 1842. Oegger and his text have a place in American literary history due to their influence on Ralph Waldo Emerson and American Transcendentalism; Oegger was a follower of the Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, whose views on language and nature had a massive impact on nineteenth-century American philosophy. And while Oegger’s transcendentalist views might have placed him on the fringes of nineteenth-century Catholicism, they placed him squarely inside the mainstream of American Egyptomania.
THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS,
ACCORDING TO THE PRINCIPLES OF THE LANGUAGE OF NATURE.
BY G. OEGGER,
Former First Vicar of the Cathedral of Paris.
A LITTLE PHILOSOPHY CARRIES US AWAY FROM CHRISTIANITY, MUCH PHILOSOPHY
BRINGS US BACK TO IT.
PUBLISHED BY E.P PEABODY
No. 169 Washington Street