Thursday, 17 December 2015

One God to rule them all: Garry Shaw on Faith After the Pharaohs at the British Museum

This is an excerpt from my review of the exhibition Faith After the Pharaohs at the British Museum for The Art Newspaper...

In the British Museum's latest exhibition, Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs, there is a long fragment of papyrus, one of many on display, written in Greek and called the Gospel of Thomas. What is striking about this fragment is not its beauty or penmanship, but the era in which it was written. In Oxyrhynchus, an Egyptian city, the scroll’s Christian owner had copied the text less than 300 years after the death of Jesus, a time when the ancient Egyptian gods were still widely worshipped, before the acceptance of Christianity across the Roman Empire and before the appearance of Islam. To many of his contemporaries in Egypt, this ancient copyist—a man simply trying to preserve his messiah's sayings—would have been a rebel. He could not have predicted how Egypt, and the whole world, would change over the coming centuries, or that the church would forbid Christians from reading the very text he was copying once the contents of the New Testament had been agreed upon.

Religious development—its continuation and transformation—is at the heart of Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs. It is what makes the show so fascinating and ambitious. Taking visitors from 30BC to AD1171, the exhibition is divided into three main sections, covering the Romans in Egypt and their interactions with the Jews and early Christians, the transition to Egypt as part of a Christian Empire and then, through the Byzantine Era, onwards into the Islamic Period. It is a millennium often ignored by museums in favour of Egypt's more ancient glories. Wh ere most exhibitions end, this one begins.

To read the rest of the review, please click here...