The Legacy to Modern Egypt 377
ago; but the Egyptian barber still carries on the habits without
Even more attenuated is the washerman of the dead. He
appears to be the last vestige of the embalmer. Mummification
has been swept away by new systems of thought, but the wash-
ing of the corpse goes on. The original priestly character of this
craftsman still survives in the prayers he has to speak, and the
elaborate rules that complicate a simple operation. -
It is commonly asserted that there are no priests in Islam.
That is purely a matter of definition. What interests us here
is not the definition of the man but his function. Now there
is in Egypt a body of men who perform much the same functions
as do priests elsewhere. If we will not call them priests because
they are laymen as well, landowners perhaps or village shop-
keepers, then Ancient Egypt had no priests either, for under
the Old Kingdom 'nearly every person of rank assumed besides
their worldly profession one or more priesthoods5.1 Priesthoods
were in fact often identical with State appointments.
The hereditary character of the priests is gone. Even in
Roman times when it was most strict it was not absolute.
Ability to read a hieratic book was then accepted as a substitute
for descent. Now proficiency in the sacred books is the only
basis. To be a sheikh it is necessary to know the Scriptures and
the law. The seminaries of El Azhar scatter over Egypt these
clerics who, as preachers, teachers, registrars, bind the country
together more effectively than the administration. A peasant
speaks of 4us Muslims', not of 'us Egyptians*. Even so, of old
they were primarily worshippers of Ref and Amun with all the
common customs that implies, and their wars were the wars of
Amun. The Arabs introduced no new principle when they
warred in the name of Allah.
These clerics continue in the simplified and standardized
form so characteristic of Islam the functions of the ancient
1 A. Erman, Aegypten und aegyptiscbes Leben^ new ed. (Tubingen, 19:13), 331.