E. A. Wallis Budge bigraphy, stories - Archaeologists

E. A. Wallis Budge : biography

27 July 1857 - 23 November 1934

Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge (27 July 185723 November 1934) was an English Egyptologist, Orientalist, and philologist who worked for the British Museum and published numerous works on the ancient Near East.

Literary and social career

Budge was also a prolific author, and he is especially remembered today for his works on ancient Egyptian religion and his hieroglyphic primers. Budge's works on Egyptian religion were unique in that he maintained that the religion of Osiris had emerged from an indigenous African people: "There is no doubt", he said of Egyptian religions in Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection (1911), "that the beliefs examined herein are of indigenous origin, Nilotic or Sundani in the broadest signification of the word, and I have endeavoured to explain those which cannot be elucidated in any other way, by the evidence which is afforded by the Religions of the modern peoples who live on the great rivers of East, West, and Central Africa . . . Now, if we examine the Religions of modern African peoples, we find that the beliefs underlying them are almost identical with those Ancient Egyptian ones described above. As they are not derived from the Egyptians, it follows that they are the natural product of the religious mind of the natives of certain parts of Africa, which is the same in all periods."

Budge's contention that the religion of the Egyptians was essentially identical to the religions of the people of northeastern and central Africa was regarded by his colleagues as impossible, since all but a few followed Flinders Petrie in his contention that the culture of Ancient Egypt was derived from an invading Caucasian "Dynastic Race" which had conquered Egypt in late prehistory and introduced the Pharaonic culture.

Budge's works were widely read by the educated public and among those seeking comparative ethnological data, including James Frazer, who incorporated some of Budge's ideas on Osiris into his ever-growing work The Golden Bough. Budge was interested in the paranormal and believed in the reality of spirits and hauntings. Budge had a number of friends in the Ghost Club (British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ghost Club Archives), a group in London committed to the study of alternative religions and the spirit world, and told his many friends stories of hauntings and other uncanny experiences. Many people in his day who were involved with the occult and spiritualism after losing their faith in Christianity were dedicated to Budge's works, particularly his translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which was very important to such writers as the poet William Butler Yeats and James Joyce. Budge's works on Egyptian religion have remained consistently in print since they entered the public domain.

Budge was a member of the literary and open-minded Savile Club in London, proposed by his friend H. Rider Haggard in 1889, and accepted in 1891. He was a much sought-after dinner guest in London, his humorous stories and anecdotes being famous in his circle, and it is hardly surprising that the low-born Budge was fascinated not only by the company of literary men, but also by that of the aristocracy. He sedulously sought the company of the well-born, many of whom he seems to have met when they brought to the British Museum the scarabs and statuettes they had purchased while on holiday in Egypt. Budge never lacked for an invitation to a country house in the summer or to a fashionable townhouse during the London season.Ismail, 2011, pp. 183-184.

Though his books remain widely available, translation accuracy has improved in detail, along with significant revisions in dating, since Budge's day. The common writing style of his era—a lack of clear distinction between opinion and incontrovertible fact—is no longer fashionable in scholarly works.

Budge was knighted in the 1920 New Year Honours for his distinguished contributions to Egyptology and the British Museum. In the same year he published his sprawling autobiography, By Nile and Tigris. He retired from the British Museum in 1924, and lived on until 1934, continuing to publish book after book. His last work was From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt (1934).

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